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Azo Family Chocolate Cake

Tomorrow I'll be back on an airplane heading for Berlin and a week of roast goose and red cabbage, real candles on Christmas trees, afternoon tea with Basler Leckerli galore, and all the mothering a girl could ask for. I can't wait.

Before I leave you, though, one thing. This cake? A marvel. Yes, I know most of you have trusted recipes for simple chocolate cakes. Who am I to convince you that this one is better? But in the off chance that you're still searching for that one great recipe, the one that will always impress people, taste great, and come together with a flick of the wrist, then this is the post (and the cake) for you.

It comes from a brief piece in the New York Times last winter about a mistake in the kitchen that led to this fudgy, yet cakey confection. That mistake actually lends itself quite well to the harried cooks of today. Bake this up when you've got a free hour or so, all the rest is in the chilling and unchilling, as it were. The French family from whom the recipe originated (of course) baked the cake in a loaf pan, which I plan to do next time (just think, a pale plate with a pool of raspberry sauce, perhaps, and a slice of this delectable chocolate loaf lying on top - gorgeous, no?).

It's not an entirely flourless cake, so it has a nice crumb, for those of us who love old-fashioned chocolate cakes. But the structure of the cake also allows for a dangerously creamy center that flirts with decadence. Topped with a vanilla-scented dollop of barely sweetened whipped cream, it's a show-stopper, it really is. Not too intense, and not too light: just right.

And now for one bit of sentimentality, dear readers. You've made this year a glorious one for me and I can't thank you enough. For reading every day, for cheering me on when I needed it most, for being so enthusiastic, and for showing me that the world inside my computer screen is a rich and wonderful one, indeed. I hope you all have peaceful holidays, wherever you may celebrate them. See you in the New Year!

Azo Family Chocolate Cake

Yields 10 servings

8½ ounces (2 sticks plus 1 tablespoon) unsalted butter, more for greasing pan
7 ounces bittersweet chocolate (50 percent or higher cocoa), chopped
5 large eggs, separated
1 cup sugar
½ cup all-purpose flour
Pinch of salt
Whipped cream for serving

1. Place rack in top third of oven and heat to 400 degrees. (For best results, use a separate oven thermometer.) Butter a 9-inch springform pan and set aside. In a double boiler or microwave oven, melt together 8½ ounces butter and the chocolate. Stir to blend.

2. In a medium bowl, stir together egg yolks and sugar. Stir in flour. Add chocolate mixture and stir until smooth. Using an electric mixer, whisk egg whites and salt until stiff but not dry. Fold whites into chocolate mixture just until blended. Pour into cake pan.

3. Bake for 25 minutes. Remove cake from oven and allow to cool for 1 hour. Wrap with foil and refrigerate until cake is firm and cold, at least 2 hours. Two hours before serving, remove cake from refrigerator and bring to room temperature. Slice (center of cake will be fudgy) and serve, if desired, with whipped cream.

Celia Barbour's Finnish Meatballs


Okay, so it's no big secret that meat doesn't photograph well. Pardon me, dear readers, for offending your eyes with this picture. Believe me when I tell you that these meatballs, despite being stodgily unphotogenic, were the highest praised items at my birthday lunch last weekend. I know - four great recipes this week and counting. We're on a quality roll here!

Those meatballs are Finnish meatballs, courtesy of Celia Barbour's grandmother, which you know must guarantee success, because who pulls out their grandmother's recipes to be published nationwide if they haven't got a deep, abiding faith in their deliciousness? I'd had the recipe earmarked since Celia wrote about her feelings on pasture-raised meat a few months ago (I guess we feel the same way). As Ben and I would have never been able to eat our way through a mountain of those meatballs on our own, and it's a well-known fact that meatballs make every party a better party (what? you didn't know that? it's the truth), I cooked up a batch for my friends on Sunday.

To prepare the raw meatball - er, batter? what does one call this uncooked pile of meat? - I grated a mountain of Gouda before mixing it into a verdant soup of beaten eggs, parsley, chopped (not fine enough) onions and spices. Then I squished in an enormous pile of soppy bread and ground meats (my ground pork was whey-fed, according to the Bobolink girls, which, in principle, seems revolting, but apparently it makes the pork taste delicious and who am I to criticize the gentle pork farmers of New Jersey?) until all the ingredients were well-combined and evenly distributed.

It took me quite some time to roll marble-sized meatballs and coat them lightly in flour - and my kitchen started to look like a truffle workshop - but there was something intensely peaceful and soothing about the work. It was eight in the morning on a Sunday, I was up to my elbows in cold, raw meat, and everyone I knew was still asleep, but there in my kitchen, as the sun rose and the birds sang, I had my little meatball rhythm going and couldn't have felt more whole.

I browned those little marbles in olive oil - it took four batches in my 12-inch skillet - before dumping them all into a tiny amount of simmering chicken broth (well, actually, after the meatballs were cooked, I let them sit on their plates for a few hours and then I dumped them in the pot, and they were no worse for the wear and suited my schedule much better). After the broth simmered and the meatballs warmed and cooked a bit further, I swirled in some cream, turned off the heat and watched a miracle of chemistry take place. The cream thickened and glossified - coating each meatball with a toothsome, creamy glaze.

With toothpicks set out for everyone, and the pot on the still-warm stove, the meatballs were the stars of the day. Little flavor bombs of spiced meat bound by buttery cheese - I couldn't imagine eating a whole plate of these with noodles unless I was, well, an alcoholic Finn soaking up his bacchic transgressions with saturated fat. But pierced with a toothpick and eaten one at a time while leaning against the stove with my friends, they were absolute perfection.

Finnish Meatballs
Yields 8 to 10 servings

3/4 cup milk
3 slices white bread, crusts removed
6 ounces mild and buttery Gouda-style cheese
1 1/2 cups loosely packed fresh parsley, finely minced
3/4 cup finely minced onion
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 tablespoon ground allspice
1 pound lean ground beef
1 pound ground pork
1/2 cup flour
3/4 cup chicken or beef broth
1/4 cup vegetable oil, or as needed
1/2 cup heavy cream

1. In a bowl, warm milk in a microwave until just steaming. Remove from heat and press bread into the milk; set aside.

2. Grate cheese on large holes of a box grater and place in a large bowl. Add parsley, onion, eggs, salt, both peppers and allspice. Stir well to combine. Add ground beef, ground pork and milk-soaked bread (discard the milk). Knead by hand until well-blended.

3. Spread flour on a plate. Roll meat mixture into 1 1/2-inch balls, and roll in flour to coat. Place a Dutch oven over very low heat, and add broth. Heat oil in a skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering.

4. Working in batches, add enough meatballs to loosely fill pan. Sear for about 1 minute, then shake the pan to turn meatballs. Continue until well-browned on all sides, adding more oil to the pan as needed. Transfer meatballs to Dutch oven and allow them to gently simmer for 20 to 30 minutes, stirring carefully from time to time. Add cream and turn the heat off. Mix gently.

Claudia Roden's Bulgur Salad With Pomegranate Dressing and Toasted Nuts


Who doesn't love a good bulgur salad? Tossed with diced tomatoes and minced parsley, it shows up as tabbouleh on your summer tables, gets stuffed into pita with falafel, and is an all-around Middle Eastern workhorse. But did you know that an equally delicious winter version exists? One that holds its ground against hummus and baba ghannoush at a Levant-themed spread, and can just as easily transform itself into an exotic supper side dish? Without further ado, let me present it to you.

Courtesy of the eminent Claudia Roden (she of Arabesque and The Book of Jewish Food), this salad is the perfect example of a dish whose sum is greater than its parts. You see, the bulk of the salad is just made up of soaked bulgur, chopped parsley and toasted nuts (I used pecans instead of walnuts, because their fragrance totally bewitches me. Plus, walnuts make my mouth feel funny). But then you mix it with a kitchen-sink dressing that catapults this humble dish into the stratosphere.

Pomegranate molasses (use restraint! Or you'll regret it), olive oil, four different spices, tomato paste, lemon juice: the dressing is a symphony of flavors that bloom and develop with every dressing of the salad. It's a slow process as the bulgur soaks up each dose of dressing like a sponge. But it's worth waiting for. Because in the end you find yourself with an ochre-tinged pile of fluffy bulgur that is exotically perfumed, toasty and spicy and fragrant with a medley of flavors that make it very, very difficult to stop eating.

And all of this is done without turning on the stove. Well, you have to use the oven to toast the nuts, but that's barely even considered cooking, right?

Bulgur Salad with Pomegranate Dressing and Toasted Nuts
Makes 8 to 10 servings

2 3/4 cups bulgur, preferable coarse-ground
3/4 cup olive oil
6 tablespoons pomegranate molasses (I used only 3)
Juice of 2 lemons
6 tablespoons tomato paste
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon cayenne, or more to taste
2 cups walnuts or pecans, coarsely chopped and toasted
1/4 cup pine nuts, lightly toasted
1 bunch flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped

1. Put bulgur in a large bowl and cover with cold, lightly salted water. Let soak until tender, from 30 minutes to 2 hours, depending on coarseness of bulgur. Drain in a sieve, firmly pressing out excess water, and transfer to a serving bowl.

2. Whisk olive oil with pomegranate molasses, lemon juice, tomato paste and spices. Add salt and pepper and taste; mixture should be pleasingly tangy. Add more pomegranate molasses and lemon juice as needed.

3. Pour half the dressing over bulgur and mix well. Set aside to absorb for 10 minutes. Taste for salt, adding more if needed. Add half the remaining dressing, all the nuts and parsley, and mix well. Before serving, taste again and add more dressing as needed.

Florence Fabricant's Leek, Mushroom and Goat Cheese Tart


I have to say that when I first saw this recipe in the paper, my eyes sort of glazed over and I just kept going. I don't really know why - after all, I like vegetables and tarts and goat cheese - but perhaps I judged too quickly that the combination of all three would be fussy and twee and not really my kind of thing. I figured it was one less thing I'd have to try, moved on and promptly forgot all about it.

And then, a few months later, Hannah announced she was closing up her food blog to continue elsewhere and told me that if I hadn't already made the tart, I should get to it. Right quick. Well, she didn't actually say Right Quick, but it was implied. So, I made my way through the Internets, googling left and right to find the archived recipe. And, like it was meant to be, I found it. Just waiting for me to come by and snatch it up.

Oh, I'm so glad I did. Thank you, Hannah, for pointing me in the right direction. And thank you, Florence, for coming up with this in the first place. Because, dear readers, I'm pleased to say that we've got another winner here, another one for the laminated files, the Hall of Fame. Yes, it's that good.

First of all, it's just so pretty. But then, it's also just so easy. Well, for a tart. And most importantly? It's fantastically delicious. Crisp, buttery pastry encasing a sweet and mellow filling of sauteed vegetables, topped with tangy, crumbled goat cheese - I mean, it really is as good as it sounds.

Better even.

The hardest thing about this was contemplating the frozen puff pastry. I'd never used any before (ridiculous, I know) and found myself a bit intimidated by the prospect of pate feuilletee in my very own house. But really, all there is to it is a bit of unfolding and rolling. That's it! Well, and some trimming. A monkey could do it. A monkey with knife skills.

You saute leeks and mushrooms and sliced fennel (for all you fennel haters, I swear to you that the anise flavor is imperceptible. Just a faint background note! Bringing all the livelier flavors to the fore! It's delicious. Trust me) before halving the defrosted puff pastry and rolling each piece out into a long rectangle (I halved in the wrong direction which proves that my recipe-reading skills are for naught, or that a monkey could do this better than me). You have to trim the edges and then form a little border and glaze it with an egg wash, which sounds irritating, but is finished quite quickly and the benefit is that your tart puffs up in all the right places and just looks so professionally appealing.

The pastry gets baked empty the first time, is filled with a goat-cheese-and-egg mixture for the second baking and then receives the topping of sauteed vegetables and goat cheese for the third pass in the oven under the broiler for a final, burnished touch. I set out still-warm squares of this for my guests and they were gone - gone! - in minutes.

I'm beginning to think that Florence Fabricant might just have the best recipes at the New York Times.

Leek, Mushroom and Goat Cheese Tart

Yields 10 to 12 servings

1 small bulb fennel
2 medium leeks, white and light green parts only, halved lengthwise and rinsed carefully
16 medium cremini or white mushrooms (about 1 pound)
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon olive oil
Salt and pepper
1 4-ounce package puff pastry (like Dufour), defrosted according to package directions
3 eggs
8 ounces goat cheese

1. Heat oven to 400 degrees. Trim fennel of green top and root end, reserving fronds and quarter bulb from top to bottom. Using a mandoline or very sharp knife, cut fennel and leeks into paper-thin slices. Clean and slice mushrooms.

2. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a skillet over medium heat; add fennel and leeks and saute until just tender but not brown, about 6 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and set aside. Heat remaining teaspoon oil in skillet over medium-high heat; add mushrooms and saute until they release all their liquid and most of it boils away, about 5 minutes. Combine fennel mixture with mushrooms and saute together briefly; season with salt and pepper. Remove from heat.

3. Unfold puff pastry onto lightly floured surface or Silpat; cut in half lengthwise to form two long rectangles. Gently roll out each rectangle to approximately 5 by 14 inches and place on cookie sheet (or cut into two circles, if desired). Trim edges by 1/4 inch strips all around; set strips aside. Break one egg into a small bowl; beat slightly. Brush edges of pastry with some egg. Use trimmed strips to make a raised border on each. (Or, fold pastry edges over to form a rim.) Brush entire surface with remaining beaten egg. Prick interior of pastry all over with a fork. Bake unti pale gold, about 10 minutes. If pastry has puffed up inside edge, press it down gently. Set aside.

4. Meanwhile, combine remaining eggs with 6 ounces of goat cheese and blend until smooth. Spread onto pastry. Return to oven and bake just until set, about 4 minutes. Remove from oven and spread with mushroom-leek mixture. Crumble remaining cheese on top. Just before serving, broil tarts for a few minutes, until cheese softens and starts to brown. Garnish with fennel fronds.

Paula Wolfert's Hummus


I may never buy hummus again. And after reading this, you may join me. Because once I (and thereby you) figured out how easy, cheap, and ridiculously delicious homemade hummus is, I decided to turn my back on the prefabricated stuff and am never looking back. That's it! I'm done.

This summer, the LA Times ran a story about the best hummus in Los Angeles just weeks after a similar story ran in the New York Times. But what made the LA Times article stand out was its inclusion of Paula Wolfert's recipe for the homemade stuff at the end. Wolfert, one of the goddesses of Middle Eastern cooking, is another kitchen heroine of mine, but it took me a while to actually make her recipe. It's seriously high-yield, producing 4 whole cups worth of hummus. Even if it would prove to be the best version in the world, how would I ever polish off that much?

Well, it turns out that a birthday party is a pretty good place to answer this question, as you'll have at least 20 people avidly digging in to the hummus plate and yet you'll find, after they've all gone home and you are dejectedly cleaning up and thinking that this year's birthday was even better than the last, that you still have some left over. Which, actually, is just fine as these kinds of leftovers are the good kind and after all, how better to end a birthday week than with a smear of hummus on a second loaf of the No-Knead bread? Which, by the way, I baked in my 4-quart oval Le Creuset, thereby discovering that it's the perfect size and shape for this loaf.

You soak a bunch of dried chickpeas overnight (I bought a bag of roasted, dried chickpeas at BuonItalia, just because they looked...nuttier than the regular ones, but who knows if that made a difference), then simmer them in salted water until they're soft. In the meantime, you make a paste out of salt and garlic, then whizz that in a food processor along with sesame seed paste and what seems like an inordinate amount of lemon juice. Trust the recipe, though! Wolfert says the mixture should look "contracted", which meant nothing to me, but I stopped when it looked like this and that turned out to be fine.

Then you add the drained chickpeas and process the mixture until an improbably creamy mass starts to form. Depending on how loose you like your hummus, you can add cooking liquid and lemon juice. It keeps in the fridge for a few days, though you'll have to add some more water and lemon juice to loosen it up a bit (and let it come to room temperature, because the flavors totally bloom then). I sprinkled mine with paprika and drizzled it with one of the delicious oils in my Alejandro & Martin sampler.

A more appetizing plate of hummus I never did see. And the taste! Fresh and creamy, with a nutty flavor and grassy notes from the oil. The hummus had heft, but was also airy from all the processing. I'm telling you - after you make it, you'll never want storebought hummus again. I'm so glad I tried this recipe. It's like a birthday present from Paula herself. Thanks, Paula!

Makes 4 cups

1 1/2 cups dried chickpeas, soaked overnight
1 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
3 garlic cloves, peeled
3/4 cup sesame seed paste
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice, and more to taste
Cayenne or hot Hungarian paprika
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
2 teaspoons olive oil

1. Rinse the soaked chickpeas well and drain them before putting them in a saucepan and covering them with plenty of fresh water. Bring to a boil; skim, add one-half teaspoon salt, cover and cook over medium heat, about 1 1/2 hours, until the chickpeas are very soft (you might need to add more water).

2. Meanwhile, crush the garlic and one-half teaspoon salt in a mortar until pureed. Transfer the puree to the work bowl of a food processor, add the sesame seed paste and lemon juice and process until white and contracted. Add one-half cup water and process until completely smooth.

3. Drain the chickpeas, reserving their cooking liquid. Add the chickpeas to the sesame paste mixture and process until well-blended. For a smoother texture, press the mixture through the fine blade of a food mill. Thin to desired consistency with reserved chickpea liquid. Adjust the seasoning with salt and lemon juice. The hummus can be kept in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a week.) Serve, sprinkled with paprika and parsley and drizzled with oil.

Florence Fabricant's Ginger-Pecan Biscotti


I know that this is probably the fiftieth post you've read about cookies - it's just that time of year - so I'll keep it brief, I promise. It's just that these biscotti are so good and so worth being added to your Christmas baking list that I can't help telling you about them. Being a purist, I have to start off by saying that this recipe, without butter or oil or any other shortening, is how real biscotti are made (of course, the ginger and pecans are New World additions, but the technique, people, that's what matters). But I have to also add that if you've never baked with turbinado sugar before (like me), then you're in for a revelation. So that's another reason to try this out.

Well, and then there's of course the taste, the heat of the ginger, the fragrance of the toasted pecans, the pleasing crunch of the large-grained sugar. These cookies are pretty great things, hard and snappy and with so much character, which is what I have come to appreciate during a season in which I am faced with endless amounts of soft and flaccid cookies. And as Florence Fabricant indicates, these biscotti go well with rye whiskey. So, if you're at your wit's end about buying a present for that one friend you never know what to buy for, or you have to show up somewhere bearing gifts in hand once again, then buy a nice bottle of rye, bake up a batch of these (eating the end pieces, of course, because those are the cook's treat), and expect to be thanked warmly.

That's it! I told you! Short and sweet and to the point!

Oh wait, one more thing. The part where you're supposed to pat out the dough, cover it with the nuts and ginger, then roll it up and cut it in half and form into a log and all that business? It's not the most logical way to proceed. I did it all on my Silpat, which was a lifesaver and what I'd recommend for you, otherwise you'll still be picking dough off your countertops four days later. But really, why don't you just stir the nuts and ginger into the dough after it's rested for half an hour? And then turn that dough into two logs? Try it that way - I think it might be easier.

Okay, and now I'm done. Happy Baking!

Ginger-Pecan Biscotti
Yields 30 biscotti

1¼ cup all-purpose flour, more for dusting
½ cup turbinado, Demerara or granulated brown sugar
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
2 large eggs, beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/3 cup finely chopped crystallized ginger
1/3 cup chopped pecans

1. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, salt, baking powder and baking soda. Remove 1½ tablespoons of the egg to a small dish and reserve. Add vanilla to the rest. Make a well in center of dry ingredients, add egg-vanilla mixture and, using your hands or a large rubber spatula, work flour into eggs. It will be crumbly at first but will soon form into a soft dough. Allow to rest 10 minutes.

2. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment. On a lightly floured surface, flatten dough into an 8-inch square. Spread ginger and pecans on it, lightly pressing them in. Tightly roll up dough and cut it in two. Press and roll each piece into a log about 9 inches long. Place logs on baking sheet, brush with reserved egg and bake about 20 minutes, until firm to the touch and lightly browned.

3. Remove from oven and let cool 10 minutes. Use a sharp, thin knife to cut logs at an angle into ½-inch-thick slices. Stand slices an inch apart on baking sheet and return to oven 15 to 20 minutes, until crisp. Cool completely before serving.

Jennifer McLagan's Aromatic Chinese Oxtail Stew


So, after finishing Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma and feeling much like what I imagine our parents felt like after reading Rachel Carson's Silent Spring in 1962, I vowed to myself never to buy industrial beef again. Oh sure, I'd already given up on supermarket eggs and chicken a long time ago, but now I've added meat to the list. Or rather, from now on I'll only be shopping for chicken, meat and eggs at the Greenmarket.

A lofty, unrealistic goal? Yeah, quite possibly. Who knows how sustainable these kinds of ideals are? And yet, I just don't know how to continue to justify buying meat and eggs from a place that doesn't care how those animals were raised or slaughtered and, more importantly, doesn't care about the effects that food has upon me, my family, my friends, and my fellow citizens. If you don't know what I'm going on about, seriously, buy yourself a copy of Pollan's book. It's so endlessly fascinating, rich with information and stories, and hugely important in its message. It's irreverent and funny, heartbreaking and infuriating to boot.

The point of the book is not just to talk about how we eat and why, but also about how we buy, how we're talked to and looked down upon by the industries that purport to nourish us, and how we can change the way we see our kitchen, the dinner table, grocery store and the people we rely upon to feed us. Forgive me if I'm proselytizing, but I'm feeling transformed.

The point of all this? To tell you that after finishing the book (and realizing I had friends coming over for dinner a few days later), I thought I should put my money where my mouth was. So I went to the greenmarket and bought what felt like the world's most expensive oxtail from John Gigliardi's Grass-Fed Beef. The recipe I wanted to make came from a piece in the New York Times last year about cooking with animal bones and called for five to six pounds of oxtail. If I had bought that amount from Gigliardi, it would have cost me $37. So, I asked for a little under four pounds, and figured I'd fudge the recipe a bit. The meat still cost $25.

Which makes me wonder - do grass-fed beef producers have to charge such high prices to actually make a profit? Or is it my mistake to think that oxtail, historically among the cheapest cuts, hasn't increased in price due to its "reverse snob appeal"? You tell me.

After a day of defrosting in my refrigerator, the oxtail were ready to go. First I browned them in batches, which always takes longer than I expect. When each piece was crusty and well-browned, I removed them to a plate, poured off the fat and poured in the Shaoxing wine to deglaze the pot. Then I added soy sauce and the aromatics and brought the mixture to a boil. The oxtail went back into the pot, as did some pieces of orange peel, and the whole thing went, covered, into the oven for three hours.

It takes a large amount of discipline not to eat dinner right at the moment that the kitchen timer buzzes, because your house will smell of all kinds of good things - browned and braising meat, savory sauces, fragrant fruity and spicy flavors. Good luck with your willpower. I removed the quivering oxtail to a baking pan and strain the dark sauce into a pan, before covering both and stashing them in the fridge. The next day, I warn you, you might be slightly disgusted at the task of scraping off the quarter-inch thick layer of fat on the sauce, but the heavenly smell will motivate you to keep going.

I liquefied the jellied sauce over a low flame, poured it over the chilled oxtail and put the baking dish back in the oven for another hour. In this time, the sauce thickened and the oxtail edges crisped while the interior meat became meltingly soft. We ate our oxtail stew over plain white rice, which soaked up the deliciously aromatic sauce. I didn't actually halve the sauce ingredients despite the fact that I used less meat - and it seemed to work out just fine. And the amount for four people was more than enough - I even had leftovers the next day.

This is humble food, but the exotic flavors give it a sheen of sophistication (not to mention a sense of accomplishment that the sauce tasted as good as something I've had in a Chinese restaurant - a good one!). Was the grass-fed beef so much better than the industrial kind? To be honest, it's kind of beside the point. This beef tasted delicious, cooked up perfectly and made me feel good on a couple different levels. So what if it cost more? I don't eat meat all that often anyway. Who knows, maybe this idea of eating as sustainably as possible isn't something I can afford in the long run, but I'm going to try. And maybe, just maybe, we're around the corner from a food revolution in this country and soon everyone will feel like I do. Wouldn't that be nice?

Aromatic Chinese Oxtail Stew
Serves 6

5 to 6 pounds oxtails, cut into pieces, fat trimmed
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
2 to 4 tablespoons vegetable oil
½ cup Shaoxing rice wine or dry sherry
1/3 cup dark or regular soy sauce
1½ tablespoons brown sugar
1 star anise, broken into pieces
3 scallions, trimmed and cut into 2-inch lengths, plus 2 scallions, thinly sliced on the diagonal, for garnish
6 slices fresh ginger
2 garlic cloves, peeled
1 orange, 4 large strips of zest removed with a vegetable peeler and reserved
Cooked rice, for serving

1. Heat oven to 300 degrees. Season oxtails with salt and pepper. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large ovenproof pot with a tight-fitting lid. Working in batches if necessary to avoid crowding, brown oxtail all over, removing each piece when done. Add oil as needed.

2. When done browning, pour off extra fat from bottom of empty pot and set pot over high heat. Add wine and bring to a boil, scraping up browned bits. In a bowl, mix soy sauce and sugar with 2 cups water and pour into pot. Add star anise, 2-inch pieces of scallions, ginger and garlic and bring to a boil. Turn off heat. Return oxtails to pot and add orange zest. Cover and transfer to oven. Cook 1½ hours.

3. Turn over pieces of oxtail, cover again and cook 1½ hours more, or until oxtail is very tender. Transfer oxtail pieces to a baking dish. Strain sauce into a separate saucepan; discard contents of strainer. Cover oxtails and sauce and refrigerate overnight.

4. The next day, heat oven to 300 degrees; remove oxtails and sauce from refrigerator. Lift off any fat on surface of sauce and discard. Gently warm sauce until liquid, then pour over oxtails. Cover with foil or a lid and bake 30 minutes.

5. Uncover, stir and raise oven temperature to 400 degrees. Cook, uncovered, 15 minutes. Stir again and cook another 15 minutes, until hot and glazed thickly with sauce. Meanwhile, squeeze ¼ cup juice from orange. Remove oxtails from oven, stir in orange juice, and serve in bowls over rice. Sprinkle each serving with thin scallion slices.