'Tis the season to be fancypants. Our Top Pick in Cookbooks for December, Sweet by Valerie Gordon, is the ideal guide to the most gorgeous and delicious sweet treats of the season. Writes Cooking columnist Sybil Pratt, "Sophisticated, grown-up winners, all; you can’t go wrong."
Gelée sounds so much more sophisticated and elegant than the word “gelatin.” We all grew up with the packaged variety in those electric colors with flavors like orange and lime. Dispel that notion of gelatin; this version is far more delicious and impressive. Use your favorite Champagne or sparkling wine.
2. Combine the remaining 3/4 cup water and the sugar in a medium saucepan over medium heat, and bring to a simmer, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Remove from the heat.
3. Add the gelatin to the sugar syrup, stirring until it has dissolved. Pour into a large pitcher. Pour the Champagne into the pitcher and stir with a long spoon.
4. Pour the gelée into glasses or small glass bowls and refrigerate for 3 to 4 hours, until set.
The gelée can be refrigerated, covered with plastic wrap, for up to 3 days.
Adding strawberries, sliced if large, and raspberries, is a delicious way to vary this recipe. Add the berries to the glasses before refrigerating the gelée. If you add berries, it is best to serve the gelées the day they are made, as the berries can darken and break down, and the effect will not be as pretty.
Family Table: Favorite Staff Meals from Our Restaurants to Your Home by Michael Romano and Karen Stabiner is our Top Pick in Cookbooks for April, and it brings together 150 easy, affordable recipes from restaurants' "family meals"—what the staff eats before they serve you. Cooking columnist Sybil Pratt promises this cookbook brings "pizzazz and new pleasures."
Food carts all over New York City feature chicken or lamb seasoned with a Middle Eastern spice mix, seared on a griddle, and then stuffed into warm pitas or served over rice. Because the carts often stay open for business well past midnight, it was probably inevitable that a cook, inspired by his late-night snack, would create a similar version for family meal. The key is to use a heavy cast-iron skillet over high heat—and to give the pieces of chicken some breathing room, because if they’re crowded, they’ll steam instead of browning.
Just like its street-corner predecessor, this chicken is short on looks but long on flavor. Some of the pieces of chicken will char, some will brown. Then mix them with lime juice, salt, and sugar and let them sit briefly, and the spices will combine with the juices to form a delicious seasoning. Serve like the original, in warm pitas or over rice.
For the spice paste
Add the chicken pieces to the spice paste and stir well to coat. Refrigerate, covered with plastic wrap, for at least 1 hour, or up to 4 hours.
About 30 minutes before you are ready to cook, remove the chicken from the refrigerator.
Mix the lime juice with the salt and sugar in a large bowl, stirring to dissolve the salt and sugar.
TO COOK THE CHICKEN: In a 12-inch cast-iron skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Working in batches, cook the chicken, loosening and turning the pieces as they brown, 3 to 4 minutes per side. Transfer the cooked chicken to the lime juice mixture and toss to coat. Once all the chicken is cooked, let sit for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, so that the lime juice mingles with the spice coating to make a sauce.
Remove the chicken from the lime juice mixture and serve.
Cooking columnist Sybil Pratt calls The Mexican Slow Cooker "mother’s little helper" for its easy translation of Mexican dishes to slow cooker prep. She also calls it the Cookbook of the Month, and with delicious recipes like this one, it's easy to see why.
While the chiles soak, line the skillet with a piece of aluminum foil. Add the tomatillos to the skillet and roast over medium-high heat, turning occasionally, until lightly charred in spots and softened. Remove the tomatillos from the skillet.
In a blender, combine the chiles and their soaking liquid, the tomatillos, tomatoes, onion, and garlic and puree until very smooth. (For a smoother texture, you can press the mixture through a fine-mesh sieve, if you like.) Transfer the puree to a 5-quart slow cooker. Add the carrot, chicken, salt, broth, and water and stir. Cover and cook on low for 4 hours, or until the chicken is tender.
While the chicken is cooking, cut the tortillas in half, then cut the halves into strips 1/4 inch wide (or cut them into small squares.) Heat the oil in a small skillet and fry the tortillas until crisp. Drain on paper towels.
Remove the chicken from the slow cooker and discard the skin and bones. Shred or dice the chicken into 1-inch pieces and return to the broth. Add the cilantro. Heat through, taste, and adjust the seasoning.
To serve, divide the fried tortilla pieces among the serving bowls and ladle the hot soup over them, including some of the chicken in each bowl. Garnish with a few pieces of avocado and serve very hot with the lime wedges on the side.