Tag Archives: winter recipes

Summer in January: Pollock with Caponata

8 Jan

Warm January days are ripe for backyard rambles -- you never know what you'll find in your backyard

An abandoned carriage in an abandoned barn

Hey there, global warming! Nothing like a series of 60 degrees sunny days in January to snap you right out of SAD.

While I always enjoy the post-holiday weeks of close-to-home hanging and hibernation before Spring’s inevitable Bacchanalia, I found that I’ve been craving balmy summer breezes, sunlit terraces, garden-fresh salads, icey adult drinks braced with bitter tonic and sharp squirts of lime this week.

Since I can’t dash off to Bermuda right now, I have happily settled for the uptick in the mercury (despite vague feelings of guilt about being thrilled by the effects of greenhouse gases)…. And a hint of August on my plate.

Variations on traditional agrodolce sauces, often in the form of caponata, always trick my mouth into thinking Summer. When I’m stuck in Winter’s gaping maw, wondering how I’m ever going to paw my way out, the versatile sauce gives me a lift.

Agrodolce (agro means sour, dolce means sweet), is a classic Italian recipe, by way of Arab cuisine. In its most basic form, it’s simply a reduction of vinegar and sugar, with other elements (oils, wine, vegetables) added in. It’s traditionally served with roasted meats or fish, and comes in many guises. Caponata is one of my favorite iterations of agrodolce’s magic.

The Caponata preparation hails from Sicily, by way of Spain, circa roughly 1709, according to the food historian Clifford Wright. These days, it is often served as an antipasto relish, but it may have gained popularity in the 18th century for its super-long shelf-life (thanks to the vinegar, which acts as a preservative); it was a staple on sea voyagers and for travelers. And the savory-sweet sauce, bursting with flavor and moxie, has also served as a helpful reminder of Summer’s bounty — just around the corner.

A hunter's blind in our woods; we're debating the back-woods ethics of taking it down since we don't use it, but we know other hunters (who don't have permission to hunt on our property)do. For now, it's staying.

Caponata generally stars eggplant, but in Italy (the birthplace of seasonal, local food ways), it can put anything you’ve got hanging around in the spotlight – as long as you balance the agro with the dolce.

When I saw a recipe for Caponata by Michael White, my current favorite chef, I couldn’t wait to try it. I ended up tweaking it a bit, but that’s only appropriate. Click on for both versions of the recipe.

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Get Pumpkined: Mac and Cheese & Molten Pumpkin Chocolate Cakes & Squashed Squash Souffle

14 Nov

My mom, slowly losing her mind as we spend our Sunday afternoon drowning in packing peanuts; we finished with just enough time left for Pumpkin Chocolate Cake-baking.

Using a recipe to make good ol’ Mac and Cheese from grand kitchen pooh-bah Grant Achatz feels vaguely ludricous, like asking Arizona Muse how to grow sassy eyebrows, or asking the sun what yellow feels like.

Does Grant even acknowledge Mac and Cheese? Hasn’t he evolved to a station in which he requires food in powder or foam form to recognize it’s reason for existence? Isn’t he too busy sketching pictures of Roasted Maitake Mushrooms with Chestnuts, Roasted Vegetables and Autumnal Aromas or freeze-drying Pineapple Chips and Cherries for his Powdered Ham and Clove dish to consume, much less prepare, a lowly meal consisting of carbs and dairy products that haven’t been shot out of cannon or chanted over by a wizard in a green teepee?

Thankfully, no. And I decided to give his refreshingly simple recipe for Mac and Cheese a whirl. One of the marvelous side effects of eating basic food made with a great chef’s recipe is the manner in which the dish is reinvigorated; the flavors sing, in their most elemental, yet elevated form.

The macaroni, in Grant Achatz’s hands, becomes the all-American carb and dairy fest it always is, underpinned with assertive waves of BBQ (it tasted like a smoke-bomb, in a good way, probably due to the paprika and cayenne sauteed at the same time as the onions and infused into the roux), grilled cheese (the topping of simply grated cheese, cooked until crisp) and … bacon (chopped and fried); in other words, he unlocked the key to the holy Trinity of classic edible American childhood, and I served it for dinner.

In addition to my usual carb splurge, I wanted to get a handle on the growing pile of pumpkins and squash in my kitchen. I got a bumper crop of sweet pumpkins and squash from Cascade Farm this week, and I celebrated with a batch of Molten Chocolate Pumpkin Mini Cakes and a Slightly Squashed Squash Souffle. No matter how gently I fold my egg whites into my soufflé, it never holds the super high rise I want it too, probably because I cram too much cheese into it. But it certainly tastes good on a chilly Sunday morning.

Click on for recipes!

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Five-Year Anniversary on Ice: Italian Bean and Kale Soup & Roasted (Acorn or Butternut) Squash

7 Nov

The view from my car as I waited for the road to clear on the second day of my longest commute home, like, eva'

When Stephen and I got married, we spent about a year engaged … in combat. Most couples seem to spend their engagement sipping hot cocoa, gazing worshipfully into each others eyes and saying adorable things in unison. We went the Bickersons route, and no road was too low for us to heedlessly gallop into.

But it was fun too. We managed to get all of our real ragers out of the way before we said our vows, and in between over-reacting to the other one’s egregious suggestions for the registry (“You like ecru placemats? I can’t marry someone who likes ecru place mats”) and make-up sessions, we found time to dream about our lives together.

It was a tense, fluttery rapid-heartbeat period of intense emotional, psychological and intellectual fencing, during which boundaries were tested, various territories were colonized and vast uncharted territories were explored.

Wild visions ensued. But never, in my most maudlin forecast, did I predict that I would spend our fifth wedding anniversary by myself in a cold, locked car at a Valero’s gas station under a bridge on Route 6 in Brewster. Stephen, meanwhile, was clutching our tick-covered dog on our living-room couch in front of the woodstove as a wet fire sputtered and spittered at him. (Thank you massive Nor’Easter!) Mother Nature, what a pal.

The lovely vista out my window under the bridge on a very, very long anniversary evening

Poor Stephen warmed a can of pork and beans on the stove top and ate it, hobo style, straight from the tin between bouts of MapQuesting and conversations with State Troopers to find out if he could either a) direct me on a safe, unclogged route home or b) come and save me.

Meanwhile, I tried to unwind from my hairy post-catering gig drive up 684 past downed trees, live, snaking power lines and cars overturned in ditches. It took me about 2 hours to drive what would normally take 20 minutes, and finally, the State Troopers pulled the plug on my little odyssey by shutting down the Interstate.

I wanted nothing more than to get home to Stephen, pick a fight about place mats for old time’s sake and kick back with a Six Point Sweet Action. Instead, I chatted with my new neighbors, changed my wet socks, threw on an extra scarf and the black velvet turban that my Mom gave me (I keep in my glove compartment to don during faux-crises because it’s ridiculous and it always makes me happy to wear ridiculous things), torn red mittens and puttered around the powerless Valero’s that valiantly stayed open and let all of my fellow stranded travelers eat our carrot cake, drink vats of coffee and munch on sunflower seeds while consulting our smart-phones for road conditions and gabbing about our travails that evening so far. Stephen and I stayed in touch, we both tried to stay warm, and neither of us slept more than a wink or two.

Day broke over my frosty car like a shattering bone china plate; I didn’t know whether I should cry or marvel at the glorious, stunning shards of destruction scattered around me. To my right, a young mother nursed her baby in her Suburban while her mother tried to keep them both calm. To my left, an elderly couple played what appeared to be a contentious round of Gin-Rummy in a pick-up Chevy.

Stephen called me, for the umpteenth time and we made the umpteenth plan for my escape; previous efforts to break out of Valero’s were stymied by downed Evergreens, overturned semi’s, countless minor and major accidents, but primarily, by Mother Nature, who is fond of running amok with dirty icicles. Stephen couldn’t even make it out of the driveway.

Twelve hours after I’d headed home, I pulled into the driveway. Stephen was waiting outside with a face as chapped from the cold and a cackle as unhinged from the storm as mine.

As our new neighbor said: “Welcome to the country.”

We salvaged a lot of the weekend from Mother Nature’s ravenous fun-munching raptors; Stephen’s surprise little vacation (I knew we were going, just didn’t know where), was unmolested. We headed to Saratoga and hid from our powerless, icy home, drank delicious Six Point beers, pigged out on chocolate and wild game, drank gallons of samples of different Saratoga Springs (who knew water could have so many complex flavors?), and didn’t get into a single fight about place mats.

The first spring we sampled

This man has serious business here, stop bothering him

Are you paying attention over there?

Note this hole!

My favorite thing about our marriage? Getting the engagement out of the way, so we could get to the really good stuff.

When we came home, we were still without power, but when it came on, I made some country classics to patch us through until the next storm. Click on for recipes for a hearty Italian-style vegetarian soup, and some fabulously rich-tasting roasted squash.

Our woodfire stove kept us nice and toasty (kinda!); I baked potatoes in a tin pouch in the fire, because I get cranky without carbs, and we were sick of chips.

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