Marie’s Freedom Station and Crispy BBQ Chicken Thighs

Marie’s Freedom Tire Shop

Marie, in her sixties, ran Freedom’s Tire Shop in Freedom Indiana. It had been years since anyone bought tires but they kept coming for the gasoline. The station sat at the edge of town across the street from the only grocery. Marie’s husband had been dead 15 years when I met her in the late 1980’s. Her only source of income had been her husband and his business. When he died she decided she would run the gas station and each day, with walking stick in hand, she would walk to work. She had never had possession of a drivers license nor did she want too. Continue reading →

Advertisements

The Midwest, Barbecue, And Zeb’s All Purpose Mambo Sauce

Midwesterners like pork and we like beef, even chicken but we do not like change.

Well, that’s not exactly true. We understand that change is inevitable, we just don’t like it sneaking up behind us and yelling BOO. We prefer change we don’t see, change that slips on like a comfortable pair of socks that go unnoticed throughout the day, not a constant reminder like a fancy necktie.

Growing up in suburban 1970’s Indianapolis “barbecue” meant baking a chicken and basting it in a bottled sauce.  If there was smoke it was liquid, if there was fire it was a heated oven. This was the logical extension of my mother’s Midwest, the pot-roast, chicken-and-dumplings-tuna casserole Midcentury Midwest. Spice was reserved for vacations south of the Mason Dixon line. But even as we were tucking into ketchup-mild barbecued chicken, tiny outposts of smoke, fire and mostly pig, had long-since migrated north.

Stubbs, you see, is tall. His cowboy hat makes him taller. His hands make him appear well, like a folkloric hero, his hands are big enough to palm a turkey, thick and calloused and more heat resistant than a fireman’s glove.

One was Zeb’s barbecue, a shack I spied from the back window of the station wagon as I was ferried to Saturday morning art lessons. The place billowed smoke. I was sure that one Saturday we’d see a line of fire trucks, the red glare of emergency lights, firemen unfurling their hose to do battle with a five alarm, sirens blaring.

But week after week, the cloud of smoke billowed across the avenue without a fire truck in sight. The smoke smelled like Sunday morning bacon — and slow cooked pork. Continue reading →

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.

 

RECIPE CARD: 3 Cheese Beef & Noodles + How To Get The Most Out Of Prep Day

I have always said, “if I am going to cook one chicken, I might as well cook two.”  It’s not really any more work.  I have come to believe the same about pot roast, pork roast, and just about anything that is braised, smoked or roasted.
Continue reading →

Octopus and Potato Salad with a Tomato Vinaigrette

I like the unexpected.  Especially when it is something new to me, or it tastes and sounds exotic but in reality it has a longstanding history—a marriage of flavors that is natural. Flavors tried and tested over time, in this case,  in towns all across Portugal.

Octopus is a food that falls into a category that not to many foods do—it is either flash cooked very quickly or it is stewed for a very long time. Both methods intended to render the octopus meltingly tender.  I have tried flash cooking octopus several times and either I am an idiot and just can’t get it right or my definition of tender is radically different from everyone else who uses the flash cooked method. Continue reading →

A Very French Beef Stew

If you are like me, you have made what seems like hundreds of variations on beef stew; the classic tomatoey American version, a Korean version, Chinese, Irish, with beer, or with wine. It’s all done in the name of variety and the constant quest for new flavors to excite the taste buds. We do it in order to make dinner ever more interesting, because let’s be honest, if you only cook the same 5 or 6 meals and present them over and over again at some point they become lackluster and boredom sets in. This is not to say, as a cook you need to know how to cook a hundred variations on beef stew because you don’t. If you are like me though you are curious, always looking for upgrades, and it is nice to have some surprises in your back pocket when you need them.DSC_2888

While I call this a French stew it is far from a classic daube.  Daube’s make use of lots of red wine, olives, and orange peel. This stew does not. What this dish does do is keep flavors separate. By cooking the meat on its own, roasting the vegetables, then combining them only when it is time to serve the dish some very wonderful flavors only become present when everything is in the bowl.

Let me say a few things about clay pot cooking.  Clay is unique, so if you have a clay pot stored in a cabinet somewhere begging to be used then this is a great place to start and here is why.  Cooking in clay pots feels like cooking.   The smell of the clay as it heats, the aroma that reminds you of the last meal you cooked,  the cracks in the glaze, the smell of olive oil as it heats seems basic in an elemental way.  It is comforting.  It’s as if you a are connected to every cook that came before you and every meal too.

When you heat clay on the stove the culinary history of the particular pot makes itself well known very quickly. Often pots are dedicated to certain kinds of cooking like curry, or rice, or beans. They are used for meals made with similar spices.  They are the original slow cooker and you can find them being used all around the Mediterranean, the Middle East, Asia and throughout South America.

The recipe doesn’t require cooking in a clay pot for it to be good but it does add to its mystic. It can be cooked in a slow cooker or in an enameled Dutch oven on the stove top.

 

Clay Pot Beef Stew with Roasted Vegetables (serves 4)

2 TBS. olive oil

2 pounds beef brisket, trimmed of fat and cut into 1 1/2-inch cubes

1 1/2 TBS all-purpose flour

3 medium yellow onions

15 cloves garlic, peeled and left whole

3 cups homemade beef broth of sodium free beef broth

1 1/2 teaspoons Herbes de Provence

1 tsp. kosher salt

2 tsp. Japanese tonkatsu sauce or Heinz 57

1 bay leaf

2 tsp. flat leaf parsley, minced

3 large carrots, peeled and cut into 1 1/2-inch cylinders

7 fingerling potatoes, washed and halved

  1. Peel and trim one onion.  Halve it and dice both halves into a small dice.
  2. Place a 3 1/2 quart clay pot or enameled Dutch oven over medium heat.  Add olive oil and let it become hot.  Add half the beef and brown it on all sides.  Remove the meat to a tray.  Repeat with the remaining beef.
  3. Add the flour to the oil and stir with a wooden spoon until the flour begins to color and smells nutty (do not taste the roux it will burn your tongue off.)
  4. Add diced onions and garlic.  Stir.  The roux will stick to the vegetables and clump.  This is as it should be.  Add the hot broth while stirring. Continue to stir until the liquid comes to a boil.
  5. Add a 1/2 tsp. kosher salt, Herbes de Provence, tonkatsu, bay leaf, parsley, and a few grinds of fresh ground black pepper.  Add the brisket back to the pot, bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, cover and let it gently bubble until the brisket is tender but not falling apart.  About 4 hours.
  6. About 1 1/2 hours before the brisket is tender heat the oven to 425 degrees.  Peel the remaining 2 onions and cut each into 6 wedges.  Place the onions, carrots, and potatoes into a bowl.  Toss with enough olive oil to coat them.  Season them with salt and fresh ground pepper.  Toss them again.
  7. Spread the vegetables out onto a sheet tray and roast them for 1 hour or until they are brown and blistered.  Remove them from the oven.
  8. To serve place a sprinkling of vegetables into the bottom 4 bowls, ladle over meat and broth over the vegetables and them top with some vegetables.  Sprinkle with parsley and serve.

 

Searching for the Perfect Risotto

I don’t get the allure of risotto. Years ago at culinary school, every student revered the dish except me, and slowly I’ve come to hate it. It’s overrated.

I’ve practiced making it at home with the guidance of some of the best cookbook authors of the day. I stand at the stove as instructed, stirring, hot broth on the back burner, and all of the ingredients at hand. Inevitably after the required 19 minutes of stirring, ladling, and coddling as instructed, I have a pot of hot, goopy rice, but I am never impressed.

I never get tired of cooking, but eventually I did tire of making risotto.

I had given up ordering risotto in restaurants long ago for the same reasons I quit making it at home. But on a chance, just like the dollar I dropped into a slot and pulled the arm as I walked by, I ordered it. I took the gamble and it too payed off, just like the $1600 slot earlier in the day.

I don’t eat at restaurants often. Not because I don’t enjoy them – because I do – it’s more that my wife, Amy, and I splurge when we go out to eat. A few times a year we spend lots of money at a few restaurants. A weekend in Napa or New York City is perfect for this. This time we headed to Las Vegas where there are lots of great restaurants tucked within a confined space. We made plans to hit several famous chef’s restaurants. It’s what we do when we go to Vegas. Others gamble, we eat.

On a whim, we decided to go into Le Cirque, the off shoot of the famous New York City restaurant. Le Cirque is whimsical. It ’s dinner under the big top, draping curtains hanging from the ceiling like a technicolor circus tent, highlighting a huge chandelier centered in a huge circular room. No corner table. Gaudy at best but it pairs perfectly with Cirque Du Soleil playing one ring over.

As I glanced at the veritable circus around us, the ringmaster balanced hot plates on his arm and delivered them to our table. The risotto dish set in front of me was the most exquisite rice dish ever. Tender rice but with a spring to it. The acidity of the white wine, added and burned off au sec, is a perfect match for the Parmesan and the starchy rice. Brothy, but not too much so. Fine dinning at its best. It is out of place in Vegas: to simple, not garish enough. Still, that rice dish will hold a place at the front of my mind for the rest of the weekend and follow me around for a long time to come.

I arrived back home with renewed determination. I had to figure out how to make risotto like that. It’s like a three-ring circus in my kitchen: ingredients spread all around while I’m stirring and ladling and stirring and measuring and stirring some more. Another carefully measured attempt ends yet again with disappointment. How could it not? I can make a perfect pot of rice, but I can’t make risotto. No amount of hope can fix that.

I did my best to just move on. There are so many wonderful foods in this world; there is no point in getting hung up on any one failure. It’s not like anyone notices a gaping risotto hole in my cooking repertoire. And what if they did? It’s only risotto.

But I do. I notice. And for me it is an empty pan smoking over high heat. Cooking is what I do. Making food the best that I possibly can is what drives me. Once my palate has experienced something new and exciting there are no lengths to which I won’t go in order to replicate that experience.

And so I head back to the stove with another recipe for Risotto Milanese, seeking yet again that illusive pairing of a creamy texture and toothsome rice. I carefully ladle in the broth, stirring and stirring and seeking to master the ultimate balancing act.

Perfect Risotto Milanese (serves 4)

2 tsp. unsalted butter

1/2 cup yellow onion, finely diced

1/4 cup dry white wine

1 cup arborio rice

1/4 tsp kosher salt

2 3/4 cup homemade or sodium free chicken broth

1/2 tsp saffron

2 TBS. unsalted butter, cold

1/2 cup Parmegiano-Reggiano cheese, grated

1 TBS. chives, minced

  1. Place a 4-quart pressure cooker over medium high heat.  Add the butter, and when it begins to bubble, add the onions.  Sauté until the onions begin to soften.
  2. Add the dry white wine and bring it to a boil.  Reduce the wine by half and add the rice and stir to coat.  Add salt, chicken stock, and saffron, and bring the liquid to a boil.
  3. Lock the lid into place and bring the pressure to high.  Once the pot is to pressure start a timer set for 7 minutes.  Remove the pot from the heat and use the cold water release method to drop the pressure.  Remove the lid.
  4. Stir in the chilled butter followed with the Parmesan.  If the risotto is stiff, add more broth 1 TBS. at a time until you reach the desired consistency.  Divide the rice into 4 bowls, garnish a little more cheese and chives.  Serve immediately.

 

 

Middle Eastern Braised Green Beans

I don’t know when it came to be that chefs and cooks decided that your veggies needed to be cooked al dente. While I know they retain more of their vitamins when cooked a minimal amount I also know it’s not like the vitamins just vaporize into thin air but instead I am pretty sure, and take note I am not a scientist, that they wind up in the cooking broth.

Either way and no matter how you slice it I like veggies that can stand up to multiple cooking methods giving me choices as how best to enjoy them. I like green beans blanched then sautéed al dente but then I also like them long cooked. That doesn’t mean I want mush because I want something that still has character and a bite.

So after cooking green beans and eating green beans pretty much all my life with potatoes or onions, and even bacon and onions I was looking for a change. This last summer I found a wonderful recipe for okra that was stewed and I liked the recipe so much I made it two or three times.

The other night I was thinking how good that recipe would be with green beans and, actually even easier and less time consuming then the okra. So here is a link to the original article and recipe from the New York Times’ Recipes for Health by Martha Rose Shulman http://tinyurl.com/7ebxpk3 just in case you have any interest in the original okra recipe which I will make again this coming summer.

Middle Eastern Braised Green Beans  (Serves 6)

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 cups onion, thinly sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon all spice
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 1/2 pounds green beans, clipped and cleaned
1 teaspoon pomegranate molasses
juice of half a lemon
14 oz chopped tomatoes
2 teaspoons tomato paste
kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper

  1. Place a large heavy bottomed pot over medium heat. Add the olive oil and once it is hot add the onions. Season the onions with a pinch of salt and some pepper. Sweat the onions until they begin to soften trying not to brown them.
  2. Add the garlic and once it becomes fragrant add the all spice and sugar. Then add the beans and stir them to coat with the oil.
  3. Now add the rest of the ingredients and stir to combine. Cook on medium until you hear the pot sizzling then reduce the heat to low, cover, and cook for an hour remembering to stir about every twenty minutes. They may take longer the an hour but not much.
  4. Taste, adjust the salt and pepper and serve.

The Best Corn on the Cob in the World

foodquarterlySomething as simple as good corn on the cob shouldn’t be elusive.  There shouldn’t be any big secrets but there is and it is this, the best corn on the cob in the world is cooked in a pressure cooker.   It couldn’t be simpler to do  and the results are divine.

I live in corn country.  If there was a vortex for the center of a corn universe I am at ground zero.  And if not the exact center I am still close enough that if it shook in the middle of the night it would knock me out of bed.  What I am saying is in the Midwest we know corn, and all you have to do is visit any state fair to know I am telling you the truth.

We roast it, boil it, we scrap it off the cob, we make it into pudding, make chowder out of it, we slather ears of it with mayonnaise and sprinkle it with any number of spices, and we even deep fry it like it is a corn dog.

But when a real treat is in order, in the heat of late-summer,  we set up a table under the shade tree, even put a table cloth on it along with plates and silverware.  Then we grill some thick cut pork chops, cut thick slabs of ripe homegrown tomatoes and lightly salt them, maybe a green salad with a sugary vinegar and oil dressing, and  we steam perfectly rip ears of sweet corn under pressure, slip the ear out of the husk from the stalk end and roll the perfectly steamed ears through sun softened sticks of butter.

Pressure cooking an ear of corn does something magnificent.  It gives the kernels a snap, and by leaving the husk on the ears develop a robust corn flavor, much like wrapping tamales in a dried husk.  It tastes like corn should, pure and simple.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The Best Corn on the Cob in the World

(serves 6 to 8 people)

When buying ears of corn look for husk that are vibrant and fresh.  It is also always best to cook sweet corn the same day you buy it.

8 ears of sweet corn still in the husk (buy ears that fit your cooker)

1 cup water

1 stick of unsalted butter

sea salt

fresh ground black pepper

Equipment: a 6 or 8 quart pressure cooker with a steamer basket

1. Set an ear of corn onto a cutting board.  Using a good chef’s knife trim the stalk end back so that there is no stalk showing just kernels, about a 2-inch piece.  Repeat with all the ears of corn.

2. Place each ear of corn cut end down into the steamer basket.

3. Place the cooker over medium-high heat.  Add 1 cup of water and bring it to a boil.  Slip the steamer basket with the corn into the pot.

4. When the water returns to a boil, lock on the lid, and bring the pressure to level 2, or high.  Once pressure is reached lower the heat while maintaining pressure.

5. Set a timer for 6 minutes.  When the timer sounds perform a quick or cold water release.

6. Remove the lid and use a pair of tongs to lift out the steamer basket.

7. Using a dry and clean kitchen towel grab and ear of corn by the silk and push the ear out of the husk toward the stalk end.  The silks should come along with husk and the ear should be clear of silk.  Repeat for all the ears.  Serve immediately with lots of butter, salt, and fresh ground pepper.

(A tangent: If you own a pressure cooker you are in luck, if you don’t then you are going to want one. So go buy one, I am serious, and I don’t peddle stuff on here.  Not only do pressure cookers cook things well they are going to help save the planet one meal at a time by conserving energy, water, and time.  If you like that sort of stuff, conservation, then you have to get one.  A 6 or 8 quart stove top cooker will feed your family delicious meals for years to come.)

 

A Life-Changing Loaf of Bread (Redux)

 

I often wonder what makes a recipe so good it goes viral. I am sure it’s lots of factors. Sometimes it’s the recipe itself, other times it is what the author expresses in words through their post, and sometimes it is simply because the author is very famous. This recipe, originally posted on the blog My New Roots, has shown up on lots of other sites and was even a Genius Recipe on Food 52, and rightly so.  At the very least it has gone viral in my circles.

There are lots of things to like about this bread, like stacking it with thinly sliced crisp cucumbers, topped with oily mackerel, shallots, and parsley like in the picture above.  I also like it with thick cut bacon and peas shoots, or simply toasted and topped with butter and lingonberry jam.  It is delicious bread.  I even bake it on my Big Green Egg to give it a more authentic, and Danish, baked-in-the-dying-embers of a wood fired oven flavor.

My only problem is if I make the loaf of bread following the original recipe it comes up short. I heard the same words of disappointment from others who tried it too. The bread can be fussy, difficult to cut, crumbles, and becomes dry.  Many I know have given up making it.

DSC_0426

One of my favorite ways to top this bread is with thin slices of cucmber, mackeral, parsley, and shallot.

I am sure the loaf bakes up perfect and to the satisfaction of many people every time. It doesn’t for me, but I understand when it comes to cooking and baking there are so many variables that to place fault elsewhere is simply not taking responsibility for ones own abilities. After all, it is up to the cook to get what they want from a recipe.  It is why you need to know how to cook rather then simply follow directions.  Just like different musicians playing the same piece of sheet music. The song sounds very different depending on the players abilities.  It is only because there are so many things about this loaf of bread I like that I stuck with it, experimented with it, until I got the loaf of bread I wanted, until I heard the song I wanted to hear.

I didn’t change much, although I used pumpkin seeds instead of sunflower and ground psyllium instead of seeds and I ground a portion of the oats and pumpkin seeds to create a finer crumb in the end product.  And while I use coconut oil in some recipes I didn’t use it here nor did I use maple syrup but instead brown rice syrup was substituted.   For me all these small touches made for a more manageable loaf in the end.

The fact is, made from the original recipe this loaf of bread is delicious, the taste is very satisfying, nutty, feels good to eat, and it is nourishing.  I simply made adjustments which gave me the product  I wanted to eat.  Rest assured though,  for those on a restricted diet, and those that aren’t, this seed bread is an important find.  It’s worth practicing to get it right.

_TJH0960

Seed bread packed into a pate mold and waiting to be wrapped up for a rest before baking. Notice the parchment handles.

Seed Bread

This recipe creates a less delicate loaf.

Seed and Grain Bread (adapted from My New Roots)

1 cup unsalted pumpkin seeds (1/2 cup coarsely ground)
1/2 cup golden flax meal, ground
1/2 cup walnuts
1 1/2 cups rolled oats ( I generally grind 1/2 cup coarsely in a coffee grinder )
2 tablespoons chia seeds
3 tablespoons powdered psyllium
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoons brown rice syrup or whatever syrup you have and want to use
3 tablespoons spectrum vegetable shortening (it’s palm oil and non-hydrogentated) or unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups hot water

1. Combine all the ingredients in a bowl. Using your hands work the mass until the shortening or butter and the other ingredients are evenly distributed.
2. Line a pate mold, or small loaf pan, with parchment. To remove air bubbles, literally, pack the dough into a 3 x 4 x 10 pate mold. Wrap the whole thing in plastic wrap and let it sit for 1 to 2 hours.
3, Heat the oven to 350˚F. Remove the plastic wrap, place the loaf pan onto a baking sheet and bake the bread for 25 minutes.
4. At the end of the baking time remove the tray from the oven and using excess parchment paper as handle lift the loaf from the pan. Place the loaf, with the parchment still under it, back onto the sheet tray and bake the bread for another 20 minutes.
5. When the timer sounds, roll the loaf so that a new side is flush with the sheet tray. Bake another twenty minutes. Do this until all four sides have been baked against the sheet tray.
6. Remove from the oven and let the bread cool completely before cutting.
7. The bread is best toasted. Store in the fridge wrapped in plastic wrap.

Note: recently I baked a loaf on my Big Green Egg. It is a fantastic way to bake this loaf. Much like it might be baked in a shop in Europe using the dying embers of a wood fired oven.

The Lobster Roll’s Better More Lovable Brother

It is almost August.  The month in which my parents would always load me and my siblings up in the car and we would head to the east coast for vacation.  It was as much a search for a cool ocean breeze as it was a temporary reprieve from the mundane everyday Midwest.

Sometimes while on vacation when we would sit down to dinner at a nice restaurant my parents would indulge us.  When they did I would order lobster.  As a kid I loved it.  What is there not to like about playing with your food?  It is a distraction pretending the prehistoric monster on your plate is attacking the table while the adults sip their coffee and converse.  There is a silent cheer in your head after you defeat the monster with a hammer and pick leaving behind nothing but empty body parts void of flesh.

Since being a kid, I haven’t eaten much lobster because years ago my taste for it waned.  I don’t hate lobster but my feelings about it have changed.   I believe it to be over rated.  As an adult I think lobster is a pain to cook, let alone eat, and on top of that it feels like it is a foil for butter much in the same way the white is a foil for the creamy yolks of a deviled egg.  I need say nothing of the cost per pound.

On the other hand shrimp is accessible, and in this sandwich there are plenty of complementary flavors, like cucumber, celery and spice, and classics like Old Bay seasoning are perfect.  As a home cook shrimp is familiar, the fear of over cooking a lobster is a big factor to not cooking it, while shrimp are easy and take less time to prepare.  The flavor of shrimp also plays a large roll in this new favorite because it is consistent.  In other words with shrimp I know what I am going to get.

A lobster roll is a great sandwich, most assuredly an indulgence,  but a shrimp roll is no less a treat not to mention much easier on your pocket book.
Summertime Shrimp Rolls (Makes 4 Sandwiches)

  • 1 baby cucumber, cut into half moons (about 1/2 cup)
    8 sugar snap peas, cut crosswise into thin rounds (about 1/3 cup)
    1 lb. (450g) raw deveined shrimp (size 26-30)
    1 teaspoon lemon zest
    2 teaspoons fresh squeezed lemon juice
    1/3 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/2 tsp. Old Bay Seasoning
    kosher salt
    fresh ground black pepper
    4 brioche hot dog buns, or whatever hot dog bun you prefer
    leaf lettuce

1. To cook the shrimp place a 3.5 quart (3.5L) pot filled with 2 quarts (2L) cold water over high heat. Add 2 tablespoon of salt to the pot and bring the water to a roiling boil.
2. Add the shrimp and cook them for 3 to 4 minutes. Drain the shrimp into a strainer and run cold water over the shrimp. Remove the shells.
3. Chop the shrimp into 1/2-inch (1.25cm) pieces.
4. In a small mixing bowl combine cucumber, sugar snaps, shrimp, zest, juice and mayonnaise, Old Bay, 1/2 teaspoon of salt and a few grinds of fresh ground black pepper. Mix everything.
5. Split the buns from the top being careful not to cut them completely in half, line with leaves of lettuce and top with shrimp salad. Serve.

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.

No Recipe Greek Nachos

Greek Nachos

You don’t need a recipe.  You can make these from scratch and it will take you less then 10 minutes.  Of course that doesn’t include grocery time, I am making the assumption you did a little pre-planning.  Although when I made this the other day it came out of leftovers, no planning required.  (Don’t want to make the tzatziki, sub in ranch dressing and go for it.)

Pile good quality corn chips onto a plate.  If you are making the ranch/tzatziki sauce scoop about 1/2 cup of mayonnaise into a bowl, just eyeball it don’t dirty a measuring cup.  Add a splash of buttermilk, milk, or kefir and whisk it to make a smooth dressing.  To thick, thin it out with another splash of liquid.  Add a half a tablespoon of chopped dill.  No dill, use dried oregano just make sure to let it sit and hydrate in the dressing for a few minutes.   Again just put it into the palm of your hand, does it look like half a tablespoon?  Toss it in, add salt, pepper and a little lemon juice if you want.  Stir it again then set it aside until you get the rest of the ingredients together.

Slice some grape tomatoes in half, cut some olives, pit them if you have the fancy kind but pitted California black olives work fine.  Chop some cucumbers, I like the baby kind but big ones work too.  Any kind of cooked chopped-up ground meat works here.  Don’t have any animal protein around, drain a can of chickpeas and rinse them.

Drizzle the chips with the tzatziki, top with everything else, add a bit of crumbled feta, a sprinkle of minced parsley and green onion, if your heart is in it, and serve.

Classic Creamy Coleslaw

cabbage

My favorite kind of coleslaw is the classic, creamy variety; it comforts me because I grew up eating it at a mom-and-pop catfish bar whose coleslaw was second to none. Their version was made with finely grated cabbage and bright orange ribbons of carrot. It was a bit tart and a little sharp — the way horseradish can be — because the cabbage was freshly grated. It paired perfectly with deep-fried catfish, whose crispy tails tasted of bacon. This is the slaw by which I judge all others. Continue reading →

All About Smoking + A Pulled Pork Sandwich

Pulled Pork with Stubbs Sauce

Barbecue is a far cry from the days past when you were simply handed a platter of meat and sent outside to a grill. I mean, you don’t see leg of lamb braising contests at every turn, or weekend-long fish sautéing competitions — at least not yet — and while you won’t see men look longingly at a stock pot, they will ogle a smoker or a grill like it’s the centerfold of a men’s magazine. Continue reading →

Poulet á l’ Estragon (Chicken Tarragon)

_TJH7671

Spring always seems rushed. It’s as if we spend months climbing a mountain called winter, and when we finally reach the peak, we’re so grateful that we run as fast as we can down the other side — past spring and directly into summer. It’s even true for the vegetables we’re attracted to — the fleeting cool weather crops that are harvested and eaten before spring has truly begun. Continue reading →

The New Steak (+ a Recipe for Duck Teriyaki)

DSCF3286

A whole roast duck is as satisfying to eat as it is pretty on the table; while foie gras is a rich man’s food and confit is pure comfort, a delicious seared and crispy-skinned duck breast is one of the real luxuries of eating.

Duck is versatile, but quirky to cook. And when something is unusual, people tend to keep it at an arm’s distance in a that’s my crazy uncle sort of way. But I’m here to say that it is simple to prepare; no matter which cut you’re preparing, cooking duck comes down to two things: rendering off the fat, and getting the skin crispy. Continue reading →

Greek Style Shrimp in Tomato Sauce (+ 10 Tips to Better Sautéing)

Greek Style Shrimp There is something wonderful about a one-pan sauté. Sure, a quick dinner and easy clean-up would be enough to pass muster for most, but what I love is how wonderfully delicious dinner becomes as you build flavors in the pan. Starting at the bottom of the pan, there is an order to how things go; it is not a dump-it-and-go process. Continue reading →

Cuban Style Skirt Steak + 5 Tips for a Better Sear

Cuban Style Skirt Steak

I won’t lie to you — I like steak. To be specific, I like pan-seared steak. It’s the roar of the hood fan as it comes up to speed; the exhilaration and anticipation of the pop, crackle, and sizzle of red meat on a hot pan; and the wisps of white smoke curling around the steak’s edges, like a passionate embrace that gently kisses the bits of ground black peppercorn and fat. And, as always, the resulting taste of the brown butter against the crispy-edged meat. This kind of carnivorous zeal should be illegal.

Continue reading →

Chicken Legs in Tomato Gravy ( + 5 Tips to a Better Braise)

 

Finally, the long standing blanket of snow has begun to recede and melt back into the dark earth, but not without leaving behind a disheveled landscape — like lifting an area rug you have meant to clean under for the past year. It is ugly outside, and depressing too. It is the worst time of year. The melt-off signals the beginning of the end of winter, but the skeptic in me knows that the weather is more than likely crying wolf. Either way it sets a spark to the natural cycle of things.

 

A bee flying in the orchard still bare of leaves, lands on my arm, walks around a moment, then looks up at me with sad puppy dog eyes and flies off. A couple of raccoons out during daylight forage the field for last season’s spilt corn. At the wood’s edge an opossum trips on a branch and falls fifty feet before landing with a thud in the remnants of a wet snow bank. I realize it is time to join the others as well — to come out of hibernation, to replenish.

But I have a problem. I am sick of kale. Even my beloved collards put me off. The hell with you turnip and rutabaga, for you’ve left a bitter taste in my mouth. I push bowls of Brussels sprouts away as if I am a child again, and my mother is trying to force feed them to me (she even threatens me with no dessert). I have eaten my greens in all forms, and I can’t stand them anymore. I have hit the winter vegetable wall. With the exception of but a few, the only way vegetables are still palatable is with heavy cream and bits of bacon.

Through it all, somehow potatoes taste good — more then good — amazing. Anything resembling a jar of sunshine helps (like last summer’s canned tomatoes with basil tucked into the red pulp). Going outside helps, too, because the musty smell of thawing earth and the gentle heat of the midday sun gives me hope for what is to come. Luckily, any food on a platter that resembles comfort is still a hit at the table– such as these chicken legs, tenderly covered with a parchment lid and slow cooked in a Dutch oven until they become sticky. A dish that’s good anytime of the year, but especially welcome during the wait until spring.

Tips for Better Braising:

1. Always caramelize the protein. Mind you, many times the vegetables are caramelized too, but not always. The deeper the caramelization, the deeper the flavor of the finished dish. Be mindful of the fond (the brown bits stuck to the bottom of the pan) — don’t let them burn. The ideal braise includes a beautiful fond, which occurs when the bottom of the pot is schmeared with brown bits of cooked-on-goodness that releases into the sauce when you add liquid. For good measure, always use a wooden spoon and scrape along the bottom of the pot to make sure that nothing is left behind.

2. If a recipe calls for vegetables, always add more. If a recipe calls for 1-cup of mirepoix, don’t be afraid to add 2 cups. A braise, as far as I know, has never been hurt by too many vegetables.

3. A parchment lid is one of my favorite kitchen cooking methods. I don’t know the exact science behind it other than that it works (and makes your food better). It allows, at least in my mind, the food that sits atop the liquid to brown and caramelize while preventing the liquid from evaporating.

4. Just because meat is cooked in a liquid doesn’t mean it won’t dry out. Have you ever eaten a piece of pot roast that is so hard to swallow that it gives you the hiccups? It is most likely because the roast was too lean or overcooked. Be mindful of cooking times and fat content.

5. If a braise only calls for a mirepoix to be used in the broth, at the end of the cooking time I will oftentimes remove the meat, degrease the braising liquid, and purée the vegetables to make the sauce creamy without having to add even a touch cream.

Serves 4 or more

For the chicken legs:

olive oil

8 to 10 chicken legs, skin-on

1 cup celery, diced

1 1/2 cup yellow onion, diced

1 1/2 cup carrots, thinly sliced on a bias

12 to 18 garlic cloves, chopped

1 cup dry white wine

2 cups tomato purée

1 cup vegetable broth or water

2 bay leaves

1 1/2 tablespoon rosemary, minced

1 1/2 tablespoon flat leaf parsley, minced

Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper

1. Season the chicken on all sides with salt and pepper. Heat the oven to 375˚ F.

2. Place a large sauté over medium high heat. Add enough olive oil to the pan so that the bottom is just coated. Add the chicken legs and brown them generously on all sides. Adjust the heat as necessary. Add the carrots, celery, and onions to the pan. Season them with salt and pepper. Let the vegetables brown.

3. Once the veggies brown add the garlic and rosemary. Stir the veggies around and once the garlic is fragrant nestle the chicken legs comfortably with the veggies. You want you veggies and chicken spooning. Add the white wine and let it reduce to almost nothing. While the wine is reducing use a wooden spoon to scrape up all the good bits stuck to the bottom of the pan. Add tomato and vegetable broth. Bring the liquid to a boil, cover with a parchment lid, then slide it into the heated oven for 45 minutes to 1 hour.

For the mashed potatoes:

6 to 8 russet potatoes, depending on their size, peeled and cut into 1 inch rounds

6 tablespoons unsalted butter

1/3 cup whole milk, possibly more

kosher salt and fresh ground white pepper

1. While the chicken is in the oven make the mashed potatoes. Place the sliced peeled potatoes into a large pot and add enough cold water to cover them by 4 inches. Add a tablespoon of kosher salt. Place the pot over high heat and bring it to a boil. Once it is boiling reduce the heat to keep the pot from boiling over. After about 15 minutes check the potatoes to see if they are done by inserting a kitchen knife into the middle of one of the larger pieces of potato. If the larger ones are done you are assured the smaller ones will be too. The knife should easily pierce the potato.

2. Drain the potatoes into a colander. Let them steam for a few minutes to rid themselves of excess moisture. Then using a ricer, a mixer or a stand mixer with a paddle attachment either rice, or mix the potatoes till broken down. Add the butter and mix some more. Season the potatoes with a touch of salt and fresh ground white pepper. Add the 1/3 cup of milk. Mix and then taste for seasoning. Adjust the seasoning as necessary and add more milk if the potatoes are too stiff. Be careful as to how liquidy you make the potatoes. Error on the stiff side because the tomato gravy will loosen them up a lot as they co-mingle on the platter.

3. Plate the potatoes onto a large platter. Top the potatoes with the chicken legs then the carrots, onions and celery. Ladle the tomato gravy over all and sprinkle on the parsley. Serve.

Spicy Chickpea and Sour Tomato Curry with Pasta

Whenever a simple, delicious dish — like this spicy chickpea curry — is placed next to me at the table, it doesn’t just make me happy; I become protective of it in a selfish, rabid dog sort of way.

This recipe is based on Indian khatte channe, which is grounded on good Indian home cooking — but to be fair, it could also have easily been born out of a 1970’s hippie cafe in which cheap eats and a flair for the exotic were popular. In fact, Moosewood Restaurant and its cookbooks always come to mind when I cook this stew. But no matter where it came from or how it found its way to my table, I can tell you that there is a lot to like about this pasta, from the first forkful of twisted noodles loaded with tangy sauce to the last spoonfuls of creamy chickpeas.

I could start with the fact it is vegan, but that will scare some of you off, just as if I said it was gluten-free. In this case it is both, but the good news is that after you try this dish, it won’t really matter.

What does matter is how easily it comes together and the fact it can easily come from your pantry. When I make this, I head to the pantry with a tray in hand and begin by collecting all my ingredients and equipment.

What stands out during the pantry search-and-seizure is tamarind concentrate. It is a bit of an oddball ingredient, but one I always have on hand. Unlike tamarind paste, which requires soaking and straining, this concentrate dissolves easily in water. It has the consistency of molasses, and it gives this stew its characteristic tang. A popular substitute for tamarind is equal parts lime juice and brown sugar, but this only works when a small amount of tamarind is called for in a recipe, so it probably wouldn’t work here. If you like Pad Thai and ever wanted to cook it at home, tamarind really is an essential ingredient to have on hand.

When it comes to curry powder, I prefer Madras — I like the fragrance of kari leaves — but feel free to use your favorite. For more heat, you can add more cayenne; just be sure you know how hot your curry powder is before you get too crazy.

As always, when it comes to caramelizing onions, I don’t know how long it will take for them to become a deep, dark brown. It could be 15 minutes or 45, and maybe more depending on your pan, the heat, and the sugar content of your onions. I do know, however, that you shouldn’t cheat yourself; color them deeply, as they are essenial to this dish.

Assuming you have done your prep, once the onions are caramelized, this becomes a dump-and-pour procedure followed by a short simmering period just for good measure.

Spicy Chickpea and Sour Tomato Curry with Pasta

Serves 6

Two 14.5-ounce cans of chickpeas, drained

1 to 2 tablespoon tamarind concentrate mixed with 1/2 cup of water (more tamarind will make the dish more sour)

3 tablespoons olive oil

2 cups yellow onion, julienned

1 tablespoon fresh garlic, minced

2 cups tomato sauce

1 tablespoon fresh ginger, peeled and minced

1 teaspoon turmeric

1/4 teaspoon cayenne

2 teaspoons Madras curry powder, or your favorite kind

1 teaspoon cumin seeds, coarsely ground

Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

Cilantro, green onion, or both

1 pound thin long noodles: wheat or rice or gluten free, use whatever floats you boat

1. Place a 3 1/2-quart heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat. Add 3 tablespoons of oil to the pot and then the onions. Season the onions with salt. Cook the onions, patiently, until they begin to brown and become deeply colored. Stir them often enough that the onions on top brown at the same pace as those on bottom. Don’t do this too fast; you want melted, gooey onions, not seared onions. Take your time; it takes a while.

2. Once the onions are browned to your liking, add the garlic. Once you smell the garlic, add the turmeric, curry powder, cumin, and cayenne pepper. Give it a stir then add the tamarind, tomatoes, chickpeas and ginger. Reduce the heat and let the sauce simmer. Taste the sauce for salt and adjust as necessary.

3. Cook the noodles.

4. Once the noodles are done, drain them, and put them on a platter. Top the noodles with the chickpea stew and top with green onions or cilantro or both. Serve.

Tips for Reading Recipes (& Chinese Style Honey Hoisin Sticky Ribs)

Chinese Style Sticky Ribs

Chef Leichte spun on the balls of his feet. A millisecond ago he was heading forward, and I was following him. Now we are face to face, and he pokes my chest with his finger. “Commit!” he says in a raised voice, his chef’s toque rising from his head and towering above me like the leaning Tower of Pisa. “Quit asking all these questions and cook! Commit to the recipe; if it fails, we will fix it, but realize you will probably learn more from your mistakes than if I coddle you through the process.” Continue reading →

5 Resolutions to Make You a Better Home Cook (+ Pot-Roasted Collard Greens )

_TJH6714 (1)To be honest I lost interest in New Year’s Eve a long time ago. If memory serves me, the last New Year’s Eve I celebrated was sometime late last century. For that matter, I am not sure what year it was that I last made it to midnight.

It doesn’t mean I don’t celebrate, I do, I am just not in a rush to do so as the bell tolls. I guess I prefer to ease into it casually, like when my eyes pop open after a good night’s rest.

But let me just add: I am skeptical of New Year’s too. Maybe because we try to inject new vigor into failed promises, or because we also act as though eating a particular meal, either cleansing or lucky, is going give the rest of the year promise. The whole holiday feels dubious to me, with one exception: collard greens.

The caramelized smear on the bottom of the pot is an indication you collards are cooked perfectly.

The caramelized smear on the bottom of the pot is an indication you collards are cooked perfectly.

As always, combine collards with beans and rice and you can feel as though you are entering the new year at a low with nowhere to go but up. But there is another way of looking at it too. In my family, collard greens are not a one-hit wonder only to be served once during the year. Nor are they a fad. They are steadfast and as honest as the day is long. Sure you could hang out with the pretty people and eat kale, but kale isn’t collards. Neither are mustard or turnip greens. For me, because they are like the brainy girl who likes to read, collards are far more interesting. So much so that you want them around all year and with collards around there is no need to go up.

But, as always, sometime between Christmas and the new year I will put on the horsehair shirt, become all monkish and reflective, and try to set a direction for the new year ahead. I can assure you, in the kitchen, collards will act as a reliable compass.

 

Five Kitchen Resolutions for the New Year to Make You a Better Home Cook

1. Try to follow fewer fads and learn more technique. Take collards, for example. I had always simmered them in the typical manner with pork, pepper flakes, and liquid. While I still love cooking them this way, it wasn’t until I learned to pot-roast them vis-à-vis Thomas Keller that I picked up a new technique. And, I might add, one I am grateful to have in my tool kit.

2. It has been a battle this year with getting the kids to eat what is put in front of them, but, rather than forcing them to try new things, I am going to make more kid-friendly meals (that doesn’t mean junk) with the expectation they eat other meals without complaint. I also have this notion that if I feed them exotic foods all the time they will have to deal with the law of diminishing returns in that they will become bored with food. I also suppose I want them to have things left to explore and look forward to as they grow older.

3. Break out of your routine and explore other cuisines more often.

4. Choose three new dishes to master and do so. You know some say it takes cooking something a thousand times before you really understand how to cook it. While this might be a little extreme, I do like to be able to cook a dish multiple times and have it turn out the same each time. This takes practice.

5. Search out and explore five new ingredients.

Pot-Roasted Collard Greens ( Recipe adapted from Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc at Home )

Serves 4

8 cups collard greens, stems removed and leaves chopped into 1-inch squares, then rinsed twice and dried
1/2 cup bacon lardons
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

  1. Heat the oven to 300˚ F.
  2. Place a heavy-bottomed pot or Dutch oven (with a tight-fitting lid) over medium heat. Add the bacon and let it start to render, then add the butter.
  3. Once the butter has melted, add half of the greens. Season them with a heavy pinch of salt and freshly ground pepper. Stir and turn under the greens so they are coated with fat. Add the rest of the greens and repeat the seasoning and turning.
  4. Cover the pot with the tight fitting lid and slide it into the oven. Roast for 1 hour to 1 hour and 15 minutes. Remove from the oven, remove the lid, and stir. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Put the lid back on and let the collards set until ready to serve.

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 →

Marcella’s Broccoli and Potato Soup

Each year I look forward to making this recipe with the first broccoli from the fall garden. I’ll make it several times from mid-autumn to early winter. It requires but a few humble ingredients which, when combined in the soup pot, are as satisfying as knowing you have an uncommitted hundred dollar bill in your pocket.

As with many soups of few ingredients, it requires attention to detail, your best technique, as well as quality ingredients. But if you are anything like me, you find as much enjoyment in the process as the reward.

fall vegetables

The process for me starts with chicken stock made from scratch. I use old hens from my flock each year to make my stock, but any bones would work great. From the carcasses I make a very richly flavored stock which I preserve by canning. I use the homemade canned stock for many soups throughout the cold months. I urge you, if you don’t already, to learn how to make good stock even if you don’t preserve it by canning.

The next step for me is in my garden. I walk the rows of heirloom broccoli looking for tight, almost purple in color, florets. I give them a delicate squeeze for firmness and if they make the grade I get out my pocket knife and cut the stalks. It doesn’t stop there: there are the firm, yellow-fleshed potatoes and the pungent basil leaves stripped from thick, late-summer stalks.

All the ingredients are laid out on the counter top. I have an urge to stick close to Marcella’s original recipe, I want her book close at hand and set it next to the cutting board. Even though I have made this recipe from memory I want to make it as Marcella has it written. I like to do this occasionally, to refresh my memory and taste.

I clean the vegetables. With the exception of the potatoes, I cut everything and collect up the ingredients setting them neatly on a sheet tray. Then I move them close to the soup pot so they are at hand.

I came late to Marcella’s books in my cooking, even then it took time for her to grow on me. She was a champion of home cooking and I was more interested in preparing fancy and complicated restaurant food. I never met her; even so I often call her Marcella as if I knew her. I bet lots of people do this.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

We did have a conversation once through social media. She called me out on a picture of a branzino, a Mediterranean sea bass. I had this fancy picture, a great photograph of the fish on a bed of greens with prosciutto and I posted it. I received lots of positive comments and likes. Then later that Saturday night Marcella asked me, “What are you doing to this poor fish?”

She may as well have rolled up a wet kitchen towel and snapped me on the ass. She called me out. What proceeded from the sting was a weekend-long exchange of messages, me going to the grocery to get another branzino and her teaching me how to simply poach the fish in aromatics and serve it with a simple aioli. Her recipe was by far the better.

What was important wasn’t that she taught me how to cook a branzino, or that she shared a recipe with me, but that she reeled me in. In one fell swoop she made me realize the importance of simple home cooking, that making restaurant food at home is silly, often wasteful and that great home cooking isn’t about chasing trends and being a foodie but more importantly how to cook wholesome good food for your family.

It might have taken culinary school to make me a chef but in a single Saturday night Marcella turned me into a home cook.

Marcella’s Broccoli and Potato Soup (adapted from Marcella Cucina)

Makes 6 servings

3 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 cups yellow onion, julienned
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 garlic cloves, peeled and minced (about 1 tablespoon)
2 cups Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled, medium dice
2 1/2 cups broccoli florets, no stems
3 1/2 cups stock, chicken or vegetable
6 smallish fresh basil leaves, torn
1/2 cup Parmesan, grated

  1. In a 3 1/2-quart heavy-bottomed pot, combine the olive oil and half the butter. Place the pot over medium heat. Once the butter begins to melt, add the onions. Season them with a pinch of salt and freshly ground black pepper.
  2. Saute the onions until they become golden. Don’t rush this step and adjust the heat as necessary to keep them from browning too fast. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant.
  3. Add the potatoes. Stir them to coat with oil and let them sizzle away for a minute or two. Add the broccoli and do the same as you did with the potatoes. Add the stock.
  4. Bring the stock to a boil. Taste the broth and adjust the seasoning. Go easy on the salt though because the Parmesan has lots and will act as seasoning as well.
  5. Simmer the soup until the broccoli and potatoes are tender. The broccoli is not going to remain vibrant green, but if it is good broccoli it won’t be olive drab either.
  6. Once the potatoes have cooked through, add the parmesan, the remaining butter, and the basil. Stir to combine and serve with more black pepper.

Pork Confit Parmentier (or “Sorta” Shepard’s Pie)

 

It is not generally in my nature to go out of my way to make a shepherd’s pie from scratch. Instead of cooking all the individual components — breaking them down only to put them back together — it always seems like a job best done by leftovers. I don’t mean to pick on shepherd’s pie alone — this goes for most meat and potato casseroles. And while not meat and potatoes, it reminds me of the time I looked at a recipe for turkey tetrazzini and the first step in the instructions was: Roast a turkey. Continue reading →

Taco Night on the Grill

 

I can’t get enough of taco night. Neither can my wife Amy or my daughters. We love it, and especially me, because I can do everything — with the exception of chopping with a knife or the food processor — on the grill. It makes for easy clean-up, and who isn’t for easy clean-up?

I cut my teeth on Tex-Mex in Austin, Texas circa 1984 (does Instagram have a filter for that?). At this point in my life I hadn’t eaten that much Mexican food. For the most part it didn’t exist in Indiana outside of Chi Chi’s and my inner punk rocker wouldn’t allow me to set foot inside any place that colorful or where the waitstaff could happily sing Happy Birthday table side.

Nevertheless, when I would slide into a booth at one of the many hole-in-the-wall eateries (many of them were Spanish-speaking only), I would order as many kinds of salsa as I could point to on the menu. I didn’t know this many kinds of salsa existed, or for that matter soft shell tacos, or the food love of my life, tamales.

As I ate my way around both sides of Highway 35, little did I realize I was becoming an addict, to Texas country music, chili, and to Austin itself. It was hard to come home, and once I was back in Indiana it didn’t take long before I began jonesing for Texas Hill Country, salsa included.

All About Grilled Salsa

The grill is a great way to make an old salsa recipe feel new.
I couldn’t even guess how many varieties of salsa there are in the world, but I do know I haven’t found one yet that can’t be made on the grill. I like a fresh raw salsa as much as the next person, but sometimes I like to shift the flavor and it is an easy thing to do on the grill.

Chile oils on your hands are not your friend.
Be careful with hot chile peppers. I used to go at them in the manly man way and just tough it out, but the night I rubbed my eyes after working with Thai birds I thought a different approach might be appropriate. If you choose to go with bare naked hands in handling them, just realize you will quickly find out just how many places on your body you actually touch and how many places are very sensitive to capsaicin oils.

Get in touch with your inner caveman or woman.
I used to put my peppers and tomatoes on the grill grate and then one day I just decided to plop them right on the coals. It sears them very quickly while leaving the interior raw — the best of both worlds. You can roast whole heads of garlic too, but they need to be left to the side of the coals so they cook and soften slowly or you will burn the cloves which makes them bitter.

Liquidy or dry, it all depends on your tomato variety.
A lot of fresh tomatoes have a high liquid content. If you use too many tomatoes, your salsa will be watery, which isn’t always a bad thing. If you want a thicker salsa, it is a good idea to use plum or San Marzano tomatoes.

The finishing touches matter.
To the finished salsa I always like to add a drizzle of olive oil for mouthfeel and a splash of acid, be it lime, red wine vinegar, or whatever. Make sure you season your salsa with salt and black pepper.

Corn tortillas or flour both can be warmed on the grill, and should be.
I prefer corn tortillas over flour and my preference for cooking corn tortillas is right on the grill. They puff up and blacken in spots and become yummo-licous. Just make sure after searing them to wrap them in foil so they stay soft and don’t dry out.

Choose your toppings accordingly.
Almost every person I have ever met who hails from Central America prefers green cabbage, sliced razor thin, to lettuce for their tacos. It gets even better when you dress the cabbage with a touch of red wine vinegar and olive oil. You probably won’t find a lot of sour cream or cheese on the table either. I tend to go for authentic Mexican but I like Tex-Mex too. If you want to go for healthy, grill up a bunch of vegetables to use for toppings and forgo the dairy altogether.

Grilled Salsa

Makes 1 to 1 1/2 cups

Depending on the kind and size of tomatoes you use, this salsa can be liquidy or firm. You will have to judge. Roma tomatoes have little liquid and work well for a chunkier salsa.

  • 1small head of garlic
  • 3 or 4roma tomatoes
  • 1 or 2heirloom variety tomatoes (Box Car Willies or Wisconsin 55 are good)
  • 1poblano pepper or 3 jalapeños or your choice
  • 3 to 4half-inch-thick slices of red onion, left intact
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • Handful of cilantro
  • Splash of red wine vinegar
  • Drizzle of olive oil
  1. Fire up your charcoal grill. Let the coals get blazing hot.
  2. Wash the vegetables.
  3. Place the garlic off to the side of the coals where it will brown the paper skins but not burn the cloves. The garlic will take the longest to cook of everything. Let it get good and brown on all sides.
  4. Now place the tomatoes and peppers right on the coals. Let them blister and blacken. Remove them to a tray. Let the juices collect in the tray.
  5. Place the grill grate on the grill and grill the onions until they are caramelized and soft.
  6. If you plan to grill more stuff, like a nice skirt steak, you will probably need to add a few more coals to the fire. You be the judge.
  7. Peel the pepper, being carful not to spill or lose any pepper juices. I remove the seeds and, obviously, the stems. Put peeled peppers, tomatoes, onion, and peeled roasted garlic cloves into the bowl of a food processor. Add the tomato and pepper juices that collected in the bottom of the tray.
  8. Add a two-finger pinch of salt, some pepper, half the cilantro, the red wine vinegar, and olive oil. Pulse the processor until the salsa reaches your desired consistency. I like this particular salsa smoother than most but still chunky. Taste the salsa and adjust the seasoning as necessary.
  9. Pour into a serving bowl, garnish with cilantro, and serve

The Art of Honest Fried Chicken (A Lifestyle Choice)

Frying chicken, at its best, is a state of mind formed much in the same way as the quiet back beats of a porch-sitting session with a dear friend. It has a rhythm. It is good company on a sunny summer afternoon. It is pointless to rush. Futile, even. Besides, the comfort of a good friend comes from the effortlessness of meaningful conversation and is further heightened by the knowledge you have nothing you would rather do. Continue reading →

Biscuits with Ramp and Giblet Gravy

Biscuits and Gravy

There are foods in each state that should be considered regional treasures.  In Indiana the two that readily come to mind are breaded pork tenderloins as big as your head and biscuits and gravy.  Here in my home state I have had lots of variations on both dishes.  When it comes to biscuits and gravy though the variations only vary in what goes under the creamy sausage and peppery gravy.  You can count on the gravy staying the same.

Now I have traveled.  On my travels I have eaten in many mom and pop diners, hole in the walls, and everywhere in between and I have had subtle variations on the gravy.  In New Mexico for example they use chilis.  Still the base is a cream gravy.

There is a place on the outskirts of Nashville, TN called the Loveless Cafe and Hotel.  I am sure it started as a mom and pop place but as it caught on, they make their own sausage, jams and biscuits by hand, with the Nashville stars it became busy.  By the time I enjoyed a breakfast  there the only star you might see was in one of the multitude of photographs on the wall.

Nevertheless the breakfast were good,  a nice mix of rural Tennessee, and it didn’t take two seconds for me to know what I was ordering.  They offered four different kinds of gravy for your biscuits and the one that caught my desire was the giblet gravy.  It must run in my veins because I can’t not order a dish when it incorporates giblets.

So here is my Ode to Loveless.  It is a spring dish, it  is what we call Sunday brunch and it will channel your inner granny.  You will be all the better for it.

Biscuits with Ramp and Giblet Gravy ( serves 4 )

For the biscuits click here.

For the gravy:

1 quart homemade chicken stock or unsalted store bought

2 tablespoons flour, rice or wheat

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 bunch of ramps, white parts only, cleaned and chopped

1 each poultry heart, liver and gizzard, chopped finely

salt

fresh ground black pepper

chives

1. In a 2 quart heavy bottomed sauce pan melt the butter over medium heat.  Once it is melted stir in the flour with a wooden spoon.  Use a wooden spoon sometime metal will react with the pot and you will get a gray gravy.  Constantly stir the flour until it begins to color.  Once it is tan, keep stirring to avoid clumps, add the giblets and ramps.  Stir some more.

2. Add the stock, be careful it will bubble and spit.  Stir the gravy until it comes back to a boil.  Reduce the heat to low and let it simmer until reduced by half.

3. Make the biscuits.

4. Taste the gravy and add salt and pepper to taste and stir to combine.

5. When the biscuits are done and the gravy hot, serve topped with chives.

Three Onion Chowder

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

SERVES 4 TO 6

For the Soup:

For the Soup::

3 ounces pancetta, 1/4 inch dice

2 cups yellow onion, peeled and julienned

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

4 shallots, peeled and sliced

1/3 cup celery, 1/4 inch dice

1 1/2 tablespoon fresh garlic, minced

1 teaspoon fresh thyme, minced

1 bay leaf

2 cups chicken stock

2 cups half and half

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

1 tablespoon Italian parsley, minced

1 tablespoon fresh chives, chopped

Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper

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

Parsleyed Oyster Crackers:

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

1 cup oyster crackers

1 tablespoon Italian parsley, minced

Fine sea salt and fresh ground pepper

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

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

Breton Butter Cake

Breton Butter Cake

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Breton Butter Cake (Makes 12 pieces)

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

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.