Three Onion Chowder

I really like chowders and really like French onion soup.  This is the best of both those worlds.  I don’t like pasty chowders so I didn’t thicken it except for the starch released from the potatoes. One tip I learned from Jasper White’s 50 Chowders is to let the chowder rest covered for thirty minutes. It really does make a difference when you allow the flavors to come together.

SERVES 4 TO 6

For the Soup:

For the Soup::

3 ounces pancetta, 1/4 inch dice

2 cups yellow onion, peeled and julienned

2 leeks, rinsed, white parts only, sliced into half moons

4 shallots, peeled and sliced

1/3 cup celery, 1/4 inch dice

1 1/2 tablespoon fresh garlic, minced

1 teaspoon fresh thyme, minced

1 bay leaf

2 cups chicken stock

2 cups half and half

3 russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2 dice

1 tablespoon Italian parsley, minced

1 tablespoon fresh chives, chopped

Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper

1. In a 3 quart Dutch oven or sauce pan add the butter and pancetta and place it over medium heat to render the pancetta. Once some of the fat has been released add the onions, shallot and celery. Saute until they are just becoming golden. You don’t want them to brown too much or the soup will be brown. Add the leeks, garlic and thyme. Cook until the leeks are just becoming soft. Add the bay leaf and chicken stock. Bring it to a boil and add the half and half and the potatoes. Bring the soup back to a boil and then immediately turn off the heat and cover the pot. Allow it to rest for at least thirty minutes.

Parsleyed Oyster Crackers:

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

1 cup oyster crackers

1 tablespoon Italian parsley, minced

Fine sea salt and fresh ground pepper

1. Heat a small saute pan over medium high heat. Add the butter and once it has stopped bubbling but is not brown, add the oyster crackers and toss the crackers to coat with the butter. Season with salt and pepper. Stir in the parsley and toss the crackers gently in order to coat all the crackers with the parsley. Pour out onto a baking sheet and let cool.

2. To finish the soup reheat it but don’t let it boil. Taste a potato to check and see if it is done and adjust the seasoning if necessary. If the potatoes are not done then cook over low heat for 15 minutes. Stir in the parsley and chives and then ladle into cups or bowls. Top with a few oyster crackers and serve.

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Stir Fried Noodles

 

There are two things I get hung up on when it comes to making Asian food at home — woks and procuring hard-to-find ingredients.

But I look at it this way: I make Italian pasta at home, so I know I can make any noodle at home.

There are a few technical issues that are really the key to stir-fry success. I need to get my pan hot enough, generally impossible to do with a wok because of the BTUs of American stoves and the thinness of the wok metal, but a non-stick skillet will do what I need it to do perfectly.

The other misstep is when I try to cram too many ingredients into the wrong-sized pan — this is my most common stir-fry failure because I get anxious or cocky. Easily solvable, with a little thing called patience.

How to Make Any Stir-Fried Noodles 

Ratio: 1.5 parts protein, 1 part vegetable, 1 part noodle. For my 12 inch non-stick skillet this means 12 ounces of protein, 8 ounces of vegetables, 8 ounces cooked noodles.

1. Stir-fries cook quickly so act like a scout and be prepared. Cut all vegetables small enough that they’ll cook fast and line up all ingredients next to the stove in the order they’ll go into the pan. (Always dilute soy sauce in ratio of 1 part soy to 1 part water — when it hits the hot pan it will reduce, gaining back its strength.)

2. Choose your noodle. I find all noodles are good noodles as long as they are long. Cook them to al dente and cool them — I like to steep rice noodles instead of boiling them, which only takes about 10 minutes.

3. Cook the protein first, adding half the diluted soy after the protein has caramelized. Remove the protein to a plate, wipe out the pan and reheat it.

4. Sear the vegetables till tender. Be sure to add the vegetables that take the longest to cook to the pan first. Carrots first, ginger and garlic last.

5. Combine everything in the pan and toss just till it’s warmed through, adding the remaining diluted soy sauce last.

6. Add the garnish — here, chives and scallions — which in Asian food isn’t optional. It is an actual ingredient that needs to be added for flavor.

  • Spaghetti noodles $1.05 for 16 oz.s-$o.53
  • 12 ounces ground meat-$3.50
  • vegetables-$4.00
  • oil- $0.25

Total approx. cost for this recipe.$8.03

Ingredients ( Serves 4  when served with sides or 2 if you serve it only)

12 ounces ground beef, chicken or turkey ( I used turkey because I had it on hand)

8 ounces of veggies, I used 1 cup snow peas, small dice, 1 cup carrots, grated, 1 leek, about a cup julienned, 1 tablespoon each garlic and ginger, 1/4 cup green onions and 1 tablespoon of chives.

8 ounces of cooked and cooled noodles

1/4 cup of soy sauce diluted with a 1/4 cup of water

Lentil Cakes, Red Onions and Sweet Potato Fries

Lentil Patties with Red Onions

Everyday my diet pushes further in a vegetarian/vegan direction.  I don’t know if it is because I am older,  my tastes changing, or maybe I am I just tired of all the same foods I have spent life eating.

If I really think about it, which I am prone to do, I don’t think I eat this way to be healthy.  While health is a byproduct and one I will take, I think it is because I am a lover of food.  As one whose tastebuds have been around the block a few times I am always looking for the new and exciting to try.  As my tastebuds gain experience it also becomes harder to get excited about food.

It might be connected to my garden too.  I have been lucky enough to have a garden of some sort for well over 15 years now.  With each passing year I get more excited about the growing season.  It gets harder and harder to wait for the first produce.  The other thing I know is the diversity of vegetables I grow has increased the diversity of my diet.  For whatever reason and it does not matter to me, I have developed a fondness for vegan food.

I make these lentil patties often with my lentil patty tikka masala recipe.  Today I cooked the lentils in cashew cream and added lemon juice and thyme.

Cost to make this dinner: under $15.oo

Get the lentil patty tikka masala recipe here.

For the Lentils(serves 4)

1 cup dried Lentil du Puy, rinsed and picked over for stones

1/2 yellow onion, small dice

1 tablespoon fresh grated ginger

1 tablespoon cilantro, minced

2 teaspoons garam masala

1/4 cup flour, I used millet flour

1 egg

3/4 teaspoons kosher salt

 

1. Place the lentils into a 3 quart pot and cover with water by two or more inches. Add the minced onion. Place the pot over medium heat. Slowly bring the lentils to a boil then reduce the heat to a simmer and cook the lentils until tender adding a pinch or two of salt in the last 10 minutes of cooking. This should take approximately 30 minutes.

2. Drain the lentils. Let them cool but puree them in a food processor while they are still warm. They will be easier to handle when warm.

3. Add the remaining lentil cake ingredients and pulse the cakes a few more times until the rest of the ingredients are combined into the mix. Taste the lentil puree then season the puree with kosher salt and a few grinds of pepper. Taste again and adjust the seasoning.

4. Let the cakes sit for a few minutes to hydrate the flour. Take a tablespoon of the mix and make a ball. Is it really wet or is it too stiff? You want the mix to hold its shape but not be overly stiff otherwise they can be dry when cooked. It should just hold its shape. Add more flour a tablespoon at a time if you need to letting the additional flour hydrate before testing. Divide the lentils into eight balls.

5. Add enough oil to cover the bottom of a heavy bottomed sauté pan by an 1/8 inch. Heat the oil over medium high heat. Test the oil by dropping a pinch of lentil to the pan. It should begin to sizzle right away but not violently sizzle and pop.

6. When the oil is ready take each lentil ball and smash it down gently forming it into 1/2 inch thick cakes and add them to the oil. Let each side brown nicely and then remove them to a tray lined with a brown bag to soak up the oil. Keep the cakes warm, either in a low, 200 degree oven or in a warm place on the stove.

For the onions:

1 large red onion, cut into four 1/2 inch slices the onion wheels left in one piece do not separate into rings

vegetable oil

For the sweet potato fries:

4 large sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/4 to 1/2 inch julienne slices

oil

kosher salt and fresh ground pepper

  1. Heat the oven to 425˚ F.
  2. While the oven is heating place a saute pan over medium heat.  When the pan is warm add a couple of glugs of oil.  Add the slices of onion and saute them until they have browned.  Remove from the heat.
  3. Toss the sweet potatoes with oil.  Season them with plenty of salt and pepper and toss them again to mix in the seasoning.  Lay the fries out onto a baking rack set over a baking sheet.  This will allow the heat to cook the fries from all sides(do this step or you will have limp fries). Bake the fries until they begin to brown and blister, about 20 minutes. Remove one of the largest fries and test it to see if it is tender on the inside.  Be careful sweet potatoes burn easily so keep an eye on them.  Warm the onions in the oven.
  4. Top the patties with the onion rings, serve with fries and curry ketchup!

Breton Butter Cake

Breton Butter Cake

This morning little Lynnie keeps yelling and pointing in excitement at the cake I made for last night’s Sunday dinner. She is telling me she wants it for her birthday. The heels on the last three slices of the cake have been nibbled. Last night she kept slipping her little hand in and under the wrap so she could pinch and sneak little pieces off. The edges now look like we have a mouse in the house, and I finally had to move the cake to higher ground.

We had guest last night for dinner and while making dessert yesterday I recalled making a promise this year to make more desserts. I haven’t been. So I started thinking about this commitment while making this cake. I figured I need to sort out my likes and dislikes. Set some parameters and set myself up for success.

Most of the time I don’t want anything sweet. I am not a big sweets person. When I do a simple, small piece of dark chocolate usually suffices. I don’t want anything overly sweet.

Not only that, but as with many chefs I have a certain disdain for making desserts. It’s not that I don’t like to make them but that these grumblings occur because I usually wait till everything else is done before I think to make something. It is like opening the dishwasher to to put in dirties only to find you haven’t yet put up the clean ones. I have no explanation for this other than I think it comes with the toque. It’s why the gods made pastry chefs.

The idea of a dessert that holds the potential of a coffee or tea break snack but can double as an after-dinner treat always appeals to me. I am always out to kill two birds with one stone.

I have made this cake multiple times but I haven’t made it since I became gluten-free, so I figured now would be as good a time as any. Knowing the kind of cake it is — a very buttery shortbread — I figured it would make the conversion without suffering. It did. In all honesty I think I like it better gluten-free. The rice flour really gives it a quintessential butter cake texture in a shortbread way.

There are technical things I like about it too, or maybe I should say, the lack of technical things. It is a put-all-the-ingredients-into-a-bowl, mix, dump and bake affair. Not a lot of extras to clean up.

It holds well too. It is on day three, still on the sheet tray, covered with plastic wrap and pieces keep disappearing.

It is a cake of no regrets and, if this afternoon I do have any, they are gone by the time I have finished my last delicious bite and sip the last sip of coffee from the cup. Again, two birds with one stone.

Breton Butter Cake (Makes 12 pieces)

  • 600grams King Arthur all-purpose gluten-free flour
  • 30grams corn starch (1/4 cup)
  • 395grams sugar (2 cups)
  • 448grams salted butter, yes salted, soft (4 sticks)
  • 140grams egg yolk (7 yolks)
  • 22grams rum (2 tablespoons)
  • 1egg yolk mixed with one tablespoon of milk
  1. Heat the oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. Sift the flour and cornstarch into the bowl of a mixer. Add the sugar and butter. Use a rubber spatula and scrape every bit of butter off the butter wrappers and put it into the bowl too. Then, using the paddle attachment, mix until combined. Add the yolks and rum. Mix till smooth.
  3. Using one of the butter wrappers grease the inside of a 9 inch ring mold that is 2 inches deep or spring form pan. If you use a spring form pan, dust it with flour after greasing and tilt and shift the pan so you get the sides dusted too. Shake out the excess.
  4. Using a spatula, scoop the batter into the mold then spread the batter out evenly. You may need to moisten the spatula with a little water to keep the dough from sticking to it.
  5. Using the tines of a fork make a cross hatch pattern on the surface of the cake. Using a pastry brush gently paint the top of the cake with the yolk and milk wash.
  6. Bake the cake for 45 minutes. Keep an eye on it and if it starts to brown to quickly reduce the heat. The top should brown and it should be firm to the touch. Remove the cake from the oven and let it cool completely before removing the ring.

The Asparagus Has Not Sprung

The rain is really coming down now.

On the few days it has been nice I have been to the garden looking for the tiniest hints of spring.  Maybe thin asparagus tips might be peeking at me through the damp dirt.  The tarragon is growing, so is the sorrel and savory.  The  purple chive blossoms are ready to burst open and there are strong whiffs of lovage.  I have already made my beloved lovage cream cheese spread even if it is only beloved by me.

I know I could go to the store and buy asparagus.  I know it would taste good.  I have already seen countless asparagus recipes tempting me, one for an asparagus tart that looks amazing.

The mustard greens are blooming now, a toad has dug his way up from the mud.  Around dinner time he wrestles himself in between clumps of dirt getting himself as close to the earth’s warmth as he can.  He needs to protect himself from the night time cold. During the heat of the day a snake is searching the compost pile  for mice.  Soon…I think to myself…soon you will get to taste the sweetness of the asparagus that only happens when you grow your own. Continue reading →

Seasoning with Pork: Polenta with Peas and Pork Sausage

Polenta with Peas and Pork Sausage

If my extended family’s eating habits are an indication as to what the preferred meat was on my grandparents and great grandparents farm then it is obvious to me I come from a long line of pork eaters. It’s not as if this matters or that I need some sort of familial approval for my love of the beast because I don’t.  I claim it as my heritage after all but I’ll just say it anyway for clarity, I…love…pork.

I love pork for its possibilities, its versatility, and most importantly, it’s flavor. From snout to hocks or bacon to ham there are more uses for the pig then any other animal I know and one of my favorite uses is as a seasoning.  My definition and what I mean by seasoning is not simply tossing a couple of strips of bacon in with the green beans and  calling it a day.  No, the pork isn’t there for a cameo but instead has an important supporting role, one in which it could be nominated for an award.

Don’t get me wrong I enjoy a good pork dinner, something like Edna Lewis’s Boiled Pork (think Pot eu Feu) really floats my boat but as I try to reduce the amount of animal protein I consume I often look to the example of Italian ragus or Asian dishes where animal protein, quite literally, plays second fiddle to the grains or noodles on the platter. The pork is there to enhance and flavor the dish. Sure this is done for economy, just like adding bread or oats to meatloaf, and who doesn’t like save a few bucks or at the very least feed more mouths for the same price. Not only that but if you buy less quantity then you can afford better quality, at least this has always been my way of thinking.

When it comes to pork quality matters. If you buy pork that is enhanced with sodium triphosphate, a common practice at big box stores, it won’t caramelize very well and honestly the pork tastes bland. It is done to help the meat retain moisture but they add it because the producers have made pork to lean. If you buy pork with a little higher fat content you don’t need the moisture retainer. Not only that but when pork is raised in a more sustainable fashion it just taste better. It taste better because of what the animals eat.  It is about the animals diet after all. I am all about how my food taste and if sustainability happens to be a byproduct then, wonderful. I mean when I bite into good pork it immediately transports me to my grandparents farm, sitting outside under a shade tree eating a farm dinner on a beautiful summer’s eve and it reminds me exactly how pork is supposed to taste.

Over the years I have had different fascinations with different types of cured pork. I mean the list of possibilities is big, you have bacon, ham, Tasso, Serrano, prosciutto, pancetta, guanciale all on top of any number of sausages. All used as seasonings and all just a few of the options that can confront you. The wonderful thing is there are many books that will teach you how to cure many of these products at home (Michael Ruhlman’s Charcuterie comes to mind) and many of the processes are surprisingly simple. In fact no special equipment is required other then a good sharp knife(which I don’t consider special equipment).

Polenta with Peas and Sausage (serves 6)

one recipe of Carlo Middione’s Polenta Facile

10 ounces pork tenderloin, sirloin or loin

4 to 5 ounces pancetta

2 teaspoons red wine vinegar

a scrape or two of whole nutmeg

a handful of  parsley leaves

3 cloves garlic

2 tablespoons tomato paste

1 teaspoon dried thyme

1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary

1 bay leaf

kosher salt

fresh ground pepper

1 garlic clove, minced

1/2 cup carrots, small dice

1/2 cup onion, small dice

1/2 cup white wine

2 cups pork stock or chicken stock

1 1/2 cups fresh peas or frozen

chopped chives and parsley

1. Lay your pork out onto a large cutting board. Cut the pork and pancetta into thin strips then into cubes. Spread the pork out so it is flat instead of in one big pile. It’s ok if it isn’t in one single layer you just don’t want a big pile. Place the palm of you hand, as shown in the picture, across the blade of the knife making sure to keep your fingers up and you hand flat. This will keep you from cutting your hand if the knife slips. So fingers up! What you are doing is creating a hinge of sorts because you want to keep the tip of the knife on the board and in doing so it lets you apply more cutting force. Run the knife through the pork several times and until you have minced it to a coarse mince.

2. Add the garlic cloves, parsley, a teaspoon of salt, a few grinds of pepper and the nutmeg. Mince the seasonings into the pork until you have a fine mince. Add the red wine vinegar and knead it into the sausage. Ball up the sausage, put it in a bowl and let it get funky in the fridge for an hour or two.

3. Start the polenta. I let my polenta cook for almost three hours. I was using an heirloom corn I grew last year called Henry Moore. It took a long time to cook but it was creamy beyond my wildest expectations. So take your time with the polenta, cook any bitterness out of it and let it do its thing.

4. When the polenta is close to being finished start the sauce by placing a large 12 inch saute pan over medium high heat. When it is hot add a glug or two of oil to coat the bottom of the pan. Brown the sausage. Once the sausage is brown remove it to a plate. Be careful not to burn the fond on the bottom of the pan. Add the onions and carrots and cook them gently until they just begin to wilt.

5. Add the tomato paste, dried thyme, rosemary, garlic and bay leaf. Stir until fragrant then add the white wine. Let the wine burn off the alcohol and then add the stock. Season and taste. Bring it to a boil and reduce it by half. Taste again and adjust the seasoning.

6. Add the sausage and peas. Heat until the peas are warmed through. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Add a tablespoon of chopped chives and parsley. Stir.

7. Spread the polenta on a platter, top with the peas and sausage, and serve.

A Girl and Her Pig

When I used to go to the bookstore looking for cookbooks to add to my collection I could spend hours flipping the pages of different books.  It was much like when I was younger and I would buy albums, then CDs, flipping through the alphabetized record bins searching for disk in hopes of finding something new and even more importantly, something exciting. As such I am the owner of an extensive cookbook library, or at least it feels like it to me. Not as many books as in some peoples collections but enough none the less. Back when I was really buying I would head to the bookstores and it was nothing to buy two to five new books at a time.

When I got home with my finds I would take them to my night stand and set them down. I would go about the rest of my days business but every night before bed I would thumb through the books looking for the must make recipes. Sometimes straight away I wanted to get out of bed and head into the kitchen. It was hard to contain my excitement and wait until the next day to make a new dish.

In time though I began to experience the law of diminishing returns. It began to feel as if the content of the cookbooks I was purchasing was all the same. A trend would hit and everyone would follow suite. Authors would add their little twist to the fad of the moment and publish. The fads would last about two years only to be followed by the next hot trend. Duck comes to mind, slow food, then bacon and now simple scratch cooking, vegetarian and vegan. The later, repentance for our foodie excesses I suppose.

All in all, this phenomena is what I have termed the “gold rush syndrome”. It is where food professionals scurry from one region, type or style of food to the next looking for a nugget in the terroir. One person strikes gold and everyone mines it until it runs dry.  This syndrome came to reflect the foodie mentality for me and I just can’t do it anymore. It is tiring, the chase isn’t fun anymore,  and once my palette became more experienced it became harder to please.  Even so, there are still books being created that stand out and when I do find gold it is not hard to champion or to shout encouragement and praise. Especially when, from cover to cover, a book is full of useful wisdom.

There is no doubt April Bloomfield’s A Girl and Her Pig is one one of these great books, one of the best in this years cookbook class and upon giving it a closer look I discovered it is much more.  A Girl And Her Pig resonates with libertarian resolve.  It is apparent Bloomfield is someone who has taken responsibility for herself and her food and harbors no apologies.  The cover is as punk as punk ever was.  It is Abbey Hoffman.  It is Che Guevara.  It is Frieda Kahlo.

It resonates with the soul of a chef but it is a book in which a wonderful chef does what really wonderful chefs do, they please.  Which is rare in theses days of pop star chefs.  If Bloomfield has an ego she checked it at the door.    She never leaves you with the impression she is better then you but instead you feel she is one of you. Bloomfield uses a mix of classic recipes that, with time,  have become her own and then she laces the pages in-between with food she loves.  Simple dishes like bubble and squeak and chicken in adobo are obviously a few of her favorite foods but they go well with the restaurant dishes too.  What Bloomfield has done is spend time in the kitchen perfecting classic recipes, using her professional knowledge to create food to her liking and with her touch.  It is this dedication that makes the food in this book so special.

Not surprisingly as you get to know her food you get to know Bloomfield. The pages are laced with personal tales of cooking and career and with each turn of the page her passion, which is quietly infectious, builds only to remain with you long after you closed the cover. As such Bloomfield becomes a wonderful voice to have floating around in your head while you are in the kitchen much like a favorite song that always resonates deep within your soul.