Category Archives: side dishes

Smoked Cheddar Gougeres

gougere side view

We stood schmoozing around the kitchen island, savoring pillowy gougeres followed easily with sweet champagne, when it happened. Maybe the threat of the impending winter chill drew us closer together, or perhaps it was our need to tangibly express the deep connections we had formed, but suddenly, each person’s arms encircled the two waists of those standing closest, and we broke into singing the alma mater “Hark the Sound.”

When we completed the song, we were changed. What began as a class of strangers became a family. As I would later tell tour groups of potential students and their parents, that fleeting moment reaffirmed my love for the community I found at UNC.

gougere top view

I suppose that’s what I’ve sought to recreate since I’ve graduated. Wherever I go, I crave those arms around me, and I’ve been lucky enough to find them.

Tomorrow I go into surgery, and already I’ve been overwhelmed by the amount of support I’ve received from people both near and far. I’ve realized how much I value community — sometimes one needs a reminder. It’s nice to have lots of arms to fall into.

Once again I find myself in a moment like the one that occurred around my professor’s kitchen island, where everything came together in a moment of delicious clarity. And I thank you, friends and family, for that.

Recipe based of off this one. The best smoked cheddar ever can be ordered online here.

Smoked Cheddar Gougeres
Makes about three dozen

1/2 cup water
1/2 cup milk
1 stick unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons
Large pinch of coarse salt
1 cup all-purpose flour
4 large eggs
1 cup shredded smoked cheddar, plus more for sprinkling
Freshly ground pepper
Freshly grated nutmeg

1) Preheat the oven to 400°. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper or Silpats. In a medium saucepan, combine the water, milk, butter and salt and bring to a boil over medium heat. Add the flour and stir it in with a wooden spoon until a smooth dough forms; stir over low heat until it dries out and pulls away from the pan, about 2 minutes.
2) Scrape the dough into a mixing bowl; let cool for 1 minute. (Waiting a bit ensures that the eggs won’t cook and scramble in the dough.) Beat the eggs into the dough, 1 at a time, beating thoroughly between each one. Add the cheese and a pinch each of pepper and nutmeg.
3) Transfer the dough to a large plastic bag and cut about 1/2 inch off the corner diagonally. Pipe tablespoon-size mounds onto the baking sheets, 2 inches apart. Sprinkle with cheese and bake for 22 minutes, or until puffed and golden brown. Serve hot, or let cool and refrigerate or freeze. Reheat in a 350° oven until piping hot.

Sauteed Kale with Bacon & Onion

kale close-up

Like any good Millennial, I frequently hate-read trend pieces about Millennials. One of my favorite facts about our generation, besides the fact that we are all lazy and entitled, is that 21.6 million of us live at home. And while I understand the larger social implications of such a staggering statistic, I have a confession to make.

I love it.

My parents make great landlords. They mostly charge in homemade meals, which I am more than happy to provide. In exchange, I get a cozy bed, a live-in accountant (dad) and a conveniently-located business partner/fellow crafter (mom).

Home is all the more comfortable when you’ve experienced what it’s like out there. I will not pretend the decision to come back was an easy one — it felt like admitting defeat after living two years on my own in THE big city.

But the best thing I could’ve done for myself was pressing restart. Trying again. This time in a space that always smells faintly of chocolate chip cookies and offers frequent warm embraces.

With every passing day I feel more like myself, once again bursting with enthusiasm and optimism. I can’t say exactly why those qualities felt so suppressed by city life, but I know that soon they will be the very qualities that lead me, eagerly, back into the great unknown.

For now, I close my eyes and allow the familiarity of home to cover me like a blanket.

kale

Speaking of cooking for my parents, I made this meal as a delayed birthday present for my dad. I won’t reveal his age, but let’s just say that it now ends in 0.

I loathe raw kale, but we have an inordinate amount of fresh produce right now from our CSA; I had to do something with at least a few of our greens. Besides the dreadful, inedible texture of raw kale, it feels like the most self-righteous of vegetables, like it’s somehow my problem that I can’t eat it without a 30-minute lemon juice massage.

The best way to spite kale is to rob it of its healthy reputation, so I added bacon and butter and called it a day. The fact that I was serving the kale with buttermilk fried chicken and buttermilk biscuits probably contributed to my inspiration.

Sauteed Kale with Bacon & Onions
Serves 4

2 strips bacon, chopped (I cut them with kitchen shears)
2 tablespoons butter
1 sweet onion, diced
1 – 1.5 cups vegetable or chicken stock
6 cups kale
Pepper, to taste

1) Heat a high-sided pan to medium-high. Add the chopped bacon and cook for about one minute. Add the butter and cook until melted. Stir in the onion and cook until softened, about five minutes.
2) Pour in the stock to deglaze the pan and add the kale. If it doesn’t all fit, stir in a few cups at a time. It will cook down quickly. Lower the heat to medium-low and cook with the lid on for five minutes.
3) Remove the lid and raise the heat, adding the pepper and stirring constantly until all of the liquid has cooked off, which should only take another minute or two. Serve immediately.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Bacon and Apple

roasted brussel sprouts

plated roasted brussel sprouts

As any writer or English major knows, finding oneself lost in an unfamiliar neighborhood with less-than-welcoming surroundings is an experience rife with opportunities for a story of transformation and self-discovery.

This story is one such example.

Several months ago, while I was still living in NYC, I exited the subway, walked the stairs onto the street, and stopped cold at a nearby intersection. I had no idea where I was. Instead of turning around and getting back on the subway, I stood on that street corner and cried. And cried. Self-pity shaken with alcohol makes for one pathetic cocktail. And wasn’t I entitled to feel sad? I was sure, so sure, that by that point in my life I wouldn’t be the kind of person who a) got absurdly lost (by any meaning of the word) and b) didn’t immediately know how to be found again.

If my high school Xanga posts — saved on my computer for posterity — are any indication, there were few things in life I looked forward to more than adulthood.

Adulthood, I surmised, afforded a certain level of clout and respect that would, among other things, no longer cause people to question why I needed to go to bed by 11. (As it turns out, this question still arose frequently when I lived in NYC. As an adult.)

Most importantly, I would be able to get things done.

These “things” are only slightly less vague now than they were when I was 16. Back then, I wanted to save the world. Today, I think I can content myself with improving a small pocket of it. (How is another story for another day.)

I was not really pursuing that particular goal the day I found myself at a literal and figurative intersection in east New York. The plan was to enjoy a boozy brunch followed by the Manhattan Pride Parade. The brunch part was easy enough: drink mimosas, punctuate that drinking with eggs Benedict. What followed was an emotional encounter that left me depressed and distracted.

Lost, and then really lost.

It took me a few minutes to notice that people were coming out of their houses to stare at the sad girl being sad for reasons that extended far beyond the booze and the earlier discussion and the loss of control. Even then, I saw myself with the eyes of those watchful neighbors and I wanted to roll my eyes at her, too. Oh, to be young and privileged. Instead, I called a cab, where I left behind the last of my cash and a decent amount of my dignity.

Although I didn’t know it at the time, that day signified the beginning of the end of my time in the city. Somehow, the trajectory I had planned to follow — it all started with post-college city living — left me feeling suddenly and irrevocably stuck.

Moving back to North Carolina was one way I could imagine regaining momentum.

Being an un(der)employed 25-year-old living with my parents again isn’t so bad, really. I’ve been pleased to discover that you really can go home again, and the people there (i.e. parents) will even feed you until you regain enough emotional strength to (hopefully) fight battles for those who don’t have the time or luxury of contemplating how to live their lives to the fullest.

Since ’tis the season for such things, anyway, I’d like to take a moment to say how thankful I am for such luxuries. I hope I can lead a life that proves it.

Like how sometimes I feed my parents, too. I recently made them these roasted Brussels sprouts that would, incidentally, make for a great Thanksgiving side dish. The original recipe can be found here. I adapted it to include more bacon because of this classic video and also because I felt like it.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Bacon and Apple:
Serves 4 or so
6 slices bacon, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
8 cups Brussels sprouts, peeled, ends trimmed, and halved or quartered
Salt and pepper, to taste
2 apples, cored and diced
2 teaspoons red-wine vinegar

1) Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Arrange bacon in a single layer on a large rimmed baking sheet. Bake until browned (about 10 minutes).
2) Add Brussels sprouts in a single layer, then sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast until the Brussels sprouts begin to brown lightly (about 15 minutes).
3) Add the apple as the final layer. Roast until Brussels sprouts are browned and tender and apple has softened (about 15 minutes).
4) Toss the finished roasted dish with vinegar and serve immediately.

Chickpea, Cucumber & Tomato Salad

It’s that time of year again — that period in summer where I mostly boycott my oven. And I eat even more vegetables than usual.

This salad is super simple and chock full of protein, which I always appreciate along with my veggies.

Chickpea, Cucumber & Tomato Salad
Serves 8
2 (8-ounce) cans of chickpeas
2 cucumbers, peeled and chopped
1 pint of cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
3 tablespoons of olive oil
1 tablespoon of balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon of white wine vinegar
1/2 cup of feta cheese
3 (or to taste) sprigs of dill, finely chopped
1 teaspoon of salt
1 teaspoon of pepper

1) Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and refrigerate overnight before serving.

Baked Eggplant, Tomato & Feta with Polenta

“Great restaurants are, of course, nothing but mouth-brothels. There is no point in going to them if one intends to keep one’s belt buckled.”
– Frederic Raphael

It’s not that I have forsaken cooking in pursuit of other, more easily acquired (and dare I say wanton?), meals. I haven’t. Sure, the occasional Chinese food delivery threatens my resolve, and the even less frequent meat loaf sandwich convinces me of my own culinary inadequacy, but I do still cook.

Unfortunately, prolific eating does not always lead to prolific writing. On the contrary, my food-induced comas compel me to do very little of anything, which is further indication that my restaurant reviewing career would not be especially promising. (Unless Instagram-friendly reviews were considered pithy rather than lazy.) Similarly, the food I eat out does not always inspire me so much as enable me to continue eating out.

So, my homemade meals of late have been basic. Vegetarian. Wholesome. I am still wholly capable of making indulgent foods, but mine is a city of indulgences, and sometimes I just crave simplicity. And that’s what home is for these days.

This recipe comes from One Big Table, which is as much about American food and material culture as it is about recipes. I highly recommend buying a copy. I especially love all the amazing vegetable dishes. (Cooking veggies tends to be where my creativity wanes.)

Baked Eggplant, Tomato & Feta with Polenta
Serves 4
1/4 cup olive oil
1 eggplant, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 garlic clove, minced
sea salt
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 cup diced tomatoes (I used canned)
pepper
4 ounces/1 cup feta cheese
1 dish of polenta

1) Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a pan, heat olive oil to medium heat, then add eggplant and garlic. Cook until browned and slightly tender, then season with a pinch of salt and a teaspoon of oregano.
2) Pour eggplant into an 8 x 8 inch glass or ceramic baking dish, then cover with diced tomatoes, salt, pepper, and remaining oregano. Sprinkle feta on top, then cover the dish with foil. Bake until cheese begins to melt (25 to 30 minutes).
3) Meanwhile, prepare the polenta according to the package’s directions.
4) Remove the eggplant dish from the oven and let it sit for 10 minutes. Heat a pan to medium heat and grease with butter or olive oil. Slice pieces of polenta and fry on each side for 2 to 3 minutes.
5) Place polenta on a plate, then top with eggplant and tomato dish. Serve warm.

Twice Baked Potatoes

I made these babies for Super Bowl Sunday, because the only thing I enjoy about the Super Bowl is the food.

They basically speak for themselves, don’t they?

Twice Baked Potatoes:
Serves 8
4 large russet potatoes
olive oil
salt & pepper, to taste
1 cup sour cream
1/2 cup milk
4 tablespoons butter
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese, divided
4 green onions

1) Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Clean the potatoes thoroughly, then pierce with a fork all around each potato. Rub potatoes with olive oil, salt and pepper. Bake directly on the oven rack (with a cookie sheet on the rack below it) for 40 minutes to an hour. Remove from the oven and let cool for 10 minutes.
2)  Split each potato lengthwise and remove most of the potato, saving the skins. Combine the potato insides with the sour cream, milk, butter, salt, pepper and 1/2 a cup of cheddar cheese. Blend by hand or with a mixer until creamy.
3) Place the skins on a baking sheet. Fill each skin completely with potato mixture and top with the remaining cheddar cheese. Bake for another 15 minutes. Top with green onions and more sour cream. Enjoy!

Roasted Sweet Potatoes, Carrots and Chickpeas

It’s literally impossible not to love Central Park in fall. (It’s also literally impossible not to get “Danke Schoen” stuck in my head when I hear the phrase “Central Park in fall.”)

Yes, autumn is upon us. In fact, we got a sneak peek of winter the other day when it snowed. In October. It’s time to eat lots and lots of warm orange foods and put cinnamon on everything. Which is what I did the other day when I roasted up these veggies.

I assure you, the smell is better than a Yankee Candle.

Roasted Sweet Potatoes, Carrots and Chickpeas
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
2 carrots, peeled and cubed
1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
2 teaspoons honey
2 cloves garlic, minced
salt and pepper to taste

1) Toss all ingredients in a large bowl.
2) Spread on a cookie sheet and bake at 400 degrees for 40 minutes.