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  • The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook
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    by Deb Perelman
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    Bouchon Bakery
    by Thomas Keller, Sebastien Rouxel

Entries in gin (2)


Brussels Sprouts with Gin, Pancetta, Caraway, and Sherry Vinegar (SproutKraut) inspired by Melissa Clark’s Cook This Now

Brussels sprouts are nature’s cargo truck for fat and salt. And now, the sprout truck is delivering gin.

Back that thing up right over here, please.

I grew up in a Brussels sprouts-free home. My dad had a deep, searing hatred for them, so my mom never, ever made a batch. I think they may have included that in some informal prenup.

So my first taste of them was roasting them a few years ago in the oven with pancetta, olive oil, salt, and pepper. Crispy, salty, and a slick coat of olive oil, Brussels sprouts seemed created to deliver everything that makes me happy in a meal.

So when a few bloggers decided to blog about recipes in Melissa Clark’s new book, Shove This in Your Face Now: OMG THIS IS GOOD FOOD, we jumped at the sprouts. Melissa’s book is also known as Cook This Now: 120 Easy and Delectable Dishes You Can’t Wait to Make. We prefer our title, but whatever.
(As an aside, if you were sitting with us at our dinner table, eyeing the wine bottle for a second glass, as I am this evening, I would tell you that Melissa Clark is magic and genius and probably poops kittens but this is an unverifiable fact by us, non-family members, but sweet baby j, we like her so much and her food is spectacular every time and I took her book to Brussels, Belgium OMG I am so not kidding I went to Brussels and now we’re making something inspired by her Brussels sprouts recipe in her second book but I took her book with me which was the only thing I took to read on the plane and it is full of magic and perfect writing and I want to be her at least her writing, if one can be like someone's writing, when I grow up, but that’s borderline creepy to say so I won’t but I do and also I need more wine.

That is an actual conversation you would have with us. We understand if you don’t ask for a dinner invitation.)

Melissa’s books, over the last year, have become our go-to recipe source for great food that never fails. Ever. So when we saw her latest book was coming out at the beginning of October, we pre-ordered on Amazon and then counted down the days.

We’ve made six recipes so far. Buy the book, as soon as you can. You need more good food in your life.

When Shauna at Gluten Free Girl and the Chef asked if we wanted to do an interpretation of Melissa’s Brussels sprouts, we jumped at the chance. We don’t make up our own recipes, so creating something new from the ingredients in Melissa’s recipe was a challenge, only for our lack of creativity. Go look at their version of Melissa's for realz Brussels Sprouts with Pancetta and Caraway

Then it struck us...SproutKraut. Melissa, in her introduction to the recipe, talked about looking at the pile of shredded sprouts and thinking about sauerkraut. That inspired her to include caraway seeds along with pancetta. Getting closer to sauerkraut with the caraway.

We decided to take it the whole way to krautland (differnt than Birdland, thank you Manhattan Transfer), at least a quick one. And the results made Karen think about childhood Thanksgiving in Baltimore. Every year, along with turkey and oyster stuffing, her grandmother’s Thanksgiving day table included sauerkraut. Whenever Karen sees or smells sauerkraut (her grandmother’s made with a nice slice of fatback), she’s transported back to South Baltimore near Brooklyn Park, not far from her grandfather’s welding shop. This makes her happy, so I’ve tried to learn to love sauerkraut

When we saw Molly Wizenberg’s
gin-soaked sauerkraut inspired
by her own Baltimore roots, we knew we had to try it. And I finally loved sauerkraut. The results were so good, we decided to use it as an additional inspiration for Melissa’s Brussels sprouts sauerkraut. Gin, pancetta, caraway, shredded sprouts, and sherry vinegar.

We ate it out of the pan. All two pounds (we made a double batch) of gin-tinged, tangy, salty, perfect Brussels sprouts. Make this for your holiday table as the kicky punch of happy.

Melissa Clark, in addition to the perfect pie crust recipe, gives you food that is full of flavor, easy to make, with a giant punch of happy. Cook This Now. And go be happy.

Brussels Sprouts with Gin, Pancetta, Caraway, and Sherry Vinegar (SproutKraut) inspired by Melissa Clark’s Cook This Now

1 pound Brussels sprouts
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
4 ounces pancetta, diced small (about ½ cup)
1 cup gin
½ cup water
¼ - ½ cup sherry vinegar (depending on how much punch to your face you want)
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 ½ teaspoons caraway seeds
½ teaspoon kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper

Remove the uglyish leaves from the sprouts. Cut off the weird core thing where it attaches to the stem. If you’ve got a food processor, insert the slicing blade and go to town. If you don’t have a food processor, go ahead and slice the sprouts by hand and hate people who have food processors because they sort of suck. Set the sprouts, and your seething anger, aside.

Heat the oil over medium-high heat in a very large pan. Like really big. Not roasting pan big, but big. Also, it should have a cover. Maybe use a cookie sheet if you don’t have a cover.

Add the pancetta and cook until a nice shade of tan/brown and then remove the crispy pieces with a slotted spoon. Place the crispies on a paper towel.

Tell everyone that you removed the pancetta fat from the pan but secretly leave it all in there because fat tastes good and people should live a little. Not like have a heart attack, but this fat tastes good and maybe don’t serve this to people with heart conditions. That’s our recommendation.

Add half the vinegar to the pan. It will let off very aggressive steam that feels uncomfortable and makes you cough. Carry on and scrape the brown bits of pancetta off the bottom of your pan until they’re all up in the vinegar/fat swirling goodness. You’re welcome, you just added a lot of flavor to your SproutKraut.

Add in the other ingredients except for the remaining vinegar. Hold on to that mother until you see how everything tastes after some cook time.

Place the cover on the pan. Set the timer for 10 minutes. Drink some gin.

When the timer goes off, remove the lid. Drink more gin and set the timer for 10 more minutes. Maybe 15. You’re looking for just a little liquid at the bottom of the pan. Sprouts will have a tiny bit of crunch to them.

Uncover and taste. Start adding in the vinegar and some salt and pepper until you’re happy. Stir in half of the crispy pancetta.

Place SproutKraut in a serving dish and top with the remaining pancetta for crunch and awesomeness.



soup and salad

I have a love/hate relationship with a lot of things. Gin. Swedish Fish. Yo Gabba Gabba.

Lately, some love/hate has developed with Thomas Keller. To be clear, Keller is my hero. I want to go there. Keller has some of the top-rated restaurants in the country. Dude was on Top Chef, but not until last season, which makes him awesome for holding out.

I lusted after his Bouchon cookbook. And one day, a few years ago, I ran a training session on internal branding (don't ask) at the private dining room at Bouchon in Las Vegas. I was more excited about the food than the work. For breakfast, there were these amazing oatmeal yougurt things in jelly jars with the hinged tops. I ate three. And then, at the end of the day, we took the class to into the dining room where I ordered almost $75 worth of French fries because they are perfect. I shared the fries, not terribly willingly.

In the last week, we got two of his cookbooks - Bouchon and Ad Hoc at Home. They are perfect. Gorgeous photography. Such thought and care. Craft. And utterly impossible, given the week we've had.

We really try to make time for food. For slow food and for sinking into our food as we make it. There's a lot of hope in our food. Most days. But it's been a week that's challenged all of that. Karen's LASIK, my work. Oh, and three kids. And then to look at Keller's books and realize we can't get there, we're not living in Keller's world even when he explicitly dumbs it down to make it accessible for the home cook. Food was discouraging this week, a reminder that there was no extra energy to give, and we'd fallen way short of what we wanted to do every night for ourselves.
But then there is soup. And salad vinaigrette. And there is inspiration.
Flipping through the two books, Karen was drawn to the French onion soup and his vinaigrette recipes: one inspired, one was easy perfection.

The Soup
I make a good French onion soup. It's not fancy, and it keeps close to very basic ingredients. When I looked at the Bouchon recipe, Keller talks about the importance of cooking the onions low and slow, letting them melt into themselves. Four hours. He wants the onions to cook for four hours. I didn't have four hours. Typically I cook them for 30 minutes. As I was ready to admit defeat, I wondered what would happen if I pushed the cooking time. Just keep cooking until I want to stop. The point was to push myself, my food, and see what happens. Depth of flavor comes from time, so let's see how deep we can get.

I made it for two and a half hours. It wasn't the Keller four. But it was two hours longer than normal. And, of course, Thomas Keller was right. 

So, here's my recipe for French Onion Soup, inspired by Thomas Keller:
  • 3 lbs yellow onions sliced 1/4 inch thin.
  • Medium low heat, a heavy pot, 1 tablespon of canola, 3 tablespoons of butter.
  • Place onions in once the butter has melted. Stir a bit. Put the lid on and cook for 30 min to 4 hours (as long as you can without going insane). Stir every 15-20 minutes and check to see how things are going.
  • Stir in a pinch of sugar, some kosher salt, some pepper somewhere around the 15 minute mark or whenever you feel like it. I won't judge you.
  • Onions will become a ridiculous golden amber color. Remember, you're going low and slow here like good barbecue, so don't get afraid to get them darker.
  • Add in 2 c. of red wine, boil until reduced by half. Add 8-ish cups of beef stock, 1 bay leaf uncovered for 45 min - 1 hour.
  • I also throw in fresh thyme and/or rosemary along with the bay leaf and stock if I have them because that's how I roll. I should tie them up with kitchen twine before I add them. Emphasis on "should."
  • Salt and pepper before serving. Taste it. Don't be afraid of salt (we're talking Kosher salt here. I'm very afraid of table salt).
  • Pull out the herbs and bay leaf.
  • Turn on your oven to 400 degrees.
  • Slice up some good bread (I'd think a loaf of French bread might make sense). Toast/dry it out in an oven on 400 degrees. Rub the cut sides of the toasted bread with a cut garlic clove.
  • Ladle soup into individual bowls, top with bread, cover with a slice of Comte and add shredded Emmentaler. Or whatever stinky Swiss-friendly cheese you want. 400 degree oven for 10-15 minutes.
  • Take a bite. You're welcome.
The Salad Vinaigrette

I have a personal vendetta against shelf-stable salad dressing. I suppose there's nothing morally wrong with them (debatable), but they're expensive and take up way too much room in our refrigerator. Plus, rarely do they taste as good as the kind you make yourself. Most nights when we have salad, I add in a bowl a favorite vinegar, diced shallot, salt, pepper, and olive oil. I end up with exactly the amount I want with items I already have on hand. Pennies. Frugal and tasty.

And I was wrong. This vinaigrette takes three ingredients, and ends up tasting better than anything I've made. We ended up using about a tablespoon to dress our greens, which meant we had a lot leftover. We happily made room for it in the fridge, where it keeps up to two weeks.
Make this.
Karen was flipping through Bouchon and saw Keller's house vinaigrette. It's stuck in the back of the book, where recipes go when they want to be left alone. So when she said she wanted me to make it, I didn't have high hopes.

Bouchon House Vinaigrette
(based upon Thomas Keller's Bouchon recipe)

  • 1/4 c. Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 c. red wine vinegar
  • 1 1/2 c. canola oil
Place the Dijon and vinegar into a blender or a food processor. Our blender has a bladder control problem, so I use the food processor. I don't imagine I could get the emulsion Keller's going for with a whisk and my arm. This is going to be extraordinary, so use power tools.

Zip the mustard and vinegar a bit until mixed. Then, with the food processor running, drizzle in the oil very slowly. A nice steady stream. I know it sounds like a lot of oil (even though it's a standard ratio Keller's using), but you'll barely use any of it in your salad, so relax.

Watch what's happening...the vinaigrette is turning from a liquid to some crazy whipped goodness that sort of undulates and taunts you, knowing you can't restrain yourself from taking just a little taste. Pay attention to that first taste, because that's the moment you'll say goodbye to bottled dressing.