Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Boxing Day Dinner: Tomato Rhubarb Chutney

My partner's aunt hosts her extended family on the day after Christmas, which for us means three big roast beast meals in a row, starting with Christmas Eve. I didn't really contribute to any of the preparation of the delicious glazed ham dinner meal, which also included oven roasted butternut squash with apples, steamed green beans with plum tomatoes, baked potato with sour cream, salad with grapefruit and avocado, and carrot cake for dessert. But I did present my hosts with a pint of tomato rhubarb chutney that I'd made in the spring when rhubarb came into season.

I think of the tomato rhubarb chutney as my first chutney because the first "chutney" I ever prepared was Martha's cranberry chutney. But now looking at her recipe, I see that because of the addition of nuts, Martha's chutney is actually a conserve. I've had a bear of a time finding a link to Martha's "chutney" because I got it from the Food Network's site before they gave Martha the ax when she became a convicted felon. Martha's cranberry chutney does have a good amount of cider vinegar and it's that sour in addition to the sweetness that to me defines a chutney. But do the nuts make it a conserve? Is there a distinction or is it a hybrid? Does anyone really care?

Here's a recipe for pork chops with rhubarb chutney that ran in the Washington Post in May of 2006. It comes from Elinor Klivens and it uses some some of the chutney to marinate the pork chops and to make into a pan sauce to serve on the side. Usually I just grill the chops with my favorite fennel spice rub and then just serve the chutney on the side on its own. The chutney is also delcious with pork tenderloin, chicken, salmon, cheese, etc.

Pork Chops with Tomato Rhubarb Chutney

by Elinor Klivens

4 servings

With boneless pork chops and some made-in-advance Tomato Rhubarb Chutney, it's a simple matter to create this savory entree. Serve with sauteed cabbage or baked sweet potatoes.

Four 5-ounce boneless pork chops (may substitute thick slices of pork tenderloin)

1 cup Tomato Rhubarb Chutney (recipe follows)

1 tablespoon corn oil or other flavorless vegetable oil

1/3 cup chicken broth or reduced-sodium chicken broth


Freshly ground black pepper

Chopped cilantro or chives, for garnish (optional)

Place the pork chops and 1/2 cup of the Rhubarb Tomato chutney in a resealable plastic food storage bag, then seal and squeeze to evenly coat the meat. Refrigerate for at least 15 minutes and up to 1 hour.

Shake off the excess chutney from the pork chops and reserve the marinade in the bag. In a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat, heat the oil until it is hot but not smoking. Sear the chops, turning occasionally, until they have browned on both sides, about 5 minutes total. Add the chutney reserved from the marinade and the chicken broth. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 to 6 minutes, or until the chops are cooked through and the chutney mixture has thickened and deepened in color. Add the remaining 1/2 cup chutney to the skillet and cook, stirring, just until heated through. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Serve the chops with the chutney pan sauce spooned over the top. Garnish with cilantro or chives, if desired.

Tomato Rhubarb Chutney

Makes about 3 cups

This flavorful chutney recipe makes more than you need for the pork chops. Use what's left over to enliven almost any curry or grilled or roasted chicken, duck or pork.

Since the chutney is stored cold, it does not require processing in a boiling water bath. It will keep for up to 6 weeks in the refrigerator. It also may be frozen in plastic containers or sturdy glass preserving jars for up to 6 months; thaw in the refrigerator before using.

1 tablespoon chopped red or yellow onion

1 tablespoon finely chopped ginger root

1 tablespoon yellow mustard seeds

3 sprigs thyme (or 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme)

1/2 tablespoon orange zest

1/2 teaspoon crushed allspice berries or cardamom seeds, pods removed

Generous 1/4 teaspoon salt

2/3 cup sugar

1/2 cup cider vinegar

1 3/4 cups 1/2-inch pieces rhubarb (about 3/4 pound well-trimmed stalks)

1/4 cup coarsely chopped dried cherries or whole golden raisins

1 large firm tomato, peeled, seeded and coarsely chopped

In a lidded, medium nonreactive saucepan over medium-high heat, combine the onion, ginger, mustard seeds, thyme, orange zest, allspice or cardamom, salt, sugar and vinegar. Bring to a boil and cook, covered, for 3 minutes. Add the rhubarb and cherries or raisins and stir. Reduce heat to medium and cook, covered, for 3 minutes. Discard the thyme sprigs, if using. Add the chopped tomato and cook, uncovered, for about 3 minutes or until it is just cooked through but still holds some shape. (The chutney may seem somewhat fluid, but it will thicken a bit when cooled.) Store, refrigerated, in tightly capped glass jars.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Christmas Day 2: What goes (and doesn’t go) into (Alton Brown's) basic tomato sauce

So on the Sunday two days before Christmas I was at my mother’s planning on running around with my partner getting some last minute things for meals and gifts. Of course, me being me, and with the breakfast dishes not yet cleared from the table no less, before I went out for the day I asked my mother if she’d thought about what to make for dinner. She being she, Mom had not actually given any thought to lunch let alone the following meal. Me being me, I had of course decided that a dinner of spaghetti and meatballs would be fairly quick and easy and would in no way compete with any of the roast beast dinners to follow over the next three days.

So when I got home, admittedly feeling a bit tired and cranky, Mom said to me, “They [the ones that rarely cook and don’t offer to clean up] don’t want meatballs. How about a meat sauce instead?” Remembering all I’d heard and read about making the holidays a pleasant family experience, I said smiling, “That's fine with me” and started to make my sauce. Then my mother asked me what I would put in it. “Onion, garlic, carrots, and celery,” I replied. “Celery? And no pepper?” she asked, eyebrows furrowing. “Yes that’s always the base for my sauce.” Then my older brother walked into the kitchen telling me, “There’s no carrots and no celery in sauce!” And then my mother who loves pepper, realized she couldn’t put her ingredient in either because my brother HATES cooked pepper and has since he was a child. So, backing away from the cutting board I told my brother, “Well if one doesn’t like how someone else is going to prepare the sauce, maybe one should just make the sauce himself!” And, shockingly, he agreed without protest. The man knows what he likes and how to make it!

I was actually glad to not have to make the sauce because I wasn’t in such a good mood after having to defend my recipe for sauce and instead proceeded to make sautéed tatsoi and mustard greens and garlic bread with mozzarella. Plus, my brother is actually a good cook, especially when he’s preparing some of his favorite foods. We couldn’t be more different in our tastes, habits, likes and dislikes, but I have to admit that I probably got into cooking because of him. (Isn't it amazing how the first born affects the ones that follow?) Even though I had a cheap imitation of an Easy Bake Oven that actually required no “baking” (if one can call cooking by a light bulb baking) and the results of which tasted like chemical cleaner and couldn’t even be dressed up by the frosting packet included, my brother received an actual cookbook for his birthday or Christmas one year. He was the first aspiring chef in the family and because of him all three of us kids were introduced to the wonders of cinnamon toast and sugar cookies that we could prepare ourselves at last!

His meat sauce was a bit watery and could have stood another couple of hours of simmering or more tomato paste, but was actually quite delicious and reminded me of my mother’s. (Incidentally, when I make sauce nowadays, I finish it in a 325 degree oven so that it can cook down without fear of scorching on the stovetop.) But I explain all this preamble to get to the discussion that occurred on Christmas Day. We had my younger sister’s best friend as a dinner guest who I learned for the first time had an Italian-American grandmother. So we got to talking about what goes into sauce and I posited that I always start my sauce with a sofrito (what the French call mire poix) so the base always includes onions, carrots, and celery! She laughed and said that her grandmother would never put celery into her sauce (or as she called it, gravy), and sorry, Mom, no pepper either. Just onions, garlic, and perhaps carrot. I countered that I was following marinara recipes from the Food Network’s Giada De Laurentiis and Mario Batali and no one is more Italian-American than they. But inwardly, I doubted my recipe. Was I, the inveterate food purist, using an inauthentic recipe for making basic tomato sauce? A quick search of the Food Network’s website showed that yes I had adulterated the recipe for sauce by using the celery which Mario and Giada did not use. Further perusal showed that the celery idea came from Alton Brown’s pantry tomato sauce which is pretty much the method that I follow and Alton ain’t got the I-talian bona fides.

But! The base for meat sauce (Bolognese) is in fact different from the base for basic tomato sauce (marinara), at least if one uses the Food Network or Epicurious as a source. The two recipes that I follow for ragu Bolognese, Mario's and one from Epicurious, both use onion, carrot, and celery as the base and milk in the sauce. Even Giada has two versions of Bolognese--one using leftover turkey and the other using ground meat--that use the onion, carrot and celery (but no milk). And frankly, when I've made sauce, whether with meat or without, I've just used the same base. So sue me!

While I’m not sure if the base for meat sauce should be the same as the base for marinara sauce, I suspect what I'm finding is the usual variation on a familiar recipe which is so typical of Italian cooking. I must admit that I’ve even adulterated Alton’s recipe with parsnips (HERESY!) when I’ve been in a situation where I have no carrots. I also spice it up with a good amount of red pepper flakes OR even jalapeno. And Alton’s method of separating the canned tomatoes from their juice and boiling the juice down separately is a great way to thicken the sauce. You can of course reduce that liquid in the same pan with the rest of the sauce as it cooks, but following Alton’s method you’ll start off with a nicely thickened tomato base that is started at the same time as you're sweating the veggies. Once reduced, the liquid will not give you a watery sauce at all and you won’t need any tomato paste. I also skip the oven roasting of the tomatoes. This certainly would add flavor, but if that’s what you like, save a step and another dirty pan and just buy fire roasted canned tomatoes. So here's Alton's recipe with my embellishments.

Pantry Friendly Tomato Sauce
by Alton Brown and adapted by me

2 (28-ounce) cans whole, peeled tomatoes
1/4 cup sherry vinegar [or balsamic]
1/4 cup sugar [optional and certainly to taste]
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 onion
1 carrot
1 stalk celery
2 ounces olive oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
3 tablespoons capers, rinsed and drained [optional, IMHO]
1/2 cup white wine
Kosher salt and black pepper, to taste

  1. In a sieve over a medium non-reactive saucepot, strain the tomatoes of their juice into the sauce pot. Add the vinegar, sugar, red pepper flakes, oregano, and basil to the tomato juice. Stir and cook over high heat. Once bubbles begin to form on the surface, reduce to a simmer. Allow liquid to reduce by 1/2 or until liquid has thickened to a loose syrup consistency.
  2. Squeeze each tomato thoroughly to ensure most seeds are removed. Set the tomatoes aside.
  3. Cut carrot, onion, and celery into uniform sizes and combine with olive oil and garlic in a large turkey size roasting pan [or a 6 quart Dutch oven] over medium low heat. Sweat the mirepoix until the carrots are tender and the onion becomes translucent, about 10 minutes. Add the tomatoes and capers to the roasting pan. [Or deglaze the Dutch oven with the veggies with the white wine; add the tomatoes and the tomato juice reduction to the vegetables and skip paragraph 4.]
  4. Place roasting pan on the middle rack of the oven and broil for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes. Tomatoes should start to brown slightly on edges with light caramelization. Remove the pan from the broiler. Place the pan over 2 burners on the stove. Add the white wine to the tomatoes and cook for 2 to 3 more minutes over medium heat. Put the tomatoes into a deep pot or bowl and add the reduced tomato liquid to the tomatoes.
  5. [Cook the sauce on low covered with the lid slightly ajar. Stir occasionally to avoid scorching the bottom. Alternatively, cover your Dutch oven tightly and cook in the middle of a 325 degree oven for at least half an hour, until thickened somewhat.] Blend to desired consistency using an immersion blender, food processor, or blender and adjust seasoning.

Christmas Day: Homemade Ice Box Crackers

So on Christmas Day we were at my mom's house where she is in charge of her kitchen, period. I'm perfectly welcome to contribute, but I have to reign in my natural tendencies and adapt to her cooking style, which is fine basically because her cooking is wonderful and familiar and comforting just as any mom's cooking is (or ought to be). I'd thought we'd be having turkey since Mom didn't really get to cook one for Thanksgiving, though she actually did come to think of it but that wasn't in her own kitchen. She surprised me because she'd also bought a leg of lamb that we were pretty much all pulling for. One, because we're a family that loves lamb, and two, it cooks quicker than turkey! So lamb it was with oven roasted potatoes and carrots, boiled green beans with slivered almonds, boiled collard greens, and two leftovers from my Christmas Eve dinner at my brother-in-law's: cider braised endive and braised Yukon golds with leeks. (See the Christmas Eve post for more info.)

My contribution to the day was in the hors d'oeuvre area. My partner's father would be joining us for dinner so I knew we'd have to have something to offer him along with his preferred glass of red wine. I'd made goat cheese crackers and quince conserve that I put out with some sliced whole grain bread from Panera some cheddar cheese, and some kalamata olives. The crackers are a variation on Martha's Blue Cheese-Pecan Icebox Crackers with my goat cheese substitution and the quince conserve recipe is from Epicurious and is delicious on bread or crackers. The goat cheese crackers were slight disappointment because of my goat cheese substitution. Martha's crackers had been my preference over Cheddar-Parmesan crackers that I saw on Sara Moulton's show one day because Sara's were a bit more oily. But Martha's were so dry that I'm now reconsidering which recipe I prefer and will have to tweak them based on the cheese used, which, unlike nuts, are not interchangeable. My instincts were that goat cheese or practically any flavorful cheese could substitute for the blue cheese, but I hadn't considered that good, full flavored blue cheese is a bit salty and that I should have one) tasted the cracker dough before rolling it into a log to put into the fridge and two) added some salt regardless. I also neglected to add the required cayenne pepper from the recipe! Egad! I managed to resurrect these bland crackers by popping them back into a 350 degree oven for 5 minutes and then dusting them while hot with kosher salt and shichimi togarashi, which is a seven spice Japanese seasoning that includes hot pepper and black sesame seeds. The crackers were pretty good with the quince conserve and cheddar, though manchego would have been more traditional to go along with the quince, but I'm sure I'm the only one who thought so!

Goat Cheese Ice Box Crackers, with apologies to Martha Stewart

Makes 20 crackers

  • 3/4 cup (2 ounces) pecan halves
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 4 tablespoon chilled unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
  • 4 ounces goat cheese (Martha says 3 ounces blue cheese, such as Danish blue, crumbled)
  • A few sprinkles of shichimi to taste (Martha says cayenne pepper)
  • A few sprinkles of kosher salt (not in Martha's)
  1. Heat oven to 375 degrees. Place pecans on a rimmed baking sheet; bake until fragrant, 3 to 5 minutes. Let cool. Transfer pecans to the bowl of a food processor; pulse until finely ground. Transfer ground pecans into a small bowl; set aside.
  2. Combine flour and pecans in the bowl of a food processor; pulse briefly to combine. Add butter; pulse until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add cheese; process until dough comes together and is well combined.
  3. Transfer dough to a work surface. Shape dough into a 2-inch-wide log. Wrap with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 24 hours.
  4. Heat oven to 325 degrees. Slice chilled log into 1/4-inch-thick slices. Transfer slices to a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake immediately, rotating once, until crackers are golden brown and firm in the center, 25 to 35 minutes.
  5. Transfer to a rack to cool slightly. While still warm sprinkle to taste with your choice of seasonings and salt. I used shichimi and kosher salt.
  6. Cool completely on the rack. Crackers may be made a day ahead and kept in an airtight container at room temperature.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Christmas Eve Dinner: Endive Braised in Cider

So I didn’t mention in my Thanksgiving post that my sister-in-law (my partner’s brother’s wife) called me on Thanksgiving morning while we were en route to Florida to say that she wanted to host my partner’s family for Christmas Eve dinner (as had been floated the year before) and…would I mind cooking it? Mind you my sister-in-law is an excellent cook. Her parents are real foodies and consummate entertainers. Her dad has taken classes at the Culinary Institute in Hyde Park, NY, and the way her husband has described staying with her parents for the weekend makes their home sound like a fine inn and always includes some discussion of some fabulous meal(s) they all had together. And Sarah herself has a discerning palate and knows what she likes and how to prepare it. But she is a type A perfectionist and puts more than a bit of pressure on herself when she goes into the kitchen. Plus she’s got two children under five who are constantly demanding her attention so I can see that putting out a dinner and getting the house together on top of all the other holiday expectations of having it all done by December 24th would not put her in a good place. And I’m a firm believer that we should all be “Happy in the Kitchen,” especially when preparing food for loved ones on special occasions! So I consented to make the dinner. Really part of the reason she asked me is because we spend a week with them at the beach together every summer where we (I) cook 3 meals and they (she) cook 3 meals. But seeing her stressing in the kitchen last summer, I offered to cook all of the dinners, which I would do with pleasure as long as they (she) would bring the ingredients for their (her) 3 meals.

Plus I honestly love planning menus for dinner parties! It’s the ISTJ in me I guess, but I love to make a plan and then execute it. I should share my Excel workbook that I use for holiday planning. I’ve got versions of them going back to 2004. They include a calendar with events and to do’s; shopping lists for what I want to buy and how much I’ve budgeted for gifts and other expenses; and of course, menus and shopping lists for dinners and parties I’ll be hosting. Last year’s Christmas dinner menu (which I also prepared at my partner’s father’s house but I’d offered to do that) featured Marcella Hazan’s pork loin braised in milk. Well my sister-in-law didn’t attend that dinner so I wanted to have that again but follow Molly Stevens’ cooking method from All About Braising which is embellished with herbs and garlic and is done as an oven braise of the pork rather than a stove top braise alla Marcella.

Because oven braising requires little attention I thought I’d do an entire meal of braised dishes. We had to have potatoes on the side and Molly says in the intro to “The Simplest Potato and Leek Braise” that it is a dish “I make when I want something luxurious but don’t want to do any real work.” And indeed that is an apt description because if you can peel a potato, wash some leeks, cut them both up and put them in a casserole with some butter, stock and thyme, you’re done with that recipe. In fact we added too much stock to the potatoes and cooked them uncovered longer than suggested to evaporate the liquid. But we ended up with the most delicious potatoes that were the consistency of lumpy mashed potatoes and required NO EFFORT! Lastly, pork requires some kind of leafy green or cabbage. Last year was kale but I was leaning towards Molly’s oven braised cabbage or one of my favorite Brussell sprouts preparations. I finally settled on cider-braised endive which is done on the stovetop and has that apple and mustard combo that so perfectly complements pork.

We finished off dinner with a salad of roasted beets, shaved fennel, and arugula with the simplest lemon vinaigrette, and then the most delicious pies—apple galette and chocolate pecan—all of which my sister-in-law pulled off with aplomb! The chocolate pecan deserves special mention because the bittersweet chocolate was the perfect antidote to the usually sickeningly supersweet pecan pie which even this dessert lover can only have a sliver of. I think I’ll be making that myself at some future dinner party. In fact, I think I’ll be recreating the entire dinner for entertaining at home at some point in the next couple of months! What follows is the endive recipe from, which I gather is an Australian food website with an international focus and is quite worth exploring.

Cider Braised Endive with Mustard and Thyme


2 tbl unsalted butter [or olive oil]

6 medium Belgian endive halved lengthwise

Salt and ground black pepper

1 1/3 cups apple cider

2 tbl Dijon mustard

2 tsp minced fresh thyme leaves


1. Melt butter [or a combo of butter and olive oil] in a saute pan large enough to hold the endive in a single layer. [You might need two wide sauté pans at this stage, unless you’d rather cook the endive in stages.] When butter is hot, add endive, cut sides down. Cook, turning once, over medium heat until lightly browned, about 8 minutes total. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

2. Turn endive cut sides down, and add cider to pan. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover and simmer until endive is tender, about 15 minutes. Use slotted spoon to transfer endive to serving platter.

3. Raise heat to high, and simmer liquid in pan until it thickens and reduces to a syrupy consistency [which could take up to 8 minutes]. Remove from heat, and whisk in mustard and thyme. Adjust seasonings and drizzle over endive.

Yield: 6 to 8 servings.

Time required: 20-25 minutes