Mortar and Pestle Guacamole

 Tap into your inner caveman with this guacamole recipe:

Homemade Guacamole Recipe

My favorite kitchen tool is my stone mortar and pestle. It sits proudly on my kitchen counter, holding its own in a caveman-esque sort of way, flaunting its primal elegance in between the stove and the espresso machine. It’s smugly confident in its weight and kitchen hierarchy (deemed decorative) while my food processor and standing mixer are banished behind cabinet doors (deemed clutter). New kitchen techniques are awe-inspiring and futuristic, yet my mortar is old and wise with a lineage extending as far back as the Old Testament. Sous-vides, anti-griddles, and smart ovens may be cutting edge, favored by professional chefs and culinary buffs, but my mortar has a stellar history as an essential tool to Native Americans, ancient Romans and Greeks, medieval pharmacists, and home cooks spanning the ages from the dawn of civilization. It is the embodiment of simplicity and timelessness, pleasingly tactile and massively elemental. And it’s affordable.

What can you do with a mortar and pestle? You can grind, pound, and smash to your heart’s content (a timely expression these days), making pestos, pastes, sauces, dips, dressings, and marinades. You can grind seeds into powder. (I assure you that the results of lightly toasting cardamom, cumin, or coriander seeds, and then grinding them to a fine powder in a mortar will yield results unparalleled by the pre-ground versions.) The mortar is also the perfect place to smash garlic with sea salt, adding fresh-cut herbs, such as rosemary, thyme, sage, basil, and mint. Crush the garlic first with the salt, then add the herbs and bruise them by giving them a few turns with the pestle to release their juices and flavor. You will be left with a powerful, aromatic paste you can smear on meats and poultry before roasting.

You can make guacamole, a perfect crowd pleaser, just in time to make for your Super Bowl party. Serve with chips, and you have one-stop-shopping in a primitive vessel. If you don’t have a mortar, then simply combine all of the ingredients in a bowl and mash with a fork to achieve a chunky consistency.

Guacamole

Active Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 15 minutes
Makes about 2 cups

1 small red or green jalapeño pepper, stemmed and seeded, finely chopped
1 garlic clove,  chopped
1/4 cup finely chopped red onion
1/4 cup cilantro leaves, plus extra chopped leaves for garnish
3 to 4 large ripe Hass avocados
2 tablespoons coarsely grated yellow onion with juice
Juice of one lime
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon salt, or more to taste
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 to 3 dashes hot sauce, such as Tabasco (optional)

1. Combine the jalapeño, garlic, and red onion in a mortar. Press on the ingredients with your pestle, and grind them around the mortar in a circular movement, 3 to 4 times. Add the cilantro and gently bruise the leaves with the pestle.
2. Add the avocados, yellow onion, and lime juice and mash to form a blended but chunky consistency. Mix in the cumin, salt, black pepper, and hot sauce, if using, and taste for seasoning. Serve garnished with additional chopped cilantro.

Balsamic Braised Chicories

The Cold Season’s Answer to Vegetables:

Balsamic Braised Chicories

A spoonful of sugar helps the bitterness go away.

When the weather is frigid, and the garden has hunkered down for the winter, it’s time to turn to chicories. These leafy vegetables are our cold-season friends, packed with vitamins and nutrients, and winter’s replacement for sweet summer greens. While chicories are also referred to as “greens,” whites, reds, and purples may be more accurate descriptions. This broad group of leafy “greens” includes endive, escarole, frisée, Treviso, and radicchio.

Chicory leaves are hardy and often bitter, so it’s best to lean into their robust qualities, rather than pretend they are a substitute for mild-mannered lettuce. Team them up with equally strong flavors: sweet and sharp dressings, astringent citrus, smoky bacon, fruit, and nuts. And don’t be shy about using a little sugar, which will nicely offset their bracing bitterness.

Thanks to chicories’ sturdiness, they are great for braising, which is an appealing (and warm) way to get your veggies in the dead of winter. Braising will tame their strong flavor, and with a little extra sugar, amplify their natural sweetness.

Balsamic Braised Chicories

Active Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 30 minutes
Serves: 4 to 6

1 1/2 pounds chicories, such as endive, radicchio, escarole

1/4 cup chicken (or vegetable) stock
1/4 balsamic vinegar
1 to 2 tablespoons light brown sugar
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 to 3 thyme sprigs, plus extra for garnish

1. Trim the bases of the chicories. Halve the endives lengthwise and cut the radicchio and escarole into wedges.
2. Whisk the chicken stock, vinegar, sugar, lemon juice, and salt in a small bowl.
3. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Arrange the chicories, cut-side down in the skillet and cook until they begin to soften and brown, about 5 minutes, turning once.
4. Pour the balsamic mixture over and around the chicories, and scatter the sprigs over. Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat to medium-low. Cover the skillet and simmer until the chicories are tender, 6 to 8 minutes, turning once or twice.
5. Remove the lid, increase the heat to medium-high and cook until the liquid is reduced and the chicories are slightly caramelized.
6. Discard the thyme sprigs. Season the chicories with additional salt to taste and serve warm, garnished with fresh thyme.

Good Morning Scones

These currant scones are guaranteed to get you out of bed in the morning:
:
Currant Scones with Lemon

If it’s not broken, then don’t fix it. This pertains to great recipes, baking techniques, and, more specifically, these scones. I discovered this recipe years ago, published by Cooks Illustrated/America’s Test Kitchen, and it’s a keeper. Since then, I have made these scones countless times with only the tiniest of tweaks. And, like any tradition worth repeating, these dense, moist, and crumbly scones have become a part of our breakfast rotation.

The technique is specific: the ingredients should be as cold as possible. And, while the method has steps that dance around this requirement, the good news is that the scones can be formed and cut, and then frozen in advance of baking. Simply pop them into zip-lock bags, and freeze for up to 1 month. The morning of serving, remove the scones from the freezer and bake them frozen, adding an additional 5 minutes or so for baking to compensate for their chilliness.

The original recipe calls for blueberries, which are a lovely springtime addition. I am partial to currants, so often add them instead, along with a generous sprinkle of lemon zest.

Currant Scones

Active Time: 45 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour and 30 minutes
Makes 8

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup whole milk
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 cup (8 tablespoons) frozen butter, plus 2 tablespoons melted butter for brushing
1/2 cup dried currants
Turbinado sugar for sprinkling

1. Preheat the oven to 400°F.
2. Combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, lemon zest, salt, and baking soda in a medium bowl and stir to blend.
3. Whisk the milk and sour cream in a separate bowl and refrigerate while you grate the butter.
4. Coarsely grate the frozen butter and place in a bowl. Freeze for 5 minutes and then add the butter to the flour mixture. Quickly mix with the tips of your fingers to combine. Pour in the milk and stir until just combined.
5. Transfer the mixture to a floured work surface and knead several times until the dough holds together in a ragged ball. Roll the dough out into a 12-inch square, adding a little flour as needed. Fold the dough 3 ways into a rectangle, like a business letter, using a metal spatula to lift the dough from the surface as necessary. Fold the short ends of the dough into the center, overlapping, so you have an approximate 4-inch square. Freeze the dough for 5 minutes.
6. Roll the dough out again on a floured surface into a 12-inch square. Sprinkle the currants over the dough, lightly pressing them in to adhere. Roll the dough up into a tight log, then press into a 12 by 4-inch rectangle. Cut the rectangle into 4 equal sections and then cut each section on the diagonal to form 8 triangles.
7. If freezing, place the triangles in one layer in a large zip-lock bag, press the air out, and freeze for up to 1 month. When ready to bake, remove from the freezer and proceed with the next step.
8. Transfer the triangles to a parchment-lined baking sheet. Brush the tops with the melted butter and sprinkle with the turbinado sugar. Bake on the middle rack of the oven until the tops and bottoms are golden, about 20 minutes (or 25 to 27 minutes if frozen).

30 Minute Coconut Shrimp Curry

Greet January head-on with a steaming, aromatic bowl of coconut shrimp curry:

30 Minute Shrimp Curry Stew

Satisfying soups and stews heady with spice, spark the senses and hint of sunny far-flung destinations. You might call it escapism, but I can’t think of a better way to embrace winter. This curry is rich, bright, and potent with flavor. It’s also easy to make and extremely versatile. You can add additional vegetables to the stew, such as carrot and cauliflower. A squeeze of lime juice is essential to brightening the broth with a kick of acidity. Best of all, this dish can be prepared in 30 minutes – which leaves you just enough time to cook some rice.

Coconut Shrimp Curry

Active Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 30 minutes
Serves 4

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 green jalapeño pepper, stemmed and seeded, finely chopped
2 tablespoons grated fresh peeled ginger
1 1/2 tablespoons curry powder
1 (28-ounce) can chopped Italian plum tomatoes
1 1/2 cups coconut milk
1 medium zucchini, quartered lengthwise, each quarter sliced in 1/2-inch pieces
1 pound large shrimp, peeled and deveined
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro, plus extra for garnish
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 to 2 teaspoons brown sugar (optional)
Cooked basmati rice for serving
Lime wedges for serving

1. Heat the oil in deep skillet or soup pot over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté until soft, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic, jalapeño, and ginger and sauté until fragrant, about 1 minute. Stir in the curry powder and continue to cook until fragrant, about 1 minute more.
2. Add the tomatoes, coconut milk, and zucchini. Bring to a boil and simmer until the vegetables are tender, 10 to 12 minutes. Stir in the shrimp and cook until they turn pink and are just cooked through, 5 to 7 minutes.
3. Stir in the 1/4 cup cilantro, the lime juice, salt, and black pepper and taste for seasoning. If desired, add 1 to 2 teaspoons brown sugar to balance the flavor.
4. Ladle into bowls with cooked basmati rice. Garnish with additional cilantro and serve with lime wedges.

Orange Almond Semifreddo with Port Wine Poached Figs

An elegant do-ahead dessert, perfect for a party:
Light and Luscious Semifreddo with Orange and Almonds

Are you still unsure of what to make for a party dessert this season? Try making this light and luscious semifreddo, topped with a compote of port-wine poached figs. Fragrant with orange and spice, it’s reminiscent of English Christmas puddings and mulled wine. Semifreddo is an elegant frozen Italian concoction of whipped cream and meringue, and in this preparation, it’s flecked with toasted almonds and orange zest. Each bite is light and luscious, melting on the tongue in an airy poof. For a little extra sweetness (it’s the holidays, after all) a shard of caramelized almond praline crowns the dessert.

The beauty of this recipe is that each component may be prepared at least a day in advance, so all that you need to do is assemble it when you are ready to serve, which is a perfect gift to the cook when entertaining.

Orange Almond Semifreddo with Port Wine Fig Compote

Active Time: 1 hour and 15 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour and 15 minutes, plus cooling and freezing time
Serves 8

Semifreddo:
3/4 cup whole almonds
2 tablespoons plus 1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon finely grated orange zest
Pinch of salt
3 large egg whites, room temperature
1 cup heavy cream, chilled
1 teaspoon orange liqueur, such as Cointreau
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

Figs Compote:
16 dried figs, stems removed, halved if large
3/4 cup Port wine
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 (3-inch) cinnamon stick
2 tablespoons orange liqueur, such as Cointreau
Zest and juice of 1/2 orange

Praline:
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup sliced almonds, lightly toasted
1/4 teaspoon sea salt

Prepare the semifreddo:
1. Line a 9 x 5-inch loaf pan with plastic, leaving a 3-inch overhang.
2. Place the almonds and the 2 tablespoons sugar in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until finely ground. Add the orange zest and salt and pulse once or twice to blend.
3. Beat the egg whites in the bowl of an electric mixer until they begin to hold soft peaks. Add the 1/2 cup sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time, beating until the egg whites are glossy and hold stiff peaks. Transfer to a large bowl.
4. In a clean mixing bowl, beat the cream, orange liqueur, and vanilla extract in a clean mixing bowl until soft peaks form. Gently fold the egg whites into the cream until no traces are visible. Gently fold the almonds into the egg whites until evenly distributed. Spoon into the prepared loaf pan and smooth the top. Cover tightly with plastic. Freeze at least 8 hours or overnight.

Prepare the figs:
Combine all of the compote ingredients in a heavy medium saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, partially covered, until the figs are soft but still hold their shape, 15 to 20 minutes. Remove and cool completely in the liquid; discard the cinnamon stick. (Figs may be prepared up to 2 days in advance. Refrigerate until use. Bring to room temperature to serve.)

Prepare the praline:
Heat the sugar in a heavy small saucepan over medium heat until sugar melts, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon. Continue to cook, stirring constantly, until sugar turns amber in color. Add the almonds and sea salt and stir quickly to coat. Pour onto a baking sheet lined with parchment and spread into a thin layer. Do not touch with your fingers. Cool completely. Break into small pieces.

Serve:
When ready to serve, remove the semifreddo from the loaf pan. Working quickly, cut in 3/4-inch slices and arrange on serving plates or shallow bowls. Spoon figs and a little juice over the semifreddo and garnish with praline shards. Serve

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.)

Mashed Root Vegetables – A Colorful and Healthy Alternative to Mashed Potatoes

These Roots are Smashing

Mashed Root Vegetables

Root vegetables are fall and winter’s best-kept secret. Packed with nutrients, natural sugars and starch, the humble root is a healthy and flavorful substitute for the ubiquitous russet potato, and a superb way to get your vitamins and nutrients in the cold weather season. A good peel of skin reveals a rainbow of antioxidant-rich colors ranging from magenta to ochre to buttery yellow, sure to brighten any gray day – and your holiday table.

Feel free to mix and match roots, such as sweet potato, parsnip, rutabaga, carrot, celery root, and of course the dependable russet, to your taste and preference. Try to choose a balance of sweet and savory roots for even flavor and mash them to your desired consistency. It’s ok if the mash is a little chunky – it provides a pleasant texture. This recipe calls for a combination of sour cream and Greek yogurt in the mash, which creates a balance of smooth richness and tangy lightness. So long as you use a combined amount of one cup, you can opt for all of one or the other.

Mashed Root Vegetables

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

3 pounds mixed roots (such as 1 pound each of sweet potato, celery root, and rutabaga)
Salt
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 cup whole milk Greek yogurt
Freshly ground black pepper

1. Peel the root vegetables and cut into 1-inch chunks. Place the vegetables in a large pot with 2 teaspoons salt and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to medium and simmer until the vegetables are very tender, about 20 minutes.
2. Drain the vegetables and return them to the pot; cool 5 minutes. Add the garlic and butter and mash with a potato masher until the butter is melted. Add the sour cream and yogurt and continue to mash until the ingredients are blended and the mash is to your desired consistency (I like mine a little chunky). Add 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper, taste for seasoning, and add more if desired.
3. Spoon into a serving bowl and serve warm.

Prepare ahead:
The mash may be prepared up to 1 day in advance of serving. Cool completely and transfer to a buttered gratin dish. Cover and refrigerate for up to 24 hours. Remove from refrigerator 1 hour before serving.
To reheat, heat the oven to 325°F. Dot the top of the mash with about 1 tablespoon of finely diced butter and cover with foil. Bake in the oven until heated through, 30 to 40 minutes.