New England Clam Chowder

A good bowl of creamy chowder has always been one of my favorites. Even when I was a little kid I would gobble the stuff up.  As I have become more refined (defined: I have stopped eating with my hands and slurping my food) I don’t care so much for the clam shack version that is thick and goopey, although I give you directions for thickening the soup with flour.

This is the real deal and anyone who says,  “but it doesn’t have whole clams in it,” eats more with their eyes then there mouth.  I have yet to find a shell-with-clam in chowder that is any better then clams from a can.  Prove me wrong is my challenge because I would love to be.  After all I like the idea of being out claming then coming in and cooking up a pot of chowder on a blustery noreaster New England eve.

Makes 8 six ounce servings

2 eight oz. bottles Bar Harbor clam juice

2 six oz. cans Bar Harbor clams, chop them if they are whole, juice drained and reserved

4 oz. bacon, diced

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

2 cups yellow onion, small dice

1 cup celery, washed, trimmed and small dice

1 tablespoon garlic, peeled and minced

1 1/2 teaspoons dried thyme

1/8 teaspoon fennel seed, ground

2 bay leaves

2 tablespoon all purpose flour (optional, depends on if you want thick chowder or not)

2 cups yukon gold potatoes, peeled and 1/2 inch dice

16 oz half and half

salt and fresh ground white pepper

1 1/2 tablespoon chives, minced

1 tablespoon flat leaf parsley, minced

1. Place a 3 1/2 quart heavy bottomed saucepan over medium heat and add the bacon. Let the bacon render its fat (you should have about two tablespoons of fat in the pan) and saute it until it becomes crispy, not crunchy, and starts to brown.

2. Add the butter, onions and celery. Saute the vegetables until they are tender but do not brown them. Add the garlic, thyme and fennel. Saute until the spices become fragrant, not even a minute.

3. If you want thicker chowder add the flour and stir it around letting it absorb the fat. Once the flour starts to smell the slightest bit nutty add the clam juice and the reserved clam juice. It is important to cook the flour taste out of the flour so be patient and make sure you cook it long enough.

4. Add the half and half. Bring the liquid to a boil and add the potatoes. Bring it back to a boil and then reduce the heat to the lowest simmer setting you stove has. Taste the soup to see how salty the clam juice is, adjust the seasoning by adding more salt if necessary. Add a few grinds of white pepper. Cover the pot and let it simmer for 30 minutes or until the potatoes are cooked through.

5. Add the clams, turn off the heat and let the chowder sit, covered, for one hour to let the flavors meld.

6. Before serving add the parsley and chives. Adjust the seasoning and reheat the chowder till hot. Serve.

Old Bay Oyster Crackers (can be made a day in advance)

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 tablespoon Old Bay Seasoning

a two finger pinch of fine sea salt

5 cups oyster crackers

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

2. Combine the oil, seasoning and salt in a mixing bowl.

3. Add the crackers and toss to coat them well with the oil.

4. Spread then out on a baking sheet and bake them for 10 minutes or until they start to take on a little color. Cool.

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J.R. Craves Tex-Mex

J.R. stands on the metal folding chair, stretches up on his toes, and exhales pot smoke into the air vents just to be an asshole. He jumps and lands on the floor with a resounding thud. The shaking floor is felt two apartments down by a Hispanic woman making cookies. He’s annoyed that the apartment next door was rented to some dude. He liked the hotty girl who lived there before; liked to watch her shower through the hole he made in the wall. Now it was some dick-weed kid who he already knew he didn’t like.

That’s not all he’s pissed about today, though. He can’t believe the super gave him an eviction notice. Not after the words they had at his apartment door when the super came knocking and tried to collect the rent. J.R. told him if he evicted him he would kill his wife right in front of his fucking eyes. He isn’t going to do it–kill the super’s wife; he just knows threats will get him what he wants if they make him seem scary and crazy enough.

He paces. He thinks. He gets more pissed off the more he thinks. He stomps a foot on the hard tile. He’s fidgety. He grabs the speed off the counter and shakes the last two pills from the bottle into his mouth, then quickly snaps his head from side to side, trying to crack his neck. He paces more rapidly now, in anticipation. His pulse picks up.

He grabs the ball-bat that some former tenant left in the corner and jerks open the door. He looks around the courtyard. No one’s out. He is barefoot, shirtless and lean like a feral cat. His jeans are too long, worn and stringy at the heels where he walks on them. He shuffles down the second-floor walkway, the denim scuffling against the concrete.

At the corner a sudden flurry of action catches his eye. His neighbor the dick-weed, propped in a chair outside the ground-floor laundry room, is falling backwards but catches himself, arms and legs flailing around. J.R. stops and thinks about going down and beating the living shit out of him, then thinks again, smiling at the thought that he’ll get to it at some point. He watches as the dick-weed takes an amateur swig of his beer and returns to his bout of bad foreplay with a burrito. The goop inside shoots out, all over the ugliest pair of new boots J.R. has ever seen; in fact, the burrito stains might be an improvement on the turquoise and red shit-kickers, which were reminiscent of a Nudie suit in the most God-awful way. The kid takes another chomp and more goop falls onto the foil sheet. J.R. thinks he should have left it wrapped around the burrito. You only peel back the foil and the deli paper as you go. It’s what keeps the whole thing together. But he can hear the kid moaning with each bite, like he’s getting laid.

J.R. sees the to-go bag and understands the moans. He knows the place that burrito came from, knows they’re that good–even makes the same sounds when he eats one. A stack of napkins, dozens of them, is starting to drift around in the wind. J.R.’s stomach growls. He smiles again at the ground-floor folly and his mood lightens, but he still has business to attend to.

By the time he finds himself at the super’s door, though, his plans have changed. He was wound up enough to bust a couple of ribs with a swing or two of the bat, but he’s lost the will. Instead, in what feels like a more half-assed attempt to make his point, he chucks the bat through the front window of the super’s apartment. The door flies open.

What happens next reminds J.R. of the time when he was a kid and he climbed a tree with a pocket full of rocks and started throwing them at a big, papery hornets’ nest hanging like an out-of-place Christmas ornament. Nothing happened until a rock finally punched a hole in it and the whole nest emptied, the hornets stinging relentlessly, and J.R. couldn’t get out of that tree fast enough and finally just fell.

And just like that time, J.R. ends up on his back. The second blast from the super’s shotgun knocks him over the railing and he lands on the hood of a car. He feels the hood ornament puncture his thigh. His head lays back off the side of the car, and he looks at the world upside-down. He stares at the kid with the burrito. His stomach grumbles, his eyes shut, and he imagines the smell of the mesquite smoke mingling with the lesser cuts of beef. They become a rich, tender kiss that makes him feel like he’s crossed the railroad tracks to the intoxicating land of the forbidden.

Mother’s Grits and Debris

I snuggled in behind the wheel of what became known as the Starship Enterprise, it was no longer a minivan fit for a family vacation.  Instead it morphed into a party pod for a convoy of misfits headed to Mardi Gras.  I was old enough to know better but I never let that stop me.

Fortunately,  we only lost one car and one person both of which later turned up in Florida.  I guess they just needed a change of venue, besides the important thing is we all managed to stay out of jail.

I could smell the chicory coffee wafting out the front door and blowing down Tchoupitoulas.  It drew me in like a voodoo king casting a love spell and deposited me at Mother’s front door.  The sign about the world’s best baked ham didn’t even register as I walked past it and sat down near a window hoping the low morning sun would cast some clarity onto the crumpled two day old newspaper I was trying to read.  I thought the sunlight might help me focus but it didn’t and in the end I had to leave that to the coffee.

The bite of the chicory brought me around long enough to order another cup and a bowl of Grits and Debris, which was really all I could afford.  What the coffee couldn’t do, breakfast did.  I didn’t realize how bad I needed food.  It was one of those occasions when you realize booze and nicotine isn’t a sustainable diet.  My breakfast was nourishing from the first bite to the last.

I only ate at Mother’s this one time but I revisit often on mornings when what is needed is a little something more.

Debris: the parts, bits and crumbs of roast beef that fall onto the carving board while you are slicing the meat.…..Find the recipe here

Mother’s Grits and Debris

I snuggled in behind the wheel of what became known as the Starship Enterprise, it was no longer a minivan fit for a family vacation.  Instead it morphed into a party pod for a convoy of misfits headed to Mardi Gras.  I was old enough to know better but I never let that stop me.

Fortunately,  we only lost one car and one person both of which later turned up in Florida.  I guess they just needed a change of venue, besides the important thing is we all managed to stay out of jail.

I could smell the chicory coffee wafting out the front door and blowing down Tchoupitoulas.  It drew me in like a voodoo king casting a love spell and deposited me at Mother’s front door.  The sign about the world’s best baked ham didn’t even register as I walked past it and sat down near a window hoping the low morning sun would cast some clarity onto the crumpled two day old newspaper I was trying to read.  I thought the sunlight might help me focus but it didn’t and in the end I had to leave that to the coffee.

The bite of the chicory brought me around long enough to order another cup and a bowl of Grits and Debris, which was really all I could afford.  What the coffee couldn’t do, breakfast did.  I didn’t realize how bad I needed food.  It was one of those occasions when you realize booze and nicotine isn’t a sustainable diet.  My breakfast was nourishing from the first bite to the last.

I only ate at Mother’s this one time but I revisit often on mornings when what is needed is a little something more.

Debris: the parts, bits and crumbs of roast beef that fall onto the carving board while you are slicing the meat.

Serves 2

1/2 cup brown rice grits, fine grind or corn grits

1 1/2 cups water plus 2 tablespoons

kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper

1/2 cup debris, chopped pot roast or some sort of chopped cooked beef

1 cup au jus or beef broth

1 shallot, peeled and sliced thinly

2 eggs, optional

oil or butter for frying the eggs, optional

chive is you feel so inclined

1. Place the grits and water into a sauce pan.  Add a healthy pinch of salt and several grinds of black pepper.  In another sauce pan combine the shallots, au jus and debris.  Place both pans over high heat and bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat of the grits to a simmer and cover.  Reduce the heat under the debris to medium low and let it bubble briskly.

Optional eggs:  Heat a saute pan over high heat and add the butter.  Fry the eggs to your liking.

2. Bowl up the grits, ladle half the debris and au jus over each then sprinkle with chives.  Serve with some good coffee.

Jambon Persillé Maison

Jambon Persillé Maison

In the heat of the summer sometimes it is good to have a dish you can simply slide out of the fridge, slice off a hunk,  add a condiment, some pickles and you have lunch or a light dinner.   Somehow and I am not sure how but I believe collagen has a cooling effect.   While I know it is great for your joints  and colds, one reason real chicken and noodle soup is called penicillin, I am not sure why it would be cooling other then it is, well, served cold, stupid I know but I have no other answer and, honestly I need to get back out to the garden and finish weeding.  But first a quick lunch.

Makes a 4 x 4 x 8 inch loaf

2 1/2 lb. chunk of ham, mine was two pieces
1 celery stalk, trimmed and chopped
1 onion, trimmed and halved
1 carrot, peeled and chopped
1 small head of garlic, trimmed, halved
2 bay leaves
5 sprigs fresh thyme
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup shallots, minced
1/2 cup flat leaf parsley, rinsed, dried and minced
1 1/2 sheets of gelatin
1 1/2 teaspoons red wine vinegar

1. Place the ham in a large pot with the celery, carrot, onion, garlic, bay, and thyme.  Add cold water to cover the ham by and inch.  Place the pot over high heat and bring it to a boil.  Reduce the heat to a simmer and simmer for two hours or until the ham is tender enough to shred with a fork.

2. Remove the ham to a sheet tray or something that will allow you to shred it without making a mess.
3. Add the half cup of wine to the ham pot and bring the broth to a boil.   Reduce the liquid to about 2 or 2 1/2 cups.
4. Shred the ham while the broth is reducing and add the parsley, shallots and a few grinds of black pepper.
When the broth is reduced taste it for seasoning.  If it needs salt add a little.  Remember this will be served cold so it needs to be seasoned aggressively but it is ham so it is already salty.  You will need to use your own best judgement.  Remove the vegetables from the broth.  I just ladled out the broth and left the thyme leaves in, remember this is a rustic dish.
5. Place the gelatin into a bowl and add some of the hot broth.  Let the sheet curl up and then flatten out then swirl the broth around until the gelatin has dissolved and then add the rest of the broth.  Add the vinegar and mix well.
6. Mix the ham well with the parsley and shallots.  Grab a good handful of the ham mixture and pat it into the bottom of the loaf pan with the authority of a TSA agent.  Add some of the broth to just come up to the top edge of this layer of ham.  Add more ham and then do the same with the broth until you have filled the pan.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.  I didn’t put a weight on top of the ham to compress it but feel free to do so if you have the urge.
7. The next day slice and serve with pickles, mustard and crusty bread.

Mexican Street Fair Corn

Nothing new, been done countless ways and yet if you get, grow or steal perfect sweet corn and make this dish you will continually come back to it again, and again, and again throughout the summer.

SERVES 4

8 ears of the tastiest sweet corn, still in the husk, you can lay you hands on

mayonnaise

2 cups grated hard cheese, Asiago, Manchego, or Cotija

2 tablespoons ancho chile powder

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper

3 tablespoons cilantro, minced

lime wedges

1. Soak the corn in a water filled sink for 2 to 4 hours.

2. Fire up your grill for direct heat grilling. While the grill is heating peel back the husks leaving them attached to the ear of corn making a handle. Remove the bulk of the silks but you are going to be grilling the corn so any remaining threads will burn off, this is one of the pluses of grilling corn. Combine the cheese and cilantro on a large plate. Combine the ancho and garlic powder.

3. When the grill is hot add the corn and cook it until tender. It should get splotches of brown caramelization if the grill is hot enough.

4. When it is done use a pastry brush to paint the ears with mayonnaise. Roll them in the cheese and cilantro crust. Then sprinkle with chile garlic powder combo and salt and pepper. Serve with a squeeze of lime.

Dashi

Don’t let its simplicity fool you. A well made dashi packs a wallop and is the foundation of Japanese cuisine. If you want the real deal you have to make this stuff from scratch. Possibly the easiest stock of all to make but again you will have to make a trip to the Asian grocery. Never fear though the stock only takes a couple of minutes to throw together.

Makes +- 8 cups

8 cups cold water

one 8 x 4 inch sheet kombu, kelp

one 2 1/2 inch finger of ginger, peeled and cut lengthwise into 4 slices

2 cups katsuobushi, dried bonito flakes

 

1. Gently wipe the kombu with a damp cloth to remove white salty stuff. Don’t worry if you don’t get it all.

2. Place the kombu in a pot along with the ginger and water. Place the pot over medium heat. Once the water starts to steam and develop lots of bubbles that are attached to the side of the pan turn off the heat. You do not want the pot to boil.

3. Set a timer for 12 minutes. At the end of twelve minutes remove the kombu. Turn the heat back on and bring the broth to just short of boiling again. Turn off the heat and add the bonito flakes.

4.Set the timer again for 12 minutes. At the end of twelve minutes strain the stock and use it immediately or store in the fridge. It is best if you use the stock within three days of making it.

Japanese Beef and Noodle Soup

Japanese Beef and Onion Soup

For real, once you make this soup and see how easy it really is you will make it time and again. It will fall into your weeknight rotation and you will start stocking the stuff you need in your pantry. It is seriously good folks.

You are going to have to take a trip to the Asian grocery. Don’t you think it is about time? First off, I have said it time and again, the vegetables are great and, as is true with most ethnic grocery stores, the prices are great. Think of it as and adventure. A cultural adventure and realize that the people working in the store are there to help you, want you to know about their food culture and will do their best to get you the product you are looking for

Dashi is a Japanese stock made from dried bonito flakes. They are smoky and rich and key to making this right. Also you will need kombu, konbu or dried kelp sheets which is seaweed, but don’t substitute other seaweeds they are not the same. You want kelp. And finally don’t try to substitute dried ginger for the fresh, again, it is not the same. Ginger purchased at the Asian market is like a third of the price as your regular grocery because people are actually buying it before the owners have to throw it away so there is no lose of overhead due to spoilage.

I also use an organic Japanese soy sauce but you don’t have too. Just realize you want a Japanese style soy that doesn’t have a lot of additives. Pretty much it should have water, soybeans, maybe wheat, and salt and nothing more. Do not get aged or reduced or thickened soy for this recipe either.

You literally can use any kind of thin noodles you want. If you feel most comfy with spaghetti because that is what you have always cooked then go for it. Just make sure, one, you salt the pasta cooking water heavily, it will make your noodles taste good, and when they are done cooking cool them immediately in a cold water to stop the cooking. This way you won’t have mushy tasteless noodles.

This recipe is the culmination of many but is probably most closely related to Japanese ramen or even sukiyaki. I think you will like it. Enjoy.

Japanese Beef and Onion Soup

Serves 4

1 tablespoon grape seed or canola oil
2 large onions, peeled and julienned
1 leek, white part only save the green end for stock
1/4 cup garlic, peeled and sliced thinly
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, peeled and minced
1/3 cup mirin
1/2 cup soy sauce
8 cups dashi
12 very thin slices of beef tenderloin at room temperature
fresh ground black pepper
salt
a handful of cilantro leaves
1 pound of thin noodles of your choice, cooked

1. Heat the oil over medium heat in a 3 1/2 quart heavy bottomed sauce pan.  Add the onions , ginger, and the leeks and sweat them, stirring occasionally until they begin to brown.   The less you stir the sooner they will brown but eventually you also want to stir so they brown nicely on all sides.
2. Add the garlic about halfway through the browning process.  You want to soften the garlic but not brown it or it can become bitter.  Now add the mirin and let it reduce by half.  Then add the dashi and soy.  Taste and add salt if necessary or more soy if you think it needs it.  Reduce the heat and let the broth simmer for a bit, about 20 minutes or so.  Just enough to let the flavors come together and the onions to be very tender but not mush.
3. If the noodles are cold place them in a strainer and run hot water over them for a few minutes to warm them.  Shake out the excess hot water  then divide them between four bowls.  Arrange 4 tenderloin slices in each bowl and top with some cilantro.
4. Bring the broth to a boil and ladle it over the noodles.  It will slightly cook the beef and will heat the noodles.   Grind some fresh pepper over the top along with some cilantro and serve.

A New Pair of Shoes

Cheers all and welcome to the new site.  If you are new to my home please make yourself comfortable and feel free to subscribe, follow or bookmark this location.  If you are an old friend I hope you are enjoying the new place.

If you are wondering why I have changed locations it is for many reasons but mostly because the software I was using is going away.  I had no choice but to move.  In time I will get all the recipes moved over and have started doing so but if there is anything missing or you want to see just holler.

I have been writing this blog for three years now and as you all know last year it was a finalist for the Best Culinary Blog of 2012  by the International Association of Culinary Professionals which is a huge honor.  Since then Food52 the other site I write for was awarded the 2012 Best Culinary Publication by the James Beard Foundation.  It has been a big year and a wonderful one as well.

You will also notice something a little different in the banner.  I am starting a culinary journal called foodquarterly  and the food4 collaborative which is a group of talented food writers.  We are moving from the world of blogging into the world of publishing.  I hope you will visit foodquarterly regularly and I hope you enjoy it too.

So, please, come grow with us and follow us on our culinary adventure.  It promises to be fun.

Thanks,

Tom

Meatballs Emilia-Romagna with Pasta Sheets

Meatballs Emilia-Romagna with Pasta Sheets

Although I have never been for a visit,  I have been fascinated with this region of Italy ever since I first tasted tagliatelle with a game ragu. I like the richness of the food, and yet it never seems overly heavy and filling. I think it has to do with the restraint and balance of the rich and decadent foods they use. I chose to use ground short ribs for the base of the meatball for several reasons. One, they stay moist because of the fat content, and two I also caramelize the meatballs because that is one of the great things about short ribs is how rich they become after browning. I also grate the onion and garlic on a micro plane so it permeates the bread crumb and milk panade and then the entire meatball. If you make these meatballs hours ahead of time and put them in the fridge when you go to roll them they will seem like they are not going to bind together. As you work them in your hands the heat of your hands will soften the fat and the will come together nicely.

SERVES 4, WITH ENOUGH MEATBALL MIX TO TEST FOR SEASONING
1 1/2 pound short rib meat, sinew removed and ground, you butcher can do this for you too.
1/2 cup whole milk
1/2 cup dry bread crumbs
1 teaspoon fresh garlic, grated on a micro plane
1 tablespoon yellow onion, grated on a micro plane
2 tablespoons flat leaf parsley, minced
1/2 cup parmesan reggiano, grated
1 egg
kosher salt and black pepper
extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 cup yellow onion, small dice
3/4 cups carrots, small dice
3/4 cups celery, small dice
1 tablespoon fresh garlic, minced
2 thin slices of prosciutto, diced
2 bay leaves
1 sprig of fresh rosemary, about 6 inches long
1 cup dry red wine
1 1/2 tablespoons double concentrated tomato paste
2 cups beef stock or chicken stock
1/2 cup whole milk
2 tablespoons heavy cream

8 each lasagna sheets

1.    Combine the bread crumbs, milk, grated garlic and grated onions in a bowl and mix to combine. Let it sit for 5 minutes. Combine the beef, egg, parmesan and parsley with the bread crumb mixture and mix very well. ( I used the paddle attachment on my mixer.) Season with a half a teaspoon of salt and a few turns of fresh ground pepper. Make a walnut sized meatball. Place a small saute pan over medium heat. Add some oil and saute the meatball until it is done. Taste and adjust the seasoning as necessary. Keep in mind the garlic and onion will grow stronger as the mix sets so you are really only tasting for salt. Place them in the fridge while you cut you veggies.
2.    Roll the meatballs making them golf ball size. I used a #20 scoop.Heat a large 14 inch non stick skillet over medium high heat. These meatballs start out very tender but firm up as the fat is rendered. Add a couple of glugs of olive oil and gently add the meatballs and brown them on all sides. Remove them to a sheet tray with sides when they are finished browning.
3.    Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
4.    Empty out the grease and put the pan back on the heat. Add a glug or two of olive oil and add the prosciutto. Once the prosciutto is crisp add the chopped onions, carrots, and celery. Saute until they begin to soften but don’t brown. Add the garlic.
5.    Once you smell the garlic add the wine and the bay leaves. Reduce the wine to a glaze and then add the stock and rosemary sprig. Reduce the liquid by half. Add the milk and cream. Let it come to a boil and then then place the pan into the oven.
6.    Slide the meatballs into the oven too. Set a timer for 16 minutes.
7.    About 4 minutes before the timer goes off drop the noodles into the pot of boiling water and cook for 3 to 4 minutes.(if you are not using fresh pasta start to cook it according to the time on the box and plan to have it done at the same time as the ragu) Remove the pasta and let it drain. Remove the sauce and meatballs from the oven. Remove the bay leaves and rosemary sprig from the sauce. The sauce should not be thick but should be reduced.
8.    To plate hold the end of a noodle with a clean towel. Place about a tablespoon of sauce between each layer as you bunch it on the plate. Place three meatballs on top drizzle with some ragu and grate more cheese over the top and serve.

Smothered Chicken

The tiny bright green stars of okra and the fresh lima beans, so tender the veins show through their thin skins, are nestled into a bed of bi-color sweet corn just shaved off the cob. Together they simmer in a liquid that is mostly melted butter, seasoned quietly with salt and black pepper.

Succotash is a poor man’s dish, made popular during the Great Depression. Somehow I never feel poor when eating it — but then, I feel that way about all soul food.

While succotash is comfort food, not all comfort food is soul food. I can find comfort in foie gras, but foie gras is not soul food. Succotash is.

At the back of the stove, the chicken thighs simmer away. Their crispy brown skin breaks the bubbling surface of pan gravy made with peppers, onions, and celery. There is a reason they call this mix of vegetables the trinity. It goes beyond the Southern flavor they bring to the dish — something distinct, even ethereal.

I am feeling sad. Sylvia Woods, of Sylvia’s Soul Food fame, has passed away. Over the years, her collard greens recipe became my recipe, her Northern-style cornbread a family favorite at Thanksgiving. It was with her recipe in hand one sultry Friday afternoon some years ago that I lost my red velvet cake virginity.

I pick up the paring knife used to peel the potatoes. It is dirty with powdery white potato starch. Fishing for one of the larger chunks of potato, I stick it into the boiling water, find one, and poke it with the knife, which slips to the center of the potato like it is room temperature butter.

Carrying the potato pot to the sink, I pour it into the strainer. Hot starchy steam rushes up and around my face before disappearing upward toward the ceiling. I let the potatoes sit in the strainer to steam out excess moisture and turn to the stove to stir the succotash.

The oven timer goes off.

I grab a kitchen towel to use as a hot pad and remove the black skillet cornbread from the oven. I can smell the thin, crispy bacon fat-and-cornmeal crust that forms when the batter hits the hot skillet, hiding now under the tender yellow interior. I set the skillet on top of the stove and cover it with the dish towel.

I like this point in the meal preparation.  The point where everything is coming together and there is a final rush to get everything done at the same time so all the food comes to the table hot.

I rice the potatoes.

It isn’t a coincidence the corn, okra, and lima beans are all at their peak out in the garden today.  At least that is what I am telling myself.

I always add the butter first to the riced potatoes so the fat gets absorbed by the starch.  Then I add the heavy cream, salt and pepper.
I like that soul food is about coming together not just as a family but as a community, even more so then it is about eating.  Not that the food isn’t important– it is about the value of sharing, too — but even the food shouldn’t trump the socialization that happens around it.

I taste the potatoes.  They are just the right texture and need no further seasoning, cream or butter.  I scoop them into a serving bowl, and do the same with the succotash, and put the smothered chicken on a platter with its gravy ladled over the top.

It is always lively at our table.  This evening, it might even be more so.

For the spice mix:

2 tablespoons paprika
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon black pepper

For the chicken:
6 to 8 bone-in skin-on chicken thighs
2 cups yellow onions, julienned
3/4 cups green bell peppers, julienned
3/4 cups celery, julienned
water
kosher salt
fresh ground black pepper
1/4 cup green onions, chopped
2 1/2 tablespoons flour
vegetable oil
2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced

1.    Combine all the spice ingredients in a small bowl. Season the chicken thighs on all sides with salt and then with the spice mixture. You may or may not have extra spice depending on how heavy your hand is and whether or not you season 6 or 8 thighs.
2.    Place a heavy, large sauté pan over medium high heat. Add enough oil to the pan to easily coat the bottom completely. When it is hot add the thighs skin side down and brown them deeply. Once they are brown do the same to the other side.
3.    Remove the thighs to a plate. Add the onions, bell pepper and celery to the pan. Season them with salt and pepper. If the pan is to hot turn down the heat and cook down the vegetables until they are brown and soft. Add the flour and sauté everything for a bit longer to cook out the flour flavor.
4.    Add the garlic cloves and give the veggies a stir. Add the chicken thighs back to the pan and add enough water to cover the thighs by three quarters. The crispy tops should just be peeking out of the gravy. Add all but a tablespoon of the green onions to the sauce.
5.    When the gravy comes to a boil reduce the heat and simmer until the chicken is cooked through and tender, this should take about thirty minutes. Season the gravy, stir and taste.
6.    If the gravy is reducing to fast and getting to thick add more water and stir.

Swiss Steak

This dish epitomizes Midwest and plains state farm food of German heritage.  It is something that your grandmother most definitely would have made and when you walked into the mud room to park your dirty boots on the old rag rug you would get the warm fuzzies.  You knew not only would the steak be tasty but more than likely the mashed potatoes or the buttered egg noodles with parsley and stewed green beans would be accompanied by home made yeast rolls.  Some sort of carrot salad or slaw and a piece of spice cake for dessert, well, makes for a great Sunday dinner.

Serves 4

1 round steak, 2 1/4 lbs.
canola oil
2 cups yellow onion, thinly sliced
1 red pepper, cored and sliced thin
8 oz. white mushrooms, brushed of dirt and sliced
1 garlic clove, large, minced
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon marjoram
1 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoon flour
2 to 3 cups of water
kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper
minced parsley for garnish

1. Season the round steak on both sides with salt and black pepper.  Let the salt dissolve before you continue.  Heat the oven to 325 degrees.
2. Heat a 14 inch heavy bottomed saute pan (you will also need a lid) over medium high heat.  Add the canola oil, it should shimmer if if doesn’t let it heat some more, then carefully place the steak into the pan.  Sear it until it is very brown and caramelized on both sides.  You want to build what is called a fond on the bottom of the pan.  The fond is the gooey brown stuff that is sticking to the pan and you want to take care not to burn it.  The fond is going to give loads of flavor to you sauce.  It is ok to let it become deep brown but if it is getting to dark to quick turn the heat to medium.
3. Remove the steak to a tray.  Place the butter into the pan and add the onion, mushrooms, and peppers to the pan.  Let them cook until they wilt and start to take on some color.  Add the flour, garlic, marjoram and thyme.  Stir the flour in and let it cook for a minute or two to burn off the starch flavor,  add the water.  Using a wooden spoon scrape up all the brown bits from the bottom of the pan.
4. Bring the sauce to a boil and then place the steak on top of the veggies.  Put the lid on the pan and slide it into the oven.  Set a timer for 1 hour.
5. At the end of an hour check the tenderness of the round steak.  You don’t want it to be fall apart tender but you don’t want it to be tough either.  So cut a little sliver off and give it a go.  Either bake it with the lid on for another half hour or serve.
6. To serve:  Place the steak on a platter, preferably warmed in the oven for a minute or two,  and ladle on the sauce, finally, garnish with parsley and serve.

Glazed Carrots with Lettuce

I am not sure when my fascination with carrots began but it wasn’t as a kid. I really don’t think I thought much about carrots until I started growing them in my garden. I think the fact that a good carrot in the middle of winter taste so good and feels so completely nourishing while you are eating them it makes them hard to pass up.

This recipe uses classic technique, yet, is really simple. I find this recipe to be old school Flemish/Belgian and borderline Dutch. The first time I made it years ago I had my doubts about the lettuce addition but they quickly dissolved into bliss. As always the best and freshest produce you can lay you hands on is always going to make the best food.

SERVES 4

16 carrots with tops, you can tell how fresh the carrots are by the tops, not more than 3/4 inch diameter, peeled and timmed with 1 inch of top left on

1 teaspoon sugar

scant 1/2 teaspoons salt

1 1/2 teaspoon white wine vinegar

1 bay leaf

1 sprig of fresh thyme

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

a few grinds of white pepper

water

1/2 dozen bibb lettuce leaves, larger ones torn in half

  1. Place everything, except the lettuce, into a 12 inch heavy bottom saute pan. Add about 1 cup of cold water to the pan or just enough to reach an 1/8 inch from the tops of the carrots.
  2. Place the pan over high heat and bring to a boil. The idea here is to have the water all but evaporate at the same time the carrots finish cooking leaving you with a rich and delicious glaze to coat and be poured over the dish. If the water seems to be evaporating before the carrots are close to being done you can add a little more. At the same time if the carrots seem to be getting to done remove them from the pan. Reduce the glaze and then at the end add the carrots back to warm them and to cook the lettuce.
  3. The whole idea here is to have a tender carrot that is not mushy or one that when you cut it is so hard it shoots across the table. It is timing and you can always use a toothpick to test the fattest part of the carrot. It should yield with a some pressure pressure. As the water gets close to being gone add the lettuce. Let the lettuce wilt and get soft. You want it to be vibrant green but tender like cooked spinach. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Plate, drizzle the glaze over the veggies and serve.

Braised Kale with Sweet Potatoes and Corn

        Without question this goes against the grain of  eating seasonally and if it weren’t so good you  would reconsider it.  In defense of this dish it is also that strange time of year where the garden isn’t quite producing and all kinds of things from all over are showing up in the produce department of the grocery.
Still,  it is a dish that is great served with a whole grain pilaf for a vegetarian menu, and of course, with roast chicken, braised chicken, steak, pork or you name it.

Serve 4
4 to 5 sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch cubes, about 3 cups
1 to 2 tablespoons honey
2 to 3 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 bunches kale, ends trimmed and rinsed
1 onion, small dice, about 1/2 cup
4 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced thin
1/2 cup cream
1 ear sweet corn or 3/4 cup frozen , thawed
safflower oil
kosher salt and white pepper

1. Place a large pot of heavily salted water over high  heat and bring it to a boil.  Place the kale into the boiling water and blanch it until it is tender but the color is still vibrant.  Remove the kale to an ice bath and cool it immediately.  Drain it, squeeze out most of the liquid and then chop it.
2. Preheat the oven to 400 ℉.  Place a 12 or 14 inch non-stick skillet over medium high heat.  Once the pan is hot add 1 tablespoon of butter and the sweet potatoes.  Season them with a big pinch of salt.  Toss them in the pan to coat them with butter.  Cook the sweet potatoes until they start to brown, if they look dry add up to another tablespoon of butter,  then slide them into the oven.  Set a timer for 20 minutes.
3. While the sweet potatoes are cooking place another saute pan over medium heat and add a tablespoon of safflower oil.  Add the onions , season them with salt and white pepper, and cook them until they begin to take on color.  Then add the garlic.  Stir the contents of the pan and then add the chopped kale.  Stir again and season with another pinch of salt.
4. Add the cream and the corn and stir everything together.  Reduce the heat to a simmer and cover the pan with a lid.
5. Using a thick dry kitchen towel remove the sweet potatoes from the oven and add a tablespoon of honey and toss or stir the potatoes to coat them.  Place the pan back into the oven.  Bake the potatoes for another 5 minutes or until tender.
6. Check the kale for seasoning and adjust.  Try a sweet potato and add more honey, salt or pepper if needed.
When everything is hot and tender, bowl it up, and serve.

Heart and Soul

The tiny bright green stars of okra and the fresh lima beans, so tender the veins show through their thin skins, are nestled into a bed of bi-color sweet corn just shaved off the cob. Together they simmer in a liquid that is mostly melted butter, seasoned quietly with salt and black pepper.

Succotash is a poor man’s dish, made popular during the Great Depression. Somehow I never feel poor when eating it — but then, I feel that way about all soul food.

While succotash is comfort food, not all comfort food is soul food. I can find comfort in foie gras, but foie gras is not soul food. Succotash is.

At the back of the stove, the chicken thighs simmer away. Their crispy brown skin breaks the bubbling surface of pan gravy made with peppers, onions, and celery. There is a reason they call this mix of vegetables the trinity. It goes beyond the Southern flavor they bring to the dish — something distinct, even ethereal.

I am feeling sad. Sylvia Woods, of Sylvia’s Soul Food fame, has passed away. Over the years, her collard greens recipe became my recipe, her Northern-style cornbread a family favorite at Thanksgiving. It was with her recipe in hand one sultry Friday afternoon some years ago that I lost my red velvet cake virginity.

I pick up the paring knife used to peel the potatoes. It is dirty with powdery white potato starch. Fishing for one of the larger chunks of potato, I stick it into the boiling water, find one, and poke it with the knife, which slips to the center of the potato like it is room temperature butter.

Carrying the potato pot to the sink, I pour it into the strainer. Hot starchy steam rushes up and around my face before disappearing upward toward the ceiling. I let the potatoes sit in the strainer to steam out excess moisture and turn to the stove to stir the succotash.

The oven timer goes off.

I grab a kitchen towel to use as a hot pad and remove the black skillet cornbread from the oven. I can smell the thin, crispy bacon fat-and-cornmeal crust that forms when the batter hits the hot skillet, hiding now under the tender yellow interior. I set the skillet on top of the stove and cover it with the dish towel.

I like this point in the meal preparation.  The point where everything is coming together and there is a final rush to get everything done at the same time so all the food comes to the table hot.

I rice the potatoes.

It isn’t a coincidence the corn, okra, and lima beans are all at their peak out in the garden today.  At least that is what I am telling myself.

I always add the butter first to the riced potatoes so the fat gets absorbed by the starch.  Then I add the heavy cream, salt and pepper.
I like that soul food is about coming together not just as a family but as a community, even more so then it is about eating.  Not that the food isn’t important– it is about the value of sharing, too — but even the food shouldn’t trump the socialization that happens around it.

I taste the potatoes.  They are just the right texture and need no further seasoning, cream or butter.  I scoop them into a serving bowl, and do the same with the succotash, and put the smothered chicken on a platter with its gravy ladled over the top.

It is always lively at our table.  This evening, it might even be more so.

Get the Bona Fide smothered chicken recipe here.

Fugly Lentils and Drunken Pig

This is a love story. One with big hands, fat spoons and where ladles are measured in busty bra sizes. It harkens back to the days when hand hewn tables were made of whole trees and crusty loaves of bread were the size of clouds. One where wine was quaffed, not sipped and swirled, and bellicose laughter could be heard around the dinner table not TV. There were no food temples of hallowed and silent reverence just hunger and many mouths to be fed. While not pretty the lowly lentil has done this job for centuries and so has the pig.

When they finally met it was love at first sight. The kind of love where you see no faults. It is big love where your very nature is to do everything in your power to make the other shine because they are the only light you see. There are no dainty little pieces that sit comfortably on soup spoons never to threaten silk shirts with a trip to the dry cleaners. These are knife, fork, spoon and some crusty bread to sop up any tears of joy left on the plate kind of eats. The Armagnac you ask, well, sometimes the lentils just like to feel a little slutty.

SERVES 4 TO 6

For the drunken pig:

3 or 4 meaty fresh pork hocks, unsmoked and about 4 inches long. The closer to the ham end the better. Really, make sure they are meaty it is where the pork for the dish is coming from

10 ounces unsmoked slab bacon, in one piece

1 leek, trimmed cut in half lengthwise

1 onion quartered

1 carrot, peeled and cut into chunks

2 celery stalks, rinsed and cut into chunks

1 head of garlic, halved

2 thyme sprigs

2 bay leaves

2 teaspoons whole black pepper corns

pinch of ground cloves

3 parsley sprigs

2 cups dry white wine

1 cinnamon stick 3 inches long

For the fugly lentils:

Meat from the hocks and the bacon

strained stock from above

2 onions, trimmed peeled and cut into quarters

8 carrots, decent sized, peeled and cut into 1 1/2 inch lengths

14 cloves of garlic, peeled, trust me later you will think this isn’t near enough

2 bay leaves

1 tablespoon rosemary, minced

1 tablespoon tomato paste

1/2 cup tomato sauce

1 teaspoon thyme, minced

1 1/4 cup Lentils du Puy

kosher salt and fresh ground pepper

1 tablespoon armagnac

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon garlic, very finely minced

1 tablespoon flat leaf parsley minced

1.To make the stock turn the oven to 325 degrees. Place all the stock ingredients into a large enameled cast iron pot with a lid. Make sure it is going to fit comfortably. Add water to cover. Bring to a boil on the stove top and skim any foam that rises.

2. Cover the pot with a lid and place it in the oven. Take a 2 hour and 45 minute break to do what ever you want. I generally play with the kids at this point or run errands or whatever.

3. Make sure the hocks are pull apart tender. If not cook them a little longer. When they are done pull the hocks and bacon and set them on a tray. Strain and drain the stock into a clean bowl, degrease and reserve the broth. Clean out the pot and put it back on the stove over medium high heat.

4. Add a few glugs of olive oil and then toss in the carrots and the onions. Sear them until they begin to take on color.

5. Add the garlic, rosemary, thyme, tomato sauce, 3 cups of stock and the tomato paste.

6. Season the broth with black pepper and add the lentils. Bring the pot to a boil and then reduce the heat to a simmer and cover. Simmer them for 40 minutes checking to make sure they aren’t boiling or that the lentils haven’t drank all the broth and adding broth if necessary. Lentil like all beans vary in cooking times depending on age, moisture content etc so times may vary. You want these to be tender but not mush so you will need to give them a taste.

7. Meanwhile make the seasoning sauce. Combine the minced garlic, parsley and red wine vinegar and season it with salt and pepper. Stir in the olive oil.

8. At the end of 40 minutes check to make sure the lentils are tender. If not simmer them another fifteen minutes or so. Stir in the armagnac and add the reserved pork that you picked from the bones and add it to the lentils. Cut the bacon into equal portions and add it too. Season the pot with salt and black pepper and taste. Cover and warm the pork through. Serve with the sauce on the side.

The Chess Game

There is never a good time for bad news, but there it is, right in front of me, plain as a shadow on a sunny day.

She breaks the news the minute she is in the car.  I’m trying to get her in her car seat and the buckle hasn’t even clicked when she blurts it out:

“Dad, I think I want to leave home.”

I move back, still leaning over her.  I try to get her freckled little face, her blue eyes, in focus.  I don’t have my glasses on.  The back of the front seat keeps me from moving back far enough, so I have to squint to see just how serious this statement, this bomb, is.

No hint of a smile;  if she isn’t serious, she should win an Oscar.

“Ohhh-kay,” I say.

I walk around the car and wave to Mrs. Davis, Vivian’s kindergarten teacher.  I drop my chin, looking down at the pavement and smile.  She cast the hook and I’m going to run with it.  It’s a good opportunity to connect.  Lynnie is at preschool for a couple more hours, I’ve made Vivian’s favorite, chicken noodle, for lunch, and this plan to leave home will make for good conversation over soup and crackers.

It started out as an ordinary day.  We all woke up at the usual time; no crying, no wrong-side-of-the-bed.  They ate their pancakes, had their juice, and were dressed and ready to go to the bus stop without any of my deep-voiced “matching socks, girls” or you need your gym shoes today”–not even the requisite “if we miss the bus…” threat. I don’t need any of those stern words, meant to teach them that a sense of urgency is sometimes necessary, because for once they got ready before they started playing.  Actually, I guess it started as an extraordinary day.

Now, on the way home from school, Vivian and I ride in silence.  I’m trying to figure out where this “leaving home” thing is coming from, and she, I am sure, is using the silence as a negotiating tool, to bring her opponent to the table first.  It is a short drive home, and I decide not to bring it up again.  It’s up to Vivian.

As I open the screen door to the house, I get a good whiff of the chicken stock on the stove.  I mention that I made chicken-noodle soup for lunch and ask if she would like a bowl.

“Oh, not now, Daddy–I need to pack,”  she says.

“It’s hot and yummy, and you’re going to need your strength,” I reply.  Besides, you have plenty of time.”

She consents to lunch.

I grab a ladle from the utensil drawer and a couple of bowls from the cabinet.  The soup is simmering.  I ladle up bowls of the golden broth loaded with carrots, noodles and chicken, walk to the table, and set them down.  I go to the pantry and smile to myself again as I grab a sleeve of crackers.

Vivian grabs two spoons from the drawer and we both sit down.  I hand her a napkin.

Again, silence, except for the sound of us blowing on our spoons full of hot soup.  Mine is cool enough and I sip the soup.  Vivian does the same.

“Good soup, Dad,” she says.

“Thanks,” I say, and then, with a note of concern: “Are you mad at me or Mommy?”

“Oh, no, Dad”.

“I just wanted to make sure that isn’t why you want to leave,” I say, feigning concern.

“Oh no, I’m not mad, it’s just time,” she says happily.  “I think I want to see the world and, now that I’m bigger, I think it’s time.”

I takes all the muscle control I can muster not to break a smile.  The look on her face is stone-cold sober.  I know she has made up her mind.

“So can you tell me about your plan?” I ask.

And she does.  In fact, Vivian talks all afternoon:  in the preschool pick-up line for Lynnie, through Lynnie’s nap, over dinner, and on into the evening.  She discusses every detail and wants my response.  She is fleshing out her plan, using me as a sounding board.  She is wearing me down like a constant drip of a water torture session.  I know her, and I know what she’s doing.  She’s building confidence to carry out her plan, watching me to see if I think her plan is workable–and if I’ll give it my consent.

She is going full tilt now, a hundred yard dash of manic talk over dirty dishes, and all I can do is throw up hurdles in front of her.  I ask all the pertinent questions:  where are you going to sleep, what are you going to eat, what will you do for money”  And she has answers–well-thought-out answers: in a tent, in restaurants, and her birthday money will suffice.  Only when she asks me, “Do people in our country all speak the same language?’ do I realize how deeply she is thinking about her trip.

Yes, but in other countries they speak different languages,” I say.

“Well,” she pauses, “maybe I won’t go to Paris.  Maybe I’ll just walk around our country.”

“How long do you plan to be gone,” I query, “Because if you aren’t coming back, I need to let the school know.”

“Five years,” she says with no understanding of time.

Until this point, she had me worried.  I thought she might actually leave;  just walk out the door and down the drive, leaving me to wonder what I can say.  After all, I’ve been encouraging her, talking to her like leaving is a reality, and I’m beginning to wonder how I’ll retract my words.

“Oh.  That’s a long time,” I say with a hint of sadness.  “I don’t know if I’ll recognize you when you come back.  What if we move?  Will you be able to find us?”  The notion of phone calls, letters, or emails isn’t part of her reality yet–neither is the notion of we might not be here when she comes home.

It’s time to press my bluff.  “Well–then why don’t you get your backpack and I’ll at least drive you you up to the mail box.  Get you on your way.”
“Oh, that’s okay, Dad,” she replies.  “I think I’ll at least go to school tomorrow and tell all my friends goodbye.  I’ll leave after school.”

“Well then, get up to bed,” I answer.  “You have a long day tomorrow.  I’ll come up in a minute and tuck you in.”

I’ve listened to Vivian all day and that takes time.  I want to get things straightened up.  I turn on some music and turn to finish the dishes.  When they’re done I start wiping counter tops.

“Dad!” I hear from the top of the steps.  “You gonna come tuck me in?”

I forgot.  By the time I climb the stairs, she’s back in bed.

I sit down on the edge of the bed and tell her, “You can’t leave.  You can’t ever leave.  I need you here.  I need you to help me, Lynnie needs you, and so does Mommy.  You can’t go!”

“Wellll….,” she says, drawing out the pronunciation.  Then she giggles and finishes, “I was beginning to think it wasn’t my best idea, ’cause who’s gong to make me pancakes?”

 

get your soup recipe here ; Chicken and Rice Soup with Saffron