Greetings, fellow foodies. By day, I am online editor for Christianity Today magazine and blog 2-3 times a week at GetReligion.org. By night, I turn into a wannabee foodie, like many aspiring cooks in America. And in my spare time, I read books and magazines, play board games with friends, and pick up the violin/viola.
Last year, I married my college boyfriend and moved to Green Bay where beer, brats, and cheese create the perfect Wisconsin dish. I grew up with a love for baking because--let's be honest--that's where cooks tend to get the glowing reviews. Cooking was something that just had to be done to survive, but a few circumstances created the perfect storm for my relatively recent excitement for the culinary arts. Michael Pollan's In Defense of Food eloquently argues for the value of food as more than energy, Julia Child's My Life in France offered an inspiration for cooking, and regularly reading and reviewing recipes on sites like allrecipes.com helped me adapt recipes to my tastes. Finally, armed with new kitchen toys (wedding gifts), I became queen of my own kitchen after sharing a fridge and garage-sale utensils for so long. Sites like thecooksnextdoor.com also combined my love for blogs and cooking, giving me an extra appetite to continue my culinary experiences.
A few months ago, some of my friends and I signed up for a weekly international cooking class to expand my cooking horizons. Intimidated by the thought of handling foods I had never seen before, I was pleasantly surprised by the lineup that ranged from your average Greek salad to the French creme brulee. Each week, we focused on one particular cuisine--Thai, German, French, and Greek--and cooked everything from the appetizers to the main courses to desserts, to get an idea of what buffet style might look in that particular country. When the course was over, we held a dinner party where each of us made two items from the course. I chose the French Clafouti and the Mediterranean chicken and fennel with couscous.
(Adapted from Ina Garten)
1 Tb. unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/3 c. plus 1 Tb. granulated sugar
3 eggs, at room temperature
6 Tb. all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
2 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. grated lemon zest
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
2 Tb. brandy
2 to 3 firm but ripe pears
Confectioners' sugar (to sprinkle on top)
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
Butter a 10-inch round baking dish and sprinkle the bottom and sides with 1 Tb. of the granulated sugar. Shake out the extra sugar.
Beat the eggs and the 1⁄3 cup of granulated sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. On low speed, mix in the flour, cream, vanilla extract, lemon zest, salt, and brandy. Set aside for 10 minutes.
Peel, quarter, core, and slice the pears. Circle the pears around the baking dish. Pour the batter over the pears and bake until the top is golden brown and the custard is firm, 35 to 40 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature, sprinkled with confectioners' sugar.
MEDITERRENEAN CHICKEN & FENNEL w/COUSCOUS
(Adapted from the Food Network)
4 to 6 chicken thighs (about 1 1/2 pounds), bone in with skin
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
2 Tb. extra-virgin olive oil
1 small bulb fennel, halved, cut into 1/2-inch wedges, fronds reserved
1 small red onion, sliced into thin wedges
4 cloves garlic, minced
3/4 tsp. dried oregano
1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
1/2 cup oil packed sun-dried tomatoes, roughly chopped
1/3 cup kalamata olives
Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 450 degrees F. Season the chicken thighs generously with salt and pepper. Heat a large ovenproof skillet (I used a cast-iron skillet) over medium-high heat, add oil, and heat until shimmering. Cook chicken skin side down until golden and crispy, about 8 minutes. Turn chicken and brown for another 2 minutes. Transfer chicken to a plate. Pour off 1 Tb. of the pan drippings and reserve; leave just enough oil in the skillet to cover the bottom, discard the rest.
Add the fennel, onions, garlic, oregano, and red pepper flakes to the skillet and cook until the vegetables just begin to wilt, about 3 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes and olives. Arrange the chicken, skin side up, on top of the vegetable mixture and bake, uncovered, until the chicken is cooked through, about 20 to 30 minutes.
1 1⁄2 cups uncooked couscous
3 cups chicken broth
1 tsp. kosher salt, plus additional for seasoning
Pinch cayenne pepper
Freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup pine nuts
1 orange, zested
1/4 cup roughly chopped or whole flat-leaf parsley
2 to 3 Tb. water or chicken broth
Rinse the couscous in a sieve under cold water until the water runs clear. Put the couscous into a medium bowl and set aside. In a small saucepan add the chicken broth, reserved drippings, the 1 tsp. salt, nutmeg, cayenne, and black pepper and bring to a boil. Add the broth to the couscous and cover with plastic wrap, setting aside until the liquid has been absorbed, about 5 minutes.
Toast the pine nuts in a small skillet over medium-high heat, tossing in the pan until golden brown, about 2 to 3 minutes (be sure to keep them from burning). Add the orange zest, fennel fronds, and parsley to the couscous.
When ready to serve, fold the parsley mixture into the couscous and fluff with a fork. Mound the couscous on a warm serving platter and arrange the chicken around the couscous. Stir 2 to 3 tablespoons water or broth into the fennel mixture for a glazed look. Adjust seasoning and spoon fennel over the couscous and chicken; scatter the toasted pine nuts on top.