Maple syrup is made, not surprisingly, from the sap of the maple tree. I love it as a sweetener because not only is it sweet, but also smoky, which lends itself well to savory applications as well as the tried and true sweet ones.
For this recipe, I marinate tender, lean baby back ribs in maple syrup and apple cider vinegar for a sweet-tart complexity. I then bake the ribs in a low oven for three hours, until the meat is tender and flaking off the bone, and the syrup has burnt and caramelized on the ribs, intensifying both its sweetness and smokiness. These ribs are simple and subtle, but also satisfying and excellent.
Maple Baby-Back Ribs
- 3 pounds baby back ribs, separated
- 1/2 cup maple syrup
- 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
- Kosher salt and black pepper
Adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat oven to 300°F. In large bowl, combine ribs with maple syrup, cider vinegar, 1 tablespoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper. Toss to coat. Transfer to gallon-sized zipper-lock back and refrigerate for one hour.
Transfer ribs to foil-lined rimmed baking sheet and bake, turning every 45 minutes until ribs are dry and tender and marinade has caramelized, about three hours total. Remove from oven, allow to rest 5 minutes, and serve.
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There are some things in life that are just worth it. Worth the money. Worth the calories. Worth the time.Some things just are—and this is one of them.
Pommes de Terre Sarladaises is a canonical French potato dish made of only three ingredients:potatoes, garlic, and fat. The fat is usually duck or goose fat, but since those are hard for me to find in America, in their absence I used clarified butter, which I buy as ghee in markets that sell Indian ingredients.
Tarragon Chicken Tartine
People always say “you’re chicken” like it’s a bad thing. You don’t need to be bold and brave all the time. Lunch, I think, is an especially perfect time to lack courage. I like to save the habaneros and the escargot, the durian and the sea urchin for dinner, when I have finished my day and can siphon all of my time and my energy to tackling my plate, steak knife-sword in hand, and bravely eat what no girl has eaten before.
But at lunch, sandwiched between two halves of a hectic day, I don’t want a challenge. I want something familiar, and inexpensive, and perhaps a bit virtuous. Don’t forget, it was Clark Kent who went to the office–not Superman.
Vanilla Bean Crème Brûlée
To me, crème brûlée is elegant and sophisticated, but made from simplicity. The dessert equivalent of French chic. How can it look so good but be so easy?
Crème brûlée, literally “burnt cream,” is four ingredients: eggs, cream, sugar, and vanilla. It takes ten minutes to put the custard together, and then all you have to do is check in on it a couple of times. You can make it ahead—in fact, you should. It is not hard, or expensive, or fussy. And yet, everyone marvels at it. The amber stained glass lid atop each cold, sweet, luscious creamy pot is dainty, strident, and perfect.
Chorizo Quesadillas with Watercress
Quesadillas may be the perfect food. I live for them. I usually make mine with cheddar cheese, black beans, and whole-leaf cilantro. For this version, I’ve decided to do a spicy update. I start with fresh, Mexican chorizo rendered until crisp; stack it with bitter-sharp watercress leaves; and finish it with salty queso cotija and cheddar cheeses. I crisp the quesadilla until the shell is hard and the cheese inside is soft and runny. It’s a great take on an everyday staple. Pico de gallo is a fine simple accompaniment, but when I’m feeling more ambitious guacamole’s even better.
You could do worse than to drink a cold beer with this.
Two-Cheese Chorizo Quesadillas with Watercress
- 1/4 pound fresh Mexican chorizo, casing removed
- 1/2 cup packed watercress leaves
- 3 ounces crumbled cotija or feta cheese (about 1/2 cup)
- 3 ounces shredded sharp white cheddar cheese (about 1/2 cup)
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- Two 8-1/2-inch flour tortillas
- Kosher salt
Add chorizo to heavy-bottomed 10-inch non-stick skillet and cook over medium-high heat, stirring frequently until chorizo is crumbled and cooked through. Transfer to paper towel-lined plate to drain and reserve. Wipe out skillet with paper towel.
Add chorizo, watercress, cotija, and cheddar cheese to medium bowl and toss to combine. Spread half of mixture over half of one tortilla, leaving a 1/2-inch border around the edge. Fold tortilla in half and press down firmly. Repeat with remaining tortilla.
Add 1 tablespoon oil to now-empty skillet and return to medium-high heat and heat until shimmering, about 1 minute. Add both tortillas to skillet. Brush top of tortillas with remaining tablespoon oil and season with salt. Cook until first side is crisp and golden brown, about 3 minutes. Using spatula, carefully flip tortillas. Season top side with salt. Cook until second side is crisp, about 3 minutes longer. Transfer to cutting board and allow to rest 1 minute. Cut into wedges and serve immediately with pico de gallo or guacamole.
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Wild Mushroom Vol au Vent
Whenever I think of puff pastry, I wonder how anything that should be so heavy could ever be so light. It is that lightness that gives meaning to vol-au-vent, literally “flying in the wind.” But in my family, we always translated them as “gone with the wind” because they fly off into people’s stomachs so quickly.
There are a million and one ways to make vol-au-vent, and even though the classic lidded nest in this recipe is the classic shape, I often just make little triangles or squares and call them by the same name, stuffed with anything from goat cheese and jam to brie and brown sugar. They really are blank canvases. This vol-au-vent is well grounded in tradition: a bite-size canapé made from bought puff pastry and stuffed with a creamy mushroom duxelles. The puff pastry is flaky and crispy, ready to crumble and collapse layer by layer at the very hint of a bite. And the mushroom filling is earthy and woodsy from mushrooms and thyme, and smooth from the crème fraîche.
Good things may come in small packages, but really good things come in small packages that come out of the oven.
You deserve Christmas morning more than just once a year. Or twice, if you include birthdays. Haven’t you been good? Don’t you deserve more than two measly bows to unwrap in the next 12 months? The suspense. The guesswork. The shaking the box to figure out what’s inside. The agony of wondering what it could be! It’s the best. If life is so full of surprises, why do so few of them come wrapped in tissue and tied with a bow?
Tonight, the best gift you get is the one you give yourself. And whoever is coming to dinner. This dish is based on a lesser known sauce from Provence called Sauce Mistral, named for the winds that huff and puff through southern France. The sauce is made from almonds, which hang from so many of the trees there. Stuff a butterflied trout with a creamy paste of crunchy ground almonds, garlic, and herbs. Tie the trout with three pretty bows, but despite your best efforts, the crème fraîche starts to ooze out and bubble and brown and the almonds toast and the garlic roasts, and the whole thing smells of Provence and a delicate decadence. Everyone gets his own extremely chic perfect fish package, and instead of shaking to figure out what’s inside, there is suddenly a whole of sniffing. Untie the cords, and voila, Christmas morning. Three bows to unwrap in one night? Not too shabby.