Pork Stew with Prunes and Armagnac

’Tis the season for Armagnac – in your food as well as your glass:

Pork Stew with Prunes and Armagnac

In this window of time between Thanksgiving turkey and Christmas excess, take a break from fancy feasts and indulge in a robust and rustic one-pot meal. This wine and brandy-laced stew is guaranteed to warm you in the cold weather. After all, while libations are certainly for sipping, don’t overlook their power to enhance flavor in food, such this pork and prune stew fortified with Armagnac. If this recipe doesn’t warm you, I’m not sure what will.

Armagnac is a brandy produced in the southwestern region of France. Like cognac, Armagnac is derived from grapes – but the difference veers from there. While cognac is twice distilled, yielding a smoother pour, Armagnac is distilled only once, which lends more nuance and character to its flavor. And while this certainly makes for intriguing and wonderful sipping, it also adds delightful complexity to soups, stews, sauces – even desserts.

In this recipe, Armagnac teams up with luscious prunes and pork to create a rich and homey stew perfumed with juniper and rosemary. Just remember to pour yourself a splash to enjoy while you are preparing the meal.

Pork Stew with Prunes and Armagnac

Active Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 3 to 3 1/2 hours, plus steeping time
Serves 6

20 prunes, pitted
1/2 cup Armagnac brandy
3 pounds pork shoulder, excess fat trimmed, meat cut into 1 ½ -inch chunks
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 ounces bacon, coarsely chopped
2 large carrots, chopped
3 medium shallots, chopped
3 garlic cloves, chopped
1 bottle full-bodied red wine
1 cup high quality beef stock
1 bouquet garni: 4 juniper berries, 3 rosemary sprigs, 2 thyme sprigs, and 2 bay leaves wrapped in cheesecloth and tied with a kitchen string

1. Combine the prunes and Armagnac in a bowl and let stand at least 1 hour.
2. Preheat the oven to 325°F.
3. Season the pork on all sides with salt and pepper. Heat the olive oil over medium-high heat in a Dutch oven or oven-proof pot with a lid. Add the pork in batches, without overcrowding, and brown on all sides. Transfer to a bowl and repeat with the remaining pork.
4. Pour off all but 1 tablespoon pork fat from the pan. Add the bacon and sauté until its fat renders. Add the carrots and onion and sauté until the onions soften and the carrots are crisp tender, 4 to 5 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté until fragrant, about 1 minute.
5. Return the pork and any accumulated juices to the pan. Add the prunes and Armagnac, the wine, bouquet garni, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper. Bring to a boil, and then reduce the heat to a simmer. Cover the pan, transfer to the oven, and cook until the meat is very tender, 2 1/2 to 3 hours, stirring once every hour or so.
6. Remove the stew from the oven, discard the bouquet garni, and taste for seasoning. Serve with mashed potatoes, polenta, or crusty bread.
(The stew may be prepared up to two days in advance. Warm over low heat or in a 300°F oven before serving.)

Roasted Butternut Squash Soup

Butternut squash mingles with its fall friends in this festive soup:

Curried Butternut Squash Soup

There is something magical about roasted butternut squash. Its brilliant orange flesh softens into buttery squidginess, and when roasted, its natural sugars are coaxed out and gently caramelized, accentuating the squash’s inherent nutty flavor. It’s hard to believe something so rich and sugary can be loaded with nutrients and beta-carotene, but so it is. One cup of butternut squash provides a health nut’s worth of Vitamins A and C, as well as a robust shot of potassium, manganese and fiber. In this recipe, roasted butternut squash mingles with its fall buddies – apples, cider, and loads of warming spices – yielding an essential autumn soup. Serve it as a starter to any meal, or dress it up in little shot glasses as a fancy soup starter when hosting a crowd. It’s a great way to kick off the holiday season.

Curried Butternut Squash and Apple Soup

Active Time: 40 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour and 30 minutes
Makes 4 to 6 large bowl servings or 16 to 18 small appetizer shots, depending on size of glass

1 medium butternut squash, about 2 pounds
Extra-virgin olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 large Granny Smith apple, peeled, cored, diced
1 tablespoon curry powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon cayenne, or to taste
3 cups chicken stock (or vegetable for vegetarian option)
1 cup apple cider
1 tablespoon light brown sugar
1 to 2 teaspoons salt, to taste
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1. Heat the oven to 375°F. Cut the squash in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds. Lightly brush the exposed flesh with olive oil. Place squash, cut-side-down, on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake until the flesh is fork tender, 50 to 60 minutes. Remove from oven and cool slightly. When cool enough to handle, scoop out the flesh and set aside.
2. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onions and cook until softened without coloring, 3 to 4 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the apple, curry powder, cumin, coriander and cayenne. Cook until fragrant, about 1 minute, stirring constantly. Add the roasted squash and chicken stock. (There should be just enough stock to cover the squash and apples. If needed, add additional stock to cover). Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat, cover the pot, and simmer until the apples are very soft, about 20 minutes.
3. Carefully purée the soup in batches in a food processor (or with an immersion blender). Return the soup to the pot and stir in the apple cider, brown sugar, salt and pepper. Warm thoroughly over medium-low heat and taste for seasoning. Serve warm, garnished with a small spoonful of crème fraîche or sour cream if desired.

Chicken Tortilla Soup with Corn and Black Beans

Rely on your leftovers for this warming Chicken Tortilla Soup

Hearty Chicken and Black Bean Tortilla Soup

My inspiration for making soup is often a convergence of too many vegetables in the refrigerator combined with leftovers from a roast chicken dinner. This recipe is not an authentic tortilla soup, as I managed to empty most of the contents of my veggie drawer into it. It’s chock-a-block full of corn, beans, zucchini and peppers, simmered with a few must-have aromatics (onion and garlic) and pantry staples (canned Italian plum tomatoes and black beans). I spiced up the stock with warming southwestern spices in defiance of the dreary drizzle outside, and finished the soup with a shower of shattered tortilla chips, which happened to be leftover remnants in the bottom of their bag – too small for swiping through a bowl of salsa. Leftovers never tasted so good.

If you don’t have leftover chicken on hand, a store bought rotisserie chicken and packaged stock will do the trick. Season and spice the soup to your taste. Ideally it should have a little heat, but since our family is divided on what constitutes “spicy,” I pass a bottle of hot sauce around the table so everyone can fire up the soup to their taste. This soup is meant to be thick. More chicken stock may be added for a soupier consistency

Chicken Tortilla Soup

Active Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 30 minutes
Serves 6

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
1 poblano pepper, stemmed and seeded, diced
1 sweet red pepper, stemmed and seeded, diced
1 jalapeño pepper, stemmed and seeded, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 small zucchini, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
4 cups chicken stock
1 (28-ounce) can Italian plum tomatoes, with juice
1/4 cup tomato paste
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne
1/8 teaspoon cloves
3/4 pound shredded cooked chicken
1 cup fresh corn kernels (or defrosted frozen)
1 cup cooked black beans
1 to 2 teaspoons brown sugar (optional)
1/4 cup cilantro leaves, chopped
Tortilla chips, broken in pieces, for garnish

1. Heat the oil in a soup pot over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté until softened, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the peppers and sauté until crisp tender, about 2 minutes. Stir in the garlic and zucchini and sauté briefly, about 1 minute.
2. Add the chicken stock, plum tomatoes with juice, tomato paste, cumin, coriander, salt, pepper, cayenne, and cloves. Bring to a boil, and then reduce the heat and simmer, partially covered, for 20 minutes.
3. Stir in the chicken, corn, and beans. Simmer, partially covered, until thoroughly heated through. Taste for seasoning. Add 1 to 2 teaspoons brown sugar if desired.
4. Stir in the cilantro leaves and serve warm, garnished with the tortilla chips.

Time Out Soup: Turkey and Farro Soup with Carrots and Shiitake Mushrooms

This is a Sunday soup (or, in this case, a Tuesday soup). It’s a perfect antidote to a long holiday weekend punctuated with big meals and late evenings. It’s restorative, healthy, and nourishing and a perfect time-out meal to enjoy on a relaxed evening with no social agenda. It’s also a simple way to use some of that leftover turkey lurking in your fridge. If you don’t have turkey, fear not, chicken works just as well, so if you’ve soldiered through your Thanksgiving leftovers  you can easily use cooked chicken meat or a rotisserie chicken from your local store or farmer’s market. That’s why I often call this a Tur-Chicken soup.

There are two important ingredients I like to add to this soup. Shiitake mushrooms impart a slinky umami flavor to the stock, and farro, an ancient nutty wheat grain, lends satisfying heft to each slurp. Use pearled or semi-pearled farro for easiest cooking. Whole grain farro, while the healthiest option, requires soaking and a long cooking time of at least one hour, and has a distinct earthy flavor. Milder semi-pearled farro still retains some of its nutritious bran and germ but is scored to hasten cooking, and pearled farro is completely stripped, thus the least nutritious, but quickest to cook. If farro is not available, pearl barley is a good substitute.

Turkey and Farro Soup with Carrots and Shiitake Mushrooms

Active Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 40 to 50 minutes
Serves 4 to 6

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
2 medium carrots, sliced 1/4 inch thick
6 ounces small shiitake mushrooms, ends trimmed
6 cups turkey or chicken stock
1/2 cup pearled farro or pearl barley
2 thyme sprigs or 1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 cups shredded cooked turkey or chicken breast meat
2 tablespoons finely chopped Italian flat leaf parsley

Heat the oil in a soup pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté until it softens without coloring, about 3 minutes. Toss in the carrots and mushrooms and sauté until the carrots brighten in color and the mushrooms begin to release their juices, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the farro and cook briefly, stirring to coat and lightly toast the grains, and then add the stock, thyme, and bay leaf. Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat to medium-low. Cover and simmer until the farro is tender, 30 to 40 minutes. Stir in the chicken (or turkey), salt, and pepper and top off with additional stock if needed. Simmer until the chicken is heated through. Ladle the soup into bowls, and serve hot, garnished with the parsley.

30 minute Baked Pasta with Chorizo, Kale, and Roasted Tomatoes

Easy one pot pasta dinner in 30 minutes

Who doesn’t like a steaming creamy mac ‘n cheese, coated in bechamel, rippling with cheese and crowned with crispy breadcrumbs? I would never throw shade at this comforting classic – and goodness knows we can all do with a little comfort these days – but I will say that you can have your baked pasta and cheese, and riff a little, too. What you get out of the deal is variety, an excuse to use up any lingering vegetables in your fridge, and an opportunity to add some extra goodies, like sausage if you’re so inclined. Simply mound them into a baking dish along with the al dente pasta and gads of cheese, bake until melty and golden,  and no one, I dare say, will dream of objecting.

I make dishes like this when I am looking for a quick solution for an easy dinner. It can be on the table in about 30 minutes, and it’s likely to be devoured in half that time. It’s lighter than mac ‘n cheese, and loaded with veggies. To moisten the pasta (there’s no bechamel sauce, after all) I toss the pasta with some of the pasta cooking water and add fresh mozzarella for creaminess.

Baked Pasta with Sausage, Kale, and Roasted Tomatoes

Serves 4

12 ounces pasta, such as gemelli or farfalle
Salt
2 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
8 ounces chorizo or hot Italian sausage, cut into 1/2 inch slices
1 cup grape tomatoes, halved
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 teaspoon red chili flakes
1/2 bunch lacinato kale leaves, tough ribs discarded, leaves torn into bite-size pieces
1 (8-ounce) fresh mozzarella, coarsely chopped
1 1/2 cups finely grated Pecorino Romano cheese (or part Parmesan)

1. Heat the oven to 350°F. Bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil. Add the pasta and cook until 1 to 2 minutes short of al dente. Scoop out 1/2 cup water, then drain the pasta. Transfer the pasta to a bowl and toss with 1 tablespoon oil to prevent sticking.
2. While the pasta is cooking, heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large oven-proof skillet over medium-high heat. Add the sausage and brown the slices on both sides, about 5 minutes. Transfer the sausage to a plate lined with a paper towel and pour off all but 1 tablespoon oil from the skillet.
3. Add the tomatoes to the skillet and sauté until they release their juices and soften, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and chili flakes and sauté until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the kale and sauté until the leaves soften, about 3 minutes.
Add the pasta and 1/4 cup of the reserved water and stir to combine. If the pasta seems too dry, add the remaining water, 1 tablespoon at a time, until the pasta is moist but not wet. Stir in the mozzarella and 1 cup Pecorino.
4. Sprinkle the remaining Pecorino over the top of the pasta and transfer the skillet to the oven. Bake until the top begins to color and the cheese melts, about 20 minutes. Serve warm.

Lemongrass and Garlic Skirt Steak with Sesame Noodles

Marinated Skirt Steak Noodles - one dish dinnersOne Dish Dinner: Vietnamese Skirt Steak Noodles

There is something infinitely satisfying about presenting a complete dinner heaped on one platter. The arrangement suggests a family-style feast. It’s a fun method for casual dining, which allows everyone to dig into a balanced meal combining meat, greens, and grains, or in this case, noodles.

This Vietnamese-inspired recipe embraces budget friendly skirt steak, a flavorful cut of meat that loves a good marinade, piled over a tangle of Asian noodles. A sweet and sour marinade is perfumed with lemongrass, a key ingredient in Vietnamese and Thai cuisine, which infuses the meat with flavor and spice. The longer the beef marinates the better the flavor, but that’s the only time consuming step in making this dish, which requires little effort – only advance planning to allow for marinating.

Lemongrass, also known as citronella, is a commonly used to flavor stir-fries, marinades, and curries. It looks like a woody spring onion and has a uniquely fragrant lemon-floral flavor concentrated in the oils in the centers of its stalk. For the purpose of a marinade, the stalk need only be sliced to release its flavor. For other dishes where the lemongrass is eaten, the outer stalks should be removed and the center stalks minced or pounded to a paste. Lemongrass is sold in the fresh produce section of well-stocked supermarkets or Asian markets. If you can’t find fresh lemongrass in the produce section, it’s also sold as jarred paste. Simply add 1 tablespoon of the paste to the marinade. The other marinade and dressing ingredients are available in the international section of grocery stores and in Asian supermarkets. Once the ingredients are on hand, this dish comes together quickly for a family-friendly weeknight dinner that will have everyone reaching for seconds.

Lemongrass and Garlic Skirt Steak with Sesame Noodles

Serves 4
Active Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 30 minutes (plus marinating time)
Marinating Time: 2 to 24 hours 

Marinade:
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons sweet chili sauce
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 lemongrass stalk, white part only, outer leaves removed, stalk thinly sliced (or 1 tablespoon lemongrass paste)
1 1/2 to 2 pounds skirt steak
8 ounces Vietnamese wheat noodles, Chinese egg noodles, or ramen

Dressing:
1 small garlic clove, minced
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons sesame oil
2 tablespoons tahini
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 teaspoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon finely grated peeled fresh ginger
1/4 teaspoon Sriracha or hot sauce

Vegetable oil for pan frying

Garnishes:
1 to 2 red or green jalapeño chile peppers, seeded and thinly sliced
1/2 cup fresh cilantro leaves and/or torn mint leaves
1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds
Lime wedges

1. Combine the marinade ingredients in a large bowl and whisk to blend. Slice the skirt steak on the diagonal against the grain into 1-inch strips. Add to the marinade and toss to coat.  Cover the bowl with plastic and refrigerate at for least 2 hours or up to 24 hours, stirring occasionally. Remove the steak from the refrigerator 30 minutes before proceeding with the recipe.

2. Cook the noodles until al dente per manufacturer’s instructions. Drain and transfer to a bowl. While the noodles are cooking, whisk the dressing ingredients in a small bowl. Pour half of the dressing over the drained noodles and toss to thoroughly coat.

3. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. Remove the steak from the marinade and add to the skillet, in batches if necessary, without overcrowding the pan. (The steak may also be grilled over direct medium-high heat.) Discard the marinade. Sear the steak on both sides until cooked to your desired doneness, 6 to 8 minutes for medium-rare. Transfer to a plate and repeat with the remaining meat.

4. To serve, spread the noodles on a serving platter or in a shallow serving bowl. Arrange the skirt steak strips over the noodles and scatter the chile peppers, cilantro, mint, and sesame seeds over and around the steak. Garnish with the lime wedges and drizzle the remaining sauce over the steak and noodles. Serve warm.

Beef and Guinness Chili with Black Beans and Barley

bison chili tastefood

Winter and the Superbowl demand a hefty bowl of chili, and this recipe will surely do the trick. Loaded with beef, black beans and barley, the key to this thick and rich stew is a heady tomato stock fortified with chipotles and stout beer. While you shouldn’t tinker too much with the aromatics, do feel free to adjust the meat and grains. The beef chuck can easily be switched out with turkey, chicken, or pork – or entirely omitted for a vegetarian option (just double up on the beans instead). I like to add barley to the mix – it adds great texture and extra nutrients. Other whole grains such as farro or freekah can be substituted as well.

Beef and Guinness Chili with Black Beans and Barley
Serves 4 to 6

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 pounds beef chuck, cut into 3/4-inch chunks
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 large yellow onion, chopped
1 large poblano pepper, diced
1 large red bell pepper, diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 to 3 chiles in adobo, chopped
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1 (28-ounce) can Italian plum tomatoes with juice
8 ounces stout beer, such as Guinness
1/4 cup tomato paste
2 bay leaves
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1  cup pre-cooked black beans (or 1 [15-ounce] can black beans, drained and rinsed)
1 cup pre-cooked barley (I used purple heritage) – optional

Optional garnishes:
Sliced jalapeño pepper, cilantro leaves, crumbled cotija cheese, chopped red onion

1. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Season the meat with salt and pepper. Add to the pot in batches and brown on all sides. Transfer to a plate.
2. Add 1 tablespoon oil to the same pot. Add the onion and saute over medium heat until softened without coloring, about 3 minutes. Add the peppers and saute until brightened in color, about 2 minutes. Add the garlic and saute until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the chiles in adobo, the chili powder, cumin, and paprika and cook, stirring, for 1 minute.
3. Return the beef to the pot and add the tomatoes, stout, tomato paste, bay leaves, brown sugar, and 1 teaspoon salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low. Partially cover the pot and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Taste for seasoning and add more sugar or salt if desired. Stir in the black beans and barley and continue to simmer for 10 more minutes.
4. Ladle the chili into serving bowls. Serve with the garnishes for sprinkling.