The Unbearable Whiteness of Being (in New England)

It’s Valentine’s Day weekend, but we’re not going anywhere; it’s blizzarding again. Unbelievable. Inconceivable. Unbearable.

Time to break out the big guns.

First, something to look forward to.

IMG_4069IMG_4071

These are preserved lemons in progress. Preserved lemons are a North African ingredient with a vibrant, unique flavor. Finding them in a grocery store is hard. Making them is easy, especially with the recipe from America’s Test Kitchen DIY Cookbook. Cooking with them is life-changing, unless you grew up eating Middle Eastern and North African foods, which I did not. They will sit quietly in the refrigerator for the next 6 weeks, with an occasional shake of the jar, until they are perfectly briny, sour, and bright. Just seeing the jar every day will make me smile.

Next, something to inspire, from Ottolenghi, of course.

IMG_4085This is called Roasted Butternut Squash with Sweet Spices, Lime, and Green Chilli.

IMG_4075What it actually is, is butternut squash taken to a whole new level. The squash is sliced thinly, brushed with a cardamom-allspice oil, and roasted until tender. Then the party really gets going, with a yogurt-tahini-lime sauce, salty lime salad, and fresh cilantro garnish.IMG_4079The Husband is not a big fan of butternut squash, and he loved this dish. All the components work together to deliver a balance of savory and sweet, tangy and fresh. The squash was a great partner to the broiled lamb sausages I picked up at the local butcher, cutting through their fattiness, and complementing their rich seasonings.

IMG_4078These are cardamom pods. The recipe asks you to break these open in your mortar, remove the little brown seeds from the husks, and crush the seeds into a coarse powder. I already had ground cardamom in my spice pantry; I wondered if all the extra effort would be worth it.

My powdered cardamom has been tossed in the garbage. There is no comparison between the dusty, lifeless taste of that imposter, and the glorious release of floral, piney, citrusy aromas and flavors from freshly ground cardamom. Never buying it ground again.

IMG_4083I thought of a trick to remove the seeds from this serrano chile without cutting it open; employ chopstick. Just don’t put the chopstick in your mouth, or touch it to any exposed skin afterward, unless you are preparing for a viewing of “50 Shades of Grey” (although reviews have hinted that just seeing the movie is an act of masochism).

It’s time for chocolate. Plenty of chocolate.

IMG_4091Yep, I put chocolate in my chili. All. Day. Long. Along with some companion spices (cinnamon, chili powder) and cumin and smoked paprika, chocolate adds a dark, deep flavor to chili, and a secret bit of sweetness, too.

IMG_4110Say hello to Creamy Chocolate Pudding, from America’s Test Kitchen’s The Science of Good Cooking. Pudding is so easy to make from scratch, and this recipe is a chocolate lover’s chocolate pudding. Smooth, creamy, rich and chocolate from head to toe, I topped it off with creme-de-cacao flavored whipped cream, and a sugar cookie heart.

IMG_4097It is Valentine’s Day, after all, and the lusty red sugar is so much easier to look at than what’s outside my windows right now.

IMG_4089This is the only white thing I can bear to look at right now. She’s sick of the snow, too. This winter has been relentless; we’ll just have to get through it together, in the kitchen.

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