Building a Better Burger
If you think about it, a hamburger is nothing more than a sausage without a casing. Once you accept this notion, you open yourself up to endless burger possibilities! I mean really, there are as many burger recipes as there are cooks. Everyone has their own little tweaks and a go-to recipe.
With that being said, I am not going to sit here and try to convince you this is a recipe for the best hamburger in the world — even though it is — because someone will undoubtedly draw a line in the sand, slap me with gloves in hand, and challenge me to a duel. It’s inevitable. Continue reading
Marie’s Freedom Station and Crispy BBQ Chicken Thighs
Marie’s Freedom Tire Shop
Marie, in her sixties, ran Freedom’s Tire Shop in Freedom Indiana. It had been years since anyone bought tires but they kept coming for the gasoline. The station sat at the edge of town across the street from the only grocery. Marie’s husband had been dead 15 years when I met her in the late 1980’s. Her only source of income had been her husband and his business. When he died she decided she would run the gas station and each day, with walking stick in hand, she would walk to work. She had never had possession of a drivers license nor did she want too. Continue reading
The Midwest, Barbecue, And Zeb’s All Purpose Mambo Sauce
Midwesterners like pork and we like beef, even chicken but we do not like change.
Well, that’s not exactly true. We understand that change is inevitable, we just don’t like it sneaking up behind us and yelling BOO. We prefer change we don’t see, change that slips on like a comfortable pair of socks that go unnoticed throughout the day, not a constant reminder like a fancy necktie.
Growing up in suburban 1970’s Indianapolis “barbecue” meant baking a chicken and basting it in a bottled sauce. If there was smoke it was liquid, if there was fire it was a heated oven. This was the logical extension of my mother’s Midwest, the pot-roast, chicken-and-dumplings-tuna casserole Midcentury Midwest. Spice was reserved for vacations south of the Mason Dixon line. But even as we were tucking into ketchup-mild barbecued chicken, tiny outposts of smoke, fire and mostly pig, had long-since migrated north.
Stubbs, you see, is tall. His cowboy hat makes him taller. His hands make him appear well, like a folkloric hero, his hands are big enough to palm a turkey, thick and calloused and more heat resistant than a fireman’s glove.
One was Zeb’s barbecue, a shack I spied from the back window of the station wagon as I was ferried to Saturday morning art lessons. The place billowed smoke. I was sure that one Saturday we’d see a line of fire trucks, the red glare of emergency lights, firemen unfurling their hose to do battle with a five alarm, sirens blaring.
But week after week, the cloud of smoke billowed across the avenue without a fire truck in sight. The smoke smelled like Sunday morning bacon — and slow cooked pork. Continue reading
The little bit of lemon in the tea is wonderful, but something about citric acid causes Stanley’s tongue to become clumsy. It makes him sound Duchy when he speaks. Not in a God-awful way, and no more difficult to understand than Mr. FitzDermot’s heavy Irish brogue as they sit and converse in the tiny living room of the old house.
The FitzDermot Bed and Breakfast is much larger than it looks from the street, and on most nights it is near capacity–the tenants being Mr. FitzDermot’s twelve children, ten of whom are old enough to be out on their own. The tea bread, sweet with currants and speckled with tiny pieces of crunchy toasted walnuts, cures Stanley’s speech impediment, the salted butter slathered over it acting as a lubricant for his tongue.
Stanley sleeps away his first two days in Ireland. He doesn’t know if it is jet lag or if he is afraid, but he has knots in his stomach. He’s very much an introvert when it comes to strangers and it didn’t once cross his mind when he impulsively bought a one-way ticket to Shannon, that he might have to talk to people. But very quickly he found he didn’t have to–the Irish would do all the talking and all he had to do was listen. Continue reading
The Wonder Of Store-Bought Crackers
I have a deep affinity for crackers. Not gourmet varieties, or even homemade, but good old plain Jane everyday crackers, be it Captain’s wafers, or saltines, and especially any kind that comes two-to-a-pack.
I don’t think anyone needs a reason to like crackers but my fondness, I am certain, begins with my childhood memory of inexpensive family restaurants and sit down pizza joints that bring cracker baskets to the table instead of bread. I love the cracker basket and who in their right mind doesn’t? They hold something for everyone after all. Remember those crunchy breadsticky thingys, the sesame rounds, or the oblong townhouse crackers shaped like flattened capsules all wrapped up, by twos, in cellophane.
Wandering along my merry way as we do in life, I eat crackers. I eat crackers without much thought. I eat Club crackers wrapped in thinly sliced bacon and then baked, I learn it is okay to drink a martini with saltines topped with pickled bologna and American cheese because they are a match made in heaven, I will never forget having Georgia cracker salad and realizing it is nothing more than a tomato, mayo, whitebread sandwich on steroids, and my favorite, I use all kinds of crushed crackers as croutons for my salad. To this day every time I walk past a stick of butter I can’t help but want to drag a saltine down the length of the stick before popping it into my mouth, the perforations at the edges of the cracker leaving the soft butter to look like a perfectly raked zen garden. Continue reading
The Music Lesson
All afternoon and from inside his parent’s house, as Bill and I sit outside in the comfort of lawn chairs talking, trumpeters one after another run through their scales, do re mi fa sol la ti do, over and over again. The notes drop from the open windows like fall leaves from the trees. It could get annoying, it doesn’t, and after a bit the repetition becomes soothing.
I reach out and flip open the lid on the large orange ice chest. Into the ice laden water goes my hand and it quickly goes numb. I fish out a cold beer, pass it to Bill then promptly repeat the fishing expedition for myself. It is easy to look forward to the time Bill and I spend with each other, we have known each other a long time, and besides at the very least it is always nothing short of unforgettable.
Like today, my friend and I often sit in lawn chairs out in the grass just a few feet from the back porch of his parents’ house. Sunglasses shield our eyes from the bright sun until it finally tucks itself behind the steep hill that rises upward at the back of their yard. Even then the sun won’t actually set for another hour. So the landscape becomes a black wall of matchstick trees lit by the yellow glow of evening right up until the sky burns out and the back porch light kicks on. Mostly, Bill and I sit and talk a lot about nothing but we do it well. Even so we manage to garner a few epiphanies over the years, some shared, some not, this one wasn’t.
As a high schooler I hated running scales while practicing the trumpet. I thought they were pointless, boring, and stupid. I should be practicing the music, memorizing it note for note, if I want to play it well. But sitting here, two or three beers into my thoughts, remembering what an awful trumpet player I really was, all of the sudden, all these years later, I understood, I got it.
Bill’s dad was a world class trumpet teacher at the university. He is retired but he still gives lessons to advanced students. His biggest lesson, the one he repeats over and over again, the one I heard him tell his last student for today, “if your mind leaves the sound of the horn, obstacles will appear.”
I have heard Bill Sr. say it so many times before but today it hit me differently, it’s exactly what we don’t do when we teach people how to cook. We give people a recipe, much like a piece of sheet music, and expect the cook to be able to play. While we know there are those that have the skill set there are many, many more who don’t. We try to pretend it doesn’t matter, it’s just a recipe after all but it does because the cook never builds the skill set to play at a level satisfactory to their own liking. Hence obstacles appear which prevent real enjoyment. I’ll wager it happens in cooking all the time.
And in this is where the conundrum lies.
I count myself lucky in that I honed my kitchens skills for years in a commercial environment. I can never fully express how much the experience has added to the happiness I feel when I am in the kitchen. Simple things like cutting onions for onion soup might take me minutes while others are in tears for hours, or maybe because I sautéed boneless skinless chicken breast by the thousands I know when they are just the right color of brown and that anymore coloring will make them chewy and dry and how with the push of my fingertip I can tell when they are no longer pink in the middle but still juicy and edible without fear of food born illness.
I don’t think of anything I do as special but I know sometimes friends look on with amazement and wonder while I look back at them through my own naivety as if everyone knows how to do these things.
So the question for me becomes how do I translate my joy to others, how do I create a desire in others to build the skill set needed so they can create the kind of food they like to eat, create it with efficient, quality results and excitement.
It is frustrating for me in moments such as this, not because it makes me mad but rather because I love being in the kitchen and I want people to share in this same joy while being in theirs.
When I started cooking I copied, to the T, recipes of every famous chef and cookbook author whose food I liked. I cooked from cookbooks day-in and day-out. Even when I am cooking full time at a restaurant when I come home I turn around and cook at every opportunity. At first it is hard to build the confidence to cook even with step by step directions at my side but as I progress my fear of cooking without any guidance diminishes. I am convinced my abilities improve because I learn solid cooking technique until I know how to sauté, braise, roast, grill, and poach. My knife skills improve and I work on plating. I want nothing more than to learn to cook.
My style at first is a conglomeration of all those I mimic until one day my style of cooking just “is”. It is easy for people to tell whose food they are eating and before long I find myself edging up to the stove and cooking from experience. I don’t even remember the day it happened because it just did.
I wasn’t born a chef. I started out life as a photojournalist and I never thought I would be anything but but when I decide I want to learn to cook I dive in head first, I expect to come out with a filthy apron, I am passionate about it, and I know I won’t stop until I am good at it.
To Give Thanks
I don’t know why but I always find the silence during heavy snowfall deafening. It’s a wonderful time for reflection.
Amy moves about uncomfortably in the hospital bed. I look down at the pulse monitor on her forefinger. It is a bright red beacon in the darkness. On her arm closest to me I let my eyes follow the faintly lit trail of her IV line to where it disappears into her taped and bruised hand. This time they only had to stick her with the IV needle four times before they found a vein that didn’t collapse.
A gray and black leopard patterned blanket, a blanket Lynnie gave to her mom for good luck, covers Amy’s legs. Three days of treatment again, but this is day three, 4 more hours to go and then we are done for the year. Every set of completed treatments feels like an accomplishment, no more waking the girls up early to get them to before school care, no more waking up at 2am, panicked, and thinking I overslept and we missed an appointment, or watching the EKG machine obsessively, knowing what each reading means but we are done and in a few hours Amy will begin to come out of it.
I pull the car into the driveway and park. It won’t be long before Vivian gets off the bus. I have enough time to get Amy into bed so she can sleep, the treatments are exhausting . An hour after Vivian gets home Lynnie will get off the bus. Today is really no different than any other day, the ketamine treatments are a part of our life now. We get through each day as any other family might and like everyone else we jump each hurdle as it presents itself.
It’s in the passing moments of mindlessness that I find myself reconciling our new life, and much like someone stuck in an abusive relationship I am constantly creating ways to make it livable while ignoring the obvious.
Vivian is upstairs reading and Lynnie is playing with her guys, she is having an interesting conversation with them but I am only sort of listening.
In the pantry I collect up ingredients. I load up my arms, a Cambro full of flour, another of sugar, on top of them I lay a bag of brown sugar and a jar of green and red Christmas sprinkles. When I get everything together I call the girls and we begin measuring ingredients. It’s time to make some Christmas cookies.
As 2017 exits, we are ending the year much as it began.
I try to give Amy’s days structure. It is around 1:30 in the afternoon when I wake her. I bring her coffee in her favorite Klimt mug, sugar in the bottom until it forms an Appalachian sized hill, half and half to cover, and to the top with strong, hot, coffee.
This afternoon I don’t have the time because we are making cookies, but on the afternoons when I don’t have lots to do I lie in the bed next to Amy while she sips her coffee and we talk. We relish these afternoons. Sometimes we talk about pop culture, on others it’s about something we read, there are days when we laugh hysterically, some afternoons are spent bringing her up to date on the kids school stuff but it’s on the days we talk about how lucky we are, even in this worst of moments, that we both feel fortunate. We know that with a few simple turns of fate our situation could be wholly different. We know we are the exception and not the rule, the fact that I can stay home with Amy while, we hope, she begins to recover is a luxury, that her illness hasn’t depleted our savings is because we have and can afford good health insurance.
We also know we have an amazing family always at the ready to help in anyway but on top of that we have great friends who continually call or text to ask if we need anything. I will likely turn down the help but it is more with the knowledge there might come a time when we will need it rather than we don’t want it. Besides when you reach out it lets us know there is a world outside of Amy’s disease and on bad days sometimes it is the best thing that happens.
It is still snowing, it is a lighter snow, and I am thankful.
Day Two: Green Bean Casserole
I don’t make anything fancy for Thanksgiving. I like, and my family likes, a good homey kind of Thanksgiving. One that we have eaten in some iteration for as long as I can remember.
I figured out a long time ago my food is far better when I don’t try to hide behind fancy. Don’t get me wrong I like fancy and I enjoy cooking gourmet meals but in my early days of cooking I would hide behind fancy instead of doing the hard work of using good culinary methods and sourcing quality ingredients. If you do the later homey becomes fancy and incredibly delicious.
My definition of quality ingredients has varied over the years but I think I have finally landed squarely in the Jacques Pépin camp. What I like about Chef Pépin is he uses what is best in the moment. Summer fruits in winter? To which I am quite certain he would say, don’t be afraid to use frozen because they more than likely taste far better than anything in the fresh produce department. I feel the same way about green beans. I didn’t always, but a well sourced bag of frozen Frenched green beans far out ways the hassle of blanching fresh beans and frozen is worlds ahead of canned.
I provide the usual suspects at my Thanksgiving table, like this casserole, but I choose my ingredients and cooking methods carefully so as to get the best out of each dish. In the recipe I call for making a velouté, a mother sauce in the culinary world. (For folks around Indianapolis of the right age and if you ever ate at the LS Ayres tea room you will more than likely know this sauce as Chicken Velvet Soup. There, the secret is out, I just taught you how to make chicken velvet soup using this green bean casserole recipe, simply leave out vegetables and you have it or, for that matter, leave in the onion, carrots, and celery.)
For Thanksgiving, this is a dish where I would have all the ingredients ready in advance. If I felt the need I would get it into the casserole dish on Wednesday but I would leave off the potato chips or onions, until right before I am going to bake it in the oven.
2 TBS. unsalted butter
2 ½ TBS. all purpose flour
⅔ C. yellow onion, minced
½ C. celery, minced
1 ½ C. chicken broth, unsalted (or turkey stock-hint, hint)
2 TBS. heavy cream
1 pound frozen Frenched green beans, thawed in a colander to drain excess water
Salt and fresh ground black pepper
2 oz. potato chips, crumbled (you can use crispy onions here too)
- Place a medium sized heavy bottomed sauce pan over medium heat. Add butter and let it melt.
- When the butter has melted add the flour and stir with a wooden spoon to make a roux/paste. Stir constantly but gently until the butter/flour mixture smells like popcorn and turns from yellow to golden.
- Add onions and celery. The roux will clump up around the vegetables. Cook the vegetables for 3 minutes.
- Add the broth to the pot, turn the heat to high, and stir continuously until the liquid comes to a boil and thickens.
- Reduce the heat to low and allow the sauce to cook and thicken. Taste, add pepper and salt, stir, and taste again.
- Combine the sauce with the beans and spread into a buttered gratin. Spread the crumbled chips over the top and bake at 375F for 35 minutes or until bubbly and brown.
- Let cool for 5 minutes before serving.
Day One: My Turkey Stock Recipe
It’s my favorite holiday, Thanksgiving is.
Amy is lying down and not feeling good when I walk into the bedroom to ask if she wants to have Thanksgiving dinner at our house this year. She hesitates, not saying what we both already know, about how we are planning to put the house up for sale, but by the look in her eyes I know she wants too so I jump in and tell her I think we should and she agrees. Continue reading
RECIPE CARD: 3 Cheese Beef & Noodles + How To Get The Most Out Of Prep Day
I have always said, “if I am going to cook one chicken, I might as well cook two.” It’s not really any more work. I have come to believe the same about pot roast, pork roast, and just about anything that is braised, smoked or roasted.
RECIPE CARD: Slow Cooker Baked Potato Soup
This is the Midwest and we like baked potatoes and we aren’t ashamed to say so. Loaded baked potatoes, twice baked potatoes, simple baked potatoes, in my part of the country it is un-American not to like them. For that matter, how good is a baked potato on those nights when they are what you crave? Truth is we like all kinds and cooked lots of ways. That is what is so good about this soup, it can be dressed up or kept very basic but no matter what at the dinner time it is nothing short of delicious. Continue reading
I am new to slow cookers. I bought mine with the intention of immersing myself into the world of the crock pot. My reasons are simple I need to create a few bigger blocks of time each week to immerse myself into other projects. It feels like the right thing to do. Continue reading
RECIPE CARD: All-American Crab Cakes
I can’t tell you how many times I made crab cakes while working at different restaurants. I am pretty sure even I don’t want to know. What I do know is many times they had lots of flavors sans one, crab and I often thought the cakes were more bread crumb than crab. So here is a quick, easy, and very crab tasting recipe that can be made any night of the week. This recipe makes a lot of cakes but realize you can make the cakes and freeze them in sets of 4 cakes or whatever works for you. Continue reading
My wife Amy and I had the pleasure of eating a multi-course vegetarian meal a few years back. The dinner came with many drink options, wine, cocktails, and homemade sodas/mocktails. For no reason other then curiosity, we chose to drink the mocktails and we were glad we did. It was an amazing dinner all the way around. Continue reading
RECIPE CARD: Celery and Lemon Tom Collins (mocktail or cocktail)
I like the unexpected. Especially when it is something new to me, or it tastes and sounds exotic but in reality it has a longstanding history—a marriage of flavors that is natural. Flavors tried and tested over time, in this case, in towns all across Portugal.
Octopus is a food that falls into a category that not to many foods do—it is either flash cooked very quickly or it is stewed for a very long time. Both methods intended to render the octopus meltingly tender. I have tried flash cooking octopus several times and either I am an idiot and just can’t get it right or my definition of tender is radically different from everyone else who uses the flash cooked method. Continue reading
Octopus and Potato Salad with a Tomato Vinaigrette
Bar Pizza—It’s What You Crave
There has never been a more one-of-a-kind pizza like the bar pizza. For the most part they are never good, many times they are awful, but that has never stopped anybody from ordering one. Patrons order them because they are drinking. Combine it with hunger and it makes these pizzas far better then they would ever be if a shot of better judgement was in hand. Without exception a bar pizza reigns over the pink pickled eggs languishing in the murky liquid of the large glass jar back by the whisky. Bar pizzas are also infinitely better then the microwavable cups of Spaghetti-Os or the burritos ensconced in a cardboard tortilla. Even so, that doesn’t make them good. Continue reading
Barley Salad with Kalamata Olives, Sun-dried Tomatoes, and Parsley
I have cooked with whole grains for a long time. My fascination began, simply enough, with bulgur wheat used to make tabouleh. It was a gateway to all sorts of other grains; winter wheat, soft summer wheat, oat groats, farro, you get the idea. There are lots of grains readily available that a few short years ago were very difficult to locate. A good earthy health food store went a long way to rectifying the shortage but now about every food store carries some sort of whole grain. Continue reading
Peanut Butter, Butter, and Lingonberry Jam Sandwiches
I went to my regular restaurant, the one I favor over all others. I ordered my favorite dish only to be disappointed. It lead me to wonder why it wasn’t as good as usual. In my head I worried the quality of the restaurant was slipping, are they ordering a lower quality product that isn’t as flavorful? To be fair I stopped and thought it might be me, maybe my taste buds were off that night. It happens.
I think a lot about taste, not so much about the five taste receptors; bitter, sour, sweet, salty, and umami but more about the law of diminishing returns. Take for instance today, I am making a tomato soup that clearly states in its recipe title it’s the only recipe I will ever need. I hope it’s that good and it may well be delicious but I also know after I eat it 5 or 6 times I will more then likely move on to another recipe for tomato soup, say, the world’s best tomato soup. Knowing my taste buds become familiar with tastes, if the food on the plate in front of me becomes to familiar at some point it is less likely to excite me. I also know there are people who don’t care. They eat simply to survive, their interest lies elsewhere, or they want the familiar. I don’t.
How many times have you eaten a peanut butter and jelly sandwich? Are you ever excited to eat them anymore? As a kid I could eat them breakfast lunch and dinner if my mother would have let me but they began to wear thin and I started to eat ham sandwiches or turkey, sometimes a grilled cheese. As an adult there are times I get a kick out of eating a PBJ but they never seem to match the intensity and joy of eating them as a child. I compare it to going back to the neighborhood sledding hill as an adult only to find what at one time seemed like the Rocky mountains now looks more like a speed bump. Childhood can make experiences larger then life.
Peanut Butter, Butter, and Lingonberry Jam Sandwiches
While I am and always have been enamored with simple foods that use honest ingredients it doesn’t mean I don’t stray from time to time. My cooking has become more about good technique and nurturing rather then showmanship. In a way simple food is like going back to my childhood experiences without fear of being disappointed.
1 brioche hamburger bun or 2 slices of brioche, toasted almost burnt
1 1/2 tablespoons Skippy Natural Peanut Butter
2 unsalted butter pats, about 2 teaspoons at room temperature
1 tablespoon lingonberry jam or red currant jam
Maldon Sea Salt (this is a big flaky sea salt meant for finishing dishes)
- When the bread has cooled enough not to melt the peanut butter spread the peanut butter evenly across the bottom bun. On the top bun smear the butter and top it with the lignonberry jam.
- Sprinkle the peanut butter with Maldon salt to taste. Smush the top bun onto the bottom and serve.
A Very French Beef Stew
If you are like me, you have made what seems like hundreds of variations on beef stew; the classic tomatoey American version, a Korean version, Chinese, Irish, with beer, or with wine. It’s all done in the name of variety and the constant quest for new flavors to excite the taste buds. We do it in order to make dinner ever more interesting, because let’s be honest, if you only cook the same 5 or 6 meals and present them over and over again at some point they become lackluster and boredom sets in. This is not to say, as a cook you need to know how to cook a hundred variations on beef stew because you don’t. If you are like me though you are curious, always looking for upgrades, and it is nice to have some surprises in your back pocket when you need them.
While I call this a French stew it is far from a classic daube. Daube’s make use of lots of red wine, olives, and orange peel. This stew does not. What this dish does do is keep flavors separate. By cooking the meat on its own, roasting the vegetables, then combining them only when it is time to serve the dish some very wonderful flavors only become present when everything is in the bowl.
Let me say a few things about clay pot cooking. Clay is unique, so if you have a clay pot stored in a cabinet somewhere begging to be used then this is a great place to start and here is why. Cooking in clay pots feels like cooking. The smell of the clay as it heats, the aroma that reminds you of the last meal you cooked, the cracks in the glaze, the smell of olive oil as it heats seems basic in an elemental way. It is comforting. It’s as if you a are connected to every cook that came before you and every meal too.
When you heat clay on the stove the culinary history of the particular pot makes itself well known very quickly. Often pots are dedicated to certain kinds of cooking like curry, or rice, or beans. They are used for meals made with similar spices. They are the original slow cooker and you can find them being used all around the Mediterranean, the Middle East, Asia and throughout South America.
The recipe doesn’t require cooking in a clay pot for it to be good but it does add to its mystic. It can be cooked in a slow cooker or in an enameled Dutch oven on the stove top.
Clay Pot Beef Stew with Roasted Vegetables (serves 4)
2 TBS. olive oil
2 pounds beef brisket, trimmed of fat and cut into 1 1/2-inch cubes
1 1/2 TBS all-purpose flour
3 medium yellow onions
15 cloves garlic, peeled and left whole
3 cups homemade beef broth of sodium free beef broth
1 1/2 teaspoons Herbes de Provence
1 tsp. kosher salt
2 tsp. Japanese tonkatsu sauce or Heinz 57
1 bay leaf
2 tsp. flat leaf parsley, minced
3 large carrots, peeled and cut into 1 1/2-inch cylinders
7 fingerling potatoes, washed and halved
- Peel and trim one onion. Halve it and dice both halves into a small dice.
- Place a 3 1/2 quart clay pot or enameled Dutch oven over medium heat. Add olive oil and let it become hot. Add half the beef and brown it on all sides. Remove the meat to a tray. Repeat with the remaining beef.
- Add the flour to the oil and stir with a wooden spoon until the flour begins to color and smells nutty (do not taste the roux it will burn your tongue off.)
- Add diced onions and garlic. Stir. The roux will stick to the vegetables and clump. This is as it should be. Add the hot broth while stirring. Continue to stir until the liquid comes to a boil.
- Add a 1/2 tsp. kosher salt, Herbes de Provence, tonkatsu, bay leaf, parsley, and a few grinds of fresh ground black pepper. Add the brisket back to the pot, bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, cover and let it gently bubble until the brisket is tender but not falling apart. About 4 hours.
- About 1 1/2 hours before the brisket is tender heat the oven to 425 degrees. Peel the remaining 2 onions and cut each into 6 wedges. Place the onions, carrots, and potatoes into a bowl. Toss with enough olive oil to coat them. Season them with salt and fresh ground pepper. Toss them again.
- Spread the vegetables out onto a sheet tray and roast them for 1 hour or until they are brown and blistered. Remove them from the oven.
- To serve place a sprinkling of vegetables into the bottom 4 bowls, ladle over meat and broth over the vegetables and them top with some vegetables. Sprinkle with parsley and serve.
Cheats, Lies, and Hucksters (How to Cook a God Damned Grilled Cheese Sandwich)
As a kid, learning to cook a fried egg and bologna sandwich is like teaching me how to load a gun without establishing any safety guidelines. While the combination of griddled bread, egg yolk, mayonnaise, seared bologna, and American cheese is white trash foie gras, perfecting the fried bologna without having made a grilled cheese, well, it is Picasso without a Blue Period, Miles Davis having composed no song book before Bitches Brew. There is no reference and no history, a drifting ship with no anchor. At the time, I didn’t understand the damage done by using the cliff notes without ever reaching for the novel.
But here we are, in that time of year when we think about grilled cheese. It is the age old discussion, as if we forgot the combination to the safe and it needs to be cracked again, of how to cheat a grilled cheese. As if the answers locked away are new kinds of offerings; in a waffle maker, with an iron, use mayonnaise instead of butter, or turn a toaster on its side.
So I am just going to say it, I am tired of hucksters and cheats. It pains me to be over sold or even worse, blatantly lied too. I am not putting myself on a pedestal, far be it from me to cast stones, I am no practicing perfectionist and neither am I an Elmer Gantry. I have my faults and I try to be honest about them. Even so, when I witness an egregious wrong I can’t keep my mouth shut. After all, I can’t have my children wondering around this world thinking they will be able to succeed without ever learning the fundamentals. It happens everywhere and now, of all arenas, the kitchen is under attack.
Why can’t we just learn to cook a god damned grilled cheese? What are we afraid of, actually learning how to cook? There are so many basics to be learned by placing a sauté pan onto the stove to griddle two pieces of bread with cheese stuck in between and yet at all costs we try to avoid it. I don’t care what kind of cheese is put between the slices of bread, I don’t even care what kind of bread you use but I do care that you know how the different kinds of bread are going to react to the heat, that types of bread with more sugars and fats are going to brown faster then lean breads made with nothing more then water, flour, and yeast. Or that certain kinds of cheese are so stringy when you go to take the first bite every bit of the cheese is going to come along with it.
Cheats and shortcuts are wonderful but only after you know how to cook the original dish in the tried and true fashion, only after you have mastered the grilled cheese is it okay to riff on it. If you ignore, or fail to recognize, the subtle nuances of cooking you can follow a recipe to the T and still have it fail. It is because there are so many variables that can lead you down the path to disappointment that it becomes imperative to learn how to cook, which is wildly different from simply following a recipe.
Grilled Cheese Sandwich (makes 2 sandwiches)
4 slices Pullman bread
1 1/2 cups gruyere cheese, grated
1 1/2 teaspoons prepared horseradish
1 tablespoon green onion, minced
a splash of heavy cream
fresh ground black pepper
unsalted butter, softened
1. Combine the grated gruyere, horseradish, green onions, and a splash cream in a medium sized bowl. Add a grind or two of fresh ground black pepper. Mix everything with a spoon to combine.
2. Place a 12-inch sauté pan over medium heat. Liberally butter one side of each of the pieces of bread making sure to cover the whole surface. Place the bread, buttered side down into the pan. Top each piece with one quarter of the cheese mixture. Turn the heat to medium low.
3. Once the cheese begins to compress and soften check the bottom of the bread. If it is browning to fast turn the heat down. Once the bread is browned and the cheese melted put the sandwiches together. Cut the sandwiches into 4 crusty cheese sticks and serve.
I don’t get the allure of risotto. Years ago at culinary school, every student revered the dish except me, and slowly I’ve come to hate it. It’s overrated.
I’ve practiced making it at home with the guidance of some of the best cookbook authors of the day. I stand at the stove as instructed, stirring, hot broth on the back burner, and all of the ingredients at hand. Inevitably after the required 19 minutes of stirring, ladling, and coddling as instructed, I have a pot of hot, goopy rice, but I am never impressed.
I never get tired of cooking, but eventually I did tire of making risotto.
I had given up ordering risotto in restaurants long ago for the same reasons I quit making it at home. But on a chance, just like the dollar I dropped into a slot and pulled the arm as I walked by, I ordered it. I took the gamble and it too payed off, just like the $1600 slot earlier in the day.
I don’t eat at restaurants often. Not because I don’t enjoy them – because I do – it’s more that my wife, Amy, and I splurge when we go out to eat. A few times a year we spend lots of money at a few restaurants. A weekend in Napa or New York City is perfect for this. This time we headed to Las Vegas where there are lots of great restaurants tucked within a confined space. We made plans to hit several famous chef’s restaurants. It’s what we do when we go to Vegas. Others gamble, we eat.
On a whim, we decided to go into Le Cirque, the off shoot of the famous New York City restaurant. Le Cirque is whimsical. It ’s dinner under the big top, draping curtains hanging from the ceiling like a technicolor circus tent, highlighting a huge chandelier centered in a huge circular room. No corner table. Gaudy at best but it pairs perfectly with Cirque Du Soleil playing one ring over.
As I glanced at the veritable circus around us, the ringmaster balanced hot plates on his arm and delivered them to our table. The risotto dish set in front of me was the most exquisite rice dish ever. Tender rice but with a spring to it. The acidity of the white wine, added and burned off au sec, is a perfect match for the Parmesan and the starchy rice. Brothy, but not too much so. Fine dinning at its best. It is out of place in Vegas: to simple, not garish enough. Still, that rice dish will hold a place at the front of my mind for the rest of the weekend and follow me around for a long time to come.
I arrived back home with renewed determination. I had to figure out how to make risotto like that. It’s like a three-ring circus in my kitchen: ingredients spread all around while I’m stirring and ladling and stirring and measuring and stirring some more. Another carefully measured attempt ends yet again with disappointment. How could it not? I can make a perfect pot of rice, but I can’t make risotto. No amount of hope can fix that.
I did my best to just move on. There are so many wonderful foods in this world; there is no point in getting hung up on any one failure. It’s not like anyone notices a gaping risotto hole in my cooking repertoire. And what if they did? It’s only risotto.
But I do. I notice. And for me it is an empty pan smoking over high heat. Cooking is what I do. Making food the best that I possibly can is what drives me. Once my palate has experienced something new and exciting there are no lengths to which I won’t go in order to replicate that experience.
And so I head back to the stove with another recipe for Risotto Milanese, seeking yet again that illusive pairing of a creamy texture and toothsome rice. I carefully ladle in the broth, stirring and stirring and seeking to master the ultimate balancing act.
Perfect Risotto Milanese (serves 4)
2 tsp. unsalted butter
1/2 cup yellow onion, finely diced
1/4 cup dry white wine
1 cup arborio rice
1/4 tsp kosher salt
2 3/4 cup homemade or sodium free chicken broth
1/2 tsp saffron
2 TBS. unsalted butter, cold
1/2 cup Parmegiano-Reggiano cheese, grated
1 TBS. chives, minced
- Place a 4-quart pressure cooker over medium high heat. Add the butter, and when it begins to bubble, add the onions. Sauté until the onions begin to soften.
- Add the dry white wine and bring it to a boil. Reduce the wine by half and add the rice and stir to coat. Add salt, chicken stock, and saffron, and bring the liquid to a boil.
- Lock the lid into place and bring the pressure to high. Once the pot is to pressure start a timer set for 7 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat and use the cold water release method to drop the pressure. Remove the lid.
- Stir in the chilled butter followed with the Parmesan. If the risotto is stiff, add more broth 1 TBS. at a time until you reach the desired consistency. Divide the rice into 4 bowls, garnish a little more cheese and chives. Serve immediately.
Searching for the Perfect Risotto
Middle Eastern Braised Green Beans
I don’t know when it came to be that chefs and cooks decided that your veggies needed to be cooked al dente. While I know they retain more of their vitamins when cooked a minimal amount I also know it’s not like the vitamins just vaporize into thin air but instead I am pretty sure, and take note I am not a scientist, that they wind up in the cooking broth.
Either way and no matter how you slice it I like veggies that can stand up to multiple cooking methods giving me choices as how best to enjoy them. I like green beans blanched then sautéed al dente but then I also like them long cooked. That doesn’t mean I want mush because I want something that still has character and a bite.
So after cooking green beans and eating green beans pretty much all my life with potatoes or onions, and even bacon and onions I was looking for a change. This last summer I found a wonderful recipe for okra that was stewed and I liked the recipe so much I made it two or three times.
The other night I was thinking how good that recipe would be with green beans and, actually even easier and less time consuming then the okra. So here is a link to the original article and recipe from the New York Times’ Recipes for Health by Martha Rose Shulman http://tinyurl.com/7ebxpk3 just in case you have any interest in the original okra recipe which I will make again this coming summer.
Middle Eastern Braised Green Beans (Serves 6)
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 cups onion, thinly sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon all spice
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 1/2 pounds green beans, clipped and cleaned
1 teaspoon pomegranate molasses
juice of half a lemon
14 oz chopped tomatoes
2 teaspoons tomato paste
kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper
- Place a large heavy bottomed pot over medium heat. Add the olive oil and once it is hot add the onions. Season the onions with a pinch of salt and some pepper. Sweat the onions until they begin to soften trying not to brown them.
- Add the garlic and once it becomes fragrant add the all spice and sugar. Then add the beans and stir them to coat with the oil.
- Now add the rest of the ingredients and stir to combine. Cook on medium until you hear the pot sizzling then reduce the heat to low, cover, and cook for an hour remembering to stir about every twenty minutes. They may take longer the an hour but not much.
- Taste, adjust the salt and pepper and serve.
A Delicious Lentil Soup With A Dirty Little Secret
What you need to know about lentil soup is everyone has their “simple” version. Knowing this, it reminds me how easy it is to get a nutritious hot bowl of soup to the table. It also tells me that it must taste really good if there is a reason to keep publishing simple lentil soup recipes, and we do keep publishing them and it does taste good.
The hardest part of making this soup is cutting the vegetables, which with the exception of the potatoes, can be done up to two days in advance as long as the vegetables are stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator. The recipe calls for four types of lentils but the truth of the matter is, I had just a small portion of different kinds of lentils I needed to use up. It so happens that the different textures and subtle flavor differences in the legumes was a welcome addition but if you don’t have but one kind of lentil in the house the soup is still really good.
And here is the secret, soups depend on good broth but sometimes the broth isn’t strong enough. Without a good broth soups come off as watery and bland and no amount of salt is going to change this. This fact, and this fact alone, is enough of a reason to keep bouillon cubes in the pantry, or some sort of stock base, that can be used more as a seasoning then as an actual broth. The idea is to taste the soup after it has cooked and if it comes off as a little flat you add a quarter teaspoon or more of stock base or break off a small piece of bouillon cube to kick up the flavor. Add the base to the pot, let the it dissolve, stir, and taste again. Keep adding a small piece if needed until the soup is delicious. Get the picture? It works, makes the soup more exciting, even if it is a dirty little secret.
4 Lentil Soup (makes 6 servings)
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, peeled, small dice
3 carrots, peeled and cut into thin rounds
1 large celery stalk, small dice
3 medium yellow potatoes, cubed
1 cup lentils, a mix of beluga, du pays, yellow, and red
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 tsp. fresh rosemary, minced
1 tsp. dried oregano
2 tsp. fresh thyme
1 cup crushed tomatoes
vegan sodium free bouillon cube
5 cups homemade vegetable stock or no-sodium vegetable stock
2 handfuls baby spinach
1.Place a 3 1/2 quart (3.5l) enameled Dutch oven over medium heat and add olive oil. Once the oil is warm add onions, carrot, celery, and garlic.
2. Season with 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt. Stir, and sauté the vegetables until they are soft, about 3 minutes
3. Add oregano, thyme, and rosemary. Stir again and add potatoes and lentils. Stir. Add tomatoes, broth, and bouillon cube. Season with a pinch of salt and fresh ground pepper.
4. Bring the broth to a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer and cover. Cook for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the lentils are tender.
5. Remove the lid, taste the soup, and add any seasoning necessary. Add 2 big handfuls of fresh spinach and stir it into the soup. Once the spinach is wilted, ladle up bowls of soup and serve.
A Simple Pot Of Beans (And Tips For Pressure Cooking Them)
Just about anything can be cooked in a pressure cooker. It does lots of things well. Stews, roasts, soups and one pots all come to the table hot and delicious. Even so, what really keeps the pressure cooker on the stove top is the basics. A pressure cooker cooks beans, grains, rice, and stocks effortlessly and it cooks them perfect every time. A pressure cooker is a natural in the kitchen. Not only that, as everybody knows, the pressure cooker saves time and when it comes to cooking beans it saves lots of time.
We live in a world of bean myths. A world where bits of anecdotal information is passed from one generation of cooks to another. Dried beans carry suitcases full of informational baggage around with each and every pound. But what is truth and what is fiction and how should it all be sorted out?
There are a lot of choices when it comes to the kinds of beans you choose to cook. There are all the traditional beans -‑ black, pinto, garbanzo, navy, and kidney but there are also limitless kinds of heirloom beans with fancy names like Tiger Eye, Eye of the Goat, and Snowcap. There are even more.
When combined with a grain, more often then not rice, beans make a complete protein. This makes beans one of the least expensive healthy foods to put onto the stove. Combine them with a few spices and herbs and it becomes a flavorful dish the whole family will love.
To buy the best beans frequent a grocery that has a high turnover of dried beans. The newer the bean the better it cooks. Beans that have been around for a long time might not ever soften no matter how long you cook them. It pays to pay a little extra for good quality beans.
There are other legumes too. Split peas, lentils, and field peas cook up just as wonderfully in a pressure cooker as any of their cousins mentioned above. These legumes don’t need any kind of soak either, they can go right into the pot and cook in no time at all.
To Soak or Not to Soak?
This is a personal question. It is up to the cook whether or not to soak the beans overnight. In pressure cooker you do not need to soak the beans but there may be reasons why you want to.
One reason would be how are the beans going to be used. If they are to be pureed soaking isn’t necessary but if they are to be left whole a pressure cooker often splits beans leaving them cracked. If this is important then soak the beans.
Under pressure dried beans are cooked in minutes. Not something that can happen when they are cooked traditionally. The question becomes one of digestibility. If the beans are soaked a good deal of the gas causing chemical, phytic acid, is leached out into the soaking water which is discarded and fresh water is then added for cooking. If gastrointestinal issues are a factor presoaking is mandatory.
So while you can eliminate the soaking water when pressure cooking here is another reason it might not be a good idea. Almost any presoaked bean cooks in 10 to 14 minutes in a pressure cooker. That is what is amazing. Cooked delicious beans in such a short amount of time!
A Quick Soak
If you should forget to soak you beans you can still get a pot of beans to the table with a quick soak. Simply put the amount of beans you want to cook into the pressure cooker and for every 1 cup of beans add 4 cups of water. Bring the water to a boil and lock on the pressure cooker lid. Bring to pressure and set a timer for 2 minutes. When the timer sound turn off the heat and let the beans sit for 20 minutes or until the pressure has released. Drain the soaking liquid and proceed.
There is an old wives tale about salt and beans. It says that salting beans extends their cooking time and makes the beans tough. It does not. Salting beans is paramount to great tasting beans. It is best to salt them during the soak time. About 2 teaspoons of salt per 4 cups of water is sufficient.
Foaming is always a concern when using a pressure cooker. Foam carries particulate which can lodge and clog the pressure valves. It is best to add a tablespoon of oil or fat to the cooking liquid. This will help to prevent foaming. It is also best to use a natural or cold water release beans for the same reasons.
When To Add Acids
Tomato sauce and vinegars are often added to beans for flavor. The acids in these products can cause the beans to toughen and take longer to cook. It all depends on how much you add. A can of tomato sauce is going to affect the cooking time, a tablespoon probably not. Nevertheless, it is always best to add any of these products toward the end of the cooking time.
There is no good reason to add baking soda to beans.
A Simple Pot Of Beans
2 cups pinto beans, rinsed and picked over for debris soaked in 8 cups of salted water for 4 hours to overnight
1 small yellow onion, peeled, small dice (about 3/4 cup)
3 garlic cloves, minced (about 1 TB.)
1 tsp. kosher salt
1 bay leaf
[1/2] tsp. fresh ground black pepper
- Drain the beans into a colander and strain. Rinse the beans.
- Place the beans into a 6 quart (5.51l) or larger pressure cooker. Add enough water to cover the beans by about 1-inch (2.5cm) about 5 or 6 cups.
- Add onion, cloves, garlic, salt, bay leaf, and pepper to the pot. Bring the water to a boil over medium high heat (traditional)/high(electric).
- Lock on the lid, bring the pressure to level 2(traditional)/high (electric). Set a timer for 10 to 12 minutes.
- After the time sounds either perform a natural or quick release. Serve or cool and refrigerate beans until needed.
Pasta Carbonara (A Midwestern Hybrid)
I melt for this pasta. I always have.
As a kid I grew up on heavy, roux laden Fettuccini Alfredo. It was the rigor of the day and it was served everywhere and with everything mixed into the noodles, from shrimp to broccoli. Unfortunately, and even though it was a childhood favorite, cream based pastas in the Midwest were bad, no, they were awful.
Fettucini Alfredo in the Midwest became a Parmesan cream with noodles. Sometimes more soup then pasta. The Italian heritage of the dish suddenly was nowhere to be found. Alfredo in Italy is simply a pasta of butter and Parmesan cheese much like carbonara but without using egg yolks as an emulsifier. When the noodles are hot out of the cooking water butter and parmesan are tossed with the pasta and melt into a beautiful, silky coat for each noodle. Fettuccini Alfredo in its Italian form has nothing to do with buckets of cream reduced or thickened with a flour and butter roux.
In the same breath, Carbonara had its day too but it also comes with its own set of problems. Eggs used to enrich the bacon lardon and Parmesan base often become gloppy and sometimes make the pasta more dry then wet while at other times, because to much egg is used, the dish ends up with the noodles stuck together in a pasta pancake better cut with a knife then twirled onto a fork. When made right carbonara can be sublime but when done wrong it can be one of the worst pastas in the world. Making carbonara involves proper technique and quality ingredients if the finished pasta is to be anywhere close to extraordinary.
This pasta is not a carbonara but neither is it an Alfredo. It is what I like to think of as a Midwestern hybrid. Something we do really well here in the middle states, for better or worse, we make dishes to our liking. For me, I like several things about this pasta. To begin, I like the use of ham instead of bacon. There is no rendering of any fat and yet the typical Midwestern farm ham, piquant with its rosy cure, matches perfectly with the peas, garlic, and pasta. While the recipe calls for cream it uses far less then one might imagine and the use of starch heavy pasta water to thicken the sauce is a perfect alternative to a classic roux or eggs. While they might look like an unnecessary garnish, the parsley and chives are important in flavoring the final dish and should be added in the last minutes of cooking.
Midwest Carbonara (Serves 4)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter (55g)
1 tablespoon garlic
8 oz. ham, small dice (225g)
1/2 cup heavy cream (110g)
1/2 cup pasta water (110g)
3/4 cup frozen peas (170g)
1/2 cup sugar snap peas (110g)
1 tablespoon parsley, minced
1 tablespoon chive, minced
fresh ground white pepper
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated (110g)
1 pound vermicelli pasta (450g)
- Place a 6 quart (5.51l) pot, filled with 4 quarts (4l) of water, onto the stove. Add 2 tablespoons kosher salt and bring the water to a boil.
- While you are waiting for the water to boil heat a 14” inch (35.5cm) over medium heat. Add unsalted butter and let it melt. Add ham, stir then add garlic.
- When the garlic becomes fragrant but not brown add cream. Bring the cream to a boil and turn off the heat.
- This is about timing. The vermicelli only takes minutes to cook but if you are using a different noodle that takes longer adjust you timing.
- Add the vermicelli to the boiling water and cook according to the package instructions.
- Place the cream back onto the stove top and turn the heat to medium high. Bring the cream to a boil, add peas, season with white pepper.
- If the cream reduces to fast add pasta water by the 1/4 cup. Use pasta water because the starch will thicken the sauce.
- Drain the noodles when the finish cooking. Add noodles to sauté pan, carefully toss them with the cream. Add half the cheese and carefully toss the noodles with the cream. Taste, add salt if necessary, and a few grinds of fresh ground white pepper, half the chives and parsley. Carefully toss again taking note that it will be hard to get the peas and ham to mix into the pasta. This is okay.
- Pay attention in order to keep the pasta from scorching on the bottom of the pan.
- When everything is hot, use you tongs to place the pasta onto a large platter. Top the pasta with remaining peas and ham. Sprinkle on the remaining cheese, and top with remaining chives and parsley. Serve.
I remember the first time I saw a bison up close and personal. It was out on the rolling prairies of South Dakota. No, it wasn’t wild. Reality is, I am not sure there are to many of those left. Maybe in Canada and Yellowstone but beyond that I think most herds are domesticated, sort of.
When you walk up on a buffalo it is like you stepped back in time, especially if they are starring at you head on. They are huge animals yielding in the neighborhood of four hundred pounds of meat. You heard that right four hundred pounds. I can’t imagine killing one of these with a bow and arrow. I have a hard time trying to imagine how the Native Americans did it.
It is interesting to note at one time Indiana had bison that followed the Buffalo Trace on their east/west migration through the southern portion of the state. The trace was one of the first roads used by animals and people alike.
The mushroom ragu is really what this dish is all about. I love buffalo, I can eat it plain without any toppings, but the simple addition of this simple ragu makes the whole dish.
The ragu is an umami bomb. The deep earthiness of the mushrooms, combined with the red wine and soy, and cooked on the stove top until all the flavors are intensified by reduction makes it a great combination. Not only is it good on red meat but it also is delicious on salmon and monk fish.
If you don’t want to mess with buffalo, of course this recipe would be great with beef. I like to pan sear the sirloins but the grill works great too. Use whichever works best for you.
one (1 1/2 to 2 pound) buffalo sirloin
5 cups assorted exotic mushrooms
2 heads garlic, roasted, see step 5
1 teaspoon marjoram
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 cup red wine
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon canola oil
parsley for garnish
- Place a 14 inch saute pan over medium high heat. Let it get good and hot. Then add the oil. Add the oil first to keep the butter from burning.
- Now add the mushrooms. Spread them out across the pan and let them sit without shaking or turning them so they get good and brown. Season them with a heavy pinch of salt and some pepper.
- When the mushrooms are good and brown flip them and do the same to the other side. Add the shallots and the butter. Let the shallots soften.
Add the wine, soy sauce and garlic. Bring the liquid to a boil, then reduce the heat and cook until the wine is almost all absorbed by the mushrooms.
- Meanwhile heat a cast iron skillet or if you are using a grill you should already have it going, over high heat. Add enough oil to coat the bottom of the pan and cook the sirloin caramelizing both sides of the steak to the internal temp you want it to be.
- Let the steak rest, slice and serve with mushrooms on top. Garnish with parsley.
Bison Sirloin with Mushroom Ragu
Asian Spaghetti, Changing Seasons
If your weekend was anything like mine then you are comfortable having put summer to bed, tucked-in snugly with the knowledge it will sleep tight until it awakens again next year. Windows will close, doors are shut, and the nuanced smells of long simmered foods become more prevalent.
I can’t imagine a life without seasons. Not because I like the hot and cold but because they are markers, clear delineations that it is time to get on with life, a deep breath of reflection before pushing on, no summit to conquer, no eye on a prize, just a moment to reflect on the journey.
I am back to doing what I love—cooking, my way. This time of year I always cook Asian cuisine. It is such a departure from what I have done all summer, cooked from the garden, be it mid-western or southern foods, or farm favorites. Now I go to the Asian grocery and buy up bok choi, pigs liver, shiso peppers, lemon grass, and Chinese celery. Foods that I have done without since last fall.
For a few months I will get my fill, until winter.
Asian Spaghetti (serves 4)
This is great for weeknights. The sauce like many gets better with age and can be made ahead of time and stored in the refrigerator for up to 4 days (you can even double the recipe and freeze half.) Then simply make your noodles, warm the sauce, and serve.
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 lb. ground beef
1 medium red onion, fine dice (about 1 cup)
3 celery stalks, trimmed, fine dice (about 1 cup)
1 tablespoon ginger, minced
1 tablespoon garlic
1/2 cup Hoisin sauce
1/2 cup canned chopped tomatoes with juice
1 tablespoon fresh squeezed lime juice
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 Fresno red pepper, chopped
3 Shiso peppers, chopped
1/4 cup cilantro
rice noodles, cooked
- Set a 3 quart (3l) enameled cast iron pot, or any heavy bottomed pot onto the stove. Turn the heat to medium high. Add oil and let it become hot.
- Add the ground beef, break it into small pieces and let it brown. Add red onion, celery, ginger, and garlic. Stir, let the vegetables soften and become fragrant.
- Add Hoisin sauce, tomatoes, lime juice and soy. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to simmer and let the liquid reduce until it thickens, about 15 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasoning.
- Place the hot noodles onto a platter, top with sauce, and sprinkle the peppers and cilantro over the top. Serve with a nice stir fried vegetable like bok choi in oyster sauce.
Chocolate Chiffon Pie
Years ago, when I was first starting out in the restaurant business, I put together a business plan. The idea came to me early one morning while rolling out Danish dough in pastry class. Lots of ideas came to me while I was in pastry class. I think it was all the coffee and sugar. At the time it was just talk and I had no real notion of putting them into place. But this particular idea stuck with me. I wanted to open a diner, and not just any diner, but a classic 1940’s Silk City diner. To me the Silk City is the the Cadillac-Airstream-Harley-Davidson of diners. I located an empty one just up the road. It had recently shuttered its doors and gone out of business. I thought I might get it for a steal.
The Duroc Dinette, that is what I was going to name it because it was to have a pork heavy menu. I would move the thing to Indianapolis if I had it my way and open in a neighborhood where it was much needed. A dear friend even owned a lot in a prime location downtown and I was talking to him about giving it up for a reasonable sum and he was ready too.
I don’t know why I didn’t push it any further other then in those days I didn’t have much confidence in my abilities. At that point I had never worked in a restaurant. I wanted to get a few years under my belt before I made the leap. As is the case with many of these things you drift in other directions. A plan gets put into a file and it never gets pulled out again.
I still love diner food. I especially like the desserts at diners. Diner desserts are interesting because they are streamlined much like a diner itself. In a diner food cost have to be kept down but that doesn’t mean the food is short on flavor. The desserts are always somewhere between kitsch and homey, lots of gelatin and coconut but mind you that doesn’t mean the refrigerated glass case full of pies won’t grab my attention like I hope this delicious chocolate chiffon pie grabs yours.
For the crust:
12 chocolate graham crackers
2 tsp. unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 cup unsalted butter plus 2 tsp.
For the chiffon:
1/4 cup water
1 tsp. instant espresso powder
1 envelope unflavored gelatin
4-oz. 72% dark chocolate or unsweetened chocolate
3/4 cup whole milk
3 large eggs, separated
1/2 cup sugar
1/8 tsp kosher salt
2 cup heavy cream
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1. In the bowl of a food processor pulse the graham crackers, cocoa powder, and butter until a fine crumb is formed and a crust forms when you push the crumbs firmly to the side of the processor bowl.
2. Dump the crumbs into a pie pan. Starting with the edges press the crumbs firmly into the pan. Bake the crust in a heated 350˚ F oven for 10 minutes.
3. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.
4. While the crust is cooling, combine water, espresso powder, and gelatin in a small bowl and let the gelatin bloom.
Add milk and chocolate to a small sauce pan and place it over medium heat. Bring to a simmer and stir until the chocolate has melted. Remove from the heat.
5. In a mixing bowl combine salt, half the sugar, with the egg yolks. Add 1/4 cup of the cream and while whisking add the hot milk and chocolate mixture.
6. Pour milk mixture into the gelatin mixture and whisk until smooth and the gelatin has completely dissolved.
7. Clean all the pots and pans.
8. In the bowl of a mixer begin whipping the egg whites until they become stiff. Slowly add the remaining 1/4 cup sugar and continue to whip until the whites become glossy and stiff.
9. Fold the egg whites into the chocolate filling until not trails of white remain.
10. Pour 3/4 of the chocolate filling into prepare pie crust. Refrigerate the pie and the remaining filling.
11. To make the whip cream whisk the remaining 1 3/4 cup of cream until it begins to stiffen. Add powdered sugar and vanilla extract until and continue to whip until stiff peaks form.
12. Whisk the extrea cold chocolate filling. Fill a pastry bag fitter with a star tip with the filling and pipe a it around the outer edge of the pie.
13. Fill the the circle you just made with whipped cream being sure not to cover up the piped chocolate.
14. Grate chocolate over the top of the pie and refrigerate for another hour.
15. Cut the pie into pieces. Serve cold.
Pimento Cheese Sandwiches
Is it the heat in August, or the midday cicadas—grinding, grinding, grinding—that reminds me of the time of year? The horizon, corn pollen and gravel dust, is smudged. This is the first August I can ever remember going outside after lunch to find it refreshing instead of repressing. The sun is as bright as on a crisp fall afternoon and the humidity is nowhere to be found—grinding, grinding, grinding.
I like to hear the corn grow and without the humidity there is nothing from which the growing pains can echo. An ambulance, siren blaring, leaves town. The sirens grow louder until the emergency vehicle turns north on the state highway. The sirens begin to fade.
It has been like this all summer and I am being robbed. I like the heat. It is the humidity and heat that makes my vegetables grow. I have nothing growing in my garden this year. By rights I should be eating okra. I should have so much zucchini I have to feed it to the chickens. I should be looking forward to garden succotash and fried chicken but my lima beans died long ago in the continual down pours of early spring. I should be picking fresh field peas and pole beans but I never even got the baskets down from the cabinet. I should be cutting sweet corn from the cob and freezing it.
I rock gently in an easy chair on the front porch and eat a pimento cheese sandwich. From out across the fields I can hear the announcer for the high school football game calling plays. I think back to all my first days back at school. I feel the butterflies in my stomach, another summer grows quite.
(Makes 2 cups)
3 cups cheddar cheese, grated (about an 8oz. block)
2 teaspoons yellow onion, grated on a micro plane
3 tablespoons jarred pimentos plus 1 tablespoon pimento juice
2/3 cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon Nathan’s mustard
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
1 tablespoon Tabasco sriracha
1 tablespoon ketchup
fresh ground black pepper to taste
- Place all the ingredients into a mixing bowl. Stir gently with a spoon until everything is combined. Let sit for an hour before serving. Store in the refrigerator tightly covered.
Pan Bagnat – Summer’s Best Sandwich
In a sense, to smush, press, or mash a sandwich could feel redundant but it’s not. It is a tool employed to make certain kinds of sandwiches better. Case in point, a Cuban, panini, a shooter’s sandwich, and pan bagnat.
I love all these sandwiches. Classics, each and everyone.
In the heat of summer, I rely on the pan bagnat, which when translated means bathed bread. It is a vegetable based sandwich from the south of France, it is light and I find it refreshing. Often the ingredients list is patterned after a Salad Nicoise subbing in anchovies for the tuna. For me I like to use omega-3 oil rich sardines but use whatever tinned fish you fancy.
The sandwich is built in layers, wrapped tightly in plastic wrap, and then some sort of weight is put on top of it. At my house the sandwich gets sandwiched between sheet trays and the milk and juice jugs set on top compress it. Because the sandwich is lightly salted and weighted after a couple of hours under pressure a lot of liquid is released only to be soaked back up by the bread.
And that’s the genius of this sandwich. In my experience it never gets soggy but instead it becomes meltingly tender, the juices mingle, and in the end this makes for a perfect sandwich on a hot summer day.
Pan Bagnat (makes 1 sandwich)
a 6-inch (15.25cm) piece of French baguette
1 tin skinless, bonleless, sardines in oil
1 small cucumber, peeled
1 medium sized tomato, sliced
5 or 6 thinly sliced red onion rings, skin removed
8 picholine olives or olive of you choice
fresh ground black pepper
- Slice the baguette in half lengthwise. On one piece of the bread coat the interior with mayonnaise. On the other spread out a tablespoon or two of salsa verde.
- Using the peeler, peel thin strips of cucumber, 10 or more of them. Lay them in an even layer across the salsa verde side. Give the cucumbers a sprinkle of salt.
- Top the cucumber with the sardines, on top of the sardines lay out the tomatoes. Season the tomatoes with a sprinkle of salt and fresh ground black pepper.
- Top the tomato with red onion. Place the olives onto the mayonnaise so they stick.
- Place the olive/mayonnaise bread on top of the sandwich. Wrap it tightly with plastic wrap and then either place a brick on top, a sheet tray with weight, something heavy. Let the sandwich remain weighted for at least three hours to overnight.
- To serve remove the plastic wrap, slice on the diagonal, and serve with a glass of chilled dry white wine.
The Best Corn on the Cob in the World
Something as simple as good corn on the cob shouldn’t be elusive. There shouldn’t be any big secrets but there is and it is this, the best corn on the cob in the world is cooked in a pressure cooker. It couldn’t be simpler to do and the results are divine.
I live in corn country. If there was a vortex for the center of a corn universe I am at ground zero. And if not the exact center I am still close enough that if it shook in the middle of the night it would knock me out of bed. What I am saying is in the Midwest we know corn, and all you have to do is visit any state fair to know I am telling you the truth.
We roast it, boil it, we scrap it off the cob, we make it into pudding, make chowder out of it, we slather ears of it with mayonnaise and sprinkle it with any number of spices, and we even deep fry it like it is a corn dog.
But when a real treat is in order, in the heat of late-summer, we set up a table under the shade tree, even put a table cloth on it along with plates and silverware. Then we grill some thick cut pork chops, cut thick slabs of ripe homegrown tomatoes and lightly salt them, maybe a green salad with a sugary vinegar and oil dressing, and we steam perfectly rip ears of sweet corn under pressure, slip the ear out of the husk from the stalk end and roll the perfectly steamed ears through sun softened sticks of butter.
Pressure cooking an ear of corn does something magnificent. It gives the kernels a snap, and by leaving the husk on the ears develop a robust corn flavor, much like wrapping tamales in a dried husk. It tastes like corn should, pure and simple.
The Best Corn on the Cob in the World
(serves 6 to 8 people)
When buying ears of corn look for husk that are vibrant and fresh. It is also always best to cook sweet corn the same day you buy it.
8 ears of sweet corn still in the husk (buy ears that fit your cooker)
1 cup water
1 stick of unsalted butter
fresh ground black pepper
Equipment: a 6 or 8 quart pressure cooker with a steamer basket
1. Set an ear of corn onto a cutting board. Using a good chef’s knife trim the stalk end back so that there is no stalk showing just kernels, about a 2-inch piece. Repeat with all the ears of corn.
2. Place each ear of corn cut end down into the steamer basket.
3. Place the cooker over medium-high heat. Add 1 cup of water and bring it to a boil. Slip the steamer basket with the corn into the pot.
4. When the water returns to a boil, lock on the lid, and bring the pressure to level 2, or high. Once pressure is reached lower the heat while maintaining pressure.
5. Set a timer for 6 minutes. When the timer sounds perform a quick or cold water release.
6. Remove the lid and use a pair of tongs to lift out the steamer basket.
7. Using a dry and clean kitchen towel grab and ear of corn by the silk and push the ear out of the husk toward the stalk end. The silks should come along with husk and the ear should be clear of silk. Repeat for all the ears. Serve immediately with lots of butter, salt, and fresh ground pepper.
(A tangent: If you own a pressure cooker you are in luck, if you don’t then you are going to want one. So go buy one, I am serious, and I don’t peddle stuff on here. Not only do pressure cookers cook things well they are going to help save the planet one meal at a time by conserving energy, water, and time. If you like that sort of stuff, conservation, then you have to get one. A 6 or 8 quart stove top cooker will feed your family delicious meals for years to come.)
I often wonder what makes a recipe so good it goes viral. I am sure it’s lots of factors. Sometimes it’s the recipe itself, other times it is what the author expresses in words through their post, and sometimes it is simply because the author is very famous. This recipe, originally posted on the blog My New Roots, has shown up on lots of other sites and was even a Genius Recipe on Food 52, and rightly so. At the very least it has gone viral in my circles.
There are lots of things to like about this bread, like stacking it with thinly sliced crisp cucumbers, topped with oily mackerel, shallots, and parsley like in the picture above. I also like it with thick cut bacon and peas shoots, or simply toasted and topped with butter and lingonberry jam. It is delicious bread. I even bake it on my Big Green Egg to give it a more authentic, and Danish, baked-in-the-dying-embers of a wood fired oven flavor.
My only problem is if I make the loaf of bread following the original recipe it comes up short. I heard the same words of disappointment from others who tried it too. The bread can be fussy, difficult to cut, crumbles, and becomes dry. Many I know have given up making it.
I am sure the loaf bakes up perfect and to the satisfaction of many people every time. It doesn’t for me, but I understand when it comes to cooking and baking there are so many variables that to place fault elsewhere is simply not taking responsibility for ones own abilities. After all, it is up to the cook to get what they want from a recipe. It is why you need to know how to cook rather then simply follow directions. Just like different musicians playing the same piece of sheet music. The song sounds very different depending on the players abilities. It is only because there are so many things about this loaf of bread I like that I stuck with it, experimented with it, until I got the loaf of bread I wanted, until I heard the song I wanted to hear.
I didn’t change much, although I used pumpkin seeds instead of sunflower and ground psyllium instead of seeds and I ground a portion of the oats and pumpkin seeds to create a finer crumb in the end product. And while I use coconut oil in some recipes I didn’t use it here nor did I use maple syrup but instead brown rice syrup was substituted. For me all these small touches made for a more manageable loaf in the end.
The fact is, made from the original recipe this loaf of bread is delicious, the taste is very satisfying, nutty, feels good to eat, and it is nourishing. I simply made adjustments which gave me the product I wanted to eat. Rest assured though, for those on a restricted diet, and those that aren’t, this seed bread is an important find. It’s worth practicing to get it right.
Seed and Grain Bread (adapted from My New Roots)
1 cup unsalted pumpkin seeds (1/2 cup coarsely ground)
1/2 cup golden flax meal, ground
1/2 cup walnuts
1 1/2 cups rolled oats ( I generally grind 1/2 cup coarsely in a coffee grinder )
2 tablespoons chia seeds
3 tablespoons powdered psyllium
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoons brown rice syrup or whatever syrup you have and want to use
3 tablespoons spectrum vegetable shortening (it’s palm oil and non-hydrogentated) or unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups hot water
1. Combine all the ingredients in a bowl. Using your hands work the mass until the shortening or butter and the other ingredients are evenly distributed.
2. Line a pate mold, or small loaf pan, with parchment. To remove air bubbles, literally, pack the dough into a 3 x 4 x 10 pate mold. Wrap the whole thing in plastic wrap and let it sit for 1 to 2 hours.
3, Heat the oven to 350˚F. Remove the plastic wrap, place the loaf pan onto a baking sheet and bake the bread for 25 minutes.
4. At the end of the baking time remove the tray from the oven and using excess parchment paper as handle lift the loaf from the pan. Place the loaf, with the parchment still under it, back onto the sheet tray and bake the bread for another 20 minutes.
5. When the timer sounds, roll the loaf so that a new side is flush with the sheet tray. Bake another twenty minutes. Do this until all four sides have been baked against the sheet tray.
6. Remove from the oven and let the bread cool completely before cutting.
7. The bread is best toasted. Store in the fridge wrapped in plastic wrap.
Note: recently I baked a loaf on my Big Green Egg. It is a fantastic way to bake this loaf. Much like it might be baked in a shop in Europe using the dying embers of a wood fired oven.
A Life-Changing Loaf of Bread (Redux)
With What Remains of Summer: Two Salad Dressings
Something like you find at a pizza shop, made of Romaine and iceberg lettuce cut into chunks, mini-wedges meant to soak up a heady dressing and topped with everything but the kitchen sink, this salad is a simple summer salad.
It doubles as a full on dinner salad or as a side. It is laced with shredded red cabbage and carrots added every bit as much for taste as color. It is topped with your hearts desire, in this case crisp cucumbers, muddy black olives, protein rich eggs, raisiny grape tomatoes, and sharp red onions. I even threw in a little bit of last nights roast chicken but chopped ham, bacon bits, or whatever you have on hand works good too.
Sometimes I like it dressed with Thousand Island, other times Ranch, and occasionally Catalina but whatever I use it is always homemade. Today I made a Blue Cheese Vinaigrette. Feel free to use whatever dressing you like but I am begging you with what remains of summer to make them homemade.
Blue Cheese Vinaigrette (makes 1/2 cup)
1 TBS. shallot, peeled and grated on a micro-planer
1 tsp. garlic, grated on a micro-planer
1/2 tsp dried oregano
3 TBS. red wind vinegar
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup blue cheese, crumbled (don’t like blue cheese, use goat cheese)
1/8 tsp fresh ground black pepper
a pinch of kosher salt
1. Combine all the ingredients in a pint Ball Mason jar. Screw the lid on tightly and shake like hell.
note: this dressing is best if made in advance. An hour will suffice but as it ages it gets better and better.
Thousand Island Dressing (make 1 cup)
2/3 cup mayonnaise
3 TBS. ketchup
2 TBS. bread and butter pickles, minced
1 TBS. shallot, peeled and minced
2 tsp. pickle juice
pinch of kosher salt
1/8 tsp fresh ground black pepper
1. Place everything into a mixing bowl. Combine with a whisk. Store in the refrigerator in a tightly sealed glass jar.
Garden Salad (serves 4 as a side salad or 2 as an entree)
1/2 large head iceberg lettuce, cored and cut into 1-inch (2.5cm) chunks (about 2 cups)
1 romaine heart, outer leaves removed, core discarded, and cut into 1-inch (2.5cm) chunks
1/3 cucumber, peeled and thinly sliced (8 rounds)
1 medium carrot, peeled and grated on the large wholes of a grater (about 1/4 cup)
1/2 cup shredded red cabbage
10 California black olives
8 grape tomatoes, halved
8 thinly sliced rings of red onion, minus any paper skin
2 hard boiled eggs, shelled and quartered
1. Place the greens in a large salad bow.
2. Attractively arrange the vegetables over the top of the greens. Dollop with 1/3 to 1/2 cup of dressing. At the table mix the dressing into the greens and vegetables using a pair of salad tongs. Serve.
The Lobster Roll’s Better More Lovable Brother
It is almost August. The month in which my parents would always load me and my siblings up in the car and we would head to the east coast for vacation. It was as much a search for a cool ocean breeze as it was a temporary reprieve from the mundane everyday Midwest. Continue reading
Rusty the Rooster, A Cock of Notable Size, Is No Longer
(Arcadia, Indiana) The barn yard is silent tonight. After a day of carefree sex, pecking Blackie the Rabbit on the head for eating chicken feed, and scaring the children when they try to collect the eggs, Rusty the Rooster is dead.
Long considered the venerable dean of a cadre of free range cocks, he ruled the roost with an iron spur and the swagger of an overqualified pimp. In his career, having been responsible for the care and well being of twenty hens, he was known for his short temper and violent outburst against challengers large, small, and of any species. He wrangled snakes, ate rats, and came face to face with coyotes all the while walking away to live another day.
Of intimidating size and broad girth, Rusty could be seen day-in and day-out in his suit of feathers the color of a dark moonless night. So dark in fact, his feathers shone with the rainbow sheen of a crude oil slick. His muscular chest puffed out in pride for his flock he wandered the barnyard with a sure footed masculinity not seen since his predecessor Red.
He held many positions on the hen house floor before winning the coq au vin coin toss in which Rhode Island Red lost his head and was steeped in red wine. Now top cock, Rusty took his promotion seriously until middle life when he became an egg addict of such voraciousness he was banned from the hen house in desperate need of a spin dry. Eventually gaining control of his addiction he was let back into the hen house but it was widely known and no secret that he had occasional relapses.
His reckless lifestyle took its toll. Loosing toes to frost bite after a long winters night out and part of his comb in an early morning scuffle with a racoon he eased into old age believing he was still in charge. He could be heard making light of his nick name, Starting Gun, knowing he was shooting blanks and was smart enough to turn over his duties to a younger rooster without a life threatening scuffle of which he assuredly would loose. He was at peace with his place in life.
Whether it be at sunrise, or in the middle of the night after an owl sighting, his cock-a-doodle-do carried far and wide and was sure to wake anyone within range when they least wanted to be. It was on these days everyone wished he didn’t do his job so well.
He went as peacefully as any chicken in the throws of a heart attack could. Rusty the Rooster is survived by Boots the Hen, the only hen this side of Cicero Creek to wear feather chaps, and a whole host of other nameless conquests. Services will be held at the ass crack of dawn in a private ceremony where he will be buried out by the old apple tree alongside his friend and long time companion Mr. Blue fin, the beta fish.
Rusty the Rooster is at rest and so shall we.
Pressure Cookers + Chicken and Dumplings
Next to farm fresh brown eggs, nothing conjures up an image of the farmhouse kitchen quite like the site of a pressure cooker. It’s Rockwellian in that it brings to mind iconic images of the aproned farmer’s wife peeling home grown carrots at the counter while on the stove behind her sits a huge pot-like contraption whistling and blowing steam through a small whole in its lid.
The image leaves you with a feeling of wholesomeness much like homemade whole wheat bread. It’s as if the pressure cooker does something magical that only the farmer’s wife knows. After all, for some reason, we always equate wholesome home cooking with the country kitchen. Continue reading
Putting the Bullet into Your Bone Broth: Consommé
If you can fortify coffee by whizzing in butter and making it into an emulsion of sorts, or make fortified wine by upping the alcohol to give it a boost, aging it, and calling it port then why not fortify your bone broth?
Great chefs have known the deliciousness of consommé for centuries. Now I am not going to repackage it, call it bullet broth or anything stupid. Consommé is fortified stock that is clarified and enriched by adding lean ground meat, finely chopped vegetables and egg whites then the whole thing is slowly brought to a simmer. A raft forms when the egg whites cook and it floats to the top clarifying the stock so it becomes crystal clear. It has a lot to do with the albumen in the eggs and ground meat but lets not get bogged down in the science of the thing.
It is refined food. It adds richness and mouth feel while deepening the flavor beyond anything salt could do for your stock. It is far more satisfying to sip a cup of consommé on a cold day, on any day for that matter, then it is swill down a jar of bone broth.
It isn’t complicated to make but it does take some attention to detail. You can’t improve poorly made stock by making it into consommé but you can make well made stock into something really special. If you were to choose to do so you can make it into a really highly refined soup worthy of holiday dinners by adding garnishes. The garnish for consommé is often vegetables cut with precision into a small dice, blanched al denté, and added to the broth just before the soup is served.
Whether or not you make your bone broth into consommé isn’t the point but the fact that you are making your stock at home is and you deserve a hearty pat on the back for that alone. If you are looking for something more refined, or an occasional treat, or you just want to upgrade your holiday menu then consommé is for you.
8 ounces ground chicken breast
1/2 cup yellow onion, minced
1/4 cup celery, small dice
1/4 cup carrot, grated
5 ounces egg whites, about 4 large eggs
1/2 cup tomato, chopped
a sprig or two of chopped parsley, minced
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1 bay leaf
1 whole clove
1/4 teaspoon whole black pepper corns
2.5 quarts cold homemade chicken stock ( the link takes you to my recipe for rich roasted beef stock which is a template for any stock, just substitute chicken bones for the beef bones)
1. Keep everything cold. The colder the better, just not frozen.
2. Combine all the ingredients except the stock in large heavy bottomed 4 quart pot. Using a wooden spoon stir everything together for 2 minutes. You need to stir it well to break up the protein strands. This is all part of the clarification process.
3. Add the cold stock and stir everything to combine.
4. Place the pot over medium low heat. Let it come to a soft boil very, very slowly. Stir often and by often I mean every 15 to 30 seconds otherwise your egg whites could burn at the bottom of the pot. Not only that by stirring you keep the albumen doing its job of clarifying.
5. As it get close to boiling stop stirring. If you see strings of egg white and your consommé is starting to look like egg drop soup stop stirring immediately. The raft needs to form and as it does it will rise to the top. Reduce the heat so the consommé does not come to a hard boil. A hard boil will destroy the raft.
6. Once the raft has stabilized and looks like a dirty egg white omelet us a spoon and make a vent in the raft. This is like taking the lid off a boiling pot, it keeps it from coming to a boil or boiling over.
7. Simmer the stock for and hour and a half. At the end of the simmering time use a ladle and ladle the stock through a fine mesh strainer, or a coffee filter, into a storage container. Season it to taste with kosher salt. If you use table or sea salt it could cloud the consommé because of impurities in the sodium.
8. Make into soup, or serve hot in your favorite tea or coffee cup.
Today was supposed to be a day off from running or lifting but sometimes you just know it’s best to go ahead and put on your favorite running shoes, put your favorite song list on the iPhone, and get it done. It feels better to do it than not.
My nature is not that of a runner. It goes against everything I can think of about myself. But I have been and with consistency. Some days it is much harder then others but running is always better then not running at all.
Lunch today! Continue reading
Thai Collard Wraps (day 5 )
A 90 Day Fitness Challenge (Breakfast Day One)
I ran out of booze last night. It is a rare occasion that I would let that happen but I did it on purpose. Even though I miscalculated by a day or two and because I have no intention of replacing it for a while, this does nothing but allow me to start my fitness challenge early.
I am still not comfortable with those words, fitness challenge but I decided to take on the task for a lot of reasons. There is money that will be donated to school lunch programs for one but mostly because I started my fitness journey almost 1 1/2 years ago and I have hit the wall over the past months. As with everything in life lots of things get in the way, we loose interest, or gain interest in other pastimes but nonetheless it is easy to move onto other things.
I kept chiding myself though. I wasn’t ready to give up on my fitness goals, I am not ready to settle for less then what I told myself I would accomplish, nor am I ready to go into a maintenance mode where I don’t loose what I have gained but don’t gain anything either. I want more.
Of course if you know me, or haven’t been around me for a while, you would know these are foreign words coming out of my mouth but somehow I have really taken to the idea of being healthy from an exercise standpoint.
So the journey continues and for the next 90 days I am going to lift myself up each day and exercise, go the the gym, and run. I am also going track my diet, make sure I am on track to eat healthy well rounded meals so that I don’t hurt my, uh hum, 50 year old body.
I think you will see I don’t plan on changing my diet a whole lot. I do want to track my macro intake so I know my percentages of carbs, fats, and protein. I want a good balance. I also have no intention of weighing myself. This challenge is about Body Mass Index (BMI) for me, it is not about losing weight. The goal is to change my body shape by gaining muscle mass and building a stronger core.
My ultimate goal isn’t that I might live longer but my hopes are I will live better.
Poached Eggs, Roasted Asparagus and Crispy Prosciutto
1 bunch of asparagus
4 pieces of prosciutto, real prosciutto is cured with salt only and the ingredients list should reflect that, if you are trying to avoid sugar or additives make sure you read the list.
red wine vinegar
1. Heat the oven to 425 degrees.
2. Place the asparagus onto a sheet tray and drizzle it with olive oil. Roll, or toss them around being sure to give them a good coating of oil. Salt and pepper the asparagus.
3. Separate the thin slices prosciutto and place them on top of the asparagus making sure to keep them from overlapping.
4. Fill a 3 1/2 quart sauce pan 2/3 full with water. Add 2 teaspoons of red wine vinegar. Bring the water to a boil then reduce the heat to low.
5. Place the asparagus and prosciutto into the oven. Roast for 15 minutes, or until the prosciutto is crispy and the asparagus tender.
6. Crack your first egg into a small bowl. Using a slotted spoon stir the water vigorously so you create a water spout/tornado kind of effect. As it slows carefully lower the small bowl to the center of the vortex with out letting the bowl touch. Gently pour the egg into the center of the vortex. Let it spin. Poach the egg for 3 minutes. Remove it to a plate and continue to poach the remaining eggs.
7. When you have finished poaching all the eggs place them all back into the water to gently warm them. Don’t leave them in the water to long or they will become hard.
8. Plate up the asparagus and prosciutto, top with two warm eggs and serve.
A Real Winner: Seared Cauliflower Steaks with Salsa Verde and Almonds
Some people collect cars, for others it is playing golf, for me, it’s barbecues. I don’t collect them per se but rather I cook with them. Their value isn’t termed by condition but in hours of use. Much like a cast iron skillet I can gauge the worth of a good smoker by the black patina that coats its inside. While many men might spend their weekends under a car, I prefer to smell like hickory rather then gasoline and motor oil. It’s how I get my kicks.
So you can imagine my excitement to I discover I won a Big Green Egg! Yea, I won. I never win anything but Debra Smith at SmithBites pulls my name from a hat of entrants and I win, I never win. Nevertheless, it is like getting the Most Improved trophy in grade school. I sort of treat it like that, it sort of looks like that and I couldn’t be any happier then to be a proud owner of one. Hell, I park it in the garage if that tells you anything. I don’t even put my car in the garage, the garage is for my tractor, and now the grill.
The whole time I am assembling my grill I think about what I am going to cook first. A steak, a brisket, venison, burgers, pork chops, butt steak, I go through all the possibilities and my head spins in anticipation. The dogs look on with concern for my well being, TrixieB even comes over and gives me a lick on the face and some big sad eyes of worry.
As I said, I don’t collect grills. I have three. One is a smoker, that is all it does, it smokes meat, charcuterie and hams at low temperatures. My other grill I hand made. It is a street food kind of contraption meant to cook fast and furious. It is for meat on a stick, small stuff that cooks through quickly. Both serve their purpose. So maybe I don’t consider my self an aficionado but I do consider myself an expert. It was my station each day at the restaurant. I worked the grill day-in and day-out for seven years. I can cook a steak, a boneless chicken breast and any kind of fish you can imagine but, like professional ball players who sometimes hit a foul ball, I do sometimes miss the mark but rarely, and I mean rarely, do I over cook a steak.
My point being, I am excited to try what many consider to be the Mercedes of grills, the Big Green Egg but I am a little apprehensive having never used one. Don’t think I wasn’t a little more then cautious too, I bought a high end Wolfe stove and it’s a piece of crap, so I know just because something has a name doesn’t mean it is going to work but I have to be on my game also. I am approaching this with a certain err of caution.
But then it hits me. Friends often accuse me of using appliances differently then anyone else, most recently crock pots were entered as evidence into this court of opinion. So I asked myself, “why would I grill a steak?” It took all of a second to answer my own question, “why not sear cauliflower steaks in a pan on the grill?” That was easy enough, decision made.
Here is why I wanted to cook cauliflower steaks. The Big Green Egg people claim a lot of things about their grill. You can cook pizza on it, bread, grill steaks or smoke brisket is what they say. Which I get, it is sort of like a wood burning oven. It is ceramic, it holds heat, and it gets very, very hot but can also hold a low temperature for a long time. It holds a lot of promise. So my thinking is, I want to put a cast iron pan on the heat, see how hot it gets and how well it sears. I know, I know, you can cook with a cast iron skillet on your stove. True, but my stove won’t impart a smokey flavor to whatever I am cooking. And that is it, that is what I want to find out, is what is the smoke flavor of the Big Green Egg going to be like. It is the one character trait I am most interested in. Will it be bitter and heavy or will it be just right. When it comes to vegetables the right amount of smoke goes a long way. To much and you have a very bitter ash tray kind of experience that will keep you from tasting any other part of your meal. And seriously, antacids are no kind of dessert.
I am not going to bore you with blow by blow cooking details other then to say the grill is great. It lights fast, it gets very hot quickly and it imparts a great flavor to whatever you are cooking. My cast iron casserole heated quickly, I actually thought it might get to hot and burn the cauliflower before it became tender on the inside, but it didn’t. It cooked the cauliflower with a perfectly light kiss of smokey flavor. Since then I have roasted chickens to great applause from the family, from me too. A tri-tip roast delicious, pork chops amazing, cauliflower steaks a home run, and the Big Green Egg, a real winner.
Seared Cauliflower Steaks (serves 2)
2 small heads of organic cauliflower
1/3 cup flat leaf parsley, minced
1 small garlic clove, grated on a microplane
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 anchovy, rinsed
1/4 cup Asiago cheese
extra virgin olive oil
half a cup of salted almonds, chopped
1. Build a charcoal fire for direct heat grilling in your grill. You want it to be very hot. Place a large cast iron skillet right in the middle of the grilling rack. Cover the grill. What happens when you cover the grill is the heat builds, the pan becomes very hot and the lid keeps a little bit of smoke flavor circulating.
2. While the grill is heating make the salsa verde. In the bowl of a mortar and pestle combine the lemon juice, garlic, anchovy, and parsley. Beat it up with the pestle. Add a two finger pinch of salt, a dash of black pepper and a few glugs worth of olive oil. Stir to combine, taste and add more oil it the salsa is to tart. Stir in the cheese.
3. Trim the stalk ends of the cauliflower. Using a good sharp knife cut one steak each out of the center of each head. To do this turn the floret side of the cauliflower down. Hold it firmly and place you knife onto the stalk. Cut through to the florets. Roughly gauge and inch in width and make another cut leaving yourself a nice center cut cauliflower steak. Repeat these steps with the second head of cauliflower. Use the loose outer edges of the cauliflower for another dish.
4. Drizzle the steaks with olive oil and season them with salt. Take them out to the grill. If you have a thermometer on your grill it should read about 600˚ F. Nevertheless when you open the lid the cast iron pan should be beginning to smoke and when you place the cauliflower into the pan it should sizzle. Cook each side until of the steak until it is very deeply caramelized. Remove the steaks from the pan.
5. Drizzle the steaks with the salsa verde, top with almonds, minced parsley and serve.
No Recipe Greek Nachos
You don’t need a recipe. You can make these from scratch and it will take you less then 10 minutes. Of course that doesn’t include grocery time, I am making the assumption you did a little pre-planning. Although when I made this the other day it came out of leftovers, no planning required. (Don’t want to make the tzatziki, sub in ranch dressing and go for it.)
Pile good quality corn chips onto a plate. If you are making the ranch/tzatziki sauce scoop about 1/2 cup of mayonnaise into a bowl, just eyeball it don’t dirty a measuring cup. Add a splash of buttermilk, milk, or kefir and whisk it to make a smooth dressing. To thick, thin it out with another splash of liquid. Add a half a tablespoon of chopped dill. No dill, use dried oregano just make sure to let it sit and hydrate in the dressing for a few minutes. Again just put it into the palm of your hand, does it look like half a tablespoon? Toss it in, add salt, pepper and a little lemon juice if you want. Stir it again then set it aside until you get the rest of the ingredients together.
Slice some grape tomatoes in half, cut some olives, pit them if you have the fancy kind but pitted California black olives work fine. Chop some cucumbers, I like the baby kind but big ones work too. Any kind of cooked chopped-up ground meat works here. Don’t have any animal protein around, drain a can of chickpeas and rinse them.
Drizzle the chips with the tzatziki, top with everything else, add a bit of crumbled feta, a sprinkle of minced parsley and green onion, if your heart is in it, and serve.
My Favorite Tofu Scramble
It’s not for a lack of eggs. I raise chickens, I have more eggs then I can use most days.
So what drives me to this dish. I especially like sprouted tofu, a lot. It’s not just tofu though. I like the process, the feel of the tofu as I crumble it between my fingers onto a plate, the precision of cutting the potatoes into tiny squares so they cook faster but stay crispy on the outside while remaining creamy in the interior, the smell of the curry powder when I sprinkle it into the hot pan, or the sizzle of the tomato sauce.
I like this dish because it requires a few minutes to make but isn’t complicated to get to the table.
I like it because it is doable on a weekday morning.
I like it because it feels nutritious to eat, as if it is resetting something in my body.
I like it because after eating I am still hungry for the day.
Curried Tofu Scramble (2 servings)
10 ounces sprouted firm tofu, crumbled
1 russet potato, scrubbed and diced into 1/4 inch squares
peanut or grape seed oil
1 green onion, thinly sliced
1 jalapeno, chopped
1 tablespoon curry powder
1/4 cup tomato sauce
kosher salt and fresh ground pepper cilantro, optional
1. Place a 12 inch non-stick skillet over medium high heat. Add enough oil to the pan to generously coat the bottom of the pan. Add the potatoes. Season them with salt and pepper. Gently toss the potatoes in the pan until they are brown on all sides, crispy but still creamy in the center.
2. Add the tofu, jalapeno, and green onion to the pan. Season again with salt and black pepper. Stir to combine the sprinkle the curry powder over the tofu. Stir again being sure to evenly stain all the pieces of tofu with the nice yellow color of the curry. Add the tomato sauce and stir. If need be add a tablespoon or more of water.
3. Once everything is heated through, the right consistency, and seasoned to your liking divide the scramble onto two plates, garnish with cilantro and serve.
Hydrating Droopy Vegetables
While it is not ever my first choice, hydrating droopy vegetables is worth the effort if your vegetables aren’t too far gone. I am not talking about trying to save rancid moldy vegetables but rather the carrots I bought yesterday that were crisp, fresh and gorgeous but somehow, within a 24 hour span in the fridge, have gone wilty, maybe even beyond wilty but nowhere near rotten.
It pains me to throw out food. Generally I would make a stock with vegetables like this just to use them up but I was really counting on this particular gorgeous bunch carrots for dinner. I wanted to roast them in a high heat oven, taste their sugary goodness alongside a perfect roast chicken, but not now. At the end of an hour in a hot oven they would be nothing but mush. Continue reading
Perfect Microwave Broccoli
Rarely do I use my microwave. I use it to take the chill off my coffee. I heat leftovers for lunch. Whenever a recipe calls for “butter, melted” onto the glass turntable the fat filled Pyrex measuring cup goes. I don’t cook with my microwave in any real culinary sense. I sometimes wonder why I have it, why I allow it to take up precious counter space when I know everything for which I use it can be done just as easily on the stove.
Of course there is also the fear that has been around as long as the microwave, that somehow it poses some sort of health risk. I don’t know if it does or not but if I error on the side of solid scientific research, it would tell me the microwave is harmless. Even so, I will lean on the side of caution and repeat the mantra I continually voice to my children, don’t put your face right up to the microwave door to watch as a cooking pizza pocket swells and shrinks, as if it is coming to life, and please, stand back an arms length.
I don’t believe the microwave has ever lived up to its original space age expectations. Nonetheless I read an article touting the healthy aspects of cooking vegetables in a microwave. Because it basically steams the vegetables, the vegetables retain a large portion of nutrients then if you used other cooking methods. It made sense, and I am buying in, or at least I want to and there are lots of reasons why. Continue reading
A Simple Smoothie
“Last night I had a glass of wine. Not so much to celebrate the new year but more to bury the last, there have been better years.” This is what I had to say on New Year’s Day. I am still mulling over my words.
As is my usual, I didn’t make a resolution. I am more likely to sit in a chair and assess last year rather then try to change the new one. Assess I did, and of all the good things that happened, and good things did happen, I made a conscious decision in October of 2013 to become physically fit. Continue reading
Dinner Rolls and a Bonus Southern White Loaf
I have been, and will continue to be a believer in simple good recipes that follow great technique. I often feel as though complicated directions and hard to find ingredients set us up for disappointment and failure. Don’t get me wrong. I understand the law of diminishing return. That today’s worlds best recipe will be boring tomorrow.
We need to search out new tastes, techniques and flavors but it is also important to return to the classics. For me, I also like to share my childhood favorites with my children. These rolls are a part of me. They connect me to my past, and by sharing them, they connect me to my children. Continue reading
Let’s Talk Turkey
As with anything in cooking there are many ways to cook a turkey. It is only limited by your imagination. Beer can, the Louisiana Turducken, deep fried, you name it and someone has attempted it, some with better results then others. Simply put, I am from the midwest. When it comes to the holidays I want to know what I am getting into. On the holidays I don’t like change, I am good with tradition and see no need to break with it. Continue reading
Farmhouse Chops in Wing Sauce
We love our wings in the Midwest but until I made wing sauce, equal parts real butter to hot sauce, I hadn’t had wing sauce. Sadly, and I know it is about cost, I doubt a single wing shop uses real butter in their sauce anymore. The good thing is you can have the real deal, easily, and without having to buy a pre-made version that is less then stellar. Continue reading
Shrimp and Okra Stew
Some lucky people grew up eating okra; there are even families with rich okra histories that they pass on from generation to generation. I am not one of those lucky people.
I came late to okra — or at least my love for it did. Since I didn’t come from a family of okra-eaters, I always remained skeptical of the vegetable. My relationship with it was like that of boys and girls at an elementary school dance: standing at opposite corners of the room. It’s not that I didn’t like okra — it was that I had no idea what to do with it. I preferred to stay in my comfort zone and stick to eating green beans. Continue reading
Barbecue Chicken Pizza (+ How You Should Think About Prep)
This recipe is a throwback. It was extremely popular in the 1990s — along with duck confit and tuna steaks, seared rare. I still see it now and again on menus, but it has largely disappeared due to overexposure; we became bored with it simply because it was everywhere.
But, it’s been long enough. Let’s dust off the recipe for barbecue chicken pizza and give it another taste. I can practically make this pizza in my sleep — it was a bar special at a restaurant I worked in, and I made so many of them that I still have dreams about it.
I also realize that I no longer cook like I did at the restaurant. I only have four mouths to feed at home, and the prep for any given dish needs to be relatively quick.
As such, I’m a firm believer in this theory: If you are going to take the time to make one of something, you might as well make two or more. This belief holds water especially when it comes to baked potatoes, doughs, and most of all, whole chickens.
To save time, it also helps to organize and think like a chef — this involves weekly menu planning and daily ingredient prep.These simple steps help me to run an efficient home kitchen, reduce overall waste, and improve time management. Before I adopted this philosophy, I wasted an awful lot of time.
I still cook what I want, but I make those decisions on Monday when I menu plan. Ultimately, I aim to complete the prep work for five meals while cooking the first three dinners of the week. That means that planning ahead can be a lesson in patience: If I want to eat this pizza, I have to wait until the end of the week when most of the prep is done. But once you are in the habit of planning ahead, you’ll find yourself with more time — and better dinners.
Barbecue Chicken Pizza
Author Notes: I make my own pizza dough, and I always make enough for two to three pizzas. I divide the dough into portions after the first rise and freeze what I don’t want to use immediately. When I want to use the frozen dough, I simply thaw it (this counts as the second rise), roll it out, and assemble the pizza. This particular dough is based on Alice Waters’ recipe from “Chez Panisse Pasta, Pizza, and Calzone”. It is the same dough I always use and trust.
Makes one 10 x 12-inch pizza
3/4 cups warm water
2 teaspoons active dry yeast
1/4 cup whole wheat flour
1 3/4 cup bread flour
1 tablespoon whole milk
2 tablespoons olive oil
3/4 teaspoons Kosher salt
2 1/2 to 3 cups mixed onions, sliced
2 cups shredded chicken
1 1/2 cup Gouda (some people like smoked Gouda but I find it too strong)
4 ounces fresh mozzarella
1 to 2 serrano peppers, sliced into thin rounds
1/2 cup Memphis-style barbecue sauce
Olive oil, for sautéing the onions
Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
1 tablespoon parsley, chopped
1 tablespoon cilantro, chopped
1. Combine the water and yeast in the bowl of a stand mixer or mixing bowl. Let the yeast dissolve, then add the rest of the ingredients. Use the dough attachment on a stand mixer (or a heavy-duty wooden spoon) and mix the dough until smooth; add more flour if the dough seems too wet, but don’t add more than a 1/4 cup at a time. Place the dough on the counter and knead until smooth and elastic. Place the dough into a bowl, cover it with a damp, warm towel, and let it rise for 2 hours, or until it has doubled in size.
2. Punch the dough down and knead it for a minute. Divide the dough in two, place one half in a plastic bag, and freeze it. Place the remaining piece back into the bowl, cover with the damp towel, and let it rise for another hour.
3. While the dough is rising for the second time, place a sauté pan over medium heat. Add a glug or two of olive oil to the pan and then add the onions. Let the onions wilt, get gooey, and caramelize slowly. Remove them from the heat.
4. After the second rise, remove the dough from the bowl and flatten it out into a small disk. Let the dough rest for 10 minutes.
5. Heat your oven to 500° F. This is a good time to use your pizza stone; if you don’t have one, use a sheet tray lined with parchment paper.
6. Roll the dough into a 12- by 10-inch square, place it onto a piece of parchment paper, then put it onto a peel or sheet tray. Pour 1/3 cup of BBQ sauce onto the center of the dough. Working from the middle and, using the back of a spoon, spread it in a spiral motion until the sauce reaches the edges of the dough.
7. Combine the remaining BBQ sauce with the shredded chicken and stir until the chicken is evenly coated.
8. Spread a layer of red onions onto the pizza, followed by the chicken, Gouda, mozzarella, and finally, the serranos. Sprinkle some freshly ground pepper and salt over everything, then slide the pizza onto the stone.
9. Reduce the heat to 450° F. Bake for 15 minutes. Once it has browned to your liking, remove the pizza from the oven and let it cool for 5 minutes before cutting. Top with cilantro and parsley and serve.
Classic Creamy Coleslaw
My favorite kind of coleslaw is the classic, creamy variety; it comforts me because I grew up eating it at a mom-and-pop catfish bar whose coleslaw was second to none. Their version was made with finely grated cabbage and bright orange ribbons of carrot. It was a bit tart and a little sharp — the way horseradish can be — because the cabbage was freshly grated. It paired perfectly with deep-fried catfish, whose crispy tails tasted of bacon. This is the slaw by which I judge all others. Continue reading
Memphis Style Barbecue Nachos
Great barbecue is about the cut of meat, the smoke, the rub, and the sauce. But just because sauce is only one part of the equation, doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be excellent. In fact, barbecue sauce should be so delicious that you can use it for much more than simply dipping or brushing. Continue reading
There is something about big hunks of meat cooked over long periods at low heat that appeals to us at a very basic level. Pit-cooking traditions like hog roasts, barbacoa, and luaus aren’t just barbecues — they’re celebrations. They conjure up visions of earthen pits and long buffet tables with folding chairs, all set up for a multitude of guests.
This kind of cooking takes judgement and practice, though, so unless you host these kinds of events on a regular basis, you’re more than likely cooking blind. After all, you probably aren’t buying a whole lamb or calf more than a couple times a year. It could take you a few years to get it right. Continue reading
Small Batch Barbacoa Beef for Tacos
All About Smoking + A Pulled Pork Sandwich
Barbecue is a far cry from the days past when you were simply handed a platter of meat and sent outside to a grill. I mean, you don’t see leg of lamb braising contests at every turn, or weekend-long fish sautéing competitions — at least not yet — and while you won’t see men look longingly at a stock pot, they will ogle a smoker or a grill like it’s the centerfold of a men’s magazine. Continue reading
Three Bean Salad, Redux
Now that picnic season is upon us, I get nostalgic over classic summertime fare. There is nothing quite like a family reunion over fried chicken and a potluck dinner, tables threatening to buckle under the weight of all the CorningWare and Pyrex.
Of course, there are the old favorites: green bean casserole, scalloped potatoes, pea salad with bacon and mayonnaise, three bean salad, and most certainly a mustardy potato salad — and, if luck is with me, an old-fashioned custard pie sprinkled with a little nutmeg. I love all these foods — but this year, I want something new. Continue reading
I am a last-minute baker — a procrasti-baker. As such, I am most likely going to make the least complicated sorts of desserts and baked goods. On the occasions I have my act together, I like to make cakes — and even then, I want them to fit my schedule. At one point, I believe, Mandarin Orange Cake — also known as “Dream Cake” or “Pig Pickin’ Cake” — was made from scratch. Continue reading
Mandarin Orange Cake
Morels with Asparagus & Five Reason to Eschew Recipes
There was a time when my father and I would have walked the distance up the hill to Gordon’s Rocky Top. We would have crossed the creek, stepping gingerly across the slick rocks like seasoned hopscotch players, hiked to the fork in the path, taken the trail on the left, and then quietly ascended the long, wooded hill. On our way, we would have walked past the pond, and if we were lucky, we might have spooked an owl or happened upon some white tail deer. Continue reading
Poulet á l’ Estragon (Chicken Tarragon)
Spring always seems rushed. It’s as if we spend months climbing a mountain called winter, and when we finally reach the peak, we’re so grateful that we run as fast as we can down the other side — past spring and directly into summer. It’s even true for the vegetables we’re attracted to — the fleeting cool weather crops that are harvested and eaten before spring has truly begun. Continue reading
The New Steak (+ a Recipe for Duck Teriyaki)
A whole roast duck is as satisfying to eat as it is pretty on the table; while foie gras is a rich man’s food and confit is pure comfort, a delicious seared and crispy-skinned duck breast is one of the real luxuries of eating.
Duck is versatile, but quirky to cook. And when something is unusual, people tend to keep it at an arm’s distance in a that’s my crazy uncle sort of way. But I’m here to say that it is simple to prepare; no matter which cut you’re preparing, cooking duck comes down to two things: rendering off the fat, and getting the skin crispy. Continue reading
Greek Style Shrimp in Tomato Sauce (+ 10 Tips to Better Sautéing)
There is something wonderful about a one-pan sauté. Sure, a quick dinner and easy clean-up would be enough to pass muster for most, but what I love is how wonderfully delicious dinner becomes as you build flavors in the pan. Starting at the bottom of the pan, there is an order to how things go; it is not a dump-it-and-go process. Continue reading
Cuban Style Skirt Steak + 5 Tips for a Better Sear
I won’t lie to you — I like steak. To be specific, I like pan-seared steak. It’s the roar of the hood fan as it comes up to speed; the exhilaration and anticipation of the pop, crackle, and sizzle of red meat on a hot pan; and the wisps of white smoke curling around the steak’s edges, like a passionate embrace that gently kisses the bits of ground black peppercorn and fat. And, as always, the resulting taste of the brown butter against the crispy-edged meat. This kind of carnivorous zeal should be illegal.
Chicken Legs in Tomato Gravy ( + 5 Tips to a Better Braise)
Finally, the long standing blanket of snow has begun to recede and melt back into the dark earth, but not without leaving behind a disheveled landscape — like lifting an area rug you have meant to clean under for the past year. It is ugly outside, and depressing too. It is the worst time of year. The melt-off signals the beginning of the end of winter, but the skeptic in me knows that the weather is more than likely crying wolf. Either way it sets a spark to the natural cycle of things.
A bee flying in the orchard still bare of leaves, lands on my arm, walks around a moment, then looks up at me with sad puppy dog eyes and flies off. A couple of raccoons out during daylight forage the field for last season’s spilt corn. At the wood’s edge an opossum trips on a branch and falls fifty feet before landing with a thud in the remnants of a wet snow bank. I realize it is time to join the others as well — to come out of hibernation, to replenish.
But I have a problem. I am sick of kale. Even my beloved collards put me off. The hell with you turnip and rutabaga, for you’ve left a bitter taste in my mouth. I push bowls of Brussels sprouts away as if I am a child again, and my mother is trying to force feed them to me (she even threatens me with no dessert). I have eaten my greens in all forms, and I can’t stand them anymore. I have hit the winter vegetable wall. With the exception of but a few, the only way vegetables are still palatable is with heavy cream and bits of bacon.
Through it all, somehow potatoes taste good — more then good — amazing. Anything resembling a jar of sunshine helps (like last summer’s canned tomatoes with basil tucked into the red pulp). Going outside helps, too, because the musty smell of thawing earth and the gentle heat of the midday sun gives me hope for what is to come. Luckily, any food on a platter that resembles comfort is still a hit at the table– such as these chicken legs, tenderly covered with a parchment lid and slow cooked in a Dutch oven until they become sticky. A dish that’s good anytime of the year, but especially welcome during the wait until spring.
Tips for Better Braising:
1. Always caramelize the protein. Mind you, many times the vegetables are caramelized too, but not always. The deeper the caramelization, the deeper the flavor of the finished dish. Be mindful of the fond (the brown bits stuck to the bottom of the pan) — don’t let them burn. The ideal braise includes a beautiful fond, which occurs when the bottom of the pot is schmeared with brown bits of cooked-on-goodness that releases into the sauce when you add liquid. For good measure, always use a wooden spoon and scrape along the bottom of the pot to make sure that nothing is left behind.
2. If a recipe calls for vegetables, always add more. If a recipe calls for 1-cup of mirepoix, don’t be afraid to add 2 cups. A braise, as far as I know, has never been hurt by too many vegetables.
3. A parchment lid is one of my favorite kitchen cooking methods. I don’t know the exact science behind it other than that it works (and makes your food better). It allows, at least in my mind, the food that sits atop the liquid to brown and caramelize while preventing the liquid from evaporating.
4. Just because meat is cooked in a liquid doesn’t mean it won’t dry out. Have you ever eaten a piece of pot roast that is so hard to swallow that it gives you the hiccups? It is most likely because the roast was too lean or overcooked. Be mindful of cooking times and fat content.
5. If a braise only calls for a mirepoix to be used in the broth, at the end of the cooking time I will oftentimes remove the meat, degrease the braising liquid, and purée the vegetables to make the sauce creamy without having to add even a touch cream.
Serves 4 or more
For the chicken legs:
8 to 10 chicken legs, skin-on
1 cup celery, diced
1 1/2 cup yellow onion, diced
1 1/2 cup carrots, thinly sliced on a bias
12 to 18 garlic cloves, chopped
1 cup dry white wine
2 cups tomato purée
1 cup vegetable broth or water
2 bay leaves
1 1/2 tablespoon rosemary, minced
1 1/2 tablespoon flat leaf parsley, minced
Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
1. Season the chicken on all sides with salt and pepper. Heat the oven to 375˚ F.
2. Place a large sauté over medium high heat. Add enough olive oil to the pan so that the bottom is just coated. Add the chicken legs and brown them generously on all sides. Adjust the heat as necessary. Add the carrots, celery, and onions to the pan. Season them with salt and pepper. Let the vegetables brown.
3. Once the veggies brown add the garlic and rosemary. Stir the veggies around and once the garlic is fragrant nestle the chicken legs comfortably with the veggies. You want you veggies and chicken spooning. Add the white wine and let it reduce to almost nothing. While the wine is reducing use a wooden spoon to scrape up all the good bits stuck to the bottom of the pan. Add tomato and vegetable broth. Bring the liquid to a boil, cover with a parchment lid, then slide it into the heated oven for 45 minutes to 1 hour.
For the mashed potatoes:
6 to 8 russet potatoes, depending on their size, peeled and cut into 1 inch rounds
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/3 cup whole milk, possibly more
kosher salt and fresh ground white pepper
1. While the chicken is in the oven make the mashed potatoes. Place the sliced peeled potatoes into a large pot and add enough cold water to cover them by 4 inches. Add a tablespoon of kosher salt. Place the pot over high heat and bring it to a boil. Once it is boiling reduce the heat to keep the pot from boiling over. After about 15 minutes check the potatoes to see if they are done by inserting a kitchen knife into the middle of one of the larger pieces of potato. If the larger ones are done you are assured the smaller ones will be too. The knife should easily pierce the potato.
2. Drain the potatoes into a colander. Let them steam for a few minutes to rid themselves of excess moisture. Then using a ricer, a mixer or a stand mixer with a paddle attachment either rice, or mix the potatoes till broken down. Add the butter and mix some more. Season the potatoes with a touch of salt and fresh ground white pepper. Add the 1/3 cup of milk. Mix and then taste for seasoning. Adjust the seasoning as necessary and add more milk if the potatoes are too stiff. Be careful as to how liquidy you make the potatoes. Error on the stiff side because the tomato gravy will loosen them up a lot as they co-mingle on the platter.
3. Plate the potatoes onto a large platter. Top the potatoes with the chicken legs then the carrots, onions and celery. Ladle the tomato gravy over all and sprinkle on the parsley. Serve.
This is a television feature piece I did recently on venison. Click continue reading for the recipe.
Eastern European “Style” Venison Meatballs
Spicy Chickpea and Sour Tomato Curry with Pasta
Whenever a simple, delicious dish — like this spicy chickpea curry — is placed next to me at the table, it doesn’t just make me happy; I become protective of it in a selfish, rabid dog sort of way.
This recipe is based on Indian khatte channe, which is grounded on good Indian home cooking — but to be fair, it could also have easily been born out of a 1970’s hippie cafe in which cheap eats and a flair for the exotic were popular. In fact, Moosewood Restaurant and its cookbooks always come to mind when I cook this stew. But no matter where it came from or how it found its way to my table, I can tell you that there is a lot to like about this pasta, from the first forkful of twisted noodles loaded with tangy sauce to the last spoonfuls of creamy chickpeas.
I could start with the fact it is vegan, but that will scare some of you off, just as if I said it was gluten-free. In this case it is both, but the good news is that after you try this dish, it won’t really matter.
What does matter is how easily it comes together and the fact it can easily come from your pantry. When I make this, I head to the pantry with a tray in hand and begin by collecting all my ingredients and equipment.
What stands out during the pantry search-and-seizure is tamarind concentrate. It is a bit of an oddball ingredient, but one I always have on hand. Unlike tamarind paste, which requires soaking and straining, this concentrate dissolves easily in water. It has the consistency of molasses, and it gives this stew its characteristic tang. A popular substitute for tamarind is equal parts lime juice and brown sugar, but this only works when a small amount of tamarind is called for in a recipe, so it probably wouldn’t work here. If you like Pad Thai and ever wanted to cook it at home, tamarind really is an essential ingredient to have on hand.
When it comes to curry powder, I prefer Madras — I like the fragrance of kari leaves — but feel free to use your favorite. For more heat, you can add more cayenne; just be sure you know how hot your curry powder is before you get too crazy.
As always, when it comes to caramelizing onions, I don’t know how long it will take for them to become a deep, dark brown. It could be 15 minutes or 45, and maybe more depending on your pan, the heat, and the sugar content of your onions. I do know, however, that you shouldn’t cheat yourself; color them deeply, as they are essenial to this dish.
Assuming you have done your prep, once the onions are caramelized, this becomes a dump-and-pour procedure followed by a short simmering period just for good measure.
Spicy Chickpea and Sour Tomato Curry with Pasta
Two 14.5-ounce cans of chickpeas, drained
1 to 2 tablespoon tamarind concentrate mixed with 1/2 cup of water (more tamarind will make the dish more sour)
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups yellow onion, julienned
1 tablespoon fresh garlic, minced
2 cups tomato sauce
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, peeled and minced
1 teaspoon turmeric
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
2 teaspoons Madras curry powder, or your favorite kind
1 teaspoon cumin seeds, coarsely ground
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
Cilantro, green onion, or both
1 pound thin long noodles: wheat or rice or gluten free, use whatever floats you boat
1. Place a 3 1/2-quart heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat. Add 3 tablespoons of oil to the pot and then the onions. Season the onions with salt. Cook the onions, patiently, until they begin to brown and become deeply colored. Stir them often enough that the onions on top brown at the same pace as those on bottom. Don’t do this too fast; you want melted, gooey onions, not seared onions. Take your time; it takes a while.
2. Once the onions are browned to your liking, add the garlic. Once you smell the garlic, add the turmeric, curry powder, cumin, and cayenne pepper. Give it a stir then add the tamarind, tomatoes, chickpeas and ginger. Reduce the heat and let the sauce simmer. Taste the sauce for salt and adjust as necessary.
3. Cook the noodles.
4. Once the noodles are done, drain them, and put them on a platter. Top the noodles with the chickpea stew and top with green onions or cilantro or both. Serve.
Chef Leichte spun on the balls of his feet. A millisecond ago he was heading forward, and I was following him. Now we are face to face, and he pokes my chest with his finger. “Commit!” he says in a raised voice, his chef’s toque rising from his head and towering above me like the leaning Tower of Pisa. “Quit asking all these questions and cook! Commit to the recipe; if it fails, we will fix it, but realize you will probably learn more from your mistakes than if I coddle you through the process.” Continue reading
Tips for Reading Recipes (& Chinese Style Honey Hoisin Sticky Ribs)
5 Resolutions to Make You a Better Home Cook (+ Pot-Roasted Collard Greens )
To be honest I lost interest in New Year’s Eve a long time ago. If memory serves me, the last New Year’s Eve I celebrated was sometime late last century. For that matter, I am not sure what year it was that I last made it to midnight.
It doesn’t mean I don’t celebrate, I do, I am just not in a rush to do so as the bell tolls. I guess I prefer to ease into it casually, like when my eyes pop open after a good night’s rest.
But let me just add: I am skeptical of New Year’s too. Maybe because we try to inject new vigor into failed promises, or because we also act as though eating a particular meal, either cleansing or lucky, is going give the rest of the year promise. The whole holiday feels dubious to me, with one exception: collard greens.
As always, combine collards with beans and rice and you can feel as though you are entering the new year at a low with nowhere to go but up. But there is another way of looking at it too. In my family, collard greens are not a one-hit wonder only to be served once during the year. Nor are they a fad. They are steadfast and as honest as the day is long. Sure you could hang out with the pretty people and eat kale, but kale isn’t collards. Neither are mustard or turnip greens. For me, because they are like the brainy girl who likes to read, collards are far more interesting. So much so that you want them around all year and with collards around there is no need to go up.
But, as always, sometime between Christmas and the new year I will put on the horsehair shirt, become all monkish and reflective, and try to set a direction for the new year ahead. I can assure you, in the kitchen, collards will act as a reliable compass.
Five Kitchen Resolutions for the New Year to Make You a Better Home Cook
1. Try to follow fewer fads and learn more technique. Take collards, for example. I had always simmered them in the typical manner with pork, pepper flakes, and liquid. While I still love cooking them this way, it wasn’t until I learned to pot-roast them vis-à-vis Thomas Keller that I picked up a new technique. And, I might add, one I am grateful to have in my tool kit.
2. It has been a battle this year with getting the kids to eat what is put in front of them, but, rather than forcing them to try new things, I am going to make more kid-friendly meals (that doesn’t mean junk) with the expectation they eat other meals without complaint. I also have this notion that if I feed them exotic foods all the time they will have to deal with the law of diminishing returns in that they will become bored with food. I also suppose I want them to have things left to explore and look forward to as they grow older.
3. Break out of your routine and explore other cuisines more often.
4. Choose three new dishes to master and do so. You know some say it takes cooking something a thousand times before you really understand how to cook it. While this might be a little extreme, I do like to be able to cook a dish multiple times and have it turn out the same each time. This takes practice.
5. Search out and explore five new ingredients.
Pot-Roasted Collard Greens ( Recipe adapted from Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc at Home )
8 cups collard greens, stems removed and leaves chopped into 1-inch squares, then rinsed twice and dried
1/2 cup bacon lardons
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Heat the oven to 300˚ F.
- Place a heavy-bottomed pot or Dutch oven (with a tight-fitting lid) over medium heat. Add the bacon and let it start to render, then add the butter.
- Once the butter has melted, add half of the greens. Season them with a heavy pinch of salt and freshly ground pepper. Stir and turn under the greens so they are coated with fat. Add the rest of the greens and repeat the seasoning and turning.
- Cover the pot with the tight fitting lid and slide it into the oven. Roast for 1 hour to 1 hour and 15 minutes. Remove from the oven, remove the lid, and stir. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Put the lid back on and let the collards set until ready to serve.
The Best, 5-Minute Smoked Salmon Appetizer
Last summer, my mother asked me to make cupcakes for the June birthdays. We have several in June and, in order to make it easy, we celebrate them all at once. Nevertheless, I forgot to make the cupcakes and I was on my way to the party when I remembered. “Oops,” or as Vivian, my daughter who never misses an opportunity to repeat a cuss word, noted from the back seat, “Oops” was more like a cuss word or three. Continue reading
Mustard Crusted Beef Tenderloin with Sauce Robert
Through most of the month of December, I spend a lot of my time preparing recipes that taste great but don’t absorb a lot of my time. It’s the holidays after all, and not only do I want to enjoy them but I have other things to do: trim the tree, make cookies, go to the neighbors’ caroling party where they serve the punch that requires a second cup of coffee and a little extra recovery time the next morning. Continue reading
A Classic Potato Gratin With No Recipe
Have you ever had a friend who knows no strangers? The kind of genuine person to whom everyone in the room gravitates — someone who doesn’t have to work at meeting new people, because somehow it is coded into their DNA for others to like them?
For me a potato gratin is just such a friend. A friend who hangs out with all the cool entrees too: a mustard crusted beef tenderloin taking a bath in a flavorful sauce or a perfectly roasted chicken with crackly brown skin are its best friends.
But, to its credit, a potato gratin knows enough to complement all the other dishes and, with the exception of a few rules, remains unfussy enough not to need a recipe and somehow is always perfectly put together for any holiday gathering.
How to Make Potato Gratin Without a Recipe
1. Peel your potatoes. For a 10-inch oval gratin pan, I like to use six to eight medium-sized Yukon Gold potatoes — about 2 1/2 pounds. (Don’t worry: If you overdo it, you can snack on leftovers after step 6.)
2. Slice the potatoes an 1/8-inch thick, ideally on a mandoline right into a heavy bottomed pot. Add a few minced cloves of garlic, about a teaspoon of salt, and roughly equal parts of water and milk to cover the potatoes.
3. Bring it to a gentle boil over medium heat and cook the potatoes till just tender but not falling apart, then drain. By cooking the potatoes most of the way through in flavorful liquid, you don’t have to worry about exact quantities of liquid and seasoning later on.
4. While the potatoes are cooling, grate approximately 2 1/2 cups of Gruyère or Comté cheese — they are traditional but expensive. Other cheese in the family would be gouda, fontina, or American Gruyère.
5. Get out an oval gratin, or any casserole, pie pan or dish you choose. Just take note: with a smaller circumference dish you have more creamy interior and less crunchy top and, obviously, the reverse is true for a larger gratin. Place around half the potatoes into the gratin (they don’t need to look pretty, yet). Season with salt and white pepper. Top with half the cheese and drizzle about 1/2 cup of cream over the top.
6. Starting with one slice of potato placed in the middle of the gratin, spiral the potatoes around until you reach the gratin edges. Make it look pretty — it makes a difference.
7. Top with the remaining cheese, then drizzle another 1/2 cup or so of cream over the top and around the edges so it gets to the bottom, too.
8. Bake at 425˚ F until brown and bubbly, about 30 minutes. Don’t overcook the gratin so it dries out. You want a little cream to remain on the bottom. Serve.
Shoofly Pie, with or without gluten
In the dessert world, there is a whole mess of what I like to call pantry pies: pecan, pumpkin, the chess family, derby, custards (like sugar cream), and last but not least, shoofly (or its aliases: shoo-fly, molasses, sorghum, or Montgomery). All of them are good with coffee, exceptional for breakfast, and of course, we all know that they are standards at the Thanksgiving table.
The least known of this group is the shoofly. While most have heard of it, few, I will wager, have eaten it. Maybe it’s all the molasses, which can be overwhelming, or maybe it’s because it isn’t much known outside of Pennsylvania Dutch country and a few select pockets of the South. Continue reading
While it might not be haute cuisine, chopped meat is surely economical, flavorful, and versatile. From meatballs to croquettes to tacos, it can do it all and can do it with ease. It is an uncomplicated ingredient, often interchangeable, and more often than not is a beacon signaling out comfort food to anyone within range.
Take for example chopped steak: it is nothing new. Salisbury steak for instance has been around since 1897. Named after a doctor, Dr. Salisbury, who created it. Salisbury was also a believer in a low-carb diet, fancy that. Continue reading
Recipe Reclamation: Bringing Back Chopped Steak
Marcella’s Broccoli and Potato Soup
Each year I look forward to making this recipe with the first broccoli from the fall garden. I’ll make it several times from mid-autumn to early winter. It requires but a few humble ingredients which, when combined in the soup pot, are as satisfying as knowing you have an uncommitted hundred dollar bill in your pocket.
As with many soups of few ingredients, it requires attention to detail, your best technique, as well as quality ingredients. But if you are anything like me, you find as much enjoyment in the process as the reward.
The process for me starts with chicken stock made from scratch. I use old hens from my flock each year to make my stock, but any bones would work great. From the carcasses I make a very richly flavored stock which I preserve by canning. I use the homemade canned stock for many soups throughout the cold months. I urge you, if you don’t already, to learn how to make good stock even if you don’t preserve it by canning.
The next step for me is in my garden. I walk the rows of heirloom broccoli looking for tight, almost purple in color, florets. I give them a delicate squeeze for firmness and if they make the grade I get out my pocket knife and cut the stalks. It doesn’t stop there: there are the firm, yellow-fleshed potatoes and the pungent basil leaves stripped from thick, late-summer stalks.
All the ingredients are laid out on the counter top. I have an urge to stick close to Marcella’s original recipe, I want her book close at hand and set it next to the cutting board. Even though I have made this recipe from memory I want to make it as Marcella has it written. I like to do this occasionally, to refresh my memory and taste.
I clean the vegetables. With the exception of the potatoes, I cut everything and collect up the ingredients setting them neatly on a sheet tray. Then I move them close to the soup pot so they are at hand.
I came late to Marcella’s books in my cooking, even then it took time for her to grow on me. She was a champion of home cooking and I was more interested in preparing fancy and complicated restaurant food. I never met her; even so I often call her Marcella as if I knew her. I bet lots of people do this.
We did have a conversation once through social media. She called me out on a picture of a branzino, a Mediterranean sea bass. I had this fancy picture, a great photograph of the fish on a bed of greens with prosciutto and I posted it. I received lots of positive comments and likes. Then later that Saturday night Marcella asked me, “What are you doing to this poor fish?”
She may as well have rolled up a wet kitchen towel and snapped me on the ass. She called me out. What proceeded from the sting was a weekend-long exchange of messages, me going to the grocery to get another branzino and her teaching me how to simply poach the fish in aromatics and serve it with a simple aioli. Her recipe was by far the better.
What was important wasn’t that she taught me how to cook a branzino, or that she shared a recipe with me, but that she reeled me in. In one fell swoop she made me realize the importance of simple home cooking, that making restaurant food at home is silly, often wasteful and that great home cooking isn’t about chasing trends and being a foodie but more importantly how to cook wholesome good food for your family.
It might have taken culinary school to make me a chef but in a single Saturday night Marcella turned me into a home cook.
Marcella’s Broccoli and Potato Soup (adapted from Marcella Cucina)
Makes 6 servings
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 cups yellow onion, julienned
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 garlic cloves, peeled and minced (about 1 tablespoon)
2 cups Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled, medium dice
2 1/2 cups broccoli florets, no stems
3 1/2 cups stock, chicken or vegetable
6 smallish fresh basil leaves, torn
1/2 cup Parmesan, grated
- In a 3 1/2-quart heavy-bottomed pot, combine the olive oil and half the butter. Place the pot over medium heat. Once the butter begins to melt, add the onions. Season them with a pinch of salt and freshly ground black pepper.
- Saute the onions until they become golden. Don’t rush this step and adjust the heat as necessary to keep them from browning too fast. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant.
- Add the potatoes. Stir them to coat with oil and let them sizzle away for a minute or two. Add the broccoli and do the same as you did with the potatoes. Add the stock.
- Bring the stock to a boil. Taste the broth and adjust the seasoning. Go easy on the salt though because the Parmesan has lots and will act as seasoning as well.
- Simmer the soup until the broccoli and potatoes are tender. The broccoli is not going to remain vibrant green, but if it is good broccoli it won’t be olive drab either.
- Once the potatoes have cooked through, add the parmesan, the remaining butter, and the basil. Stir to combine and serve with more black pepper.
The Virtues of Routine and Braised Cabbage
I like repetition. It guides me from one task to another. Like how in the morning I’ll make my wife’s coffee exactly the same way and take it to her while she is getting ready for work before making my own. Then I’ll pack the kids’ school lunches, followed by preparing breakfast, and every Tuesday, I go to the grocery store immediately after the kids get on the school bus.
I follow a routine when I go to the grocery, too. The automatic doors swoosh open like the welcoming arms of an old friend as I enter, and I wonder who the first person I’ll see will be. A stranger? A familiar face? What will they look like and will they be smiling? Which fruits and vegetables are right up front this week and who made the covers of the gossip rags at the checkout line? All pressing questions, I know.
But the other day I broke routine, for an observation. As usual, the endcap to the vegetable aisle was full of cabbage — red cabbage, green cabbage, some Napa and even Savoy. What occurred to me was that this endcap is always full, always a mountain in fact, of cabbage. It wasn’t just replenished either — they don’t restock until 9:30. I am nosy too, and often leer into peoples’ carts just to see what they are eating and, I can assure you, I don’t often see cabbage tucked into carts, other than those few days cabbage gets its due during the corned beef holidays. So why is this end cap continually dedicated to an Everest of cabbage? Are cabbage eaters late night shoppers? Is it for looks much in the same way as a mannequin in a window at Saks? Who, besides me, buys cabbage?
Yes, I eat cabbage and I am proud of it. So much so that I could write a poem, Mon Petite Chou, and it would be an ode to the poorest of poor man’s food. That is what it is though isn’t it: poor man’s food? Maybe this is why it is shunned, that to buy it means you are nearly destitute, for why else would you eat it? I used to feel this way, and never really encountered cabbage other than as a creamy coleslaw side to an all-you-can-eat catfish dinner — and even then I usually stayed closer to the hush puppies and fries.
That is, until Paula Wolfert’s book The Cooking of Southwest France introduced me to the possibilities. And there are many when it comes to cabbage — braised, steamed, creamed, and stir-fried. Cabbage, now, has become a part of my routine.
Tips for Choosing, Storing, and Preparing Cabbage
Pick a hefty cabbage.
I grow a lot of cabbage and I am always amazed at how solid cabbages can be, like a bowling ball. So when I do buy them at the store I look for very solid cabbages that feel heavy.
Look for purple leaves
Typically, the grocer cuts off the outer leaves and trims the stems. As the cabbage ages, they trim them up so to keep them looking pretty. You know you have a fresh cabbage when the leafy outer purple green leaves are still there.
Keep it cool
Cabbages can last a long time in the fridge. Make sure the outside leaves are free of moisture and wrap the cabbage in plastic wrap, then store the cabbage in the crisper. I like cabbage because it stores well, so I use up all the perishable veggies early in the week saving the sturdy ones, cabbage, for the end of the week.
Simple Braised Cabbage
3 ounces pancetta, small dice
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup yellow onion, small dice
1/3 cup celery, small dice
2 teaspoons garlic, minced
1/2 cup carrots, peeled, small dice
6 to 8 cups Savoy cabbage, julienned
2 bay leaves
Scrape or two fresh nutmeg
1 tablespoon flat leaf parsley, minced
1 1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme, minced
- Place a 3 1/2-quart Dutch oven with a lid over medium heat. Add the pancetta and render its fat. You want a gentle render here. You aren’t trying to crisp the pancetta, just render.
- Add the butter and, once it has melted, add the onion, celery, garlic, and carrots. Sweat the vegetables until they are tender, don’t let them brown. Add the cabbage, bay leaves, and season with salt and pepper. Turn the cabbage to coat the leaves in the fat. Add a quarter cup of water and put the lid on the pot. Reduce the heat to low. Cook the cabbage until tender, about 25 to 30 minutes. Add a scrape or two of nutmeg, the parsley, and thyme. Stir to combine, then serve.
It is not generally in my nature to go out of my way to make a shepherd’s pie from scratch. Instead of cooking all the individual components — breaking them down only to put them back together — it always seems like a job best done by leftovers. I don’t mean to pick on shepherd’s pie alone — this goes for most meat and potato casseroles. And while not meat and potatoes, it reminds me of the time I looked at a recipe for turkey tetrazzini and the first step in the instructions was: Roast a turkey. Continue reading
Pork Confit Parmentier (or “Sorta” Shepard’s Pie)
5 Tips for Better Grilled Chicken Breasts
Grilling boneless skinless chicken breast presents a set of problems. I’m a firm believer that leaving the skin on and the bones in your chicken goes a long way to alleviating tough, dried out breast. But it’s an unpopular decision, because of the convenience and the ease with which we can gobble up the boneless skinless kind.
There are ways, however, to defend yourself against dry chicken.
Bigger is not better when it comes to grilling a chicken breast.
They don’t grow them like they used to. Today’s standard meat bird is a hybrid designed to grow big breasts and nice thighs.
The birds of yesteryear, however, were all about the thighs, and the breast was almost non-existent. These days it’s not unusual to find a double lobe breast that weighs in around two pounds — or bigger. Chicken breast can be the size of a turkey breast if you want it to be.
But you can get chicken breasts in any size you want. Restaurants, for example, will often serve two 4- to 6-ounce breasts as a single serving because seeing two on the plate makes you feel as if you’ve gotten your money’s worth. Your butcher should be able to order these small breasts for you. I prefer a single 6-ounce breast per person because it seems like an appropriate portion size — especially if, like me, you like to serve lots of side dishes.
Shape matters as much as the temperature of the grill.
A chicken breast tapers at each end, more so at the tail end than the neck end, which means the tips are either cooked perfectly while the middle is rare to raw, or the tips are burnt to a crisp and the middle is perfectly cooked. It is a lose-lose scenario.
I always buy the breast still connected in double lobes.
It assures pairs of evenly sized paillards, but I always cut them before pounding them out. It is important to note that sometimes in the middle of a double lobe is a piece of cartilage that needs to be removed. Cut along each side of the center line of fat to get it out.
Choose your instruments of destruction.
I have four pictured in the photo below; any will work fine. I prefer the flat side of a meat cleaver because it’s heavy and gets the job done. If you use a mallet, you will have to start in the middle and work your way to the edges in order to end up with an evenly pounded chicken breast. The pan is a last resort, but it is by no means a slacker.
For sanitation and clean-up purposes I like to use multi-layers of plastic wrap. I place a breast to one side then fold the wrap over the top before I get out my daily aggression.
Keep it hot, but not too hot.
I like the grate to be hot but to use coals that are on their way down from their highest heat. You want grill marks that caramelize without blackening. Chicken flesh becomes stringy and chewy if it is left to dry out on the grill, so use your common sense: preheat your oven if you think you might want to finish cooking the chicken at a low temperature.
(recipe adapted from the Fog City Diner)
- 3ancho chiles
- 3guajillo chiles
- 1/2cup reserved soaking water
- Juice of one lime
- Juice of one orange
- 1/4cup red wine vinegar
- 1/4cup olive oil
- 3garlic cloves, minced
- 1tablespoon oregano
- 2teaspoons thyme
- 2teaspoons cumin seed, ground
- Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
- 4single lobe chicken breasts
- 1red onion, thinly sliced
- Sour cream
- Cut the tops off the dried peppers and shake out the seeds into the trash can. Place the peppers into a bowl and cover them with hot water. Let them soak for two hours, making sure they stay submerged. Remove the peppers from the water and place them into the bowl of a food processor. Add a 1/2 cup of the soaking liquid to the bowl. Process until you have a pepper paste. Pass the paste through a strainer set over a bowl. You are removing the skins and seeds. Don’t skip this step or you will be severely disappointed.
- Combine 3 tablespoons of the paste with the remaining marinade ingredients and mix to combine. Season it with a healthy pinch of salt and a grind or two of pepper.
- The marinade can easily be made a day or two in advance and stored in a jar in the fridge. The leftover pepper paste is great for enchiladas, black bean soup or chili. Store the paste in a jar in the the fridge. It holds for a long time.
- Pound out the chicken breasts so they are of an even thickness, then place the chicken into a casserole. Use half the marinade and coat the pieces of chicken. Let them marinate for two hours. Be sure to flip them after an hour.
- While the chicken marinates, make the lime pickled onions by tossing the red onion rings with the lime juice. Let them sit for at least 20 minutes.
- Remove the chicken from the marinade. Place the marinade into a small sauce pan and heat it over low heat. Heat the marinade to a brisk simmer.
- Fire up the grill to medium-high heat. Grill the chicken breast. Cook them till done. Serve on rice, spoon the hot marinade over the chicken, top with sour cream, then pickled onions, and garnish with cilantro.
Everything but the Hamburger, Special Sauce Included
Sadly, as I sit at the bus stop watching my daughters play, I have to tell myself: summer is so last season.
All summer I have been grilling vegetables for salads. Mostly zucchini and summer squash; I char it deeply and then chop it and toss it with basil, lemon juice, and olive oil, in sort of a grilled chopped salad. It captures all the flavors of early summer one could want. But at some point, either the zucchini or I tire and the dish no longer appears on the table. At least not until next summer, when the annual craving for these flavors peaks again. Continue reading
Grilled Bananas with Buttered Maple Sauce and English Toffee
I quit eating bananas years ago because I would buy them and not eat them. They would sit in the fruit bowl idling away, eventually passing through the different stages of ripeness. I would watch, like a gambler calling another’s bluff, knowing that I had until they turned black to do something with them. It was then that I would convince myself I needed to make banana bread. I even froze them for future use and had a stack of them in the freezer, until one day they fell out onto my wife’s toe and broke it.
Taco Night on the Grill
I can’t get enough of taco night. Neither can my wife Amy or my daughters. We love it, and especially me, because I can do everything — with the exception of chopping with a knife or the food processor — on the grill. It makes for easy clean-up, and who isn’t for easy clean-up?
I cut my teeth on Tex-Mex in Austin, Texas circa 1984 (does Instagram have a filter for that?). At this point in my life I hadn’t eaten that much Mexican food. For the most part it didn’t exist in Indiana outside of Chi Chi’s and my inner punk rocker wouldn’t allow me to set foot inside any place that colorful or where the waitstaff could happily sing Happy Birthday table side.
Nevertheless, when I would slide into a booth at one of the many hole-in-the-wall eateries (many of them were Spanish-speaking only), I would order as many kinds of salsa as I could point to on the menu. I didn’t know this many kinds of salsa existed, or for that matter soft shell tacos, or the food love of my life, tamales.
As I ate my way around both sides of Highway 35, little did I realize I was becoming an addict, to Texas country music, chili, and to Austin itself. It was hard to come home, and once I was back in Indiana it didn’t take long before I began jonesing for Texas Hill Country, salsa included.
All About Grilled Salsa
The grill is a great way to make an old salsa recipe feel new.
I couldn’t even guess how many varieties of salsa there are in the world, but I do know I haven’t found one yet that can’t be made on the grill. I like a fresh raw salsa as much as the next person, but sometimes I like to shift the flavor and it is an easy thing to do on the grill.
Chile oils on your hands are not your friend.
Be careful with hot chile peppers. I used to go at them in the manly man way and just tough it out, but the night I rubbed my eyes after working with Thai birds I thought a different approach might be appropriate. If you choose to go with bare naked hands in handling them, just realize you will quickly find out just how many places on your body you actually touch and how many places are very sensitive to capsaicin oils.
Get in touch with your inner caveman or woman.
I used to put my peppers and tomatoes on the grill grate and then one day I just decided to plop them right on the coals. It sears them very quickly while leaving the interior raw — the best of both worlds. You can roast whole heads of garlic too, but they need to be left to the side of the coals so they cook and soften slowly or you will burn the cloves which makes them bitter.
Liquidy or dry, it all depends on your tomato variety.
A lot of fresh tomatoes have a high liquid content. If you use too many tomatoes, your salsa will be watery, which isn’t always a bad thing. If you want a thicker salsa, it is a good idea to use plum or San Marzano tomatoes.
The finishing touches matter.
To the finished salsa I always like to add a drizzle of olive oil for mouthfeel and a splash of acid, be it lime, red wine vinegar, or whatever. Make sure you season your salsa with salt and black pepper.
Corn tortillas or flour both can be warmed on the grill, and should be.
I prefer corn tortillas over flour and my preference for cooking corn tortillas is right on the grill. They puff up and blacken in spots and become yummo-licous. Just make sure after searing them to wrap them in foil so they stay soft and don’t dry out.
Choose your toppings accordingly.
Almost every person I have ever met who hails from Central America prefers green cabbage, sliced razor thin, to lettuce for their tacos. It gets even better when you dress the cabbage with a touch of red wine vinegar and olive oil. You probably won’t find a lot of sour cream or cheese on the table either. I tend to go for authentic Mexican but I like Tex-Mex too. If you want to go for healthy, grill up a bunch of vegetables to use for toppings and forgo the dairy altogether.
Makes 1 to 1 1/2 cups
Depending on the kind and size of tomatoes you use, this salsa can be liquidy or firm. You will have to judge. Roma tomatoes have little liquid and work well for a chunkier salsa.
- 1small head of garlic
- 3 or 4roma tomatoes
- 1 or 2heirloom variety tomatoes (Box Car Willies or Wisconsin 55 are good)
- 1poblano pepper or 3 jalapeños or your choice
- 3 to 4half-inch-thick slices of red onion, left intact
- Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
- Handful of cilantro
- Splash of red wine vinegar
- Drizzle of olive oil
- Fire up your charcoal grill. Let the coals get blazing hot.
- Wash the vegetables.
- Place the garlic off to the side of the coals where it will brown the paper skins but not burn the cloves. The garlic will take the longest to cook of everything. Let it get good and brown on all sides.
- Now place the tomatoes and peppers right on the coals. Let them blister and blacken. Remove them to a tray. Let the juices collect in the tray.
- Place the grill grate on the grill and grill the onions until they are caramelized and soft.
- If you plan to grill more stuff, like a nice skirt steak, you will probably need to add a few more coals to the fire. You be the judge.
- Peel the pepper, being carful not to spill or lose any pepper juices. I remove the seeds and, obviously, the stems. Put peeled peppers, tomatoes, onion, and peeled roasted garlic cloves into the bowl of a food processor. Add the tomato and pepper juices that collected in the bottom of the tray.
- Add a two-finger pinch of salt, some pepper, half the cilantro, the red wine vinegar, and olive oil. Pulse the processor until the salsa reaches your desired consistency. I like this particular salsa smoother than most but still chunky. Taste the salsa and adjust the seasoning as necessary.
- Pour into a serving bowl, garnish with cilantro, and serve
The Best Burger in the World
The sacks on the table, dotted with spots of grease and limp from French fry steam, are from Burger Chef. I have a plain cheeseburger. It is the first burger I remember eating. I eat them with glee and in anticipation of the next time my father would pile us into the back of the metallic green Plymouth Fury and drive us the short distance to the shopping center to pick up dinner from the shiny new burger spot.
Shortly thereafter, we packed up and moved to the country. Everything changed. That’s not to say we didn’t get to eat at burger joints anymore — we just didn’t get to eat at them as often. We didn’t eat at Burger Chef all the time to begin with, but at the new house there were no eateries close by.
At our new home, the height of my formative years, if we ate burgers, it was from the grill on our porch. The burger meal was best on the weekends when we came off the boat after a long day on the lake waterskiing, tubing, and swimming. We were wet, sunburned, and wrapped in beach towels. As we walked up the hill from the water, fresh-cut blades of grass stuck to our damp feet and, at the top, we sat down to the table on the back porch deck with wet hair and water-freckled arms. A pot of long-cooked green beans speckled with bacon, a plate piled high with boiled corn on the cob begging for butter, thick slabs of sliced Early Girl tomatoes, and a stack of juicy burgers hot off the charcoal grill waited for us, courtesy of my mother.
At the table we built our own burgers. Mine was always the same, 1 1/2 slices of American cheese, mayo, thickly spooned onto the top bun, Boston lettuce, and two thick slices of homegrown tomato. By the time I got close to finishing the sandwich, the soft Kaiser roll was soaked with tomato and beef juices, making the last sloppy bites the best — napkin mandatory.
But when you leave home, you stretch your wings, or at least I did, and you experience the world without the watchful eyes of your parents. You do things you shouldn’t and you do things you should. But I figured I’d get it out of my system, experience as many possibilities as I could. I won’t settle on any one thing until I have none left to try:
The Hinkle Burger: Caramelized onions smashed into the patty which is griddled on a big steel flat top. Double cheese means two slices on a single patty, not two patties. College. My first true love. The burger, fries, and blueberry milkshake is a hard memory to run from.
White Castle: A plate of sliders, double cheese with extra pickle. The break-up girlfriend. A friend with benefits.
And then there is the fall I spent in Austin as a newspaper intern. The jalapeño burger, theschnitzel burger, the Tex-Mex burger, the BBQ bacon burger, the Cordon Bleu burger, and the breakfast burger. Incorrigible. Notches on the burger bed post.
The Wheel-In Diner. Post graduation. A goober burger. Peanut butter slathered on a bun, a burger, and your choice of toppings. Here’s to you, Mrs. Robinson.
The Corner Bistro. Dream big. The big city cheddar burger. Served on a toasted English muffin. As close to a corner office as I want to get.
The stuffed blue cheese burger, mushroom and Swiss, bacon California Reuben pizza Cajun 1/2 pounder Swedish meatball foie gras wagyu … and ground short rib burger. All delicious but nothing more than meaningless hotel rooms on an endless road trip because in the end, you discover, there is nothing like the comfort of home, The Lake House Burger.
The Art of Honest Fried Chicken (A Lifestyle Choice)
Frying chicken, at its best, is a state of mind formed much in the same way as the quiet back beats of a porch-sitting session with a dear friend. It has a rhythm. It is good company on a sunny summer afternoon. It is pointless to rush. Futile, even. Besides, the comfort of a good friend comes from the effortlessness of meaningful conversation and is further heightened by the knowledge you have nothing you would rather do. Continue reading