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Melissa Clark, My New Cookbook Hero

I go through phases where I’m mildly obsessed with a different cookbook author. Rick Bayless and Mark Bittman have held a top place in my affections for the longest stretches at a time. This week, a new author sits comfortable in that seat: Melissa Clark. If you don’t know about Melissa, that needs to change right now. She writes a regular column for the New York Times, but, as a Bostonian, I’m not a daily reader and often forget to check it out on-line on Wednesdays. No worries. Melissa has published two wonderful cookbooks, complete with delightful headnotes or full-blown essays to accompany each recipe.

I made a two winner dinners from her books this week. The first was one of my newest favorites. Melissa’s Mother’s Roasted Chicken on Mustard Croutons, from In the Kitchen with A Good Appetite. This recipe reminds me of Dorie Greenspan’s Roast Chicken for Les Parasseux (Lazy People), but it’s even quicker and easier. Chicken pieces, in my case, thighs and drumsticks, are roasted on top of slices of country bread coated with Dijon mustard. Everything is seasoned with salt and pepper, decorated with thyme springs, bay leaves, and garlic cloves and drizzled with extra virgin olive oil. It only takes 40 minutes in the oven. The best part is the bread cushion that each piece of chicken gets served on. It’s rich with chicken fat and juices mixed with a generous dose of mustard. We love, love, love it!

Each piece of chicken gets its own cushion

On the side, I made Roasted Bagna Cauda Broccoli from Food 52 that was amazing! The blasted broccoli is tossed in a warm Caesar-like sauce. It called for a sprinkling of almonds on top, but I used toasted pinenuts instead.

The other dinner was a slight variation of Braised Pork with Cinnamon, Tomatoes, and Olives from Melissa’s newest book, Cook This Now. This book is organized seasonally, month by month. I jumped a little bit ahead to the March chapter. The recipe called for pork shoulder, but I used boneless country-style ribs, which are from the shoulder end of the loin. As I do with many stews, I used half the meat (one instead of two pounds) and added more vegetables. I would usually double the veggies but this recipe didn’t really have any other than tomatoes and leeks. I threw in an extra leek, and then added two cans of drained and quartered artichoke hearts for the last bit of cooking along with the olives. All the ingredients melded together like old friends. Melissa suggested serving the braise over polenta, but that’s not a favorite at our house. Instead, I served it over barley with carrots and scallions, another recipe from the April chapter of the same book.

Melissa Clark remains my cookbook hero of the month, and the foreseeable future! Both of her books offer many more tempting recipes to try, so stay tuned for my next choice. If you have a favorite from either of these books, please suggest! Or, if you have your own cookbook hero, share! I’m always open to jumping on a different bandwagon.

French Fridays with Dorie: Garlicky Crumb-Coated Broccoli

There are several things I enjoy about participating in French Fridays with Dorie. One is that I’m cooking more recipes from a single cookbook than I’ve ever done before. Every week for over six months (well, OK, I skipped once), I’ve tried a new recipe from Dorie Greenspan’s Around My French Table. The recipes are so varied: different courses, different ingredients, and different levels of complexity. I’ve learned new ways to make old favorites, been introduced to some new combinations, and definitely learned some new techniques. Sometimes, I make the recipe straight from the book. Other times, I vary it because of food preferences or lack of shopping preparedness.

I’m doing this along a community of other food bloggers that share this experience each week. My favorite part is reading the other blogs and getting new ideas and inspirations based on others’ variations or lessons learned from the same recipe from the same book. The bloggers are from all over the world, and each one brings something different to their kitchen. What’s your favorite part of being part of FFWD?

This week’s recipe was another easy one: Garlicky Crumb-Coated Broccoli. I love most vegetables, but, honestly, broccoli is one that I have only recently made peace with. Not to get too political, but I remember in the 1980s when the President George Bush (the first) proclaimed that he had never liked broccoli. It was the only thing he ever said that I actually agreed with.

Times change, and my palette is always open to new experiences, even if it involves retrying old things. It started when I discovered roasted broccoli. The broccoli was coated with olive oil and roasted at high heat until it was singed and slightly caramelized. That went on the list as broccoli I would eat. Then, I found a baked pasta dish I liked with broccoli, roasted tomatoes, and blue cheese. Another recipe added to the “will eat” list. Then, there were a few different combinations of stir-fried broccoli with various toppings from different cuisines that went on the list. My most recent favorite has been a Broccoli-Cheddar Soup that is a lunch favorite (I just made a batch this week.)

This is all to explain that I wasn’t as horrified as I might have been five years ago to see a broccoli recipe as the week’s choice. There isn’t all that much to say about this recipe. It was a simple, though tasty, side dish. Steamed broccoli tossed with garlicky buttered crumbs with a smidge of lemon zest and fresh parsley, giving it a gremolata undertone.

My thoughts on this one?

  • I made half a recipe. Though the recipe said to cut the original quantity, double what I made, into only six pieces. I knew I would prefer eating the cooked broccoli without cutting it from the stalk, so cut the broccoli into smaller florets. This worked out well because there were that many more surfaces for the crumbs to stick to.
  • I steamed the broccoli in a pot as the recipe suggested. Usually, I do it in the microwave. Next time, I’d just do my usual way because it’s easier, faster, and less dishes to wash.
  • I used the zest of half a lemon, but the citrus flavor wasn’t all that strong. I’m not sure whether I would add more zest or just leave it out.

I made the Asparagus with Bits of Bacon (on page 330 of AMFT) in tandem with the broccoli. The asparagus was unplanned, but when I realized I had some, I looked to see what recipes Dorie had for asparagus. I had all the ingredients for this recipe on hand. Both were easy enough to make at the same time, and I’d probably make both again. I’m glad I’ve finally learned to enjoy broccoli.

To see how the other FFwD bloggers fared with their broccoli this week, check out their links here. I’m sure there will be some creative twists on this easy recipe.

Next week’s recipe is Vanilla Eclairs, which will take me completely out of my comfort zone. I’m a bit nervous, but it will be interesting to try something completely different.