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Spiced Hot Cocoa Rice Pudding

Winter is tricky. It’s freeze-your-face-off cold, and the days are short and dark. It’s enough to make anyone crave comfort food. On the other hand, we’re all trying to eat a little healthier.

This recipe may not be totally guilt free, but it’s pretty impressive on that front. And so rich tasting you only need a few bites. As in risotto, the rice gives off velvety starch, thickening the pudding on its own, with the help of creamy nonfat yogurt. Considering it doesn’t call for eggs or cream or even 2% milk, it came out shockingly rich and fudgy, like Mexican hot cocoa frozen in time. No one would ever guess how light it really is.

For me, though, if you’re going to eat chocolate, it should really be darker. This pudding lacked the bitter edge of serious chocolate. If you’re a milk chocolate fan, then this recipe is for you. But if you like your chocolate intense and deep, consider using really good (expensive) and truly dark chocolate—maybe with a 75% cocoa content. I bet it would be nice with a bit of brewed (decaf) espresso thrown in, too. Yum. For Valentine’s day, perhaps?

Or go the other way. It’s kind of sad to lose the lovely simplicity of rice pudding by throwing chocolate into the mix. Chocolate overshadows the custardy, nutmeggy flavor of classic rice pudding, to the point where the nubby texture of rice seems out of place. I can’t guarantee that this pudding will be perfect without the chocolate, but it’s an interesting method to start with. Try dialing back the ginger and increasing the nutmeg, adding raisins, orange zest, etc. Let me know how it goes!

Spiced Hot Cocoa Rice Pudding

Adapted from Martha Stewart
Serves 4

1 1/2 to 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
3 tablespoons sugar
Pinch of coarse salt
1 vanilla bean
3 1/2 cups skim milk
1/2 tablespoon unsalted butter
1/2 cup Arborio rice
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 pinch nutmeg
1 tablespoon Grand Marnier
1 oz bittersweet chocolate, chopped, or chips
1/4 cup plain nonfat yogurt, preferably Greek-style

1. Make the pudding: Whisk together cocoa powder, sugar, salt, and milk in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Split vanilla bean and scrape into saucepan, add bean too. Bring to a simmer; remove from heat.

2. Melt butter in a medium saucepan over low-medium heat. I love using enameled cast iron for this sort of thing. Add rice; toast, stirring constantly, until edges are translucent, 1 to 2 minutes. Add hot milk mixture; bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat; simmer gently, stirring occasionally, until rice is tender and has absorbed most of the liquid, about 20 minutes. Add ginger and cinnamon. Cook another 10 minutes or so. If rice is not tender and has already absorbed the liquid, you can add a little more milk or water (or brewed coffee!) and let it absorb the way you do with risotto. Keep in mind that pudding will thicken as it cools—leave it a little loose and liquidy.

3. Remove from heat and remove vanilla bean. Add liquor and chocolate; stir until chocolate has melted. Stir in yogurt. Pour into a serving bowl or individual dessert bowls. Cover and refrigerate until cold, about 2 hours. Top with light whipped cream or more greek yogurt. Don’t tell anyone it’s healthy.

Lighter Bite: Buffalo Salmon

Is it possible I still feel stuffed from Sunday brunch?

Craving something lighter and zingier and fresher, I knew we’d have a big salad for dinner Wednesday. But as I was clicking around, I remembered this recipe I’d cut out a long time ago. I was introduced to Frank’s Hot Sauce at a Superbowl party last year, and have been a little obsessed ever since. It’s not very spicy—that’s not the whole point—it’s mostly vinegary. It’s classic on fried chicken wings but possibly even better on grilled or broiled ones, so I was up for the experiment. Why not salmon?

Answer: because salmon is not chicken. It’s possible we should treat our chicken like chicken and our salmon like salmon. The buffalo sauce and fish were incongruous, the taste of salmon made me crave a sweeter sauce (I promise to post about my mother’s classic soon), and the taste of Frank’s made me crave chicken. It was a mismatch.

Whether you try this (and it could just be an acquired taste) or just pour some lovely Frank’s Hot Sauce on some cooked chicken, I do have one recommendation. Pair it with a nice salad: arugula tossed with slightly steamed asparagus, a bit of crumbled feta, and a citrus vinaigrette. Perfect and light.

You’ll recover from last weekend just in time to start planning the next one.

Buffalo Salmon (unencrusted)
inspired by Gourmet Magazine
serves 2

1 lb salmon or arctic char (char might actually be better)
1/2 cup Frank’s Hot Sauce + 2 T
olive oil

Preheat broiler. Pour hot sauce in a baking pan place salmon in it, turning to coat. Remove any bones you notice. Let marinate 1 minute. Heat cast iron pan over medium heat with a bit of olive oil in it. When pan is hot, cook salmon skin side down for 3 minutes. Turn, cook 2 minutes more on other side. Turn skin side down, place in broiler. Cook a few minutes until done (this will happen quickly, do not overcook.) Place salmon on serving plate, brush remaining 2 T hot sauce onto top of fish. Serve with salad.

Maiden Voyage of the Slow Cooker: Hoisin Garlic Ribs

Picture from Crate and Barrel

My fiancé Matt is quite good with presents. When we first started dating, he gave me a weekend subscription to the New York Times, which saved me a painful pre-coffee trip to the newsstand and suggested to me that he might be interested in sticking around for a few more weekends. My parents were totally impressed (perhaps that was the real goal.)

Since I’ve gotten more interested (obsessed) with recipes that involve lowww and slow cooking, I may have mentioned once or twice that a slow cooker would be a worthy addition to our kitchen. Also, my friends Laura and Adam made an AMAZING brisket in their slow cooker that I just might have praised a few times. Matt knows how to take a hint, and since my birthday we’ve had a slow cooker on our counter just waiting to be tested.

While I love my dutch oven and will continue to use it frequently, I don’t love leaving the oven on for eight or twelve hours at a time. And I don’t love being stuck in the house for that time, either. I’ve noticed that slow-cooker recipes online are somewhat limited to Sandra Lee-style easy recipes, but I think the electric slow cooker absolutely has a place in the serious gourmet kitchen.

For her maiden voyage, I rubbed St. Louis style ribs (sawed in half by the butcher at Whole Foods) with garlic, ginger, and ground sichuan peppercorns. After a bit of marinating (but no browning), I threw them in the slow cooker with three sliced onions and about two cups of liquid (sake, beer, hoisin, sriracha, fresh orange juice, honey, soy sauce.) The ribs cooked for about 12 hours on low while I slept. It was a little weird waking up to the smell of garlicky chinese food, but amazing to literally have dinner cook on its own. No stirring, no worrying. I refrigerated the ribs in a baking pan with the liquid and skimmed the fat when I got home. After a bit of covered reheating in the oven, I brushed the ribs with a mixture of hoisin, sriracha, honey, and orange juice to sweeten them up a bit. After glazing, we crisped each side in a hotter oven for about 10 minutes.

And they were pretty incredible. The meat fell from the bones into our mouths—you couldn’t really nibble. The meat was falling apart, the bones were falling apart, and the taste was rich and intense, balanced with the sweet and spicy glaze. We had planned to finish watching a movie while we ate, but these ribs were so good we couldn’t concentrate on anything else. Plus, it’s hard to read subtitles while you’re licking your plate.

Mo’ Brussels Sprouts

On my birthday, we went out to eat brussels sprouts. I’d been looking forward to them for weeks.

I’m serious—David Chang (the chef behind the Momofuku empire) has the whole city, the food media, and tourists from everywhere talking about brussels sprouts. Fans wait with bated breath for the sprouts to appear on the seasonal menu again. They’re like no brussels sprouts you’ve experienced before. The sprouts at Momofuku Ssam bar are a perfect combination of crispy and spicy, sweet and pungent. Familiar flavors—mint, cilantro, fish sauce—taste new when balanced against earthy brussels sprouts. In short, they’re a treat.

Ssam bar isn’t tooooo expensive, though it falls under “once in awhile” sort of expenditures for us. (And we didn’t order the eight dollar bread and butter. Which is probably awesome. But please.) But because it’s popular and small, sharing the Momofuku Sprout Experience with groups of friends necessitates making them at home. Luckily, a recipe was posted in Gourmet magazine last year. It would be an interesting addition to the Thanksgiving table, as long as your guests are a little open minded.

Notes: In the restaurant, the menu states that the sprouts are fried. They may be roasted and fried, but in any case, the texture is perfect, and somewhat difficult to reproduce at home. It’s important to get all the crispy bits and not let the sprouts go soggy. A single layer in the dish is probably essential so the vegetables don’t steam. If they’re a little soft, I might try throwing them under the broiler once the dressing’s on to crisp up the edges a bit. I used Bhel mix (an Indian crisped rice snack) and it looked like that’s what Chang uses as well. Rice Krispies probably work fine if that’s all you’ve got. I also added a squeeze of lime to the dressing, and added some cauliflower to the sprouts for a little variety.

Momofuku Ssam Bar Roasted Brussels Sprouts
Adapted from David Chang, Gourmet magazine

Makes 8 (first course or side dish) serving

For brussels sprouts
2 pounds Brussels sprouts, halved lengthwise. (You can also add chopped cauliflower)
3 tablespoons canola oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
For dressing
1/4 cup Asian fish sauce (preferably Tiparos brand)
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup sugar (I added about 1 teaspoon more)
3 tablespoons finely chopped mint (note: this is a lot, buy plenty!)
2 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro stems
1 garlic clove, minced
1 (1 1/2-inch) fresh red Thai chile, thinly sliced crosswise, including seeds (or squeeze sriracha)
Squeeze of lime
For puffed rice
1/2 cup Bhel mix (or crisp rice cereal such as Rice Krispies)
1/4 teaspoon canola oil
1/4 teaspoon shichimi togarashi (Japanese seven-spice blend)

Garnish: cilantro sprigs; torn mint leaves; chopped scallions

Roast brussels sprouts:
Preheat oven to 450°F with rack in upper third. Toss Brussels sprouts with oil, then arrange, cut sides down, in a 17- by 12-inch shallow baking pan. Make sure sprouts are in one layer. Roast, without turning, (ok, I stirred them once) until outer leaves are tender and very dark brown, 40 to 45 minutes. Watch carefully toward the end, you want sprouts quite crispy, with burnt bits, but not completely incinerated. Add butter and toss to coat.

Make dressing:
Stir together all dressing ingredients until sugar has dissolved.

Make puffed rice while sprouts roast:
Cook cereal, oil, and shichimi togarashi in a small skillet over medium heat, shaking skillet and stirring, until rice is coated and begins to turn golden, about 3 minutes. Remove from burner and cool, stirring occasionally.

Finish dish:
Put Brussels sprouts in a serving bowl, then toss with just enough dressing to coat. Sprinkle with puffed rice and garnish, serve remaining dressing on the side.

The Chosen People’s Pot Roast: Gail Simmons’s Mother’s Horseradish Brisket

Everybody and their grandmother (particularly their Jewish grandmother) has a recipe for brisket. A rub of lipton’s onion soup mix . . . a beer . . . chili sauce . . . But I’m not going to talk about my grandmother’s recipe. She may have one, I should have asked her on the phone today when she called to celebrate our shared birthday (love that!) But brisket actually doesn’t appear that often in my childhood memories—my father is suspicious of meat that’s wet, so we didn’t eat it often. I never thought much about brisket until I started dating Matt four years ago and found myself at his folks’ place for holidays.

I was amazed how little rushing around the Virginia house there was before holiday meals, no matter how many friends and relatives were about to descend. Unlike the frantic last-minute kitchen craziness to which I am prone, (and may possibly have inherited from my mother, who also shares my knack for using every single dish in the kitchen to prepare and serve a meal) holiday meal preparation with Matt’s mother is a calm, well organized affair. She has a system.

Under the brisket part of this system, brisket is cooked well in advance, and most likely frozen. (There is also a turkey part of the system, which I will explain at some later date.) Brisket actually improves with a little storage, as long as it is reheated with plenty of liquid. You can serve a ton of people, and you have to do that day is pop the casserole in the oven—brilliant! And Karla’s recipe is truly delicious, really moist, and perfectly accented by the pile of carrots that cook with it. Her secret ingredient (I’m not actually sure how secret it is) is a can of Coke. Perfect caramel flavor without caramelizing onions forever. I think the other secret is that it cooks a LONG time. On a weekend. Far ahead of the holiday.

Of course, what fun would it be to just stick with the classics? Rebel that I am, I decided to try a new recipe. The new December issue of Food and Wine featured Gail Simmons’s family method for brisket, which added a rub of prepared horseradish. (I bet it would be good with fresh horseradish too.) Since I didn’t have beef stock, but did have leftover turkey broth from our Week of Sickness, I added about a quarter of a can of Coke to the broth to deepen the flavor. (It’s not sweet, I promise.) I also put all the veggies in at once, because I don’t mind a truly mushed potato drowning in briskety gravy. In fact, I like that sort of thing. I substituted leeks for the celery, since I hate buying a huge head of celery just for two ribs. Threw it in the oven and waited three hours while watching Gossip Girl and drinking wine with our neighbor.

The recipe instructs you to remove the lid and cook uncovered to reduce the liquid. Perhaps my dutch oven doesn’t seal perfectly, but by the time this was over, there wasn’t a ton of liquid left. If I were doing this again, I actually might skip this step and just continue cooking covered, since browning the finished product probably only dries it out, and the liquid was just fine without it. Brisket isn’t supposed to be able to win any beauty pageants.

So, did the RADICAL addition of horseradish change things drastically? Did we even recognize that it was brisket? Was our world turned upside down?

It was brisket. Brisket is really good. Delicious and rich and soothing. You might get a touch of horseradish flavor, and you could add more to the gravy if you wanted. Otherwise, standard, in a delicious way. When I make this again, though, I might try a lower-and-slower weekend method. I don’t think this was quite as fall-apart tender well-cooked as it could have been, but I still ate the leftovers at work with only a plastic fork.

Horseradish Brisket
adapted from Gail Simmons
Food and Wine

One 5 1/2-pound first-cut brisket
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
3 1/2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 medium onions, halved and thinly sliced
4 garlic cloves, minced
4 carrots, cut crosswise 1 inch thick
2 medium parsnips, halved lengthwise and cut crosswise 1-inch thick
2 celery ribs, cut into 1 inch pieces (I subbed in leeks)
1/2 cup prepared white horseradish, drained
2 cups dry red wine
2 bay leaves, preferably fresh
3 cups beef stock (I subbed in 3 cups total turkey broth and Coke (not diet))
4 medium Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces (I only used two)

  1. Preheat the oven to 325°. Season the brisket generously with salt and pepper. In a very large enameled cast-iron casserole, heat 3 tablespoons of the vegetable oil. Add the brisket and cook over moderately high heat, turning, until browned all over, about 12 minutes. Using tongs, carefully transfer the brisket to a rimmed baking sheet, fat side up.
  2. Pour off all but 3 tablespoons of the fat from the casserole. Add the onions and half of the garlic and cook over moderate heat until softened, about 3 minutes. Add the carrots, parsnips and celery and cook over moderate heat until browned in spots, about 6 minutes. I added potatoes at this point too.
  3. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, combine 1/4 cup of the prepared horseradish with the remaining garlic and 1/2 tablespoon of vegetable oil. Spread the garlic-horseradish paste on the fat side of the brisket.
  4. Pour the red wine into the casserole. Bring to a boil and cook over high heat, scraping up the browned bits from the bottom of the casserole, 1 minute. Push the vegetables to the side of the casserole and add the bay leaves. Set the brisket, horseradish side up, in the center of the casserole. Pour the beef stock around the brisket and bring to a simmer over moderate heat. Cover the casserole, transfer to the oven and cook for 1 hour.
  5. If you didn’t add potatoes at the beginning, scatter the potatoes around the brisket, cover and cook for about 2 hours longer, until the meat is very tender. Increase the oven temperature to 350°. Uncover the casserole and roast for about 30 minutes, until the brisket is browned on top and the gravy has thickened. Do not do this if the liquid is already reduced enough, just continue cooking a 325, covered.
  6. Carefully transfer the brisket to a carving board and let rest for 30 minutes. Discard the bay leaves. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the vegetables to a serving platter and cover with foil to keep warm.
  7. Pour the brisket cooking liquid into a fat separator and let stand until the fat rises to the surface. Pour the cooking liquid into a gravy boat and discard the fat. Whisk the remaining 1/4 cup of prepared horseradish into the gravy and season with salt and pepper.
  8. Thinly slice the brisket across the grain and transfer to the platter with the vegetables. Spoon some of the gravy over the brisket and vegetables and serve, passing the remaining gravy at the table.

Make-Ahead: You Should Totally Do it This Way
The recipe can be prepared through Step 5 and refrigerated for up to 3 days. To reheat, skim the fat from the surface of the liquid. Slice the cold brisket, return it to the casserole and reheat gently in a 350° oven. Transfer the brisket and vegetables to a platter and serve.

Wine Suggestion:
We drank an affordable Carignan, which really brought out the herbal flavor of the horseradish. I’m not sure I’d ever seen this unblended before, but it was really tasty. Quite full-bodied for an unoaked wine.

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