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For many people, stewing is inextricably tied to winter: bubbling cauldrons of root vegetables and thick gravies over polenta or mashed potatoes. But, of course, in much of the world, stewing is an everyday technique, even in the tropics. Consider Indian, Thai, and Caribbean curry, Mexican chili, and even Creole gumbo – all are stews. Stewed dishes are nutritious (all of the nutrients that seep into the liquid become part of the dish, and any grease can be skimmed off the top), forgiving (particularly when it comes to over-cooking), and not particularly labor-intensive (once they get going). With a broader understanding of the technique, you’ll see that seasonal stewing possibilities abound all year long.

On the surface, stewed dishes may not seem all that different from simmered dishes – ingredients are cooked low and slow in a flavorful liquid at low temperatures for long periods of time. The reasons for stewing are much the same for simmering: dealing with tougher cuts of meat that need lots of time and gentle temperatures to soften and dissolve connective tissue. One of the main features that sets stews apart from simmered dishes, though, is the size of the cut of meat being cooked. While cuts in simmered dishes range from thin slices to whole roasts or birds, stews are primarily made with smaller cuts. Stews also build upon simmered dishes in both technique and flavor. The first additional technique is sautéing the main ingredient to brown it on all sides. Browning main ingredients – like searing the goat in the first steps of a long-simmering curry, or browning the chicken pieces in a coq au vin – imparts additional flavor through a complex set of reactions known as Maillard reactions.

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Brys Stephens’  The New Southern Table explores classic Southern ingredients such as okra, lima beans, peaches, and pecans through recipes inspired by cuisines from around the world. In this excerpt, he tackles collard greens with recipes that go well beyond the “mess o’ greens”. The book is available now on QBookshopAmazon and at your local bookstore.

As a child, I mostly knew collards as that wet mess of overcooked greens in a small bowl alongside chicken or pork chops in a countrystyle meat-and-three (a casual, country-style restaurant common in the South, usually serving a choice of one meat dish and a choice of three vegetable dishes). At home, we always seemed to prefer spinach and cabbage. Traveling in France, Italy, and the Middle East years later and seeing how folks cooked with chard and kale, I realized collards could be incorporated into all kinds of dishes in the same quick-cook way as those greens.

Since moving to the Lowcountry, where collards grow year-round in the moderate climate and sandy soils of the sea islands (including in my garden on Sullivan’s Island), I’ve made collards one of my staple greens. They do well in both the heat and the cold, unlike other greens with more delicate leaves. They tend to be sweeter in the colder months after they’ve gone through a frost, and they are usually less bitter than mustard greens, turnip greens, and broccoli rabe, though more so than chard and kale. They usually take a little longer to cook than those greens because their leaves are sturdier, and younger collards with smaller leaves cook pretty quickly.

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Max Watman’s new memoir Harvest: Field Notes from a Far-Flung Pursuit of Real Food, depicts the author’s quest for real food and real farm life – minus the farm. This excerpt is his cautionary tale of raising chickens – “The Girls” – in his Hudson Valley backyard. Harvest is available now from W.W. Norton and Company, on Amazon and at your local bookstore.

We named our chickens Goldie, Pepper, Karen, and Penguin. Goldie was a Buff Orpington hen, the biggest of the girls and the leader — the top of the pecking order. She was a very good-looking bird, with soft feathers the color of straw — so good looking, in fact, that when I lent her to a neighbor girl who entered her in a country fair, she won a blue ribbon as a perfect example of her breed. I liked to pretend that she lorded this victory over her coop mates. Goldie had been out there in the world. She’d seen things, and she’d taken her prize. She was the most cosmopolitan of the chickens.

Pepper and Penguin were Blue (a color more like slate, really) Ameraucanas, with little pea combs and muffs around their faces; the eggs they laid had pale blue-green shells. Penguin was not much by way of personality, but Pepper was the smartest and most daring of the chickens. She was the one who would hop up onto people’s shoulders and was always out of the coop first when I opened the gate to let them run around in the yard. Karen was a Golden Laced Wyandotte. She was lovely to look at but slightly dumber than the rest: she was easily confused by obstacles — she would stand in front of a twig, unable to go around or over it, or she would doubt her ability to squeeze through a door that wasn’t open all the way. She liked cozy spaces and seemed to find comfort in a slot between a dense bush and the fence. She was very easy to catch. One got the feeling that Karen was a sweetheart.

Penguin died early, before she was two years old, of what I termed sudden chicken death syndrome — she simply dropped. I walked out to the coop and she was lying in a heap by the watering fount. It was a sad, mysterious moment but very much the sort of thing to which one must be inured. To care for chickens is to carry their corpses. They are vulnerable birds. Insects can beat a chicken in a fair fight if they get themselves organized. The birds are susceptible to all sorts of maladies and mishaps. Most of all, everything likes to eat chickens.

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I sometimes feel bad for tahini. It’s one of those pantry orphans, an ingredient you bought with the best intentions of using only to let it sit untouched on the shelf. Perhaps you once scooped out a spoonful to make your own hummus or drizzled a bit over roasted broccoli for dinner. But then you ran out of ideas, forgot about it, and neglected that poor jar of tahini in the back of your refrigerator. Or worse, you left it in your pantry to spoil.

While it may be essential to many signature Middle Eastern dishes, tahini still remains foreign to many home cooks. Aside from hummus, tahini isn’t commonly utilized in the American kitchen – partly because people aren’t entirely sure what tahini even is.

Though it’s never called sesame butter, that’s essentially what tahini is – much like peanut or almond butters. A paste made from ground sesame seeds, tahini is creamy and nutty, with the same mouth-coating consistency as peanut butter and its own pleasantly bitter taste. MORE


Nom Nom Paleo

A book to take Paleo from blah to yum


TM_BK_PALEO_AP_001Nearly everyone I know is taking the arrival of January as an opportunity to reset their eating habits. My mom is cutting out sugar. My husband has returned to his favorite low-carb diet. And it takes both hands to count all the Facebook friends who are doing the Paleo thing these days.

For those folks who are trying out the Paleo diet these days, there’s a new book on the scene that does a really good job of illuminating that particular way of eating while also offering up a goodly number of accessible and downright delicious recipes.

Called Nom Nom Paleo, it was written, photographed and designed by Michelle Tam and Henry Fong. This Bay Area couple writes a blog of the same name and they have developed a reputation over the years for reliable recipes presented in a playful manner that appeals to both kids and adults. Happily, the book maintains that spirit and is both useful and super entertaining. MORE

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Chicken soup is more than just another meal. It’s the thing that parents feed their children when they’re sick. It is one of the best things ever to take to families with brand new babies. And on a cold day, there is nothing more warming than a bowl of steaming chicken soup.

It’s a cultural touchstone and I firmly believe that every home cook should know how to make a batch from scratch. And so, for this final installment of the Whole Chicken Project, that’s what we’re going to explore. All you need is a chicken, a few veggies, and a handful of herbs and seasonings.

The Whole Chicken Project Thanksgiving from the Whole Chicken Project

No major American holiday is more tradition-bound than Thanksgiving. All across the US, people eat turkey, stuffing, and cranberries on the fourth Thursday every November. We’re conditioned to believe that no other main course will do. And while I like a good roast turkey as much as the next girl, sometimes cooking a giant bird isn’t always an option.

Maybe you’re having a crowd of just two or three. Or possibly the bulk of your dinner guests are vegetarian, leaving you to eat 12 pounds of turkey on your own. Perhaps you’re cooking in a minuscule kitchen with an oven the size of a shoebox.

Whatever be the source of your poultry obstacle, there’s truly no reason why a lovely, from-scratch Thanksgiving meal can’t be yours. Instead, pair all those traditional sides and trimmings with a juicy roast chicken. MORE

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The curry of my childhood was chicken legs, onions, carrots, potatoes, and a few raisins in a highly spiced, tomato-based sauce. We ate it over steamed brown rice to sop up the juices and with plenty of garnishes like yogurt, diced apple, and fresh cilantro leaves.

It wasn’t until I was well into my second decade of life that I discovered that our curry wasn’t the only version. Throughout my teens and twenties, I took great pleasure in exploring the curries of the world and tried every one I could.

These days, though I appreciate and enjoy the many disparate versions of curries out there in the world, I find that this time of year, when there’s a chill in the air and it’s dark out by 6 PM, I want nothing more than a bowl of the curry my mom always made.

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I learned early that a good slow cooker is both a budget and sanity saver on busy days. I bought my very first one at a thrift store when I was 23 and living alone for the first time. It held four quarts, was avocado green, and cost $3. In those days, I would make cheap, filling things like split pea soup and pots of long-simmered beans flavored with just a little bacon.

I still make some of those same comforting dishes that I started with, but in more recent years, have discovered that one of the very best things that a slow cooker can do is make a tender roast chicken.

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When you think of a slow cooker, what do you think of? Do you even know what a slow cooker is? Yeah, your mom might have had one — a white crock most likely adorned with a stenciled blue flower design around the outside like my mom’s — used only when she made beef stew. Otherwise it probably sat in the deep corners of a lower kitchen cabinet next to the juicer or meat grinder. You probably thought beef stew was the only thing you could make in a slow cooker. Or that it’s an appliance you would never need in your kitchen. Do they still even make those things?

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My grandma Bunny was of the opinion that if you had to turn your oven on in the summertime, it was best to do it for short periods of time at very high heat. Her thinking was that fairly quick blasts of heat (no more than 45 minutes were permitted) could be fanned out of the house without too much effort, while longer roasts and braises would stay with you all darned day. I have long taken her word as gospel on this topic because her A/C-free Southern California home was always perfectly temperate, even on the hottest days.

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Deep summer is here. The days are hot and sticky, farmers markets are bursting with peaches and tomatoes, and most people haven’t turned on their ovens in at least three weeks. That’s why this month’s Whole Chicken Project is devoted to a recipe that is best made outside, on your trusty grill.

When I was growing up, we often used the backyard barbeque during the summer to keep the heat out of the house (a particularly important trick as our houses never had central A/C). My mom mostly stuck to hot dogs and hamburgers, though, because she had a heck of a time getting her chicken to cook all the way through without being burnt to a crisp on the outside. MORE

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For the last 11 years, I’ve lived in the same apartment in Center City Philadelphia. It has many admirable qualities, including good neighbors, giant closets, and a dreamy location. The one thing it does not have is any outdoor space. This means that when summer rolls around, I have two options when it comes to making classic grilled dishes. I can borrow access to a Weber or I can find a way to fake it in my kitchen. MORE

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There is an old Pennsylvania Dutch saying: weeche Waffle sin Dudelarwet ferlore, which means “soft waffles are love’s labor lost.” In the Pennsylvania Dutch universe, there is probably nothing worse than a soft waffle, a bedroom euphemism for male dysfunction. So ingrained are waffles in our culture that less-than-perfect specimens are ready objects of contempt.

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When you hear the words “boiled dinner,” chances are good that the image that springs to mind is one of a heavy cut of beef, surrounded by a bevy of mealy, overcooked root vegetables. It’s something best eaten in the deep winter, when the nights are long and bone-chilling.

However, I’m about to suggest a springtime take on the boiled dinner for this month’s entry in the Whole Chicken Project. A gently poached and cooled bird, served with blanched asparagus, boiled new potatoes, and a garlic and basil mayonnaise. It’s a meal – one that doesn’t require multiple hours of cooking and, because every component is just as good served chilled as it is warm, all the work can easily be done early in the day.