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It was time to try another new chicken recipe. Though I already know many good ones, I love chicken, and I like to keep expanding my repertoire. What I found is in a cookbook from which I’d made a good chicken discovery ten years ago, and is on the very page facing that earlier recipe. A double header, indeed.

The book is The Tuscan Cookbook, by Wilma Pezzini. My first chicken recipe of hers, simple and delicious, was for Tuscan fried chicken. This one is even simpler, very pleasant, and – like many Italian recipes – depends strongly on the quality of the chicken itself. Called pollo in umido con cipolla, it’s translated as “chicken and onion stew” but since sliced onions are the only other solid ingredient, the dish is more what I’d call a braise.

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To begin, the onions are briefly softened in olive oil and butter.

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The onions come out to a plate and the chicken, salted and peppered, goes in for browning. From this point on, as you’ll see, the chicken pieces simply repose in their pan, being turned from time to time, as various flavorings are introduced to them. Very little work for the cook.
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My onions went back in, to nestle around the chicken, along with one tiny peperoncino (dried hot red pepper) and, for my half recipe, half a cup of white wine.

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The chicken cooked for 10 minutes uncovered, then 5 more covered. By then the wine had nearly evaporated and the onion and chicken juices were beginning to combine with it into a little sauce.
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Next, I bathed the chicken with ¼ cup of hot water in which I’d dissolved ½ tablespoon of tomato paste.
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Covered again, the pan cooked for a final 15 minutes, until the chicken was perfectly tender. The sauce had smoothed and thickened, as the onions virtually melted right into it.
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I served the chicken with gentle accompaniments: boiled German butterball potatoes and sauteed eggplant cubes. A very comfortable, homey dinner plate they made together. This was a nice, easy way to lightly “dress up” good chicken.
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Apple Upside-Down Cake

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Talk about luck: This apple upside-down cake came out remarkably good, though I made it with the wrong kind of flour, the wrong kind of milk, rock-hard brown sugar, overtired apples, and even the wrong size of pan. I wasn’t actually trying to ruin the cake, you understand; it was just a naive hope that the materials I had on hand would work well enough.

Looking for a simple dessert to provide some kitchen warmth and cheer on a mean, cold, windy day, I found the recipe in the Cakes volume of the Time-Life Good Cook series. Pineapple upside-down cakes were very popular in my childhood, but I’d never heard of them with other fruits. I had three cooking apples that needed to be used. OK!

The first instruction was to melt butter in an 8-inch square pan and in it dissolve light brown sugar and grated nutmeg. I didn’t have a pan that size, so I pulled out a 9-inch round one. And I took a microplane grater to my rock-solid chunk of brown sugar to scrape off half a cup’s worth. That powder was so dry that I wondered if I should try to moisten it. No, better not. At least I had fresh, fragrant nutmeg to grate in with the sugar.
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Next was to peel, core, and thinly slice apples to arrange on the caramel-y syrup. My normally sturdy Winesap apples must have had a hard life: They’d developed soft spots, and when peeled revealed some brown areas and cottony textures. I made as many decent-looking slices as I could from the best part of the fruit, and chopped enough of the not-too-bad part to cover the rest of the pan’s surface.
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Setting the pan aside, I went on to make the cake batter. I sifted together the dry ingredients: all-purpose flour – which should have been cake flour – white sugar, baking powder, and salt. And, since I didn’t have any milk, which would be needed next, I also added some instant nonfat dry milk powder.

In my heavy-duty mixer, I stirred softened butter to loosen it and gradually beat in the dry ingredients, then water (substituting for milk) and vanilla extract. I beat that batter for two minutes, added an egg, and beat for another minute. It made an attractive thick, shiny batter, which I poured over the apples in the pan.
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The cake baked for 35 minutes at 375° and rose nicely.
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I left it to cool, right-side-up, for five minutes then inverted it onto the serving plate and left it in pan for one more minute. Then came the drama of uncovering it. Would the fruit stick to the pan or fall apart? No, it all held together just as it ought.
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And a very good, sweet cake it was. The loose, delicate crumb would have had a finer texture if I’d had cake flour, but there was nothing wrong with its taste. The apples’ flavor had married perfectly with the butter–brown sugar glaze. All in all, considering my substitutions, it was a better cake than I deserved.
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Tapas Dinner for Two

One day this week, I felt like a change from our usual everyday dinner format of a small first course followed by a larger main course. Aiming for variety and simultaneity, I put together a modest spread of Spanish-style tapas that Tom and I could graze on while enjoying a good bottle of Rioja wine.
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To anchor the meal, I made two new-to-me recipes from Penelope Casas’s Tapas: The Little Dishes of Spain. There’s a revised and expanded edition of this excellent book, but my large, well-thumbed, original 1985 paperback still provides plenty of scope for trying out new dishes, as well as revisiting favorites.
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Chickpeas in Onion Sauce
Garbanzos con Cebolla

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This was a simple, very tasty concoction. I soaked four ounces of dried chickpeas overnight, and the next day put them in fresh water with a clove of garlic, a slice of onion, and a bay leaf and simmered until the peas were tender. They must have been from a very fresh batch of chickpeas, for they took only an hour.

Separately I briefly sauteed a chopped onion in olive oil, stirred in two tablespoons of chopped tomato, covered the pan, and cooked gently until the onions were very soft. (Happily, this winter my grocery stores are carrying truly ripe tomatoes from Mexico.) I stirred this mixture into the cooked chickpeas and left them at the back of the stove, to be rewarmed at dinner time. Excellent! Really, chickpeas are an undervalued resource.
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Chorizo with Pimientos
Chorizo Café San Martin

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This dish wasn’t as good as the first, but I can’t blame the recipe. I had two fresh chorizos in my freezer that it was time to use. The recipe wanted firm, cured chorizo, to be cut in ¼-inch slices for an initial browning. My sausages were uncured and too soft to slice, so I crumbled them into a pan with olive oil. When the meat was fully cooked, I deglazed the pan with red wine and stirred in strips of a roasted red pepper (also from my freezer), a tablespoon of chopped parsley, and a minced clove of garlic.

For the final cooking, I put the mixture in an oiled earthenware dish, covered it tightly with foil, and baked it at 350° for 15 minutes. (That was a simplification of the recipe’s saying to encase the food in foil, bake the packet in the dish, and open the foil only at table.) It was pleasant enough, but not as lively as it would have been with the right kind of chorizos. I should have at least seasoned the meat with more pimentón.
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Toasted Bread with Garlic, Olive Oil, and Fresh Tomato
Pan con Tomate

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Pan con Tomate
is a much-loved tapa everywhere in Spain. Most often it’s served as slices of toast thickly spread with a puree of tomatoes seasoned with garlic, sea salt, and the best available olive oil. I prefer a lighter version, which is also simpler to make.

I toast split lengths of crusty bread; rub them well, first with the cut face of a clove of garlic, then with the cut face of a tomato, so the bread captures a bit of the flesh and absorbs juice; and finish with a sprinkle of salt and a generous drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil. The crunch makes a good textural companion with softer tapas, while the simple, direct flavors work happily with everything.
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Raw Fennel with Spicy Mayonnaise

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I don’t know whether this is an actual Spanish tapa, but I think it qualifies as Spanish-style, at least. I flavored mayonnaise with lemon juice and pimentón and served it as a dip for spears of raw fennel. In Spain the mayonnaise would have been aioli, of course. But my smoked paprika gave the Hellman’s a Hispanic touch, and the fennel spears were crisp and refreshing.
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“Hispanified” Barbecued Spareribs

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This is definitely not an actual Spanish tapa. The evening before, Tom and I had dined at a neighborhood restaurant and brought home the uneaten half of an enormous portion of barbecued spareribs. Because the barbecue sauce had been quite sweet, he slathered the ribs with a mixture of mustard, Worcestershire, and Cholula, wrapped them in foil, and reheated them in the oven. Though there was nothing notably Spanish about the result, the ribs made a useful contribution to our eclectic dinner of tapas.
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The Evening’s Wine

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I asked Tom to add a few words about our bottle of Rioja.

A dinner like this, of varied flavors, will work best with a wine of some complexity that can play catch with all those different accents. I thought a fine Rioja with a bit of bottle age would do the job, and 2008 Viña Tondonia proved us right. At age 13 it was just entering adulthood and showed a nice medley of fresh fruit and mature vinous flavors. Riojas are great, adaptable wines, and Tondonia is one of the finest.

Winter is barely started, and I’m already pining for summer vegetables. Many of the standard grocery-store vegetables available this season seem to be limp, tired, and nearly tasteless. Pandemic-related supply chain delays, perhaps, but very disappointing. So I was pleased to come across a recipe based on two vegetables, plentiful now, that don’t wilt easily.

The recipe is in a cookbook recently passed along to me by a friend. The Greens Cook Book presents dishes from a “celebrated” San Francisco vegetarian restaurant called Greens. I confess I hadn’t known of it: It didn’t exist in the long-ago years when I lived in California. Several of its recipes interested me, beginning with one for Fennel, Mushroom, and Parmesan Salad, which its headnote calls a good first course for a winter dinner. I proceeded to make half a recipe’s worth.
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My fennel bulb was bright and crisp, with a good spray of feathery leaves. The recipe didn’t specify a kind of mushroom, so I used cremini. The recipe did urge using a very good extra virgin olive oil and a good piece of young parmigiano reggiano cheese, to which I certainly couldn’t object.

The first thing to do was make a vinaigrette. This was quite a production number, involving mincing lemon peel, mashing garlic, and crushing fennel seed. It was also heavily lemony, using a two-to-one proportion of olive oil to lemon juice. My scaled-down quantities made only a scant quarter-cup of dressing, which didn’t look to be anywhere near enough for a whole salad, but I did as directed.

Then I had to slice my mushrooms thin and marinate them in some of the vinaigrette. But how much of it? The whole recipe said a few tablespoons, but even halving that, I’d have to leave enough for two other doses of dressing. I stingily sprinkled the mushrooms with some of it, which was instantly absorbed by the slices that touched it. So I tossed and turned them, hoping to make them share, and added freshly ground black pepper, hoping it might draw out some moisture.

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I left the mushrooms to marinate for a few hours, covered closely with plastic wrap to keep them from browning, and went on to prepare the fennel. It had to be sliced very thinly and dressed with “most of the remaining vinaigrette,” plus chopped fennel greens, chopped parsley, salt, and pepper.
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Now, after sprinkling additional fennel greens and parsley on the mushrooms – which had softened a bit but were still fairly dry – I could compose the salad. The recipe called for layering the ingredients on individual plates, with mushrooms on the bottom, thin shavings of parmigiano next, fennel on top of that, and the remaining vinaigrette spooned over it all.

I didn’t like the way that arrangement would look, with the fennel hiding the mushrooms and the parmigiano flakes squeezed between them. Instead, I tossed the mushrooms and fennel together on a serving plate, shaved the cheese over them, and trickled on the last of the dressing.
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(If you look very closely, you may see the dressing – about two large drops of it.)

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Knowing Tom’s very limited enthusiasm for most salads, I gave us each a small plateful to start.

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I liked it well enough, and I ate quite a bit of it. (Tom not so much.) The three main ingredients all tasted like their own good selves, and they didn’t clash. But neither did they do anything for each other. Nor did the fussy little flavorings in that dressing do anything to pull the dish together.

With all its components and processes, this is clearly a restaurant dish: I would say a characteristically overelaborated California one. (I’m surprised there were no bean sprouts in it!) For me, the salad would have been just as good with a generous dose of plain olive-oil-and-lemon-juice vinaigrette. I may make it that way myself for some future winter appetizer course.

If you’re going to start a year with leftovers in your refrigerator, caviar is a mighty nice one to have. For some years, Tom’s and my Christmas gifts to each other have not been those that can be wrapped and put under the Tree to await the magical gift opening time. Mostly, we indulge ourselves collectively with special things to eat – like foie gras and caviar.

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Some of this good American transmontanus caviar was left over from our Christmas Eve indulgence. It would’ve been a sin to let it get stale. Months ago, I’d marked a recipe in Faith Willinger’s Red, White, and Green cookbook for Tuscan-style white beans and caviar. She calls it a terrific combination, declaring that beans are “a far better match for caviar than tasteless white bread toast,” and extra virgin olive oil is “a more sophisticated match than butter.” Really? Here was my chance to find out.

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The white beans I currently have in my pantry are alubia blanca, a small, delicate, creamy variety that I get from Rancho Gordo. I gave half a cup of them an overnight soak in cold water. By morning, they’d swelled to triple their bulk, as usual. Following the recipe, I drained them, put them in a pot with three cups of fresh cold water, and added a sage leaf, a piece of bay leaf, and a tiny clove of unpeeled garlic.

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As they came to a boil, I skimmed the white scum that arose, then covered the pot tightly, simmered it until the beans were tender – only about 40 minutes, because they were so fresh – and moved the pot to the back of the stove.

In the evening I reheated the beans, drained them and tossed them gently with salt, pepper, and a good extra virgin olive oil. There were more of them than we’d be able to eat for an antipasto course, but I knew the extras would keep. I distributed modest portions of beans on two small plates and topped them with all the remaining caviar – a couple of big tablespoons each. Tom opened a small bottle of champagne to go with them, as appropriate for caviar and a new year.
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The combination really was very good! I wouldn’t quite call it a far better match – the white bread I make is definitely not tasteless – but an interesting and different one. The beans and caviar set each other off very nicely, making an intriguing blend of homeliness and elegance. This is a dish that I can see gracing many future holiday meals.

Christmas Baking

I started my Christmas baking promptly this year, making three kinds of cookies without which the holidays are unthinkable at our house: peanut butter, Toll House, and hazelnut kourabiedes.
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A few days later, I added a non-traditional variety: ciambellini al vino. These crunchy, sugar-dipped rings made with olive oil, red wine, and anise flavoring come out rustic looking, but they’re delicious, and they somehow feel positively nourishing – almost savory but still with a pleasing sweet edge.
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Finally, with the baking urge still strong upon me, I decided to try a festive sweet bread of some kind. Hubris, this was, since twice in past Decembers I’d attempted to make panettone, without notable success (e.g., here). The doughs just wouldn’t rise for me. Still hopeful, though, I chose a recipe for a Norwegian Christmas bread from Bernard Clayton’s Complete Book of Breads. The recipe is attributed to a family in Indiana whose maternal forebears had been making it since 1870. I figured it must have risen for them.

The filling ingredients for a half recipe’s worth, which was to provide one large loaf, were half a cup each of dates, walnuts, glacé cherries, and mixed candied fruit.
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As you see here, I substituted hazelnuts for walnuts. I had dates and candied citron and orange peel, but not glacé cherries. I couldn’t find them anywhere. So I made some myself, from a recipe I found online, using jarred maraschino cherries. Unfortunately, the candying got away from me, so they came out like dark sticky little gemstones. Well, they’d have to do. My holiday breadmaking jinx loomed.

Making the dough itself went smoothly enough. The first stage was actually a batter. I beat together a cup of flour, a cup of milk, and a package of yeast; covered the bowl and let it stand on the kitchen counter for two hours, while the yeast did its bubbly thing.
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Next, I added half a beaten egg, ¼ cup of sugar, ½ teaspoon of salt, and a whole stick of softened butter; beat that well in the heavy-duty mixer; slowly added 2½ cups more flour; and kneaded it until smooth.
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Now came the tricky part. The instructions were to press the dough flat and work the fruits and nuts into it. Neither my cut-up dates nor my halved cherries were at all willing to separate from each other. I had to sprinkle on some flour to make them un-glom even a little. And I had to knead the dough very lengthily to get the additions distributed. It already looked like a lot to go into one 5 X 9 loaf pan, and it hadn’t even risen yet.
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I returned the dough to the bowl for its first rising – one hour, the recipe said. Hah! In 2½ hours, it still hadn’t quite doubled in bulk – but the day was moving on, so I did too. As I’d expected, that amount of dough would have filled a single pan right up to the brim, and I could imagine what a mess it would be if I let it rise like that. I deflated it and divided it over two pans.
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The second rise was due to take 45 minutes. Hah again! Here’s what mine looked like after two hours: definitely not doubled.
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With a very feeble hope that the loaves would rise further as they baked, I put them in a 350° oven for 45 minutes. They browned nicely. They didn’t rise at all. AARRGGHH! This is what happens to me more often than not with filled or flavored breads, and I don’t know why. It’s not the fault of my yeast; my normal good white bread rises perfectly.
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Adding insult to injury, the next morning when I sliced a loaf for our breakfast, it was clear that the dates and cherries had never really separated, but had somehow gathered themselves back into big messy globs. It was an embarrassment to look at.
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But there’s a happy ending to this otherwise frustrating story. Despite its sloppy appearance, the bread was really good. It had a light, delicate crumb, and the chunky interspersions of fruit and nut were interesting and tasty. I decided I wouldn’t have to run out and buy a panettone from a store after all.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

I didn’t have high hopes for the recipe I tried this week. We’d be broiling a handsome fillet of John Dory for dinner, and I felt like making something new with shrimp for an appetizer. Looking through the Shellfish volume of the Time-Life Good Cook series, my eye was caught by a recipe called Shrimp Panned with Corn. An odd pairing, I thought: I’ve never regarded shrimp and corn as having much to say to each other.

But the recipe looked easy and quick. My freezer usually holds a small bag or two of shrimp, and in winter it has several bags of kernels cut from four-minutes-boiled ears of corn, fresh enough to use as if raw. The only other ingredients in the recipe were fridge and pantry staples. I’d take a chance on it. At worst, the shrimp and corn could just ignore each other.

The full recipe called for 1½ pounds of shrimp to serve 4, as a main course. I wanted small appetizer portions for 2, using only 10 medium shrimp.
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I had major scaling down to do for the other components. Lest I confuse myself (easily done!), I first penciled in calculated reductions for each ingredient, right on the book’s page, and got to work. In a sauté pan I cooked half a cup of the defrosted corn in a little butter and olive oil, for about two minutes.
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Then I added the peeled, raw shrimp.
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When the shrimp had firmed a bit and turned pink, about another two minutes, I stirred in a small clove of finely chopped garlic and poured on 1½ tablespoons of white wine and 2 teaspoons of lemon juice. This was supposed to cook for “a few moments” until the liquid bubbled up around the shrimp and glazed them. Actually, they didn’t glaze, even after a few further minutes. Fearing that longer cooking might toughen the shrimp, I just sprinkled them with salt, pepper, and two teaspoons of finely chopped parsley, and stirred it all together.
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Well, to my surprise, it had become quite an interesting little dish. The different sweetnesses of corn and shrimp were made very compatible by the blend of wine, lemon juice, garlic, and parsley, producing a sort of umami savoriness. This was truly a serendipitous find.
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During Tom’s and my recent trip to Rome, our hotel’s former broad, open breakfast buffet was displayed within glass cases and dispensed by gloved staff members. (Thanks, covid.) Among the generous array of breads, cakes, pastries, fruits, meats, and cheeses were slices of what looked like pound cake, which the servers encouraged us to have: “amor di polenta – very good – polenta cake.” I’d never heard of it, but we tried it, and indeed it was very good: a sweet, light, golden cornbread, unlike any I’d tasted before. It became a breakfast staple of our stay in Rome.

Back home, I wanted to learn to make this hitherto unknown treat, so I googled the name. Egad: Amor polenta recipes were all over the Web, in both Italian and English. Well! Time to make its acquaintance.
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I discovered that amor polenta is a specialty of Varese, a province in northern Lombardy. It’s much like a pound cake, made with only flour, butter, sugar, and egg: no other liquid. The intriguing flavor comes from a mixture of white flour, almond flour, and fine cornmeal.

I downloaded a few recipes for comparison and settled on this one to take as my model. Being in Italian, it lists ingredients in grams, so I began by measuring out the three flours on my kitchen scale: 100 grams (3.5 oz) of cornmeal, 80 grams (2.8 oz) of white flour, and 70 grams (2.5 oz) of almond flour.
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Then I took out my heavy-duty mixer – an appliance that the recipe calls a planetaria. Not a name I’d known. I imagine it must be because the beaters simultaneously rotate and orbit, like planets. I love the idea of having a planetarium in my kitchen! But I digress.

In the machine I whomped 100 grams (3½ oz) of softened butter with 120 grams (4.2 oz) of sugar, added two eggs, one at a time, and beat it all into a smooth cream. At this point, the recipe asked for the seeds of a vanilla bean to be stirred in. Instead, I used ½ teaspoon of vanilla extract.
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Next, I had to mix in the dry ingredients. The recipe insisted on their being added in sequence, with the mixer running: first, the cornmeal; second, the white flour; third, the almond flour. I can’t think why; maybe it’s something folkloric. But I did as prescribed. And ended with ½ teaspoon of baking powder. Finally, the recipe wanted 10 grams of rum stirred in. We don’t keep rum in the house, so I used a teaspoon of grappa.
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There is a special baking pan for amor polenta, which gives the traditional domed, ribbed slices visible in many of the google images above. Since I didn’t have one, I scraped my very dense batter into a buttered 10″x4″ loaf pan.
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The loaf baked for 45 minutes at 350° and developed a typical pound cake crack down the middle. (You wouldn’t see that if you used the amor polenta pan, since the loaf is turned out onto the plate upside down.) It was attractively golden and fragrant, but it hadn’t risen very high. (The recipe hadn’t indicated a size for the pan, so I guess mine was a little too large.)
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It had the fine taste and texture we remembered from Rome, confirming its seductive aroma. Lovely for breakfast, and no doubt will be excellent too with afternoon tea or coffee. The recipe suggested dusting the top with powdered sugar, but it was already sweet enough for us. I might even try a small adjustment next time: a slightly larger proportion of polenta flour and a small reduction in the sugar. No great matter: Even with no further tinkering, amor polenta could easily become a breakfast staple for us here at home.

As chilly late-fall weather is settling in, I’m again looking forward to hefty, long-cooked, stick-to-the-ribs dishes. A recipe that I’ve been saving for just this season is a peasant dish of pork chops baked with cabbage, a specialty of France’s wild, mountainous Auvergne region and a preparation with some unusual aspects.

The recipe for Côtes de Porc à l’Auvergnate is in the Cooking of Provincial France volume of the venerable Time-Life Foods of the World series. Written by M.F.K. Fisher, with consultants Julia Child and Michael Field (how’s that for a culinary trinity?), it was one of my earliest cooking bibles.

The amount of cabbage called for seemed enormous: three pounds for four servings. Half a big head of Savoy cabbage was just enough for two portions. Chopped up, it looked like a bushel’s worth!
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I usually give Savoy minimal cooking to preserve its sweetness, but this cabbage had to get a lot of cooking. To begin, I boiled it for five minutes, then drained and sauteed it in butter with a little onion, garlic, salt, and pepper for another five.
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With the cabbage transferred to a bowl, I used the same pan to brown two big pork chops, in more butter and oil. These were quite a bit thicker than the recipe called for, but since there were two hours of oven cooking ahead, I hoped that wouldn’t be a problem.
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After removing the chops to a plate, I deglazed the pan with ¼ cup of white wine, cooked until it reduced by half, and poured the liquid into the bowl of cabbage. And here I did something wicked.

I was supposed to have discarded most of the fat in the pan before adding the wine. I did draw off the fats, but I couldn’t bear to lose all those good pork and butterfat flavors. Also, my cabbage had instantly absorbed the entire wine reduction, so I just stirred in all the excess fats as well. Cabbage loves fats.

Now I was ready to assemble the dish for baking. That needed a small, deep, heavy casserole. The procedure was to lay in one-third of the cabbage, then a chop, another third of the cabbage, the other chop, and then the last of the cabbage. I was sorry not to have had a still smaller casserole, because a lot of my cabbage went into the space around the chops, rather than making generous layers between them and over the top one.
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Next was to scald half a cup of heavy cream and pour it into the pot. Sweet cream and cabbage are a combination I’d never have thought of. Seemed bizarre, but I did it; then brought the pot to a simmer, covered it tightly, and put it in a 350° oven. It was to bake for 1½ hours, but because my chops were so thick, I gave it an extra 15 minutes. It was perfuming the kitchen with a rich, savory aroma.

And we weren’t done yet. The last stage was to sprinkle the top layer with a small mixture of dried bread crumbs and grated parmigiano, and return the pot to the oven, uncovered, for another half hour or until the top was crusty and browned. Again, after testing the chops with a fork for tenderness, I kept the pot in the oven for an extra 15 minutes.
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When I disentangled the meat from the cabbage, it was clear the two chops had had very different experiences in the oven, the one dark and crusted, the other pale and soft. My fault, I guess, since I couldn’t get the upper chop sufficiently covered with cabbage. But putting them on the cutting board allowed me to carve us each some of each chop.
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The cabbage, happily, hadn’t turned into a mass of mush. Though the cream had clotted into it a bit, it had absorbed all the good cooking flavors, to taste almost like a meat-sweet sauerkraut. The chops themselves were a bit disappointing. I just don’t have good luck with pork – it tightens up, no matter how I try to keep it moist and tender. The taste of the chops was fine, but their texture distinctly chewy.
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However, with the addition of little boiled German butterball potatoes, the dish made a satisfying peasanty sort of supper, with the lush, fragrant cabbage actually the star of the show.

I normally don’t keep canned vegetables in my pantry. Fresh or frozen veg (and if the latter, frozen fresh by me) is what we eat. But my newest Indian cookbook, At Home with Madhur Jaffrey, which I’ve posted about here before, has some very interesting looking chickpea recipes that specifically call for canned chickpeas. I tried one this week.

In the book, Jaffrey says she’s made all her recipes simple and straightforward. And so they are, in the sense that there’s nothing difficult to do or components that are hard to find. But it’s Indian cooking, and that means a lot of ingredients. Here’s what it takes for two portions of her Chickpeas with Mushrooms:
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The spices in the back row are salt, coriander seeds, cumin seeds, cayenne, turmeric, and cinnamon stick. In the middle, the chickpeas, part of an heirloom tomato, and cremini mushrooms. In front, fresh ginger, garlic, and shallot (my substitute for red onion).

Almost everything happens fast in Indian cooking, so the first thing I did was prep those ingredients and set them up on the stove next to the pan they’d be cooked in, in the order they had to be used.
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Everything then went very quickly. When the oil in the pan was hot, I put in the cinnamon stick and cumin seeds.
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They sizzled for just a few seconds before I added the onions.
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As soon as the onions started browning, I stirred in the ginger and garlic.
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Next, almost immediately, came the mushrooms, to cook for about five minutes.
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Semi-finally, I added the ground coriander, cumin, turmeric and cayenne; the tomatoes; and half a cup of water.
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At this point, I covered the pan, turned the heat to low, and cooked for 10 minutes. After that, the drained chickpeas finally entered the pan, along with another cup of water. I must say, these canned chickpeas were very plump and fresh-looking, with a mild, pleasant scent, not at all smelling of the can. They were as appealing as I’d expect if I’d boiled up good dried chickpeas of my own.
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When that fragrant mixture came to a simmer, I covered the pan again and cooked it gently for 15 minutes, stirring a few times, until the chickpeas were perfectly tender.
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Jaffrey says the dish can be served as a meal in itself, possibly rolled inside flatbreads, with or without a chutney or, alternatively, with chopped fresh tomatoes, onions, and cilantro. I felt there already was a bountiful supply of flavors in that pan, so I served the chickpeas just as they were, alongside plain baked spareribs.
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That was a good combination. The lively, spicy chickpeas and mushrooms played well against the sweet, succulent pork. No single spice was dominant: all had blended into a complex, pleasing flavor that was a recognizable hallmark of Indian cuisine. I’ll be trying more of Jaffrey’s chickpea recipes.