4 days, 6 recipes, 1 brunch

Oh, and a dinner with friends. And a movie. And a new bed. And a massage. And wedding dress shopping with Margherita, and a 3-mile run in Sunday's unseasonably sultry weather. Can we all just agree how much better the world would be if we had four-day weekends all the time? Here are some highlights from my mini-vacation.

Butternut Squash Puree and Cheddar Crisps
For the past few months, I've been under a spell called Orangette. Molly, Orangette's owner, spins the prettiest food stories I've ever read, not to mention that all her photos literally pop off the page. And although there was that one time when Daniel and I made enough noodle salad to feed a small village, her recipes have never led me astray. On Thanksgiving I sampled possibly two of her best.

Let me start by saying that when I think of Thanksgiving, one dish comes to mind: sweet potatoes. I love them so much that last year, I threw a turkey day tantrum when Daniel started playing his let's-not-follow-the-recipe game with my favorite side dish. His final product did quiet bratty little me, but I still thought it'd be safer to make them myself this year.

After searching for a recipe that fit a lot of requirements (travels well, doesn't need to be baked), I surprisingly switched over to the butternut squash side with this velvety puree.

Easy to make and sweetened with just a hint of maple syrup, I'm pretty sure it will shove sweet potatoes off my Thanksgiving table every year.

I originally planned to bring just a side dish to my Thanksgiving dinner, then Molly's story about these cheddar crisps sent me on a search for a really sharp cheddar.

If you're like me and don't intend to eat 100 of these buttery, flaky, and completely addictive crisps (though you will be tempted), freeze a portion of the dough for future use. And if you also have no idea what nigella seeds are, look around in your cabinets for a different seasoning. We had some leftover pink peppercorns that were particularly fun and festive. And Molly's right as usual -- the black pepper ones go great with a glass of Champagne.

Escarole and Orzo Soup with Turkey-Parmesan Meatballs
On Friday, this soup made it to the top of my recipes I need to make pile, though some homemade chicken stock, leftover parsley, and a bag of breadcrumbs (a Del Posto parting gift) gave it a boost. I rolled the garlic-packed turkey meatballs between my palms, then plopped them in a pot along with some escarole and orzo.

It was the perfect post-Thanksgiving meal -- healthy, but hearty -- and the leftover bowl I savored at my desk Monday made it a little easier to be back at work.

A Brazilian Brunch
Many of you might know how I feel about brunch. Which is why I'm happy to report that Buzina Pop, a bi-level Brazilian restaurant on the Upper East Side might help me reconsider. It was there that Daniel and I filled up on feijoada, Brazil's national dish after spending a shocking amount of money on a measly new mattress. A meaty stew that's traditionally only served on Saturdays, feijoada is best when followed by a very long and necessary nap.

If I'd remembered my camera, I would have taken pictures of our filled-to-the-brim clay bowls of meat and beans, my bottle of Brahma beer, our booth's funky, green plastic tiles, the black toilet paper in the bathroom, and the swirly floor (reminiscent of the sidewalks in Rio).

A Luxurious Dinner and Dance Party USA
Our feijoada brunch was followed just a few hours later by a fancy-schmancy dinner at Margherita and Dante's. Marg, Dante and I have been part of a close-knit (or better said, incestuous) group of friends since middle school. When they get married in October, I guarantee you that another friend, Nina, will point out in her speech (before someone confiscates the microphone) that we've all known eachother for "over twenty years!!!"

On this particular evening, we toasted their recent engagement, paired Prosecco with some of the leftover cheddar crisps, then Marg and Dante spoiled us with a first course starring this pricey little sucker.

Dante made Lidia Bastianich’s basic risotto and topped each of our servings with a few delicate shavings.

Though it had a strong, earthy smell, we were all a bit underwhelmed by the truffle’s actual flavor (which made me feel a lot better about the $40 I once forked over at Il Buco for a similarly subtle dish).

Next came salt encrusted branzino, which Dante covered with Hawaiian pink sea salt, French grey salt, and Peruvian pink sea salt.

It was definitely the best part of the meal. I didn't lift a finger, but my hosts assure me that it's so very easy*.

After dinner, we worked everything off with a mini dance party. Daniel got a bit carried away during his air guitar rendition of Sweet Child O' Mine and accidentally smashed his hand into a wooden chair. Puffiness, bruising and ice pack on the ride home aside, it was still pretty funny.

Ina Garten's Chicken Chili
I might have been disappointed by Ina Garten's apple crisp, but on Sunday I fell in love with her chicken chili.

Unlike other chilis I've made, this one, much to Daniel's dismay, doesn’t contain any beans and you roast the chicken in the oven while simmering a pot full of peppers and spices on the stove.

Everything was moving along nicely until it came time to add two cans of whole peeled plum tomatoes (which you crush by hand into the pot). After squeezing the first bunch, I noticed a strange, green discoloration -- on the can, not the tomatoes -- that looked very suspicious. It scared even me and I've sliced my fair share of mold off of bread and cheese that's been lingering too long in the fridge.

I gave it a sniff, then made Daniel give it a taste and while singing a "I hope I don't get botulism" song, I threw the rest in before demanding that the can be removed from my sight. I had my last bowl of the stuff for lunch today and I'm still alive, so I guess it was nothing to worry about?

Nigel Slater's Bread
Clearly I must have been a bit loopy from all the cooking and eating I did all weekend (or maybe it was the green can fungus??) because while also making Nigel Slater's bread on Sunday night, I forgot to add in salt, one of the recipe's four ingredients.

I really expected to like this bread better than the No-Knead one I made last weekend. You actually get to play with the dough (which Daniel, bum hand and all, really enjoyed), and it even yields a big ball of a loaf.

In terms of taste, it would have been much better had I not forgotten the salt, and though I told Daniel repeatedly to let the bread cool, he didn’t wait long before cutting off a huge chunk.

If the loaf had more time to settle, it probably wouldn't have been quite as doughy and while it tasted delicious with the assortment of Scharffen Berger chocolate we slathered on top, I preferred it the next morning, toasted with butter, honey, and a sprinkling of salt.

The Weekend That Keeps On Giving
On Monday, I sent Daniel an email from work about an idea I had for a vanilla bean that's been sitting on our spice rack for way too long. I expected him to respond and say: STEP AWAY FROM THE STOVE, but instead, he immediately agreed with more exclamation points than usual.

And you see, that’s the beauty of a four-day weekend, for a food lover at least. You're able to do so much cooking that on Monday night, after a long day at work, you come home to leftover chicken chili and a fresh loaf of bread. And for dessert, you make a homemade quart of vanilla ice cream**.

*For those of you interested in Dante and Marg’s salt encrusted branzino, here's what you need to do. Buy a whole branzino and have your fishmonger clean and scale it, but leave on the head, skin and tail. At home, wash the fish and then pat dry with a paper towel. Fill up a bowl with 3 tablespoons good olive oil and dip the fish in the bowl to coat. Make sure you coat the entire fish. Generously cover the fish with various salts (they use Hawaiian pink sea salt, French grey salt, Peruvian pink sea salt, and coarse salt). Add some pepper as well. Place aluminum foil in pan. Once top and bottom of fish are covered with salt, place it on the pan and bake in the oven at 400 degrees for 20 minutes or until fish is cooked through. Remove skin and debone. Yield: One whole branzino serves two.

**To make the vanilla ice cream, we used the following recipe from Cook's Illustrated. It was our first time making what Daniel refers to as a "normal" flavor, since previous experiments included this pink peppercorn and these mint cookie sandwiches. It was definitely the best ice cream we've made yet.

1 1/2 cups whole milk
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
3/4 cup granulated sugar
4 inch piece vanilla bean, split lengthwise and seeds removed, pod reserved (if necessary, two teaspoons of vanilla extract may be substituted for the vanilla bean. To maximize the extract's potency, stir it into the chilled custard just before churning)
4 large egg yolks

1. Bring milk, cream, 1/2 cup sugar and vanilla seeds and pod to 175 degrees in a heavy saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally to dissolve sugar and break up vanilla seeds.

2. Meanwhile, beat remaining sugar with yolks until mixture turns pale yellow and thickens so that it falls in ribbons, about 2 minutes with an electric mixer or 4 minutes with a whisk.

3. Remove 1/2 cup hot milk from pan and slowly whisk it into beaten yolks. Then gradually whisk yolk mixture into saucepan and, stirring constantly, heat this mixture over medium-low heat to 180 degrees, 8 to 10 minutes. Remove saucepan from heat; strain custard into a plastic or nonreactive metal bowl. Retrieve vanilla pods from strainer and add them to the mixture. Place bowl in a larger bowl of ice water to bring custard to room tempeartaure.

4. Seal container and refrigerate until custard is no more than 40 degrees, 4 to 8 hours. (This is unnecessary with self-contained electric model). Remove vanilla pods (or add extract) and pour custard into an ice cream machine. Churn until frozen.

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Molly said...

Wow, lady! That was QUITE a four-day weekend! I wish I'd been there for that dance party - I do love Sweet Child 'O Mine...

P.S. And I must say, your sweet words about Orangette - and the butternut puree, and the cheddar crackers - made my day!

Anonymous said...

Wow, that is a serious weekend! I'm envious - I wish I had more days off in the city! Sounds like you made the most of it. And homemade ice-cream! Crowning glory...

Lia said...

Molly, you definitely missed a fun dance party, but there will be others! And I'm glad my words about Orangette made your day -- they're all true! I have you and your recipes to thank for getting me in the kitchen much more often these days.

Luisa, it really was the best weekend I could have asked for. We polished off the vanilla ice cream by Friday, then Daniel made some mango sorbet on Saturday so we're still on a roll..

Anne Stesney said...

Impressive and delicious. This entry had me fired up for Christmas cooking!

Lia said...

Thanks Anne! I'm excited for all the holiday cooking that's to come as well.

Anonymous said...

I drooled....bad. Now see what you have done!


I tagged you for a christmas meme on my site. Come by and see!

Lia said...

Sounds like fun, Kate. I'll definitely check it out!


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