Traveling Crock Pot Christmas - Roasted Chicken with Gravy

The girls and I could not be more thrilled to have put together a Traveling Crock Pot Christmas potluck.

I had the pleasure of hosting--we have a fireplace and it's always great to have an excuse to break out the wood and matches!

 Almost a year ago, myself and three other women assembled our Traveling Crock Pot--a monthly get together hosted by one of us in turns to make the kind of food we usually only dream about.  We've had beef tenderloins topped with garlicky, bacony cream cheese; creme brulees; handmade raviolis; ceviches; amaretto sours; crunchy-and-soft corndogs with spicy mustard; salted caramel cheesecake with apples and, most recently, a jaw-dropping beef wellington.

What a tiny portrait of a drool-worthy year!

The idea was to break out of our comfort zones, to learn, to share food with other folks who love food and have more time with our friends.  Almost all of us have missed a dinner for various reasons, but we made a point of ensuring that for Christmas, our first-ever potluck dinner could be all of us together, and for once, including our significant others as well (the lucky boys!).

My contribution to the Christmas Crock Pot table was roasted squash boats (an old family favorite) and a couple roasted chickens.

I've always loved roasting a chicken.  My very first one came out as perfectly as I could have ever hoped (or so I thought then.  I've learned a few things since!).  And why not?  Roasted chickens are among the simplest of things you can cook.  They can come in a half a hundred flavors depending on your preference.  But doing it well so you don't end up with a dried-out bird takes a few, simple techniques.

Roasted Chicken with Gravy

Note: To roast my chickens, I employ a time-and-eye method of checking done-ness.  I have roasted a lot of chickens and I rely on my experience and careful food-handling to keep my meat germ-free.  To be safe and if you're feeling unsure, it's always safest to stick a thermometer in the fattest part of the bird, away from the bone, and get the bird to a minimum of 165 degrees.  Meat does continue to cook while resting so you are probably safe a couple degrees lower but for safest meat, the thermometer should guide you.

All for juiciest meat, this recipe employs brining.  I highly recommend anything Rouxbe offers and have consistently used their All-Purpose Brine to great success on many occasions.  For single or multipe birds, you will need to increase the base recipe they provide.  Brining requires you to begin your chicken prep the night before.

speciality tools: roasting pan

 2.5-3 lb chicken, brined
2-4 cups chicken stock

Prep: Before brining, wash your chicken.  Check out the inside and make sure there aren't organs left in there.  If there are stubs of feathers in the meat, this is NOT the best time to pull them.  Leave them for the moment.

Brine chicken overnight.

In the morning, pull out your chicken.  Why did you brine it?  Because you're artificially inflating its juice factor.  The chickens I brined gained around 45g overnight.  This is how you're going to protect your white meat from drying out.

This is the time to get rid of those feather stubs.  Grab a pair of tweezers just like you're deboning a fish.  The skin is porous from its soak and the feathers will slide right out.  Do not trim down fat from the chicken around the back--all rendered drippings will be made more flavorful with this in there and the gravy will get defatted later.

Pat chicken dry and place, without trussing, on a plate in the bottom of your fridge.  Do not cover--the air-drying time through the day will help your chicken skin get that ultra-crispy texture we all covet.

About an hour and a half before dinner, preheat your oven to 375.

Pull your chicken out.  Unless you like doing the my-cold-hands-are-cramping dance, let it warm on the counter for about 15 minutes.  I still like flavoring the breasts with a compound butter but this is not a protect-all cure for juicy-ness in your white meat; butter alone will not save you.  In this recipe, I juiced a lemon and poured half of this into a Tbsp of butter with a big whack of chiffonaded sage, salt and pepper.  Mash these together (potentially while your chicken is sitting out losing its chill) and boom--compound butter.

Place bird in roasting pan, breast up.  A pan with a rack is ideal so the bottom doesn't get soggy but a dollar-store foil pan will do as well.  Lift the skin all over the chicken and stuff the butter equally down both sides of the bird.  Massage from above the skin to even distribution if necessary.  Drizzle with olive oil and remaining lemon juice; coat the chicken with your hands and salt and pepper the bird.  Be more liberal with the pepper than the salt; it did sit in a salt bath overnight.  Stuff with onion quarters, smashed garlic, lemon husks, extra sage...whatever aromatics catch your fancy.

Pour in as much chicken stock as necessary until there is 1-2 inches in the bottom of the pan.  This serves the dual purpose of steaming your chicken as it heats for even cooking and being a key component of your gravy later.*  Place a piece of tin foil that's been ripped by one-ish inches for venting over the chicken.  Place in oven.

After half an hour, remove foil and baste chicken.  Replace in oven.  You may baste again later if you'd like but it's not necessary.

Let cook through to final cooking time, whatever that happens to be.  The twenty-minutes-per-pound rule usually falls out pretty well if you're not sure.  I usually go a little over for extra crisp.

Let the bird rest for about 15 minutes.

Achievement Unlocked: Juicy Roasted Chicken!

While it's resting, pour out the bottom of the pan into a clear measuring cup.  Let the fat rise to the top (yes, seriously, all that top part is fat) and scoop off as much as you can with a shallow spoon or siphon off with your baster.  Pour back into a small pot, bring to a simmer, and reduce as much as possible while your bird is resting.  A small squeeze of lemon or dash of white wine is nice here.  If you want thick gravy, you'll have to add a cornstartch slurry or some such.  Me, I'm happy with this reduced goodness.  When you're ready, strain this into a gravy boat, carve your bird, and get this food on the table!

*NOTE: If you would rather roast vegetables in the chicken drippings (primo delicious), pour stock in a pot instead, season with a splash of lemon juice and reduce by half (will take upwards of 40 min; reduction is not a speedy process).  You will be left with a beautiful jus if you're using natural chicken stock--the store-bought stuff will reduce to a slurry the consistency and taste of the Dead Sea.  Add harder vegetables (carrots, onions, fennel) halfway through cooking.  Add softer veg (mushrooms, asparagus) about twenty minutes before you're going to pull the chicken.


Traveling Crock Pot, Third Edition

I am honored, as ever, to have the illustrious Becky Issenman photograph my food!

I literally didn't remember to take a single picture of the finished products so if you'd like to see any of these recipes realized, check out Mrs. Becky's shots.


White bean soup with sage and prosciutto
(Not as much fat comes off prosciutto as the pancetta recommended in the recipe.  I prefer a flaky crisp on top of my soup and thus, prosciutto.  If you do as well, find some extra lard or butter to sweat your onions and garlic in.)

Bouef Bourginon
amended from food.com

Bouef bourginon is famed for being an enormous, time-consuming dish.  This is not untrue.  But you can take the heart of the dish and reduce it to be more amenable to the average cook who does not wish this dish to be the centre of their universe for five or seven hours.

I will show you my version listed below.  Keep in mind that these measurements are flexible--this has been adjusted to my taste but frankly, there are so many flavors that are so powerful here, you can fake it pretty well with any approximation of the recipe.  You can see this sentiment in the ingredient list itself--I want you to chunk and smash vegetables.  This is not a science.

That being said, while the ingredients are not exact, the method is.  Please read carefully--some professional tips I've learned to take this dish from good to great follow.

Serves 6 

specialty tools: cheesecloth (optional, but very useful)

3 oz thick-cut bacon
1 1/2 lbs stewing beef, trimmed of excess fat and cut into cubes
1/2 large onion, chunked
1 large carrot, chunked
3 cloves garlic, smashed
2 bay leaves
several large sprigs thyme
several large sprigs parsley
3 Tbsp all-purpose flour, divided
1/2 Tbsp tomato paste
2 1/2 cups red wine, divided
2 1/2 cups beef stock, divided
1/2 pound cremini mushrooms, quartered
2 Tbsp butter
 9 small carrots, preferably a selection of colors, with healthy green tops.
salt & pepper

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Cook off the bacon.  Once cooked, remove from pan and retain rendered fat in pan.  Note: Lardons are original in this recipe; I find thick-cut more accessible.  Thin-cut won't stand up to the dish.

Pat the beef dry.  This is that critical step so many of us learned from Mrs. Child.  Wet meat will take a hundred years to sear at which point, you will have cooked it through and that's not what we want here.  We want to get a nice, sealing crust on the meat.  So get the pan smoking-hot and drop in your cubes.  Sear until good and brown (this involves not touching them) and flip.  You may need to add more oil to the pan as you cook.  The meat should not be crowded and batches will be necessary. 

Achievement Unlocked: The Perfect Sear

Set all seared meat aside.  Place the chunked vegetables in the same pan and give them a light caramelizing as well.  Place vegetables and garlic into a bowl.  Toss with 1 Tbsp of the flour.  Add garlic, bay and herbs and toss lightly.

You will have what professionals call sucs in the bottom of your pan.  The brown, crispy flavor-wonders left behind by your meat and veggies.  Put the pan back on the heat and warm.  Pour in half a cup of the red wine and the tomato paste.  Stir with a gentle tool (I prefer a wooden spatula I have), scraping the pan gently to release the sucs and mix the tomato paste into the wine.  When you aren't feeling any more resistance or you can see the sucs have released into the wine, you've officially deglazed a pan.  Take it off the heat.

Achievement Unlocked: Deglazing a Pan

Place the beef in the dutch oven.  See the juices remaining on the plate?  Pour those into the deglazed pan.  That's 100% flavor you don't want to lose.  Toss the beef with the remaining 2 Tbsp flour and season with salt and pepper and place in oven for 3-4 minutes.  Toss the meat to turn, return to oven for another 3-4 minutes.  Turn the oven down to 325.

Crumble the cooked bacon and sprinkle it over the beef.  Take your cheesecloth and lay it over the meat.  Layer the vegetables and herbs over top.  The cheesecloth will allow all flavors to permeate and mix and, in a few hours, it will also allow you to lift the vegetables cleanly off the meat.  No picking thyme and parsley mush off your meat!  (Hat off to Bouchon for this tip.)

Cover meat and vegetables with wine sauce from your pan, remaining wine and 2 cups of the stock.  Throw on the lid.  Cook for at least 3 hours, more if you need the time.

Twenty minutes before you pull the dish out of the oven, prep the carrots.  Peel them and slice them lengthwise, leaving half an inch of green at the top of the carrot.  (Scrape around the top of the carrot with the edge of a knife to ensure no dirt is clinging to the place where the greens meet the carrot.)  Have two clean pans out.  In one large pan, sautee the mushrooms on high heat with butter, browning as you go.  In the second pan, place the carrots with the remaining 1/2 cup of stock.  Bring to a low simmer and braise until bright and crunchy-tender.

When you pop the bourginon out of the oven, pull the vegetables and herbs out.  They will be virtual mush--they were just there to flavor so you can green bin 'em now.  Skim meat and other residue out of sauce and into a clean cup.  Let the liquid sit long enough fat rises--defat the liquid and pour the remaining sauce into a saucepan.  Give it a strong simmer for 10 minutes or long enough to reduce slightly.

To serve, place meat, mushrooms and sauce in a bowl.  Top with three carrot halves of varying colors. Throw bread on the side of the plate for sopping up this ruby goodness.

If you're somehow blessed with leftovers, this stew only gets better as it sits.  Combine all ingredients and refrigerate.

Green Leaf Salad with Parmesan Crisp and mustard-garlic-parmesan dressing

There is really nothing to this salad.  Go wash some red lettuce, grate half a cup of parmesan and juice a lemon.

Now arrange the lettuce on the plate.

Pile the parmesan in a hot frying pan and use the back of a spoon to smooth out into the size of a circle you're happy with for your crisp.  Let it melt until the cheese is bubbling and sunk into a fine lattice.  Using a very thin tool, flip the parmesan and let it get golden on the other side.  When complete, transfer to salad or save.  Crisps are physically delicate but will keep well.  I made four crisps plus a little for the dressing with this half cup.

For dressing, mix together a teaspoon of mustard (a crunchy mustard is ideal in my opinion), very finely minced garlic (this is a dressing--don't cheat on your mince-work or you'll regret it) and half a tablespoon of parmesan.  Mix with a touch of salt, plenty of black pepper, lemon juice and olive oil.  Season to taste and let sit as long as possible before the salad is served to let the flavors meld.

Blue Cheese Walnut Bread
(Heed warnings in the comments section about the different rising times, particularly if you're not familiar with non-machine bread making.)

Cheesecake with Caramelized Apples and Salted Caramel Sauce

The cheesecake is a version of the one already on this website but sans chocolate and with a vanilla bean stirred into the milk and sour cream I warmed together for extra volume due to the lack of chocolate.  The crust was graham as here but I added cinnamon and cardamom.

Caramelized apples may be made by peeling and slicing an apple.  Toss the apples in sugar and cinnamon, ensuring thorough coating of the sugar.  Melt butter in a frying pan and when it is very hot, place apples evenly through pan.  After 2-3 minutes, flip apple.  Try to get a nice brown coating on either side; this is the sugar caramelizing and will give wonderful texture.

The caramel sauce recipe linked here has a great step-by-step guide and pictures.  Just remember melting sugar is hotter than boiling water so DO NOT under any circumstances touch it until cooled.  I did not add salt to my initial product but finished the plate with fleur de sel.


Yes, You Heard Me--Lard!

I'm working hard to get into the head-to-tail movement.  I have enormous respect for the folks who already do this.  The fact is, however, that tripe and sweetbreads and brains still weird me out.  Most of you are probably not surprised and, in fact, are nodding your heads.  

What we can do as average home cooks who find lacy caul fat a little scary is make sure we make the most of what we do take home.  Figure out how to use the cheaper or unusual cuts to make them palatable (ham hocks); figure out how many ways the resultant by-products useful (jus) and never just chuck a bunch of bones (stocks).

For me, the next step involves getting into fat.

Is fat flavor?  Yes, absolutely.  Do I make involuntary faces biting into a quarter-inch hunk of white jello?  One hundred percent.

Don't get me wrong.  I love me some bacon.  Crisped-up fat edging a good pork chop is bliss.  Without tallow, hamburgers would be awfully sad, and a slick of schmaltz over roasted vegetables is a thing of bliss.

Quick lesson--

Schmaltz is chicken fat.
Tallow is beef fat.
Lard is lovely ol' pork fat.

I encourage you today to take stock of the excess fats in your kitchen.  They're easy to store, keep for a good long while, lend great flavors to your sear or sautee and have a medium-high smoke point.  That is to say, they'll burn long after butter, but you don't want to use them in a stir-fry.

Tallow skimmed off the top of cooled beef stock.

So where are the fats in your kitchen commonly found?

Real heritage pork chops, not the kind you find on sale for a dollar at your local chain grocery, have a good round of fat on them.  Even I, who like a little fat, do not want the whole quarter inch from those chops.  Cut it off and save it--what to do is coming.

Chicken fat off a roast can be saved.  Same with beef.  You may already leave the fat on the top of a bowl of homemade stock to seal it.  When you break it, do you just chuck the creamy layer on top?  You could skim that and hold on to it as well.  Fats from beef or chicken stocks are especially good used as the lubrication to soften your soup veggies in--you're adding a layer of flavor you're already trying to highlight in a chicken noodle or beef and barley.  I always boil my smoked ham hock before tearing it up for some Split Pea and Ham soup--the fat off the top of that cooled liquid has all the smokey, salty, piggy flavor of the original meat itself.  Why would you use vegetable oil when you can hug your diced onions with smoked hock taste?

Alright, you've sold me.  Now what do I do with those hunks of fat you told me to cut off my meat?

Well, friend, it's time to render fat.  This method can be used with any fats you have around but in my household, generally speaking pork is the product I buy with any "real" amount of excess fat on it that I'll remove before even cooking.

Rendering Fat

Note: With this scrap method, you will not have lard you can use to make pastry unless you like meat-flavored pastries.  Leaf lard is required from a pig to make snowy-white, non-meaty rendered lard and that's not what you'll be cutting off your porkchops.


You can do this with any amount of fat you like--photos here show the fat off of two well-fed pork chops.  Just two!  And I had enough resulting lard to slick a number of pans.

Take the fat you've removed from the chops and cut into small (a large dice is optimal for me) pieces.  Try to keep the pieces as uniform as possible; this will help an even rendering process.  The fat does not need to be completely meat-free; you don't have to scrape it clean. 

Place fat in a small pot and cover with at least an inch of water.  This doesn't need to be precise but it should be more generous than not.  Bring water to a gentle simmer.  Let the pot simmer, uncovered, for a while.

"A while" depends on the quantity of fat you're rendering.  Check it every twenty minutes or so to ensure it's not actually boiling--the water is there to insulate the fat with an even cooking temperature and render down the solids into smearable liquids.  The water eventually steams off and you're left with just the rendered lard.

You can tell the fat is rendered when it colors.  It will start to shrink and become golden just like fat you fry.  Little bits may float off and hang out at the surface.  Stir your pot once in a while to ensure the pieces aren't sticking to the bottom.

When the fat is totally shrunk and golden, you've rendered as much as you can out of it.  Place a cheesecloth over a sieve to ensure you catch even those little floating brown bits.  These would burn in further cooking and shouldn't be a part of your final lard.  Remember that fat can get hotter than boiling water--be very careful at this stage.  Pour the fat through the sieve into a heat-safe bowl.  Give the solids enough time to be cool enough to touch.  Bundle the cheesecloth with the rendered hunks inside and give it a twist over your bowl to get all your liquids out.

Cover with plastic wrap pressing directly down on the lard and move to the fridge.

If you're worried you didn't evaporate all the water, in a few hours, you'll find out.  The water will rise to the top of the fat and form beads on the surface.  Pour this off and put the plastic wrap back down.  This will have no ill effects.

Your lard can be kept in the fridge for a month or two or freeze for more extended life.  

Or don't wait--go fry some potatoes.

Want to read up more on fat?  Check out the highly-educational Fat by Jennifer McLagan or this love-song, Schmaltz by the omnipresent Michael Ruhlman.


Shredded Beef Sandwich with Jus

 Despite  an overwhelming love of Arby's, I don't think you can count me as a roast beef sandwich connoisseur.  That's not to say I wouldn't like to become one!  This sandwich has me well on my way.

The root of the reason  is that I've never been much of a beef eater.  However, Pure Beef has changed my eating red meat drastically.  Whether it was because my mother never cooked much red meat (not so much as a meatloaf, from my recollection) or the frightening plethora of names given to the beast or that the first steaks I tried to cook came out like leather or a slight fear of all meats not totally well-done (gotten over that, thank god)....  Whatever the case may be, red meat has never really been on my radar.

Pure Beef rocked  my world.  Not only did Lynne Curry arm me with some serious knowledge, the recipes are bloody lovely.  She has created an avowed beef fan.

I have now picked up things like oxtail, shank, brisket strips, short ribs and beef bones.  I've yet to do a 'real' pot roast and I'll probably never grill a T-bone but it's a helluva step forward!

It was oxtail that first got me started on this sandwich I share with you now.  As I've noted before, Sanagan's is a great place to pick up meat in Toronto.  Unfortunately, the pic above was taken with grocery store oxtail purchased long before my love for Sanagan's began.  I think it's worth examining here, however, for the novice beef-eater.

Oxtail is not actually ox meat but the tail of the cow.  The nice folks at Sanagan's sell their oxtail in nearly-whole form but were kind enough to chop it into user-friendly 'discs' for me much like what you see above.

Oxtail can be browned and braised like short ribs or stewing beef.  But for the ultra-easy, I went for my slow cooker on this occasion.  Leftover sauce and meat from any of the above cuts or even a roast would be excellent companions for a crusty bun.  The below recipe is an extrapolation of that loveliness but in a less labor-consuming form.

Shredded Beef Sandwich with Jus

Creates enough for a bunch of sandwiches plus some snacky, hot-beef eating.

Please note: While not labor-intensive, this is still a two-day recipe. Plan ahead.  This dish could alternatively be made with beef shank.

Day 1

2 lbs oxtail
3 cups beef broth
1/2 onion, chunked
2 cloves garlic, smashed
1/2 Tbsp mustard powder
1 1/2 tsp Worcestershire
1 tsp whole peppercorns
6-7 sprigs fresh oregano
3-4 sprigs fresh thyme

Feel free to brown the meat first if you're feeling motivated.  I was in a rush.  I dumped the raw oxtail in the slow cooker.  Add all successive ingredients and enough water to cover by an inch or so.  This is not a science; don't worry too much.

Cook on high for five hours.

Carefully strain liquid into a separate bowl.  Remove meat from the solids and discard the remaining vegetables and spices.

Now for the messy part.  Oxtail has a lot of fat and collagen on the bones; separate it with your fingers to pluck the nuggets of meat out.

Refrigerate the meat and the liquid separately and come back tomorrow.

Day 2

This is the quick day--give yourself approximately 30 to finalize and assemble sandwiches.  The following ingredients are noted for one sandwich.

1 1/2 cups reserved beef liquid

3/4 cup reserved beef

1/2 demi baguette, sliced lengthwise
aged gouda or other strong cheese
1 Tbsp horseradish

Oxtail has a ton of collagen--your liquid should now be a bowl of jello.  Remove the tallow (beef fat) and reserve for another use (this a super-stable natural fat--go fry/sear stuff in it!). 

Chunk out an approximate amount of the beefy gelatin into a small pot.  Turn on the heat to simmer--it will turn back to liquid the moment it warms up.  Reserve the rest of your gelatin for another use--further sandwiches, braising liquid, jus for another application, or freeze for fall soups!  This is true stock at its best.

Keep the pot simmering until it reduces by about 3/4.  You will be tempted to add salt at first.  Do not; a reduction salts itself.  This will take 20-30 minutes depending on your heat and volume of liquid.

While that's going, slice some nice thick pieces of gouda for one half of your baguette and butter the other half.  You may definitely use another cheese here but it needs to be strong to stand up and be recognized among the beef and the horseradish.  Throw these under a broiler to toast.

Nuke the beef to rewarm it (technical!).  Shred with your fingers some if it still appears in larger chunks. 

The buttered half will be done first--pull it out and smear with horseradish.  Apply the warmed beef. 

Pour your jus into a side dish so you can dunk the sandwich.  Pull out your bubbly, cheesy sandwich top, assemble, and CHOW DOWN.


A Traveling Crockpot Dinner

While this is my first formal post about it, the Traveling Crockpot has actually been in my life for some time now.  A group of four gals get together once a month (mostly) where one of us hosts a dinner.  Really, it's an excuse to find our fanciest recipes we've always wanted to try out but couldn't justify (or had time for) making on a Tuesday night after work.  

My second Traveling Crockpot dinner was summer-themed (the first was a Middle Eastern Feastern!).  Located here are my personal photos...which, as usual, kind of suck.  But!  Happily, our group includes Mrs. Becky whose talent populates Little Siddall Studios with much more pleasing visual fare.

To Drink
Mango Balsamic  Spritzer with Mint

I'm not even going to try with a photo for this one; it was too lame.  Check out Beck's.

Don't get weirded out about a drink with vinegar in it.  It brings a totally unique brightness to the flavors.  If you live in Toronto, you can get excellent mango balsamic at Crescendo (two locations).

This drink could probably use a high-ball glass.  The structure is that of a mojito, but the two drinks share nothing else.

1 drink

1 tsp mango balsamic vinegar
2 sprigs mint
1 oz orange liqueur
3/4 oz vodka
Crushed ice

 Strip the mint and muddle the leaves with the vinegar in a cocktail shaker.  You want a lot of mint; if your sprigs look measly, don't shy away from adding more.  

Top with enough crushed ice to fill your glass.  Add the orange liqueur and vodka (go for the good stuff!  I used Patron's orange liqueur and Grey Goose vodka).  Shake, and pour ice and all into the glass.  Top with gingerale to fill the cup.

To Start

Scallop-Mango Ceviche

Again, "real" photo here.

The ceviche was a big guessing game.  I googled a half a hundred recipes and cobbled together my own.  Use more mango than you think, make sure the scallops are bite size (I should've trimmed down even my bays), and toss in acid briefly.  All those recipes recommending 4-8 hrs are going to turn your scallops into rubber.

Seared Pork Chop with Chipotle Butter and Avocado Mousse
Mango-Kholrabi-Radish Slaw

The chops are seared in a hot pan with butter and a little oil to keep it from burning too fast.  Don't use a nice olive oil--use a grapeseed or something else with a high smoke point that will allow you to sear the chops super-hot each side for just a few minutes to get that golden-crisp exterior.  A barbeque would be equally as awesome but I don't have access to one of those.

My chops were centre-cut, bone-in, local pork affairs purchased at the awesome Sanagan's in Toronto's Kensington Market.  Leave the bone in--it helps with moisture retention and is quite easy to eat around with this cut.

Chipotle Butter**

1/4 lb butter, unsalted, softened
3 chipotles, seeded and minced
several dashes liquid smoke
honey, to taste
cracked black pepper
good, flaky salt, such as maldon or fleur de sel, to taste

The butter in this recipe is unsalted for two reasons.  1) You need control over the salt to get the right balance.  2) The texture of crispy flakes of good salt are wonderful.

Put the butter, chipotles and liquid smoke in a large bowl--you'll want room to whisk vigorously.  Add approximately 2 Tbsp of honey, 1 Tbsp cracked black pepper and 3/4 Tbsp salt to start.  

Whisk together all ingredients until smooth.  This will take time to come together--it may seem like you'll whisk forever at first.  Be patient.  

Taste, add as needed, whisk.  Taste, add as needed, whisk. 

Avocado Mousse

1 avocado, very ripe
2.5 Tbsp heavy cream
juice of 1/4 of a lemon

You could make this mousse much more complicated.  I had enough flavors on the plate with the coleslaw and the butter and I didn't want to take anything else away from those amazing porkchops.  So this just became a fatty foil for heat and acid elsewhere on the plate.

Get the avocado into a bowl; doesn't matter how.  Add the cream.  Whip like the dickens.  Again, this will take time to come together.  Near the end, when it's almost perfectly smooth, add the lemon juice to keep it from browning.

Mango-Kholrabi-Radish Slaw

1 mango
1 kholrabi
5 radishes
1.5 tsp sugar

Matchstick the fruit and vegetables.  The kholrabi tastes very much like cabbage.  If you can't find one, actual cabbage would do; they're even the same color.  I found pretty little Easter Egg radishes for the rest of the color in this dish.

Mix the acid (I used a calamansi vinegar from Crescendo(as mentioned above)) and the oil.  Get creative here if you like--an avocado oil would be awesome, for instance.  Or use lime juice if you have leftovers from the ceviche.  I like a 2:3 acid to oil mix, personally, which may be a little heavy on the acid depending on your palette and what you're using.  Taste and adjust as necessary.  You'll need a little sugar but not too much--a nice ripe mango adds plenty here.

Goat Cheese Pudding with Strawberry Rhubarb Compote

Another recipe not my own. While it's not photogenic, it's unbelievably good.  The singularly excellent recipe is here at Food & Wine.  I've made it twice, excellent results both times, but you must have some kind of acid (like the raspberries in their version) to cut this.

The compote was my own.  You simmer strawberries and rhubarb and a bit of water and a bit of sugar together for a long time.  I can't tell you anything more about that.

Bon appetite!

*I love the guys behind Real Food Has Curves which is sadly no longer updated.  I'm just so glad they left the links live on this old version of the site.  Their new materials exist here.  Also, having the thyme added to the apricot soup was crucial, imo, though they list it as optional in the original recipe.

**This is what's called a compound butter.  You can basically take any mash of flavors that appeal to you and use them in a compound butter.  Other suggestions would include rosemary, anchovies and garlic.  Sage.  Lemon and thyme.  Basil and black pepper.  Roasted garlic and chili flakes.  You get the idea.

To store excess (the recipe above provides plenty of excess), dob butter in a log-ish shape on a length of plastic wrap.  Use the plastic to make a neat log, twist off the ends, and toss in the fridge.  Lasts a good long while.

Compound butters can be used at room temperature, smeared on bread, dobbed on meats, as the gloss-and-fat addition to a sauce, cold disks to melt over your hot veg, as the fat to fry an egg in...  The list is pretty ridiculous.


F-Word Salad

I've said before that I consider salad posts cheating.  Most salads are creative fridge-dumps, folks scouring to do away with the ends of this and that.

This one was intentional, the result of an inspiring trip to the grocery store, but really, still cheating.

I've got a good-'en lined up, however, for later on.  So if you can forgive me this salad, you'll be rewarded.

F-Word Salad

Proportions are largely up to you.  Eyeball the salad and make yourself happy.

Frisee, torn up
Fennel, sliced very thin
Figs, quartered or even eighthed
Fresh basil, chiffonaded (about 2 Tbsp if you're going to make this an entree.  Don't skimp.)
Fffffgoat cheese
Fava beans (optional)*
Date vinegar
salt to taste
lots of pepper

 Toss the frisee, scatter on top the fennel, fuss with the figs, chunk the cheese and sprinkle with basil.

Mix the vinegar, oil and salt to your taste.  Drizzle.  Crack lots of black pepper over top.

*Fava beans were part of the original recipe here.  I wasn't as excited about them as I had been in the store, seeing the giant pods (you could use frozen, I suppose, but seeing fresh favas got me all a-twitter), but it wasn't a bad addition to the salad.  My sister, on the other hand, liked them.  So.  *shrugs*

We served with peppery shrimp, a whack of bread for the sauce therein and a pseudogarita.


Seafood soup

I am pleased to announce that I'm getting good enough with my cooking to ad-lib a fair number of dishes.  For instance, the braise holds no fear for me.  The sear is my friend.  If I read several renditions of a single recipe, I can usually fake it pretty well directly after.

So, inspired by various turns on cioppino, I decided to tackle a seafood soup of sorts.

The name still bothers me, I admit.  Not appetizing at all.  So try not to read the title and keep looking at that photo instead.

Seafood Soup 

4 Tbsp butter
1 shallot, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup fennel, diced
1/2 Tbsp sweet paprika
salt and pepper to taste
2 cups fish stock
1 Tbsp tomato paste
glug white wine
1 cup bell pepper, diced
1 jalapeno, minced
1/4 lb 30-40 shrimp, shelled
1 fillet barramudi, diced to approx. bay scallop size
1/2 lb bay scallops
2.5 lbs mussels, cleaned
parsley, for garnish

Add butter to pan, gently softening shallot, garlic and fennel for a few minutes.  Add paprika and seasonings, stirring another minute until fragrant.

Add stock and remaining ingredients, minus mussels and parsley.  Cook at a gentle simmer for 4 minutes.  Add mussels, cover and cook for another six minutes. 

Discard mussels that do not open and distribute soup to plates, garnishing with parsley.

Serve with crusty bread (covered in garlic?!) for sopping.