Cooking for Others

Warm Spanish Olives with Salami

Posted by on Wednesday Oct 29th, 2014

The olive is a culinary gem. The green olive, rich and almost smoky, gets a run for its money from the cured black olive, with its buttery, mild flavor. I love both.

Good olives are a key hors d’oeuvres (also known as a pre-meal snack when there’s not a dinner party to follow), a “discovery” I made during a 2007 trip to Spain, when my sister Kate and I started every meal with a beautiful bowl of green olives. Seven years on, I almost always serve a bowl of olives at parties, with a tiny vessel for pits alongside.

Just because they’re wonderful on their own doesn’t mean you can’t cook with olives. Falling apart in a lamb tagine, olives are irresistible; likewise when slices of black olives deliver needed pungency to a seven-layer dip.

There are simpler preparations too. At Spain’s Great Match event, which I attended earlier this month, I got to try three simple olive preparations, any of which could be a side dish or an appetizer. Created by Cooking Channel host and culinary expert Annie Sibonney, there were: Spanish Green Olives with Oranges & Beets, Green Olives with Fresh Herbs & Vermouth, and Gordal Olives Stuffed with Piquillo Peppers & Marcona Almonds with Blue Cheese. Annie, who’s incredibly charming, says she keeps one or more of these in the fridge when she’s home in Spain, because friends stop by unannounced and she likes to feed them (a vision of hospitality I drool over).

Inspired by Annie’s simple, delicious way with the Mediterranean fruit—and by the fact that 22 percent of world olive production happens in Spain—I picked up some green olives and a good Spanish sausage at Despaña not long after the event (many of the olives you find at antipasti bars and in supermarkets are also from Spain.)

Together, my pair of ingredients could have sat alongside one another, and maybe some Manchego, on a cheese board. But I went one step further, baking my olives with cubes of the sausage, in a move sanctioned by Annie herself. Both sausage and olive grow softer, more melting, and richer somehow. The house smells great, and the dish is fun to present and then eat. It’s a surprising change from the norm, too.

This post is sponsored by Olives from Spain. All opinions—including my love for olives—are my own. See more about Olives from Spain here, and follow along on Facebook, Pinterest, and YouTube. Thanks for reading!

Slow Cooker Cassoulet

Posted by on Thursday Oct 23rd, 2014

In researching and testing recipes for a piece about slow cookers, I discovered that I ADORE cassoulet and that that the French peasant stew (okay, a sort of modified version) is no big deal to whip up if you use your slow cooker. Grab beans, onions, sausages, bacon, and duck confit (or chicken, if duck’s a stretch) and start simmering. Read the full piece about slow cooking, and get the recipe for cassoulet, over at First We Feast.

Show me the chicken stew. I was famous growing up for my love of falling-apart chicken, and to this day I adore meat that has been cooked long enough to soak in the flavors of cacciatore, Morocco, coriander, and New Mexico.

Even white meat.

When I go to the butcher, I almost always choose chicken thighs, usually bone-in/skin-on. Yes, dark meat is more flavorful and harder to overcook. It’s also cheaper. Then I roast the thighs, or I make things like this stew, where you have to pick out the bones and skin as you eat, but I never mind that though I know some people do, which is why those people (maybe you?) search the internet for boneless skinless chicken breast recipes, and, in the process, say no to bones, skin, and dark meat. If we’re being 110% honest, sometimes I scoff at you guys (I’m really sorry!), but today I’ve made you a really lovely flavorful stew that’s ideally suited to right now: the end of summer, but not the end of tomato season, or eggplant season, or herbs-from-other-people’s-gardens season.

Over the weekend, one of my oldest friends got married. You know her from her jalapeño cheddar bread–a good thing to be known for. She was beautiful, the setting was incredible, and as the sun set on the longest day of the year and the florescent fuchsia light melted over the converging lines of the vineyard’s vines, the twenty other friends I’d known since childhood or preteen-hood were beautiful too. Awww.

One of the ways we’ve all stayed friends for so long is through potlucks and dinner parties. After a night of eating and drinking, it’s never long before someone emails to begin planning the next event. Geographically, we’re only scattered across a city, not the country, so gathering is easier. But you can’t underestimate how much a love for food–particularly rich vegetarian food like cheesy jalapeño bread and avocado aioli–can keep a group together.

Not all the events are the result of long email chains. I brought this carrot and avocado dip to Essie’s impromptu barbecue the other day (the final version included cut-up beets, too, but those stain your thumbs red, and this recipe is all about easy-to-eat finger food). Essie is one of the few high school friends who’s made it to Brooklyn, and I can walk to her apartment, which has a terrace, in 10 minutes. She has a grill, and I have a way with carrots, avocados, and herbs–and a couple Sundays ago this added up to yet another beautiful day spent over food with people I’ve been eating with since I wore pastel bell bottoms in 7th grade. Yes.

Fried Cheerios

Posted by on Monday May 5th, 2014

A year and a half ago, I drove to the Soldier Systems Center in Natick, Mass., as part of the research for a story on U.S. military cuisine. (A year and a half later, the story is finally coming out later this month in Gastronomica!) As part of my tour of the facility where the food that soldiers eat gets developed and formatted into “recipes” (though not the kind of recipes we’d recognize, they’re more like contract requirements…but more of that in the piece), I got to sit in on a tasting session. Now for those of you who have eaten military food (or even subsisted on it), this may not sound like a treat.

But for me, it was a huge learning experience–and not just in empathy for those who have to eat pre-packaged food for days on end, as their only form of sustenance. I also got a quickie education in how tasting works. That is, what a professional taster does for a living. At the Soldier Systems Center, teams taste rations at different points in their lifespan, to ensure both safety and quality. Lots of people on the campus are trained as tasters, which means they know how to identify the different flavors in terminology that were summarized for me on a worksheet the tasting room manager handed to me.

As I tasted (and, if we’re being honest–spat out), shelf-stable foods like MRE cinnamon buns at age 1 month and age 6 months, I actually noticed how a brand new bun had fewer brown notes than an aged one. Brown notes are the essence of nutty caramel that you sometimes taste in carbs.

Back in my kitchen, I decided to test this theory on some Cheerios.

No, what really happened is: I kept remembering a snack my mom made throughout my childhood, fried Cheerios. Why on earth did she bother to fry the cereal when the wheaty O’s tasted just fine on their own? I asked her, and she told me that back in the 80s and 90s, she was always looking for relatively healthful snacks that seemed more exciting than a healthful snack should. That made sense.

And then why did fried Cheerios taste substantially better than plain Cheerios? Well, that brings us back to the Solder Systems Center and the tasting room. Like the “aged” MRE cinnamon bun, a chemical reaction (heat, rather than time), had caused the wheat to take on more sweetness, depth, and toasty caramel notes, making for a delicious snack.

In my mom’s recipe, the browned butter and wheat play off the third of three ingredients in this simple, healthful snack–oregano–to create a finger food that’s as snack-able as stovetop popcorn–whether or not you’re a kid, or a soldier. 

Pot Roast with Rutabaga & Parsnips

Posted by on Wednesday Apr 9th, 2014

Just popping in quickly today to share a recent variation of my favorite (aka my mother’s) brisket. With Passover approaching, I thought you might like to see a vegetable-rich approach to serving a big hunk of meat. In this recipe, I throw in rutabaga and parsnip for added sustenance–and a little change.

So if it’s the same as a brisket, why do I call this one a pot roast? Well, I actually didn’t use the cut of meat known as brisket for this dish; I ordered a small chuck eye roast  from Fleisher’s, via Good Eggs. Apparently, chuck eye comes in smaller chunks than brisket, so if you’re not feeding a crowd, I recommend the cut.

Most of the time, though, brisket refers to the meat and pot roast to the method of cooking it low and slow in a pot. (You can actually roast the pot roast, but I prefer to do it on the stove.) For me, “brisket” sounds like Passover and Hanukkah and other Jewish holidays, whereas “pot roast” seems more non-denominational. So you can see why the names might have come in and out of fashion over the last hundred years or so.

A few weeks ago, when spring seemed like it would never come, I finally conceded to winter’s vegetables, which I hadn’t cooked with all that often throughout December, January, and February. Perhaps it’s counterintuitive, but to me the diced parsnip and rutabaga, though they should remind me of winter, make the pot roast herald the beginning of spring.

You can see more Passover recipes here.

Lacinato Kale Spanokopita

Posted by on Friday Jan 10th, 2014

After baklava, I think spanokopita–spinach pie–is the most crave-worthy of the Greek phyllo-wrapped specialties. The handheld savory pastries contain well-seasoned bits of chopped spinach, and they’ve always struck me as one of the most perfect light lunches or afternoon snacks in the world.

In my slightly updated recipe, you’ll find, inside layers and layers of olive oil-brushed phyllo, these delicious things: blanched kale, umami-rich parmesan, and a touch of lemon zest. It’s the perfect proportion of indulgent to healthful. Today I’m over at talking about this classic.

Click over to check out the full post and get the recipe.

I wrote this sponsored post  in partnership with Athens Foods. Thanks for reading!