Articles in Meat

Court Bouillon is tap water with a little bit of salt, peppercorn, sliced onion, parsley, bay leaf, sliced carrot and something acidic -- often lemon juice, but equally often white wine and occasionally vinegar. Credit: Copyright 2015 Susan Lutz

Culinary icon Anne Willan has just released “Secrets From the La Varenne Kitchen,” a brief compendium of “50 Essential Recipes Every Cook Needs To Know.” This amazing book includes the recipes that are the backbone course for professional chefs and that Willan’s legendary school Ecole de Cuisine La Varenne in Paris has been creating since 1975.

Among the dishes are fish aspic, exquisitely specific details on puff pastry and 10 types of sorbet. But one recipe caught my eye: Court Bouillon — or in rough English translation: “Quick Broth.” As a mom who doesn’t have the time for more intricate recipes and whose two young girls don’t have the palates for aspic yet, I liked the sound of that. I called Anne Willan to get her thoughts.


“Secrets From the La Varenne Kitchen”
By Anne Willan, Spring House Press, 2015, 133 pages
» Click here for a chance to win a free copy
» Click here to buy the book


“It’s very interesting that you’ve chosen court bouillon,” Willan said from her home in Santa Monica, California, “because it’s not something anybody thinks of using nowadays. It really is right in sync with contemporary cooking,” she continued. “It’s very useful because today people always want to cook things healthfully and simply.”

Willan’s definition of court bouillon is simple and clear: “It’s a meatless and fatless broth, so very simple, but something that just adds flavor to whatever’s cooked in it.” The recipe, which is included below, is easy, but I was hoping to get some insider secrets. Willan was happy to comply, although clearly none of this seemed like a big secret to her: “Thinly slice the carrots,” she told me, “so that they give up their flavor in 15 or 20 minutes. Slice the onions fairly thinly, but not to worry about it. The green herbs you just drop in, keep the stems, they have lots of taste.”

The real secret of court bouillon is properly pairing the food being cooked in the broth with a sympathetic acidic ingredient. Traditionally, the acid used in court bouillon would be vinegar, wine or lemon juice. Willan provided more nuanced distinctions: “For whitefish, I’d probably go for wine, because you don’t want too strong a flavor. For darker fish, possibly lemon juice or vinegar because it balances the stronger flavor of the fish.”

In traditional French cuisine, court bouillon is a liquid used for simmering, and then it’s tossed out. But as we discussed using the broth as a part of the meal, Willan became intrigued, because that’s simply part of her cooking ethos. “Never throw anything away,” she said. “When you’ve got lovely cooking liquid from something like a big salmon, do something with it — fish soup with the leftover.”

I could hear her brain begin to click as she explored the Culinary Thought Experiment: “The liquid will have acquired the flavor of what’s been cooking in it,” she said. “So what I would like to do is boil it down, and make a little sauce with it, mount it with butter or something.”

Then her brain went into high gear: “You could do lovely experiments with it. I certainly haven’t gone into it myself, but you could do an Asian court bouillon, or a hot court bouillon. You’d use chili peppers, wouldn’t you? It’s got to be something pure, hasn’t it?”

From the wisdom behind La Varenne

This was more intriguing than interview questions: Willan was asking and answering herself, giving me a view into a creative culinary mind that has long fascinated me as I’ve gobbled up her writings and her recipes from the classic “From My Château Kitchen” to her dish-y memoir “One Soufflé at a Time.” As she brainstormed the possibilities for court bouillon, her encyclopedic knowledge of cooking became clear, as did her passion for food and good eating.

“Perhaps I’d use coriander instead of parsley. And then, what would you use it for? If you push it a little bit, you could use it for a risotto or cooking quinoa. Or even grits or corn meal.”

By the time we were done, Willan had improvised a court bouillon for down-home Southern cooking and an Asian-influenced broth with the addition of soy sauce, cilantro and rice wine vinegar. She cautioned me against using too much chili pepper if I wanted to try a hot version because the flavor of the pepper would concentrate as the broth cooked down. It was an invigorating conversation — an insight into a culinary mind-set deeply rooted in the basics, but excited to jump in and experiment.

I love my copy of “Secrets from the La Varenne Kitchen,” and I intend to use it to build those basic skills that every cook needs to know — whether they’re a chef at a high-end restaurant or a mom with kids to feed. And court bouillon seems to be an inspired place for me to start. Check out the slideshow that includes Willan’s secrets and two dishes that riff on the recipe.

Court Bouillon

By Anne Willan, courtesy Spring House Press

Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 15 minutes
Total time: 25 minutes
Yield: 1 quart

Ingredients
1 quart water
1 carrot, sliced
1 small onion, sliced
1 bouquet garni
6 peppercorns
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup white wine or 1/3 cup vinegar or 1/4 cup lemon juice

Directions
1. Combine all the ingredients in a pan (not aluminum), cover and bring to a boil. Simmer uncovered 15 to 20 minutes and strain.

Main photo: Court Bouillon is tap water with a little bit of salt, peppercorn, sliced onion, parsley, bay leaf, sliced carrot and something acidic — often lemon juice, but equally often white wine and occasionally vinegar. Credit: Copyright 2015 Susan Lutz

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A hearty cassoulet featuring rabbit confit, smoked pork belly and black garlic sausage helps ward off a cold winter night. Credit: Copyright Jared Spoffard

As the cold Northeastern winter laid yet another wet snow on New York City, Back Forty West, Peter Hoffman’s wonderful restaurant at 70 Prince Street, sported its sixth annual celebration of cassoulet. As Hoffman said in his introductory words, each year this festival brings folks together to enjoy different incarnations of this wonderful, rich slow cooked bubbling mixture of beans and meats.

Adam Gopnik, who has written extensively about cassoulet in his book, “The Table Comes First,” reminded us that the cassoulet originated in the south of France, but variations of it are found in most countries of the world — feijoda in Latin America; solet in Hungary; cholent, a traditional Jewish stew; fabada asturiana in Spain; pasulj in Serbia, or even just baked beans, sausage and sauerkraut as my Swedish mother loved to assemble. It is a simple, traditional mixture of slow-cooked — often on their own — white beans, and then added to any combination of lamb, pork skin, sausage or duck confit. The dish is named after its traditional cooking vessel, the casserole, a deep, round, earthernware pot with slanting sides, but any large, heavy Dutch oven or stainless steel stew pot will do.

Each year, Hoffman seeks to benefit a different charity. This year’s Back Forty evening benefited Drive Change, an organization that mentors, hires and trains formerly incarcerated youth in order to prepare its fare and operate the nonprofit’s food truck. Drive Change chef Jared Spafford, who was formerly from Marlowe and Daughters and Flying Pigs Farm, was one of five chefs whose cassoulet graced the evening. Spafford’s interpretation consisted of rabbit confit, smoked pork belly, and black garlic sausage (recipe below).

Chefs who contributed a cassoulet

Jon Check from Buttermilk Channel in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, divined an original Southwestern interpretation of cassoulet that included Rancho Gordo heirloom beans, lamb shoulder, pheasant sausage and pork belly.

Hoffman’s was a more traditional presentation coming straight from a heavy iron pot that was cooked over the fabulous open fire in the Back Forty West dining room and included a delicious mixture of Flageolet beans, duck confit, chorizo and smoked pork belly.

Sara Jenkins’ delicious addition of lamb shoulder with a small merguez sausage laid on the lentil bed was another original interpretation. Her restaurant in the East village, Porsena, focuses on inspired pasta dishes.

Peter Lipson from Northern Spy Food Co. on 12th Street concocted an original mixture using cattle beans, guanciale, merguez and pork belly with quickly cooked veggies and a garni of crushed spicy corn chips, cilantro and sour cream.  A Southwestern delight.

The meal ended with a radicchio citrus salad followed by grapefruit and orange sorbet on a spoon.

Upon leaving the restaurant, we visited the Snowday Food Truck parked out in front and were offered a Maple Snow Lolly (traditionally served with hot syrup dripped on snow).

A fabulous dining experience with a side of social change.   

Rabbit Confit, Smoked Pork Belly and Black Garlic Sausage Cassoulet

Cassoulets can be a simple throw-together meal made of leftover meats and beans. Recipe courtesy Jared Spafford  

Rabbit brine

Prep time: 10 minutes

Cook time: Brine for 24 hours

Total time: About 24 hours

Yield: 6 to 8 servings

Ingredients

1 quart whey

3/4 cup shallots, sliced

1/2 cup ginger, sliced

4 cloves garlic, smashed

2 Thai red chilies, split

2 kaffir lime leaves

8 sprigs thyme

4 bay leaves

1 1/2 tablespoon white peppercorn

1 1/2 tablespoon mustard seeds

1 tablespoon coriander seeds

1 teaspoon curry powder

1 rabbit, cut into 6 pieces

Directions

1. Bring whey to a simmer, cut heat, stir in all ingredients besides rabbit.

2. When solution cools, add rabbit. Place in ziplock bag and remove air; brine for 1 day.

Rabbit Confit

Ingredients

1 to 1 1/2 quarts lard

4 stalks celery

4 shallots, sliced

4 cloves garlic, smashed

8 sprigs thyme

8 sprigs parsley

3 bay leaves

3 puya chile

1 cascabel chile

1 teaspoon smoked paprika

1 teaspoon turmeric

2 tablespoons salt

1 tablespoon white peppercorn

1 teaspoon cardamom

1 rabbit, brined for 24 hours

Directions

1. Warm lard until it turns liquid, add all ingredients except rabbit. Let ingredients steep for 30 minutes, add rabbit.

2. Cook in oven at 300 F for 2 to 2 1/2 hours, until meat pulls away from bone cleanly. Remove from oven, let cool.

3. Place in fridge overnight (2 to 3 days is optimum).

Beans

Prep time: Soak overnight, sprout for 2 to 3 days

Cook time: 6 to 7 hours on low heat

Total time: Several days of preparation

Ingredients

3/4 pound scarlet runner beans

3/4 pound yellow eye peas

3/4 pound navy beans

2 quarts pork stock

1 quart water

1 cup cider vinegar

1 cup maple syrup

2 bay leaves

8 sprigs thyme

8 sprigs parsley

1 1/2 tablespoon mixed peppercorn

Peel from one orange

Peel from one lemon

1/2 cup salt

Directions

1. Soak beans overnight with 3 times volume of water. Drain next day. Leave beans in colander on counter for 2 to 3 days, rinsing beans until water runs clean a few times a day.

2. When beans have begun sprouting, add to Dutch oven with rest of ingredients.

3. Braise beans covered at 300 F for 4 hours. Remove cover and continue cooking until soft, 1 to 2 more hours. Remove from oven and let cool.

4. Let beans rest in container overnight (2 to 3 days is optimum).

Smoked Belly

1 pound slab bacon

Score skin in a diamond pattern. Roast in oven at 300 F for 2 to 3 hours, until fat is fully rendered and skin is crispy. Remove from oven and weight down in a pan over night in fridge to compress belly.

Black Garlic Sausage

Prep time: 45 minutes

Cook time: 10 minutes

Total time: 55 minutes

Ingredients

1 head garlic, roasted

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 head black garlic, mashed

2 teaspoon ground white pepper

2-plus tablespoons salt

2 pounds ground pork

Directions

1. Mash all garlic together in mortar to form a paste.

2. Thoroughly mix garlic paste, salt and pepper with ground pork. Cook small test piece to check seasoning, adjust with salt and pepper as needed.

3. Let mixture rest overnight.

4. Form 3/4-inch balls with sausage, do not overwork. Cook in oven at 400 F for 9 minutes. Remove and drain off drippings.

Tomato

Prep time: 5 minutes

Cook time: 45 minutes

Total time: 50 minutes

Ingredients

1 cup white onion, diced

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 (16-ounce) can crushed tomatoes

Directions

1. Sweat onions and garlic until they turn light brown.

2. Add tomatoes and stir to combine.

3. Roast in oven uncovered at 375 F for 30 minutes. Reduce to 300 F and continue cooking for another 30 minutes. Remove and let cool

Cassoulet

1 rabbit confit, meat shredded

Braised beans

Smoked belly, sliced

Black garlic sausage

Tomato mixture

Fold all ingredients together and place in oven at 300 F to warm through. Let stand for 15 minutes before serving. Dress with parsley, bread crumbs and maple syrup.

Main photo: A hearty cassoulet featuring rabbit confit, smoked pork belly and black garlic sausage helps ward off a cold winter night. Credit: Jared Spafford

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Beef and Guinness stew. Credit: Copyright 2015 Nathan Hoyt/Forktales

Not so long ago, most Americans’ idea of how to enjoy beef was to dig into a slab of steak as big as the plate it was served on. Thankfully, culinary fashions have changed. Today, the so-called lesser cuts are giving the primes a run for their money not only because they are cheaper but because they have more flavor. Delicious parts like short ribs and oxtail are so much the rage, that they, too, have become wildly pricey.

To my mind, chuck and blade steak, still relatively economical, are two of the most promising cuts for braising, my favorite cooking method for meat in general. This simple technique of searing and caramelizing foods in fat or oil before simmering them in a cooking liquid, often alcoholic, enriches their flavor and tenderizes them at the same time. Add vegetables, and you’ve made a classic stew. Not only are stews nourishing and sustaining in cold weather but, when made ahead, they actually improve.

The raw materials of stews around the world

There are pedestrian variants consisting simply of meat and root vegetables. And then there are the more artful braises at which the French are so adept, exemplified by boeuf à la Bourguignonne, which is laced during long, slow cooking with the namesake region’s fabled wine. The Italians have their own variations on the theme: The Sicilians enrich their spezzatino with Marsala, for instance, while the Piedmontese dedicate an entire bottle of Barolo for every kilo of beef in their brasato. The Belgians make heady carbonnades with beef chunks, abundant mushrooms and onions braised in light beer with a hint of vinegar and sugar. All of these braised stews are based on cheap cuts, the fat and connective tissue of which render the meat moist and incredibly tender during long, slow cooking.

For me, one of the most delicious is Ireland’s traditional beef stew fortified with rich, dark stout, a beer brewed with roasted, malted barley. The English have their version in the old prescription for “Sussex stew,” a beef braise simmered with mushroom ketchup and ale, but I believe no cooking liquid suits an Irish stew more than Dublin’s Guinness. This malty stout is creamy with a pleasant bitterness that makes for a powerful yet subtle cooking liquid, imparting its own complex layer of flavor while producing a velvety gravy. The resulting dish is one with a double life: Eat it as a stew, or cover it with a crust for a pie.

Candlelight dinner on St. Patrick’s Day. Credit: Copyright 2015 Nathan Hoyt/Forktales

Candlelight dinner on St. Patrick’s Day. Credit: Copyright 2015 Nathan Hoyt/Forktales

What makes stout particularly suited to beef stews is what Chrissie Manion Zaepoor of Kookoolan Farms — a stout expert, craft mead maker and pasture-raised meat producer in Yamhill, Oregon — calls “roastiness.” “It’s like espresso,” she says. “It has a smoky, grilled flavor that’s nice with beef, and it’s herbaceous in a way that wine isn’t.”

Just how much stout to add depends on the other ingredients. Too little and, well, you’re missing the point; too much and the stew will be bitter. I find the best proportion is about one-third stout to two-thirds stock. Guinness is an old reliable for the Irish purist, but you can experiment with any of the local craft stouts that are widely available these days, each of which will impart their own individual character.

As for the stock, its quality is essential to the success of the stew. I rarely rely on commercially made stock, which (besides being close to tasteless) too often contains sugar, green pepper, mushroom or other ingredients I would not use in my own recipe. But if need be, I find most commercial chicken stocks more palatable than their beef counterparts. Whether the stock is homemade or store-bought, adding stout will enrich it.

What to drink with Irish stew?

The pleasure of eating this singular stew is increased manyfold when it is accompanied by a swig of the same good stout you’ve cooked with. The pleasant bitterness of the drink rises to the rich, deep flavors of the braise and so nicely sets off the sugars in the onions and carrots. The Irish, like the rest of their compatriates in the British Isles, drink their beer cool, not cold, like a fine red wine. Pour with care for a full, creamy head. On St. Patrick’s Day, be sure to have on hand a loaf of soda bread peppered with caraway seeds to slather with soft Irish butter for the proper holiday spirit. Slainte!

Irish Beef-and-Beer Stew

Prep time: 30 minutes

Cook time: About 2 1/4 hours

Total time: About 3 hours

Yield: 8 servings

Ingredients

4 pounds well-sourced (preferably organic) blade steaks or boneless beef chuck-eye roast, trimmed of excess fat, cut into 1 1/4-inch pieces

3/4 cup good-quality unsalted butter, preferably Irish

3 medium onions, chopped

3 large cloves garlic, peeled and smashed

Stems from 1 bunch parsley, minced

3 bay leaves

2 teaspoons dried herbes de Provence

1 1/4 cups stout, such as Guinness

2 3/4 cups homemade, salt-free meat stock, or low-sodium chicken broth

3 carrots, peeled and sliced

3 turnips, peeled and cubed

4 to 5 teaspoons fine sea salt, or to taste

Freshly milled black pepper to taste

3 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour

2 pounds small Yukon Gold, fingerling or Red Bliss potatoes, scrubbed, skin on

8 ounces freshly picked and shelled or frozen petite peas (optional)

Directions

1. Blot the meat with paper towels to remove moisture. In a heavy, ample, oven-proof braiser or Dutch oven, warm 1/4 cup of the butter over medium heat. Slip in just enough meat cubes to leave sufficient room around each one for proper searing. You will need to brown the meat in several batches, adding up to 1/4 cup of the remaining butter as needed (reserve the rest for browning vegetables later). Each batch will take about 10 minutes to brown all over; when it’s done, transfer it to a large bowl and repeat the process until all the meat is browned before starting the next.

2. Add the onion and garlic to the pan and sauté until they are softened and lightly caramelized, about 4 minutes. Stir occasionally to dislodge any meat bits from the pan surface. Stir in the parsley stems, bay leaves and dried herbs and sauté for another minute or two.

3. Return the browned meat and its juices to the pan. Pour in the stout followed by the stock. Stir the ingredients together well and bring to a simmer. Cover the pot and cook over the lowest possible heat for 1 1/2 hours, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking. (I like to set a metal heat diffuser, called a “flame tamer,” between the flame and the pot to neutralize any hot spots and ensure even cooking.) Alternatively, you can heat the oven to 300 F, slide the covered pot onto the middle shelf and cook for 1 1/2 hours, stirring occasionally.

4. Meanwhile, in a separate, ample skillet, warm the remaining butter. Add the carrots and turnips and sauté until they are nicely colored, 10 to 12 minutes. Reserve.

5. After 1 1/2 hours, stir the carrots and turnips into the stew. Cook for another 45 minutes, or until both the meat and root vegetables are very tender. When it is done, add salt and pepper to taste.

6. In the meantime, cover the potatoes in 3 inches of cold water and bring to a boil; then simmer over medium heat until tender, 15 to 20 minutes. Drain and keep warm.

7. In a small bowl, whisk together the flour with enough cold water (or cold stock) to make a thin, smooth paste or slurry. If you have been cooking the stew in the oven, remove it now and put it on the stove top over low heat.

8. Remove the cover from the pot and stir the slurry into the stew a little at a time to blend well. Add the peas if desired. Simmer until the gravy thickens and heats through and the peas are warm, no more than 5 minutes. Serve hot with boiled potatoes.

Notes: Using a well-marbled cut that will be rendered moist and tender during cooking is important to the success of any meat stew. Shoulder cuts, including blade steak or chuck, are ideal; avoid leg meat, which will be dry and tough by comparison. Searing small batches in hot butter before adding the cooking liquid caramelizes them, creating another layer of flavor. The root vegetables are sautéed separately and incorporated late to prevent them from disintegrating into the gravy. Peas are optional; I love them for their little bursts of sweetness, but don’t overcook! Boiled potatoes go well with the stew, and there will be plenty of gravy to sauce them. The stew will keep in a refrigerator for up to four days, or it can be frozen. To make a pie, cool the stew and divide it into individual crocks or larger baking dishes, as you prefer, then top with your favorite unsweetened pie crust or puff pastry. Brush the crust with egg wash (a whole egg yolk thinned with a little cold water or milk). Preheat the oven to 400 F and bake until it is heated through and the crust is golden, about 20 minutes, depending on pie size.

Main photo: Beef and Guinness stew. Credit: Copyright 2015 Nathan Hoyt/Forktales 

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Together with his father, siblings and cousins, this refugee in Ecuador gets a taste of his Colombian home thanks to his aunt’s cooking. Credit: Chris Terry

Part of what makes eating together so pleasurable, in any language or culture, is the conversation. But when London-based photographer Chris Terry was in Niger photographing an ordinary family enjoying a spaghetti dinner, he was surprised that no one spoke.

“It’s a great privilege to have food to eat,” explained the grandmother, the head of the household. “It’s not the moment to chat and say silly things.”

The spaghetti had been paid for with vouchers from the United Nations World Food Program (WFP). Under the program, Terry had been invited into the family’s home to document what has become the photo exhibit, “The Family Meal: What Brings Us Together.”

Terry photographed families receiving WFP assistance as they made and ate meals in five countries — Chad, Niger, Myanmar, Jordan and Ecuador — where hunger has become entrenched because of disasters and conflicts largely forgotten by the rest of the world. Chad and Niger have suffered the worst drought in 50 years; Myanmar families have been uprooted because of ethnic conflict; and Syrian and Colombian refugees have fled into Jordan and Ecuador, respectively, to escape violence in their own countries.

The exhibit opened in November at Gare du Midi in Brussels, Belgium, and has since appeared at airports in Madrid and Lisbon and at the Symposium on the History of Food at the University of Amsterdam. Now at Dublin’s airport and online, it also highlights five family recipes, including Pollo Sudado (Sweaty Chicken) from Ecuador. Future shows are scheduled for the Milan Expo 2015 in May-November; the Sustainable Food Summit in Amsterdam June 4-5; and Strokestown’s Irish National Famine Museum in June-August. You also can check the exhibit schedule.

Evin Joyce of WFP’s Brussels office came up with the Family Meal idea 18 months ago to promote the group’s message with positive, personal images from around the globe. Eating together is a ritual we all have in common, he explained. Gathering, preparing, cooking and sharing food, as a family, are activities humans have done for millennia.

Transporting food by plane, train, truck, barge and yak

Every year food from the WFP travels through often rough, hostile terrains to reach more than 90 million beneficiaries in 75 countries, via plane, train, truck, river barge, camel and yak. The idea of the family meal is especially poignant this past year. For the first time, the WFP faced five high-level crises simultaneously: South Sudan, Central African Republic, the Syria and Iraq conflicts, and West Africa’s Ebola outbreak.

During the exhibit’s appearance at the European Parliament in late February, WFP Executive Director Ertharin Cousin said that the Family Meal photos “give a face to those we serve.”

The photos also give us a peek into the lives and meal traditions of families struggling in ways many of us cannot image. But to my surprise, many of the images made me feel, not pity, but delight — even a bit of envy, because we who do not suffer from hunger sometimes claim we are “too busy” for family meals.

The photos capture the intimacy and joy of eating together, no matter how desperate the circumstances. Food not only nourishes us; sharing it lifts our spirits. The homemade dishes shown are colorful and inviting, made with staples such as rice and sorghum flour, and enlivened with the flavors, textures and colors of achiote powder, yucca and pomegranate seeds. The food was often prepared over open fires, in family or communal kitchens. Families ate together, indoors and out, seated on cushions on the floor, on the ground or at tables crowded with relatives.

The winners of a recent Family Meal photo competition, judged by celebrity chef Jamie Oliver and photographer Terry, were also announced during the launch at the Parliament. In one photo, a family in the Philippines shares a meal by candlelight because of power outages that still occur after a devastating typhoon in 2012. As Terry commented, the image “draws the viewer in, emphasizing the human need to gather around light, and company, when sharing a meal.”

Guests at the Parliament launch were offered samples of the five featured recipes. We commented on all the spicy and varied flavors as we guessed at the ingredients. I was particularly delighted with the texture of the yucca root in the “Sweaty Chicken” dish. The yucca flower is the official “state flower” of my home state of New Mexico, but I had never tasted yucca root before.

Abu Sayid and his family hope that peace returns, so they can leave Jordan’s Zaatari refugee camp and go home to Syria. Credit: Chris Terry

Abu Sayid and his family hope that peace returns, so they can leave Jordan’s Zaatari refugee camp and go home to Syria. Credit: Chris Terry

For Syrian refugee Abu Sayid, who lives with his family in Jordan’s Zaatari refugee camp, preparing and eating traditional recipes with his family keeps alive his memories of home. During Terry’s photo shoot, he helped his wife prepare two staple Syrian dishes: kubbeh (bulgur wheat balls stuffed with mincemeat and onions) and shishbarak dumplings (thin dough with mincemeat filling cooked in a yogurt stew).

“WFP vouchers allow us to get any food we need from stores around here [the refugee camp],” Abu Sayid said in a WFP interview as he sealed a kubbeh ball and his wife started frying the first batch of dumplings. “In Syria, we like to laugh and joke during a meal. It makes the food more enjoyable.”

In Myanmar, the WFP’s Joyce asked one family why they eat together? “It gives us a sense of unity,” one of them replied. Food is our priority, another woman told him. “As long as we housewives have a bag of rice, the rest can sort itself out.”

Joyce also noticed that women put a lot of effort into preparing and flavoring meals, no matter how basic the ingredients. And like mothers everywhere, they sometimes had to remind their children, “Eat your vegetables.”

Preparing “Sweaty Chicken” in Ecuador. Credit: Chris Terry

Preparing “Sweaty Chicken” in Ecuador. Credit: Chris Terry

Pollo Sudado (Sweaty Chicken) from Ecuador

Prep time: 15 minutes

Cook time: 25 to 30 minutes

Total time: 40  to 45 minutes

Yield: About 8

Ingredients

1 whole chicken

2 onions

3 cloves of garlic

Oil

1 big tomato

Coriander, salt and pepper

1 tablespoon of achiote powder (annatto)

Directions

1. Rinse the whole chicken and chop it into pieces, taking off the legs, breast and wings.

2. Chop the onions and garlic and fry them with oil over a high flame in a large pan.

3. Add the tomato and let it simmer a bit.

4. Add the chicken and then lower the flame.

5. Add the coriander, salt, pepper and achiote powder.

6. Add a little water, cover the pot and leave it to simmer for 20 minutes.

Notes

Pollo Sudado should be served with rice and yucca, which should be peeled, chopped and boiled with salt for 20 minutes. ¡Buen Provecho!

Main photo: Together with his father, siblings and cousins, this refugee in Ecuador gets a taste of his Colombian home thanks to his aunt’s cooking. Credit: Chris Terry

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When your husband loves risotto, lobster and steak, Lobster Risotto and filet mignon offer a great twist on surf and turf. Credit: Carole Murko

Nine years ago my husband was diagnosed with celiac disease. The diagnosis was a godsend as his symptoms displayed evidence of something much worse. When the test results were in, we celebrated. We were also quite giddy that he would become well again with the elimination of gluten. What a fabulous prognosis — no drugs, just elimination.

In an interesting twist of fate, our Icelandic mare, Valkyrie, had birthed a foal on the same day as Jim’s diagnosis. We named her Gaefa, which means good luck and good fortune, both of which we felt were in ample supply.

Nine years ago gluten intolerance and celiac disease were not yet mainstream. As you might imagine, stripping my pantry of wheat was both a joyous and sad day for me. Afterall, my one-half Italian being craved homemade pasta, breads and treats. But my sweetheart’s disease was not a death sentence. It was a mere inconvenience. And, I, by golly, would master gluten-free cooking. And I have.

Myriad gluten-free foods

There are myriad foods that are naturally gluten free. Take risotto for one. Steak for another. Greens. Fruits. Chocolate. The list goes on and on.

Here is a perfect gluten-free Valentine’s Day Dinner. My sweetie is happy, and so am I!

Lobster Risotto

Filet Mignon

Arugula Salad With Balsamic Vinaigrette

Flourless Chocolate Cake

I like to create menus that reflect both my culinary acumen, and the love I have for the recipients. There truly is nothing, and I mean nothing, better than watching someone relish what you have cooked for them. This menu is tailored to Jim. He loves risotto, he loves lobster and he loves steak. These recipes provide a great twist on surf and turf as the lobster risotto makes a lovely side to the filet mignon. The arugula salad complements the meal by adding a peppery green, dressed with a sweetish balsamic vinaigrette.

Make sure you leave room, because this flourless chocolate cake will knock your socks off. Happy Valentine’s Day! With love, Carole

Lobster Risotto

Risotto is one of the simplest and most versatile of dishes. And while I provide this recipe as a guide, keep in mind you can make risotto without the white wine, with onions if you don’t have shallots, or with just butter, just olive oil and with many different “add-ins.” To celebrate Valentine’s, however, nothing beats lobster.

Prep time: 20 minutes

Cook time: 20 to 30 minutes

Total time: 40 to 50 minutes

Yield: 3 to 4 servings

Ingredients

1 (1 1/2-pound) lobster (have it steamed at the fish counter to save you a step)

1/2 stick butter

1/2 cup of shallots or onions

1 cup Arborio rice

1/2 cup white wine

4 cups chicken broth, heated

1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated

1 to 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1/8 teaspoon fresh pepper

2 teaspoons freshly chopped thyme

Directions

1. Remove meat from lobster, cut into bite-size pieces.

2. Heat butter in a large saucepan over medium heat, add shallots and cook until tender.

3. Stir in rice and stir until coated with oil about 2 minutes.

4. Add the wine and stir until the wine is cooked off and absorbed.

5. Add the broth one ladle at time, stirring constantly until the broth is absorbed. Continue adding broth until rice is fluffy, tender and creamy.

6. Add the Parmesan, lemon juice, pepper and thyme.

7. Fold in the lobster, serve when lobster is warm.

Lobster and filet mignon are the beginnings of a delicious Valentine's Day dinner. Credit: Carole Murko

Lobster and filet mignon are the beginnings of a delicious Valentine’s Day dinner. Credit: Carole Murko

Stove Top Filet Mignon

Prep time: 2 to 3 minutes

Cook time: 8 to 10 minutes

Total time: 10 to 13 minutes

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients

Four 1/2-pound filets

Salt and pepper

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons butter

Cast iron pan

Directions

1. Bring meat to room temperature.

2. Season with salt and pepper.

3. Heat olive oil and butter on high in cast iron pan.

4. Add filets.

5. Cook 4 to 5 minutes per side for medium-rare filets.

In keeping with all the buzz about the aphrodisiac effect of chocolate, a flourless (hence, no gluten) chocolate cake is the perfect ending to a Valentine's Day dinner. Credit: Carole Murko

In keeping with all the buzz about the aphrodisiac effect of chocolate, a flourless (hence, no gluten) chocolate cake is the perfect ending to a Valentine’s Day dinner. Credit: Carole Murko

Heirloom Flourless Chocolate Cake

I love homemade gifts from the heart. My sweetheart, Jim, has celiac disease, which is an autoimmune disease triggered by eating wheat or foods with gluten. So in keeping with all the buzz about the aphrodisiac effect of chocolate, I decided a flourless (hence, no gluten) chocolate cake would be my gift.

This recipe is from the family archives of my amazing friend Deb Mackey, with her note: “Here’s an absolutely FAB recipe for a flourless chocolate cake that is to die for, and can be très elegant, depending on how you gussy it up. I frequently plate it on a swirl of raspberry coulis for especially discerning friends. Everyone I’ve ever made it for has raved, and it became the birthday cake of choice for every man in my life. And for some of their subsequent wives, too, I might add.”

Prep time: 30 to 45 minutes

Cook time: 1 1/2 hours

Total time: 2 to 2 1/4 hours

Yield: 8 to 10 servings

Ingredients

For cake:

12 ounces semisweet chocolate chips

1/2 cup unsalted butter

6 eggs, separated, at room temperature

1 cup sugar

1/2 cup chopped pecans

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

1 tablespoon Bailey’s Irish Cream

1 pinch cream of tartar

For topping:

2 cups whipping cream

1/4 cup powdered sugar

2 tablespoons Bailey’s Irish Cream

2 ounces chocolate curls

10-inch springform pan, greased (or wax/parchment paper will do)

Directions

For cake:

1. Preheat oven to 350 F.

2. Melt chips and butter in a bowl over hot water.

3. Beat egg yolks in large bowl (5 minutes, or until thick).

4. Beat in 1/2 cup sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time.

5. To the melted chocolate, stir in pecans, vanilla and 1 tablespoon of Bailey’s

6. Beat egg whites with cream of tartar, to soft peak

7. Gradually add remaining 1/2 cup sugar. Beat stiff, but not dry.

8. Fold 1/4 of whites mixture into the chocolate cake mix.

9. Fold the chocolate mix into the remaining whites mixture.

10. Pour into lined pan and bake 30 minutes at 350 F.

11. Reduce oven to 275 F. Bake another 30 minutes.

12. Turn off oven. Let cake stand in oven with door slightly ajar for about 30 minutes.

13. Remove from oven. Dampen towel and place on top of cake for 5 minutes. Remove the towel.

14. Top of cake will crack and fall. Cool cake in pan.

15. Remove springform when cool. Transfer cake to platter.

For topping:

Whip cream to soft peak. Beat in powdered sugar and 2 tablespoons of Bailey’s.

Finish cake:

1. Spoon whipped cream mixture over top of cake and smooth. Sprinkle with chocolate curls.

2. Refrigerate 6 hours. Let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes before serving.

Main photo: When your husband loves risotto, lobster and steak, Lobster Risotto and filet mignon offer a great twist on surf and turf. Credit: Carole Murko

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Peanuts closely resemble the Bambara groundnut , a vital ingredient in many West African dishes. Credit: Cynthia D. Bertelsen

Africa. What a complicated and enormous continent it is, comprising more than 50 countries, all different, all with their own culinary specialties.

In this, the first in a series of articles about the foods of Africa, I hope to encourage you to go on voyage of exploration, discovering the food of a fascinating part of the world. We begin with the peanut or groundnut, a vital ingredient in many West Africa dishes.

My own exploration with African food came during my work in Morocco with the Peace Corps as a trainer in maternal and infant health and nutrition. And in Burkina Faso, where I once managed the U.S. embassy’s commissary, I also was a consultant and trainer for the culinary staff of the American Club.

Now, I’m researching the culinary legacies of European colonialism for a book due out in 2016 — including the impact of the African Diaspora on modern Europe and elsewhere. And so I find myself in the kitchen, tasting flavors of the places I’m reading about. It stimulates me to share all that with you in a series of articles about ingredients commonly used in Africa.

EXPLORING AFRICA, ONE INGREDIENT AT A TIME


 This is the first in a series exploring the food of the African continent, with a focus on individual ingredients and traditional recipes to bring the African pantry to your home.  

Future articles will feature cassava, black-eyed peas, coconut, palm oil, corn, eggplant, okra, smoked fish, sweet potatoes, plantains, rice and millet.

 

You don’t need a plane ticket. Just a basic pantry, a few pots and your kitchen.

West Africa, where we’ll begin, is a special place when it comes to food. It’s a region where street markets bloom anywhere the fickle climate will support them. Perhaps here, more than any other place on Earth, seasonality dictates what food appears on the plate, a natural and uncontrived model of the concept of local foods.

Cooks here create vibrant, savory meals with an often limited repertoire of ingredients. Many West African dishes and techniques can still be savored in the cooking of the American South, Brazil and the Caribbean: places where Africans endured the pain of slavery.

Walk into the central market in Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso or stroll down a busy street in Dakar in Senegal, and you see how people make do, creating a vibrant cuisine from what is available. The aromas make your mouth water, and your eyes cannot get enough of the pulsating scene, as market women set out their small mounds of produce on the ground, covered with scraps of colorful cloth.

Vegetables also poke out of the tops of baskets, like so many baby birds peering cautiously from their nest. Meat sits on counter tops, the various cuts nothing at all like the standard fare found in Western butcher shops and supermarkets. You might be puzzled by some of the spices and herbs, yes. But overall, the cuisine of West Africa is highly accessible to the Western cook.

Take, for example, the following recipe for meat cooked in a peanut sauce with fresh spinach.

Resembling a native African bean known as the Bambara groundnut, the American peanut ironically rose to esteem under humble circumstances. African slaves stored Bambara groundnut stew recipes in their minds and likely dreamed of bubbling stew pots as they crossed the tossing Atlantic, confined in the holds of slave ships. Imagine their joy in finding the peanut, which reminded them of home.

At the same time, but a world away, the Portuguese introduced the peanut to West Africa and Asia. Africans invented peanut brittle and kulikuli (or fried peanut balls).

With just a few basic ingredients from your West African pantry, cooking becomes the next best thing to hopping on a flight to Senegal or the Ivory Coast.

Be sure to invite a friend to join you for the meal, for as an African proverb goes, “One who eats alone cannot discuss the taste of the food with others.”

Meat in Peanut Sauce With Spinach

Prep time: 25 to 30 minutes

Cook time: 2½ hours

Total time: 3 hours

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

You may use beef, goat or lamb, if you prefer. And if you really like mutton, that, too.

Ingredients

3 tablespoons peanut oil

2 pounds beef chuck roast, trimmed of excess fat, rinsed, cut into 2-inch chunks, and patted dry

1 1/2 large yellow onions, finely chopped

3 cloves garlic, peeled, sliced, and lightly crushed with the side of a cleaver or large knife

1 piece of fresh ginger the size of a large walnut, peeled and lightly crushed with the side of a cleaver or large knife

1 small hot green pepper, seeded and minced, or more to taste

8 large plum tomatoes, coarsely chopped

1 teaspoon salt or, to taste

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper or, to taste

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper or, to taste

1 teaspoon paprika

1 teaspoon curry powder

1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves

2 cups water

1 cup natural peanut butter

16 ounces fresh spinach leaves (or frozen, in a pinch)

Fresh cilantro leaves and roasted peanuts, chopped, for garnish

Directions

1. Heat oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high heat.

2. Place salted meat chunks in pot and cook until well; flip pieces over and brown the other sides. Remove meat from pan and set aside on a large plate.

3. Add onions to the pan and fry until slightly translucent and golden in color; toss in the garlic, ginger and hot green pepper. Cook for another minute or so, until garlic turns slightly golden.

4. Stir in tomatoes and cook for about 3 minutes. Mash tomatoes with a potato masher or other implement.

5. Mix in the salt, black pepper, cayenne pepper, paprika, curry powder and thyme leaves. Stir well. Pour in 2 cups of water.

6. Add the meat, making sure to cover pieces with the liquid. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, uncovered, for 10 to 15 minutes.

7. Using some of the broth from the pot, thin the peanut butter and stir well. Add half of the peanut butter mixture to the stew. (Reserve the other half of the mixture for the spinach.) Cook, covered, until meat is tender, about 1 1/2 hours. Add more water if stew looks too thick.

8. While the meat cooks, rinse the spinach, and immediately add it to a large skillet over high heat. Stirring constantly, cook the spinach until all the leaves wilt. Remove from heat instantly and drain the spinach in a colander with cold water. When cool enough to handle, squeeze out excess water from the spinach and set aside.

9. Just before the meat is done, place the spinach in a heavy-bottomed pot, gently stir in the reserved peanut sauce, and warm the mixture over medium-low heat, uncovered, making sure that the mixture stays moist. Add a few tablespoons of water if mixture gets too dry.

10. Ladle sauce over white rice, placing pieces of meat on the side. Garnish the meat and the rice with chopped cilantro leaves and peanuts. Spoon the spinach near the meat. Or, serve the meat and sauce with cornmeal mush or fufu (pounded yam or plantains).

11. Pass Fiery West African Tomato Condiment (recipe below) around the table and dribble some on the meat, if desired.

Fiery West-African Tomato Condiment

Fiery West African condiment. Credit: Cynthia D. Bertelsen

Fiery West African condiment. Credit: Cynthia D. Bertelsen

Prep time: 15 minutes

Cook time: 15 to 20 minutes

Total time: 35 minutes

Yield: 2½ to 3 cups

Ingredients

3 tablespoons peanut oil

5 large garlic cloves, peeled and finely minced

2 to 3 red habanero peppers, seeded, and finely chopped (leave seeds in for an even hotter taste)

8 large plum tomatoes, cut into quarters

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Directions

1. Heat oil over medium-high heat in heavy-bottomed skillet.

2. Add garlic and sauté for about 30 seconds, or until garlic turns slightly golden in color. Add peppers and fry for another 30 seconds, stirring constantly.

3. Slip tomatoes carefully into the oil to avoid splattering; sprinkle with salt and pepper.

4. Cook for 2 minutes and then lower the heat. Simmer, uncovered, until oil separates from the tomatoes.

5. Store in a covered container for up to a week. Use as a condiment with any African main dish.

Main photo: Peanuts closely resemble the Bambara groundnut, a vital ingredient in many West African dishes. Credit: Cynthia D. Bertelsen

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Faroese Lamb Fillet With Fermented Carrots, Wild Herbs and Lamb Bouillon. Credit: Carla Capalbo

Nordic chef Poul Andrias Ziska offers a fresh way from the Faroe Islands to prepare spring lamb. The tangy carrots give the lamb a nice lift. Ziska, of KOKS restaurant, in the Foroyar Hotel, above Tórshavn, reflects the trend of many Nordic chefs, who are working with the home-fermented vegetables that were once a Scandinavian staple in the days before refrigeration. The vegetables are usually made in big batches and keep well in the refrigerator. But they take at least a week to prepare. For a quicker, easier version of this Faroe Islands recipe, use store-bought pickled or fermented carrots. They’re available from some health-food stores. This recipe also calls for Faroese lamb, but fine organic lamb can be substituted.

Faroese Lamb Fillet With Fermented Carrots,

Wild Herbs And Lamb Bouillon

Prep time: 15 minutes

Cook time: 20 minutes

Total time: 35 minutes

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients

3 cups lamb bouillon (use liquid bouillon rather than a stock cube)

1 tablespoon elderflower or other delicately aromatic vinegar

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

2 lamb fillets

2/3 cup fermented or pickled sliced carrots

a handful of edible flowers and leaves, such as oxalis (wood sorrel), cuckoo flower (cardamine pratensis), violets

Directions

1. Preheat the broiler.

2. In a small saucepan, bring the bouillon to the boil and continue cooking until the liquid has reduced by half. Remove from the heat and stir in the vinegar. Taste for seasoning. Keep the sauce warm while you cook the lamb.

3. Broil the lamb fillets for 2 to 3 minutes on each side, turning them 2 or 3 times. The meat should be medium rare. Remove from the pan and allow to stand for 5 minutes before cutting it into thick slices.

4. Divide the lamb slices between 4 shallow serving bowls. Arrange the carrot slices on top, and scatter with the wild leaves and flowers. Spoon the sauce over the lamb and serve.

Main photo: Faroese Lamb Fillet With Fermented Carrots, Wild Herbs and Lamb Bouillon. Credit: Carla Capalbo

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Poulet au fromage. Credit: Charles Perry

“Chicken with cheese”: The words conjure up visions of that college-student standby, the fried-chicken melt. But poulet au fromage is something quite different — something elegant and perfectly delicious.

Exemplifying the cookery of early 18th-century France, long before the famous chef Marie-Antoine Carême came along and codified haute cuisine, the recipe appears in “Nouveau Traité de la Cuisine,” Published in the 1740s by a writer who used the pen name Menon. (Note that it wasn’t until the 20th century that chefs regularly began to publish their recipes while they were still fashionable; before then, chefs typically didn’t reveal their secrets until after they’d retired. So published recipes tended to represent the cuisine of an earlier era.)

Haute cuisine standards

Anyway, poulet au fromage is a delightful dish with a family resemblance to the 19th-century haute cuisine standard veal Foyot. In both cases, meat is simmered with broth and white wine and then baked under a covering of Gruyère (or Swiss) cheese; the ingredients meld into a concoction with a savory, sophisticated flavor.

But there are differences (besides the obvious fact that veal Foyot contains veal, which is expensive and troubles some people on ethical grounds). Poulet au fromage includes a substantial amount of herbs, which was more characteristic of French food in the 18th century than it was in the 19th (and is perhaps a little more to our present-day tastes). And it does not include fried minced onions, as veal Foyot does. If you felt like discreetly sprinkling some lightly fried onions on the chicken before adding the final cheese layer, however, I would be willing to close my eyes.

Menon’s recipe calls for a whole chicken, but the chickens of his day were younger and therefore more tender than those we can conveniently get in our supermarkets. I substitute chicken breast; to make up for the slight loss of flavor due to the absence of bones, I tend to add a bit of bottled chicken base.

Properly, the herbs should be added in the form of a bouquet wrapped in cheesecloth. But if you do that, you have to transfer everything to a saucepan, because in a frying pan the liquid will nowhere near cover the bouquet. It’s therefore more convenient to add all the herbs loose; given that are no other ingredients in the cooking liquid, they’re easy enough to strain out later.

Poulet au Fromage

Prep time: About 20 minutes

Cook time: About 1 1/2 hours

Total time: About 1 hour 50 minutes

Yield: 2 to 3 servings

Ingredients

2 1/2 to 3 pounds chicken breast

2 ounces butter

3/4 cup dry white wine such as Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc

1/2 cup chicken broth

3 sprigs parsley

2 shallots, sliced

2 cloves garlic, crushed

3 whole cloves

1 bay leaf

2 small sprigs fresh thyme

3 leaves fresh basil

Salt and pepper

1 pound Swiss or French Gruyère cheese, grated

Directions

1. Remove any bones and skin from the breasts, pound them with a kitchen mallet to flatten and cut them into pieces 1 1/2- to 2-inches square. Melt the butter in a large pan and fry the pieces in two batches until lightly browned, about 15 minutes.

2. Add the wine, broth, parsley, shallots, garlic, cloves, bay leaf, thyme and basil along with salt and pepper to taste. Bring the liquid to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer, loosely covered, for 1 hour. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 475 F.

3. Remove the meat from the pan. Strain the cooking liquid and transfer half of it to a 2-quart casserole or baking dish. Sprinkle with half of the cheese, add the chicken pieces and the rest of the cooking liquid, and top with the remaining cheese. Cover the baking dish tightly and bake until the cheese is entirely melted, 10 to 12 minutes.

4. Raise the temperature to 500 F, remove the cover from the casserole and return to the oven until the cheese has begun turning brown in spots, 5 to 7 minutes.

 Main photo: Poulet au fromage. Credit: Charles Perry

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