Manhattan Clam Chowder

Manhattan Clam ChowderI don’t know why I haven’t made this lately. I developed this recipe for a fish and seafood class I used to teach at the local culinary school. It might seem bell-less and whistle-less but don’t let it fool you. It is a workhorse soup that is deeply satisfying in a working class bar sorta way. It can easily be whipped up right out of the pantry. Take note not to get carried away with the horseradish. It is subtle in the amount given, just enough to be a mysterious secret ingredient, but if you add more it takes over.

Makes 8 six ounce servings

2 eight oz. bottles Bar Harbor clam juice

2 six oz. cans Bar Harbor clams, drained, chopped and juice reserved

4 ounces bacon, diced

1 1/2 cup yellow onion, peeled and small dice

1/2 cup leek, white part only, small dice

1 cup celery, rinsed and small dice

2 teaspoons garlic, minced

1/8 heaping teaspoon celery seed

1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

1 teaspoon dried thyme

1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes

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

28 ounces Pomi brand chopped tomatoes

1/2 to 3/4 teaspoon prepared horseradish

1. Place a 3 1/2 quart heavy bottomed pot over medium heat. Add the bacon and render the fat until it is crisp tender, not crunchy.

2. Add the onion, celery and leek. Saute the vegetables until they are tender but not browned.

3. Add the garlic, celery seed, oregano, thyme and red pepper flakes. Saute until they become fragrant. A minute or so.

4. Add the clam juice and reserved juice. While you are waiting for the broth to come to a boil taste it and, depending on how salty the clam juice is, season it with salt and fresh ground black pepper.

5. Once the broth is boiling add the potatoes, bring back to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer. Simmer for about 15 minutes then add the tomatoes and clams, bring to a boil again then reduce the heat, taste and adjust the seasoning, then simmer until the potatoes are done, about 20 minutes.

6. Just before serving add the horseradish making sure to thoroughly stir it in.

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Gugelhopf

Gugelhopf

   I love this kind of yeasted cake. They aren’t too sweet but the smell is oh so yummy and they taste really good. A perfect holdiay cake, something special that you will always associate with Christmas or New Years. I would serve it with champagne or better yet, Inniskillin Vidal Sparkling Icewine. ( I used a 9 inch gugelhopf mold )

SERVES 8 TO 10
1 tablespoon active dry yeast
1 cup whole milk, warm but not over 110 degrees
2 tablespoons honey, mild flavored variety
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 sticks of unsalted butter, slightly softened, plus more for the mold
4 egg yolks
4 egg whites, beaten until stiff
1 tablespoon Grand Marnier
2 1/2 teaspoons orange zest
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon cardamom
1/2 teaspoon fine grind sea salt
3 1/2 cups unbleached all purpose flour
1 cup raisins or zante currants
1/2 cup sliced almonds
confectioners sugar for dusting

1. For the starter you want to combine the milk and honey and sprinkle the yeast over the top and let it bloom. Once all the yeast is hydrated add 1 cup of the flour and mix to combine. Cover and set aside for 30 minutes.

In the bowl of a mixer fitted with a paddle cream the butter with the sugar. Once it is smooth add the starter and combine it.
2. Scrape down the sides of the mixing bowl. With the mixer running add the egg yolks one at a time only adding another after the previous one is blended in. Add the Grand Marnier, vanilla, cardamom, salt and orange zest.

3. Add two cups of flour and mix to combine. You want the dough to be stiff enough to just pull away from the sides. It should look like the gugelhopf mold in a sense in that you should see pleats of dough with shiny bowl spots. If you need to add flour a 1/4 cup at a time. you should see strands of gluten forming. Mix in the egg whites which will make the dough more like a batter. Mix in the raisins

4. Butter the mold with lots of butter and then sprinkle in the almonds along the sides and top. Add the dough to the mold making sure it is evenly distributed. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and set aside.

5. Pre heat the oven to 350 degrees. Once the dough has risen to about the 3/4 mark on the sides of the mold slide it into the oven and bake it for 30 minutes. Check it and if the exposed cake is browning to fast loosely set a piece of foil on top. Bake another 30 minutes.

6. Remove from the oven and invert the mold onto a cooling rack and lift the mold. Let the cake cool completely. Dust with powder sugar and serve. It is best served the day it is made. If there happen to be leftovers it makes great French toast.

The Omlette

The sun is just peeking over the horizon. The ninth-hole green looks beautiful in this light. Seems odd that a golf course can look so beautiful, but it does.

It’s five in the morning when I pull up to the back doors of the clubhouse. The double doors aren’t very welcoming, and a smoking station acting as the de facto doorman doesn’t make it any more so. The entire area is hidden from view by a privacy fence and some pine trees. Even if it isn’t intentional, this space reminds you: You are the help.

I open the car door to be greeted by the stench of dead food. A few days’ worth of food scraps–the shit the club members left on their plates mixed with the kitchen trimmings that are no good to anyone but the rats–is rotting in the dumpster until a truck comes to pick it up. The golf-course irrigation system kicks on. I search my keychain for the back-door key I rarely use. I rack my brain trying not to confuse the pin number of my debit card with the alarm code.

Inside, the kitchen is cold. My hours spent here usually center around dinner service, when the kitchen has had all day to become miserably hot. The cold is unfamiliar. I walk to the heat lamps and turn them on, then turn on the flat top.

The thick steel of the flat top takes forever to heat. The hash browns need all the cooking time I can give them to become golden brown and delicious before service. From the walk-in refrigerator, I get out a tray of shell eggs and start cracking them into a bain marie. These will be omelet eggs and scrambles. Lots of kitchens buy their eggs already cracked, but we don’t. I’m not sure why, since the nasty, fart-smelling liquid eggs we use for scrambled eggs on the buffets are cooked right in the plastic bags they come in. I whisk the eggs then strain them through a china cap to get rid of any albumen lumps. I put a six-ounce ladle into the mix. One ladle equals one omelet and no thinking.

Sunday breakfast duty sucks. None of the staff likes it, and hate probably isn’t a strong enough word, either. This is a lunch and dinner club, not a waffle and egg diner. Breakfast is only served once a week, so there’s no rhythm in the kitchen and no one is familiar with the menu. I come in early to do the prep. I don’t have to, and I wouldn’t be here at this hour if it didn’t make it easier for me. I have been making the French toast egg wash, waffle batter, traying up bacon, and countless other crap on the menu for months. I have been expediting food, filling in for whoever’s missing from the line, and we always get the job done, but barely.

My employees are kids who don’t give a shit. They don’t imagine their life will be that of a line cook, dish dog, or salad bitch. The ballcaps they wear are always slightly tilted, and as they grow to care less about their work, their hat becomes a give-a-fuck meter. The more the bill moves from the front to back, the less they give a fuck. The backwards rotation only gets faster as more customers cram into the dining room. If you’re lucky, their hat won’t be completely backwards until the very end of their shift.

I start in on the sausage gravy. We save all our bacon grease. A full scoop goes into the pot and, like a good magic trick, it looks like it sinks through the bottom of the pan and disappears as it transforms before my very eyes from a white solid to a glistening liquid. I add an equal amount of flour, which sizzles a little at the outer edges of the pile until I stir. Thick ribbons begin to follow the spoon as it goes round and round. I cook the roux until it smells like someone cooked popcorn in the microwave. I finish the whole thing off with two gallons of milk, a half sheet tray of cooked sausage, and a whole lot of black pepper. I keep whisking. It comes back to a boil and thickens.

The alarm on my watch goes off–my half-hour warning before service. As if I don’t believe my watch, I look up at the clock on the wall. Shit, it’s pushing seven and no one’s here yet. Usually someone’s made it in by now, if only because they’re out of coffee at home and came in to get a cup.

I hate having to call people at home to get their ass in to work. It’s never surprising to have people just not show up, to hear that a line cook is in jail, or to have a dishwasher scoot out the front door when the cops come knocking at the back. It’s the middle American restaurant business, after all. We’re not talking fine dining, just a run-of-the-mill feedlot.

A server comes in. I feel a perfect storm brewing and decide it’s a really good idea to prep the shit out of every station. The thing is, it’s the middle of summer, so there’s a damn good chance the breakfast service will be extremely quiet, and all this prep will go to waste. People go boating, have cookouts, or do yard work, plus it’s the beginning of the month so the members don’t have to use their minimum for food at the restaurant yet.

The only good thing about a Sunday morning is you ease into the rush. Not too many people are clamoring at the door to get in. They take their time, go to church, read the Sunday newspaper, then mosey on in for breakfast. So as the morning grinds on, it gets busier.

Finally a salad kid shows. He barely knows enough to make salads, but at least he can keep an eye on the bacon in the oven. A body is a body. Now a dishwasher comes in. This kid has worked at restaurants before. He’ll do.

I had a good prep and the people are streaming into the dining room at a nice pace. I’ve found my rhythm. Two omelets, French toast, and an order of pancakes is nothing. It all comes together with sides, all without thinking. I know the routine and I’m feeling good, even smiling, like I’m invincible behind the line. Every bit of this order comes up at the right time and all the plates are under the heat lamps waiting for a perfect omelet, great looking pancakes, and crispy-edged French toast, all at the same time I’m firing two other orders. Two tops, four tops, and more two tops. Keep it coming at this pace and I’ll be fine.

In my mind, though, I feel it coming, like two busloads of senior citizens showing up at a busy McDonalds during lunch hour. At the first lull, I restock everything that’s even remotely low at the stations, but this is like having five sandbags for a hundred-year flood.

Suddenly, it gets busy. I’m in the weeds but I’m turning waffles and flipping over-easies with a sense of urgency and working my way out of it.

And now the tsunami rolls in. I’m beyond busy. My ass is getting handed to me on the very plates I just sent out with that server.

For some reason, everyone wants omelets, then a few scrambles, then even more omelets. Which is great. I can stand at the stove and turn out omelets all day. I have the dish kid making toast, English muffins, and working hash browns like a champ, but we’re still getting buried.

When I’m short hands on deck, a ten top easily becomes the iceberg that sinks the Titanic. And as soon as I think it, a dumb-ass server says it out loud: “A walk-in ten top just came in.”

If I had the time to jump over the line and strangle the bastard, I would, but the row of tickets hanging in front of me is the chain that holds the dog back.

I keep flipping eggs. The ten-top order comes in. Ten omelets. I grin.

Venison Liver with Pickled Green Onions, Bacon and Peas and Carrots

Venison Liver

I know a lot of people hunt for trophy deer, the bucks with the big racks.  I don’t.  I am always looking for a yearling.  A small deer that is tender and mild in flavor.  For me it is the difference between lamb and mutton.  I have eaten mutton but would always choose lamb over mutton if given the choice.

When I do kill a deer the first part of the animal I eat is the liver.  It is so, so good.  Something about it does it for me, it feels nourishing to eat this part of the animal when it is at its freshest.

Serves 4

For the pickled onions:

1 bunch scallions, roots trimmed and whites cut into 2 1/2 inch lengths. You want twelve pieces.

1/2 cup water

1/4 cup rice vinegar, do not use the seasoned kind

3 tablespoons sugar

1 teaspoon salt

For the liver:

4 pieces venison, or other,  liver, cut 1/2 inch thick, the are small but very rich, you can up the amount if needed

4 pieces speck or good smoked bacon

Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper

1/2 cup flour, for dredging

safflower oil

1/2 cup mayonnaise

1/4 cup buttermilk

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

2 teaspoons pickled onion liquid

1/4 cup unsalted butter

1/2 cup carrot, small dice

1/2 cup onion, small dice

1 1/2 cup fresh peas

1. Place the scallions, in a single layer, in a small heat proof container. In a saucepan bring the water, vinegar, sugar and salt to a boil. Pour over the scallions and set aside to cool. This can be done up to a day in advance.

2. Season the venison with salt and set on a rack over a sheet tray with sides. This will catch the juices.

3. Combine the mayonnaise, buttermilk, mustard and pickling juice in a mixing bowl and whisk to combine. Season with salt and pepper.

4. Reserve 8 of the pickled scallion batons and chop, should have 4, the rest and combine with the dressing.

5. Preheat the oven to 250 degrees. Place a heavy bottomed skillet over medium heat and add the bacon. As the fat starts to render turn up the heat. Cook until nicely crisp. Remove the bacon and the pan from the heat. Place the bacon on a paper towel lined oven proof plate or tray.

6. In another pot add the butter, onion and carrots. When the onions start to wilt add kosher salt and pepper. Then add 2 cups of water. Let the carrots cook until tender.

7. Place the plate with the bacon into the oven. Season the liver with pepper, remember you already salted them. Dredge the liver pieces through the flour and shake off any excess. Place the bacon pan back on the stove over medium high heat. Add 2 tablespoons of safflower oil.

8. When the oil is hot, gently place the liver into the pan.

9. Place the peas into the carrot and onion pot and turn the heat to medium high.

10. Once the venison pieces are nicely browned turn them. Be careful not to over cook the liver. Cook medium rare to medium at most.

11. To plate. Place a smear of the sauce onto a plate. Using a slotted spoon place a nice helping of peas next to it. Place a piece of venison liver onto the sauce. Top with bacon and garnish with pickled spring onions.

Depression Cookies

Sugar cookies

Yes, I could imagine a cookie just like this being created during the Great Depression.  The nutmeg lends itself to the past and makes the cookie feel like something a grandmother would make for her grandchildren on a Sunday afternoon.  She might also make it when she notices her grandchildren are a little sad.  Whatever the reason they are a cure for depression.  They will bring you out of your funk with a heavy dose of the warm and fuzzies.

MAKES 2 DOZEN

1 cup sugar

3/4 teaspoons nutmeg

1 vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped

2 cup all purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt; if you sub table salt cut it to 1/4 teaspoon

12 tablespoons unsalted butter

4 tablespoons vegetable shortening

1 tablespoon honey, something with citrus notes is good

1 large egg

1/2 cup sugar for rolling the cookies

1. Make sure you have an oven rack placed dead in the middle of your oven. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. In a mixing bowl combine the flour, baking powder and salt. Stir it with the measuring spoon to mix.

2. Place the sugar, nutmeg and vanilla seeds into the bowl of a mixer and mix for two minutes to distibute. Turn off the mixer and add the butter and shortening. I use cold, when I squeeze it it just gives, butter because I personally think it creams better. You do not want this to look granular and you don’t want the fat to break out and look similar to cottage cheese either. It should look like ice cream just scooped from the container. Start out on low speed and when the butter starts to cream gradually increase the speed to medium and cream for about 2 minutes total.

3. Scrape down the sides with a spatula. Add the egg and mix to combine. Add the honey and mix briefly.

4. Adding the flour in thirds, to keep it from flying out of the mixing bowl, mix at low speed and mix until all is incorporated. Scrape down the sides of the bowl if necessary.

5. Place the remaining half cup of sugar into a seperate bowl. Line two 12 x 17 baking sheet pans with parchment paper.

6. Using a tablespoon or a number 40 scoop, scoop out some dough. Using your hands roll it into a ball and then roll it around in the sugar until coated. Place it onto the baking sheet. Repeat until you have 12 cookies on the tray. Using a fork, flatten the cookies to about a 1/2 inch thickness.

7. Place tray into the oven and set the timer for 10 minutes. While they are cooking roll and coat the remaining twelve cookies. When the timer goes off check the cookies. They should be browning at the edges but still light in the middle. If they’re not, leave them in the oven for another few minutes. Remove them and let them cool for 3-5 minutes before changing them to a cooling rack to finish cooling. Place the other tray of cookies into the oven and repeat this step.

Teddy Roosevelt Fished Here

My nephew and I amble slowly up to the creek bank. It’s early enough that the cold morning air causes a light fog to rise off the warm, black water, but does nothing to lift the low-lying cover fogging my brain. I yawn. I wish I’d had that second cup of coffee.

It’s hard to believe Teddy Roosevelt ever came here to fish, here at this nothing stream that runs along the backside of my property. As the story has it, an Indiana politician brought him here for no more than an hour or two. They got off the campaign train, took a break, and fished. But, of all places, why here?

Soon enough the morning sun awakens and colors the tips of the trees on the south bank a glowing yellow, as if someone turned on the kitchen lights. I sit down on a rock, one of those big ones, gray and smooth, jutting out from the edge of the bank. I look across a pool of still water, not studying or thinking, just staring, then I slip one leg into my waders, making sure to get my leg inside the suspenders. In goes the other leg and up and over my shoulders come the suspenders.

My nephew, bare-legged and anxious, has already broken the water and the ripples disrupt the deep blue reflection of the cloudless sky. He strips fly line off the reel and the sound of the drag gears zipping backwards hangs in the air like a fiddle solo in a gospel song on Sunday. A few small mayflies lift off the surface of the water, fluttering haphazardly to freedom.

I’ve long heard that Cicero Creek is a world-class smallmouth bass river, but it’s never been enough to motivate me. I’ve lived on the creek for eight years now and not once fished. I gave up my obsession with fly fishing when I left New York. I always fly fished for trout. Trout seem noble. I have two young daughters who take up my time now, and happily so. Besides, when you ask anyone if they eat the fish, they always say no, the river is polluted.

I watch my nephew back cast and hear the delayed whistle of the fly line as it whips forward. The tippet rolls out and drops the fly perfectly into the water on the upriver side of a sunken log with a forked branch sticking out.

It’s obvious by the force and violence with which the smallmouth bass breaks the surface that it is hungry. The sound grabs my attention, the fish grabs the fly, and Will’s rod doubles down.

It’s a beautiful smallmouth, a glistening seaweed-green on its back with a pearl-white belly. I feel a little of the old adrenaline coursing. It’s way more invigorating than that second cup of coffee would have been.

It suddenly dawns on me that something very similar probably happened, nearly a hundred years ago, maybe right in this spot, at this hole that’s holding some really big fish. I nod my head, understanding, and the vision is clear.

The train, an old wood-fired locomotive, leaving a campaign stop in Indianapolis and now headed to Chicago, stops in the small town nearby. Roosevelt and a few other men get off the train at the small station, and a young kid who knows the stream like the back of his hand, like my nephew does, is waiting to take them by carriage the short distance to this unremarkable little creek.

When they arrive creekside, the elder statesmen look at each other, shrug, and wonder what, if anything, they will catch. Maybe they even wonder why they got off the train, smiling at each other, knowing this kid has no idea of the amazing fishing they’ve done and the beautiful, rushing rivers they’ve seen.

The farmboy, kindly urged on by Roosevelt, goes first, casting under the branch line that hangs out over the water and up close to the embankment. The same thing that happened this morning happens then: BAM! A big smallmouth bass takes the hook and runs the line upstream. Now the two statesmen are really smiling, grateful for this moment of relief from their busy schedule, and they begin to fish.

It’s a banner day; they’re hooking them left and right, talking and fishing without a thought of politics or business. Their guide, the kid, can’t get the fish off the hooks quickly enough. He releases most of them, but some are the right size, perfect for eating, and he puts these on a stringer that is quickly getting full.

The flurry of activity only lasts an hour or two, the same length of time that all good fishing lasts. Theodore Roosevelt, 26th President of these United States, and company pack up and head back to the Arcadia station.

My nephew and I are doing the same, heading to the car.

I ask, “You ever eat any of the fish you catch out of here?”

He replies, “No, the river’s polluted.”

Click here for the recipe:  Pan Fried Red Snapper with Tarragon Tartar Sauce

Hachis Parmentier

Hachis Parmentier

One of the things I like best about the French dish Hachis Pamentier is the looseness of the recipe.  Unlike Shepard’s Pie which connotates lamb as the central ingredient Hachis Parmentier quite often simply lists chopped meat and then leaves it to your discretion. So anything on hand, usually cooked, usually leftovers which is generally combined with Sauce Lyonnaise..  Then add potatoes, again, mashed, leftover bakers or boiled, pretty much anything you can crush with a fork.

In my book anything Lyonnaise is good and more likely great.  The reality, though,  of most classic French sauces is,  who has demi-glace on hand and who is going to make it for this dish?   Not many home cooks do, nor should they.  So if you take the base ingredients of the sauce minus the demi-glace you have a vinegar based dressing.  In other words something to cut into the richness of the meat and potatoes and a simple balsamic dressing does this just fine.

The reason I chose salmon for this version is it doesn’t need to be cooked before hand.  You can put it right into the ring molds raw to be cooked in the oven.  Salmon has enough natural collagen that it will bind on its own, no mayonnaise, no egg, no nothing.

What I have tried to do here, and I think with great success, is make a family style dish into something worthy of a fancy sit down dinner and even the main course to a dinner party.  You can make the individual servings ahead of time (hint: my ring molds are water chestnut cans with both ends removed, cheap and simple) by putting the molds onto a parchment lined sheet tray, then layering them with the ingredients, covering them and storing them in the fridge.

On the other hand, you needn’t invite anyone for dinner to make this dish it is just as delicious for two as ten and if you want family style just chuck the whole ring mold idea and use a large gratin.

Serves 4

1 pound salmon, skin removed and cubed into 1/4 inch chunks

1/2 cup celery, finely minced

1 teaspoon capers, minced

1/2 teaspoon lemon zest, finely zested

1 teaspoon dill, minced

1 teaspoon chives, minced

1/2 cup comte or Gruyère cheese, grated

3 potatoes, sliced into 1/8 inch or thinner rounds

1 cup milk

1 teaspoon garlic, minced

water

kosher salt and fresh ground pepper

a handful of arugula leaves, rinsed and dried

1/2 teaspoon Dijon

1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar

1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil

1. Place the potatoes, garlic and milk into a medium size pot.  Add enough water to cover the potatoes by an inch.  Add a teaspoon of salt and a few grinds of pepper.  Place the pot over medium heat and slowly bring it to a boil.  Cook the potatoes until just tender, being especially careful not to cook them to mush but if you do don’t get you undies in a bundle they will still cook and taste the same.  Drain the potatoes.

2. If you plan to cook the dish now heat the oven to 375˚ F.

3. Place the salmon, celery, capers, lemon zest, dill and chives into a mixing bowl.  Add 3/4 teaspoon of salt and some fresh ground white pepper and mix the salmon being sure to incorporate all the ingredients and evenly distribute them throughout.

4. Place a piece of parchment paper onto a sheet tray.  Place four ring molds onto the tray.  Lightly butter the interior walls of the molds and then divide the salmon mixture into four equal portions and pat firmly/gently it into the molds.

5. Taste a potato testing for salt content.  Take the potato slices and fan them into the top of each mold making two to three layers.  If the potatoes were salty enough when you tasted them then don’t season them anymore but if the need it season each layer with a pinch of salt and pepper.  Top with a little cheese and a spritz of olive oil.  Bake in the heated oven for 25 to 30 minutes.

6. While the salmon is baking combine the mustard and balsamic adding a pinch of salt and a grind or two of pepper.  Then add the oil and mix to combine.

7. When the salmon is done remove it from the oven.  Using a spatula and a dry towel remove each mold to a plate placing it in the center.  Using a paring knife run it around the edges to loosen the salmon.  Gently hold down on the potatoes with a spoon  as you lift the mold.

8. Toss the arugula with the dressing and top each hachis parmentier with a bit of greens.  Serve with a crisp fruity white wine.

Dear Mr. Pépin

Shrimp Gratin

Dear Mr. Pépin,

I made a recipe of yours last night. It wasn’t the first time I have made this recipe, in fact, I have made it several times but it has been far to long since it has graced our table, rest assured, this will not happen again. Just in case I haven’t been clear it was beyond delicious as always.

I remember the night I watched you make the gratin on TV. It must have been about three in the morning or somewhere around there. I was still working in the restaurant business and it had been a long night on the line. Now I was home, my wife fast asleep in bed, and I out in the living room and on the couch with a beer in my hand winding down. I was flipping through a food magazine and doing the same with the channels on TV.

At the time I had not seen but a couple shows in any of your many series because our local PBS station didn’t carry them or they were on at times when I wasn’t around. But here you were in the wee hours of the morning in front of the camera, your heavy French accent, broad smile, all as unmistakeable as the sparkle in your eyes. You caught my attention right away.

I watched as you peeled shrimp and even went so far as to show me how to pinch the tails between my thumb and forefinger, then wiggle, and finally you gently pulled and I watched as all the tail meat slipped out of its casing without any waste. Then you sliced a handful of the freshest white mushrooms with such speed and accuracy it could have been a magic trick. You wasted no time doing the same with a couple of green onions.

All the while you were discussing and telling the audience why you were doing things the way you did them. Like the time I watched you make cauliflower soup and you used the entire cauliflower not just the white florets. You told us how the leaves were full of flavor and nutrients and how in France it would have been a crime to throw them out.

What I watched that night was not the norm. I had seen enough food TV to know. There were no bams, no yelling at young chefs until they cried or some person telling me I can’t cook at home because I am not as skilled as they, no, I didn’t even see someone saying organic, local or sustainable because you didn’t need to say the words to teach them.

No, it was someone doing the hard job of quietly, but realistically, teaching people how to cook and be successful in their own home kitchens. What I saw before my very eyes was a man passionate about food, the table and living. Someone helping people to use and understand simple, easily obtainable fresh ingredients that would deliver great taste at dinner time. It was someone extremely talented in the kitchen, who understands how food works and who has spent years building on techniques he was taught as a child. A person who understands if people are successful in the kitchen they will continue to cook, maybe even start to like, enjoy and use these skills the rest of their life.

You are and will continue to be a wonderful role model and I want to say thank you.

Sincerely,

Tom

Makes 4 servings

1 pound of raw shrimp, 26-30 size is great, peeled and deveined

2 cloves of garlic, minced finely. You want it to cook so really mince it.

2 green onions, chopped

1 cup white or cremini mushrooms, wiped of dirt, and julienned

3/4 scant cup bread crumbs

1/2 cup parmesan, grated

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled

kosher salt and fresh ground white pepper

1/4 cup dry white wine

1. Heat you oven to 400˚F.

2. Place bread crumbs and the parmesan into a bowl. Add 2 tablespoons of melted butter and season the mix with salt and pepper. Mix everything really well to distribute the butter this will help a great deal in getting the top to brown evenly.

3. Put the shrimp into another mixing bowl and add green onions, mushrooms and garlic. Toss to combine, season with salt and pepper then combine this mixture with half the breadcrumbs. Sprinkle with the white wine and toss again.

4. Fan the shrimp out in individual gratins or one large gratin or casserole. Top with the remaining breadcrumbs.

5. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes or until the top is brown and the shrimp are cooked through. If you have over lapped the shrimp a great deal it might take longer to cook and you may need to back the oven down to 375˚F so the topping doesn’t brown to quickly. Serve.

Thai Shrimp and Collard Wraps

This is possibly the simplest dish to make and yet it packs in all the sweet, salty, and sour flavors you want it too.  It would be great kicked up with some minced red Thai chili but in this case I didn’t because I was making it kid friendly.

The dish itself is based on an appetizer from one of our local Thai restaurants.  I don’t know if it is something commonly served in Thailand or not.  At the same time I can’t say I have seen it at any other Thai places around here.  I am going to guess it is a regional Thai dish and I am also going to guess it uses shredded kaffir lime leaves and lime.

What I will say is you won’t regret making this you will only regret not making enough.

Serves 2 as a meal and 4 as the starter to a larger meal

1 pound of shell-on shrimp, thawed

1/3 cup unsweetened shredded coconut, toasted till golden

2 limes, filleted into supremes, membranes squeezed for juice

1 1/2 tablespoon fish sauce

1/2 cup roasted peanuts, crushed

cilantro

sweet chile sauce, homemade or store bought

8 small collard leaves, washed and dried, rib removed if need be

1. Fill a 3 or 4 quart pot 2/3 full with water. Add 1/4 cup of kosher salt. Bring the water to a boil over high heat. Add the shrimp and cook them till done, about 1 or 2 minutes.

2. Drain the shrimp and get them into an ice bath to cool. Peel and devein the shrimp. Then chop the shrimp.

3. Combine the shrimp with the coconut, peanuts, lime supremes, lime juice and fish sauce. Toss to combine the flavors. Taste and add more fish sauce or salt to your liking.

4. Place the collard leaves on a tray, pile the filling next to them and fill a small ramekin with the chile sauce. Garnish with cilantro.

5. Serve

Dinner Rolls

Dinner Rolls

First off don’t ask the host where they bought them. I mean, please, that is like rolling up a wet towel and smacking someone in the ass. It is the exact same insult as asking someone where they bought their meat after they have served you and you have eaten the best steak of your life. People do it to cooks all the time. I want to tell them it was road kill an hour ago. To those that do this do you understand what you are saying. Do I need to explain it is not a compliment to tell someone, “anyone could do what you just did as long as they know the right place to shop.” I know there was a time when this might have been a compliment but I still haven’t figured out when that was .

And you say but Tom this is about dinner rolls not steak. Your right. OK. Dinner rolls. There is no such thing as a quick roll. No, be quiet. Let me finish, please, hear me out. My definition and understanding of quick rolls isn’t that they are any easier to make but just means a lack of prior planning. I don’t mean by you but by the person who called it a quick roll. It isn’t any easier to make a quick roll, you still have to mix the dough, let it rise, usually twice, but after the second rise you bake it. What a quick roll lacks is time, not less effort. This is what is important. This is the step that separates the baker from the apprentice, a quick roll from a great roll. After the first rise let the dough rest overnight in the refrigerator. You need to know that the amylase rest overnight in the refrigerator helps to convert more starch to sugar and this step is what gives bread a deeper taste and a beautiful crust color. When bread dough is in the right hands it goes from a bland communion biscuit to manna from heaven.

Southern cooks, for example, have for centuries been more passionate about their bread products than most. Take Edna Lewis’s Yeast Rolls from Sponge Batter in her book A Taste of Country Cooking. It is a potato roll that is made over the course of two days. If you read the recipe it is more than “just a recipe.” This is a total act of submission, not to the dough, and is a huge gesture of respect for her dinner guests and a desire to serve them the best. Look how beautifully she writes her directions, “After setting overnight the sponge will be aromatic and light as sea foam..” Sea foam, what a perfect way to describe a starter, could it be any more visual. You can feel the love Edna Lewis has for her dinner guests in her recipes, without even tasting her food, you know it is going to be spectacular.

On the other hand, the other day I was looking for a kids show on PBS for Vivian when I came across Cooks Country. I saw Christopher Kimball doing his test kitchen science and talking about rolls with one of the researchers on the show. They did an audience taste test of frozen store bought rolls and they snuck in a homemade roll that fell flat against the store bought. I wanted to know more about the home made roll. Who made it? How was it made? ( actually I was thinking if Kimball’s staff can’t bake a better roll than a store bought roll and this is the best Kimball can do then why on Gods green earth would I want to use his recipes.) Then I thought why would a show like Cooks Country do this? Hasn’t country cooking always stood for home made. Then it dawned on me, the reality is most people don’t care until they are actually eating a really good roll made by someone who cared enough to make it right. I don’t know, maybe I am weird, maybe I care to much, but I guess I look at the world of food and eating a little differently than most people. I guess I look at dinner rolls as part of the foreplay of passionate and great meals. Need I say more, or should I just finish with take your time, there is always room for improvement, it takes practice, and don’t let anyone tell you it is not worth the effort and if they do you might want to divorce them from your guest list.

MAKES 9

1/4 cup water, body temperature

1 teaspoon dry active yeast

2 tablespoons sugar

1 teaspoon kosher salt, heaping, if you use a fine grind salt only use 1/2 teaspoon

3 tablespoons raw wheat germ, toasted in a saute pan until nutty smelling

2 cups unbleached all purpose flour

1 stick of unsalted butter, softened, plus some for brushing the rolls

2 large eggs

1. In the bowl of a mixer add the water and sprinkle in the yeast and let it bloom.

2. Once it has dissolved add the rest of the ingredients adding the butter last. Save the butter wrapper.

3. Using a dough hook mix the dough until it becomes elastic. Sit tight on adding any water the dough looks dry but it takes some time for the butter and eggs to hydrate the flour.

4. It should form a loose ball and pull cleanly away from the sides of the bowl. Remove the dough from the bowl and kneed it a few times until it is smooth and elastic.

5. Grease the inside of the bowl wiping it with the reserved butter wrapper.

6. Place the dough into the bowl and cover the bowl with a warm damp towel or plastic wrap and set it in a warm place. Just above room temp is fine. Set a timer for 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 hours or until the dough has doubled in size.

7. Punch down the dough. Divide it into 9 equal pieces. Using the palm of your hand and rolling in a circular motion roll the pieces of dough into nine balls.

8. Cut a piece of parchment paper to fit into a 9 x 9 inch cake pan and place it on the bottom of the pan. Place the rolls into the pan keeping a little space between them. Cover them loosely with plastic wrap and put them into the fridge.

9. The next day remove them from the fridge and let them slow rise until they get to room temperature or have doubled from the original size from the day before.

10. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and bake the rolls for 15 minutes and then brush them liberally with butter. bake them another 15 minutes until the tops are golden brown and delicious. Remove them from the oven and let them cool 10 to 15 minutes before serving.

Madeira Tart

Madeira Tart

This is a tart with an agenda. Its roots are old fashioned and small town but don’t let that fool you. It is as luscious and silky as Scarlett Johansson sauntering the red carpet. It is as lascivious as True Blood and as beaten-up as Mickey Rourke on a bad day.

There are tarts and then there are tarts. The best are the kind that even your mama would like. Never suspecting or questioning what makes up its character but just enjoying it for what it is because it is so good. All the while, later, you know you are going to lick your fork like…well, lets just say it is a tart that likes to please and it will.

Truly, it is like fine champagne on a Sunday afternoon. The basis of this tart has been around for a long time, the old fashioned egg custard pie, you know the one with nutmeg that has shown up at every family reunion since people started having reunions.

Well, take that base and an idea from Alice Waters and her Marsala cream pots, add in the videos on the FOOD52 site from Shuna Lydon about cooling your custard and then use duck eggs(again Waters idea) which make for an even silkier tart and what you come up with is nothing less than sexy. Never fear, I have written the recipe to use chicken eggs but if you ever come across fresh duck eggs by all means use them to make a custard.

SERVES 8

For the crust::

1 cup all purpose flour

1/4 cup semolina flour

1/4 cup sugar

1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened

2 finger pinch of salt

For the custard::

1 1/2 cup whole milk

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons madeira

4 large eggs, or 3 duck eggs

For the custard:

1. Place the milk into a sauce pan and scald it over medium high heat. Remove the pan from the burner. In a mixing bowl whisk together the eggs, sugar, madeira and salt. Temper the eggs by whisking in a 1/2 cup of warm milk and then add the rest while whisking. Cover the bowl and place the custard base into the fridge. You want it to be cold. It can sit in the fridge overnight which is probably best but at least let it get to 35 or so degrees. You could do this in an ice bath if you are in a hurry.

To finish the tart:

1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. In a large mixing bowl and using a large wooden spoon mix all the crust ingredients smashing the butter into the mixture with the back of the spoon until you have a cornmeal and cous cous looking crumble. You can use your hands rubbing them together with the mixture between them to make some of the bigger chunks smaller.

2. Place an 8 inch tart pan onto a sheet tray. This will make it easier to move around and get out of the oven. Dump the crumbles into the tart pan. Press the dough up the sides, packing it tightly as you go, and then work toward the center until you have a crust. Bake the crust for 20 minutes. Remove it from the oven.

3. Turn the oven up to 400 degrees. Strain the chilled custard through a fine mesh strainer to remove any albumen pieces. Pour the custard into the tart till it is half full. Place the tart into the oven and then finish filling the tart. You will probably have about a 1/2 cup of base left. I made a little extra so you wouldn’t come up short in case your tart pan was a little bigger.

4. Back the tart for 15 minutes and then reduce the heat to 350 degrees and bake it for another 20 to 30 minutes or until set. Depending on how cold you custard is will lengthen or shorten the baking time. If you give the sheet tray a gentle but sharp shake the tart should jiggle like jello if it is done. If it creates waves that look like you dropped a pebble into still water continue cooking.

5. When the tart is done remove it from the oven and let it cool completely. Cut and serve.

Cake by Night

A simple slice of cake to be shared with my wife and two girls.  An after dinner treat.  It was served to us at a small German restaurant in a very small town in Southern Indiana.

I have fallen for this picture.  It sounds stupid, and more then likely is, but I am fascinated with the forks, the way they chose to plate it and especially and most importantly that they brought it out with the clear intent that the  slice of cake was to be shared.  It is as we asked, we wanted to share and instead of bringing it to one person then slapping down four forks onto the middle of the table as if it was to be dolled out by the king or queen who ordered it,  it was simply and elegantly brought to the table for all.

Cake by Night

Having slept the first half of the night,
now I lye in bed, wide awake, wondering why I don’t dream.
The moon is bright.
Fluttering moths bang against the window
casting shadows onto the wall.
I close my eyes hoping to fall asleep,
then think, perhaps the hummingbird cake
out there on the kitchen counter
is in need of a delicate pink plate.
A pedestal, befitting, of love at first sight.

Smoked Herring Salad

Smoked Herring Salad

Why do so many people fear canned fish? I don’t mean tuna, it doesn’t even count. Was there some massive food poisoning event in the United States back in 1908 or something and the canned fish market never recovered or do we just have a lot of closet canned fish eaters in this country.

Canned fish is brilliant, don’t laugh, I am being totally serious. It is really tasty, it harmlessly sits in your pantry ready to be used and is as tasty as the day it was packed.

Maybe people don’t know how to use it or maybe when they were little their parents always told them they wouldn’t like it and so they never have. My guess is most people who say they don’t like it have never tried it or it has been served to them right out of the can bathed in some sort of funky sauce.

No, what I am talking about is fish packed in oil, be it, mackerel, herring or sardines, smoked and not smoked. The omega-3 dense bait fish, well not mackerel it is higher up the chain then the other two, but fish oil rich nonetheless.

It’s as if you have to go to Eastern Europe, Nordic countries or Russia for your recipes and I am good with that. These countries now what to do when it comes to canned fish. I trust them.

This recipe is of Dutch descent. Being the herring eaters they are you can count on them for good recipes.

Serves 4

1 1/2 tablespoons mayonnaise

1 teaspoon Dusseldorf mustard or Dijon

1 teaspoon whole grain mustard

1/2 teaspoon red wine vinegar

1 tin smoked herring or mackerel

2/3 cup celery, chopped

1 cup yukon gold potatoes, boiled and cubed

6 cornichons, chopped

2 to 3 beets, roasted, peeled and cubed

2 hard boiled eggs, shelled

a handful of peas, fresh or frozen

2 teaspoons chives, chopped

2 shallots, peeled and sliced into thin rounds

salt and fresh ground black pepper

1. Combine the mayonnaise, mustards and vinegar in a large mixing bowl. Whisk to combine.

2. Add the celery, potato, cornichons, peas and herring. Smash the eggs into chunks and add them to the bowl. Stir to combine. The herring will break up into small pieces with some hunks much like if you were making tuna salad. If you want big hunks of herring then garnish the salad with it.

3. Divide among 4 plates and garnish with the beets and shallot rings. Garnishing with the beets keeps the salad from turning pink.

4. Serve

Pot Roasted Collards and Purple Hull Pea Fritters with Spicy Buttermilk Gravy

Pot Roasted Collard Greens and Purple Hull Pea Fritters

The one thing that stays the same around my kitchen, has been a continuous thread,  is collard greens.

Collard recipes have been prepared in many incarnations but eventually I rendered them all down the most basic of recipes.  I like collards in every fashion imaginable,  and while I can spoon potlikker right out of the pot and onto a slab of buttered cornbread, making me perfectly happy,  I have grown to like my greens best when they are pot roasted.  I used to render bacon, butter or pancetta into the pot first, the fatty crispy strips of cured pork to be fought over at dinner.   Then there came a time when I needed to make the greens vegan. I started using peanut oil and ever since it has become a fast favorite which is strange since we are big pork eaters.

What happens to greens when they are pot roasted is the natural sugars break out and much like caramelizing onions you start to build flavors that just don’t exist when collards have been boiled.  I liken the building of flavors to a fine cigar, great coffee or a complex wine.

As the thick and leathery fall collards,  greens which have taken a frost or two, cook down a toothsome quality develops that is very satisfying to eat.  You also get these rogue bits that didn’t get as much oil as they should and they become crispy and blistered which contributes a nice contrast.  A sure sign that you have roasted your greens right is the smear of brown juice that paints the bottom of the pot when you stir.

We eat greens cooked like this as part of three dinners each week, at least,  and in general Amy and I will fight over the leftovers at breakfast time.

Seves 4

For the fritters:

16 oz. field peas, cooked, either black eyed or you favorite type I used purple hull, two 14 oz. cans, drained  works too

1 cup carrots, grated

1/4 cup rice flour, or all purpose flour

2 teaspoons shallots, minced

2 teaspoons garlic, minced

1 1/2 teaspoons dried thyme

kosher salt

fresh ground pepper

For the collards:

8 to 10 cups collards, cut into 1 inch stirps, rinsed multiple times to get rid of sand and dirt

peanut oil

kosher salt

fresh ground black pepper

For the buttermilk gravy:

1 1/2 cups live culture buttermilk

1 teaspoon creole seasoning

1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

1 1/2 teaspoon shallot, peeled and minced

1 teaspoon garlic, peeled and minced

1.Heat the oven to 325˚ F. Combine all the gravy ingredients in a small bowl and mix to combine.  Set aside to let the flavors build.

2. Place a 6 quart enameled Dutch oven with a lid over medium high heat.  Add some peanut oil to the pot being generous with the peanut oil and making sure you coat the bottom of the pan plus a touch more.  Add half the greens and season them with a two finger sprinkle of salt and a few grinds of pepper.  Turn the green giving them a hot oil bath.  You want the leaves to be coated, not greasy though.  Add the rest of the greens.  Season them with salt and pepper too.  Turn them into the first batch of greens being sure they get an oil coat as well.  Put the lid on the pot, slide it into the oven and roast the collards for 1 hour and 15 minutes making sure to stir the pot at the half way point.

3. Place the cooked peas into the bowl of a food processor.  Pulse to grind the peas.  When it becomes mealy add the rest of the fritter ingredients and pulse until smooth, moist and will hold together.  The key here is to adjust the moisture content.  If it is too wet add rice flour a tablespoon at a time letting the mix rest a bit so the flour can hydrate and thicken the fritter mix.  If it is too dry add water by the tablespoon and do the same.  My way to test patties of all types is to make a patty and then throw it against the side of the mixing bowl.  If it flattens and holds its shape I am happy.

4. Once your consistency is right make 8 equal sized patties.  Place a nonstick pan over medium heat, add oil and fry the fritters until they are brown on both sides. Remove them from the pan to a brown bag lined tray.   Drain the excess grease.  Serve while hot.

Dexas Turbo Fan Salad Spinner-Dryers

Dexas Greens Spinner

I had an email arrive in my box a couple of weeks back from a company by the name of Dexas.  I have never done a sponsored post but in this case I decided to.  I don’t know why, maybe it is just time but instead of me reviewing a product I thought I would just post the email I sent back to Dexas with my likes and concerns for the product.

But time passes and Jeff who sent me the original email,  who is very nice and good people usually don’t stay at bad companies, sends me another email  just checking in or code for, nudge nudge is the post getting close to being done.  Me being me, his second letter sits in my inbox for some time.  I finally get around to actually photographing the spinner  but by now I have used it a lot more.  After I did my initial testing I had some clear ideas, even sent Jeff a letter with my concerns but now I have become comfortable with the spinner and I have changed my mind on several issues.  First here is my letter to Jeff (take note, I removed a portion of the letter about a cutting board, not because it was bad or a bad product but because they didn’t ask me to test it but sent it along for my thoughts.  It is a great product too.)

Hi Jeff,

Thanks for the follow-up.  I did receive the spinner and the cutting board.  It came at the perfect time since all my fall greens from the garden are just getting really good.

I have put the salad spinner to the test and really like a lot of things about it, the gearing in the top and the fan are fantastic, really fantastic,  and the offset and size of the handle is perfect.  It is much like a honey extractor I have and feels just as solid.  It does a great job of cleaning and drying greens of all types.

The spinner really is a nice product but I would be remiss in my testing if I didn’t mention a couple of things.  I really like the way the water runs out the open bottom but one of the things I really like about other salad spinners is the ability to store greens in the fridge right in the spinner.  This may seem trivial but for some reason I have found spinners as a storage unit really helps to extend the shelf life of salad and greens.  Are there any plans to make the spinner available with an optional, I’ll say, drip bowl?  I also mention this because I sometimes have a sink full of dishes when I get to the point in my prep that I want to clean greens I have to clean the sink out.  Don’t get me wrong you have a great product and these are just a few of my thoughts.

Anyway, I like the quality and durability of your products and I will look for them in stores around our area.  I still plan to write a post for my blog and will do so soon.  Thanks so much.

Tom

So what did I change my mind about.  Well, after using it and getting used to storing the greens in a plastic bag instead of the spinner I realized how much fridge space spinners of all kinds actually use.  Now the fridge is far less crowded, a definite plus.

In all seriousness this thing is built like a tank and works great!.

In the market for a good quality spinner?   Get yourself one here Sur la Table   or here Dexas.com

Grilled Sirloin, Cold Weather Greens and Buttermilk Parmesan Dressing

Sirloin Steak with Cold Weather Greens

I consider  steak and salad greens to be my go to, quick Friday or Saturday night meal. If we don’t get home till late it is still something substantial, not overly filling, but very satisfying.

While I like all kinds of salad greens these are quite possibly my favorite. They are peppery and a little bitter but they are toned down by the buttermilk parmesan dressing, steak juices and the steak itself.

Rarely do we serve any other sides with this dinner and have been known to polish off an entire one and a half pound sirloin with a huge platter of greens.

Serves 2

1 1/2 lb. top sirloin steak

1 head of radicchio

2 Belgian endives

1 bunch of watercress or upland cress

For the dressing:

3/4 cup mayonnaise

1/3 cup 2% non-homogenized buttermilk

1/2 to 3/4 cup good quality parmesan, microplaned

1 to 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

2 teaspoon or more of fresh ground black pepper

kosher salt

1. Season the steak with salt. Set it on a baking rack and set it on a sheet tray with sides. Place it in the fridge for at least 2 hours and up to 8.

2. In a large mixing bowl add all the salad dressing ingredients and mix to combine. Taste and add salt, more cheese or pepper as necessary. Set aside to let the flavors meld. The dressing should be made about the time you season the steak and can be made up to a day in advance.

3. Heat you grill to high for direct heat grilling. Rinse the greens and spin them dry in a salad spinner then place them in a large bowl.

4. Season the steak with pepper. Grill the steak to one temperature below your desired doneness and then remove the steak and let it rest on a tray for 15 minutes.

5. Re-warm the steak on the grill. Toss the greens with the dressing, coating the greens well, and place them on a platter. Pour all the accumulated juices from the steak pan onto the salad. Remove the steak from the grill and slice it thinly and place it right on top of the greens. Serve immediately.

Barded Pork Rib Roast with Fall Vegetables

A pork rib roast with fall vegetables ready to go into the oven.

One perfectly good reason to buy whole slab or make your own bacon is you get the smokey rind. The pork rind is perfect for keeping a roast juicy and adds tons of great flavor, and besides, when the smokey hammy fat oozes down on the vegetables, oh my…

Wrapping a roast in fat is called barding. It is so simple and so delicious. It is a technique of days gone buy in America but I often see it done in ethnic markets and in different countries around Europe. If you live in Indianapolis Klemm’s carries the smoked rinds but you might want to call first to make sure they haven’t sold out.

If Brussel sprouts offend you, which I just don’t get, feel absolutely free to substitute other long cooking green vegetable. Parsnips, potatoes, celery root, and the list goes on, would be good too.

Serves 4

1 four rib, bone-in center cut pork loin roast

1 piece of smoked pork rind, often found at German butcher shops

4 to 5 carrots, peeled and cut into 1 inch chunks

1 lb. Brussel sprouts, trimmed and cut in half

8 to 10 pearl onions, peeled, or small onions cut into wedges

8 to 12 garlic cloves, trimmed and peeled.

a handful of thyme sprigs

kosher salt and fresh ground pepper

grape seed oil

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

1. Season the roast with salt and pepper. Place the bacon rind onto the meat side of the the roast and tie it into place with kitchen twine.

2. Heat a 12 inch skillet over high heat and add the grape seed oil. Add the Brussel sprouts and carrots without crowding them. You may need to do this in batches. Season them with salt and pepper. Brown them well then place them into a large casserole.

3. Brown the onions in the same pan and any remaining sprouts or carrots.

4. Place the remaining seared veggies and garlic into the same casserole and set the roast on top. Strew the thyme branches across the top of both the vegetables and the roast.

5. Place the casserole into the oven and set a timer for 30 minutes. Stir the veggies around turning them to coat them in the drippings.

6. Set the timer for another 30 minutes and stir the veggies again.

7. Go another 30 minutes but this time check to see how the roast is coming along by either the squeeze test or with an instant read thermometer. It should read 150-155 degrees.

8. If it is not done stir the vegetables and check it again after 15 minutes.

9. Once the roast is done cut it into 4 chops and serve along side the veggies.

Rösti with Gravlax and Caperberries

This makes for a great brunch or a good starter for an elegant dinner. The key to success here is to get the inside done without burning the crust. Patience in other words.

SERVES 4

1 1/4 pound russet potatoes, scubbed and roughly peeled

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 tablespoons grape seed oil

4 pieces gravlax style smoked salmon

4 caper berries

1/3 cup cultured sour cream

2 teaspoons prepared horseradish

kosher salt and fresh ground white pepper

1 tablespoon fresh chives minced

1. Place a clean towel under a mandoline and grate the potatoes using the julienned blade and let them fall right onto the towel. Bunch up the corner of the towel and rinse the potatoes under cold running water. Twist the towel forming a tight ball and keep twisting until all the moisture is removed.

2. Place the potatoes into a bowl and combine with the melted butter. Season with salt and white pepper.

3. Heat a 10 inch nonstick saute pan over medium heat. Add the grape seed oil and then place the potatoes evenly across the bottom of the pan.

4. It took me 8 minutes on medium flame then bumping it up to medium high for 6 minutes to get the right crust. Use that as a guide it is not an absolute.

5. When the rosti is ready to flip use an over size lid or pizza pan and cover the saute pan. Do this by the sink. Flip, without hesitation, while holding the pizza pan tightly to the pan, and them slide the cake carefully back into the pan. Cook the other side of the rosti until crispy.

6. Combine the sour cream with the horseradish and season it with salt and pepper. Roll the salmon slices attractively. Rinse the caper berries. Chop the chives.

7. Arrange the different elements attractively on the cake, cut, and serve.

Three Onion Chowder

Three Onion Chowder with Parsleyed Oyster Crackers

I really like chowders and really like French onion soup. 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 is really does make a difference by allowing the flavors to come together.

SERVES 4 TO 6

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

Parsleyed Oyster Crackers:

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

1 cup oyster crackers

1 tablespoon Italian parsley, minced

Fine sea 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.

2. 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.

3. 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.

Image

Dover Sole with Herb Oil and Zucchini

The delicate flavor of white fleshed fish, for me, is best when cooked simply.  In fact the most important thing is seasoning the fish properly and making sure not to overcook it, which is a good reason to salt it an hour before you want to eat and why it makes sense to finish cooking or re-warming the fish in the oven.

This dish is a great recipe for entertaining because you can brown the fish without cooking it completely and then when you are ready, you can finish it up in minutes in the oven.  I also find it is a great dish for date night at home or a special occasion dinner for two, such as an anniversary.

Finally, the fish you use is up to you.  I love Dover sole but it is hard to find, you are going to have to skin it, and then bone it too.  Flounder is an excellent alternative as is halibut.

Serves 2

1 large whole Dover Sole, skinned, or other flat fish

5 fresh basil leaves

1 sprig of thyme or savory

extra virgin olive oil, plus more for cooking the fish

3 baby multi colored carrots

1 or 2 zucchini depending on their size

1 garlic clove, peeled and crushed

kosher salt and fresh ground white pepper

1. Heat the oven to 350˚ F. Salt and pepper the fish on both sides.

2. Place the herbs into a mortar. Using the pestle grind and bruise the herbs into a coarse paste. Add a pinch of salt and a grind of fresh ground pepper. Add 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil and mix to combine. Set the oil aside.

3. Heat the olive oil in a skillet(non-stick if you are more comfortable with it) large enough to hold the fish easily and comfortably. When the oil is very hot but not smoking add the fish. Brown the fish on both sides it doesn’t matter if it is cooked through or not, then remove it to an oven proof tray.

4. Clean out the skillet and place it back onto the stove. Slide the fish, and two oven proof plates, into the oven to finish cooking or warming it. Add a glug or two of oil to the saute pan, add the crushed clove of garlic then add and sear the zucchini. Season it with salt and pepper then turn it and do the same to the other side.

5. Plate the fish, put the zucchini on the plate attractively and using a mandolin or by slicing the carrots thin, garnish with the carrots. Drizzle some herb oil over the fish filets.

6. Serve.

Coq au Vin

I think this is one of the best dishes in the Classic French Cuisine repertoire.  This dish is amazing with any kind of chicken but if you can lay your hands on a young heritage breed rooster of about 28 weeks of age do so.  Depending on the breed the meat can be very dark and very rich.  I like this kind of chicken over the run of the mill Cornish Rock meat bird.  It has character, has a different flavor depending on the kind of bird and for me is a welcome change.

Serves 4

clarified butter

1 rooster or fryer 3 1/2 pounds, cut into quarters, wings and back removed and reserved

1 bottle burgundy or pinot noir

2 onions, trimmed, peeled and quarted

2 carrots, scrubbed, peeled and cut into 1 inch hunks

2 celery stalks, trimmed, washed and cut into 1 inch hunks

1 leek, white and light green part only, trimmed, rinsed and halved lenghtwise

6 sprigs fresh thyme

5 sprigs curly leaf parsley

5 cups rich goose, duck or chicken stock

2 1/2 tablespoons tomato paste

kosher salt and fresh ground pepper

a parchment round

For the garnish:

8 carrots, peeled and trimmed

8 boiling or pearl onions, peeled and trimmed

a handful of mushrooms, royal trumpet, crimini or white

8 oz. piece of unsmoked slab bacon or pancetta

A parchment round, it should fit inside the pot snuggly

your favorite mashed potatoes or buttered egg noodles

1. Preheat the oven to 325˚ F. Season the chicken on all sides with salt and pepper. Place a heavy bottomed pot large enough to hold the chicken so you can easily brown it on all sides over medium high heat and add enough clarified butter to coat the bottom of the pan.

2. Add the chicken quarters and brown them nicely on all sides. Take your time, adjust the heat lower if necessary but brown it deeply without burning it. This will pay off in flavor later. Once the chicken is brown remove it to a plate.

4. Add the wings, back onions, celery, carrots and leek. Brown them lightly.

5. Deglaze the pan with the wine. Add the thyme and parsley and let the wine bubble away the alcohol and begin to reduce. Season the pot with a heavy pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper. Not to much though you are going to reduce the sauce and as it reduces it will get saltier.

6. Tuck the chicken quarter back into the pot. Add the stock and tomato paste. Bring the whole thing to a boil and reduce the heat to a simmer.

7. Place the parchment round onto the surface of the stew then put the lid on and tuck the whole thing into the preheated oven.

8. Set a time for 1 1/2 hours making sure after 45 minutes to check and turn the chicken.  Now is the time to make your mashed potatoes but be prepared to keep them warm. I find an ad hoc double broiler works well for this.

9. After 45 minutes to an hour has passed place a large saute pan over high heat. Add enough butter to coat the bottom of the pan and then add a little more. The mushrooms will soak the fat up like a sponge and you want them to do so. Once the pan is near smoking hot add the mushrooms. Season them with salt and pepper and brown them.

10. Remove the mushrooms to a plate and then add the carrots and pearl onions. Swirl them around in the pan. Add the slab bacon and enough water to just cover the carrots but not the bacon. You want the bacon to braise on the bottom but get crisp on the top so don’t cover it completely. Season the with salt and pepper.

11. Bring the water to a boil and then slide it into the oven along side the chicken.

12. Once the chicken is tender but firm, not falling off the bone, remove the pot from the oven, then remove the chicken to the plate you used before and  strain the stock into a bowl. Discard the solids and defat the stock. Wipe out the pot if you need to and then add the stock back to the pan.

13. Using pot holders, remember the pot just came out of the oven,  place the pot with the stock over high heat and reduce the sauce to your desired thickness. Taste and season appropriately. If it reduces to much just add a little water back to the pan.

14. Add the chicken back to the pot and turn it to coat it with the sauce and to rewarm it along with the mushrooms.

15. Check the carrots and pearl onions to see if they are done. If so remove them from the oven. Slice the bacon into four pieces.

16. Plate it up and serve.

The Chicken Massacre at Crooked Creek

Last night’s rain, soaked up by the hot earth, is rising again this morning as steam. As the truck rattles down the long gravel drive and we get close to the orchard, the apple trees emerge from the light fog, the treetops magically floating in a cloud.

Then, through the mist, I begin to see the faint outlines of chicken carcasses strewn about haphazardly–some on their sides, missing wings, their pure white feathers stained red; others with their heads folded under their chests; and some with their chests still heaving, breathing their last. It could be a black-and-white photograph of a Civil War battlefield. Except they’re chickens. My chickens.

My throat drops into my stomach. I stop the truck and put it in park.  I fling the door open and jump out, telling Lynnie, my youngest, to stay put. I walk briskly out to the killing field. I pick up a couple of the dying birds and do the humane thing, wringing their necks and dropping them in a pile.

At first I think it’s a coyote massacre, but I quickly notice that most of the birds have two fang punctures in their skulls, while a few are gutted, their stomachs ripped wide open. I’ve heard that raccoons will bite the heads of chickens and lick away the blood and fluids, which makes the feathers come loose and leaves the chicken bald. When a chicken runs dry, the raccoons leave the carcass and move on. It isn’t hearsay anymore–I’m witnessing this oddity and carnage first-hand.

The sky is still gray and it’s drizzling again. The splashes of blood are diluting and spreading in the rain. As the truck idles in the driveway, I look around the scene again, then the smell of wet dead chicken on my hands and exhaust fumes makes me gag.

I walk back to the truck. I get in, my shirt wet against the seat, and look down at my lap, confused. I left the chickens in their pen this morning because we left early to run a couple of errands. I figured I would let them out when we got back. It seems the raccoon or raccoons ripped the welded wire right off the side of the pen and killed each chicken one at a time. It’s as if they’d been waiting at the woods’ edge, watching me leave, seeing those chickens penned up so they couldn’t run–just like the raccoons wanted. It’s as if they’ve been waiting and watching for months, hoping I would make this mistake.

It’s not like the chickens could have run, anyway. They were meat birds, one week away from being processed. They were plump–fat, even–and meat birds aren’t meant to run; they aren’t even meant to reproduce. But I had raised them perfectly–maybe the best flock of meat birds I’ve raised. Now 21 of 25 are laying dead in a field being rained on: a total loss; a tragic waste.

Back at the house, all I can think is how glad I am that I don’t depend on these birds for my food. Of course, I wanted them to be my food, but I can afford to buy chicken at the store because there are people who raise thousands, even millions of them, and they do it cheaply and, for a couple of extra bucks, even organically. My family and I won’t go hungry.

As tragedies will, though, this gets me thinking about how and why I raise these birds. Like wanting to have more eggs than I need, because I don’t find the ones with poop on the shell to be quaint, so I feed the ones with shit on them to the dogs and keep the clean eggs for myself. Isn’t that the idea, to have clean, fresh, great-tasting eggs? And Vivian and Lynnie like chasing the chickens around the yard and hatching the eggs in the spring, and it’s a great experience for them to take care of the hens. They love the looks on people’s faces when they ask, “What are your chickens’ names?” and the girls reply, “Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner!” And I like that they know where their food comes from. They’ve seen a chicken butchered, watched me do the crappy job of plucking a bird, and they know that it’s a hell of a lot of work for one meal.

Raising organic birds takes time–lots of time–and money. I eat probably the most expensive eggs in the county, and, after the massacre, the most expensive chicken, too. My wife thought I was crazy to get chickens, until she tried the eggs and we breaded and deep-fried our first meat bird. But now I’m wondering if she wasn’t right. Not just because it’s an expensive venture in a bad economy, but because we’ve had some other bad luck lately. It didn’t start out that way–the honeymoon years seemed perfect–but now, four years into it, things are going wrong.

Like the time I was at the kitchen sink and looked out the window just as the big Black Langshan rooster jumped three feet into the air, put its talons out, and grabbed at Viv’s back. Viv fell down, and I dropped the dish towel and sprinted to the back door. Then I heard her scream. It wasn’t the first time I’d heard her scream, but this time she wasn’t crying wolf. She cried out in such a complete panic that I had no doubt she needed help, desperately.

I’m not a violent person, but that changed in an instant. In a fit of blind rage and adrenaline, I tackled the big rooster, grabbed it by the feet, put my foot on its head, and jerked upward. I broke its neck with such force that I pulled the head clear off, but it was still flopping and spewing dust and blood everywhere. I kicked it away like it was a poisonous snake and immediately checked on Vivian, who was huddled in a corner by the chicken shack, covered in dust and shit.

I was shaking. She was crying.

I was livid. She was scared.

But she was more scared than hurt, and she was going to be okay. The rooster had pecked her once in the face about an inch below her left eye, so she was bleeding a little, but her back, because she had on a jacket, was unharmed.

I couldn’t put all the blame on the rooster. The girls aren’t supposed to go into the pen alone. We’ve had talks about it. I’ve told them that, because they are at eye level with each other, a big rooster like Rusty will come after them because he thinks they’re going to get his hens. He’s being protective of his flock and, because they’re his size, he will attack.

Now, in my kitchen on this wet, bloody morning, I remember pushing the tear-soaked hair away from Vivian’s eyes and tucking it behind her ears, and then, through her tears, between heaving breaths, she giggled a little and asked, “Can we eat him, Dad? Can we eat the rooster?”

I know I’m going to keep raising chickens.
For the Coq au Vin recipe click here

The Truth About Hunter S. Thompson

A sweating glass set down on a wooden bed stand makes an unmistakable sound. The ice doesn’t clink, it clicks, like fingernails on piano keys. In a small matter of time though the sound of the ice cubes change just as in another moment the wet glass leaves an indelible water mark. Of course, if someone’s setting a glass on your bed stand first thing in the morning, one of two things has happened: You’re either hung over, or you’re going to be.

There are moments in life that are greater than the individual. Recognizing these moments and rolling with them is what separates the ordinary from the extraordinary. If I had known this in my youth, I might have steered clear of that gas station, but sometimes, when there is little or no choice, you have to figure it’s fate.

I had finished up my last 1 to 10 p.m. shift at the American-Statesman, gone home to the roach-infested Holiday Inn-style apartment, and packed. It was 2 a.m. before I got loaded up and hit the road for Atlanta.

It was an ungodly hour somewhere between Austin and New Orleans when I started to get nervous about ever finding an open gas station. I was ready to pull into a station lot and just sleep until they opened. At each exit, I looked over the tops of the swamp mangroves hoping to see the beacon of mercury vapor lights that might indicate an open station. The fuel light on my metallic red Honda Accord had been on for more miles than I had ever pushed it before I finally got off the highway. There was no station at the exit, but I was desperate and figured there might be gas in town. I was surprised when I found an open station halfway between the highway and the town limits.

As my headlights picked up the two good-ol’-boys rushing out of the station door dressed in camo and hunter orange, it became immediately apparent that this had, at best, a 50/50 chance of going well. Sometimes, when it’s too dark and too secluded, you just know.

Now, it’s not like I was ignorant. I grew up in Indiana, and, the way I’ve always seen it, the only difference between a redneck ridge-runner and a Cajun is the accent. They’re cultural relatives, after all. But you can find bad apples anywhere.

I grabbed the pump handle, and a greasy, meaty claw grabbed it from my hand. “Full service,” he said in a rubbery swamp drawl. “Just stand back and everything be fine, satisfaction guaranteed.” When the skinny one (because in stories like these there’s always a skinny one and a fat one) jumped in the front seat to pop the hood and the gas tank–and then started rifling around in the console and the glove compartment, I knew this was going be an expensive tank of gas.

As they kept up a casually aggressive small talk, I sized up my few options. It’s not like I was going to take these two on. They were ready to fight, with Buck knives on their belts and who-knew-what in their boots. But, if I kept my mouth shut and was polite, maybe my odds would go up: In a minute the car would at least be full of gas….

At that moment, lurching out of the bathroom on the side of the building, I saw him. White Jack Purcells, white socks, white Fila tennis shorts, white shirt, tear-drop sunglasses, and that fucking Panama hat. In each hand a trademark: one, a Smith and Wesson .357 magnum with a six-inch barrel and enough power to knock down a full-size buck at a considerable distance; the other, a Dunhill Full Flavor cigarette stuffed into a plastic Joyu 450 cigarette filter.

If I had been an older man, my heart would have exploded out of my chest; instead it just revved like a 426 hemi with a snapped drive shaft–my engine was racing; my body was frozen. I was the deer in the headlights.

Hunter S. Thompson had just burst out of a gas-station bathroom in bum-fuck-Eygpt, had a gun pointed at a hillbilly’s head, and was telling them both to eat shit. He backed them off and grabbed me by the collar and shook. “Move, God damn it!” he roared, and he shoved me into the driver’s seat, backed around the hood, and jumped in on the passenger’s side. I was hunched forward with both hands on the wheel and a look on my face like I had just run over my favorite dog. He opened his mouth to shout at me, and the baseball-bat slammed into the trunk. It shook me out of my shock, and finally I peeled out, but not before we lost the back driver’s-side window to a brick.

Thompson threw his black gym bag into the back seat with my photo stuff, grinned, and stuck out his hand. In his staccato voice, he said, “Hunter Thompson.” Before we even got to the highway, he had convinced me that I needed to take him to where he needed to go.

Belize. A secluded banana plantation owned by a bunch of Rastafarians somewhere near the Guatemalan/Mexican border. They had developed an iguana problem and were licensing people to come and hunt them. It was remote, secluded, and the Rastas didn’t license just anyone.

I didn’t think I owed him my life, because I was pretty sure the Cajuns at the station just wanted my stuff and didn’t want to hurt me. So my decision was based solely on one fact: It was Hunter S. Thompson. I buckled my seatbelt and settled in as chauffeur. Thompson was an avid amateur photographer, so we easily dropped into a conversation about f-stops and shutter speeds, Cartier-Bresson and Capa.

At the Texas/Mexico border he had me park my car at Nuevo Laredo. Said we would take a bus across and pick up a car that would be waiting for us in Sabinas Hidalgo. There, we would drive along the mountains and find our way to the plantation.

There are few people who are apparent in their persona and Hunter S. Thompson was one. If his look wasn’t loud enough, the cherry-red 1976 Eldorado convertible waiting for us was like the second coming. His theory, he explained, was: create enough noise and people will look the other way.

I would never get to test this theory with Thompson. We began to relax, and as he relaxed the pharmaceuticals came out to amp things up again. It was at this point that I took my first mescaline, and, trust me, the world has always looked a little different.

I honestly can’t recount any other part of this sordid tale. From there on in, it was overloaded with drugs and tequila, with no end in sight until it somehow suddenly stopped. Not until I woke up, for the first time ever, to the sound of clicking ice, was there a coherent moment to reflect.

“It’s the cure, not the culprit,” he said, as I eyed the tall tumbler on the bed stand. I looked down and, to my surprise, there was a bandage on my leg and the sheets were stained with blood.

I ran my hand down to feel a chunk of my calf gone. I looked at Hunter with shock and dismay.

“Iguana bite. Biggest damn iguana ever, and you slayed the vicious beast with one shot just after it got a piece of you.”

“Iguana tacos?” I queried.

“Best ever, just like you said,” he replied.

I took a drink. Hunter S. Thompson never lied.

Makes one

2 tablespoons fresh coconut water

3 ounces fresh pineapple juice

seltzer water

crushed ice

1. Fill a 10 oz. tumbler three quarters full with ice.  Add the coconut water, pineapple juice, and top with seltzer.  Stir and garnish with lime, mango, and a cherry.

Texas Caviar

The first time I had Texas caviar I was in Santa Fe.  There I think they called it Cowgirl Caviar but that might have been the name of the restaurant.  I remember lots of pictures of cowgirls.  Maybe the name of the restaurant was called Cowgirl Hall of Fame.  That seems more right to me.

Anyway.  Texas Caviar was made famous by Helen Corbitt the food director in the 1950’s for Neiman Marcus in Dallas.  Many recipes call for Italian dressing.  No.  Do not do it.  I am sorry but bottled dressings suck.  Period.  This is supposed to be fresh and vibrant and everything added is meant to highlight the creamy texture of the legumes, not hide it.

Serves 6 to 8

2 ea. 15 oz cans black eyed peas, drained and rinsed

2 tablespoons red onion, minced

2 tablespoons celery, minced

1/3 cup cilantro, minced

1 tablespoon green onions, minced

1 garlic clove, minced finely

1/3 cup red wine vinegar

1/8 cup extra virgin olive oil

1/8 cup neutral flavored oil, i.e., canola, grape seed

1 to 2 dried cayennes or chile tepins cut into thin strips with scissors

kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper

corn chips

1. Combine all the ingredients into a bowl and mix to combine. Season with salt and lots of black pepper. Taste and adjust the seasoning as necessary. This gets better as it sits, 24 hours is optimal, but will also gain more Scoville heat units so keep that in mind when you decide the amount of red pepper you want to use.

Bona Fide Black Skillet Cornbread

The only thing that might make this cornbread more Southern is using white cornmeal instead of yellow. Most certainly the cornbread debate has set off more feuds than history has recorded. Should it contain sugar or not is usually the big question but why should you have to make a choice. That is not to say this is one of those recipes that is going to combine the best of both worlds because it is not. You shouldn’t mix cornbreads just like you shouldn’t mix liquor. Flat out, it is always a bad idea. You should have two great cornbread recipes, one Northern sweet version and one Southern.

With that in mind you can pretty much bet when the words black skillet come before the word cornbread it is going to be Southern. The title here holds true to that theory. Actually most recipes, such as this one, vary only slightly in ingredients but usually find a fork in the road when they reach the part of the recipe that reads  “technique”.

I use stoneground corn flour because, one, it tastes great and two I like the quality of the crumb in the final product. Some people use cornmeal and let sit overnight in what is called a soaker, meaning the liquid and the meal are mixed and allowed to rest overnight and then you add the soda and baking powder before baking. Kind of defeats the purpose of quick bread which is what cornbread really is. With that in mind, what seems to work well is to let the corn flour soak for twenty minutes while the pan is in the oven heating.

Heating the pan is paramount to getting the full cornbread experience.  Without heating it you will never get the crisp crust that tastes like a cross between deep fried catfish tails and bacon.  What you have never eaten the crispy tails off of deep fat fried catfish?  Why lucky you, you still have some living to do.

To be completely stubborn if you can’t bring yourself to use either  bacon grease or butter you should probably make some other bread because, really, you will be missing the point.  If you sub out the bacon grease for real butter cut down the pan warming time to twelve minutes or the butter will burn.

Makes 8 to 10 servings

4 tablespoons bacon grease

2 cups stone ground yellow corn flour

1 teaspoon sea salt or 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1 large egg

2 cups buttermilk

1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Place the bacon grease in a 10 inch cast iron pan.

2. Mix the corn flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt in a mixing bowl.

3. Beat egg and add it to the buttermilk and then add the liquid to the dry ingredients and mix quickly to combine the batter.

4. Place the cast iron pan into the oven and set a time for twenty minutes.

5. Using a dry towel or oven mit remove the pan from the oven and set it on a heat proof surface. Mix the batter with one or two quick spins and gently scrap it into the pan. You may need to use the whisk to pat it down and around so it reaches the edges of the pan. Grind some fresh ground pepper over the top.

6. Place the bread into the oven for 20 minutes or until it just starts to brown. Remove from the oven and cover it with a towel for 5 minutes. Slice and serve with lots of butter.

Pork Ribs in Adobo

Pork Ribs in Adobo

In looking for a new rib recipe for the grill,  Pork in Adobo kept coming across the radar. Knowing that Filipino food is considered, by some, to be the soul food of the Pacific it became interesting.

Looking at the ingredients it was apparent, or seemed so, that this was a dish influenced by an outside culture. Just as Spam is a huge part of Hawaiian culture this looked to have some of the earmark influences of the American military. Upon a little research though you will learn that this method, adobo or to stew in vinegar, is indigenous to the Philippines.

Many of the recipes for this dish all look very similar. It is one of those dishes that doesn’t sway much from the original except for little tweaks by the individual cooks who want to alter the flavor to their liking, just as was done here.

While the ribs take time to complete the time is mostly spent unattended. It really is a simple dish that comes together easily.  You can make you next cook-out amazingly simple as can be if you do this in advance.

Thai sticky rice and wok seared bok choy with oyster sauce are great with these ribs. If you want to be adventurous try replacing the ribs in this dish with fresh pork belly.

Serves 6

2 pork spare rib racks

1 1/2 cups unfiltered apple cider vinegar

4 tablespoons soy sauce

1 tablespoon kosher salt

5 bay leaves

1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns

20 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled

1. Place all the ingredients in a non reactive pan, large ziploc or, as I did, in a food saver vacuum bag. If you use a large pan you will need to turn the ribs every now and again making sure the ribs get a good even soak. If you get most of the air out of the ziploc you won’t need to flip the ribs but you get the idea, they need to be marinated evenly.  Place the ribs in the fridge, covered if you use the pan, and let them marinate over night.

2. The next day remove the ribs from the fridge and if you are using a pan to marinate you are ready to go. Heat he oven to 225˚F.  If you used the plastic bags remove the ribs, saving the marinade and put the ribs in a large casserole and pour the marinade over them. Cook the ribs, covered,  for 2 1/2 to 3 hours. They should be tender but not falling off the bone. Remove them from the oven and let them cool. You can refrigerate them, covered, until needed. The recipe can be done up to a day in advance at this point.

3. Heat you grill for direct heat grilling. If you are ready to serve the ribs remove them from the marinade. Strain the marinade into a small sauce pan.  Place the pan over medium heat.  Bring to a boil and let the marinade reduce by half.

4. Brush off any peppercorns stuck to the ribs and any bay leaves as well. Brush the ribs with some of the marinade and continue to brush with the marinade throughout the grilling. Be sure to save a good amount of the marinade to use as a dipping sauce too. Grill the ribs until seared, crispy, lightly charred and hot, remember they are already cooked so grilling won’t take long.  Cut the ribs into rib-lets and serve.

A Hint of Allspice

When I was younger, looking for a cure to the darker moods of the seasonal doldrums, I used to lie with my back on the floor, my butt up against the lounge, and my legs in an L-shape up on the cushion. Using the chair in reverse, basically, I could lay there a long time, staring into nothingness. Well not always nothing–sometimes a spider would crawl across the ceiling and capture my attention.

I didn’t think about time, either, and whether it had any worth. You waste it on stupid things like estimating how many holes are in each ceiling panel and postulating whether every individual panel has the same amount. Sure, I could have gone about it scientifically and actually taken down two panels, counted, and multiplied–but that would have taken away the reason for wasting time by staring at the ceiling.

I’m not gonna lie and pretend things are different just because I’m older, because they aren’t. Now I just find different ways to waste time. Now, I cook. I cook like a grandma with a family reunion just a few short days away.

Even if I’m cooking, I’m not just cooking. Tonight I was somewhere in the Caribbean smelling curry. Goat curry, chicken curry, fish curry–it doesn’t matter, because it’s the spices taking me away, the curry powder with the hint of allspice. Then I realize it’s really the smell of the corner bodega that fed me more nights than not when I lived in Prospect Heights in Brooklyn, off of St. Johns Place.

Suddenly I’m walking that street, stepping on crack vials that pop like popcorn under my Chuck T’s, to get to Grand Army Plaza or Flatbush Ave. or the subway station. The clothes the women wear are the color of azure oceans and golden sunsets–islands they know first-hand–not the dour black turtle necks and sullen black chinos of Manhattan, but much more beautiful and vibrant. The neighborhood might have been down but it wasn’t out. The ladies hanging out on the porch stoops and around the wrought-iron gates are laughing at stories of people and islands their kids will never really know.

Me, my hands are full with an aluminum container heavy with curry chicken, rice and peas, and fried plantains. I walk across the street taking in the jazz notes of the impromptu lives that pass in front of my eyes and into my ears. I sit down on my stoop to eat, wide eyed and smiling. I unwrap the plastic wrap to get at the roti, steamed and kept warm by the food underneath. I peel back the foil and lift the top. It is so full of food it is smashed together and flat like a cake, but the smell is the smell of my neighborhood.

I will know this neighborhood. The slap of the sapphire-blue screen door at the bodega. How the first time I order food at the back counter it is a warm ham sandwich with cheese; how over the months I’ll work my way up to a Cubano and a bag of plantain chips; and by the time I move away I’m eating goat neck curry and sucking the bones like I was raised on the stuff.

I turned down the heat on the stove to simmer. Sometimes it is about hunger and quantity, but tonight it’s about the taste, about how the vibrant spice of curry lightens my dark mood at the very moment when I want to run away and never come back.

Get your Bodega Chicken Curry Recipe here

Bodega Chicken Curry

I like to use a wok for these kinds of dishes. Besides everyone should own a good wok. By good I am not talking about those little non-stick thingies hanging from the wall at the five and dime. Those aren’t even big enough to make a half order of fried rice for a toddler.

What I am talking about is wandering down to your local restaurant supply store and heading for their wok section. They have blue carbon steel woks that are cheap, will last forever, are non-stick by nature and come in all sizes. I have seen one big enough that I could take a hot bath in it if I wanted but all we are looking for is a 16 to 18 inch wok. That is the measurement from one side of the rim to the other. It will seem huge but when you go to make fried rice for a family of four it all the sudden won’t seem big enough.

I use a wok for deep frying, making stews like this, fried rice and countless other dishes. It is the shape of the wok that makes it work so well.

In the end you can use a heavy bottomed pot, cast iron pot or enameled Dutch oven to make this. I just happen to like a wok.

I serve this with rice and peas and pot roasted collard greens. Roti is a must.

Serves 4

Island style curry powder:

1 tablespoon each, whole cumin, coriander, black pepper, anise seed, and brown mustard seeds

2 teaspoons whole allspice berries

1 tablespoon ground tumeric

1. Toast all the seeds and berries until fragrant in a skillet placed over medium heat. Remove them from the pan and let the spices cool.

Once cooled place everything including the turmeric into a spice grinder and grind to a fine grind.

For the curry:

peanut or canola oil

8 chicken drumsticks or thighs, skin on or off your call

2 yellow onions, about 3 1/2 cups, julienned

1 1/2 tablespoons fresh ginger, peeled and minced

1/4 cup fresh garlic, peeled, trimmed and sliced thinly

4 to 6 tablespoons curry powder

8 to 10 fingerling potatoes, peeled and chunked

6 to 8 sprigs of thyme

2 cups chicken stock

1 cup water

if you want to add heat add habanero, jalapeno or whatever diced hot pepper you want.

kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper

1. Place a wok or heavy bottomed pot over medium high heat. Add enough oil to coat the pan. Add the drumsticks or thighs and brown them on all sides. Then remove them from the pan to a plate.

2. Add the onions and more oil it needed and cook until the onions begin to soften. Add the ginger, garlic and curry powder (if you want heat add peppers now). Cook until fragrant.

3. Add the stock and water. Add the chicken back to the pot along with the potatoes and thyme. Season with salt and pepper

4. Bring the liquid to a boil and then reduce the heat to a simmer. Cover, stir now and again and simmer until tender. About 30 to 45 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasoning.

5. Serve.

Spinach and Feta Pie

Spinach and Feta Pie

Most people, it seems, remember the first time they ate spinach pie. Chances are you were at an ethnic restaurant, maybe on your first food adventure to a Greek establishment, feeling continental and worldly. Maybe you where in college and eating at the local hippie restaurant where they also introduced you to North African Peanut Stew with Tofu, bags of tamari pepitas and herbal tea.

The joint smelled of clove cigarettes, Turkish coffee and sweat. Hank Williams and Lefty Frizzell tunes rained down from the speakers above and mingled with the smell of patchouli making you think it was the birth of cool. There are newspapers hanging on bamboo racks, a clothesline drying out today’s laundry, for anyone to pick up and read. People played checkers and chess and snacked on millet muffins.

It was a health food restaurant without a non-smoking section.  In the kitchen Moosewood cookbooks lined the shelf above the stove.  The food was vegetarian except on Sunday morning when all of campus lined up for a killer breakfast that included sausage and bacon. Sunday being the only day the restaurant actually made money.

Just sitting in the pine high-backs with a good cup of your daily grind and a used but unopened copy of The Sheltering Sky, lying face up on the table, made you feel smart. Lots of broody wannabes wrapped in black with their berets mimicking Kerouac, but really, all of them a breed of Caulfield.  Each with tattered composition notebooks lying open to the first page waiting for that initial first stroke of the pen.

It was an ocean of intellectual doldrums, bitter hopes and angst filled dreams. Everyone who came here was looking for more than a good meal.  They had either lost the wind in their sails or were looking for an intellectual soul mate with which to share their troubled waters, if not their sheets.

And, yet, you came back. Somehow at this place in time, the angst ridden shirt feels comfortable, it fits and you fit or maybe the spinach pie, really, was just that good.

Serves 4 as part of a larger meal

For the strudel dough:

1 1/4 cup all purpose flour dough

1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons safflower oil

5 to 7 tablespoons cold water

For the filling:

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 cups yellow onion, small dice

1 1/2 tablespoons garlic, minced

two 1 x 4 inch pieces of orange zist

1 teaspoon finely grated orange zest

10 oz. baby spinach, washed

1 cup fresh bread crumbs

1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese

1/2 to 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes

2 tablespoons currants

kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper

1. Place the flour, safflower oil and water into the bowl of a mixer and using the paddle attachment mix the ingredients until they become well combined and elastic.

2. Turn the dough out and need it till it is satiny smooth. Wrap in plastic wrap and let it rest for 1 hour. You can make the dough up to a day in advance and store it, wrapped, in the fridge. Just be sure to let it come to room temperature before shaping the dough.

3. Place a large saute pan over medium high heat and add the olive oil. Add the orange zest strips and let them bubble away for a few minutes. Remove the strips.

4. Add the onions and cook them until they just start to turn golden at the edges. Season them lightly with salt and pepper, remember feta is salty. Add the garlic and chili flakes and stir until fragrant.

5. Add the spinach and turn it with tongs in the pan to coat it with oil and to wilt it. Once it is mostly wilted turn it out into a clean kitchen towel that is set in a colander. Pull the edges of the towel together then place your tongs around the towel, like a hair pin, and use the tongs to twist the towel into a ball around the spinach and squeeze out the moisture.

6. Place the pan back over the heat and add a more olive oil. Add the bread crumbs and brown them. Add the grated zest and the cooked spinach to the pan and mix to combine. Remove from the heat and cool. Once cool add the feta and currants. Taste and adjust the seasoning as necessary.

7. Preheat the oven to 375 ˚F.

8. A large 18 x 24 wood cutting board works great for this but the corner of a counter or table will do as well. Cover the cutting board with a large, non terry cloth, towel or apron. Dust it with flour.

9. Flatten the dough into an 8 inch disk and dust it with flour. Work it out with you hands into a larger disk. 12 to 14 inches round. Now, hook an edge of the dough onto a corner of the board. Using the backs of your hands, tucked under the dough, start stretching and pulling, gently, the underside of the side of the dough towards the empty corners of the board. If you get a whole just pinch the dough back together and continue. You can stretch the thicker edges from time to time with your hands. Keep stretching from the underside of the dough with the backs of you hands until the dough is transparant and eggshell thin and is 18 x 18 inches.

10. Sprinkle the dough with a little bit of olive oil and using a pastry brush gently and lightly coat the dough with the oil.

11. Lift the dough into a 12 inch non-stick saute pan leaving the edges of the dough to hang over the sides. Trim off the thick edges of the dough with scissors.

13. Place the filling ingredients into the center of the dough. Grab the edges of the dough and bring then to the center of the pan. Pinch the center and twist the dough. Pinch of the dough ball in the center.

14. Bake in the preheated oven for 45 minutes or until brown and crusty. Remove from the oven and let the pie rest for 20 minutes. Cut into wedges and serve.

Grilled Marrow Bones with Chimichurri Salad

I often follow my instincts, albeit,  it is my primal instincts in this case.  I follow them nonetheless.  I can never get enough when it comes to marrow bones.  I love the fatty mouth feel of the marrow and the way the hot fat renders in my mouth.  Now,  before you go getting all crazy on me realize marrow fat has no saturated fat in it.  That said, it doesn’t mean I go around eating the stuff breakfast, lunch and dinner.  But there are healthy benefits to eating good quality fats.  They  include calcium, vitamin D, K and E absorption.  What’s my point?  There is good fat and bad fat, marrow is good fat.  So get yourself a skinny spoon and dig-in.

Serves 4

8 marrow bones, about 6 inches long and cut lengthwise in half

Penzey’s Old English Rib Roast Rub

kosher salt

1 cup flat leaf parsley leaves

1 cup oregano leaves

1 cup cilantro leaves

2 shallots, peeled and cut into very thin rings

1 or 2 garlic heads, depending on size

red wine vinegar

extra virgin olive oil

fresh ground black pepper

8 slices crusty artisanal bread

1. This step helps to remove any blood in the marrow. Place the bones into a nonreactive container. Add enough water to cover. Remove the bones and add 1 tablespoon of salt. Whisk the water to dissolve the salt. Add the bones back to the water and refrigerate six hours to overnight.

2. Remove the bones from the water and place them, marrow side up, on a sheet tray. Rub each bone, again marrow side only, with 1/2 teaspoon of the Old English Rib Roast rub. Refrigerate the bones uncovered for 2 hours. This step dries the surface of the bones so they grill better and allows the seasoning to penetrate the marrow.

3. Heat your grill for direct high heat grilling. Place both heads of garlic off to the side and let them cook while the grill is heating. Keep and eye on the garlic so the skin doesn’t char to quickly or the inside will brown to much before the cloves are roasted and tender.

4. Combine the herbs in a small bowl and set aside.

5. Brush one side of the bread with olive oil. Grill the bread until it has grill marks and a some charring. Remove the bread from the grill and season it with salt and fresh ground pepper. Set aside.

6. Grill the bones, marrow side first, until they are grill marked and hot. Don’t cook them too long or the marrow will disappear into the fire.

7. Remove the bones to a platter or individual plates. Sprinkle the herbs, to taste,  with red wine vinegar then with olive oil. Divide the salad between the plates sprinkling it over the bones. Add the shallots, then peeled grilled garlic cloves, and finally some more fresh ground pepper. Serve with toast.

A Different Sort of Education

Honey Bees Polinating Silver Queen Sweet Corn

If the number of dumb ass things you have done in life stops with the number of fingers you have you can consider yourself lucky. Since dumb ass is a matter of objectivity you may need to throw in all your toes too, even so, you should still figure yourself rightly finishing on the high side of exceptional if the number doesn’t surpass twenty.

Thus far I feel I have been lucky.

So the day I went to pick up a hive of bees and planned to put them in the back of the 4Runner I had to scratch my noggin and ask myself if I was putting myself at risk of being downgraded on the DA scale.

You have to understand I spent the better part of a day searching out a hive body full of bees that might be for sale, notice I said might. First off finding beekeepers that use a phone or those that don’t think your the census man is full time affair.

Beekeepers are borderline off-grid-aphrenics. They are skeptics at the very least or they think the world is going to end and if the world isn’t ending they are just planning for hard times. It is just their nature, a lifestyle in fact, and it is all in the oral handbook of beekeeping just ask a beekeeper.

So you have to take a Woodward and Bernstein approach when looking for a hive and start with the officers of the local beekeepers association only to have them give you a list. As you work your way around the call list they gave you you quickly learn a few things. You can never get a definitive answer from a beekeeper, you feel as though everyone is using aliases, at some point you expect to see the name Deepthroat on the call list, and they all have a perfect mid-state Hoosier accent where neck is pronounced nick and next is nixt. This is when you realize the linguistics classes you took in college weren’t for naught, even though it is some twenty years later, but that they still have no real world use.

Meanwhile you hear this lady yelling, and I mean yelling, out the front door of the house for her husband because they still have a phone with a cord that attaches to a wall and you are listening to this yelling but also thinking about linguistics and somewhat thinking your day would be complete if she only let out a hog call. A big suewwwwwwee somehow would take it over the edge.

“I don’t know where he is” she said, then instantly “Oh here he is.” like an apparition appeared before her very eyes.

“This is Garland” he says.

I go through my hole explanation of what I am looking to do only to get to the end of why I need bees, that I have a small orchard, and a huge garden, to hear Garland say he doesn’t keep bees anymore.

And I say, “but I was just talking to Orville Hegemeyer and Orville said,” I get cut short.

“How is Orville, is he doing better? I knowed he was sick for a bit. You know I don’t keep bees on a professional basis anymore I got sick a few years back, had a case of bone shaves. Sold everything but people have been calling me to get swarms, well you know if you got one hive your soon to have ten. Now that my back is better I got a few hives. This spring I am gonna put together a few hive bodies if all goes well I should have three or four to sell.”

I gave him my number, said I would buy a hive, and would wait for his call.

That spring I watched the pink and white blossoms of the apple and pear trees open, brown and drop to the ground. The asparagus came and went as did the morels. Peas and spinach were done.

The phone rang, “I got that hive body ready ‘n full of bees if’n you still want ‘em.”

“Garland I thought you forgot about me!” I said.

“No sir, this weather put things behind almost two months. You still want it.” he said.

He gave me directions.

So that is how it came to pass that I am sitting in a gravel drive with my car window cracked listening to a man with a bee veil on telling me I might want to park on the other side of the house since he really angered a bunch of bees over on this side, another reason I guess to have a door on every side of the house. So I do.

Garland lived in a small white clapboarded ranch in the middle of a small town. It was like the town was built around his seven acres though. He had it all fenced off with that woven wire fence that was big in back yards in the seventies and the house butted up to a big woods but then it was like a regular subdivision for miles surrounding him. At his house though he had peas growing up the fence and green onions planted around the fence row too. He had stuff growing everywhere. Rows and rows. He had two sheds, one for squabs the other for chickens. And bee stuff piled everywhere and hives everywhere.

He was proud of his place and gave me the grand tour as if he had been stranded on a desert island an I was the first person to come along. I enjoyed the three hour tour until finally we wound up at the hive he was wanting to sell me. Eighty bucks.

Funny thing is when I left his place I left with four live squabs, a mess of white raspberry starts and a head full of useful information just because I showed up. I figured with the raspberry starts alone I was down to twenty bucks for the hive.

The hive. I had no bee suit. I didn’t own one. I did all this stuff in such a hurry I didn’t really plan things out. Garland told me I didn’t need one that we would screen the hive entrance and that the sides were stapled to the bottom board and top. He stapled it shut with screen but bees were still flooding out of a small hole at the corner of the entrance. Seems sealing bees in royally pisses them off. I pointed this exit hole out to Garland and he shot another staple into the screen and everything seemed fine. He said besides you will want to drive with the back window down and the two front passenger windows open to keep the airflow going out the back just in case. Then he laughed which didn’t really ease my mind.

I drove with the concentration of a winning Indy race car driver on the last lap of the Indianapolis 500. Got home safe and sound. Got the hive safely to its new home.

Now, how to get that screen off with 30,000 angry bees behind it and me without a bee suit.

Rustic French Honey Cake

This cake is only slightly sweet. It is a cake that answers the age old question, “is it ok to put a slab of butter on my cake?” with a definitive yes. I find it great in the afternoon with an espresso and if it is a Saturday I might even attempt an armagnac, cognac or a sweet walnut liquor. If you just can’t help yourself you could add another 1/8 cup of honey.

The cake is good wrapped in plastic wrap for a couple of days. It was eaten over the course of 3 days here and, for me, only got better.

Makes 9 pieces

1 cup rye flour, fine grind

1 cup unbleached cake flour

2 teaspoons baking soda

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

1/8 teaspoon cloves

1/2 cup honey

2 large eggs

1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted

1/2cup whole milk

1 cup prunes, chopped

1. Preheat the oven to 350˚ F. Grease an 8 X 8 inch square cake pan. A parchment square in the bottom might be a good idea if you think the cake will stick to your pan. Grease the parchment too.

2. Sift the flours into a mixing bowl. Any large pieces of bran left in the strainer can be discarded. Add the baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt and cloves.

3. Add the eggs, honey, milk, and butter. Stir with a wooden spoon to combine. Add the prunes and stir to distribute them.

4. Pour the batter into the pan and bake for 35 minutes or until a cake tester poked into the middle of the cake comes out clean.

5. Remove it from the oven and let it cool. Dust with powdered sugar if desired. Serve.

Okra and Sweet Corn Purloo

It is the time of year, at least for me, where I have remnants–odds and ends–coming from the garden.  A few rebellious plants refusing to be defeated by a light frost are still putting forth small amounts of tender vegetables.  The real fall plants, broccoli, cauliflower and Brussel sprouts haven’t yet committed to blooming.  In my garden basket I have Silver Queen sweet corn, okra, and a few green peppers.

I make purloo, a simple but very satisfying one-pot of vegetables, rice and some sort of meat (meant more as a seasoning then an entree.)

Purloo is a dish of economy.  It is a dish of diversity.  It is a dish that tells many a family history simply by ingredients the cook chooses to use. It is of Low Country origin.  Most likely a slave dish.  It is meant to serve many and it is meant to be comforting.  It is.

Serves 6

3/4 cup onion, small dice

1/3 cup green pepper, seeded and small dice

1/3 cup celery, small dice

1 teaspoon garlic, minced

1 teaspoon dried thyme

1/4 teaspoon dried marjoram

1/2 teaspoon dried basil

2 cups okra, cut lengthwise or into stars

1 cup sweet corn, such as silver queen

2 cups smoked turkey thighs, skin removed, chopped (or ham)

1 cup short grain white rice

2 cups vegetable or chicken broth

kosher salt

fresh ground black pepper

 

1. Heat the oven to 400˚ F. Place a heavy bottomed 3 quart pot over medium heat. Add enough oil to the pot to barely coat the bottom.

2. Once the oil is hot add the onion, pepper, and celery. Season with a pinch of salt and a grind of pepper. Cook, stirring often, until the vegetables are soft but not brown.

3. Add the thyme, basil, marjoram and garlic. Saute, being careful not to brown the garlic, until they become fragrant. Add the okra, corn and turkey. Season the purloo again with salt and fresh ground pepper. Taste and adjust any seasoning necessary.

4. If the pan seems dry add a little more oil. Then add the rice and stir it around to coat the grains with the oil. Add the broth.

5. Grab the pot by the handle and give it a sharp shake so everything evens out and is distributed evenly. Bring the broth to a boil.

6. Turn off the heat, cover the pot with a lid and slide the whole thing into the oven. Immediately turn the heat to 325˚ F.

7. Set a timer for 35 minutes. At the end of thirty five minutes remove the pot from the oven, remove the lid and using a tasting spoon check the rice to see if it is done.

8. If it is not done, cover the pot and return it to the oven for 10 more minutes.

9. If the rice is tender, serve.

Rhubarb, Ginger, and Oatmeal Upside-Down Cake

All of my favorite things in one. Fresh ginger goes great with the rhubarb and the oatmeal cake, well, is gooey and tasty. Let it cool at least 20 minutes before slicing. I top it with frothed cream but vanilla ice cream would be great too.

Makes 8 to 10 slices

For the rhubarb:

2 1/4 cups fresh rhubarb, rinsed and cut into 1/2 inch pieces

1 tablespoon fresh ginger, minced

1 cup brown sugar

1/4 cup unsalted butter

For the oatmeal cake:

1/2 cup old fashioned oatmeal

3/4 cup boiling water

1/4 cup unsalted butter, cubed

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

1 large egg

1/2 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup sugar

1 cup unbleached all purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

1. In a mixing bowl combine the oats with the boiling water. Add the 1/4 cup of butter. Set aside to cool.

2. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Gently melt the butter in a 10 inch cast iron skillet. Remove it from the heat. Spread the brown sugar evenly across the bottom. In a large bowl mix the ginger and rhubarb. Spread the rhubarb evenly across the brown sugar. Set aside.

3. In the empty rhubarb bowl combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.

4. To the cooled oatmeal add the egg, both sugars, and vanilla. Mix to combine. Add the dry ingredients to the wet and mix until combined.

5. Spread the cake batter evenly across the top of the rhubarb. Place into the oven and bake for 30-40 minutes.

6. Remove from the oven when done and let cool for 5 minutes before inverting onto a cake plate. Let cool for 20 minutes before slicing.

Image

Smokin’ Black-eyed Sandwich

Smokin’ Black-eyed Sandwich

This is a perfect example of vegetarian food that stands on its own. Not much different than falafel which has stood its ground for years. Your could in fact replace the mayonnaise with a yogurt sauce of your liking.  Something with tomato and cucumber would draw down the heat nicely. It would go well with grilled pitas too so if you wanted to you could take the whole meal and easily give it a Middle Eastern flare. When it is a sandwich like the above I really like it with crunchy shoestring fries and I have even been known to stack the fries right between the bread with the fritter for a nice crunch.

Serves 6

2 each 14 oz. cans black eyed peas, drained

1/2 to 2/3 cup rice flour

1/2 onion minced

2 cloves of garlic, chopped

3/4 teaspoon dried thyme

1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

kosher salt and fresh ground pepper

2 carrots, peeled and grated, about 1 cup

lettuce, shaved

vegetable oil

bread, buns or pitas

mayonnaise or you choice of condiment

1. Place the drained peas, 1/2 cup rice flour, onion, garlic, thyme, cayenne and a 1/2 teaspoon of kosher salt and some fresh ground pepper into the bowl of a food processor. I like the mix to maintain some chunkiness but it is important for it to be fairly smooth so it holds together. Add up to 1/3 cup more rice flour as needed. So process until smooth but it doesn’t by any means need to be perfectly smooth. Add the carrots and mix, not process, them in thoroughly with a spatula. I like to let this sit for at least an hour so the rice flour has time to hydrate and thicken the mix so it stays together better. You could even cover it and refrigerate overnight. If it seems loose before you are getting ready to cook it add more rice flour.

2. Heat a large non-stick skillet over medium high heat. Add the oil and let it get hot. Form the mix into 6 balls and then shape them into patties. Fry then until crispy on both sides. Build you sandwiches and serve.

The Whimsical Mistress

I am a flatlander.

You see in Indiana the northern two thirds of the state is flat, while the southern third becomes the foothills to the Appalachians. It all happened when the glaciers rolled through, which was sort of like pushing a sofa on a Persian rug. The rug in front of the sofa bunches up while everything behind becomes flat. The verity of this occurrence is the hills of southern Indiana are beautifully Rubenesque.


It’s an affair really. And not in a Victorian sense either, because it is more gaudy than that.
    
It is when I smell the musky fall dirt of the southern hills, corseted with orange and yellow leaves and the hickories and sycamores that once held them — now bare-shouldered — become the steel boning that holds the hollers to their unique hourglass shape, that  I become incorrigible. All because this voluptuous landscape is the Indiana home to the American persimmon, Eve’s apple to me, a temptress of pudding, pie, bread and fudge.

Oh the persimmon has her foreign counterparts, Hachiya and Fuyu, and of course they are succulent, trim, and have that hot little accent, but the American persimmon is one of a kind, sort of the saw blade painted with a kountry landscape, kitsch, and probably more closely related to running off with the circus than a fine dining car on the Orient Express.


It’s not like there aren’t persimmon trees in other parts of the state. My neighbor has a beauty, in fact I covet it. It is tall and gorgeous, maybe one of the largest I have seen,  but it isn’t the same. In southern Indiana it is the culture that goes along with the persimmon. It’s the paw paws, maple syrup, grits, ham and beans, and fried biscuits with apple butter. It’s possum and sweet potato dinners and wood-burning stoves. It’s all the things I hated about Indiana growing up but am intensely intrigued by now, albeit in a driving by a fatal crash sort of way.
    
All fatality aside, a good persimmon dessert will leave you in a drool sleep on the couch dreaming the dream of possum and raccoons. Of beating them to the little tannic and orange fires of Zeus, a rare true berry, pulpy and sweet when they finally become ripe enough to eat rather then their typical docket of pucker and gag.

The persimmon likes to flimflam you. It may look ripe and mushy, but when you bite into one it grabs you by the uvula and pulls. It doesn’t let go either, truthfully, it holds on like a spring leech after a bloodless winter. 
    
It is an accomplishment worthy of a diploma, this gathering of the ripe fruits,  because somehow the animals know too, just like they know the night the sweet corn is ready, and if you went out to that persimmon tree on that night, the night they know, you might find it is like a barrel full of monkeys. A tree full of nocturnal varmints having a hoedown, all drunk and giddy on your persimmons.
    
You are thinking of fighting them for it, a barroom brawl, but instead you turn and walk back home, you walk back home because you realize she is a good mistress, the persimmon, and is not exclusive but whimsical, indeed, the very trait that keeps you coming back to her.

Persimmon Chocolate Muffins

These are a favorite of mine.  Chocolate and persimmon go together with buckwheat in the best way possible.   This recipe is adapted from one in the book Good to the Grain by Kim Boyce which is a really good guide to teaching how to incorporate whole grains into your baked goods.

Makes 12 muffins

1 pound persimmon pulp

6 tablespoons unsalted butter

1/2 cup light brown sugar

2 eggs

1/2 cup buttermilk or plain yogurt

1 cup buckwheat flour

1 1/2 cup all purpose flour

1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons coco powder

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

4 ounces of bittersweet chocolate chips or chop 4 ounces with a knife

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease muffin liners and put them in the tins.

2. In the bowl of a mixer cream the butter with the light brown sugar. Add the eggs and mix. Scrape down the sides as necessary. Now add the buttermilk and persimmon pulp.

3. Mix until combined. Scrap down the sides.

4. Combine the flours, baking powder and soda along with the coco powder and the salt in a bowl, stir it to mix. Add it to the wet ingredients and mix until just combined. Scrap down the sides.

5. Mix and add the chocolate chips. Mix until combined. Fill the muffin liners until 2/3 full.

6. Bake in a preheated 350˚ F oven for 35 minutes.

Lacinato Kale and Ricotta Tart

This tart is perfect for breakfast, lunch or dinner and, maybe, all three. Lacinato is also known as Cavelo Nero or dinosaur kale. It is becoming ever more popular not only for its great taste but for its presumed health benefits too. While this has many healthy components they are just a nice side note to the decadence of this wonderful tart.

The crust for this tart uses the idea of a shortbread crust to keep it tender while using whole wheat pastry and buckwheat flours. I like to serve the tart with a fruit salad of grapefruit supremes, toasted crushed hazelnuts and mint.

SERVES 6 TO 8

For the crust::

1 cup whole wheat pastry flour

1/4 cup buckwheat flour

1/4 cup parmesan cheese, grated

1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened

two finger pinch of salt

For the filling:

1 bunch Cavolo nero, chopped, rinsed and dried, 8 loose cups worth

1 cup yellow onion, peeled, small dice

2 teaspoons fresh garlic, minced

3 anchovy filets, minced (obviously omit if you want it to be meatless)

1 1/4 cup whole milk ricotta

3 large eggs

1/2 cup parmesan cheese, grated

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

1/4 cup water

kosher salt and fresh ground pepper

1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees.

2. Place the whole wheat pastry flour, buckwheat, parmesan, butter and salt into a large mixing bowl and stir it with a wooden spoon until it looks like a combination of cous cous and cornmeal. You may need to rub some of the bigger pieces between you hands to break up the butter.

3. Dump the crumbs into an 8 inch tart pan. Starting at the edges press the crumbs into the flutes. Use you index finger as a back stop by placing it at the top of the flute and pushing the flour up to it. Pack the crust tightly and evenly. Once you have finished the crust bake it in the oven for 20 minutes. Remove it from the oven.

4. While the crust is baking heat the olive oil and butter over medium heat in a 12 inch saute pan. Add the onions, anchovies and garlic. Season them with a little salt and fresh ground pepper. Saute them gently without coloring and until they are soft. You may need to adjust the heat and you will want to stir them to keep them from coloring.

5. Once the onions are soft add the Cavolo nero and toss and stir it to coat it with oil. Season again with a little salt and fresh ground pepper. Add the water and cover the pan. Let the Cavolo nero steam until tender but still vibrant in color, about 8 minutes over medium heat.

6. In a large mixing bowl combine the ricotta, parmesan and the eggs. Add a 1/2 teaspoon of salt and a few grinds of pepper and stir to combine.

7. Once the Cavolo nero is tender taste it and adjust the seasoning as necessary. Make sure all the water has simmered away from the Cavolo nero, you don’t want it to be to wet. Let it cool for a couple of minutes and then add it to the ricotta and stir it well to combine.

8. Carefully spoon the filling into the tart and smooth and level it out. Place the tart into the oven and bake it for 50 to 60 minutes or until set and nicely browned.

9. When the top has browned remove the tart from the oven and let it cool to room temperature before cutting. Serve at room temperature.

Olive Salad Taverna

Olive Salad Taverna

While having never been to Greece this seems as though it would be something that you might eat at a small taverna on the Mediterranean Sea. It is sort of an “a la grecque” dish which if done right is always good to have on hand and usually are even better the second day or, at the very least, after a couple hour marinade. I think this would be good followed by some sort of Mediterranean fish dish. If you want to make this a very filling salad add some feta and a couple of pitas and you will have a meal.

SERVES 4

1 cup mixed olives

1 cup garbanzos, cooked, or rinsed canned

2 teaspoons preserved lemon, finely minced

2 teaspoons shallot, finely minced

1 garlic clove, finely minced

1 teaspoon fresh savory or thyme, minced, Richard Olney used savory with olives and I think it works really well

1/2 teaspoon chile flakes

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

1 teaspoon pomegranate molasses

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper

1 head butter leaf lettuce

hunks of feta and pita, optional

1. In a mixing bowl combine everything up to the olive oil. Mix everything to combine. Season it with black pepper and then add the olive oil. Stir to coat and then let the salad rest for at least 1 hour and you can even refrigerate it over night.

2. Before serving rinse the butter leaf and then using a salad spinner dry the lettuce. Place two or three leaves on each plate. Stir the salad to redistribute everything. Taste and if it needs salt add some. Divide the garbanzo/olive mixture evenly between the plates. Using a spoon drizzle some of the juice over the greens. Serve.

Duck Sugo on Noodles

These kinds of dishes are always a personal favorite for two reasons.  It is very kid friendly but it is mature enough for adults.   I mean how can that be wrong?

Sugo basically means “gravy”.  I have always been a big fan of ragu too.   The difference between the two is sugo uses a good dose of tomato sauce while ragu traditionally uses red wine, stock and a small amount of tomato if any at all.

If duck isn’t your thing and lamb is make a lamb sugo, or beef, pork and even rabbit sugo.  The meat used is really up to the cook so be creative.  You could add all kinds of things to this but realize the simple recipe posted below is very satisfying.

Serves 4 to 6

oil

1 pound duck meat, trimmed of skin and fat, cut into small cubes, a chunk of fat reserved

1 cup yellow onion, peeled, trimmed and small dice

1/2 cup carrot, peeled, small dice

1/2 cup celery, small dice

1 tablespoon fresh garlic, minced

1 bay leaf

1/3 cup tomato paste

2 cups Pomi brand strained tomatoes

1 1/2 cup vegetable broth

1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, chopped

Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper

1 pound of long noodles such as spaghetti, I used spaghetti made with corn flour

1. Place the duck fat into then add enough oil to barely coat the bottom of a 3 quart enameled Dutch oven.  Place the pot over medium heat.

2. Let the duck fat render.  Once it is spent remove the duck skin and add the onions, carrots, and celery.  Season the vegetables with kosher salt and fresh ground pepper.  Sweat the vegetables until they are tender.

3. Add the garlic.  Once the garlic is fragrant add the tomato paste.  Stir the tomato paste around and let it caramelize a little.

4. Add the bay leaf, rosemary, tomato sauce, broth and meat.  Bring the sauce to a boil, season it with salt and pepper, then reduce the heat and let it simmer for at least an hour, the sauce has reduced and thickened and the duck is tender.  Let it simmer longer if you have used a tough cut of meat.

5.  Somewhere very close to the end of the sugo cooking time,  cook the noodles in lots of heavily salted water according to the time and directions on the box.  When the noodles are tender, drain them.

6. Plate the noodles,  sauce and serve.

Fried Green Tomatoes

More often then not, actually to many times to count, I have seen fried green tomatoes served one way, sliced, Cajun spiced and dredged almost always in cornmeal.

Then last year Amy and I went to The Publican restaurant in Chicago.  It is an everything pig restaurant.  Crispy pigs ears, everything fried in lard, boudin blanc  and, well, you get the picture.

It is great restaurant so it isn’t surprising they have amazing side dishes too.  The one that caught my attention was the fried green tomatoes.  I almost didn’t order it but,  then as I often do,  at the last minute I went back to it and did.  I was very, very happy I did.   It was simply the most delicious version of fried green tomatoes I have ever eaten.

This was a midwinter outing.  So green tomatoes at home were out, at least until summer, but I was impressed enough I looked for the recipe online and was surprised to find nothing, well,  not nothing there were zillions of fried green tomato recipes cooked like I mentioned earlier.

Nevertheless this dish resonated with me.  I made it once earlier this summer and it wasn’t to my standards.  It was really good but it just didn’t work like I wanted from a technical standpoint.  Now it is late fall and I have come back to it and this time it came out great.

It is so good for several reasons.  The tomatoes are cut into wedges which keeps them a little firmer when cooked, not tough, and you get more tomato jelly with the wedge shape then if you had a slice.  Also oatmeal and pig are like bread and butter, they just go together, and it feels good to have these two flavors co-mingling and you can accomplish this without buying buckets of lard.

It is time to share this recipe.  I hope you enjoy it.

Note: I made this gluten-free and egg free.  If you don’t need to be gluten-free or egg free then substitute in all-purpose flour for the Cup4Cup and instead of using the egg replacer use three egg whites beaten to stiff peaks.

Makes 4 servings

7 to 10 green tomatoes, about the size of a small tangerine, cut into 4 or 6 wedges

1/3 cup quick cooking oats, not instant oats

1/3 cup quick cooking oats, coarsely ground

1/2 cup Cup4Cup flour (or all-purpose flour)

1 tablespoon paprika

1 1/2 teaspoon ground garlic

2 tablespoons egg replacer mixed in a large bowl with 1/4 cup water (or 3 egg whites whipped to medium peaks, also in a large bowl)

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspooon black pepper

 peanut oil for frying

1 thick slice pancetta or bacon

1. Combine the oats, flour, paprika, garlic powder salt and pepper in a large mixing bowl.

2. Heat the oven to 250˚ F.  Pour enough peanut oil into a 6 inch deep cast iron Dutch oven to come 1/3 the way up the sides of the pan.  Add the pancetta to the oil.  Place it over medium high heat and heat the oil to 375˚ F. on a fry thermometer.  Make sure to remove the pancetta when it is crispy and has rendered its fat to the oil and make sure you, as the cook, eat the pancetta because it is within the rights of every good cook to eat the best bits while standing at the stove and if the peanut gallery doesn’t like it tell them to learn how to cook.

3. When the oil is just about to temperature toss half the tomatoes with the flour mix making sure to coat the tomatoes well.  Place them into the bowl with the egg replacer or egg whites and toss them to coat.  Put them back into the flour mix and coat them well.  Remove them to a cookie cooling rack.  Repeat this step with the remaining tomatoes.

4.  If the oil is to temperature carefully add  half , or less, of the tomatoes to the oil making sure not to crowd them.  When they start to take on color and brown remove them from the hot oil, sprinkle them with salt,  and place them onto the cookie rack.  Add the rest of the uncooked tomatoes to the pot then slide the fried tomatoes into the oven to keep them warm.

5. Serve with you favorite tartar sauce, aioli, or hot sauce

Gumbo Z’herbes with Yeasted Corn Biscuit Dumplings

Gumbo Z’herbes

If you know me you know I love greens.  I go to them for comfort, for quick meals and just about any reason, now that I think about it,  I am not even sure I need a reason.

There was a day not all that long ago when I would always add some sort of smoked pork or, at the very least, smoked turkey legs to the greens.  At some point we started to eat  less meat and started to enjoy vegetables for being vegetables.  Since those days of long ago I have added the pork back to my greens on occasion and each time I do I always say to myself, “well, that was a mistake.”   For me,  I have found I like greens for greens and the pork just overpowers them.

Even so there are dishes were not adding the requisite pork is damn near criminal and it might be in some states south of the Ohio River.  I thought not adding tasso ham to my Gumbo Z’herbes might be one such crime but then I got to thinking about it and I came to understand, for the most part, it is the herbs used to cure the tasso that I like.

I am sure you see where this is going.

The biscuits dumplings aren’t traditional but the gooey bottoms and crunchy tops sure are a plus in my mind.

Note: the yeast used in the biscuits is really more for the yeasty flavor then it is to make them rise.  While I am sure it helps them rise it is not the reason they rise the baking soda is.  So don’t omit the soda because there is yeast in the recipe.  Also, not only are these really good as dumplings but they are  just as good when baked as biscuits.

Serve 4 to 6

For the gumbo:

peanut oil

1 1/2 cups yellow onion, peeled trimmed and cut into a small dice

3/4 cup green pepper, membranes and seeds removed, cut int a small dice

3/4 cup celery, cut into a small dice

3 tablespoons, garlic, minced

1/4 teaspoon cayanne

1/2 teaspoon marjoram

1/2 teaspoon allspice

1/2 teaspoon fresh ground white pepper

7 cups vegetable broth

1 teaspoon gumbo file

8 cups mixed greens, collards, turnip, or kale, rinsed at least three times and chopped into thin ribbons

kosher salt

For the biscuits:

1 cup buttermilk, room temperature

2 teaspoons active dry yeast

1 teaspoon sugar

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 cup corn flour, not cornmeal

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup unsalted butter, cold and cubed

extra flour for dusting

1. Place a 3 1/2 quart cast iron Dutch oven over medium heat.  Add enough oil to the pot to just cover the bottom.  Add the onion, peppers and celery.  Season them with salt and pepper and stir them to keep them from browning but let them become soft.

2. Add the garlic, cayenne, marjoram, allspice and white pepper.  Stir until everything becomes fragrant with out letting the garlic brown.  Add the vegetable stock and bring it to a boil.

3. Add the greens by the handful until each addition is wilted and you can add more to the pot.  Do this till all 8 cups have been added.

4. Bring the gumbo back to a boil then reduce the heat to a simmer.  Simmer uncovered for 1 hour.  At the end of the hour add the gumbo file and stir it into the broth.  The greens will be tender and gooey.

5. Heat the oven to 425˚ F.  While the oven is heating combine the yeast and buttermilk and let the yeast dissolve.

6. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, or by hand using a heavy duty wooden spoon, combine the flour, cornmeal,  sugar, baking soda, and salt with the butter.  Mix the flour with the butter until it has the appearance of coarse cornmeal.  Add the buttermilk and process until the biscuit dough is just combined.

7. You can use a small ice cream scoop, make sure you don’t sink the biscuits into the liquid,  and make a drop biscuit topping by gingerly and gently plopping the dough right out of the scoop and into the gumbo or you can turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface roll it, cut it into rounds,  and then lay these on top of the gumbo.

8. Either way be careful not to sink the dumplings.  Place the pot into the oven and bake the whole thing, uncovered, for 20 minutes or until the biscuits have browned nicely.

6. Serve

Chicken, Basil, and Tomato Sausage with Cavatelli

Chicken and Basil Sausage with Cavatelli

The sausages used in this dish come from the book Charcuterie by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn and is a book I highly recommend if you want to make sausage and any charcuterie in general.  Pictured at left are trays of home made ricotta cavatelli.  The essay The Great One that generated this recipe can be found and read at foodquarterly.

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Serves 6

Chicken Basil and Tomato Sausage with Cavatelli

6 sausages, Italian sausages would be great too

olive oil

3 onions, peeled, halved and julienned

9 large garlic cloves, peeled and chopped, about a 1/2 cup

36 ounces strained tomatoes or sauce

1 tablespoon double concentrated tomato paste

kosher salt and fresh ground pepper

1/4 cup cream

a handful of fresh basil

1 1/2 lbs of fresh cavatelli or dried gemelli pasta

lots of grating cheese of your choice, parmesan, romano etc.

1. Place a 4 quart pot over medium high heat and add good glugs of olive oil, a little more than just coating the bottom of the pan. When it is hot add the sausage and sear it until is is deeply browned but take care not to over heat it and split the sausage casings. Remove the sausage to a platter.

2. Add the onions to the pot, season them with salt and pepper, and let them cook until they become tender then add the garlic. Cook the garlic until it becomes fragrant and then add the tomato sauce.

3. Bring the sauce to a boil and then reduce it to a simmer. You will want to stir it occasionally so it doesn’t stick to the bottom and burn. You want the sauce to reduce slowly and the sugars in the tomatoes to break out and concentrate. Season the sauce with salt and pepper and taste. Let the sauce simmer for 1 1/2 to 2 hours. What I call mato gum will form on the sides of the pan and the sauce will be thick. Add the cream to the sauce, stir and raise the heat a little to get the sauce good and hot. Be careful with the sauce though it will burn easily at this point because of the concentrated sugars. You can either add the sausage back to the sauce or you can finish cooking them in a 400 degree oven.

4. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook the pasta according to the instructions. When it is done, strain it and put it into a large bowl and toss it with the tomato sauce. Plate it, dress it with the basil, sausages, cheese and serve.

The Great One

Recently, for what seems like the millionth time, I sat down and watched the original The Hustler. Not because of the story, although it’s a great story; or Paul Newman’s blazing good looks, although his blue eyes are piercing, even in black and white.

No, this time I was watching the Great One: Jackie Gleason. He completely captivated my attention. He’s not in many scenes, but he steals the ones he’s in, hands down. You can almost see Newman studying him right there on-screen, as though his blue eyes are fixed, mesmerized, on the great acting Gleason is doing.

Their first scene together might be one of the best in any movie. Gleason comes up the stairs, enters the pool hall through a set of double doors, and there he is: the presence, the clothes (who else could wear that hat?), the je ne sais quoi. Newman’s eyes might pierce, but watch the banter between the two and notice the moments when Gleason smiles and his eyes are nothing less than sparkling. That sparkle in Gleason’s eyes has fascinated me for months. I’ve gone back and watched old footage of him on talk shows and other clips of him talking with folks. I thought “je ne sais quoi” was about the best way to describe the sparkle, but then I realized it was much more.

Jackie Gleason knew how to live. I never met him, of course; I don’t even know much about him except for what I’ve seen in those clips; and I have no idea what he was like in his personal life. But when I see that sparkle in his eyes, I can tell that he knew how to live.

And it’s not just Gleason. Others from his time seemed to have living down, too. The Rat Pack comes immediately to mind, but so do many others. Maybe their whole generation lived life to the fullest, having come through the Great Depression and World War II. I don’t know–maybe they were all jerks–but their collective persona had a “live each day like it’s your last” attitude, and if they had a few regrets they got past them.

Even if you accept that this was their stage persona and life behind the scenes was very different, they still personified something that has gone missing in today’s culture. What might be responsible for that, in my mind, is how every time you blink someone’s telling you what you can’t do and why not. It’s becoming oppressive to so much as eat a steak, have a smoke, drink one too many, or buy food that wasn’t grown by you or the farmer next-door. And this doesn’t even include all the old-school stuff like riding a bike without a helmet or driving without your seatbelt. Of course, you shouldn’t blow cigar smoke at the next table while you’re enjoying your steak and scotch, but that shouldn’t stop you from living.

But this isn’t really new. People have always been told what not to do, and rarely have they been given complete freedom to live on their own terms. The ’40s and ’50s weren’t exactly prime eras for civil liberties and personal expression. I guess what Gleason’s generation had was the ability to let go. They knew how to compartmentalize. They busted their butts while they were working, and when it came time to enjoy themselves, they shut out all that other stuff and truly, fully enjoyed themselves.

It’s a gift to be able to focus on what’s in front of you, be it work or pleasure, so that the task at hand and the people you’re with are always, at that moment, the most important thing in the world. The dinner table is the perfect forum for this, as long as the people, not the food, are the primary focus. I used to focus so much on the food, hoping each dish would be properly prepared and revered, that I sometimes forgot about the dinner. It’s like going to a top-tier restaurant. You go there for the food, not a bunch of banter and laughter–and that’s why chefs, generally, would rather just go to a bistro or a sushi joint, where the food is just as great but the experience is centered on the people and the reverence is for the atmosphere, not for each perfectly presented dish.

This pasta recipe is just the dish to enhance, rather than distract from, that kind of dining experience. A big platter served to a group of friends, along with a few sides, great bread, and some wine, it’s just the capper for the evening. Sure, I put some time into creating this dish for my guests, but there’s nothing serious or formal about this food. It lets you focus on your friends and it lets them relax and enjoy the meal.

Hopefully, as the night progresses, everyone will be living in the moment, experience life at its fullest–and maybe, should luck be a lady tonight, you’ll catch that sparkle in everyone’s eyes. How sweet it is!

click here for the recipe Chicken, Basil and Tomato Sausage with Cavatelli

Fried Bologna Sandwich on Challah with White American Cheese Sauce

Fried Bologna with White American Cheese Sauce

I was probably thirteen or fourteen years-old the first time I had a fried bologna sandwich and I will never forget it. I was watching some TV show and they ate it on the show. I thought I had seen the most amazing culinary treat ever. I went to the kitchen and made one and was shocked to find bologna was even better hot.

I used to save my school lunch money, for things I shouldn’t have been buying, and came home from school starving. My mom wouldn’t make me anything to eat because it was my fault I was hungry.  That said, she didn’t care if I made something for myself and from that moment  on  fried bologna became a staple.

This is my ode to the days of old, I don’t eat one of these often but when I do this is how I want it served.

SERVES  1

4 thin slices of good garlicky German bologna, French garlic sausage, or mortadella

2 slices of Challah, toasted

1 large egg

1/3 cup heavy cream

1 1/2 teaspoon Nathan’s mustard

3/4 cups grated white American cheese

3 dashes Worcestershire sauce

2 dashes Crystals Hot Sauce

1 tablespoon canola oil

1 green onion, sliced

1. Place a small sauce pan over medium heat and add the cream and mustard. Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat. Add the Worcestershire, hot sauce and cheese. Stir to combine and continue to heat until the cheese is melted. Remove from the heat and keep warm.

2. Place a medium saute pan over high heat.

3. Fold each piece of bologna in half and then into quarters so it looks like a triangle. Place the four triangles into the hot saute pan and sear until it looks like a hot dog that was over cooked on a campfire. Remove the bologna and place it on the bottom slice of Challah and top with the remaining toasted bread.

4. Reduce the heat on the pan and add the oil. Fry the egg to your desired doneness.

5. Pour the desired amount of sauce over the top slice of bread and then top with the egg and green onions. Serve with an ice cold Pepsi, or Coke if you must.

Advent at Dusk

country captain soul gravy for noodlesby Lynda Balslev @tastefoodblog.com 

It’s the weekend of advent, and I am sitting in my California living room, sipping gløgg and watching the flames dance in the fireplace. It’s raining outside. As I listen to the drops furiously pellet the windows and tap dance over the wooden deck, I take another sip of the steaming spiced wine and sink further into the sofa. I don’t mind the weather one bit. It reminds me of Denmark.

I lived near Copenhagen for 6 years with my Danish husband and our 2 children before we moved to California in 2007. Each first advent weekend before Christmas we would load up our car with kids, dogs and provisions and drive 1 ½ hours to my sister and brother-in-law’s farm, a thatch roofed cottage nestled in a pine and beech forest in the center of Zealand, the largest island of Denmark. The capitol, Copenhagen, was a mere 60 kilometers away, but once we turned off the main highway and snaked our way over the gently rolling hills deep into the wooded countryside, we might as well have been a light year from the bustle of the city.

The winter sun is finicky in Denmark. If it shows its face at all, it’s austere and reserved, never shining too high or bright, shimmering white like an icy Nordic beauty. More often than not, it rains. Mindful of the elusive daylight, we would immediately get to the task at hand upon our arrival. The youngest kids would be swathed in fleece and goose down suits, and the adults would pull on their hardiest outerwear, while stuffing their pockets with bottled libations capable of fortifying a grown man in near freezing temperatures. Strong, dark Danish beer is the best portable antidote to the winter climate.

Three generations of family would pile into the flatbed of the battered old Land Rover, where we bumped and swayed as my brother-in-law navigated the rugged pitted paths and trails as only he could do, the hired game keeper for this compact and tidy forest kingdom. Finally the truck would grind to a halt in a clearing, who knows where, and we would tumble out of the truck with wicker baskets and burlap bags in hand. Every man, woman and child would scatter in 4 directions, scurrying about gathering twigs, pinecones and moss from fallen logs, low hanging boughs and the forest floor. We had to work fast. The silvery sun, if visible, would begin its descent at 3 pm, and the cold would eagerly creep in, numbing our fingers, toes and tips of our nose, despite the paddings of wool and fleece. Long shadows would grow between the trees, challenging our footing and teasing our imaginations. If you believe, then this is the time you would keep watch for the forest spirits and elves who would make their presence known, and if you didn’t believe, then you would take another long pull of the hoppy Christmas brew, and be very careful with your step. As the darkness marched in, we would climb back into the truck with our collected loot and head home to the warmth of the farmhouse, glowing like an ochre beacon in the dusky valley.

The pillowy warmth of the kitchen would envelop us like a plump grandmother as we walked indoors and shed our cold and soggy clothes. Muddy boots would be replaced with felt and shearling slippers, fires would be stoked in the ovens and the stove would be lit under a cauldron of gløgg, a heady purple concoction of wine, spirits, fruit and spice. The convergence of our chilled bodies with the warmth of the crackling fires would fog up the leaded window panes with steamy silhouettes reminiscent of shadowy mountainscapes. It might have been cold and wintry outside, but inside everything was warm and toasty. We then laid claim to a space at the long farmhouse table where our forest harvest was dumped and heaped in the center. Candles would be lit for hygge, the special Danish brand of cosiness. Adults and children would sit shoulder to shoulder on the long benches and get to work, weaving branches into wreathes, candle holders, and tree ornaments bejeweled with holly and moss. While we did this, the scent of orange, cinnamon and cloves would waft through the room from the simmering gløgg. My sisters-in-law would take turns making batches of æbleskivers in worn well-seasoned cast iron skillets with golf ball sized indentations in which the cakes nestled. A continuous cycle of platters of golden pancakes would be passed up and down the table. We would pluck a few and dip them in bowls of homemade strawberry preserves – a whisper of summer past – and sprinkle with powdered sugar before greedily devouring them, washed down with mugs of hot spiced wine.

This is the 6th winter we won’t be in Denmark for Christmas. The rain has stopped outside, and from the sofa I can see spots of blue sky peeking through the towering redwoods on our steep hill. Friends will be arriving shortly. It’s time to get up and prepare the batter, since it must rest for at least an hour. If the rain holds off, we will take an afternoon walk by the lake near our house. Then we will return home, and while my family and our friends sit by the fire and sip gløgg, I will make aebleskivers.

Two beautiful recipes, one for gløgg (mulled spiced wine) and one for æbleskivers.

Cheese Lasagne

While this technically is vegetarian I don’t think I would call it that. Vegetarian leads me to think there are some vegetables involved. I will call it meatless though.

This lasagna takes me straight back to my childhood. It reminds me of everything I loved about baked pasta growing up and guess what, it is a favorite of my kids too.

It really comes together easy since you use the no boil pasta sheets. I like to make the sauce but if you have a favorite great quality variety in a jar that you want to use, well, just go for it. You could easily make this in advance and cover it and keep it in the fridge for a day. You can go straight from fridge to oven just add another 15 to 20 minutes to the initial bake time.

Serves 6 to 8

extra virgin olive oil

1 onion, peeled and chopped

3 cloves garlic, minced

2 teaspoons pomegranate molasses

one 28oz. box pomi strained tomatoes

one 28oz. box pomi chopped tomatoes

1/4 teaspoons fennel seed, ground

2 teaspoons oregano

2 tablespoons flat leaf parsley, minced

2 tablespoons tomato paste

1 pound no boil whole wheat lasagna noodles

12 ounces low moisture mozzarella , grated

12 ounces fresh mozzarella, sliced into eight rounds

1 pound cottage cheese, drained in a strainer

2 eggs

1 cup parmesan cheese, grated

kosher salt and fresh ground pepper

1. Place a 3 1/2 quart heavy bottomed sauce pan over medium heat. Add enough oil to coat the bottom of the pan liberally. Add the onions and season them with a healthy pinch of salt and fresh ground pepper.

2. Sweat the onions until they are soft. Add the garlic and once it is fragrant add the pomegranate molasses, tomatoes, fennel, oregano, parsley and tomato paste. Season with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil then reduce the heat to a simmer.

3. Occasionally stir the sauce to keep it from sticking. Taste the sauce and if you think you need to add a teaspoon of sugar.

4. While the sauce is cooking combine the cottage cheese, eggs and parmesan in a mixing bowl. Season it with pepper and a little salt. Usually parmesan is salty so it shouldn’t need to much. Combine everything well and set aside or refrigerate.

5. Cook the tomato sauce until it has reduced down and has thickened. Taste and adjust the seasoning.

6. If you choose to cook the lasagna now preheat the oven to 375˚ F. If you want to wait to cook it finish up the remaining steps and assemble the final product, cover and store it in the fridge.

7. Drizzle some lines of extra virgin olive oil into a 9 x 13 casserole. Take a spoon and spoon about a half cup of tomato sauce on top of it and spread it around to make a thin coating on the bottom of the pan.

8. Lay out a layer of dried noodles across the bottom of the pan. Spoon some sauce over the dried noodles. This layer should be heavy. Spread it with the back of the spoon to even it up. Sprinkle half the grated mozzarella over the sauce then lay on another layer of noodles.

9. Another coat of tomato sauce on top of the noodles then spread the cottage cheese over the middle layer. Lay out the last layer of noodles and put down a thin coat of sauce, more then a coat of paint, then top with grated mozzarella and finish with the fresh mozzarella rounds.

10. Cover the casserole tightly with foil. Slide it into the oven and bake it for an 45 minutes. Remove the top, turn the heat to 450˚ F and bake another 20 minutes or until the cheese has browned.

11. Remove the lasagna from the oven and let it rest for 10 minutes. This is really important. It lets everything meld real nicely, the noodles absorb juices and it just makes lasagna better. Cut into portions and serve.

Sweetbread Po’ Boy

Sweetbreads make the perfect po’ boy for anyone not living close to the ocean and oysters, well, and for that matter even those living near the sea may want to give this a go.

It is so amazingly delicous but then you have to be a fan of sweetbreads. If you have never eaten them this would be a good way to go at them for the first time and if you love them you will really like this sandwich.  This is also a great latenighter or one of those things you eat when you are the only one at home, then of course, you can revel in its full splendor.

Makes 4 Po’ Boys

To poach the sweet breads:

1 pound, sweet breads, carefully cleaned of any membrane

1 lemon, halved

1 onion, peeled and quarted

2 stalks celery, chopped

2 bay leaves

4 sprigs flat leaf parsley

1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns

11/2 teaspoon kosher salt

4 garlic cloves, crushed

1/4 cup white wine

water

For the poor boy:

blanched sweet breads

2 cups flour, season with 1 teaspoons each black pepper, thyme & paprika

egg wash, two eggs beaten with 1 cup milk

kosher salt

1/2 cup mayonnaise

1 teaspoon lemon juice

1 teaspoon capers, drained and chopped

1/2 teaspoon cornichon pickles, minced

1 teaspoon flat leaf parsley, minced

2 cups romaine lettuce shaved into ribbons

2 loaves french bread, halved

peanut oil for frying

1. Squeeze half the lemon and then drop the spent lemon into a 3 quart pot along with the onion, celery, bay leaves, parsley, peppercorns garlic salt and wine, Add the sweetbreads and enough water to cover.

2. Place the pot over low heat and slowly bring it to a boil, adjusting the heat as necessary. Simmer the sweet breads till just cooked through, not long. Remove them from the heat and let them sit in the poaching liquid until it has cooled.

3. Remove the sweetbreads from the liquid and place them on a parchment lined sheet tray. Place another piece of parchment on top and then a sheet tray. Wrap the whole thing in plastic wrap to keep the sweetbreads from drying out.

4. Put the wrapped contraption into the fridge and place a gallon of milk, or some sort of weight on top of them and let them compress overnight.

5. The next day make the spread. Place the mayo into a small mixing bowl and add the lemon juice from the left over half a lemon, the capers, cornichons, and parsley. Stir the spread and season it with salt and pepper. taste and adjust the seasoning.

6. Remove the sweetbreads from the fridge and unwrap them. Season them with salt.

7. Place 1 inch of peanut oil into a 3 inch high, or higher, Dutch oven and place it over medium high heat.

8. Put the seasoned flour into a paper or plastic bag and add the sweetbreads. Gently roll them around to coat them with the flour. Remove them and drop them into the egg wash. Check the temperature of the peanut oil with a deep fry thermometer. It should be close to 350˚F.

9. If the oil is to temp remove the sweetbreads from the milk, let the excess milk drain back into the pan, and put the sweetbreads back into the flour. Toss them around gently until they are well coated with the flour.

Place them gently into the oil and deep fry them until brown. Remember they are already cooked so you needn’t worry about anything other than making sure they are hot.

10. Once they are browned assemble your sandwiches, bread, spread, lettuce and sweetbreads, then dig in to some good eating.

 

Note: If you are going to make the fries heat your oven to 250˚F and fry the sweetbreads and then place them on a rack placed over a sheet tray and keep them warm while you fry the fries.

Chicken and Rice Soup with Saffron

Good soup is hard to come by but it isn’t hard to make good soup.  It’s only as difficult as you want to make it.

While I know there are all kinds of prepared soups on the shelves of every supermarket I just can’t bring myself to do anything other than make it from scratch.  I beg of you to do the same.  You will be all the better for it and your health will be too.

If you are new to the kitchen it might take you a while to get the prep down.  There is cutting and chopping but as you practice and as your skill level increases your time in the kitchen drops.  Trust me.  I like to spend time in the kitchen some days but not all days.  I want to do things with my kids more than I want to make some three-day dish out of Modern Cuisine but that doesn’t mean I don’t eat flavorful good food

The one thing for which I am grateful is I worked in a from scratch restaurant where not only did you work the line but you did all of your own prep.  I became efficient because the Bob-Knight-of-Chefs boss I had demanded it.  I am eternally grateful to him for his persistence and for making me a better cook.

Makes 6 servings

For the broth:

1 yellow onion, trimmed, peeled and chopped

1 carrot, peeled and sliced

1 celery stalk, washed, trimmed and chopped

4 leg/thigh chicken quarter, skin removed

1 bay leaf

1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns

6 cups water

For the soup:

1/2 cup yellow onion, peeled, trimmed 1/4 inch dice

1 cup carrots, sliced

1/4 cup celery, 1.4 inch dice

1 cup brown basmati rice, cooked

1 tablespoon Italian or curly leaf parsley

1 heafty pinch of saffron

1. Place all the broth ingredients into a three quart heavy bottomed pot and place it over medium high heat.  Bring it to a boil and then reduce the heat to a simmer.  Simmer the broth until the chicken is very tender, the meat should have pulled away from the leg joint bone on its own.  Remove the chicken quarters to a plate and let them cool.  Once they are cool pick the meat from the bones and break it up into spoon size pieces.

2. Strain the both.  You should have anywhere from 4 to 5 cups.  If it is less add some water.

3. Discard the vegetables from the stock.  Clean the pot and pour the strained stock back into the pot.  Add the soup vegetables, saffron a heavy pinch of salt and some pepper to the pot.  Bring the soup to a boil.  Reduce the heat and cook until the vegetables are tender.

4. Once the vegetables are tender add the chicken, cooked rice and parsley.  Make sure everything is good and hot.  Serve.

Oven Roasted Plum Tomatoes in Olive Oil

I make these tomatoes often, mostly at the end of garden season,  and have done so ever since I opened the cover of the French Laundry cookbook and found Chef Thomas Keller’s recipe.  You can use a recipe other than Keller’s recipe but at least do as Keller does and make sure you season the tomatoes with salt and pepper before roasting them and make sure you cook them over a long period of time in a low heat oven.

I say this for a simple reason.  If they aren’t seasoned before you cook them they just aren’t very good and why go to the trouble if they aren’t going to be good, you won’t eat them and they will just sit in the fridge taking up space.  Season them agressively and you will be happy.

One thing to make note of.  I don’t peel the tomatoes until I use them.  The skin, I think, holds them together while in the jar but is really easy to peel off before you use them.

If you try them on a thin crust homemade pizza some Friday night don’t blame me when pizza is never again the same.

20110915-DSCF2320Recipe adapted from The French Laundry Cookbook

Makes 1 quart

30 to 36 Roma or San Marzano tomatoes, perfectly ripe, stemmed and halved

kosher or sea salt

fresh ground black pepper

a handful of fresh savory or thyme sprigs

extra virgin olive oil

1. Heat the oven to 275˚F. 

2. Spread to tomato halves out onto a half sheet tray lined with foil.  Season the tomatoes evenly with salt and fresh ground pepper.  Spread the savory or thyme out over the tomatoes.  Place the sheet tray into the oven.

3. Bake the tomatoes for 3 hours or until they have shrunk but still tender.  It may take longer then three hours depending on how juicy the tomatoes are to begin with.

4.  Remove the tomatoes from the oven and let them cool.

5. Once they have cooled pack them into a 1 quart jar, or a smaller jar if need be, and then use a spatula to get all the oil, accumulated juices and herbs off the tray and into the jar.  Top the jar off with olive oil to cover.

6. Store in the fridge but remember pull them out about an hour before you need them so the oil warms and you can easily remove the tomatoes without breaking them.

The Fat White Kid

Denny Baum knows exactly where he’s going when he lets the door to his fifth-floor walk-up slam behind him. He uses the back of his cigarette hand to wipe the tears out of his eyes before he goes down the stairs, crosses the foyer, and pushes out onto the street.

He walks a gauntlet of Hispanic dope dealers who never fail to ask him to buy, even though, in the ten months since he moved into his studio apartment, he never has. As he nears Second Avenue, he passes the girl whose name he still doesn’t know and who, when she caught his eye eight months ago, was youthful and beautiful. He used to talk to her when she sat on the stoop next-door. Now she’s a bony, toothless crack whore, always anxious, like a little kid who has to pee.

Denny turns left on Second towards Chinatown. He walks fast. He’s mad at himself for being an idiot. He knew Kim would turn him down when he asked her out.

He steps off the curb and wipes his eyes again. People are looking. He knows his eyes are red and puffy, but he doesn’t give a fuck; for all they know, his mom got hit by a bus. His thoughts are focused on his self-pity and shame. It’s the usual routine: build up the courage to ask a girl for a date, get turned down, then sulk about it.

He’s going to the Chinatown restaurant that his friend Lim first took him to, where the ducks with crispy brown skin and a thin layer of fat hang in the window next to the suckling pigs. The servers cut the duck into small pieces at the table. He eats the lacquered, shiny skin by itself, dipping it into a sugary garlic sauce between each bite. Once the skin is gone, he folds the juicy meat into tender scallion pancakes smeared with hoisin sauce. The succulent fat is what Denny likes. He likes how it renders in his mouth and keeps the tender, dark meat moist.

But Peking Duck is just Denny’s gateway dish into dim sum–Sunday dim sum in particular. He sits by himself at a four-top in the back and savors red cooked chicken feet, sucks the bones of steamed pork ribs in black bean sauce, and breathes in the sharp aroma of cuttlefish salad before taking a bite. He gobbles up steamed dumplings stuffed with pork, leeks, and Chinese celery, and digs into a platter of scallion noodles.

He sips tea. His hunger is finally satisfied.

Denny’s frame has a certain bulk. He’s one of those young men who’s supposed to be large; even if he wasn’t fat, he couldn’t physically be small. But he isn’t jiggly-fat, he’s farm-boy fat–solid. If you punched him in the gut, your fist wouldn’t sink in so much as ricochet.

Now he sits like a white Buddha and reads the Sunday Times. When he’s done, he folds the paper neatly and sets it beside his dirty plates. His large, fat fingers reach out for the silver teapot, making it look like a little girl’s toy. He tops off his tea and doesn’t add any sugar; he likes its tannic bite.

Finally, the server brings the dessert cart over to his table, full of sweet dishes. He points to three. He can’t resist the custards.

Asian Honey Ginger Fried Chicken recipe here

Asian Honey Ginger Fried Chicken

This is a straight up rip of Momofuku’s Asian Fried Chicken.  I won’t even call it an adaptation but it isn’t plagiarism.  This is credit where credit is due.

The Momofuku cookbook has been around for a couple of years now and it is still, hands down, one of my favorite resources of inspiration.  I think I have made, or at least made a version, of everything in the book.

There are a few things different from the original recipe here, the honey for instance instead of sugar and I shortened up the brine time.

FOR THE CHICKEN:

1 chicken, about 3 1/2 lbs., cut into 9 pieces, the whole breast should be cut across the back bone not with it into three pieces

1/4 cup sugar

1/4 cup salt

4 cups ice water

peanut oil for frying

FOR THE HONEY GINGER SAUCE:

1 tablespoon ginger, extremely finely minced

1 tablespoon garlic, extremely finely minced

2 tablespoons honey

3 tablespoons soy sauce

2 tablespoons peanut or canola oil

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1 teaspoon red pepper flakes

1/2 cup green onions, sliced into thin rounds

1. Combine the salt, sugar and ice cold water in a large bowl and mix till the sugar and salt have dissolved. Add the chicken, making sure it is submerged, and let it brine for one hour. After the hour remove it to a tray lined with paper towel and dry the chicken completely.

2. Place a large pot onto the stove. Fill the pot no more than a third full with oil. Turn the heat to medium high. Place a fry thermometer into the oil.

3. While the oil is heating to the magic 375˚ F combine the sauce ingredients minus a quarter cup of the green onions in a bowl that will eventually be large enough to carefully toss the hot chicken with the sauce.

4. When the oil is to temperature carefully add the chicken. Cook until the skin is brown and crispy and the chicken is done, ten to fifteen minutes.

5. Remove the chicken from the hot oil to the sauce bowl and toss to combine. Serve garnished with the remaining green onions and the extra sauce for dipping chicken and sticky rice.

The Poor Wretches Pasta


Street walkers pasta and now poor wretches pasta.  Leave it to the Italians to come up with an interesting name for their local eats.  This is Sicilian by birth.  The pine nuts and currants aren’t traditional but I like what they bring to this dish.

Eggplants are abundant at the moment.  You could take the time to make eggplant parm, moussaka or some other multi-step dish or you could keep it simple and make this.  It is simple but that doesn’t mean it isn’t flavorful.  I have made it twice already and probably will make it again.  I am not doing so because I have eggplants, and lots of them, but because I like it that much.

Makes 4 to 6 servings

good quality olive oil

2 or 3 eggplant, depending on size, peeled and cubed into 1 inch pieces, about 5 cups

2 cups tomato sauce

2 teaspoons red pepper flakes

3 tablespoons currants

2 tablespoons pine nuts

1/2 cup fresh bread crumbs

16 oz. penne pasta

kosher salt and fresh ground pepper

1. Add 1 1/2 tablespoons of olive oil to a small saute pan.  Once it is hot add the bread crumbs and pine nuts.  Season them with salt and pepper and cook them until they are browned.  Add the currants and toss a few times.  Empty the pan into a small bowl  and let the topping cool.

2. About one hour before you start cooking put the eggplant cubes into a colander.  Season the cubes with a fair amount of salt and either place the colander in the sink to drain or in a large bowl.

3.  Place a large pot of generously salted water over high heat.

4.  While the water is coming to a boil place a 14 inch saute pan over high heat and add 1/3 cup of olive oil.  Once it is shimmering but not smoking add the eggplant.  It might splatter a little if there is a lot of water clinging to the pieces so be careful.  Brown the eggplant.

5. Add the red pepper flakes, a little more oil if the pan looks dry,  and then the tomato sauce.  Reduce the heat and simmer the sauce.

6. Add the pasta to the big pot of boiling water and cook the pasta according to the cooking time listed on the box.  Once they are done, add a 1/2 to 1 cup of the starchy pasta cooking liquid to the sauce depending on how reduced it has become.

7. Strain the noodles and add them to the sauce.  Toss to combine and coat the noodles.  Pour the pan out into a large bowl and top with the bread-crumb-currant-pine-nut topping and serve.

Baked Rigatoni with Currants and Pine Nuts

Baked Rigatoni with Currants and Pine Nuts

The most beautiful San Marzano tomatoes have been coming out, by the  bushel,  of the garden.  I have been canning sauce, making paste and oven dried tomatoes like it is my civic duty to waste not one tomato.  I am loving it.

I can’t wait to open a jar of sauce in the middle of winter.  One that has a sprig of basil hidden in the middle of the red liquid like a secret ingredient.  I lift the lid with a bottle opener and it lets out the familiar gasp of home canned goods.  The smell of last summer’s sunshine rises upward to my nose.

I hoard the stuff.  I don’t want to use it now but rather save it for later.  Then I realize how stupid this is.   So I use the left over sauce, the extra that wouldn’t fill a jar and make this dish.  It is very American-Sicilian in my mind but what do I know.  Well, I know it’s good.

Note: I use a box brand in the recipe but by all means if you have a great home canned tomato sauce use it.

Makes a 9 x 13 casserole

1 pound rigatoni, cooked and cooled according to the directions on the box

3 tablespoons olive oil

2 onions, small dice about 2 cups

2 tablespoons garlic, minced

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

1 teaspoon pomegranate molasses

2 each 28 oz. box Pomi brand chopped tomatoes

1 pound cottage cheese, drained

2 tablespoons flat leaf parsley, minced

1/3 cup currants

1/4 cup pinenuts

1/2 cup pecorino romano

2 cups or more, mozzarella, grated

1. Heat a 3 1/2 quart heavy bottomed pot over medium heat. Add the olive oil and onions and let them sweat until they are soft and become golden around the edges.

2. Add the garlic and when it becomes fragrant add the balsamic and pomegranate syrup. Season with salt and pepper and let the liquid reduce some and then add the chopped tomatoes.

Reduce the sauce to a simmer and let the tomato become thick. It will take about an hour or so. Add the currents to the sauce about 15 minutes before you have finished cooking the sauce so the begin to soften and release some of their flavor.

3. Combine the cooked rigatoni with the cottage cheese, parsley and pecorino cheeses. I usually do this right in the pasta cooking pot after I have drained all the water from the pasta.

4. Now add the tomato sauce and mix to combine.

5. Using a little olive oil oil a 9 x 13 casserole and then pour the noodles into the dish. Top with the mozzarella and bake in a preheated 375˚ F oven for 35 to 40 minutes or until the cheese is browned nicely. About 10 minutes before it is done sprinkle the pine nuts across the top so they brown up nicely. Don’t do this any earlier or the nuts will burn.

6. Let the casserole rest for 5 to 10 minutes and then serve.

French Onion Soup

A French onion soup recipe isn’t exactly uncommon. I am not even going to say this one is the best as in best ever French onion soup because that would be like saying my religion is the best, or the only, which is just not true.

Onions slowly brown and take time to get cararmelized

So why publish or blog this recipe? Well because it is a really solid recipe and I want to talk about technique. In other words even if you already have an onion soup in your repertoire and have no intention of ever making a different one maybe you might pick up a little tidbit of information that you might want to apply to your already fantastic recipe.

There is nothing complicated about this recipe so if you have never made French onion and think you might want to, well, here ya go.

I did use rendered bacon fat in the recipe and here is why. I wanted to replicate some of the richness that I find in the ramen noodles recipe from the Momofuku cookbook. The smokey onion-y goodness of the fat is unbeatable. If you take offense to bacon fat then oil or butter would work just fine.

I use fontina cheese here. It is not the traditional comte or gruyere. Use what you like. I like all three but one is easier on the pocket book but that is your call.

Check your broiler and make sure it works before you start the recipe.

Makes 6 servings

1 1/2 tablespoon bacon grease, butter or vegetable oil

7 cups yellow onions, trimmed and cut into 1/4 inch slices

1/4 cup garlic, peeled, trimmed and sliced thinly

1 cup red wine

4 cups richly flavored stock

1 tablespoon dried thyme

kosher salt and fresh ground pepper

1/2 pound Fontina, grated

4 to 6 toast rounds, or as I did, I griddled an English muffin half in rendered pork fat

1. Place one of your soup crocks on a sheet tray and put it in the oven. Try to adjust the oven rack so the top of the crock is about 5 to 8 inches from the broiler. Remove the tray.

2. Place a heavy bottomed large pot, the wider the pot the better the onions will cook, over medium heat and add the fat.

3. Once the fat has melted add the onions. Season them with about a 1/2 teaspoon of salt and, I like lots, fresh ground black pepper.

4. Walk away from the pan and do something else in the kitchen. Don’t stir them until all the onions have wilted down. The more you stir them the longer they will take to color. Don’t up the heat either you don’t want them seared brown but gently browned. So if your pan is not so heavy bottomed you may need to turn the heat down. Cooking the onions to the right color and consistency will take at least a half hour maybe even an hour. Drink a glass of wine, listen to some music and call it happy hour. Get your zen on and be the turtle, slow and steady. The hare’s onion soup sucks don’t go there.

5. Cook the onions until they soften, have gone from amber to brown and you notice brown bits of onion on the bottom of the pan. Those brown bits are flavor be careful not to burn them, turn the heat down if you need to. Add the garlic and thyme and cook until the garlic becomes fragrant.  About a minute.

6. Add the cup of wine to deglaze the pan and reduce it by half.

7. Add the stock and bring the pot to a boil. You can turn up the heat if you need but then reduce the heat and simmer the soup to bring all the flavors together, twenty minutes or so.

8. Grab a tasting spoon and take a taste. Adjust the seasoning as necessary.

9. Preheat your broiler. Bowl up the number of bowls you need. Place them on a sheet tray. It is much easier to grab one tray then to try to grab 4 or 6 crocks with gooey cheese on top. Get the sheet tray out.

10. Top each crock with a toast round or English muffin, then pile on the cheese and bake under the broiler till everything is gooey and golden brown. Remove them from the oven and wait at least 5 minutes before digging in- these things are thermonuclear.

The Hayseed

The sleek, shiny, deep-red locomotive, its coupling rods churning and drivers slipping, trying to get traction, billows out black smoke from its stack as if getting up the nerve to leave the station.

It’s a beautiful train with a long line of passenger cars trailing behind. Each car is bursting with people who, dressed in their best, are buzzing in quiet anticipation, waiting for their adventure to begin. A collective sigh goes up at the first jolt of forward motion, and a surge of no-turning-back-now adrenaline triggers manic conversations about new destinations.

Somehow, old things always look new when you see them from a different angle, and traveling by rail, rather than the usual streets and highways, is definitely different. The passengers move from one side of the car to the other, looking out the windows at their familiar city, chattering excitedly about things they’ve seen a thousand times.

The train moves beyond the edge of town as the late afternoon sun turns the sprawling farm fields golden. Not too far from the track, a farmer stops his work and looks up at the train. He leans an elbow on his pitchfork, puts his other hand on his hip, and casually crosses his ankles, as if he wants to drink it all in. Many of the passengers wave as they pass by, marveling at the farmer as if they’ve never seen a man in a field. The farmer smiles and waves back a few times. He knows most of these folks are looking at him like he’s missing out, or just some hayseed.

Truth be told, he used to travel, a lot. He’s also plenty smart, but, anymore, he couldn’t care less what anyone thinks. Not that he’s bitter–no, he’s content, happy just to stand in his field and watch a train full of people looking for the next big thing pass him by and not remotely feel like he’s missing out. Some people might wonder if he’s made a deal with the devil, but he knows different.

Before the train’s even out of sight, he turns and starts walking up the fence row to the house. His wife will have dinner about ready. The long shadows from the fence posts stretch across the ground. He carries the pitchfork over his shoulder and, this time, instead of counting the posts (since he knows there are twenty-five from here to the house), he counts the steps in between them. He likes this comfortable, predictable game.

When he gets to the barn, he goes inside, hangs the pitchfork in its place, takes a look at the veal calves, then heads for the house, passing the garden full of late-fall greens.

He smells it as soon as he opens the mud-room door–the unmistakable goodness of one of his favorite dishes: deviled veal tongue with braised mustard greens and potatoes. The smell alone is nourishing. It’s a dish that not only tastes God-damn good, but you can feel it healing your soul with every bite. He looks at his beautiful wife, hears the kids giggling in the other room, and smiles, glad that he has no other destination.

click here for the deviled veal tongue recipe

Deviled Veal Tongue

Deviled Veal Tongue

This is farm food.  On farms where they actually still eat food they produce more often then not you eat what is left after selling the rest.  That means what we consider the good cuts usually goes to others.  The wonderful thing about this way of eating is you learn how to use the odds and ends.  If you like corned beef or corned tongue you will really enjoy this recipe.  If you can’t be bothered to corn the tongue then by all means just by a corned beef brisket, cook it and proceed with the recipe below.  It will not be the same as the veal tongue but it will still be really good.

Serves 4

1 onion, peeled, root end left intact and halved

2 carrots, peeled

2 teaspoons pickling spice

2 veal tongues, corned

1 1/2 tablespoon creole mustard

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

1/2 cup panko bread crumbs

kosher salt and fresh ground pepper

1/4 cup cream

1 egg yolk

2 teaspoons yellow mustard

1 tablespoon capers, chopped

flat leaf parsley, minced, for garnish

2 bunches mustard greens, rinsed and chopped into 1 inch ribbons

1 onion, peeled trimmed and thinly sliced

8 yellow potatoes, peeled

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

For the tongues:

1. Place the onion, carrots, pickling spice and the tongues into a large pot and cover with cold water by 3 inches.

2. Place the pot over medium high heat and bring it to a boil. Once it comes to a boil reduce the heat to a simmer and simmer for 3 hours. Add water if the level gets below the tongues.

3. Remove one of the tongues from the pot and shave a thin slice off the root end and taste it for tenderness. It should be tender. If they are not tender simmer them for another 30 minutes. If so remove the tongues from the pot and place them on a plate. Discard the poaching liquid.

4. Once the tongues have cooled slice off the skin using a filet knife. The tongues can be cooked up to two days in advance wrapped in plastic and stored in the fridge.

5. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Slice the tongues lengthwise in half. Divide the creole mustard equally among the halves and spread it out one each half. Place the halves into a gratin.

6. In a small bowl whisk together the egg yolk, yellow mustard and the cream. Season it with a two finger pinch of salt and a couple of grinds of white pepper. Set aside.

7. Combine the panko bread crumbs with the melted butter and the capers. Season the crumbs with a heavy pinch of salt, remember the capers are salty, and fresh ground pepper.

8. Pour the mustard sauce over the tops of the tongues and then sprinkle the whole gratin with the panko caper crumbs.

9. Bake in the oven for 20 to 30 minutes or until brown. If they tongues came out of the fridge they will take a little longer to get hot. Serve.

For the mustard greens:

1. Place a large pot over medium heat. Add the butter and then the onions. Season the onions with salt and pepper and cook them until they begin to wilt.

2. Add the mustard green and turn the greens until they are coated with oil. Add the potatoes and season the pot with salt and fresh ground pepper.

3. Cover the pot and reduce the heat to a simmer and simmer the greens until they are well wilted and they aren’t so bitter and the potatoes are tender and just cooked though.

4. Taste the greens and adjust the seasoning as necessary. Platter them up and serve.

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Lentil Cakes Tikka Masala

These cakes have become a standard in our rotation.  Not always as Indian cuisine but as other styles too.  The Lentil du Puy base is a really good foil for all kinds of flavors and the texture of the meal is toothsome which is also very satisfying.  I would imagine the possibilities to be endless and I will let you know if we make any discoveries that deem reporting back to you.

Serves 4

For the Lentil Cakes:

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

For the Sauce:

1/2 yellow onion small dice

1 cup tomato sauce

1/2 cup cream

1/2 cup plain yougurt

pinch cinnamon

pinch tumeric

2 teaspoons cilantro

canola oil

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.

7. Drain the oil from the pan, place it back on the heat and then add the remaining diced onion. Sauté until tender then add the rest of the sauce ingredients. Stir to combine, bring to a boil then reduce the heat. Let it simmer for ten minutes to come together. You can puree the sauce to make it smooth or leave the onion chunky making the sauce rustic.

Serve with rice.

Meyer Lemon Tart

Meyer Lemon Tart
Meyer Lemon Tart

I have been making lemon bars for many years now from a recipe by John Taylor also known as Hoppin’ John.  A while back I thought it would make a great tart, and guess what, it does. If you like Low Country cooking you should search out his cookbook Charleston, Beaufort & Savannah: Dining at Home in the Lowcountry. It seems like a good time to share this recipe.

SERVES 6 TO 8

For the crust::

1/4 cup sugar

1 cup all purpose flour

1/4 cup semolina flour

1/8 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature

For the custard:

2 to 3 Meyer Lemons, zested first then squeezed for 1/3 cup juice

5 large egg yolks

3/4 cups sugar

1/2 cup ussalted butter, room temperature and cubed

zest from two Meyer lemons

powdered sugar, for dusting the tart

1. Heat the oven to 325 degrees. In the bowl of a mixer, or in a bowl and mixing with a wooden spoon, cream the butter with sugar and salt. Add the flours and mix well. The shortbread crust will look crumbly and like cous cous or cornmeal. Turn the dough out into an 8 inch tart pan and press it evenly into the pan starting with the sides and working toward the center. Place your index finger over the top of the flutes and push the crust upward using you index finger as a back stop.

2. Slide that tart shell into the oven and bake it for 20 minutes.

3. While the tart is in the oven combine the eggs, sugar, zest, 1/3 cup Meyer lemon juice in a heat proof mixing bowl and whisk to combine the ingredients.

4. Place the mixing bowl over low heat, if you are worried about this you can most certainly use a double boiler, and whisk the custard until it starts to thicken. It takes about 13 minutes on low so it will take longer in a double boiler. Once it is very thick, like warm pudding and leaving ribbons as you whisk, remove it from the heat and whisk in the butter.

5. When the tart crust is done remove it from the oven and add the lemon curd. Bake the tart another 10 minutes or until set.

6. Remove the tart from the oven and let it cool completely. Once cool sprinkle it with powdered sugar just before serving, slice and serve.

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Edna Lewis: The Taste of Country Cooking

Bacon Fried Rabbit

The difference between Edna Lewis’ book The Taste of Country Cooking and countless other cookbooks is she truly celebrates food. Not only is it a celebration but it is the gospel of farm to table eating, a hymn of fresh, great tasting, whole food that should be sung loudly as the new testament of eating seasonally. In short, it just might save your soul and at the very least it is extremely soul satisfying.

What drew me in the first time I opened the book was a breakfast menu that simply read Fall Breakfast and the second item listed in the menu was smothered rabbit. As if this wasn’t enough the first time I made Miss Lewis’s pear preserves I became teary eyed because it reminded me of the taste of a long-forgotten-that-was-now-brought-to-mind memory of my grandmother and the pear preserves she made.

When you realize this was published in 1976 it becomes apparent this is a last bastion to how rural America once ate. It isn’t the French influenced food made in a California restaurant kitchen that now stands as the talisman of sustainable eating, but rather, it is 100% American food made with ingredients had on hand and in season. It was written at a time when women wanted out of the kitchen instead of in and the burger joint was still a treat but unfortunately fast becoming a standard.

The book is not a retrospective of days past and food that is dated by out of style trends but it is a classic that is as current and in touch today, maybe even more so,  as it was when written.

Miss Lewis does nothing short of pen a rural American classic that treats food with respect and knowledge of how to use the ingredients at hand and get the most out of them. There is nothing fussy about her food and there needn’t be because its simplicity and freshness is what makes it delicious.

In short if you care about sustainable local food you should get yourself a copy. It will fast become your how to manual.

This recipe is based loosely on Miss Lewis’s fried chicken recipe.

Bacon Fried Rabbit

Serves 4

2 fryer rabbits, cut into 6 to 8 pieces

1 piece of slab bacon, cut about 1/4 inch thick

2 cups flour, seasoned with 2 teaspoons black pepper, 1 teaspoon each of thyme and paprika, and 1 teaspoon of salt

buttermilk

peanut oil

kosher salt

1. Season the rabbit with salt and set it aside to let the salt dissolve into the meat.

2. In a large cast iron Dutch oven add enough oil to come up the side by no more than a third. Add the bacon.

3. Turn the heat to medium high and place your fry thermometer into the oil. Place the seasoned flour into a plastic bag with the rabbit. Toss the rabbit around to give it a good coating. Remove the pieces from the flour and let them soak a in the buttermilk. Remove each piece and let the excess drip off. Put the pieces back into the flour for their final coat. Don’t do this to far in advance or the coating gets brittle when fried.

4. When the temperature gets to 350F˚ remove the bacon if it is crispy and start frying the rabbit until golden brown and delicious. If you need to do this in batches do. Don’t over crowd the pot or you will have a greasy mess. So to do this heat the oven to 250˚F. As the rabbit pieces come out of the grease place them on a sheet tray fitted with a wire rack and keep them in the oven till all are done.

5. Serve.

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Beef Medallions with Mushroom Madeira Sauce

Beef Medallions with Madeira Mushroom Sauce

A la minute. A French cooking term used to describe a meal that is cooked of the moment. Meaning every thing is fresh and the dish should come together easily, in other words, if you have done your prep you can bring this dish together in less then 3o minutes.

This dish is a great date night, put the kids to bed early and have some alone time with your spouse kind of meal because it is really easy to cook for two. It is also easy to make for a larger crowd buy you have to do a few things differently.

So this is about prep. My prep starts with a whole beef tenderloin. I cleaned them for years while working in restaurants and always buy them whole. If you aren’t comfy doing this then by a couple of filets and simply cut then in half or into thirds depending on their size.

I have backed away from the buffet and have cut down on my portion sizes so I like the total portion size to be 5 to 6 ounces of beef and I call it a day. If you are a hungry man kind of eater then up it to 8 ounces. Regardless of the amount per portion you want the medallions to be no thicker then an inch and no thinner then a 3/4 inch. I am being specific here because you want to be able to cook them quick but you also want to be able to cook them to your desired temperature, rare, medium rare and so forth. Which also means you want all the pieces to be the same thickness so they finish cooking at the same time. It is not as complicated as it sounds and once you get into the thick of it you will easily see what I am rambling on about.

A beurre manie is nothing more then equal parts cold unsalted butter mixed with equal parts flour. It thickens without clumping, it is a short cut for a roux, but you have to be careful to simmer your sauce long enough to keep it from tasting floury. You see in a roux you have already cooked out the flour flavor.

Serves 2

6 two ounce beef medallions

1 1/2 cups of mixed mushrooms of your choice

2 teaspoons garlic, minced

canola oil

unsalted butter

1/3 cup madeira

1/2 cup broth of your choice

2 teaspoons beurre manie

1 tablespoon flat leaf parsley, minced

salt and pepper

1. Season the medallions with salt and pepper.

2. Heat a large skillet over medium high heat until really hot but not smoking. Add enough canola oil just to coat the bottom of the pan. Add the medallions to the pan and very quickly sear them till golden brown and delicious.

3. Remove the medallions from the pan at least one temperature below where you want them, so if you want them cooked medium remove them from the pan at medium rare.

4. Add the butter and while it jumps and sputters add the mushrooms. Season them with salt and pepper. Cook the mushrooms until they are brown and a little crunchy. then add the garlic and cook until fragrant.

5. Carefully add the madeira from a measuring cup not from the bottle. Madeira can easily ignite so be careful and this is the reason not to pour from the bottle because if it ignites the stream of madeira acts as a fuse and then you will have an exploding or at least burning bottle of madeira.

6. Once the madeira has reduced by half add the broth and let it start to reduce. Taste and season the sauce with salt and pepper. Add the parsley and stir to combine

7. Add one teaspoon of the beurre manie to the mushroom sauce and let it dissolve. Let sauce come to a gentle boil and thicken the sauce. If it is thick enough add the parsley and the medallions and warm everything to your liking then serve. If the sauce is not thick enough add the rest of the beurre manie, let it dissolve and the sauce come to a boil again. Now proceed with warming everything. Plate on hot plates and serve.

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.

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.

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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.

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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.

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

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Banana Cream Pie

Banana Cream Pie

With the impending second storm barreling down on the Midwest it was feeling like more than a three hour tour. In keeping the castaways at ease we dove into a family baking project, used the last three bananas and watched old episodes of Gilligan’s Island.  After tasting this pie I know why the castaways never left the island.

SERVES 6 – 8

For the pie::

1 1/4 cup graham cracker crumbs

1/4 cup sugar

1/4 cup unsalted butter, softened

4 large egg yolks

1/2 cup sugar

3 tablespoons corn starch

1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt

2 1/2 cups whole milk, do not substitute

1/4 teaspoon cardamom

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

3 bananas

For the brittle and whipped cream::

1/4 cup honey

1/4 teaspoon cardamom

1/2 cup macadamia nuts, toasted and chopped, a good time to toast them is when you bake the crust

2 3/4 cups heavy cream

1/4 cup powdered sugar

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Combine the graham cracker crumbs, sugar and 1/4 cup of butter in a mixing bowl and combine with a fork until you have a mealy looking mixture.
  2. Pour the mixture into a 9 inch pie pan. Press out the crumbs until you have and even crust up the sides and bottom of the pie pan. Bake the crust until it is beginning to brown and is set. About 5 to 10 minutes. Remove it from the oven and let it cool.
  3. While the crust is cooling combine the corn starch, sugar, egg yolks, cardamom, vanilla and salt in a mixing bowl. Whisk until well combined.
  4. Place the milk into a sauce pan and bring it to a boil over medium high heat. While whisking the egg mixture add a cup of hot milk and whisk. Add the egg mixture to the milk pan and put it back over the heat.
  5. Let the pudding come to a boil and then whisk until thick. Remove it from the heat and whisk in the butter. Pour the pudding into a bowl and set the bowl into an ice bath to cool the pudding.
  6. Place the honey and the remaining cardamom into a small sauce pan and bring it to a boil over medium heat. Let it boil until it becomes very foamy.(have a cup of very cold water handy and drop a small droplet into the water. It should separate into thin brittle threads) Add the macadamia nuts and stir. Remove the brittle from the heat and pour it onto a greased parchment lined sheet tray. PLace the brittle into the fridge.
  7. Slice the bananas and layer them onto the pie crust. If the pudding has cooled pour it over the bananas. Refrigerate the pie for two hours or more.
  8. Once the pie has set make the whipped cream topping. Either with a stand mixer or a hand mixer whip the cream until it begins to thicken. Add the powdered sugar and the vanilla and whip to stiff peaks.
  9. Chop the brittle.
  10. Pipe the whipped cream onto the pie and then top with the chopped brittle. Serve.