Cooking for Others

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.

Cheesy Winter Squash Bake

Posted by on Wednesday Dec 17th, 2014

Look, I dug through all the sugar and found us some vegetables!

One of my favorite tricks to play on myself during seasons of vegetable apathy is to bury greens (or oranges) under melting pats of butter, generous pours of olive oil, or mountains of melted cheese. This is not a sabotage, a cop-out, or a rejection of salads or carrot sticks. It’s just self-imposed bribery.

Of course vegetables aren’t chores and fat isn’t bad, so my bribery is hardly treachery. Really, making a wild thing taste good is probably smart in the long run.

The vegetables involved in this particular production include a whole acorn squash and two carrots. The cheese? It’s Roth Grand Cru, a nutty, aged cheese from Wisconsin that adds tremendous depth to the vegetables in this dish. The cheese, cured in copper vats as the Swiss alpine tradition dictates, melts beautifully on top and within the rice-and-vegetable bake.

As for the dish itself, you’ve seen a version before. Somewhere between a frittata and a soufflé, this baked casserole centers on vegetables (you already heard about those), eggs, rice, and cheese. No one part overwhelms the others, and the resulting wedges present themselves as viable, yet humble breakfasts, lunches, and dinners.

The dish is as good at room temperature as hot or cold, and though I got into to talking about this as some way to disguise vegatables with cheese, that’s really not that point. The Cheesy Winter Squash Bake is best understood as an elegant hodgepodge, a nutritious and wholesome way to merge the foods we should eat with the ones we really want to–with the result that we remember how great carrots, squash, and their vegetable brethren are. Almost as good as cheese.

This post is sponsored by Roth Cheese, an alpine-style cheese crafted in Wisconsin. All opinions, as usual, are mine. Thanks for supporting BGSK’s sponsors!

This time of year, holiday parties ferry us out of our apartments and away from our kitchens–at the moment when we need home-cooked food the most, to balance out the frosted cookies and chocolate gelt. It can be wildly fun to be out at restaurants and bars, sipping themed cocktails and standing by the kitchen door in order to capture the first edition of each hors d’oeuvres. But, as a cook, I sometimes wish that some of the festive food came from our pots.

We do turn on the oven, of course, to bake (and there are lots of cookie, candy, and cake coming your way really soon). So far this December, I have been trying to come home to the kitchen when I can, to make chicken stock weekly, to eat some greens, and to pack carrots sticks with lunch. We’ll see how long into cookie season that lasts.

Those aren’t the only two options. Another thing entirely is to host some version of a holiday celebration yourself. This isn’t necessarily competition with the office party or the, er, FriendsMas/Friendsmakkuh fest, but a quieter affair, maybe with a few family members or friends from the neighborhood who can help you put ornaments on your tree. Serve them a garlicky roasted pork loin and a side of seasoned cauliflower that picks up the roast’s simple Italian vibe–and then end things with a contrastingly creamy maple creme brulee, potentially.

Or, keep this for yourself and save remaining portions as leftovers. The double roast–pork and vegetable–is a simple weeknight dinner at heart, even though it has the soul of a holiday meal.