Cooking for Others

Roasted Chipotle Pecans

Posted by on Thursday May 21st, 2015

People who know me know I’m not much of a snacker–I like meals too damn much to ruin my appetite for them–and yet when I read this couple of sentences in Tamar Adler’s An Everlasting Meal I slapped my own forehead and felt like a judgmental jerk for not seeing the obvious about a good, social snack, not the half granola bar in your desk drawer but rather the sort of nibble you serve to friends when they come over and gobble up yourself when you are the friend being hosted.

“Offer something small to eat as soon as anyone enters your house,” writes Adler. “It needn’t be sophisticated.” To her, that’s radishes or crudité, olives baked with lemon peel, simple crostini made from stale bread, “or toasted nuts, or halved soft-boiled eggs sprinkled with salt or topped with slivered anchovy.”

And why do this?

You will have provided the greatest hospitality you can, acknowledging the quiet gurglings we all have and never bother to tell anyone about*: we’re supposed to be hungry three times a day. When you insist whoever crosses your threshold is hungry for an olive all of the time, you permit hungers outside the thrice daily ones prescribed.

*This might in fact apply to people who don’t discuss the state of their stomachs with their sisters on g-chat.

It’s just so warm, this sentiment. We feed people not just to assuage hunger, but to make friends and loved ones feel good.

As for that toasted nuts suggestion, I’m all aboard. But while plain toasted nuts, especially pecans and cashews and hazelnuts, will delight even dietarily restricted guests, I think we can do better a lot of the time. By tossing the nuts with two Tabasco hot sauces, these toasted nuts have a ton of flavor. One sauce is fruity habanero, the other smoky chipotle. The combination might ignite your mouth, but as soon as the flames subside, you’ll be reaching for the next portion of this very good, very addictive snack. If you’re hosting a barbecue this Memorial Day weekend, don’t forget to offer some small bite before you throw the burgers on the grill. It’s the hospitable thing to do.

This post is sponsored by Tabasco as part of TABASCO® Tastemakers program. You’ll see more recipes in the coming months, too. All opinions, as always, are my own. Thanks for supporting the sponsors who keep BGSK delicious!

I’m not a freezer hoarder, but I do keep Stonefire naan and pizza crusts in there for last-minute dinners like barbecue chicken pizza. But the convenience of these quick-to-reheat breads doesn’t mean they’re limited to desperate weeknights. On special occasions, the naan and the crusts come in handy too. This dish makes the most of two particularly special ingredients, smoked salmon and salmon roe, to turn mini naan into gorgeous, fancy bases for a Mother’s Day lunch or appetizer.

Growing up, Mother’s Day wasn’t a huge holiday for us (every day is mother’s day, says my mom), but if we did end up seeing my grandma, we probably ate smoked salmon, as we did on almost any holiday. While my grandma picked out only the best nova–thinly sliced, not too salty–she was agnostic about the vessel we ate it on. We had bagels, pumpernickel slices, and flatbread crackers.

That’s why I don’t feel even a little weird that I’ve stretched salmon’s traditional bagel and cream cheese pairing here using inspiration from Indian cuisine. Instead of bagel or pumpernickel, we’ve got warm naan. In place of cream cheese, a thick raita tweaked with horseradish. And to finish things off so this is fancy enough for a Mother’s Day celebration or a cocktail party anytime, I garnished with salmon roe, dill, and chives. This should all be close enough to the classic for you to imagine, easily, how good everything tastes together.

Classic Chicken Chili

Posted by on Wednesday Jan 28th, 2015

In the fall, I went on a tour of Lambeau Field. I was in Green Bay for work, and after a late-night fried cheese curd snack and the next morning’s tour of a demi-glace production facility, one introduction led to another and we wound up in the care of the executive sous chef of the stadium, who, before we knew what was happening, began to lead us on a behind-the-scenes-culinary tour. He showed us the prep kitchens and the serving kitchens, the beautiful new dining rooms, and the catering facilities where cheesehead couples get married.

Now you’ll hear a lot of sports atheists like me proclaiming that we’re only into the Super Bowl for the food (if we’re into football at all). But as I learned that day, the football stadiums, with their teams of cooks, specialty stands, and exclusive club room buffets–they’re really in it for the food too.

On the day we visited, most of the kitchens were quiet: there were 11 days until the Bears arrived for the next home game. In the lobby, the sausage stands’ menus broadcast this year’s Sunday specialty–the 22-inch cheese-topped kielbasa called the Horse Collar–but there were none flaming on the turned-off grills. Nearby, the fill-your-own-beer-mug kiosks were totally tapped out. Still, the in-stadium smokers were running, delivery trucks were backing into loading docks, and a tiny batch of chili simmered–just a couple of gallons for an upcoming meeting at one of the clubs.

I say tiny because normally, the Lambeau chefs go through 200 gallons of chili in one game day. 200 gallons!

Anyway, enough about the Packers. Even this non-fan knows they don’t get to play this weekend. So, for your home team–especially if it’s a crew looking to watch the game over a relatively light meal–today’s chicken chili actually does brew a small batch. The recipe takes inspiration from the classic beans-tomato-chili powder combo we grew up with as Yankees, but swaps out the beef for a smaller portion of shredded chicken thighs. There are also a few more vegetables hidden in each bowl than normal.

Want more chili? Here’s Chicken Chili with Barley, Chili Con Carne, Brisket Chili, and Black Bean-Sweet Potato Chili.

Moroccan Beet Salad

Posted by on Wednesday Jan 21st, 2015

If you missed Monday’s post, here’s the summary: I used to hate beets and now kind of like them. Prodding yourself to enjoy foods you didn’t think you wanted to ingest, out of culinary FOMA, seems to be worthwhile.

Two tricks I learned during my conversion are in play in this second winner: use acid to season beets and add crunch to mitigate their gummy softness. Plus, this divine little salad gets better the longer you forget about it in the back of the fridge. Tons of parsley brightens the salad, which is better for the addition of marinated shallots and very toasted almonds. I throw in just a pinch of dried coriander which has a mysterious, North African effect.

I think I said everything I ever wanted to about beets in the earlier post except this: if you’re still feeling so-so about them but are aching to improve your feelings towards the ringed root, try making salad with half beets and half roasted carrots (or even a quarter beets and the rest roasted carrots! or roasted sweet potatoes!).

I’ll do anything for vegetables, but I won’t do that.

That’s how I feel when I see veggies that have been completely drowned in cream or béchamel. I like cream and béchamel, but I don’t like drowning. So though gratins and casseroles always sound good in theory, when I go to make them, I never fail to change my mind. I’ll save my half and half for the morning’s coffee, thanks.

Here is the main argument for why I am probably wrong.

Melting a little bit of cheese on top of a veggie meal feels quite restrained, by contrast.

In this dish, which plays off my love for crunchy bread accoutrements and reusing stale slices, you roast broccoli florets until they are delicious, then make them more delicious still by sprinkling nutty, aged Roth Grand Cru on top. As the cheese (which comes from Wisconsin and tastes like it’s imported from the Alps) oozes into the florets, it simultaneously fastens butter-crisped bread crumbs to the vegetables, in another gratin-like move.

Three New Year’s Eve Menus

Posted by on Monday Dec 29th, 2014

New Year’s Eve approaches! Depending on your satisfaction with prix fixes and paid bar events, the last evening of the year can represent the most fun party ever or a crowded and frustrating journey to tomorrow’s hangover. However you prefer to celebrate, an easy way to improve on any festivities is to add home cooking into the mix.

So, I wanted to make some menus to suit your party, whether the vibe lands on casual, hearty feast, candlelit date, or champagne-powered cocktail party.

Tis the season of sweets, of cakes, cookies, and puddings. If your belly’s already bulging from holiday parties and gifts, you don’t need me to tell you what season it is.

But you can make cakes and cookies in your sleep–after all, you bake some version of them all year round. With the exception, perhaps, of Valentine’s Day, there’s no better time than December to attack a fourth category of sweets: candy.

I know there are a lot of artisan chocolates and lowbrow candy bars out there, and I totally get if you’ve already ordered pounds of candied yuzu peel or chocolate-covered pretzels and don’t want to make your own.

I, on the other hand, can never resist trying my hand at the impossible.