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During this little project I’ve been doing for the last few weeks, exploring the foods of recently maligned cultures, I’ve become a bit fascinated with the layered Moroccan meat pie called b’stilla. It was one of the first things I thought of when I started this exploration. This isn’t that post. I did buy all the stuff to make a b’stilla but I just wasn’t feeling it. My first attempt was underwhelming and I really didn’t feel like making it again right now. Instead, struggling with some horrendous jet lag that has me turned all upside-down, I wanted something spicy, something comforting, something saucy. I wanted a project; one that would eat up some time since I seem to be awake at all kinds of weirdo hours and provide my addled brain something to focus on. I wanted doro wat. Luckily, I had everything on hand, including all the spices so I dove in, taking most of my Moroccan ingredients and turning them into a spicy Ethiopian chicken stew instead.

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I had friends over for dinner recently, where I tried out a bunch of dishes I’ve been working on, exploring the foods of maligned cultures that I know little about. Turns out, they knew little about them too. Haiti, El Salvador and all the countries that make up Africa, few knew much about the food and it lead to lively discussions, great conversation and a really enjoyable meal. Food has the power to do that, bring people together. Today’s post is from Haiti and it is a hell of a good stew – Poulet Creole. All the lively flavors interwoven in the country’s history, namely from waves of African and French immigrants, come together in this dish in the best possible ways.

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Continuing on with this culinary journey of recently maligned countries, today it’s Africa, specifically Senegal. When I was a kid I had a cookbook that featured the customs, a brief history and a recipe from various countries. It’s where I learned that cashews grow on trees and the nut grows off the bottom of the fruit, the cashew apple, in a very hard shell. Each apple has one cashew nut, or seed. Though I don’t remember the featured country – Brazil? India? – I figured out pretty quick why cashews were so expensive. That little nugget of information has absolutely nothing to do with this post except that there was another page in the book that was very interesting. It was a recipe for an African “groundnut stew” and contained peanut butter, which blew my 8 year old mind. My entire frame of reference for peanut butter at that time was a sandwich, on smooshy bread with grape jelly and yet here it was in a stew. For dinner. What? I’ve been intrigued ever since.

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As far as I’m concerned, leftovers are a key part of any Thanksgiving table. Who doesn’t like to wake up, turn on a football game, hopefully the first of many, and make a big fat sandwich piled high with all the fixings from the day before? As any good hostess will tell you, planning for leftovers is key to a successful Thanksgiving. Sadly, in all the years that I’ve been an adult on my own, I’ve only hosted Thanksgiving once. Once! So I’ve really only had real leftovers that one time. I have, however, been known to make parts of the classic dinner just to have my own leftovers. Mostly the sides though because, as we all know, the sides are the best part.

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I’ve been on a fall recipe kick lately – squash, pumpkin, apples, beets. I made the switch so fast from summer tomatoes and corn, it caught me by surprise. When I recently found myself with some extra butternut squash and no inkling (nor freezer space) to make soup, I thought about a sandwich. Specifically, it was a sandwich I had last spring at Bad Hunter, a Chicago restaurant. Their menu is interesting – mostly vegetarian but with a bit of meat here and there for flavor, creative dishes that are quite beautiful and with spectacular desserts. One menu item really struck a chord with me: a crispy squash sandwich.

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A few weeks ago, I saw an Instagram post by my friend Camas Davis, proprietor of the Portland Meat Collective. It was a shot of quartered beets with the greens attached and she mentioned she was cooking from the Gjelina cookbook. I’d always cooked the two separately; this idea of cooking them together intrigued me. And I had that book somewhere. More importantly, I had beets with the greens still attached in the refrigerator and no real plan for them. The timing was perfect so I rounded up my copy of Gjelina: Cooking from Venice, California by Chef Travis Lett and found the recipe. It seemed simple enough, small beets are roasted with the tops until the bulbs are tender and the greens are crispy. Simple enough until I made it. There was this one thing, this one annoying little direction, that had me cursing.

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Somewhere a while back I read that we should be using pickle brine to marinate chicken. What?!? I’ve been brining meats like chicken, turkey and pork for years with a simple solution of water, salt, sugar and spices. Which, with the addition of dill and garlic, is essentially pickle juice. It’s so simple and so obvious, that’s probably why I didn’t think of it. How many times have we tossed that jar of pickle juice in our lifetimes? The smart ones among us might throw in some carrots, or more cucumber spears or jalapenos but for most of us? Down the drain and into the recycle bin. Well, let me tell you, there’s a better use for that juice (well, besides picklebacks but that’s another story.)

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