The Music Lesson

All afternoon and from inside his parent’s house, as Bill and I sit outside in the comfort of  lawn chairs talking, trumpeters one after another run through their scales, do re mi fa sol la ti do, over and over again.  The notes drop from the open windows like fall leaves from the trees.  It could get annoying, it doesn’t, and after a bit the repetition becomes soothing. 

I reach out and flip open the lid on the large orange ice chest.  Into the ice laden water goes my hand and it quickly goes numb.  I fish out a cold beer, pass it to Bill then promptly repeat the fishing expedition for myself.  It is easy to look forward to the time Bill and I spend with each other,  we have known each other a long time, and besides at the very least it is always nothing short of unforgettable.

Like today, my friend and I often sit in lawn chairs out in the grass just a few feet from the back porch of his parents’ house.  Sunglasses shield our eyes from the bright sun until it finally tucks itself behind the steep hill that rises upward at the back of their yard.  Even then the sun won’t actually set for another hour.  So the landscape becomes a black wall of matchstick trees lit by the yellow glow of evening right up until the sky burns out and the back porch light kicks on.  Mostly, Bill and I sit and talk a lot about nothing but we do it well.  Even so we manage to garner a few epiphanies over the years, some shared, some not, this one wasn’t.

As a high schooler I hated running scales while practicing the trumpet.  I thought they were pointless, boring, and stupid.  I should be practicing the music, memorizing it note for note, if I want to play it well.   But sitting here, two or three beers into my thoughts, remembering what an awful trumpet player I really was, all of the sudden, all these years later,  I understood, I got it.

Bill’s dad was a world class trumpet teacher at the university.  He is retired but he still gives lessons to advanced students.  His biggest lesson, the one he repeats over and over again, the one I heard him tell his last student for today,  “if your mind leaves the sound of the horn, obstacles will appear.”

I have heard Bill Sr. say it so many times before but today it hit me differently, it’s exactly what we don’t do when we teach people how to cook.  We give people a recipe, much like a piece of sheet music, and expect the cook to be able to play.  While we know there are those that have the skill set there are many, many more who don’t.  We try to pretend it doesn’t matter, it’s just a recipe after all but it does because the cook never builds the skill set to play at a level satisfactory to their own liking.  Hence obstacles appear which prevent real enjoyment.   I’ll wager it happens in cooking all the time.

And in this is where the conundrum lies.

I count myself lucky in that I honed my kitchens skills for years in a commercial environment.  I can never fully express how much the experience has added to the happiness I feel when I am in the kitchen.   Simple things like cutting onions for onion soup might take me minutes while others are in tears for hours, or maybe because I sautéed boneless skinless chicken breast by the thousands I know when they are just the right color of brown and that anymore coloring will make them chewy and dry and how with the push of my fingertip I can tell when they are no longer pink in the middle but still juicy and edible without fear of food born illness.

I don’t think of anything I do as special but I know sometimes friends look on with amazement and wonder while I look back at them through my own naivety as if everyone knows how to do these things.

So the question for me becomes how do I translate my joy to others, how do I create a  desire in others to build the skill set needed so they can create the kind of food they like to eat, create it with efficient, quality results and excitement.

It is frustrating for me in moments such as this, not because it makes me mad but rather because I love being in the kitchen and  I want people to share in this same joy while being in theirs.

When I started cooking I copied, to the T, recipes of every famous chef and cookbook author whose food I liked.  I cooked from cookbooks day-in and day-out.  Even when I am cooking full time at a restaurant when I come home I turn around and cook at every opportunity.   At first it is hard to build the confidence to cook even with step by step directions at my side but as I progress my fear of cooking without any guidance diminishes.  I am convinced my abilities improve because I learn solid cooking technique until I know how to sauté, braise, roast, grill, and poach.  My knife skills improve and I work on plating.  I want nothing more than to learn to cook.

My style at first is a conglomeration of  all those I mimic until one day my style of cooking just “is”.  It is easy for people to tell whose food they are eating and before long I find myself edging up to the stove and cooking from experience.  I don’t even remember the day it happened because it just did.  

I wasn’t born a chef.  I started out life as a photojournalist and I never thought I would be anything but but when I decide I want to learn to cook I dive in head first, I expect to come out with a filthy apron, I am passionate about it, and I know I won’t stop until I am good at it.

 

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Day Two: Green Bean Casserole

I don’t make anything fancy for Thanksgiving.  I like, and my family likes, a good homey kind of Thanksgiving.   One that we have eaten in some iteration for as long as I can remember.

I figured out a long time ago my food is far better when I don’t try to hide behind fancy.  Don’t get me wrong I like fancy and I enjoy cooking gourmet meals but in my early days of cooking I would hide behind fancy instead of doing the hard work of using good culinary methods and sourcing quality ingredients.  If you do the later homey becomes fancy and incredibly delicious.

My definition of quality ingredients has varied over the years but I think I have finally landed squarely in the Jacques Pépin camp.  What I like about Chef Pépin is he uses what is best in the moment.  Summer fruits in winter? To which I am quite certain he would say,  don’t be afraid to use frozen because they more than likely taste far better than anything in the fresh produce department.  I feel the same way about green beans.  I didn’t always, but a well sourced bag of frozen Frenched green beans far out ways the hassle of blanching fresh beans and frozen is worlds ahead of canned.

I provide the usual suspects at my Thanksgiving table, like this casserole, but I choose my ingredients and cooking methods carefully so as to get the best out of each dish.  In the recipe I call for making a velouté, a mother sauce in the culinary world.  (For folks around Indianapolis of the right age and if you ever ate at the LS Ayres tea room you will more than likely know this sauce as Chicken Velvet Soup.  There, the secret is out, I just taught you how to make chicken velvet soup using this green bean casserole recipe, simply leave out vegetables and you have it or, for that matter, leave in the onion, carrots, and celery.)

For Thanksgiving, this is a dish where I would have all the ingredients ready in advance.  If I felt the need I would get it into the casserole dish on Wednesday but I would leave off the potato chips or onions, until right before I am going to bake it in the oven.

2 TBS. unsalted butter

2 ½  TBS. all purpose flour

⅔ C. yellow onion, minced

½ C. celery, minced

1 ½ C. chicken broth, unsalted (or turkey stock-hint, hint)

2 TBS. heavy cream

1 pound frozen Frenched green beans, thawed in a colander to drain excess water

Salt and fresh ground black pepper

2 oz. potato chips, crumbled (you can use crispy onions here too)

 

  1. Place a medium sized heavy bottomed sauce pan over medium heat.  Add butter and let it melt.
  2. When the butter has melted add the flour and stir with a wooden spoon to make a roux/paste.   Stir constantly but gently until the butter/flour mixture smells like popcorn and turns from yellow to golden.
  3. Add onions and celery.   The roux will clump up around the vegetables.   Cook the vegetables for 3 minutes.
  4. Add the broth to the pot, turn the heat to high, and stir continuously until the liquid comes to a boil and thickens.   
  5. Reduce the heat to low and allow the sauce to cook and thicken.   Taste, add pepper and salt, stir, and taste again.
  6. Combine the sauce with the beans and spread into a buttered gratin.   Spread the crumbled chips over the top and bake at 375F for 35 minutes or until bubbly and brown.
  7. Let cool for 5 minutes before serving.

 

Cheats, Lies, and Hucksters (How to Cook a God Damned Grilled Cheese Sandwich)

As a kid, learning to cook a fried egg and bologna sandwich is like teaching me how to load a gun without establishing any safety guidelines. While the combination of griddled bread, egg yolk, mayonnaise, seared bologna, and American cheese is white trash foie gras, perfecting the fried bologna without having made a grilled cheese, well, it is Picasso without a Blue Period, Miles Davis having composed no song book before Bitches Brew. There is no reference and no history, a drifting ship with no anchor. At the time, I didn’t understand the damage done by using the cliff notes without ever reaching for the novel.

But here we are, in that time of year when we think about grilled cheese. It is the age old discussion, as if we forgot the combination to the safe and it needs to be cracked again, of how to cheat a grilled cheese. As if the answers locked away are new kinds of offerings; in a waffle maker, with an iron, use mayonnaise instead of butter, or turn a toaster on its side.

So I am just going to say it, I am tired of hucksters and cheats. It pains me to be over sold or even worse, blatantly lied too. I am not putting myself on a pedestal, far be it from me to cast stones, I am no practicing perfectionist and neither am I an Elmer Gantry. I have my faults and I try to be honest about them. Even so, when I witness an egregious wrong I can’t keep my mouth shut. After all, I can’t have my children wondering around this world thinking they will be able to succeed without ever learning the fundamentals. It happens everywhere and now, of all arenas, the kitchen is under attack.

Why can’t we just learn to cook a god damned grilled cheese? What are we afraid of, actually learning how to cook? There are so many basics to be learned by placing a sauté pan onto the stove to griddle two pieces of bread with cheese stuck in between and yet at all costs we try to avoid it. I don’t care what kind of cheese is put between the slices of bread, I don’t even care what kind of bread you use but I do care that you know how the different kinds of bread are going to react to the heat, that types of bread with more sugars and fats are going to brown faster then lean breads made with nothing more then water, flour, and yeast. Or that certain kinds of cheese are so stringy when you go to take the first bite every bit of the cheese is going to come along with it.

Cheats and shortcuts are wonderful but only after you know how to cook the original dish in the tried and true fashion, only after you have mastered the grilled cheese is it okay to riff on it. If you ignore, or fail to recognize, the subtle nuances of cooking you can follow a recipe to the T and still have it fail. It is because there are so many variables that can lead you down the path to disappointment that it becomes imperative to learn how to cook, which is wildly different from simply following a recipe.

DSC_1312

Grilled Cheese Sandwich (makes 2 sandwiches)

4 slices Pullman bread
1 1/2 cups gruyere cheese, grated
1 1/2 teaspoons prepared horseradish
1 tablespoon green onion, minced
a splash of heavy cream
fresh ground black pepper
unsalted butter, softened

1. Combine the grated gruyere, horseradish, green onions, and a splash cream in a medium sized bowl. Add a grind or two of fresh ground black pepper. Mix everything with a spoon to combine.

2. Place a 12-inch sauté pan over medium heat. Liberally butter one side of each of the pieces of bread making sure to cover the whole surface. Place the bread, buttered side down into the pan. Top each piece with one quarter of the cheese mixture. Turn the heat to medium low.

3. Once the cheese begins to compress and soften check the bottom of the bread. If it is browning to fast turn the heat down. Once the bread is browned and the cheese melted put the sandwiches together. Cut the sandwiches into 4 crusty cheese sticks and serve.

 

A Delicious Lentil Soup With A Dirty Little Secret

What you need to know about lentil soup is everyone has their “simple” version.  Knowing this, it reminds me how easy it is to get a nutritious hot bowl of soup to the table.  It also tells me that it must taste really good if there is a reason to keep publishing simple lentil soup recipes, and we do keep publishing them and it does taste good.

The hardest part of  making this soup is cutting the vegetables, which with the exception of the potatoes, can be done up to two days in advance as long as the vegetables are stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator. The recipe calls for four types of lentils but the truth of the matter is, I had just a small portion of different kinds of lentils I needed to use up.  It so happens that the different textures and subtle flavor differences in the legumes was a welcome addition but if you don’t have but one kind of lentil in the house the soup is still really good.

And here is the secret, soups depend on good broth but sometimes the broth isn’t strong enough.  Without a good broth soups come off as watery and bland and no amount of salt is going to change this.  This fact, and this fact alone, is enough of a reason to keep bouillon cubes in the pantry, or some sort of stock base, that can be used more as a seasoning then as an actual broth.  The idea is to taste the soup after it has cooked and if it comes off as a little flat you add a quarter teaspoon or more of stock base or break off a small piece of bouillon cube to kick up the flavor.  Add the base to the pot, let the it dissolve, stir, and taste again. Keep adding a small piece if needed until the soup is delicious.  Get the picture?  It works, makes the soup more exciting, even if it is a dirty little secret.

©Tom Hirschfeld 2016 All Rights Reserved

©Tom Hirschfeld 2016 All Rights Reserved

4 Lentil Soup (makes 6 servings)

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, peeled, small dice
3 carrots, peeled and cut into thin rounds
1 large celery stalk, small dice
3 medium yellow potatoes, cubed
1 cup lentils, a mix of beluga, du pays, yellow, and red
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 tsp. fresh rosemary, minced
1 tsp. dried oregano
2 tsp. fresh thyme
1 cup crushed tomatoes
salt
pepper
vegan sodium free bouillon cube
5 cups homemade vegetable stock or no-sodium vegetable stock
2 handfuls baby spinach
1.Place a 3 1/2 quart (3.5l) enameled Dutch oven over medium heat and add olive oil. Once the oil is warm add onions, carrot, celery, and garlic.

2. Season with 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt. Stir, and sauté the vegetables until they are soft, about 3 minutes

3. Add oregano, thyme, and rosemary. Stir again and add potatoes and lentils. Stir. Add tomatoes, broth, and bouillon cube. Season with a pinch of salt and fresh ground pepper.

4. Bring the broth to a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer and cover. Cook for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the lentils are tender.

5. Remove the lid, taste the soup, and add any seasoning necessary. Add 2 big handfuls of fresh spinach and stir it into the soup. Once the spinach is wilted, ladle up bowls of soup and serve.

A Simple Pot Of Beans (And Tips For Pressure Cooking Them)

©Tom Hirschfeld 2016 all rights reserved

©Tom Hirschfeld 2016 all rights reserved

Just about anything can be cooked in a pressure cooker. It does lots of things well. Stews, roasts, soups and one pots all come to the table hot and delicious. Even so, what really keeps the pressure cooker on the stove top is the basics. A pressure cooker cooks beans, grains, rice, and stocks effortlessly and it cooks them perfect every time. A pressure cooker is a natural in the kitchen. Not only that, as everybody knows, the pressure cooker saves time and when it comes to cooking beans it saves lots of time.

Bean Myths

We live in a world of bean myths. A world where bits of anecdotal information is passed from one generation of cooks to another. Dried beans carry suitcases full of informational baggage around with each and every pound. But what is truth and what is fiction and how should it all be sorted out?

Dried beans

There are a lot of choices when it comes to the kinds of beans you choose to cook. There are all the traditional beans -‑ black, pinto, garbanzo, navy, and kidney but there are also limitless kinds of heirloom beans with fancy names like Tiger Eye, Eye of the Goat, and Snowcap. There are even more.

When combined with a grain, more often then not rice, beans make a complete protein. This makes beans one of the least expensive healthy foods to put onto the stove. Combine them with a few spices and herbs and it becomes a flavorful dish the whole family will love.

To buy the best beans frequent a grocery that has a high turnover of dried beans. The newer the bean the better it cooks. Beans that have been around for a long time might not ever soften no matter how long you cook them. It pays to pay a little extra for good quality beans.

There are other legumes too. Split peas, lentils, and field peas cook up just as wonderfully in a pressure cooker as any of their cousins mentioned above. These legumes don’t need any kind of soak either, they can go right into the pot and cook in no time at all.

To Soak or Not to Soak?

This is a personal question. It is up to the cook whether or not to soak the beans overnight. In pressure cooker you do not need to soak the beans but there may be reasons why you want to.

One reason would be how are the beans going to be used. If they are to be pureed soaking isn’t necessary but if they are to be left whole a pressure cooker often splits beans leaving them cracked. If this is important then soak the beans.

Under pressure dried beans are cooked in minutes. Not something that can happen when they are cooked traditionally. The question becomes one of digestibility. If the beans are soaked a good deal of the gas causing chemical, phytic acid, is leached out into the soaking water which is discarded and fresh water is then added for cooking. If gastrointestinal issues are a factor presoaking is mandatory.

So while you can eliminate the soaking water when pressure cooking here is another reason it might not be a good idea. Almost any presoaked bean cooks in 10 to 14 minutes in a pressure cooker. That is what is amazing. Cooked delicious beans in such a short amount of time!

A Quick Soak

If you should forget to soak you beans you can still get a pot of beans to the table with a quick soak. Simply put the amount of beans you want to cook into the pressure cooker and for every 1 cup of beans add 4 cups of water. Bring the water to a boil and lock on the pressure cooker lid. Bring to pressure and set a timer for 2 minutes. When the timer sound turn off the heat and let the beans sit for 20 minutes or until the pressure has released. Drain the soaking liquid and proceed.

Salt

There is an old wives tale about salt and beans. It says that salting beans extends their cooking time and makes the beans tough. It does not. Salting beans is paramount to great tasting beans. It is best to salt them during the soak time. About 2 teaspoons of salt per 4 cups of water is sufficient.

Foaming

Foaming is always a concern when using a pressure cooker. Foam carries particulate which can lodge and clog the pressure valves. It is best to add a tablespoon of oil or fat to the cooking liquid. This will help to prevent foaming. It is also best to use a natural or cold water release beans for the same reasons.

When To Add Acids

Tomato sauce and vinegars are often added to beans for flavor. The acids in these products can cause the beans to toughen and take longer to cook. It all depends on how much you add. A can of tomato sauce is going to affect the cooking time, a tablespoon probably not. Nevertheless, it is always best to add any of these products toward the end of the cooking time.

Baking Soda

There is no good reason to add baking soda to beans.

 

A Simple Pot Of Beans
2 cups pinto beans, rinsed and picked over for debris soaked in 8 cups of salted water for 4 hours to overnight
1 small yellow onion, peeled, small dice (about 3/4 cup)
3 garlic cloves, minced (about 1 TB.)
1 tsp. kosher salt
1 bay leaf
[1/2] tsp. fresh ground black pepper

  1. Drain the beans into a colander and strain. Rinse the beans.
  2. Place the beans into a 6 quart (5.51l) or larger pressure cooker. Add enough water to cover the beans by about 1-inch (2.5cm) about 5 or 6 cups.
  3. Add onion, cloves, garlic, salt, bay leaf, and pepper to the pot. Bring the water to a boil over medium high heat (traditional)/high(electric).
  4. Lock on the lid, bring the pressure to level 2(traditional)/high (electric). Set a timer for 10 to 12 minutes.
  5. After the time sounds either perform a natural or quick release. Serve or cool and refrigerate beans until needed.

Pressure Cookers + Chicken and Dumplings

Next to farm fresh brown eggs, nothing conjures up an image of the farmhouse kitchen quite like the site of a pressure cooker. It’s Rockwellian in that it brings to mind iconic images of the aproned farmer’s wife peeling home grown carrots at the counter while on the stove behind her sits a huge pot-like contraption whistling and blowing steam through a small whole in its lid.

The image leaves you with a feeling of wholesomeness much like homemade whole wheat bread. It’s as if the pressure cooker does something magical that only the farmer’s wife knows. After all, for some reason, we always equate wholesome home cooking with the country kitchen. Continue reading →

Putting the Bullet into Your Bone Broth: Consommé

The Family Soup Pot

©Tom Hirschfeld all rights reserved

If you can fortify coffee by whizzing in butter and making it into an emulsion of sorts, or make fortified wine by upping the alcohol to give it a boost, aging it, and calling it port then why not fortify your bone broth?

Great chefs have known the deliciousness of consommé for centuries.  Now I am not going to repackage it, call it bullet broth or anything stupid.  Consommé is fortified stock that is clarified and enriched by adding lean ground meat, finely chopped vegetables and egg whites then the whole thing is slowly brought to a simmer.  A raft forms when the egg whites cook and it floats to the top clarifying the stock so it becomes crystal clear. It has a lot to do with the albumen in the eggs and ground meat but lets not get bogged down in the science of the thing.

It is refined food.  It adds richness and mouth feel while deepening the flavor beyond anything salt could do for your stock.  It is far more satisfying to sip a cup of consommé on a cold day, on any day for that matter, then it is swill down a jar of bone broth.

It isn’t complicated to make but it does take some attention to detail.  You can’t improve poorly made stock by making it into consommé but you can make well made stock into something really special.  If you were to choose to do so you can make it into a really highly refined soup worthy of holiday dinners by adding garnishes.  The garnish for consommé is often vegetables cut with precision into a small dice, blanched al denté, and added to the broth just before the soup is served.

Whether or not you make your bone broth into consommé isn’t the point but the fact that you are making your stock at home is and you deserve a hearty pat on the back for that alone.  If you are looking for something more refined, or an occasional treat, or you just want to upgrade your holiday menu then consommé is for you.

Chicken Consommé

8 ounces ground chicken breast

1/2 cup yellow onion, minced

1/4 cup celery, small dice

1/4 cup carrot, grated

5 ounces egg whites, about 4 large eggs

1/2 cup tomato, chopped

a sprig or two of chopped parsley, minced

1/4 teaspoon dried thyme

1 bay leaf

1 whole clove

1/4 teaspoon whole black pepper corns

2.5 quarts cold homemade chicken stock ( the link takes you to my recipe for rich roasted beef stock which is a template for any stock, just substitute chicken bones for the beef bones)

1.  Keep everything cold.  The colder the better, just not frozen.

2. Combine all the ingredients except the stock in large heavy bottomed 4 quart pot.  Using a wooden spoon stir everything together for 2 minutes.  You need to stir it well to break up the protein strands.  This is all part of the clarification process.

3. Add the cold stock and stir everything to combine.

4. Place the pot over medium low heat.  Let it come to a soft boil very, very slowly.  Stir often and by often I mean every 15 to 30 seconds otherwise your egg whites could burn at the bottom of the pot.  Not only that by stirring you keep the albumen doing its job of clarifying.

5. As it get close to boiling stop stirring.  If you see strings of egg white and your consommé is starting to look like egg drop soup stop stirring immediately.    The raft  needs to form and as it does it will rise to the top.  Reduce the heat so the consommé does not come to a hard boil.  A hard boil will destroy the raft.

6. Once the raft has stabilized and looks like a dirty egg white omelet us a spoon  and make a vent in the raft.  This is like taking the lid off a boiling pot, it keeps it from coming to a boil or boiling over.

7. Simmer the stock for and hour and a half.  At the end of the simmering time use a ladle and ladle the stock through a fine mesh strainer, or a coffee filter, into a storage container.  Season it to taste with kosher salt.  If you use table or sea salt it could cloud the consommé because of impurities in the sodium.

8. Make into soup, or serve hot in your favorite tea or coffee cup.

A 90 Day Fitness Challenge (Breakfast Day One)

I ran out of booze last night.  It is a rare occasion that I would let that happen but I did it on purpose.  Even though I miscalculated by a day or two and because I have no intention of replacing it for a while, this does nothing but allow me to start my fitness challenge early.

I am still not comfortable with those words, fitness challenge but I decided to take on the task for a lot of reasons.   There is money that will be donated to school lunch programs for one but mostly because I started my fitness journey almost 1 1/2 years ago and I have hit the wall over the past months.  As with everything in life lots of things get in the way, we loose interest, or gain interest in other pastimes but nonetheless it is easy to move onto other things.

I kept chiding myself though.  I wasn’t ready to give up on my fitness goals, I am not ready to settle for less then what I told myself I would accomplish,  nor am I ready to go into a maintenance mode where I don’t loose what I have gained but don’t gain anything either.  I want more.

Of course if you know me, or haven’t been around me for a while,  you would know these are foreign words coming out of my mouth but somehow I have really taken to the idea of being healthy from an exercise standpoint.

So the journey continues and for the next 90 days I am going to lift myself up each day and exercise, go the the gym, and run.  I am also going track my diet, make sure I am on track to eat healthy well rounded meals so that I don’t hurt my, uh hum, 50 year old body.

I think you will see I don’t plan on changing my diet a whole lot.  I do want to track my macro intake so I know my percentages of carbs, fats, and protein.  I want a good balance.  I also have no intention of weighing myself.  This challenge is about Body Mass Index (BMI) for me, it is not about losing weight.  The goal is to change my body shape by gaining muscle mass and building a stronger core.

My ultimate goal isn’t that I might live longer but my hopes are I will live better.

Poached Eggs, Roasted Asparagus and Crispy Prosciutto

4 eggs

1 bunch of asparagus

4 pieces of prosciutto, real prosciutto is cured with salt only and the ingredients list should reflect that, if you are trying to avoid sugar or additives make sure you read the list.

olive oil

red wine vinegar

1. Heat the oven to 425 degrees.

2. Place the asparagus onto a sheet tray and drizzle it with olive oil.  Roll, or toss them around being sure to give them a good coating of oil.  Salt and pepper the asparagus.

3. Separate the thin slices prosciutto and place them on top of the asparagus making sure to keep them from overlapping.

4. Fill a 3 1/2 quart sauce pan 2/3 full with water. Add 2 teaspoons of red wine vinegar.  Bring the water to a boil then reduce the heat to low.

5. Place the asparagus and prosciutto into the oven.  Roast for 15 minutes, or until the prosciutto is crispy and the asparagus tender.

6. Crack your first egg into a small bowl.  Using a slotted spoon stir the water vigorously so you create a water spout/tornado kind of effect.  As it slows carefully lower the small bowl to the center of the vortex with out letting the bowl touch.  Gently pour the egg into the center of the vortex.  Let it spin.  Poach the egg for 3 minutes.  Remove it to a plate and continue to poach the remaining eggs.

7.  When you have finished poaching all the eggs place them all back into the water to gently warm them.  Don’t leave them in the water to long or they will become hard.

8. Plate up the asparagus and prosciutto, top with two warm eggs and serve.

Recipe Reclamation: Bringing Back Chopped Steak

While it might not be haute cuisine, chopped meat is surely economical, flavorful, and versatile. From meatballs to croquettes to tacos, it can do it all and can do it with ease. It is an uncomplicated ingredient, often interchangeable, and more often than not is a beacon signaling out comfort food to anyone within range.

Take for example chopped steak: it is nothing new. Salisbury steak for instance has been around since 1897. Named after a doctor, Dr. Salisbury, who created it. Salisbury was also a believer in a low-carb diet, fancy that. Continue reading →

Grilling: Tips, Skirt Steak and more…

Skirt Steak with Greek Salsa

I use a pair of kitchen tongs and quickly flip a steak, pull back to let my hand cool for a split second before diving in again behind the safety of the tongs to flip another. The hair on my forearm recoils from the heat. Even with a long pair of kitchen tongs I can’t bear the sting of the glowing coals like I used too.

I have lost my commercial kitchen hands. The hands that could take the heat without flinching, the same hands that could grab thermonuclear plates, or could move steaks around on a grill without ever noticing the heat. The heat abused hands that were once this line cooks badge of honor.

The wind shifts, a wisp of white smoke blows back. My eyes catch a little before I can turn and shut them. The smoke underneath my eyelids stings and my eyes begin to water. Continue reading →

The Unctuous Possibilities of Pan Juices

Spaghetti with Chicken, Black Olives, Lemon and Au JusWe all know gravy or pan sauce in large quantities might be good for our soul but it isn’t so good for our heart health. After all we are doing nothing more then adding flour or cornstarch to the fat in the bottom of a roasting or sauté pan to thicken it and adding back some stock, wine, or cream for volume. So we have deemed it less healthy which to me means it is an occasional treat and as such we reserve serving gravy for holiday feasts or occasional celebrations, and rightly so.

So why then when I look into the chicken-less roasting pan that held tonights dinner only a short time ago and I see those beautiful glistening juices that are on the edge of coagulating do I feel like I am throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Don’t get me wrong I am no health nut. In fact I have this beautiful physique that could make me the poster child for a Bittman campaign on obesity. I am sure it goes back to my waste not want not way of thinking. Nevertheless all this made me think. pan jelly

When I make my own stock I always cool it down, put it in the fridge and then the next day I lift the disc of fat off the top. I know the stock is pretty fat free, although I haven’t calculated it and I have know idea how to do so, but it has to be pretty lean and I also know it has very little salt because I didn’t add any. So looking at it in this light I started refrigerating the roasting pan and the next day I remove all the fat cap and what is left is the reduced intensely rich jelly. I use a rubber spatula and scrap all the jelly up and into a small Ball jar. I have already made a plan for its use, did so before I even roasted the pork, beef or chicken, so I know when I store it in the fridge it will be used up in a day or two. I could freeze it but I don’t like to collect things like this and my motto is use it or loose it.

The jelly is infinitely better then bouillon cubes or stock base and can be used in all sorts of ways. Sometimes I like the jelly to have lots of debris(meat bits and spices) and other times I don’t but it is easy to heat and strain, if you need too, just before you want to use it. While you don’t have too I often try to keep in mind the flavors of what I roasted with the flavors of what I am going to make with the pan juices just to make sure they coincide.

Pan juice possibilities:

  • Of course it is always good to use the pan juices in soups.  Added to the broth it can give a flat soup the kick it needs.
  • Pasta or noodles of all kinds.
  • For chicken pan juices:  Make a simple fresh lemon juice and olive oil vinaigrette with salt and lots of fresh ground pepper, take a couple big hand fulls of baby Bibb lettuces  and toss it with the dressing.  Just before serving heat the pan juices and drizzle over the salad for a “healthier” wilted salad.
  • For beef:  You could make Grits and debris.  Make a bowl of grits, pour on the warm pan juices and top with a fried egg.
  • For pork:  Ramen noodles.

Pasta with Chicken, Black Olives and Lemon

(serves 4)

12 or 16 ounce box of spaghetti noodles

extra virgin olive oil

half a can of black olives, drained

1 1/2 cups cooked chicken meat

4 cloves of garlic, trimmed, peeled and slivered

1 1/2 teaspoons lemon zest

1/4 cup dry white wine

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

2/3 cup chicken stock

2 to 3 tablespoons pan juices

1 tablespoon parsley, minced

parmesan cheese

1. Place a large pot filled with 4 quarts of salted water over high heat.

2. While you are waiting for the water to come to a boil place a sauté pan over medium heat.  Add a good glug or two of extra virgin olive oil.  Add the garlic and let it gently cook until it just begins to turn golden, be careful because browned garlic can be very bitter.  Add the white wine and let the alcohol burn off.  Now add the lemon juice, stock and pan juices.  Bring them to a boil and season with salt and pepper.  Taste and adjust the seasoning.  Reduce the heat and let the liquid reduce.

3. When the water is at a roiling boil add the spaghetti.  Cook according to the directions on the box, I am guessing 10 minutes or so.  Once the pasta is just tender remove a cup of pasta water and reserve it, drain the pasta and immediately add it to the pan along with the chicken, olives and lemon zest.  Season the pasta with salt and fresh ground pepper.  Taste and make the necessary adjustments.  If it is to dry add a little bit of pasta water.  This is the kind of pasta that should have a broth.  Toss to combine and once the chicken is hot add the parsley toss again and serve with lots of parmesan.

Saving Grace Biscuits

Saving Grace Biscuits

Back when I thought I could eat gluten I was a biscuit hound.  It was nothing for me to scarf down two or three.  I have been known to forgo the rest of dinner for a good biscuit.  I always considered myself a connoisseur, from angel biscuits to crescents or buttermilk to sweet potato I think I have made them all.  Some of them were more fussy to make then others and all always in need of a light hand and a quick touch to keep them from being tough.

This biscuit is what I call a redneck biscuit and  I call them this with fondness.  They are a working mom’s weeknight biscuit.  They come together quickly and without worry and they lack nothing other then fussiness.  There is nothing in the instructions about overworking the dough, you don’t need to look for a cornmeal texture in the flour, there is nothing about spacing the biscuits perfectly or about flakiness or making sure you cut the edges cleanly for a good rise.  No they are pretty much cream, add the liquid, stir and scoop.Saving Grace Biscuits

They are inspired by Shirley Coriher’s Touch-of-Grace biscuits which I started making just before I found out I couldn’t eat gluten.  They are the kind of biscuits that are gooey in the middle, they aren’t layered but are tender and airy.  They are the kind of biscuit you might find at a really good diner.   You can imagine this old dogs disappointment when I had to stop eating them.  The thing is about 4 months ago I started playing around with and making gluten-free biscuits.  While I found many I liked, I went nuts for none.

Then I got a burr up my craw and decided I wanted to make Shirley’s biscuits but gluten-free.  It wasn’t all that tough, or I should say, maybe I got lucky.  I found a recipe on Bob’s Redmill and, using it as a base and replicating what I knew about Mrs. Coriher’s biscuits, well,  low and behold I struck biscuit gold.

In all honesty I like the flavor of this biscuit better then the original.  The sorghum flour has such a great flavor.  One of the big bonus’s if there are any left, which is a rarity around here, is they hold well into the next day or two.

Saving Grace Biscuits (inspired by Shirley Coriher’s Touch-of-Grace Biscuits)

1 cup white sorghum flour

1/2 cup potato starch

1/2 cup tapioca flour

1 teaspoon sugar

1 1/2 tablespoons baking powder

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 cup unsalted butter

1 1/2 to 1  3/4 cups buttermilk

1. Heat the oven to 450˚F.  

2. In a bowl combine the dry ingredients.

3. Cube the butter and add it to the flour.  Using your hands work it into the flour until there are no big hunks of butter left.

4. Add the buttermilk and stir with a wooden spoon,  The batter will be very loose, it should barely hold its shape before  slowly begins spreading.

5. Liberally butter an eight inch cake pan.  Using a half cup ice cream scoop, scoop up a ball of dough and turn it out into the pan close to the edge.  Continue turning out biscuits working your way around the outside first leaving room for the seventh and final biscuit in the middle.

6. Bake the biscuits for 23 minutes or until browned on top.  When you remove them from the oven they will drop.  That is OK.

7. Serve with lots of butter.

The iPad Stand

Kitchen tip Wednesday

The iPad mini is great to have in the kitchen. Is that the cover for the next issue of FOODQUARTERLY?

I am not perfect and don’t plan to be anytime soon.  I buy to much when I should do with less and I always seem to waste more then I think I should.

I try to do better.

I compost because I have a garden, I use glass cups instead of plastic, I don’t do tupperware,  and my kids use real plates and glass (in 6 years I can count the broken dishes on one hand) and we are trying to go paperless.

As an old dog I understand my bad habits will probably not change, at least not much.  I may become resolute for a week or two about some sort of waste and how we as a family should do better.  Then it seems we slip back into our old routines.  But we have made permanent changes.

One of those changes is to reuse or re-purpose as much as we can.  I got an iPad mini for Christmas.  I have so many charging cords already that a docking station seems pointless but I knew I needed something to keep it off the counter.  After all,  I plan to use it for iBook cookbooks and recipes and didn’t want it easily ruined when drenched by the first spill.

I went to the garage and luckily, in a light bulb moment, I spotted an old round wood cutting board.  It was perfect.  I got out the saw and cut off the end.  Then I cut a slot wide enough for the iPad to fit with a little wiggle room so it would angle back for better reading and, voilá, I have a stand.  It works so good I made three more and have them in different places around the house.

If you are handy, or someone in the family is, you can knock these out in minutes with a saw.

The wonderful thing is, since it is made from a wood cutting board, it fits in nicely with the decor of our house.

Celery Root and Potato Gratin

Celery Root and Potato Gratin

For some it might have been potato or green bean, but for me my gratin affinity began at an early age with macaroni and cheese. You know, the good old-fashioned kind with real cheddar and whole milk thickened with roux or egg yolks. The one that is baked until the correct ratio of crispy, crunchy top to creamy interior is achieved. It taught me early on in life just how fantastic a great food friendship is.

Then, as I came of age, somehow the gratin became any one-dish. It is tuna with the thin crispy onion rings baked on top or Chicken Divan with broccoli, cheddar, and crumbled Ritz crackers providing the crunch. There is the obligatory cottage pie, as done in the Midwest, topped with both cheddar and mozzarella, then browned. For a while, it was a multitude of eggy breakfast casseroles, all, of course, involving more cheddar.

It became neat, rectangular, and predictable. It served twelve. It was a 9×13 casserole world and I was living it.

I was fortunate. I got out. I went to college, I travelled, I ate.

With knowledge and experience came diversity. And we all know diversity makes the world a much better place. So I developed friendships with lasagna, cassoulet, moussaka, and the timballo, to name a few.

Through it all, and even though we didn’t see each other as much, the gratin remained my favorite.

What I realized is the gratin is the kick-ass cousin who went to college too. And when you reconnect at the family reunion you realize you hang with them because they are exciting, interesting, and you can rest assured that there is more depth to them than a spiky haircut and a couple of tattoos. You get each other in that way only family can.

I like the gratin’s quirks. I like its fondness for juxtaposition. I know that, without pretense, Tournedos Rossini can snuggle in next to a celery root gratin as easily as can Irish bangers and, regardless of which side of the tracks it finds itself, the gratin brings comfort to the table, weight to the unbearable lightness of being.

The thing is, the gratin comes by these traits naturally. But I also know that the things that make it stand out — the creamy interior and crunchy top — don’t just happen, that the building of flavors takes effort, and that without a true friend’s presence the gratin’s popularity might wane.

But then that is what true friends do, you know, bring out the best in each other, and relish in each others’ success.

Note: I have been making this recipe for years. It is based on a recipe in the Dean and DeLuca cookbook by David Rosengarten. I have always found it to be a lovely holiday side dish. It goes well with prime rib roasts and roast chicken. It is versatile and can be made ahead to be put into the oven when needed and also is easily doubled.

Serves 6 to 8

2 pounds russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch chunks

2 pounds celery root, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch chunks

Kosher salt and freshly ground white pepper

3/4 cups heavy cream

1 tablespoon garlic, minced

1/4 cup unsalted butter

1/8 teaspoon saffron, crushed

1 1/2 cup gruyere or comte cheese, grated

1. If you plan to cook the gratin right away heat the oven to 400 degrees. Otherwise move on to step two.

2. Place the potatoes and celery root into separate large pots. Cover by two inches with cold water and add a teaspoon of salt to each pot. Bring the pots to a boil over medium heat. Cook the vegetables until tender.

3. Once the vegetables are tender, pour them out into a colander set in the sink. Drain the vegetables and let them sit for a minute or two steam-drying.

4. Rinse out one of the pots and add the cream, garlic, butter, and saffron. Bring the cream to a boil over medium heat. Add a hefty pinch of salt and a few grinds of white pepper. Add 1/2 cup of the cheese. Stir it into the warm liquid till melted.

5. Place the celery root and potatoes into a mixing bowl (or the other blanching pot if it is big enough) and smash the mix with a potato masher. Add a pinch of salt then add the cream and saffron mix. Stir to combine. Taste and adjust the seasoning, adding more salt or pepper if necessary.

6. Use a little softened butter to grease an 8-inch oval gratin (12 inches long). Spread the rustic chunky mash out into the pan. Smooth the top with a spatula, then crosshatch the top with the tines of a fork. Spread the remaining cheese out over the top.

7. Bake until the cheese is browned, about 30 minutes. Let the gratin cool for 5 minutes, then serve.

Scrub Those Veggies

scrub that shit

Don’t think because the package says it was washed three times that you don’t have too.

I make one assumption when it comes to vegetables.  I assume a herd of cows walked through the veggie patch right before someone picked my food.  Keep in mind cows are not discrete.   Their bathroom is the great wide open and they don’t care t if that bathroom is located on top of your food.  It is buyer beware and it is up to you to wash your vegetables.

My point is, wash that shit.  I know, I know,  you hate how it splatters all over the new white shirt you are wearing or how it always seems to spray over the back of the sink but it doesn’t have too.

Submerge the vegetables underwater and then scrub them!  Seriously, it keeps the dirt and crud from splattering everywhere.

I place a large mixing bowl right under the water, leave the water trickling, then fill the bowl no more then halfway with the potatoes, carrots, beets or whatever root vegetable and it still allows me room to scrub with my hands, the brush and veggie, all submerged.  Also by letting the veggies soak in the bottom of the bowl it loosens the dirt and crud, a prewash so to speak.

I use a baby bottle brush because it washes well in the dishwasher,  I like the design because it makes it easy to get into the crooks and crannies and, finally, because the bristles aren’t so stiff as to take the skin off a potato when scrubbing.   I also use a salad spinner for all kinds of things.  Wash those herbs and give them a spin, broccoli and cauliflower too.

The thing is water and a quick rinse  alone will lessen your chances of any food borne illness.  Give the veggies a soak, scrub and rinse and you can pretty much eliminate the chances.  You don’t need to get fancy with the chemicals either water does a great job, was designed in fact to do this task and does it well all by itself.

Non-Slip Drawer Liners

Non-Slip Drawer Liner

Sure, I know, every chef says you should just wet a kitchen towel and put it under your cutting board, or bowl or whatever you don’t want to slide around.  Well that is easy to say when you have an industrial laundry service and who wants a wet towel sitting under their cutting board anyway.  If it’s a wood cutting board it will warp and then weaken the glue joints.  So here is your new best friend, non-slip drawer lining.

Ever make Hollandaise sauce?  Need an extra hand while whisking the butter into the eggs but no one is around?  Put that non-slip liner under the bowl and you can go hands free.  Why not just get the mixing bowls with the rubber bottoms?  Well, sometimes I have good reason to put my mixing bowls right on the stove over low heat, or I need to make an ad hoc double boiler so the rubber bottom is out of the question for me.

Got a Kitchen Aid stand mixer that likes to walk across the counter.  Keep it from wandering with the non-slip liner.

Keep your couch from dancing around the wood floor every time someone sits down.

Got any other non-slip liner tips?  Post them here.

You can wash the liners by placing them flat in the sink and spraying them off with the sink sprayer or by using a soft sponge.  Hang them over the sink divider to drip dry.

Plastic Dough Scrapers

Plastic Dough Scraper

Plastic dough scrapers make one of the best dirty dish cleaning tools around.  For my pans they are non-scratch, get into the crooks and crannies removing all the stuck on stuff in a jiff.  I always have two on hand just for dirty jobs like getting the ring of crud around the top of a pot knocked loose, or that thin layer of cake stuck to the bottom of the cake pan.  They are bendable, have different shaped edges for different jobs and big enough you can get a good grip on them.  This is a great tool to have when you need it and they are cheap, 99 cents or so.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.