Our winter warmer — Maple-syrup Old Fashioned

Maple-syrup Old FashionedWhen it’s dark at 4.30pm, your drafty home refuses to get above 55F, and there’s ice on the INSIDE of the windows, what do you do to warm up in the evening?

You could make a big fort in the middle of your living room with every blanket you have in the house. You could rub two kittens together and bathe in the glow of their static electricity (DISCLAIMER: DOES NOT WORK WITH CHICKENS).

Or you could make these Old Fashioneds with maple syrup.

Maple-syrup Old FashionedMaple-syrup Old Fashioned

Mixologists will tell you that these are not real Old Fashioned cocktails, since they aren’t strictly made with plain sugar or simple syrup. While they’re explaining that to you, nod sagely and drink up and then demand another glass of “whatever the hell you want to call it, Poindexter”.

Emily bought me the PDT Cocktail Book and a fine Boston cocktail shaker set for Christmas (do you think she was trying to tell me something? Should I be making more cocktails? Is the answer to that question ever “no”?) which I needed to test out, and their “Benton’s Old Fashioned” was a great starting point. Now they use bacon-infused bourbon, which, delicious as it sounds, I just couldn’t put my hand on.

So use whatever whisky or bourbon you have – we’ve tried both Jack Daniels and the local Hudson Whiskey pictured in these shots. Feel free to adjust the amount of maple syrup or bitters; these are just general suggestions that work for us.

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Spiced Pickled Grapes

Spiced Pickled Grapes
Spiced Pickled Grapes

Spiced Pickled GrapesAt the risk of sounding like a Portlandia sketch, I am a little obsessed with pickling. You take something yummy, plop it in some vinegar, sugar and spices and it tastes even better. And lasts longer! Win-win, right?

When Matt and I lived in Brooklyn, we used to go to this great place called Buttermilk Channel (I say that like we could just waltz right in, la di da, but there was almost always a line down the block. Damn you, Brooklyn!). Anyway, they have a chicken liver mousse that they top with two perfectly sweet/tart pickled grapes. Divine. Since we don’t live stumbling distance from them anymore, I decided to try to make it myself. I know it sounds weird but pickled grapes are really good.

If you swing that way, do yourself a solid and make this easy and delicious Chicken Liver Pâté with Thyme and Brandy and put a couple of these bad boys on top. You can thank me later (or invite me over and we can giggle maniacally about how good this combo is). You could also just put out a bowl of them and eat them by the handful. They would be great alongside a sharp cheese or even in a cocktail.

Spiced Pickled Grapes

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Crispy Pork Belly with Soy Honey Glaze

Crispy Pork Belly with Soy Honey Glaze
Crispy Pork Belly with Soy Honey Glaze

I may have mentioned that Matt and I went to the UK last summer and ate a lot of pork belly.  It was consistently one of the best dishes we had all over several parts of England and Wales. If there’s one thing the British know, it’s how to make excellent crackling (that sound you hear is Matt furiously listing all the other things British people are excellent at. (So far;  crackling, funny shows, more funny shows, chicken keeping). I’m sure there’s more but we’ll leave it at that for now.

This was pretty much a nightly conversation on our trip. Emily: “We have to make this when we get back” (distractedly tries to figure out recipe). Matt: “Stop looking at me like I stole all the crackling!” (whilst licking crackling-glazed fingers).

Well, we’ve been back for six months and our local shop now has lovely local pork belly and we thought we’d finally try to make it in our local stove. In England, it was often paired with bubble and squeak, and a hard cider sauce but I really wanted  to try a soy and honey glaze combined with the crisp crackling we found on our trip.

If you can get (good quality, ethically raised) pork belly with the skin still on – you’ll need the skin to get truly crispy pork belly – it’s definitely worth seeking out. It’s a very affordable cut and it’s also very rich, so you’ll want small portions. That being said, I wouldn’t bother cooking a piece smaller than about 2 pounds because it will shrink a lot in the oven and could dry out. There’s also so much you can do with the leftovers.

It’s absolutely lovely paired with a fried egg and this Pickled Cucumber and Avocado Salad (really any crisp, vinegary greens would be great). I also really love it with Sesame Roasted Pears and a tart kale salad. But my all time favorite use of pork belly is Bánh mì sliders. So, so good.

Crispy Pork Belly with Soy Honey Glaze

Baked Chicken Thighs with Lemon and Garlic

Baked Chicken Thighs with Lemon and Garlic

If you’re looking for a quick, inexpensive weeknight dinner, boneless, skinless chicken thighs are a great option. All they need is a few minutes in a marinade, 25 minutes or so in the oven (even quicker on a grill or grill pan) and they’re ready to go. Unlike chicken breasts, which dry out if you stare at them too long, thighs are extremely forgiving. They’re actually hard to overcook.

I like baking them with this lemony, garlicky marinade (recipe below), but you could easily switch the flavors around. I sometimes use soy, honey and ginger. Sometimes sage, rosemary and mustard. The process is the same. Really, by the time you’ve made a salad and opened a bottle of wine, they’re pretty much done.

IMG_3112 - Version 2If you do have a little extra time, they’re perfect with Mashed Butternut Squash with Thyme and Mascarpone.

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