Building a Better Burger

If you think about it, a hamburger is nothing more than a sausage without a casing. Once you accept this notion, you open yourself up to endless burger possibilities! I mean really, there are as many burger recipes as there are cooks. Everyone has their own little tweaks and a go-to recipe.

With that being said, I am not going to sit here and try to convince you this is a recipe for the best hamburger in the world — even though it is — because someone will undoubtedly draw a line in the sand, slap me with gloves in hand, and challenge me to a duel. It’s inevitable. Continue reading

Aside

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

Octopus and Potato Salad with a Tomato Vinaigrette

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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.

A Delicious Lentil Soup With A Dirty Little Secret

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

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

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

©Tom Hirschfeld 2016 All Rights Reserved
©Tom Hirschfeld 2016 All Rights Reserved

4 Lentil Soup (makes 6 servings)

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

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

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

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

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

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

©Tom Hirschfeld 2016 all rights reserved
©Tom Hirschfeld 2016 all rights reserved

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

Bean Myths

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

Dried beans

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

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

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

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

To Soak or Not to Soak?

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

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

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

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

A Quick Soak

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

Salt

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

Foaming

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

When To Add Acids

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

Baking Soda

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

 

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

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

I remember the first time I saw a bison up close and personal. It was out on the rolling prairies of South Dakota. No, it wasn’t wild. Reality is, I am not sure there are to many of those left. Maybe in Canada and Yellowstone but beyond that I think most herds are domesticated, sort of.

When you walk up on a buffalo it is like you stepped back in time, especially if they are starring at you head on. They are huge animals yielding in the neighborhood of four hundred pounds of meat. You heard that right four hundred pounds. I can’t imagine killing one of these with a bow and arrow.  I have a hard time trying to imagine how the Native Americans did it.

It is interesting to note at one time Indiana had bison that followed the Buffalo Trace on their east/west migration through the southern portion of the state. The trace was one of the first roads used by animals and people alike.

The mushroom ragu is really what this dish is all about.  I love buffalo, I can eat it plain without any toppings, but the simple addition of this simple ragu makes the whole dish.

The ragu is an umami bomb.  The deep earthiness of the mushrooms, combined with the red wine and soy, and cooked on the stove top until all the flavors are intensified by reduction makes it a great combination.  Not only is it good on red meat but it also is delicious on salmon and monk fish.

If you don’t want to mess with buffalo, of course this recipe would be great with beef.  I like to pan sear the sirloins but the grill works great too.  Use whichever works best for you.

Buffalo SirloinServes 4
one (1 1/2 to 2 pound) buffalo sirloin
5 cups assorted exotic mushrooms
2 heads garlic, roasted, see step 5
1 teaspoon marjoram
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 cup red wine
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon canola oil
parsley for garnish

  1. Place a 14 inch saute pan over medium high heat. Let it get good and hot. Then add the oil. Add the oil first to keep the butter from burning.
  2. Now add the mushrooms. Spread them out across the pan and let them sit without shaking or turning them so they get good and brown. Season them with a heavy pinch of salt and some pepper.
  3. When the mushrooms are good and brown flip them and do the same to the other side. Add the shallots and the butter. Let the shallots soften.
    Add the wine, soy sauce and garlic. Bring the liquid to a boil, then reduce the heat and cook until the wine is almost all absorbed by the mushrooms.
  4. Meanwhile heat a cast iron skillet or if you are using a grill you should already have it going, over high heat. Add enough oil to coat the bottom of the pan and cook the sirloin caramelizing both sides of the steak to the internal temp you want it to be.
  5. Let the steak rest, slice and serve with mushrooms on top. Garnish with parsley.

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.

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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.)

 

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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.

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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.

With What Remains of Summer: Two Salad Dressings

Something like you find at a pizza shop, made of Romaine and iceberg  lettuce cut into chunks, mini-wedges meant to soak up a heady dressing and topped with everything but the kitchen sink, this salad is a simple summer salad.

It doubles as a full on dinner salad or as a side.  It is laced with shredded red cabbage and carrots added every bit as much for taste as color.  It is topped with your hearts desire, in this case crisp cucumbers, muddy black olives, protein rich eggs,  raisiny grape tomatoes, and sharp red onions.  I even threw in a little bit of last nights roast chicken but chopped ham, bacon bits, or whatever you have on hand works good too.

Sometimes I like it dressed with Thousand Island, other times Ranch, and occasionally Catalina but whatever I use it is always homemade.  Today I made a Blue Cheese Vinaigrette.  Feel free to use whatever dressing you like but I am begging you with what remains of summer to make them homemade.

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Blue Cheese Vinaigrette (makes 1/2 cup)

1 TBS. shallot, peeled and grated on a micro-planer

1 tsp. garlic, grated on a micro-planer

1/2 tsp dried oregano

3 TBS. red wind vinegar

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1/4 cup blue cheese, crumbled (don’t like blue cheese, use goat cheese)

1/8 tsp fresh ground black pepper

a pinch of kosher salt

1. Combine all the ingredients in a pint Ball Mason jar.  Screw the lid on tightly and shake like hell.

note: this dressing is best if made in advance.  An hour will suffice but as it ages it gets better and better.

 

Thousand Island Dressing (make 1 cup)

2/3 cup mayonnaise

3 TBS. ketchup

2 TBS. bread and butter pickles, minced

1 TBS. shallot, peeled and minced

2 tsp. pickle juice

pinch of kosher salt

1/8 tsp fresh ground black pepper

1. Place everything into a mixing bowl.  Combine with a whisk.  Store in the refrigerator in a tightly sealed glass jar.

 

Garden Salad (serves 4 as a side salad or 2 as an entree)

1/2 large head iceberg lettuce, cored and cut into 1-inch (2.5cm) chunks (about 2 cups)

1 romaine heart, outer leaves removed, core discarded, and cut into 1-inch (2.5cm) chunks

1/3 cucumber, peeled and thinly sliced (8 rounds)

1 medium carrot, peeled and grated on the large wholes of a grater (about 1/4 cup)

1/2 cup shredded red cabbage

10 California black olives

8 grape tomatoes, halved

8 thinly sliced rings of red onion, minus any paper skin

2 hard boiled eggs, shelled and quartered

1. Place the greens in a large salad bow.

2. Attractively arrange the vegetables over the top of the greens.  Dollop with 1/3 to 1/2 cup of dressing.  At the table mix the dressing into the greens and vegetables using a pair of salad tongs.  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.

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Thai Collard Wraps (day 5 )

Today was supposed to be a day off from running or lifting but sometimes you just know it’s best to go ahead and put on your favorite running shoes, put your favorite song list on the iPhone, and get it done.  It feels better to do it than not.

My nature is not that of a runner.  It goes against everything I can think of about myself.  But I have been and with consistency.  Some days it is much harder then others but running is always better then not running at all.

Lunch today! Continue reading

A Real Winner: Seared Cauliflower Steaks with Salsa Verde and Almonds

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Some people collect cars, for others it is playing golf, for me, it’s barbecues. I don’t collect them per se but rather I cook with them. Their value isn’t termed by condition but in hours of use. Much like a cast iron skillet I can gauge the worth of a good smoker by the black patina that coats its inside. While many men might spend their weekends under a car, I prefer to smell like hickory rather then gasoline and motor oil. It’s how I get my kicks.

So you can imagine my excitement to I discover I won a Big Green Egg! Yea, I won. I never win anything but Debra Smith at SmithBites pulls my name from a hat of entrants and I win, I never win.  Nevertheless, it is like getting the Most Improved trophy in grade school.  I sort of treat it like that, it sort of looks like that and I couldn’t be any happier then to be a proud owner of one.  Hell, I park it in the garage if that tells you anything. I don’t even put my car in the garage, the garage is for my tractor, and now the grill.

Cauliflower SteaksThe whole time I am assembling my grill I think about what I am going to cook first.  A steak, a brisket, venison, burgers, pork chops, butt steak, I go through all the possibilities and my head spins in anticipation.  The dogs look on with concern for my well being,  TrixieB even comes over and gives me a lick on the face and some big sad eyes of worry.

As I said, I don’t collect grills.  I have three.  One is a smoker, that is all it does, it smokes meat, charcuterie and hams at low temperatures.  My other grill I hand made.  It is a street food kind of contraption meant to cook fast and furious.  It is for meat on a stick, small stuff that cooks through quickly.  Both serve their purpose.  So maybe I don’t consider my self an aficionado but I do consider myself an expert.  It was my station each day at the restaurant.  I worked the grill day-in and day-out for seven years.  I can cook a steak, a boneless chicken breast and any kind of fish you can imagine but, like professional ball players who sometimes hit a foul ball, I do sometimes miss the mark but rarely, and I mean rarely, do I over cook a steak.

My point being, I am excited to try what many consider to be the Mercedes of grills, the Big Green Egg but I am a little apprehensive having never used one.  Don’t think I wasn’t a little more then cautious too,  I bought a high end Wolfe stove and it’s a piece of crap, so I know just because something has a name doesn’t mean it is going to work but I have to be on my game also.  I am approaching this with a certain err of caution.

But then it hits me.  Friends often accuse me of using appliances differently then anyone else, most recently crock pots were entered as evidence into this court of opinion.  So I asked myself, “why would I grill a steak?”  It took all of a second to answer my own question, “why not sear cauliflower steaks in a pan on the grill?”  That was easy enough, decision made.

Here is why I wanted to cook cauliflower steaks.   The Big Green Egg people claim a lot of things about their grill.  You can cook pizza on it, bread, grill steaks or smoke brisket is what they say.  Which I get, it is sort of like a wood burning oven.  It is ceramic, it holds heat, and it gets very, very hot but can also hold a low temperature for a long time.  It holds a lot of promise.  So my thinking is, I want to put a cast iron pan on the heat, see how hot it gets and how well it sears.  I know, I know, you can cook with a cast iron skillet on your stove.  True, but my stove won’t impart a smokey flavor to whatever I am cooking.  And that is it,  that is what I want to find out, is what is the smoke flavor of the Big Green Egg going to be like.  It is the one character trait I am most interested in.  Will it be bitter and heavy or will it be just right.  When it comes to vegetables the right amount of smoke goes a long way.  To much and you have a very bitter ash tray kind of experience that will keep you from tasting any other part of your meal.  And seriously,  antacids are no kind of dessert.

I am not going to bore you with blow by blow cooking details other then to say the grill is great.  It lights fast, it gets very hot quickly and it imparts a great flavor to whatever you are cooking.  My cast iron casserole heated quickly, I actually thought it might get to hot and burn the cauliflower before it became tender on the inside, but it didn’t.  It cooked the cauliflower with a perfectly light kiss of smokey flavor.  Since then I have roasted chickens to great applause from the family, from me too.  A tri-tip roast delicious, pork chops amazing, cauliflower steaks a home run, and the Big Green Egg, a real winner.

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Seared Cauliflower Steaks (serves 2)

2 small heads of organic cauliflower

1/3 cup flat leaf parsley, minced

1 small garlic clove, grated on a microplane

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1 anchovy, rinsed

1/4 cup Asiago cheese

extra virgin olive oil

half a cup of salted almonds, chopped

1. Build a charcoal fire for direct heat grilling in your grill.  You want it to be very hot.  Place a large cast iron skillet right in the middle of  the grilling rack.  Cover the grill.  What happens when you cover the grill is the heat builds, the pan becomes very hot and the lid keeps a little bit of smoke flavor circulating.

2. While the grill is heating make the salsa verde.  In the bowl of a mortar and pestle combine the lemon juice, garlic, anchovy, and parsley.  Beat it up with the pestle.  Add a two finger pinch of salt, a dash of black pepper and a few glugs worth of olive oil.  Stir to combine, taste and add more oil it the salsa is to tart.  Stir in the cheese.

3. Trim the stalk ends of the cauliflower.  Using a good sharp knife cut one steak each out of the center of each head.  To do this turn the floret side of the cauliflower down.  Hold it firmly and place you knife onto the stalk.  Cut through to the florets.  Roughly gauge and inch in width and make another cut leaving yourself a nice center cut cauliflower steak.  Repeat these steps with the second head of cauliflower.  Use the loose outer edges of the cauliflower for another dish.

4. Drizzle the steaks with olive oil and season them with salt.  Take them out to the grill.  If you have a thermometer on your grill it should read about 600˚ F.   Nevertheless when you open the lid the cast iron pan should be beginning to smoke and when you place the cauliflower into the pan it should sizzle.  Cook each side until of the steak until it is very deeply caramelized.  Remove the steaks from the pan.

5. Drizzle the steaks with the salsa verde, top with almonds, minced parsley and serve.

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.

My Favorite Tofu Scramble

It’s not for a lack of eggs.  I raise chickens, I have more eggs then I can use most days.

So what drives me to this dish.  I especially like sprouted tofu, a lot.  It’s not just tofu though. I like the process, the feel of the tofu as I crumble it between my fingers onto a plate, the precision of cutting the potatoes into tiny squares so they cook faster but stay crispy on the outside while remaining creamy in the interior, the smell of the curry powder when I sprinkle it into the hot pan, or the sizzle of the tomato sauce.

I like this dish because it requires a few minutes to make but isn’t complicated to get to the table.

I like it because it is doable on a weekday morning.

I like it because it feels nutritious to eat, as if it is resetting something in my body.

I like it because after eating I am still hungry for the day.

Curried Tofu Scramble (2 servings)

10 ounces sprouted firm tofu, crumbled

1 russet potato, scrubbed and diced into 1/4 inch squares

peanut or grape seed oil

1 green onion, thinly sliced

1 jalapeno, chopped

1 tablespoon curry powder

1/4 cup tomato sauce

kosher salt and fresh ground pepper cilantro, optional

1. Place a 12 inch non-stick skillet over medium high heat.  Add enough oil to the pan to generously coat the bottom of the pan.  Add the potatoes.  Season them with salt and pepper.  Gently toss the potatoes in the pan until they are brown on all sides, crispy but still creamy in the center.

2. Add the tofu, jalapeno, and green onion to the pan.  Season again with salt and black pepper.  Stir to combine the sprinkle the curry powder over the tofu.  Stir again being sure to evenly stain all the pieces of tofu with the nice yellow color of the curry.  Add the tomato sauce and stir.  If need be add a tablespoon or more of water.

3. Once everything is heated through, the right consistency, and seasoned to your liking divide the scramble onto two plates, garnish with cilantro and serve.

Perfect Microwave Broccoli

_TJH7023Rarely do I use my microwave. I use it to take the chill off my coffee. I heat leftovers for lunch. Whenever a recipe calls for “butter, melted” onto the glass turntable the fat filled Pyrex measuring cup goes. I don’t cook with my microwave in any real culinary sense. I sometimes wonder why I have it, why I allow it to take up precious counter space when I know everything for which I use it can be done just as easily on the stove.

Of course there is also the fear that has been around as long as the microwave, that somehow it poses some sort of health risk. I don’t know if it does or not but if I error on the side of solid scientific research, it would tell me the microwave is harmless. Even so, I will lean on the side of caution and repeat the mantra I continually voice to my children, don’t put your face right up to the microwave door to watch as a cooking pizza pocket swells and shrinks, as if it is coming to life, and please, stand back an arms length.

I don’t believe the microwave has ever lived up to its original space age expectations. Nonetheless I read an article touting the healthy aspects of cooking vegetables in a microwave. Because it basically steams the vegetables, the vegetables retain a large portion of nutrients then if you used other cooking methods. It made sense, and I am buying in, or at least I want to and there are lots of reasons why. Continue reading

Classic Creamy Coleslaw

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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

Memphis Style Barbecue Nachos

Memphis style pulled pork nachos

Great barbecue is about the cut of meat, the smoke, the rub, and the sauce. But just because sauce is only one part of the equation, doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be excellent. In fact, barbecue sauce should be so delicious that you can use it for much more than simply dipping or brushing. Continue reading

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DSCF4507There is something about big hunks of meat cooked over long periods at low heat that appeals to us at a very basic level. Pit-cooking traditions like hog roasts, barbacoa, and luaus aren’t just barbecues — they’re celebrations. They conjure up visions of earthen pits and long buffet tables with folding chairs, all set up for a multitude of guests.

This kind of cooking takes judgement and practice, though, so unless you host these kinds of events on a regular basis, you’re more than likely cooking blind. After all, you probably aren’t buying a whole lamb or calf more than a couple times a year. It could take you a few years to get it right. Continue reading

Small Batch Barbacoa Beef for Tacos

Three Bean Salad, Redux

Three Bean Salad

Now that picnic season is upon us, I get nostalgic over classic summertime fare. There is nothing quite like a family reunion over fried chicken and a potluck dinner, tables threatening to buckle under the weight of all the CorningWare and Pyrex.

Of course, there are the old favorites: green bean casserole, scalloped potatoes, pea salad with bacon and mayonnaise, three bean salad, and most certainly a mustardy potato salad — and, if luck is with me, an old-fashioned custard pie sprinkled with a little nutmeg. I love all these foods — but this year, I want something new. Continue reading

Aside

Mandarin Orange Cake   I am a last-minute baker — a procrasti-baker. As such, I am most likely going to make the least complicated sorts of desserts and baked goods. On the occasions I have my act together, I like to make cakes — and even then, I want them to fit my schedule. At one point, I believe, Mandarin Orange Cake — also known as “Dream Cake” or “Pig Pickin’ Cake” — was made from scratch. Continue reading

Mandarin Orange Cake

Poulet á l’ Estragon (Chicken Tarragon)

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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)

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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

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.

Aside

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

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

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.

A Classic Potato Gratin With No Recipe

 

Have you ever had a friend who knows no strangers? The kind of genuine person to whom everyone in the room gravitates — someone who doesn’t have to work at meeting new people, because somehow it is coded into their DNA for others to like them?

For me a potato gratin is just such a friend. A friend who hangs out with all the cool entrees too: a mustard crusted beef tenderloin  taking a bath in a flavorful sauce or a perfectly roasted chicken with crackly brown skin are its best friends.

But, to its credit, a potato gratin knows enough to complement all the other dishes and, with the exception of a few rules, remains unfussy enough not to need a recipe and somehow is always perfectly put together for any holiday gathering.

How to Make Potato Gratin Without a Recipe

1. Peel your potatoes. For a 10-inch oval gratin pan, I like to use six to eight medium-sized Yukon Gold potatoes — about 2 1/2 pounds. (Don’t worry: If you overdo it, you can snack on leftovers after step 6.)

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2. Slice the potatoes an 1/8-inch thick, ideally on a mandoline right into a heavy bottomed pot. Add a few minced cloves of garlic, about a teaspoon of salt, and roughly equal parts of water and milk to cover the potatoes.

Potato Gratin

3. Bring it to a gentle boil over medium heat and cook the potatoes till just tender but not falling apart, then drain. By cooking the potatoes most of the way through in flavorful liquid, you don’t have to worry about exact quantities of liquid and seasoning later on.

Potato Gratin

4. While the potatoes are cooling, grate approximately 2 1/2 cups of Gruyère or Comté cheese — they are traditional but expensive. Other cheese in the family would be gouda, fontina, or American Gruyère.

Potato Gratin

5. Get out an oval gratin, or any casserole, pie pan or dish you choose. Just take note: with a smaller circumference dish you have more creamy interior and less crunchy top and, obviously, the reverse is true for a larger gratin. Place around half the potatoes into the gratin (they don’t need to look pretty, yet). Season with salt and white pepper. Top with half the cheese and drizzle about 1/2 cup of cream over the top.

Potato Gratin

6. Starting with one slice of potato placed in the middle of the gratin, spiral the potatoes around until you reach the gratin edges. Make it look pretty — it makes a difference.

Potato Gratin

7. Top with the remaining cheese, then drizzle another 1/2 cup or so of cream over the top and around the edges so it gets to the bottom, too.

Potato Gratin

8. Bake at 425˚ F until brown and bubbly, about 30 minutes. Don’t overcook the gratin so it dries out. You want a little cream to remain on the bottom. Serve.

Potato Gratin

Aside

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

Recipe Reclamation: Bringing Back Chopped Steak

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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

5 Tips for Better Grilled Chicken Breasts

Grilling boneless skinless chicken breast presents a set of problems. I’m a firm believer that leaving the skin on and the bones in your chicken goes a long way to alleviating tough, dried out breast. But it’s an unpopular decision, because of the convenience and the ease with which we can gobble up the boneless skinless kind.

There are ways, however, to defend yourself against dry chicken.

Bigger is not better when it comes to grilling a chicken breast.
They don’t grow them like they used to. Today’s standard meat bird is a hybrid designed to grow big breasts and nice thighs.

The birds of yesteryear, however, were all about the thighs, and the breast was almost non-existent. These days it’s not unusual to find a double lobe breast that weighs in around two pounds — or bigger. Chicken breast can be the size of a turkey breast if you want it to be.

But you can get chicken breasts in any size you want. Restaurants, for example, will often serve two 4- to 6-ounce breasts as a single serving because seeing two on the plate makes you feel as if you’ve gotten your money’s worth. Your butcher should be able to order these small breasts for you. I prefer a single 6-ounce breast per person because it seems like an appropriate portion size — especially if, like me, you like to serve lots of side dishes.

Shape matters as much as the temperature of the grill.
A chicken breast tapers at each end, more so at the tail end than the neck end, which means the tips are either cooked perfectly while the middle is rare to raw, or the tips are burnt to a crisp and the middle is perfectly cooked. It is a lose-lose scenario.

I always buy the breast still connected in double lobes.
It assures pairs of evenly sized paillards, but I always cut them before pounding them out. It is important to note that sometimes in the middle of a double lobe is a piece of cartilage that needs to be removed. Cut along each side of the center line of fat to get it out.

Choose your instruments of destruction.
I have four pictured in the photo below; any will work fine. I prefer the flat side of a meat cleaver because it’s heavy and gets the job done. If you use a mallet, you will have to start in the middle and work your way to the edges in order to end up with an evenly pounded chicken breast. The pan is a last resort, but it is by no means a slacker.

For sanitation and clean-up purposes I like to use multi-layers of plastic wrap. I place a breast to one side then fold the wrap over the top before I get out my daily aggression.

Keep it hot, but not too hot.
I like the grate to be hot but to use coals that are on their way down from their highest heat. You want grill marks that caramelize without blackening. Chicken flesh becomes stringy and chewy if it is left to dry out on the grill, so use your common sense: preheat your oven if you think you might want to finish cooking the chicken at a low temperature.

 

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(recipe adapted from the Fog City Diner)

Serves 4

The Adobo Marinade:
  • 3ancho chiles
  • 3guajillo chiles
  • 1/2cup reserved soaking water
  • Juice of one lime
  • Juice of one orange
  • 1/4cup red wine vinegar
  • 1/4cup olive oil
  • 3garlic cloves, minced
  • 1tablespoon oregano
  • 2teaspoons thyme
  • 2teaspoons cumin seed, ground
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
To finish the dish:

  • 4single lobe chicken breasts
  • 1red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1lime
  • Sour cream
  • Cilantro
  1. Cut the tops off the dried peppers and shake out the seeds into the trash can. Place the peppers into a bowl and cover them with hot water. Let them soak for two hours, making sure they stay submerged. Remove the peppers from the water and place them into the bowl of a food processor. Add a 1/2 cup of the soaking liquid to the bowl. Process until you have a pepper paste. Pass the paste through a strainer set over a bowl. You are removing the skins and seeds. Don’t skip this step or you will be severely disappointed.
  2. Combine 3 tablespoons of the paste with the remaining marinade ingredients and mix to combine. Season it with a healthy pinch of salt and a grind or two of pepper.
  3. The marinade can easily be made a day or two in advance and stored in a jar in the fridge. The leftover pepper paste is great for enchiladas, black bean soup or chili. Store the paste in a jar in the the fridge. It holds for a long time.
  4. Pound out the chicken breasts so they are of an even thickness, then place the chicken into a casserole. Use half the marinade and coat the pieces of chicken. Let them marinate for two hours. Be sure to flip them after an hour.
  5. While the chicken marinates, make the lime pickled onions by tossing the red onion rings with the lime juice. Let them sit for at least 20 minutes.
  6. Remove the chicken from the marinade. Place the marinade into a small sauce pan and heat it over low heat. Heat the marinade to a brisk simmer.
  7. Fire up the grill to medium-high heat. Grill the chicken breast. Cook them till done. Serve on rice, spoon the hot marinade over the chicken, top with sour cream, then pickled onions, and garnish with cilantro.

Grilled Bananas with Buttered Maple Sauce and English Toffee

Grilled Bananas

I quit eating bananas years ago because I would buy them and not eat them. They would sit in the fruit bowl idling away, eventually passing through the different stages of ripeness. I would watch, like a gambler calling another’s bluff, knowing that I had until they turned black to do something with them. It was then that I would convince myself I needed to make banana bread. I even froze them for future use and had a stack of them in the freezer, until one day they fell out onto my wife’s toe and broke it.
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

Grilling: Tips, Skirt Steak and more…

Skirt Steak with Greek Salsa

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

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

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

Island Style Chicken Fricassee

Fricassee en PolloIn the summertime, I want food that is casual, soulful, and unpretentious — food that can double as a family meal and an intimate dinner for entertaining. Any dish that almost needs to be eaten with the hands (but not quite) or that can be scooped-up with röti, flatbread, or tortillas and goes well with ice cold beer is a grand slam. Suffice it to say, Caribbean food does all of these things well. And besides, I love island food.

Julia Child describes a fricassee as a dish somewhere between a sauté and a stew. Because this definition is so broad, it lends itself to a heated discussion over a cook’s creative latitude. Plant this culinary seed in an area with lots of islands and diverse cultural heritage and you end up with a menagerie of spectacular dishes. In the Caribbean alone I can think of several fricassees, like the Cuban classic Ropa Vieja or Jamaican Brown Stewed Chicken, which is more a fricassee then the name suggests.

A good fricassee is a rustic dish. It starts with browning the meat — usually bone-in to add flavor to the dish’s self-created broth — and then following with a heady dose of aromatics typically consisting of onions, peppers, garlic, and herbs. Depending on which island you’re on, a fricassee might either incorporate lots of peppery heat or be mild, but all will have notes of African or Indian flavors.

Fricassee en Pollo

For my tastes, I like to add a tomato product, be it canned or fresh, and some sort of other acid, such as vinegar or wine. In the case of this particular dish, however, I replace the usual vinegar or wine with green olives and capers.

While I have stripped the meat from the bone, it isn’t necessary. Being a rustic dish, it would be perfectly acceptable to leave the cut chicken as is. You could easily add more heat or do as I did and separate a mild portion for the kids before adding some hot peppers to the adult portion. The amount of spicy heat is left up to the discretion of the cook who knows firsthand the preferences of the eaters.

Be it plain or with the addition of saffron and peas (as in my picture), rice is important to a fricassee. Generally speaking fricassees are not one-pot meals, but rather are served with rice, röti, and a vegetable. The rice shouldn’t outshine the main dish: the two should enhance each other in a sort of partnership. In some sense it is like this is like a pasta dish: the fricassee is used as a condiment to the rice in the same way that sauce flavors noodles.

I like dishes that don’t control my schedule. The final big plus to this kind of food is that cooking it in increments can even improve the final product. I rarely go to the kitchen anymore and cook something from start to finish in one session — most days, I just don’t have the time. Often, I find myself with snippets, 10 minutes here or an hour there, which I put to use. I may prep everything in between making the girls’ breakfast and getting them off to camp. After camp drop-off, I might run an errand before heading home to caramelize the meat and sear the veggies. If I have enough time, I’ll add the liquids and let the dish finish until the chicken is tender. Then, it can all go in the fridge until dinner, allowing the meal to be as casual as I like my summers to be.

Fricassee en Pollo (serves 6 to 8)

1 whole 3 pound chicken, cut into 10 pieces

1 tablespoon expeller pressed peanut oil

1/2 cup red bell pepper, small dice

1 cup onion, small dice

3 tablespoons fresh garlic, minced

1 tablespoon dried oregano

1 tablespoon dried thyme

1 tablespoon cumin, crushed

2 teaspoons paprika

2 bay leaves

16 ounces crushed tomatoes

2/3 cups green olives, halved

1/2 tablespoon capers, minced

kosher salt and fresh ground pepper

2 tablespoons hot pepper of your liking, minced

  1. Season the chicken with salt and pepper. Place a large heavy bottomed pot over medium high heat. Add the peanut oil and swirl it around in the pan to coat the bottom. When the oil is hot add the chicken skin side down and brown it deeply on all sides. Adjust the heat as necessary to avoid scorching the oil. Once the chicken is caramelized remove it to a plate.
  2. Add the onions, pepper and garlic to the pan. Sweat the vegetables until they just become tender then add the dried spices. Stir the spices into the vegetables and let them toast until they become fragrant. Add the tomato and a cup of water. Season the sauce with a pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper reminding yourself that the olives and capers are salty so don’t season with a heavy hand. Taste and make adjustments.
  3. Add the chicken back to the broth and then bring the whole thing to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook until the chicken is just tender. If you plan to strip the meat from the bones remove it and place it on the same plate you used before. While it is cooling let the sauce reduce until it becomes unctuous.
  4. Cook your rice according to the instructions on the bag or box or however it works best for you.
  5. Add the pulled chicken (or chicken pieces) back to the reduced sauce. Add the olives, capers and any hot peppers your might want to add. Taste and add more salt if needed. Warm through and serve with rice.

Using Herbs with Abandon

Italian Salsa VerdeIf I didn’t already have a list of reasons I need lots of herbs in my life, Italian Salsa Verde (green sauce) alone would be enough to convince me. It’s delicious on almost anything. Take my dinner tonight: salsa verde is outstanding on steak and takes long-cooked kale up a notch. And when I got a little on my baked potato with sour cream, it was no longer a plain old baked potato. It was sublime. Continue reading

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Turkey Meatloaf with Peas and Gravy

You can make meatloaf out of anything, from lentils to venison to duck.  You can get fancy and have the three meat combo made from equal parts beef, veal and pork or even a seafood loaf made from salmon.  The possibilities are endless.

From what you choose to make your meatloaf isn’t as important as how you make your meatloaf.  The steps you use will ultimately influence the outcome of the final product.

Meatloaf, in technical cooking terms, is a forcemeat.  A forcemeat comes in a few variations, from sausage to paté but is really nothing more then ground meat.  Sometimes it is emulsified until it is smooth such as in hotdogs and other times it is left coarse as in Italian sausage.  A binder is needed, bread crumbs, oats, rice might be typical and even eggs are sometimes used.

As you can see when making forcemeat you have options.  The one option I don’t stray from though is the ratio of fat to meat.  Without the right ratio for fat to meat you will more then likely end up with a dry meatloaf.  While it probably would still be edible it would be less then desirable.  So here is the ratio, 3 parts meat to 1 part fat.

Arguably this is tough to figure sometimes but generally grocery stores are good about marking such things as their ground beef with percentages of fat.  After ground beef though it is up to you to figure out.  I just apply a general rule of the thumb, the leaner the meat the closer to the ratio I stay.  Venison for example is very, very lean.  If I am making meatloaf from it I use 1 1/2 lbs venison to a 1/2 lb of pork belly.  On the other hand if I want a pork loaf I just by pork butt and grind it,  it always seems to be somewhere in the neighborhood of the ratio.

The other thing about meatloaf is it is designed to use less meat but feed more people or as we say it was meant to stretch out the protein and number of mouths it can feed.  To do this a filler is added.  Bread crumbs and oats are the first two that come to mind.  I used to use only breadcrumbs but over time I switched to oats and have pretty much stuck with oats ever since.  What the filler does is as important as how much fat you add.  It absorbs the fat and juices as the meatloaf cooks, hence retaining moisture.

When it comes to seasoning I find 1 teaspoon of salt per pound of meat works pretty well.  After salt you can spice your meatloaf however you want but I would be careful not to over spice it.  You need to find a balance.

Turkey Meatloaf with Peas and Gravy (Serves 6 to 8)

Turkey can be tricky in that it can become very dry.  I have found if I use equal parts ground thigh to breast meat it stays moist and succulent, of coarse the 1/2 and 1/2 soaked oats doesn’t hurt one bit either.  This is currently my favorite go-to-quick-to-prep meatloaf.  Here is why, more often then not I gently sauté any vegetables that will go into the loaf.  I do so for several reasons but the main reason is because I don’t like half cooked veggies in my meatloaf.  Sweating them before adding them to the meat keeps this from happening.  The two main vegetables I add to meatloaf are generally onions and garlic.  For this recipe I grated the onion and used garlic powder and it worked beautifully without any extra sautéing.

Note: of course you can add peas to the gravy along with the shoots or omit the shoots altogether and just add the peas.

1 pound ground turkey breast

1 pound ground turkey thigh

1/2 cup oatmeal, coarsely ground

1/2 cup half & half

2 teaspoons kosher salt

fresh ground black pepper

2 teaspoons sage

1/4 teaspoon marjoram

1 teaspoon thyme

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

2 tablespoon grated onion, grated on the small whole of a grater

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg, freshly ground

1 quart homemade chicken or turkey stock or no salt store bought broth

2 tablespoons rice or wheat flour

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

kosher salt and fresh ground pepper

ketchup (for the crust)

Pea shoots

1. Heat the oven to 325˚ F.

2. In a 2 quart sauce pan melt the butter over medium heat.  Add the flour and stir it constantly with a wooden spoon until it smells nutty and becomes tan in color.  While stirring, and stirring is very important here to keep from getting lumps, add the chicken stock.  Bring the stock to a boil, reduce the heat and let the gravy simmer till reduced by half.   Taste the gravy and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper.

3. While the gravy is reducing combine the cream and oats.  Add the seasonings and stir.  Now add the turkey and using your clean hands spend a minute or two mixing the forcemeat until everything is well combined.  It will be sticky.

4. Making sure you pat out any air bubbles pack the turkey forcemeat into a 4 x 4 x 8 loaf pan.  Top evenly with a layer of ketchup and bake the loaf in the oven for 1 hour and 15 minutes or until an instant read thermometer reads 165˚ F when inserted to the middle.  Slice and serve with gravy.

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.

Red Onion and Rhubarb Fondue

I know, I know you are thinking cheese and you are right to do so. It is, after all, one of the many things  fondue can mean but simply put it means “melted” but fondue is also used in other culinary applications beyond the Swiss national dish.

To fondue something is to sweat it over low heat until it becomes very tender.   Vegetables are often used in fondue where they are left on the stove over low heat eventually  breaking down into an unctuous mess of jam.  It is looser then jam and while I am sure you Red Onion and Rhubarb Fonduecould preserve or can fondue I don’t.  I usually don’t make a fondue in those quantities.  I more or less consider it a quick jam or pickle,  and much like a quick pickle it is something I will store in the fridge and use within week or so.

This particular fondue goes well with grilled pork chops, is better then great on beef quesadillas and is wildly good on hotdogs and brats.  In other words you will want to have this little gem around for summer grill outs.

Continue reading

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.
Aside

Polenta with Peas and Pork Sausage

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

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

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

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

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

Polenta with Peas and Sausage (serves 6)

one recipe of Carlo Middione’s Polenta Facile

10 ounces pork tenderloin, sirloin or loin

4 to 5 ounces pancetta

2 teaspoons red wine vinegar

a scrape or two of whole nutmeg

a handful of  parsley leaves

3 cloves garlic

2 tablespoons tomato paste

1 teaspoon dried thyme

1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary

1 bay leaf

kosher salt

fresh ground pepper

1 garlic clove, minced

1/2 cup carrots, small dice

1/2 cup onion, small dice

1/2 cup white wine

2 cups pork stock or chicken stock

1 1/2 cups fresh peas or frozen

chopped chives and parsley

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seasoning with Pork: Polenta with Peas and Pork Sausage

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.

Karilean Borscht with Resolution

Karilean BorschtIt is shortly after all the present opening hullabaloo, when I look up from cutting peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in half, that I see the look on Vivian’s face. I catch a glimpse of disappointment in her eyes and it is very clearly the look of self pity caused by not getting everything she wants for Christmas.

I know exactly how she feels. I remember the first time I felt the same way. I also remember the shame I felt for being selfish and while I know which feeling is right at her young age, I am still not sure which feeling is worse.

Oddly, I guess with age I have come to have similar emotions about New Year’s.

For instance, each year when I take stock of myself in the time between Christmas and January 1st, I am always looking back in disappointment at the things I wanted to happen but didn’t, the things that went wrong, or the things that I will have to deny myself to make the coming year presumably better. It seems silly.

After all, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to point out to me that I am a very blessed person, and really, I want for nothing. Well, I suppose I could stand to lose a few pounds, and proudly I have lost a lot this year, but a few more wouldn’t hurt. Even so, I don’t really need to deny myself. I just need to eat differently. Continue reading

Pan Fried Trout with Prosciutto, Crispy Sage and Pine Nuts

There is something special about trout that goes beyond just eating. They are one of only fish that have a whole culture built around them. They are a freshwater game fish, they are skittish and will jump at their own shadow. They only thrive in cold water and need lots of oxygen provided by a stiff current. When they feed they feed only on what is abundant at the moment. Wild trout make for difficult prey.

In the high altitude lakes of the Grand Tetons you are likely to catch cutthroats the size of your hand while watching the sunrise in, hands down, one of the most beautiful places in the world. When you get back to camp you cook them up for breakfast with pancakes and eggs.

On the other hand you might spend the afternoon in the Catskills on the banks of the Beaverkill reading Hemingway or Fitzgerald. Legendary fisherman like Lee Wulff and Lefty Kreh coming to mind as you are thinking about the evening fish and having high hopes for a Green Drake hatch. You might even doze off for an hour.

Then just as the evening hours begin you pull on your waders and out into the rushing stream you go. It doesn’t seem like hard work from the shore but standing in rushing water up to your midsection takes effort. You wrestle the current to get to the spot you want. You look down at the water to see if there are any bugs floating by that might give you an indication of what the fish are eating tonight. You light a cigar and smile.

You see the transparent wings of a pale evening dun float by. You reach into your fly box and pull out a number 20. The fly you saw go by didn’t seem any bigger. You tie the fly to the tippet. You drop the fly into the water and strip out some line.

You draw back the rod in a gentle sweep and the fly draws past your ear and then you rocket it forward aiming upstream of an eddie that lies just behind a big rock. You watch as the fly floats downstream, you gather excess line, and as it passes the eddie you hope you hear and see a strike as a rainbow trout breaks the surface grabbing your fly. If you had a good night and matched the hatch you will be in camp cooking up a couple of nice rainbows for supper but only after a nice Scotch.

Serves 2

2 trout, boneless 12 to 16 oz.

4 pieces prosciutto, thinly sliced

a handful of sage leaves

1/4 cup grape seed oil

1 tablespoon of butter

1/4 cup pine nuts

kosher salt and fresh ground white pepper

cornmeal for dredging

1. Season the inside of the trout with salt and pepper. Carefully lay out two pieces of prosciutto letting the long side overlap by 1/4 inch. Lay a trout across the short sides of the prosciutto and wrap it in the prosciutto.

2. Heat a 14 inch skillet over medium high heat. Dredge the trout in cornmeal and shake off any excess. Add the oil to the pan. Sprinkle in the half of the sage leaves and let them deep fry. when they have crisped remove them from the pan.

3. Gently lay the trout into the pan, reduce the heat to medium and cook until the pancetta is crisp and caramelized, about 5 minutes. Gently turn the fish cooking the other side. It will take about ten minutes total for the fish to cook through so be patient and adjust the heat as necessary.

4. When the fish are done remove them to their plates. Drain the oil and put the pan back on the heat. Add the butter, the pine nuts and the remaining sage leaves. When the nuts have toasted spoon some of the pine nut sage butter over the top of the fish. Serve

Chicken, Sausage and Red Pepper Paella

chicken sausauge and rd pepper paella_1Paella to me is the ultimate one pot meal. It also is the time of year where I am not ready for a stew but want something more substantial than the usual summer fare. Paella is a great answer. Although paella is considered Spanish I think this one is more Mediterranean. I use Italian sausages but fresh chorizo would be good, the important part is that the sausage isn’t dry cured or it would just be drier in this case. I also use arborio rice, but you could use the Spanish version of this as well.

SERVES 4-6

2 bell peppers

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

2 chicken legs, seasoned with salt and pepper

2 Italian sausages

2 chicken thighs, seasoned with salt and pepper

1 onion, julienned

1 fennel bulb, tops trimmed, core removed and sliced very thinly

1/4 cup garlic, peeled and thinly sliced

2 bay leaves

3 1/2 cups warm water

pinch of saffron, crumbled

3 Roma tomatoes, cut in half from top to bottom, and grated, large whole of a box grater, leaving the skin behind

1/4 cup dry white wine

2 cups arborio rice

1 1/2 teaspoon aleppo pepper

1 tablespoon flat leaf parsley, minced

2 tablespoons green onions, sliced into thin rings

kosher salt and fresh ground pepper

  1. Sometime during the day or when ever you have time, turn a gas burner to high. If you don’t have a gas burner turn your oven to broil and place a rack at the highest level you can. Char the peppers, top, bottom and all on sides. The idea is to char or blacken the skin without cooking the pepper through.
  2. Place the peppers into a container with a lid. Set aside for at least 20 minutes. Crumble the saffron into the warm water.
  3. If you roasted them properly the skins will easily peel right off with out running them under water.
  4. Peel, seed and core the peppers and then julienne them into thick strips.
  5. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Place a 16 inch paella pan or a 14 inch saute pan over medium high heat. Add the olive oil and once it is hot add the chicken, skin side down, and then the sausages. Brown them thoroughly and then remove them to a plate. You do not want them to cook all the way through. They will finish cooking in the oven so you just want to brown them.
  6. Turn the heat to medium and add the onion and fennel. Season them with healthy pinch of salt and pepper. Cook until they start to soften. Add the garlic, aleppo pepper and bay leaves, once fragrant add the white wine and grated tomatoes and cook for a minute or two letting the alcohol burn off. Add the saffron water and rice. Season again with a healthy pinch salt and pepper. Gently shake the pan to level out the rice. Place the chicken into the pan and arrange the red peppers around the chicken.
  7. Bring to a boil, place the pan into the oven and set the timer for 15 minutes. Cut the sausages in half. Once the timer goes off add the sausages and place the pan back into the oven. Set the timer for 10 minutes.
  8. Once the timer goes off remove the pan from the oven and place a clean towel over the top. Let the dish rest for five minutes, remove the towel and garnish with parsley and green onions, then serve.

Celery Root and Potato Gratin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Celery Root and Potato Gratin

Serves 6 to 8

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

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

Kosher salt and freshly ground white pepper

3/4 cups heavy cream

1 tablespoon garlic, minced

1/4 cup unsalted butter

1/8 teaspoon saffron, crushed

1 1/2 cup gruyere or comte cheese, grated

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yellow Corn Tortillas

Yellow Corn TortillasThese are home made corn tortillas.  A skill every cook should learn and teach their family.  These little disks of goodness have fed countless billions over the centuries.  If you have ever seen someone make these by patting them out into perfect rounds using their hands you will be fascinated and then appalled that these kinds of skills and cultural heritage are being lost to kitchens daily. Continue reading

Stems and Seeds

Stems and Seeds, Stems and Seeds

Hippy food has long been a bastion of vegetarian eats for many reasons. Some political, some personal but in all honesty mostly because it is cheap and often utilizes every last morsel sharing some of the same philosophy as head to tail eating, ironic?, well, yes. Never mind the reasons though because that doesn’t mean it doesn’t taste great and utilizing every part means new tastes and textures from veggies you have long grown tired of.

There is nothing better than to take a bite of something and not only have it taste good but when it feels good, or nutritious, as you eat it it is all the better. Having said it time and time again there are certain dishes that hit that button and, man, there is no better eating. This salad hits that button.

So get out your tie dies and put on your birks, crank up the Dead and get in touch with your inner vegetarian, oh, and make extra because the nice thing about this salad is it is no worse for the wear the next day.

The soy ginger vinaigrette in this recipe was adapted from Jean-Georges Vongericthen’s Simple Cuisine. Learn this recipe you because will find yourself using it on everything. It is a genius recipe.

Makes 4 servings

For the vinaigrette:

2 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1 teaspoon ginger, finely minced

1/3 cup canola or unflavored oil

1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

kosher salt and fresh ground pepper

1 1/2 tablespoons water

Put all the ingredients into a pint mason jar and screw the lid on tightly. Shake the hell out of it. Set the dressing aside.

For the salad:

1 to  1 1/2 cups blanched broccoli stems, 1/4 inch dice

1/2 cup carrots, grated

3 cups cooked brown rice

1/4 cup sesame seeds

1 1/2 tablespoon chives, minced

soy ginger vinaigrette

kosher salt and fresh ground pepper

1. Place all the ingredients, except the dressing in a large bowl and toss to combine. Add 1/3 of a cup of the dressing and combine everything. Taste, adjust the salt and pepper and add more dressing if you like.

Sautéed Chicken with Pepperoni and Olives

I can tell you, with great certainty, how good a restaurant is going to be by the temperature of their plates.  If I get a stone cold plate with hot food chances are the dinner will be average.  If I get a cold salad on a warm plate just out of the dish machine, again, I know the rest of my dinner has more of a chance being bad then good.  It tells me whether or not the kitchen cares.

When I worked in commercial kitchens it was a bone of contention with me and those who worked for me.  Your plates needed to be hot for hot food and cold for cold food, period.

There was a time at home, back before we had kids, when I would always warm our plates in the oven.  Probably sounds completely retentive, for all I know it might be, but I have never really given a rats butt what others think.  I did it because my wife and I enjoyed being at the table together, taking our time eating, and having some quality conversation.  Hots plates keeping your food warm is a nice touch.

We had this for dinner the other day, I warmed the plates.

Serves 2

olive oil

2 each 6 ounce boneless skinless chicken breast

1/4 cup pepperoni, 1/4 inch dice

1/4 cup Picholine olives, pitted and halved

1/4 cup tomato, diced

1/2 cup dry white wine

1 tablespoon pine nuts

1 tablespoon currants

2 teaspoons flat leaf parsley, minced

kosher salt and fresh ground pepper

1. Season the chicken on both sides with salt. 

2. Place a heavy bottomed sauté pan over medium high heat.  When the pan is hot but not smoking add enough oil to coat the bottom of the pan.  Gently lay the chicken breast, what would be skin side down, into the pan being careful not to splash hot oil.

3. Brown the chicken on both sides.  Adjust the heat as necessary to keep the oil from burning.  Once both sides have caramelized remove them to a plate or pan and let them rest.  Pour out any excess grease.

4. Meanwhile put the pan back on the heat and add the pepperoni, olives and tomato.  Stir and toss it around until fragrant then add the white wine to deglaze the pan.   Using a wooden spoon scrape up any brown bits from the bottom of the pan.  Once the wine has reduced by half add the pine nuts and currants.

5. Give everything a stir and then place the breast back into the pan.  If the liquid in the pan seems at all dry add a 1/4 cup of water.  Braise the breast until they are cooked through which shouldn’t be long if you browned them well.  Taste and adjust the seasoning, add the parsley and stir to combine. 

6. Place the chicken breast onto warm plates skin side up,  top with the sauce, serve immediately.

Manhattan Clam Chowder

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

Makes 8 six ounce servings

2 eight oz. bottles Bar Harbor clam juice

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

4 ounces bacon, diced

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

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

1 cup celery, rinsed and small dice

2 teaspoons garlic, minced

1/8 heaping teaspoon celery seed

1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

1 teaspoon dried thyme

1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes

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

28 ounces Pomi brand chopped tomatoes

1/2 to 3/4 teaspoon prepared horseradish

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thai Shrimp and Collard Wraps

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

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

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

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

1 pound of shell-on shrimp, thawed

1/3 cup unsweetened shredded coconut, toasted till golden

2 limes, filleted into supremes, membranes squeezed for juice

1 1/2 tablespoon fish sauce

1/2 cup roasted peanuts, crushed

cilantro

sweet chile sauce, homemade or store bought

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

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

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

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

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

5. Serve

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

Pot Roasted Collard Greens and Purple Hull Pea Fritters

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

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

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

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

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

Seves 4

For the fritters:

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

1 cup carrots, grated

1/4 cup rice flour, or all purpose flour

2 teaspoons shallots, minced

2 teaspoons garlic, minced

1 1/2 teaspoons dried thyme

kosher salt

fresh ground pepper

For the collards:

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

peanut oil

kosher salt

fresh ground black pepper

For the buttermilk gravy:

1 1/2 cups live culture buttermilk

1 teaspoon creole seasoning

1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

1 1/2 teaspoon shallot, peeled and minced

1 teaspoon garlic, peeled and minced

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

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

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

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