beef in barolo

I seem to be going through a phase. I was trying to choose what recipe to post about next, but everything I have to choose from seems so similar to Bolognese – Italian sauces based either on beef, tomatoes, or both. Maybe it’s because Dave and I are talking about visiting Italy next year, or maybe it’s because Italian beefy and/or tomatoey recipes are so perfect for winter (or what passes for winter in southeastern New Mexico).

Although, if you cook the beef in Yellowtail Cabernet Sauvignon instead of Barolo, can you still call it an Italian recipe? I don’t imagine that I will ever cook with Barolo, and I certainly don’t recommend that you do either. Barolo is expensive. You’ll rarely find it for less than $50 per bottle and certainly never under $20. Don’t dump $40 worth of wine into your stew, please. And have you ever had Yellowtail’s cab? It’s perfectly drinkable, and at $5 per bottle, it’s a far more practical cooking wine.

Yes, this pot roast is cooked with 2 whole bottles of wine. It’s intensely winey – obviously. In fact, the first night we had this for dinner, I was a little taken aback. The meat is purple and the flavor is so…winey. However, the leftovers the next night were perfectly balanced, so I suspect I didn’t cook it long enough initially, especially considering that the meat wasn’t quite as tender as I like my pot roast.

But that also means that this is one of those meals that is even better when it’s made in advance. It seems to me, then, that this is the perfect meal for guests – it’s convenient and delicious, but the wine makes it fancy. Even if it isn’t fancy wine.

One year ago: English Muffins
Two years ago: Red Velvet Whoopie Pies

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Brasato al Barolo – Beef Braised in Barolo (adapted from Emeril)

6 servings

Oops, I just saw that the recipe calls for 1½ bottles of wine, not the 1½ liters, or two bottles, that I thought when I made this. So yours might not be quite as winey as mine. And now you have half a bottle to sip on while you wait for the beef to cook!

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 (3-pound) boneless beef chuck roast, patted dry
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 ounces pancetta, diced
1 yellow onion, diced
2 medium carrots, diced
2 celery stalks, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1½ bottles (4½ cups) Barolo, or other dry red wine
2 cups chicken stock
2 sprigs rosemary
2 bay leaves
1 cinnamon stick
¼ cup chopped fresh parsley, for garnish

1. Heat the oven to 325 degrees.

2. In a large Dutch oven, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Sprinkle the beef with salt and pepper. Add the beef to the pot and cook, turning every 2-3 minutes, to brown on all sides. Remove from the pan. To the fat in the pan, add the pancetta and cook until browned, about 3 minutes. Add the onions, carrots, celery and a pinch of salt; cook until caramelized, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Return the beef to the pan and add the wine, 2 cups of the stock, rosemary, bay leaves and cinnamon stick. Bring the liquid to a simmer over medium-high heat, then cover tightly and transfer the pot to oven.

3. Cook, turning the roast every 30 minutes, until fully tender and a meat fork slips in and out of meat very easily (3½-4 hours). Remove the meat from the pan and tent with foil to keep warm.

4. Remove the rosemary, bay leaves, and cinnamon stick, and place the pot over high heat. Cook until the sauce is reduced to a consistency thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, about 10 minutes. Adjust the seasoning to taste.

5. Thinly slice the beef across the grain into ¼-inch thick slices. Serve the beef ladled with the sauce. Garnish with parsley and serve.

mediterranean pepper salad

When my friend Ramie visited me last spring, it was the first time I’d seen her in eight years. I wanted to cook a great meal for her on her first night, but we’d lost touch for a lot of those eight years, and I wasn’t sure what kind of eater she was. I knew she used to be a vegetarian and wasn’t anymore.

I thought a hodgepodge of Middle Eastern dishes would be perfect – most of it could be made in advance, it was fairly light in case she was a health nut (uh, apparently not), it was vegetarian in case she was picky about meat, it went with either red or white wine in case she didn’t care for one, it could sit out for nibbles while we sat and chatted, and, of course, it was delicious. I made hummus, fresh pita, falafel, and tabbouli, but got stuck when it came time to plan a salad.

I ended up making a cucumber-tomato salad, which was fine but uninspired. I wish I had known about this pepper salad then. This salad is most definitely inspired. I particularly love the idea of a quick pickle for the red onions to tame their bite.

Peppers are one of the many foods I used to be picky about and now like quite a bit, but I was a little hesitant about a salad that starred them. However, everything in this salad came together perfectly. The sweet peppers were balanced by the tart dressing was balanced by the creamy feta was balanced by the fresh cucumber. I need someone else whose eating habits I’m not familiar with to come visit now that I can make their welcoming meal that much more perfect.

One year ago: Beer-Battered Fish
Two years ago: Green Chile Chicken Enchiladas

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Mediterranean Pepper Salad (adapted slightly from Smitten Kitchen)

Cut the peppers, cucumbers, and tomatoes while the onion rests in the vinegar solution.

I left out the olives because Dave is not a fan and the tomatoes because…eh, I just wasn’t in a tomato mood.

As much as I loved this salad, it was a little salty for our tastes. For that reason, I’ve decreased the kosher salt in the onion pickling solution from 1 tablespoon (3 teaspoons) to 2 teaspoons. I’ve also increased the feta slightly, as Dave and I felt that the feta really brought everything together.

¼ cup red wine vinegar
¼ cup cold water
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 teaspoons sugar
½ medium red onion, cut into a ½-inch cubes
3 bell peppers, your choice of colors, cut into ½-inch cubes
1 cucumber, cut into ½-inch cubes
1 cup grape tomatoes, halved
6 ounces firm feta cheese, crumbled
¼ to ½ cup pitted kalamata olives
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Stir together the red wine vinegar, water, kosher salt and sugar in a small bowl until the salt and sugar are dissolved. Add the red onion and set aside for at least 15 minutes.

2. Combine the vegetables, cheese, olives, and drained onions in a large bowl. Pour a quarter cup of the vinegar mixture leftover from the onions over the salad, then drizzle with the olive oil. Adjust the seasonings to taste and either serve immediately or refrigerate for up to one day.

twice-baked potatoes

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Trust me, you don’t need a recipe for twice-baked potatoes. You know what makes twice-baked potatoes so good? Fat. The more butter and sour cream you add, the better your potatoes will be. The less you add, the better you’ll feel about eating those potatoes.

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Decide what your goals are – if you want indulgence, you can add all sorts of sour cream, butter, cheese if you want it! If you want to keep it very light, replace the sour cream with buttermilk and reduce the butter to just enough to moisten the potato filling.

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Because I often serve twice-baked potatoes as part of nice meals, my goal tends to be flavor and not nutrition. In this case, I was making them just for myself and Dave, so I tried not to get carried away with the butter and sour cream. If I was serving them for a bigger occasion, I might add a bit more of each.

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Hey, don’t look at me like I’m some sort of fat-adding heathen. My mom pushes a small cube of butter into each potato before its second bake, which melts into an inviting pool of decadence; at least I resisted that!

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One year ago: Candied Orange Peels
Two years ago: Yule Log (Daring Bakers)

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Twice-Baked Potatoes

Serves 4

You can certainly add cheese to these if you like that sort of thing; a couple of ounces (½ cup) of something like cheddar would compliment the other flavors nicely. If you want to make the potatoes lighter, replace all or a portion of the sour cream with buttermilk. If you want to make them even more delicious, increase the sour cream by a couple of tablespoons. The flavor of the filling won’t change significantly after its second bake, so feel free to taste and adjust as you go.

24 ounces (approximately) russet potatoes (4 small or 2 large)
4 tablespoons (½ stick) butter, room temperature
¼ cup sour cream
½ teaspoon salt
⅛ teaspoon black pepper
2 scallions, finely chopped

1. Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 400ºF. Scrub the potatoes and stab each one several times with a fork. Place the potatoes right on the oven rack and bake them until a fork inserted into one meets no resistance, 60-75 minutes. Remove the potatoes from the oven and let them cool slightly. Heat the broiler.

2. In a large bowl, mix the butter, sour cream, salt and pepper. Cut the potatoes in half and use a spoon to scoop out the flesh, leaving behind a thin layer of potato on the skin. Add the potato flesh to the bowl with the sour cream mixture. Using a potato masher, mash the potatoes into the sour cream mixture until it’s combined and there are no large chunks of potato. Fold in the scallions (reserving a few for a garnish, if you’d like).

3. Spoon the filling into the potato shells. Place the potatoes on a baking sheet and broil until the tops are crisp and lightly browned. Serve immediately.

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Suggested menu: Steak au Poivre, Brussels Sprouts Braised in Cream, Twice-Baked Potatoes

brussels sprouts braised in cream

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You know what I hate? Those “hide the vegetables in brownies” cookbooks. I admit that I don’t have kids, so maybe I just have no clue and that really is the only way to get them to eat something healthy. But, for now, my theory is that if you prepare vegetables well, there will be no need to hide them.

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By “preparing them well,” I don’t necessarily mean braising them in cream, of course, but if you can afford the caloric expense, these are certainly worth showcasing instead of hiding. Because these are absolutely just so freaking ridiculously good. Is that enough adverbs? Probably not. They’re worth more.

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They’re easy too, and you can clean and trim the sprouts early in the day and put them right in the saucepan with the cream and seasonings. About 15 minutes before dinner, put the pot on a hot burner and give it a quick shake every so often. If you have a few extra minutes to make these even more rich and delicious, remove the cooked sprouts from the pot and continue simmering the cream until it’s luscious and thick, then pour it over the sprouts. It’s just…I don’t even…you just can’t describe something that good.

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Because they’re so easy, so good, and most of the work can be done in advance, these are perfect for guests. And just a piece of advice: your guests will probably enjoy them even more if you don’t mention the whole “braised in cream” part.

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One year ago: Sausage Apple Hash
Two years ago: Risotto with Peas

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Brussels Sprouts Braised in Cream (adapted from Cooks Illustrated)

Serves 4

1 pound small Brussels sprouts, stem ends trimmed with a knife and discolored leaves removed
1 cup heavy cream
½ teaspoon salt
pinch freshly grated nutmeg
ground black pepper

1. Bring the sprouts, cream, and salt to a boil in a 2-quart saucepan over medium-high heat. Cover and simmer, shaking the pan once of twice to redistribute the sprouts, until a knife tip inserted into the center of a sprout meets no resistance, 10-12 minutes. Season with nutmeg and pepper to taste.

2. (Optional) Heat the oven to 200ºF. With a slotted spoon, remove the sprouts from the saucepan and transfer them in a heatproof serving dish. Place the sprouts in the oven to keep warm. Meanwhile, simmer the remaining cream in the saucepan over medium-high heat until thick, about 5 minutes. Pour the cream sauce over the sprouts and serve immediately.

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Suggested menu: Steak au Poivre, Brussels Sprouts Braised in Cream, Twice-Baked Potatoes

steak au poivre

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The importance of the Go-To Thing was hammered into me recently. I was sitting at home doing basically nothing, unshowered and unchanged from my recent workout, when Dave called me from a bar half an hour away. “Everyone wants you to come hang out!” Uh…will they still want to hang out in an hour or so, when I might actually show up?

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I didn’t have time to mull over my clothes, so I just chose the same outfit I’ve worn every time I’ve gone out recently. It’s easy, comfortable, cute, warm, and spans a wide range of situations. (Although my silky teal scarf was a little out of place at the Rob Zombie concert we ended up at.)

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Having a go-to meal for guests has also come in handy.  On December 23rd last year, Dave and I decided to skip the party we’d planned to go to on Christmas Eve so we could hang out with his parents instead. We offered to make them dinner, which meant I needed to come up with something I could make in my mother-in-law’s kitchen that would be quick enough to put together after a 7-hour drive, special enough for a holiday, and accessible enough that my picky father-in-law would enjoy it.

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The answer is steak, of course. Steak that has one side coated in black pepper and is dowsed in brandy cream sauce. Served along with twice-baked potatoes and Brussels sprouts braised in cream. Yes, cream sauce, sour cream, braised in cream – it’s a holiday, okay?

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It’s also delicious. And easy, and most of it can be prepared in advance. The evidence: 1) I finished it at my mother-in-law’s, and her sharpest knife is essentially a butter knife, and 2) my father-in-law not only ate his entire meal, including the Brussels sprouts, but offered something vaguely complimentary. This meal is a success even under the toughest circumstances.

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One year ago: Red Velvet Whoopie Pies

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Steak au Poivre with Brandied Cream Sauce
(from Cooks Illustrated)

Serves 4

Sauce:
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 medium shallot, minced
1 cup low-sodium beef broth
¾ cup low-sodium chicken broth
¼ cup heavy cream
¼ cup brandy + 1 tablespoon
1 teaspoon lemon juice or 1 teaspoon champagne vinegar
table salt

Steaks:
4 strip steaks (8 to 10 ounces each), ¾ to 1 inch thick, trimmed of exterior gristle
table salt
1 tablespoon black peppercorns, crushed

1. Heat 1 tablespoon butter in 12-inch heavy-bottomed skillet over medium heat; when foaming subsides, add shallot and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 2 minutes. Add beef and chicken broths, increase heat to high, and boil until reduced to about ½ cup, about 8 minutes. Set reduced broth mixture aside. Rinse and wipe out skillet.

2. Meanwhile, sprinkle both sides of steaks with salt; rub one side of each steak with 1 teaspoon crushed peppercorns, and, using fingers, press peppercorns into steaks to make them adhere.

3. Place now-empty skillet over medium heat until hot, about 4 minutes. Lay steaks unpeppered-side down in hot skillet, increase heat to medium-high, firmly press down on steaks with bottom of cake pan (see illustration below), and cook steaks without moving them until well-browned, about 6 minutes. Using tongs, flip steaks, firmly press down on steaks with bottom of cake pan, and cook on peppered side, about 3 minutes longer for rare, about 4 minutes longer for medium-rare, or about 5 minutes longer for medium. Transfer steaks to large plate and tent loosely with foil to keep warm.

4. Pour reduced broth, cream, and ¼ cup brandy into now-empty skillet; increase heat to high and bring to boil, scraping pan bottom with wooden spoon to loosen browned bits. Simmer until deep golden brown and thick enough to heavily coat back of metal tablespoon or soup spoon, about 5 minutes. Off heat, whisk in remaining 3 tablespoons butter, remaining 1 tablespoon brandy, lemon juice or vinegar, and any accumulated meat juices. Adjust seasonings with salt.

5. Set steaks on individual dinner plates, spoon portion of sauce over steaks, and serve immediately.

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Suggested menu: Steak au Poivre, Brussels Sprouts Braised in Cream, Twice-Baked Potatoes

herbed lamb chops with pinot noir sauce

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I don’t even know how to describe to you how awesome this lamb was. I think Dave and I spent the whole meal exclaiming over it. We’d sat down to eat, thinking, sure, dinner, yum, should be good. We each poured ourselves a glass of the wine that was leftover from making the sauce, we were actually going to eat at the table, we had some music playing. It was nice.

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And then we started eating and realized that this meal wasn’t “nice.” This meal was amazing. We decided that the wine wasn’t rich enough to compliment the food and opened a different bottle. We ate seconds. We drank more wine. We started dancing in the living room. It wasn’t just the meal that went from nice to amazing when we started eating; it was the entire night.

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In retrospect, duh. If you’re making lamb broth from scratch for the base of the wine sauce that you’re serving over rack of lamb, it better knock some socks off. It did.

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One year ago: Caramel Cake

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Herbed Lamb Chops with Pinot Noir Sauce (from Bon Appétit through epicurious.com)

Serves 8

I couldn’t find any of the lamb parts suggested for the sauce and used shank instead, which isn’t the same thing at all, but worked nonetheless.

Sauce:
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
3 pounds lamb neck stew meat or lamb riblets
1 pound onions, coarsely chopped
1 large carrot, chopped
4 large garlic cloves, chopped
1 tablespoon herbes de Provence
4⅓ cups Pinot Noir or other dry red wine
3 cups low-salt chicken broth
1 tablespoon butter, room temperature
2 teaspoons all-purpose flour

Lamb:
1 cup finely chopped fresh Italian parsley
¼ cup finely chopped fresh thyme
¼ cup finely chopped fresh rosemary
¼ cup finely chopped fresh sage
1 tablespoon ground black pepper
5 tablespoons olive oil, divided
3 1½-pound well-trimmed 8-rib racks of lamb, preferably frenched

1. For the sauce: Heat the oil in a heavy large pot over medium-high heat. Add the lamb and sauté until deep brown, turning occasionally, about 18 minutes. Using tongs, transfer the lamb to a bowl. Add the onions, carrot, garlic, and herbes de Provence to the pot. Sauté until the vegetables are deep brown, about 8 minutes. Add the wine and broth to the pot; return the lamb and any accumulated juices to the pot. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to medium-low, and simmer uncovered 1½ hours. Strain into a large bowl, pressing on the solids in the strainer to release all of the stock. Spoon off any fat from the surface of the stock; return the stock to the same large pot. Simmer until reduced to 1⅓ cups, about 15 minutes.

3. Mix the butter and flour in a small bowl to a smooth paste. Whisk the paste into the stock. Simmer the sauce until it’s slightly thickened and smooth, whisking constantly, about 1 minute longer. Season with salt and pepper. (Can be prepared 1 day ahead. Transfer to a small saucepan, cover, and chill. Rewarm before using.)

4. For the lamb: Stir the fresh herbs and pepper in a medium bowl to blend. Add 2 tablespoons oil and mix until the herbs stick together. Sprinkle the lamb racks with salt. Firmly press ⅓ of herb mixture over the rounded side of each rack to cover. (Can be prepared 1 day ahead. Place on large rimmed baking sheet. Cover; chill.)

5. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Heat 3 tablespoons oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add 1 lamb rack to the skillet, herbed side down. Sauté until browned, about 4 minutes. Turn the rack over and sauté until browned, about 3 minutes more. Place the rack, herbed side up, on a rimmed baking sheet. Repeat, fitting the remaining racks on the same sheet.

6. Roast the lamb until a thermometer inserted into the center registers 135°F for medium-rare, about 25 minutes. Let the lamb rest on the sheet for 15 to 20 minutes. Cut the lamb between the bones into individual chops. Arrange 3 chops on each plate. Drizzle with sauce and serve.

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This would make a great main dish for a nice dinner party, not only because it’s so good, but because so much of the recipe can be completed in advance. I suggest serving the lamb over Soft and Sexy Grits with roasted root vegetables on the side. A rich red wine like cabernet sauvignon is a great accompaniment to the lamb; we found that the pinot noir used in the sauce simply couldn’t stand up to the powerful flavors.

pain a l’ancienne

Cooks Illustrated’s Chicken with 40 Cloves of Garlic recipe is cooked through a combination of roasting and braising, which keeps the meat moist and the skin crisp. Once the chicken is cooked, the braising liquid is made into a delicious garlicky herbed sauce. I supposed you could make some creamy rich mashed potatoes to serve with the sauce, but I love to dip bits of delicious artisan breads in it. For this meal, I think you need the absolutely best bread you can get. I haven’t found a fantastic bakery in my area, so that means I have to make it myself.

I know this is supposed to be the Dinner Party Menu Ode to Cooks Illustrated, but I strayed from them for the bread. They do have a great recipe for baguettes that you should check out if you have access to it, but I wanted to try Peter Reinhart’s pain a l’ancienne. Reinhart loves this recipe – he discusses it in length in the introduction before providing his recipe later in the book. I had made it once before with mixed results.

The recipe is actually less work than many other bread recipes, especially flavorful artisanal breads. Like all of Reinhart’s recipes, it’s developed to squeeze out as much flavor as possible from the simplest list of ingredients (flour, salt, yeast, water). Instead of requiring a pre-ferment, which basically means that the dough has to be made twice, pain a l’ancienne needs only be mixed and kneaded once, and there’s not even any proofing to worry about.

The key is that the dough is made with ice water and then immediately refrigerated overnight. The yeast slowly wakes up and does its thing, making its way through the flour and releasing every bit of flavor possible. All that’s left to do the day of baking is give the dough a chance to warm up and rise some more, mold the very wet dough into some semblance of loaves, and bake.

The result is some of the best bread I’ve ever made. I can’t think of how to describe the smell, but it’s so much more than homemade bread. The flavor matches the rich smell, and the crumb is chewy and tender.

The problem I’m having with the bread is the crust. The first time I made this recipe, which was a year or two ago, I followed Reinhart’s instructions to sprinkle the parchment paper with cornmeal before putting my dough on it. The result was a bottom crust ingrained with cornmeal. It wasn’t like pizza, where you don’t even notice the few grains; the wet dough had incorporated a thick layer of cornmeal. This time, I skipped the cornmeal, which is unnecessary anyway since the bread is baked on parchment paper. However, the crust was still far too thick, much thicker than is shown in Reinhart’s photo. It’s a straightforward problem to fix by adjusting the baking time and temperatures, and I put notes in the recipe instructions for how I’ll cook it next time.

With that small problem worked out, this is a truly fantastic bread recipe. The flavor is just about unbeatable. And, again – it’s less work than other recipes. You can’t go wrong.

Pain a l’Ancienne (from Peter Reinhart’s Bread Baker’s Apprentice)

Bridget note: The only alteration I made to the recipe was to skip the cornmeal Reinhart calls for. I did put a note at the bottom about the cooking temperature and time, in order to correct the crust problem I had.

Yields 6 baguettes

6 cups (27 ounces) unbleached bread flour
2¼ teaspoons salt
1¾ teaspoons instant yeast
2¼ cups plus 2 tablespoon to 3 cups ice-cold (19 to 24 ounces) water

1. Combine the flour, salt, yeast and 19 ounces water in the bowl of the electric mixer with the paddle attachment and mix for 2 minutes on low speed. Switch to the dough hook and mix for 5 to 6 minutes on medium speed. The dough should be sticky on the bottom of the bowl but it should release from the sides of the bowl. If not, sprinkle in a small amount of flour until this occurs (or dribble in water if the dough seems too stiff and clears the bottom as well as the sides of the bowl). Lightly oil a large bowl and immediately transfer the dough with a spatula or bowl scraper dipped in water into the bowl. Mist the top of the dough with spray oil and cover the bowl with plastic wrap.

2. Immediately place the bowl in the refrigerator and chill overnight, to retard fermentation.

3. The next day, check the dough to see if it has risen in the refrigerator. It will probably be partially risen but not doubled in size (the amount of rise will depend on how cold the refrigerator is and how often the door was opened). Leave the bowl of dough out at room temperature for about 2 to 3 hours (or longer if necessary) to allow the dough to wake up, lose its chill, and continue fermenting.

4. When the dough has doubled from its original prerefrigerated size, liberally sprinkle the counter with bread flour (about ½ cup). Gently transfer the dough to the floured counter with a plastic dough scraper that has been dipped in cold water, dipping your hands as well to keep the dough from sticking to you. Avoid punching down the dough as you transfer it, to expel as little as possible of the carbon-dioxide gas that has built up in the dough during fermentation. If the dough is very wet, sprinkle more flour over the top as well as under it. Dry your hands thoroughly and then dip them in flour. Roll the dough gently in the sprinkled flour to coat it thoroughly, simultaneously stretching it into an oblong about 8 inches long and 6 inches wide. If it is too sticky to handle, continue sprinkling flour over it. Dip a metal pastry scraper into cool water to keep it from sticking to the dough, and cut the dough in half widthwise with the pastry scraper by pressing it down through the dough until it severs it, then dipping it again in the water and repeating this action until you have cut down the full length of the dough. (Do not use this blade as a saw; use it as a pincer, pinching the dough cleanly with each cut.) Let the dough relax for 5 minutes.

5. Prepare the oven for hearth baking, making sure to have an empty steam pan in place. Preheat the oven to 500 degrees, or 550 degrees if your oven goes this high. Cover the back of two 17-by-12-inch sheet pans with baking parchment. (I just used my pizza peel.) Take one of the dough pieces and repeat the cutting action, but this time cut off 3 equal-sized lengths. Then do the same with the remaining half. This should give you 6 lengths. Flour your hands and carefully lift one of the dough strips and transfer it to an inverted parchment-lined pan, gently pulling it to the length of the pan or to the length of your baking stone. If it springs back, let it rest for 5 minutes and then gently pull it out again. Place 3 strips on the pan, and then prepare another pan and repeat with the remaining strips.

6. Score the dough strips as for traditional baguettes, slashing the tops with 3 diagonal cuts. Because the dough is sticky, you may have to dip the razor blade, serrated knife or scissors in water between each cut. You may also omit the cuts if the dough isn’t cooperating. (I tried cutting, but the dough was so wet that it didn’t seem to make a difference.)

7. Take one pan to the preheated oven and carefully slide the dough, parchment and all, onto the baking stone (depending on the direction of the stone, you may choose to slide the dough and parchment off the side of the sheet pan instead of off the end); or bake directly on the sheet pan. Make sure the pieces aren’t touching (you can reach in and straighten the parchment or the dough strips, if need be). Pour 1 cup of hot water into the steam pan and close the door. After 30 seconds, spray the oven walls with water and close the door. Repeat twice more at 30-second intervals. After the final spray, reduce the oven setting to 475 degrees and continue baking. Meanwhile, dust the other pan of strips with flour, mist with spray oil, and cover with a towel or plastic wrap. If you don’t plan to bake these strips within 1 hour, refrigerate the pan and bake later or the next day.

8. The bread should begin to turn golden brown within 8 or 9 minutes. If the loaves are baking unevenly at this point, rotate them 180 degrees. Continue baking 10 to 15 minutes more, or until the bread is a rich golden brown and the internal temperature registers at least 205 degrees. (I think this is the part that didn’t work for me. I think I should have left it at the high heat and cooked it for only about 15 minutes.)

9. Transfer the hot breads to a cooling rack. They should feel very light, almost airy, and will cool in about 20 minutes. While these are cooling, you can bake the remaining loaves, remembering to remove the parchment from the oven and turn the oven up to 500 degrees or higher before baking the second round.

Other recipes part of this recommended dinner party menu:
Salad with Herbed Baked Goat Cheese
Chicken with Forty Cloves of Garlic
Sauteed Shredded Zucchini

Just about any dessert works well with this meal.
Many wines work well with this meal, but I especially like full-flavored whites such as Chardonnay, and medium-bodied reds such as Pinot Noir.

sauteed shredded zucchini

The side I originally served with Chicken with Forty Cloves of Garlic was shredded sautéed zucchini with tomatoes and basil. While it’s a very good dish, in retrospect, I don’t think the Italian bent in the zucchini matched the flavors and French feel of the chicken. My goal for the vegetable served alongside this flavorful garlicky chicken was something that would play backup well while offering a bit of contrast in flavors. While any simply prepared vegetable would work nicely, I also wanted something that my guests probably hadn’t made for themselves.

I do like the shredded sautéed zucchini, so I didn’t want to completely alter my original meal plan. I love when vegetables get just a little crispy and browned, and something about shredded zucchini instead of slices makes me happy. All of the prep work for this dish can be completed a few hours before dinner, which means the vegetables just need a quick stay on a hot burner and a few turns before they’re ready to be served.

The problem is that it’s not a simple task getting something as watery as zucchini to caramelize. Just like cabbage, the best way to get water out of zucchini is to sprinkle some salt on it and set it aside in a strainer. Then squeeze the hell out of it. I made only two servings of this recently, and squeezed out almost half a cup of (vividly green) water.

The original recipe makes this a bit more work than I like to put into a side dish. For one, it gives instructions for shredding the zucchini by hand. That isn’t happening; that is why I have a food processor with a shredding disk. You’re also supposed to discard the watery middle of the zucchini where the seeds are, but I disregard that too, so that I can just throw the whole vegetable through the feed tube of the food processor.

Once the zucchini are shredded and squeezed, you can mix them with your flavorings and some oil and set them aside until you’re ready to cook them. For serving with the chicken, I like to use just olive oil and minced shallots with a bit of lemon juice squeezed on at the end. It’s the perfect side dish – interesting and flavorful on its own right without overpowering the star of this show, which is the chicken.

Zucchini with Shallots and Lemon (adapted from Cooks Illustrated)

Serves 4

Bridget note: Five zucchini for four servings sounds like a lot, but you lose a lot of volume with the water, so it really is the right amount. I’ve added all of the oil to the zucchini mixture and added all of that to a preheated, non-oiled pan, and that works too.

5 medium zucchini (about 8 ounces each), ends trimmed
Table salt
2 shallots, minced
1 tablespoon olive oil
1-2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice from 1 lemon
Ground black pepper

1. Shred zucchini with shredding disk of food processor or large holes of a box grater. Toss zucchini with 1½ teaspoons salt and place in colander set in medium bowl; let drain 5 to 10 minutes. Wrap zucchini in kitchen towel, in batches if necessary, and wring out excess moisture.

2. Place zucchini in medium bowl and break up any large clumps. Add shallots and 2 teaspoons oil to zucchini and toss to combine thoroughly.

3. Heat remaining 1 teaspoon oil in 12-inch nonstick skillet over high heat. Add zucchini mixture and spread evenly in pan with tongs; cook without stirring until bottom layer browns, about 2 minutes; stir well, breaking up any clumps with tongs, then cook until “new” bottom layer browns, about 2 minutes more. Off heat, stir in lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately.

For the tomato-basil variation: Combine 3 cored, seeded and diced plum tomatoes, 1 clove of minced garlic, 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar, 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil, ¼ teaspoon salt, and 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil leaves in small bowl and set aside. When the zucchini has finished cooking, remove it from the heat and stir in tomato mixture and salt and pepper to taste. Transfer to serving platter, sprinkle with ¼ cup finely grated Parmesan, and serve immediately, drizzling with additional olive oil, if desired.

Other recipes part of this recommended dinner party menu:
Salad with Herbed Baked Goat Cheese
Chicken with Forty Cloves of Garlic
Pain a l’Ancienne (baguettes)

Just about any dessert works well with this meal.
Many wines work well with this meal, but I especially like full-flavored whites such as Chardonnay, and medium-bodied reds such as Pinot Noir.

chicken with forty cloves of garlic

This chicken is the main dish of my favorite dinner party menu. But I’m not going to lie – there are good and bad aspects to making this dish for company. The advantage is that I’m pretty sure this is the best chicken I’ve ever eaten (although this comes close). It’s infused with the flavors of garlic and wine, it’s juicy, the skin is crispy, and it’s served up with a handful of roasted garlic cloves that are perfect for smearing on slices of baguette.

On the other hand, it’s fairly work-intensive. A lot of that work can be finished a few hours before dinner, but you can’t avoid some last minute cooking here. Years ago, I thought that if I had to do any cooking once my guests arrived, it meant I was being a bad host. These days, I don’t worry so much. My friends like to help, and they’re also perfectly happy to chat and drink their wine while I finish up the sauce for the chicken. I like to have a bit of a break between courses, so I’ll generally serve the salad, then finish the chicken.

But again, much of this dish can be prepared in advance. The chicken can be brined early in the day, then rinsed, dried, and refrigerated until needed. The recipe calls for a whole chicken to be cut in pieces, but I’ve used pre-cut pieces with no problem. The garlic and shallots can be roasted in advance and set aside. Of course all of the ingredients can be measured and set right where you need them. The most important thing is to relax – you fed your guests salad so they aren’t starving, they hopefully have good wine to drink, and this chicken is absolutely worth the wait.

I’m looking over the recipe right now, and I’m wondering if you could actually make everything ahead of time and just keep it in a slightly warm oven? (You’ll have to take it out to bake the goat cheese rounds if you’re making those, but that’s easy enough.) I think it would work. I’m going to try it tonight, and then I’ll update with the results.  (Update: I tried it and it was a huge failure.  Not saying it can’t be done correctly somehow, but what I did certainly didn’t work.)

Chicken with 40 Cloves of Garlic (from Cooks Illustrated)

Serves 3 to 4

CI note: Try not to purchase heads of garlic that contain enormous cloves; if unavoidable, increase the foil-covered baking time to 40 to 45 minutes so that the largest cloves soften fully. A large Dutch oven can be used in place of a skillet, if you prefer. Broiling the chicken for a few minutes at the end of cooking crisps the skin, but this step is optional. Serve the dish with slices of crusty baguette for dipping into the sauce and onto which the roasted garlic cloves can be spread.

Table salt
1 whole chicken (3½ to 4 pounds), cut into 8 pieces (4 breast pieces, 2 thighs, 2 drumsticks) and trimmed of excess fat.
Ground black pepper
3 large heads garlic (about 8 ounces), outer papery skins removed, cloves separated and unpeeled
2 medium shallots, peeled and quartered pole to pole
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 sprigs fresh thyme
1 sprig fresh rosemary
1 bay leaf
¾ cup dry vermouth or dry white wine
¾ cup low-sodium chicken broth
2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 400 degrees. Dissolve ¼-cup salt in 2 quarts cold tap water in large container or bowl; submerge chicken pieces in brine and refrigerate until fully seasoned, about 30 minutes. Rinse chicken pieces under running water and thoroughly pat dry with paper towels. Season both sides of chicken pieces with pepper.

2. Meanwhile, toss garlic and shallots with 2 teaspoons olive oil and salt and pepper to taste in 9-inch pie plate; cover tightly with foil and roast until softened and beginning to brown, about 30 minutes, shaking pan once to toss contents after 15 minutes (foil can be left on during tossing). Uncover, stir, and continue to roast, uncovered, until browned and fully tender, 10 minutes longer, stirring once or twice. Remove from oven and increase oven temperature to 450 degrees.

3. Using kitchen twine, tie together thyme, rosemary, and bay; set aside. Heat remaining 1-teaspoon oil in 12-inch heavy-bottomed ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat until beginning to smoke; swirl to coat pan with oil. Brown chicken pieces skin-side down until deep golden, about 5 minutes; using tongs, turn chicken pieces and brown until golden on second side, about 4 minutes longer. Transfer chicken to large plate and discard fat; off heat, add vermouth, chicken broth, and herbs, scraping bottom of skillet with wooden spoon to loosen browned bits. Set skillet over medium heat, add garlic/shallot mixture to pan, then return chicken, skin-side up, to pan, nestling pieces on top of and between garlic cloves.

4. Place skillet in oven and roast until instant-read thermometer inserted into thickest part of breast registers about 160 degrees, 10 to 12 minutes. If desired, increase heat to broil and broil to crisp skin, 3 to 5 minutes. Using potholders or oven mitts, remove skillet from oven and transfer chicken to serving dish. Remove 10 to 12 garlic cloves to mesh sieve and reserve; using slotted spoon, scatter remaining garlic cloves and shallots around chicken and discard herbs. With rubber spatula push reserved garlic cloves through sieve and into bowl; discard skins. Add garlic paste to skillet. Bring liquid to simmer over medium-high heat, whisking occasionally to incorporate garlic; adjust seasoning with salt and pepper to taste. Whisk in butter; pour sauce into sauceboat and serve.

Other recipes part of this recommended dinner party menu:
Salad with Herbed Baked Goat Cheese
Sauteed Shredded Zucchini
Pain a l’Ancienne (baguettes)

Just about any dessert works well with this meal.
Many wines work well with this meal, but I especially like full-flavored whites such as Chardonnay, and medium-bodied reds such as Pinot Noir.

salad with herbed baked goat cheese

I’m trying to cut down on the number of Cooks Illustrated recipes that I put in my blog. For one thing, I don’t want Chris Kimball to come over here and kick my ass. Plus, I feel like most Cooks Illustrated recipes are a no-brainer – they’re so dependable that it’s no surprise to hear another recommendation. On the other hand, I cooked almost exclusively from Cooks Illustrated for several years, so there are some recipes that I love so much that I can’t resist sharing.

In fact, I have entire dinner party menus of CI recipes to discuss. I’m going to spend the next few entries putting forth the recipes for one of my favorite meals. I’ve made this for a group of friends and for my parents, and it received great reviews both times. My parents had arrived at my house pretty pissed off after having their car broken into and getting stuck for hours trying to cross into the US from Canada, and after this meal (plus two bottles of wine and some beer), they were in much better spirits.

This salad is a great first course. It’s nice and light, but the goat cheese makes it interesting. The cheese rounds can be prepared up to a week in advance, which is always an advantage when you’re having company. I would also make the vinaigrette early in the day I plan to serve it and keep it in a jar with a tight-fitting lid. That way, when it’s time to serve the salad, I can just shake up the dressing and mix it with the greens. I almost always use bagged greens, because I hate to wash lettuce. With pre-cleaned lettuce, cheese rounds that can be formed days before you plan to serve them, and a simple vinaigrette that can be made in advance, this salad makes for the perfect opening course to an elegant dinner.

Salad with Herbed Baked Goat Cheese and Vinaigrette (from Cooks Illustrated)

Bridget note: I’ve used different herbs based on what I had available, and it was fine. I also usually forget to brush the rounds with olive oil before baking them, so if you’re stressed for time (like I always am when I have company), don’t worry too much about that step.

Serves 6

Herbed Baked Goat Cheese
3 ounces Melba toasts, white (about 2 cups)
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
3 large eggs
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme leaves
1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives
12 ounces goat cheese, firm
extra-virgin olive oil

Vinaigrette and Salad
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon minced shallot
¼ teaspoon table salt
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon fresh chives
Ground black pepper
14 cups hearty greens (mixed), washed and dried

1. For Goat Cheese: In food processor, process Melba toasts to fine even crumbs, about 1½ minutes; transfer crumbs to medium bowl and stir in pepper. Whisk eggs and mustard in medium bowl until combined. Combine thyme and chives in small bowl.

2. Using kitchen twine or dental floss, divide cheese into 12 evenly sized pieces. Roll each piece into a ball; roll each ball in herbs to coat lightly. Transfer 6 pieces to egg mixture, turn each piece to coat; transfer to Melba crumbs and turn each piece to coat, pressing crumbs into cheese. Flatten each ball into disk about 1½ inches wide and 1 inch thick and set on baking sheet. Repeat process with remaining 6 pieces cheese. Freeze cheese until firm, about 30 minutes. (Cheese may be wrapped tightly in plastic wrap and frozen up to 1 week.) Adjust oven rack to uppermost position; heat to 475 degrees.

3. Remove cheese from freezer and brush tops and sides evenly with olive oil. Bake until crumbs are golden brown and cheese is slightly soft, 7 to 9 minutes (or 9 to 12 minutes if cheese is completely frozen). Using thin metal spatula, transfer cheese to paper towel-lined plate and cool 3 minutes.

4. For Salad: While goat cheese is baking, combine vinegar, mustard, shallot, and salt in small bowl. Whisking constantly, drizzle in olive oil; season to taste with pepper.

5. Place greens in large bowl, drizzle vinaigrette over, and toss to coat. Divide greens among individual plates; place 2 rounds goat cheese on each salad. Serve immediately.

Other recipes part of this recommended dinner party menu:
Chicken with Forty Cloves of Garlic
Sauteed Shredded Zucchini
Pain a l’Ancienne (baguettes)

Just about any dessert works well with this meal.
Many wines work well with this meal, but I especially like full-flavored whites such as Chardonnay, and medium-bodied reds such as Pinot Noir.