Ernest Hemingway said it best, “Don’t bother with churches, government buildings or city squares, if you want to know about a culture, spend a night in it’s bars.” He himself was quite the iconic traveller. From Spain to Africa, the man learned the world at his own pace with a drink in his hand. And these drinks made star appearances in his writing as well. I remember reading For Whom The Bell Tolls and learning about the ritual of dripped absinthe giving Robert respite from the horrors of the war.
In the 30’s and 40’s, living and writing in Cuba, he spent a LOT of time at the El Floridita drinking something made just for him – El Papa Dobles. I don’t mean gracefully sipping these beverages while staring prophetically into the ocean while the sun set ever so romantically over the horizon. I mean drinking 6-8 in an afternoon and not slowing down with the light. The man wasn’t shy about enjoying these beverages with gay abandon.
Hemingway drank Dobles comprised of white rum, the juice of two limes, half a grapefruit, and maraschino liqueur. He once said this drink “had no taste of alcohol and felt, as you drank them, the way downhill glacier skiing feels running through powder snow.” With Havana as a backdrop and his hotel down the street, both he and his drink made themselves at home in the lore of international cocktail culture and made the daiquiri spring onto cocktail lists around the world.
Equipment: Chilled coupe, shaker, strainer
2 oz white rum (I like Flor de Caña’s)
½ oz fresh grapefruit juice
¾ oz fresh lime juice
½ oz Luxardo Maraschino liqueur
Twist of grapefruit for garnish
Combine all ingredients in shaker with ice and shake vigorously for 10-15 seconds. Strain into chilled coupe and garnish with a twist of grapefruit.
Cheese plates are sophisticated and crowd pleasing, and even the most culinary challenged individuals can easily succeed with a little preparation. The most important part of this endeavor is obviously the cheese itself, and if you can manage to pick out at least a couple good varieties, the rest of it comes together pretty naturally. Cheese plates are a great way to flex your culinary creativity-fruits, nuts, bread, charcuterie, and condiments like mustard and honey are all possibilities, and arranging them is half the fun (the other half is eating it!) Since the possibilities are pretty endless, I put together a compilation of cheese plates I’ve made over time, as well as my general method for choosing and arranging components. Remember, this is all about you and what you like-if it tastes good to you, you did it right.
Saucy Note: My early introduction to cheese came from a very dear family friend-I call her Mashik Anu, which is Hungarian for “other mother.” I asked her where she learned about cheese, and I thought her response was perfect to share and send you on your way with confidence.
“Each cheese plate takes on its own personality depending on the cheeses, crackers, fruit, nuts, salami, etc. Even the platter shape and color inspire me. I learn with each cheese plate, and am still learning and teaching myself. I get ideas from pretty photos and cookbooks, but I also like to create on the fly and personalize to people and the occasion!”-MA
The biggest determining factor for your cheese plate is going to be the cheese counter at your grocery store. Some stores, like mine for instance, have a beautiful cheese section, curated by a knowledgeable and friendly cheese person. Other stores might not be as bountiful, but you can still usually find some good stuff. Handmade and artisan cheese makers are also pretty easy to find these days, and the higher prices are almost always worth the quality. Boutique stores are also a great place to learn about specialty cheeses, since they will often slice you a sample and are usually happy to discuss your options if they aren’t too busy.
Saucy Note: Value the people you buy food from-Shake and I are on a first name basis with the cheese manager, our butcher, and our wine supplier. The more you get to know each other, the more they can help guide you towards things you’ll like, things you’ll want to try, and the best deals for your money. It also makes errands a lot more fun when each stop is friendly and helpful.
I usually like to serve cheese at a ratio of 2 cheeses for every 3 people, although that is variable depending on sales, cheese wedge size, and how much cheese I feel like eating (a cheese plate makes a decadent but easy weekend lunch that pairs graciously with a bottle of wine, any color. Fresh fruit juice with sparkling water is also delicious if you want a non-alcoholic option.) I usually end up serving at least 3 cheeses if there are more than 4 people though. Because I can.
When picking out cheese, I start with texture. I always buy at least one firmer cheese-aged gouda, smoked cheddar, or fresh cheese curds are a good place to start.
Saucy Note: Beecher’s Smoked Flagship cheese is our house favorite for firm cheese-the flavor is more refined than your standard mild cheese, and everybody loves it. Beecher’s is a Seattle staple, so it is pretty easy to find throughout most of the Pacific Northwest, and they have an online store that ships nationally. There is also a store in New York now. I can’t recommend their cheeses enough-No Woman is another of my personal favorites if you like something with a little more flavor, since it is seasoned with Caribbean jerk.
For my second cheese, I usually choose something soft and creamy. Varieties like Brie and Camembert are very easy to find, although the options go far beyond that if you’re adventurous. Shake and I love Délice de Bourgogne, which is creamier than Brie (like butter made of cheese) with just a hint of acidity that makes it impossible to stop eating. Another excellent choice is Fromager d’Affinois, which is milder and more similar to Brie than the Délice. The classic version is wonderful, and there is also a garlic herb version that is delicious and makes for a nice pop of color on your plate (it is quite green!)
If you are not a soft cheese person (they exist!) choose another firm or semi-firm cheese with a different flavor profile than your first choice. Cheddar and gouda are easy to find in smoked, aged, and flavored varieties, or you can try a goat or sheep’s milk cheese. Manchego is an aged Spanish sheep’s milk cheese with a distinctive, almost crunchy texture (aged gouda has a similar enchanting quality.) My favorite goat cheese is Midnight Moon, made in the Netherlands by Cypress Grove Cheese, or Drunken Goat Cheese, which is made by soaking a wheel of goat cheese in wine.
Saucy Note: Another of my favorite cheese sources is Mt. Townsend Creamery in Port Townsend, WA. Their Seastack cheese is a great semi-soft cheese, and their New Moon is a luxurious semi-firm cheese they call “Washington Jack.” They also ship nationally, so branch out and try something new-they have plenty more varieties for you to explore on their website.
Moving on to the third selection-anyone up for blue cheese? Although it is not universally popular, the right blue cheese can curry favor with most anyone. I am not personally fond of most blues because I find them overpowering (blue cheese dressing can get right out) but there are many milder options that I love. By all means go for the Stilton if you like it-otherwise I recommend trying something like Cambozola Black Label (a mild, somewhat creamy cheese with just a hint of blue) or Saint Agur Blue, which does not have as strong of a bite as traditional blue, but still retains the characteristic rich veining and nuanced flavor. If you really can’t stomach the idea of blue cheese, opt for a strongly flavored firm cheese (truffle, jalapeno, black pepper, etc.)
If you’re serving 4 or more cheeses, there really are no rules. Repeat the steps above, or take advantage of a big spread and try something unusual-at my grocery store, they have a little bin filled with pieces that cost about $5, so I like to dig through there and see if I can find anything new. Cheese soaked in wine or bourbon tends to be quite palatable to artisan-cheese newbies, and I also really like coffee rubbed cheese rinds. Large cheese plates are also a great place to compare flavors-learn the distinction between aged and smoked Gouda, or Irish cheddar versus sharp white. Taleggio is a superb Italian cheese-it is their version of Brie, but is firmer and milder with a nutty, buttery flavor. Sometimes I even serve a small block of high quality Parmesan-the sharp, crumbly bite is a nice palate cleanser between some of the creamier options. As long as you have variety, you can’t really go wrong.
Saucy Note: The one category I tend to avoid is the aptly named “stinky cheese.” I have yet to find one I like, and most of them actually smell like feet. If you have any tips or comments on how to enjoy stinky cheese, I would love to hear them.
Alright, now that I’ve completely overloaded you with wonderful cheese options (don’t worry, I’m going to put together some groupings at the end to help you along) let’s get down to the rest of the cheese plate. While there is nothing wrong with eating cheese off the cutting board with a knife, a little effort goes a long way in creating a nice presentation and well-rounded flavor assortment.
At the bare minimum, I like to serve some sort of cheese vehicle (bread rounds, crackers, apple slices) and a complementary condiment (stone-ground mustard and honey are my top picks.) If you’re feeling more ambitious than that, start adding other elements, keeping flavor and texture balance in mind. Cheese is savory, so that is the foundation of your flavor choices-build from there by adding sweet, salty, and acidic notes. Texture is also important-brittle crackers create a crumbly mess when paired with hard cheese, but the buttery texture of a triple crème will help hold the whole thing together. The soft texture of fig or pear is better coupled with a toothier cheese or crostini, whereas apple slices are usually an excellent choice with brie or other creamy cheeses. Play around to see what you like-I’m just giving you ideas, not telling you how to live your life.
Honey adds a sweet note, which lends itself nicely to salty extras like salami or prosciutto. Most jams also pair nicely with cheese; if you have a good market, you might even be able to find traditional quince paste, a thick, fragrant jelly. Quince is a fruit related to apples and pears, but it is usually cooked before consumption. Sweet condiments go with most any cheese, but honey mustard is also a nice middle ground if you only want to serve one condiment and can’t decide between sweet and sour.
The acidic hit of mustard plays nicely with fruit or sweet crackers (Effie’s Homemade Tea Biscuits sells oatcakes that are sublime.) Grapes, figs, berries, pears, and apples are all great with cheese, but make sure you buy what’s in season, unless you like dropping 15$ for 10 raspberries. I tend to like stone ground and Dijon mustards the best-the higher quality the better. Grey Poupon is a classic I can’t live without, and Maille mustard makes all my other favorites-Old Style and Honey Dijon are at the top of the list.
Marcona almonds are another worthwhile luxury-they are a Spanish almond that is a little meatier than the usual California kind, and they often come decadently toasted with olive oil and salt. They are much easier to find in stores than they used to be, and they are also easy to order online. They gleam like salty gemstones piled around your cheeseboard, and are also excellent cooked in rice if you have leftovers.
Once you have the necessary edible ingredients, you need some sort of attractive platter or cheese board. There are plenty of options for purchase in all sizes, materials, and price ranges, but I find myself using a wooden cutting board as often as an actual cheese plate (I said there was nothing wrong with it.) I’ve seen cheese boards in restaurants that were served on parchment paper wrapped around books, so get crazy. As long as you can clean it, get after it.
Some sort of small knife or other serving utensil is also necessary. A full-size knife will work, but make sure it has a place to rest-I’ve chased more than one rogue butter knife across my kitchen floor after it flipped off a too small cheese plate. There are lots of inexpensive cheese knife options if you want a set though.
Time to arrange everything!! Cheese first-however many pieces you have, space them out and place them at complementary angles. Add bread or crackers next, followed by fruit and/or charcuterie. Condiments can be spooned into small bowls or ramekins, or used to decorate the cheese plate itself-drizzle honey in spirals under fruit or use the back of a spoon to spread mustard across the plate. I use the almonds to fill in gaps at the end, since they go with everything and look pretty sprinkled about.
If you have a lot of cheese, or just don’t like to explain things to your guests, I suggest making little flags labeled with each type of cheese (tape, white paper, and toothpicks work great) and sticking them in their respective wedges.
I hope you feel equipped to tackle the cheese plate now, but if you still feel a little lost, the following are some of my favorite and most frequent combinations. Use them as guides, take them verbatim, or mix and match until you find your favorites.
Delice de Bourgogne
Beecher’s Smoked Flagship
Cambozola Black Label
Crostini Saucy Note: Crostini is a fancy word for toasted bread-thinly slice fresh or leftover baguette and toast in 300° oven or toaster oven on medium (keep an eye on it, it cooks quickly.) Brush the bread with olive oil or melted butter before toasting if you like.
Saucy Note: Charcuterie is the French word for various forms of cured meats.
Aged English Cheddar
New Moon (Mt. Townshend Creamery)
3 oz. prosciutto
2 smoked sausages, sliced Saucy Note: Our butcher sells a huge variety of handmade sausages, so we are a little spoiled. If you are not as fortunate, there are still plenty of good options at the grocery store-Aiden’s is a good precooked brand with lots of flavors, and Johnsonville makes a pretty good bratwurst if you’re willing to smoke or grill it yourself.
3 oz sliced salami
Stone Ground Mustard
Saint Agur Blue
Seastack (Mt. Townshend Creamery)
Beecher’s Cheese Curds
Rich and hearty, oxtail soup is a long, slow process perfect for a melancholy winter day. Oxtail is exactly what it sounds like-the tail of a bull, cut into pieces 2-3 inches thick, with the bone in the middle. It is about as cheap of a cut of beef as you can get, but with some love and care, you can make it into a comforting, nourishing stew that will get you through the gloom.
Saucy Note: Although most of it is hands-off, this recipe needs at least 6 hours cook time, plus prep and resting, so plan accordingly. It is a great recipe if you have stuff to do around the house, or feel like taking a long nap.
Special Equipment: Large, heavy bottomed Dutch oven or roaster
3-4 lbs oxtail Saucy Note: Usually the whole oxtail is cut and packaged together in plastic. 3-4lbs should be about 2 whole tails. The meat is very fatty, so it might seem like a lot when you’re buying it, but a lot of it cooks down and it is necessary to separate the rest of the fat once the oxtails are cooked, since many find it unappetizing.
1 28oz can pureed tomatoes
64 oz. beef broth Saucy Note: The broth gets reduced down for a long time, so start with a lot of liquid.
2 carrots, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
1 onion, diced
6 cloves garlic, diced
2 tbsp. tomato paste
2 cups red wine
1 lb. potatoes or parsnips, cubed
For Serving: Sour cream or crème fraiche
Optional Step: When I plan on searing meat, I like to preheat my Dutch oven in the regular oven at 300°F. While it heats, prep everything else. Just be careful not to grab the handles once you put it on the stove-I’ve done it enough times to tell you it hurts. A lot. Someday I’ll learn.
Pat oxtails dry with paper towels and sprinkle with salt. Leave at room temperature while prepping vegetables.
Dice carrots, onion, celery, and garlic very fine. Combine and set aside in small bowl.
Place Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add 3 tbsp. olive oil and heat until just smoking. Sear oxtails on all sides, starting with meaty sides and finishing on the cut bone sections. When the oxtails have a rich, dark sear on all sides, remove to a clean plate. Saucy Note: Oxtail pieces vary in size, so some of the smaller pieces might finish much quicker than some of the larger ones. The meat is ready to flip when it releases easily from the pan.
Turn heat down to medium-low and add vegetables. Cook slowly, stirring frequently, until soft and golden-do not brown. After 10-15 minutes, vegetables should be melty and aromatic, and there should not be much liquid in the pan. Add tomato paste and turn heat to medium, stirring to incorporate. When vegetables start to sizzle (should only take about 30 seconds) add ¼ cup of wine to deglaze pan. Add pureed tomatoes, beef broth, and remaining wine. Place oxtails in soup, including any juices accumulated on the plate. Add enough cold water to fill the pot about halfway-make sure oxtails are completely covered, and stir to combine. Bring soup to a boil, and then turn down to a simmer.
Simmer soup gently for about 4 hours. Check occasionally to make sure the simmer does not get too aggressive-you want it to be a gentle bubble, not a low boil. The oxtails are done when the meat is tender and separated from the bone, but not completely falling off. The meat should still have a tooth to it, and not be mushy. Remove pieces of oxtail to a clean plate and cover with foil to rest for at least 30 minutes.
Once oxtails are removed, turn the heat up slightly on the soup. Reduce liquid by about half, until it has a thick, unctuous quality. You can reduce it quicker by turning the heat up, but keep on eye on it so it doesn’t reduce too low-it is surprising how quickly a large pot of liquid can cook down.
When liquid is reduced, it needs to be chilled for up to 45 minutes. Using cheesecloth or a gravy separator, strain into 1 or 2 large, heatproof bowls or storage containers. Put in fridge, freezer, or the freezing winter fog until the soup has cooled slightly and the fat rises to the top. Skim fat and scum, and return soup to pot.
While the soup is cooling, prepare the oxtail meat. It should be cool enough to handle now, so go through and pull the meat off the bones, discarding any fat or gristle as well.
Bring soup back to a simmer, then add meat and potatoes. Salt soup to taste and simmer for 20 minutes, or until potatoes are tender. Serve with a dollop of sour cream or crème fraiche (French style sour cream) and some crusty hot bread.
Chicken salad is my favorite way to use leftover chicken. There are a thousand variations on it, but this is a timeless recipe that I always end up going back to. Enjoy as a sandwich or piled on salad greens-if you can get it out of the bowl without eating it all.
1 cup shredded chicken meat Saucy Note: We have a Traeger smoker, so I like to make a couple chickens at a time and use them for several days for sandwiches and snacks. We haven’t posted a recipe for smoking chicken since not everyone has a smoker, but let us know if you are interested and we’ll be happy to post it. This recipe works with any leftover chicken though, or you can roast chicken breasts a few hours before you want to make the recipe and chill until ready to use.
½ cup of grapes, halved
2 stalks celery, sliced
⅓ cup mayonnaise
3 tbsp. Grey Poupon mustard
1 tbsp. champagne or white wine vinegar
1 tsp. garlic powder
½ tsp. garlic powder
Pinch of celery salt
Pinch of sea salt
Combine ingredients in mixing bowl-add grapes last so they don’t get smushed, and fold gently to combine.
Enjoy as a sandwich or piled on salad greens-I also like to garnish mine with some ground black pepper.
Caprese (ka-pray-say) is an elegant Italian salad comprised of fresh soft cheese, tomatoes, and basil. High quality mozzarella and balsamic vinegar are essential, but as long as you buy good ingredients this recipe is foolproof. Traditionally Caprese is made with fresh mozzarella, but I like to use fresh burrata instead. Burrata is made from mozzarella, but it has a richer, creamier flavor profile. A small pouch of mozzarella is filled with a cream and mozzarella mixture, which spreads like butter when split open. Some groceries stores sell burrata in the fresh cheese section, or you might get lucky at a farmer’s market or Italian grocery store.
Serves 1-3 for dinner, 4-6 for appetizers
8 oz. fresh burrata (or fresh mozzarella packed in water. I like the BelGioioso brand for both, they sell it at most grocery stores.)
½-1 lb. tomatoes Saucy Note: Tomatoes vary greatly in size and shape, so buy whatever variety you like. I like to use heirloom tomatoes if I can get them-they come in beautiful colors and tend to be more flavorful and better textured.
Handful of fresh basil leaves
2-3 tbsp. balsamic vinegar Saucy Note: Invest in good balsamic vinegar if you can afford it. Grocery stores carry some workable varieties, but you can save a lot of money on a higher quality product if you put a little effort into it. Stores like Oil and Vinegar exist in 18 states and sell a huge variety of balsamic options, and these days there are plenty of boutique stores if you like to support small businesses. I was lucky enough to go to Italy last year, so I splurged on a 20 year aged balsamic while I was there. Thanks to the powers of the internet, you don’t actually have to go to Italy to buy it, so order some here if you feel like spoiling yourself. It also makes a great gift for food lovers in your life. If you’re tight on funds or struggling to find something good, reduce mediocre balsamic into a syrup over low heat to improve the flavor and texture.
1 tbsp. olive oil
Salt Saucy Note: Sel Gris is my favorite salt, but it can be hard to find outside of gourmet grocers. Maldon salt is a great chef’s salt that is widely available as an alternative-I keep both in my kitchen.
Optional: Bread, for serving Saucy Note: I tend to have leftover
Warm bread in oven if desired. Saucy Note: If I have leftover baguette or other bread that is getting a little stale, I like to thinly slice it and toast it into little crostinis.
Wash and dry tomato and basil leaves. Arrange basil leaves around edge of plate or large shallow bowl.
Overlap tomato slices on top of basil, working towards the middle of the plate until all slices are used. Sprinkle sparingly with salt-it helps bring out the flavor of the tomatoes.
Arrange the burrata in the center of the plate, and sprinkle with a little more salt.
Drizzle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Serve with forks or sliced bread.
After a week of quick mornings and instant smoothies, nothing says “weekend” like a real breakfast. I love eggs, so they tend to be central to my morning experiments, but this sandwich goes far beyond your standard egg and cheese muffin. Easy to make with coffee (or a mimosa) in your hand, everything is cooked in the same pan and can be assembled slowly as people decide the smell is worth getting out of bed for.
½ cup prepared pancake mix
*Saucy Note: The Salish Lodge in Snoqualmie puts on a legendary breakfast, and their instant pancake mix is the best ever. I grew up eating it, and I strongly recommend you buy a bag if you’ve never tried it. Check it out here. All you do is add water and stir-what more can you want?
2-3 slices Canadian bacon, regular bacon, sliced ham, or sausage
1 slice cheese Saucy Confession: I love American cheese, and I think it is the perfect melty choice, but cheddar or pepper jack also works great.
Optional: Maple syrup
Mix pancake batter with a fork in a measuring cup with a spout. I like to add a little more water than the instructions call for because I like thinner pancakes-adjust your mixture as necessary if you like them a certain way.
Warm a plate in the oven on the lowest setting.
Heat nonstick skillet over medium heat. After a couple minutes, check pan temp by flicking a few drops of water in the pan. If it sizzles slightly, the pan is ready-turn the heat down if it is too aggressive. Pour 1 or 2 pancakes that are about 5 inches in diameter. I prefer open-faced sandwiches, so I only use one pancake.
Flip the pancakes when they are bubbling on the top and the edges touching the pan start to look firm, about 2 minutes. Cook for another minute or two, until center looks set and both sides of pancake are golden brown (use spatula to check.) Transfer pancake to plate in oven (turn oven off if you’re only making one.)
Fry slices of your preferred breakfast meat in the skillet over medium high heat, using a little butter if desired. When the meat is browned and crispy, put in oven with pancake-don’t stack them together yet though, or the pancake can get soggy.
Melt ½ tbsp. butter in skillet over medium heat. Fry (see note at end) or scramble egg. If scrambling egg, add cheese about halfway through. If frying egg, place cheese on egg after you flip it. Remove plate from oven, and arrange eggs, meat, and pancake in a stack. Drizzle with syrup if desired.
Saucy Note: Frying eggs is not difficult, but it does take a little finesse. Crack the egg into a small bowl or ramekin, making sure to not break the yolk. Melt butter in the skillet, then gently slide the egg into the pan. For over easy (runny yolk, barely set white) flip when the edges are just barely set and cook on other side until cheese is just melted. For over medium (firm egg white, thick but runny yolk) flip when white is halfway set, then turn off pan and allow cheese to melt while egg finishes cooking. For over hard (firm yolk and white) you can break the egg yolk for quicker cooking. Flip when the whites are halfway set, then melt the cheese while the egg finishes cooking.
Pea and corn salad is my staple for big groups and parties. With avocado, maple candied bacon, and homemade ranch dressing, it is an easy sell to picky eaters and vegetable lovers alike, and it is much heartier than a standard salad since there is no lettuce to take up space. This salad is also great as a standalone meal if you add shredded chicken (or extra bacon. You do you.)
1 bag frozen peas, steamed and chilled
1 bag frozen corn, steamed and chilled
*Saucy Note: This salad is extra spectacular with fresh ingredients, but it is only really worth the effort during the spring and summer when the vegetables are in season.
½ cucumber, seeded and cut into bite size pieces
1 avocado, cut into bite size pieces
1 cup grape tomatoes, halved
Bacon, diced and fried with maple syrup Saucy Note: I usually cook at least 6 pieces. An entire package is not too much. You could actually just serve the candied bacon and nobody would complain. Well, maybe vegetarians. But I’ve even seen some of them cross back over for this stuff.
Grade B Maple Syrup Saucy Note: Fake syrup is one of the few foods I truly hate, and you should not use it for cooking. I will refrain from judging you if it makes your soul happy on waffles or whatever, but please don’t cook with it. I know the real stuff is more expensive, but Grade B is preferable for cooking and much cheaper than Grade A, and I promise it is worth the investment.
There is usually leftover dressing-store it in a closed container in the fridge for up to a week.
½ cup mayonnaise
¼ cup sour cream
4-6 stalks chives, diced (about 1 tbsp.)
3 cloves garlic, diced and mashed with salt
1-2 tbsp. cilantro, minced Saucy Note: If you are one of the people that tastes soap when eating cilantro, you can substitute parsley, which is the traditional ranch combination.
Garlic powder, a couple shakes
Onion powder, a couple shakes
Salt, to taste
1 tbsp. Dill
*Saucy Note: Shake hates dill because she had a traumatizing childhood experience, so I do not add it to things. Most ranch recipes call for it, so add it if you want.
Steam the peas and corn in the microwave, then combine in a bowl and refrigerate (or set outside in the freezing night, in our case.)
While the vegetables are chilling, combine the ingredients for the ranch. Mince the chives, cilantro, and garlic as finely as possible. After mincing the garlic, sprinkle it with salt and mash into a paste with a fork. This helps release the tasty garlic oils and allows it to incorporate more smoothly into the dressing. Add the buttermilk last-the mixture will be very thick until you do. Thin out the dressing until you like the consistency using the buttermilk, adding a little at a time and mixing well after each addition. I prefer my ranch on the thinner side, but some prefer a creamier texture. Taste along the way to determine how you like it, and salt to taste once you reach your desired consistency. Cover and chill.
Slice bacon into 1-inch pieces. Fry in large skillet until partially crisped over medium high heat. Turn heat down to medium and drizzle bacon with maple syrup-pretend the bacon is pancakes, and you should get it about right (unless you’re one of those people that prefers a pancake with your lake of maple syrup, you should dial it back a little.) Stir the bacon frequently so the sugars don’t burn, and remove when the bacon is glazed golden and firm in texture-crispy isn’t really the right word, but it is pretty easy to tell when the bacon is done. Remove to metal draining grate (a broiler pan works in a pinch) to drain. The bacon will stick to paper towels, so you can’t use them. Let bacon cool at room temperature.
Prepare remaining vegetables. Wash and slice cucumber in half lengthwise and scoop out seeds with a spoon (the seeds will make the salad wet and soggy, which is gross and should be avoided). Cut in half lengthwise again, and then into small pieces crosswise. Halve avocado and remove pit, leaving skin on. Slice avocado into uniform cubes in skin, cutting carefully to avoid piercing avocado skin (that is how you pierce your skin, and that is bad.) Wash tomatoes and slice in half. Combine cucumber, tomato, and avocado with peas and corn.
Saucy Note: The salad can be prepared up to this point several hours ahead. Keep the bacon separate until ready to dress and serve the salad.
Mix bacon with vegetables. Add dressing a spoonful at a time, mixing gently between additions so it incorporates well but you don’t smash the avocados. The salad does not need much dressing because it is so flavorful, but the dressing is also delicious, so you decide how much you want to add. As a general rule, dressing should not pool in the bottom of the bowl, or in the case of a thicker dressing like ranch, it should not leave more than a thin residue on the sides of the bowl. Nobody likes overdressed salad.
If there are any leftovers, this salad makes a great lunch topped with shredded chicken. I also highly recommend a healthy dose of your favorite hot sauce if you like spicy food-ranch and hot sauce are soul mates, so it really peps it up.
The foundation of my cooking abilities is built entirely on a stack of handwritten recipe cards from my mother-in-law. Beyond chicken soup and scrambled eggs, I did not have much experience in the kitchen when I met my husband, but he was a good cheerleader and soldiered through some of the rockier early meals. After we moved into our first house, he mentioned to his mom that I had made a lot of progress, but sometimes felt a little lost when it came to finding new things to make. She mailed me 8 recipes, neatly written on 4×5 cards, and they are the spine of my kitchen repertoire-anytime I need an idea, I flip through them. My absolute favorite recipe is the pot roast, and although I’ve tweaked it slightly over the years, the core of the recipe is still the same. Take your time with this recipe and enjoy the whole experience-you have a perfect excuse to cuddle up and watch a movie or read a book with a glass of wine while you wait for the roast to cook.
Shake Says: This is a definite favorite in our house. As such we pair it with one of our absolute favorite wines. Pearl and Stone Wince Co. is a winery in our town and they make an amazing Bordeaux style red blend called the Wandering. It is a bit of a splurge ($29) but well worth it and we love their wine so much we joined their wine club!
Equipment: Dutch oven with lid
Chuck roast, 3-5 lbs. (plan for at least ½ lb. per person, and the leftovers are delicious for open face sandwiches if you have extra)
1 onion, diced
4-5 cloves garlic, minced
Carrots, peeled and sliced ¼” thick
Potatoes, cut into chunks about 1”
Whole mushrooms, stems removed (I like baby portabellas or button mushrooms)
1 onion, cut into 1 in. chunks, or 8-12 pearl onions
2 cans cream of mushroom soup (Campbell’s is the classic go-to, but if you shop at a store that sells Kroger products, I absolutely love the Simple Truth Organic brand)
1 can red wine (not actual canned wine, just use the mushroom soup can to measure. This is not inherently obvious to everyone.)
Extra red wine or dry sherry for deglazing, about ¼ cup
To serve: Crusty bread
Preheat oven to 325° F.
Prep all the vegetables. Keep the diced onion and garlic in separate piles from everything else, including each other. Gently wash the mushrooms and remove the stems by gently pulling-they will pop apart easily at the base of the cap in an immensely satisfying way. Peel and slice carrots, and cut potatoes. Peel and cut 2nd onion-if using pearl onions, cut off the base and leave them whole after you peel them. Put carrots, potatoes, mushrooms, and 2nd onion in bowl and set aside.
Heat a couple tbsp. olive oil over medium high heat in Dutch oven. Rinse chuck roast under cold water and pat dry with paper towels. Salt meat sparingly – the soup has salt in it, so you don’t need to add too much extra. Sear in oil until well browned on all sides, about 5 minutes a sides (make sure to get the edges too if you have a thick roast. Use tongs to hold it up if necessary.)
When meat has a nice sear all around, remove from pan using tongs and place on clean plate.
Deglaze pan with half the sherry, pouring carefully to avoid steam. Once the sherry boils and steams (it should happen immediately) turn heat down to medium. Scrape up the fond (brown stuff) from the bottom of the pan using a wooden spoon. Once boiling has subsided and most of the liquid is gone, add diced onions and stir to combine with remaining liquid. Brown for several minutes until golden, stirring occasionally.
While onions are browning, combine soup, wine, soy sauce and Worcestershire in a small bowl. Add a teaspoon of vegemite if desired.
When onions are golden, turn heat to medium high and add garlic. Stir until garlic is fragrant, about 30 seconds, then add remaining sherry and deglaze pan again. Add soup mixture, then return meat to pan. The meat will probably not be completely immersed, but make sure to spoon as much sauce over the top as possible-it clings pretty well since its so thick. Cover Dutch oven and place in oven for 2 hours.
After two hours, remove roast from oven and add remaining vegetables, stirring gently to incorporate. Make sure to spoon more sauce over the roast, then recover pot and return to oven. Cook for an additional hour.
10-20 minutes before roast is done, warm bread in oven with roast. If using frozen bread, the lower temperature will require longer cooking time.
Let roast rest for about 5 minutes after removing from oven. Use tongs and wooden spoon or butter knife to divide meat into individual portions and serve in bowl or shallow dish with bread with plenty of sauce.
Shrimp are by far the easiest seafood to cook in my opinion. They absorb pretty much any flavor, and they are quick to make, especially if you buy them already peeled and deveined. This pairing is bold-spicy, flavorful prawns with a sweet but effervescent sake based cocktail, plus an optional side of crunchy, bright shishito peppers charred over open flame. Shishito peppers can be difficult to find if you don’t live in an area with a strong Japanese population or Asian supermarket, but buy them if you get a chance, as long as you like spicy foods. Usually shishito peppers are not spicy, but every now and then they have some serious heat and there is no visual way to tell. The shrimp on their own make a great appetizer, but add the peppers and some rice and you have a stellar meal as well.
1lb shrimp, peeled and deveined
3 tbsp. butter, cut into small pieces
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 tbsp. hot chili sesame oil
1 tbsp. sesame oil
3 tbsp. soy sauce
6 cloves garlic, pressed with garlic press
1 tsp. ginger powder
Pinch of salt
*Combine marinade ingredients in small bowl. If you have time, let the marinade sit at room temperature for 15-30 minutes to let flavors meld.
Steamed white rice *Saucy Note: When I have the time, I think it is absolutely worth it to make real rice, either in a rice cooker or on the stove. However, for quick meals I have no qualms about microwaved bag rice, which takes 90 seconds and you can now get in Basmati and Jasmine varieties too.
5-10 shishito peppers
Smoked or citrus salt (for peppers) Saucy Note: I make my own citrus salt by mixing ½ cup fresh lemon juice with enough salt to make a very thick paste. Spread thin on a baking sheet and put in 200° oven until dried out. Shake and use fingers to crumble and separate, and store extra in airtight container.
Combine marinade and let sit while preparing shrimp. Start rice if cooking on stovetop.
Peel and devein shrimp if necessary, and remove tails. If it is necessary to peel and devein, start by splitting the shell apart on the underside where the leg seams are. Peel off gently, squeezing the end of the tail gently to press the meat out and remove the shell in one whole piece. Save shells in freezer for seafood stock if desired. Devein shrimp using a paring knife. Make a shallow cut along the visible dark vein line, and gently pull or scrape out dark vein. It can be easier to rinse shrimp under cold water as you clean them, then pat dry with paper towels.
Combine shrimp with marinade and let sit at room temperature for about 20 minutes.
When shrimp are done marinating, melt butter and olive oil over medium-low heat in a heavy bottomed skillet. When butter starts to foam, stir until foaming reduces and then add shrimp, including marinade. Turn heat to low and simmer for 2 minutes. Flip and simmer for an additional minute, then transfer contents of pan to bowl large enough to hold shrimp and sauce. Saucy Note: The shrimp should look just underdone. They will finish cooking in the bowl together and be perfectly tender.
If using, char shishito peppers while shrimp rest. Work quickly, since the shrimp only need about 2 minutes rest time. If you’re making microwave rice, use it as a timer. Using metal tongs, char shishito peppers individually over high flame on stovetop until blistered and fragrant (if you don’t have a gas stove, a high broil can substitute, but the peppers lose a little of their crunch.) I also find it easier to char the peppers if I remove the stove grate. If you’re ambidextrous, or just extra coordinated, you can use tongs in both hands to get it done double time.
Plate rice, peppers, and shrimp, pouring extra shrimp sauce into a bowl on the side. For visual appeal, try stacking the shrimp on the peppers, molding the rice, or arranging the food in colorful rows.
Shake says: To go with this spicy appetizer (or dinner), the sweet, bubbly nature of this beverage gives your taste buds a little break from the heat and bold flavors. This drink uses unfiltered sake, which imparts a creamy but delicate sweetness that doesn’t overpower your palate but cuts through the spice.
Equipment: Boston shaker, glass that comfortably holds 6 ounces of liquid (We have Waterford crystal water goblets that I use every possible excuse I can)
3 oz unfiltered sake, nigori style (I used Perfect Snow)
1½ oz fresh grapefruit juice
½ oz honey syrup (To make this, use one part honey, one part hot water. Whisk together until honey dissolves)
1-2 oz sparkling water
Combine sake, grapefruit juice and honey syrup in shaker with ice.
Shake gently for 15-20 seconds and strain into glass. Top with sparkling water and garnish with grapefruit wedge.
Après Ski or cure for the common cold? I vote both. There is a reason people have been enjoying some permutation of this drink since the 17th century. The wonderful David Wondrich once compared this family of beverages to a tripod. It has always rung true with me. This is a seemingly simple drink with just three ingredients – a spirit, a sweetener and hot water. Remove one of these and the drink falls on its face. This simplicity leads to a lot of wiggle room in which spirit and sweetener you use.
The Scots (shockingly) prefer whiskey, the Dutch use genever (aka jenever aka gin), and here in America, we’ve favored rum or brandy in Colonial times and bourbon more recently. On the sweetener side of things, cane sugar, maple syrup, demerara, or a sweet spirit to accompany the base? If you’re sick, keeping things simple is easy, comforting and helps soothe all the icky feelings your having. If you’ve just finished an adventure out into the great, cold wilderness, trying something a bit more adventurous might be more challenging and stimulating to get the body warm.
On the more unique side of the family, I like to combine cognac with ginger liqueur and Grand Marnier or tequila, honey and white tea. There is no end to the possibilities. If you have a favorite please let me know! In the interim, and in the spirit of cold season, here is my method.
4 oz hot water
2 oz bourbon (I used Woodford Reserve this time)
1 tbsp honey
½ oz fresh lemon juice
Wedge of lemon for garnish
Set water to boil. I’m all about the whistle of the old school kettle but the electric sort are so fast!
While water is heating, combine bourbon, honey and lemon juice in a mug that hold at least 8 ounces.
Pour hot water over mixture in mug while stirring with a spoon.
Garnish with a lemon wedge. Enjoy, feel better and cheers!