December 10 – December 16
Monday: Smoked Trout Tartine / All-in leftover soup (North African Chicken Couscous with Roast Chicken/Vegetables
Tuesday: Pasta Putanesca
Wednesday: Chicory, Bacon and Poached Egg Salad
Thursday: Pork Chops with Hard Cider Sauce / Roast Potatoes / Applesauce with Horseradish
Friday: Whole, Roasted Branzino / Mushroom Risotto / Green Salad
Saturday: Chicken and Bacon Choucroute with Potato Salad
Sunday: Leftover Choucroute, after Steelers’ game
It seems to me to be dangerous to even suggest anything about Christmas Eve or Christmas dinner to another family. If you’re like us, at this time of year the important thing is not experimentation or surprise. The important thing is kindling the memories of past holidays with the food that your children and relatives remember. Traditions do change – your family probably no longer bangs their knives and cups on the table as the boiled boar’s head is brought in on a plank by serving wenches – but they change slowly, as they should. (However, I do think we should bring those serving wenches back.)
The truth is that we’re too busy right now to spend a lot of time writing something that you’re probably too busy to read. So, we’ll leave you with a new comfort food recipe we cooked last week. (I was going to give you the recipe for whole, roasted Branzino, but Beez reminded me that whole fish with their heads intact scare some of our favorite people (we mean you, Rosie).
This dish, which Beez I shared with John and Janice on Saturday, and then again, with Annie and UFR after the Steelers’ magnificent defeat of the Patriots on Sunday, will fortify you against the cold by adding a pound or so to your weight. Hey – it’s that time of year. Eat up and hibernate.
We wish you all a Merry Christmas, a belated Happy Hanukkah, or just a great time gathering with family and friends. Ignore politics, your tax situation, the child who’s living in your basement, and how the hell you’re going to balance work with partying. Have trust, rejoice in the season, love your family and friends. Oh, and try the quick choucroute dish below.
CHICKEN AND BACON CHOUCROUTE WITH POTATO SALAD
Timing: 2 ½ hours (or 2 hours, if you do the potato salad ahead)
Ingredients: Serves 8 (really)
For the Potato Salad:
3 lb. baby Yukon Gold potatoes (you really want to get the baby potatoes here – if you have to cut up regular potatoes, they’ll absorb too much of the dressing
2 shallots, finely chopped
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/3 cup white wine vinegar
3 tablespoons of Dijon mustard
2 Teaspoons of hot sauce (we used Frank’s – Tobasco would have been too hot for Beez, but Billy and I would have been fine with it)
1 Teaspoon of honey
1/4 cup tarragon leaves
For the Choucroute:
3 lbs. skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs (we used 8 – if you have very large ones, use 6)
8 oz. of thick-sliced bacon
6 garlic cloves, lightly crushed (we used 2)
1 teaspoon of juniper berries
2 lbs. of sauerkraut (around 4 cups – we recommend 3 lbs., if you like kraut, as we do)
1 cup of dry white wine
2 lbs. of sausages (kielbasa and/or bratwurst_ – we used maybe 2 ¾ lbs.
1 Tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
We did the potato salad ahead, as well as the sauerkraut mixture, leaving only the final baking to be done, so that we could enjoy cocktails with our friends.
In general, scrub the potatoes, if necessary – most super markets carry pre-washed, bagged potatoes), cut up the sausages, chop the shallots, crush the garlic, slice the bacon and measure out the other stuff.
We also browned the chicken and bacon and cooked the sauerkraut ahead of time.
Preheat oven to 400 F and place rack in upper third of oven.
Place the potatoes in a pot, cover with water by 2” (less will work – but cover them). Salt with a heavy hand and bring the water to a boil, then reduce to an active simmer and cook a little longer than 20 minutes – until fork tender.
While the potatoes are cooking, whisk the shallots, oil, vinegar, mustard, hot sauce and honey in a bowl large enough to hold all of the potatoes. Taste dressing and season with salt (it won’t need much).
When the potatoes are cooked, drain and let sit about 5 minutes to dry – we put them back into the hot pan to aid the process. Now add the potatoes to the dressing and toss, from time to time, until they have soaked up some of the dressing – minimum of 15 minutes, or up to one hour or when the rest of the dinner is ready to assemble for baking. (If you do this the day before cooking the choucroute, refrigerate, but then bring up to room temperature before assembling.)
Place a rack in the upper third of the oven and preheat to 400 F.
Drizzle oil in a large skillet. Season the chicken with salt with a heavy hand – be generous – and arrange skin side down in a single layer in the skillet. Set over medium heat and cook, undisturbed for about 15 minutes – until the skin around the edges is golden brown. At this point, use a spatula to release the chicken thighs from the pan, so that you can slide them around as you cook them for another 8 minutes or so, until they are deeply browned. You will need to slide them around because most skillets have hot spots and colder spots.
Remove the chicken to paper-towel lined plates. Unless you have a very large skillet, you will need to do the chicken in two batches (i.e., it’s going to take about 40 minutes to get this done.)
Add the bacon to the skillet and cook until lightly browned – maybe 5 minutes, turning the bacon over after about 3 minutes. Transfer to a paper-towel lined plate.
Now cook the garlic for about 2 minutes, then add the thyme sprigs and juniper berries and cook until fragrant – maybe 30 seconds or a bit longer.
Now add the sauerkraut and wine to the skillet, increase the heat to medium-high and cook, stirring from time to time, until the wine is almost evaporated, 6 minutes. (Note: we like sauerkraut brine so we drained the kraut but did not rinse it and wring dry. If you use the kraut our way, you won’t have as much evaporation, but you’ll still be finished in about 6 minutes.)
Remove the skillet from the heat.
In a large baking dish (3 quart or so), arrange the sausages in the bottom, then pile the kraut over them (if the sausages are submerged, the whole deal will taste better). Arrange the bacon and chicken thighs, skin-side up, on top of the kraut and bake until the chicken is cooked through, 25-30 minutes.
Let the dish cool slightly, arrange on a platter, surround with the potato salad and serve.