Squeezing Every Last Bite Out Of Summer: Swiss Chard, Sweet Corn, and Tortellini

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Asian Spaghetti, Changing Seasons

If your weekend was anything like mine then you are comfortable having put summer to bed, tucked-in snugly with the knowledge it will sleep tight until it awakens again next year. Windows will close, doors are shut, and the nuanced smells of long simmered foods become more prevalent.

I can’t imagine a life without seasons.  Not because I like the hot and cold but because they are markers, clear delineations that it is time to get on with life, a deep breath of reflection before pushing on, no summit to conquer, no eye on a prize, just a moment to reflect on the journey.

I am back to doing what I love—cooking, my way.   This time of year I always cook Asian cuisine.  It is such a departure from what I have done all summer, cooked from the garden, be it mid-western or southern foods, or farm favorites.  Now I go to the Asian grocery and buy up bok choi, pigs liver, shiso peppers, lemon grass, and Chinese celery.  Foods that I have done without since last fall.

For a few months I will get my fill, until winter.

Asian Spaghetti (serves 4)

This is great for weeknights.  The sauce like many gets better with age and can be made ahead of time and stored in the refrigerator for up to 4 days (you can even double the recipe and freeze half.)  Then simply make your noodles, warm the sauce, and serve.

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1 lb. ground beef

1 medium red onion, fine dice (about 1 cup)

3 celery stalks, trimmed, fine dice (about 1 cup)

1 tablespoon ginger, minced

1 tablespoon garlic

1/2 cup Hoisin sauce

1/2 cup canned chopped tomatoes with juice

1 tablespoon fresh squeezed lime juice

2 tablespoons soy sauce

1 Fresno red pepper, chopped

3 Shiso peppers, chopped

1/4 cup cilantro

rice noodles, cooked

  1. Set a 3 quart (3l) enameled cast iron pot, or any heavy bottomed pot onto the stove.  Turn the heat to medium high.  Add oil and let it become hot.
  2. Add the ground beef, break it into small pieces and let it brown.  Add red onion, celery, ginger, and garlic.  Stir, let the vegetables soften and become fragrant.
  3. Add Hoisin sauce, tomatoes, lime juice and soy.  Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to simmer and let the liquid reduce until it thickens, about 15 minutes.  Taste and adjust the seasoning.
  4. Place the hot noodles onto a platter, top with sauce, and sprinkle the peppers and cilantro over the top.  Serve with a nice stir fried vegetable like bok choi in oyster sauce.

Chocolate Chiffon Pie

Years ago, when I was first starting out in the restaurant business, I put together a business plan.  The idea came to me early one morning while rolling out Danish dough in pastry class.  Lots of ideas came to me while I was in pastry class.  I think it was all the coffee and sugar.  At the time it was just talk and I had no real notion of putting them into place.  But this particular idea stuck with me.  I wanted to open a diner, and not just any diner, but a classic 1940’s Silk City diner.  To me the Silk City is the the Cadillac-Airstream-Harley-Davidson of diners.  I located an empty one just up the road.  It had recently shuttered its doors and gone out of business.  I thought I might get it for a steal.

The Duroc Dinette, that is what I was going to name it because it was to have a pork heavy menu.  I would move the thing to Indianapolis if I had it my way and open in a neighborhood where it was much needed.  A dear friend even owned a lot in a prime location downtown and I was talking to him about giving it up for a reasonable sum and he was ready too.

I don’t know why I didn’t push it any further other then in those days I didn’t have much confidence in my abilities.  At that point I had never worked in a restaurant.  I wanted to get a few years under my belt before I made the leap.  As is the case with many of these things you drift in other directions.   A plan gets put into a file and it never gets pulled out again.

I still love diner food.  I especially like the desserts at diners.  Diner desserts are interesting because they are streamlined much like a diner itself.  In a diner food cost have to be kept down but that doesn’t mean the food is short on flavor.  The desserts are always somewhere between kitsch and homey, lots of gelatin and coconut but mind you that doesn’t mean the refrigerated glass case full of pies won’t grab my attention like I hope this delicious chocolate chiffon pie grabs yours.

For the crust:

12 chocolate graham crackers
2 tsp. unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 cup unsalted butter plus 2 tsp.

For the chiffon:

1/4 cup water
1 tsp. instant espresso powder
1 envelope unflavored gelatin
4-oz. 72% dark chocolate or unsweetened chocolate
3/4 cup whole milk
3 large eggs, separated
1/2 cup sugar
1/8 tsp kosher salt
2 cup heavy cream
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 cup powdered sugar

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1. In the bowl of a food processor pulse the graham crackers, cocoa powder, and butter until a fine crumb is formed and a crust forms when you push the crumbs firmly to the side of the processor bowl.
2. Dump the crumbs into a pie pan. Starting with the edges press the crumbs firmly into the pan. Bake the crust in a heated 350˚ F oven for 10 minutes.
3. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.
4. While the crust is cooling, combine water, espresso powder, and gelatin in a small bowl and let the gelatin bloom.
Add milk and chocolate to a small sauce pan and place it over medium heat. Bring to a simmer and stir until the chocolate has melted. Remove from the heat.
5. In a mixing bowl combine salt, half the sugar, with the egg yolks. Add 1/4 cup of the cream and while whisking add the hot milk and chocolate mixture.
6. Pour milk mixture into the gelatin mixture and whisk until smooth and the gelatin has completely dissolved.
7. Clean all the pots and pans.
8. In the bowl of a mixer begin whipping the egg whites until they become stiff. Slowly add the remaining 1/4 cup sugar and continue to whip until the whites become glossy and stiff.
9. Fold the egg whites into the chocolate filling until not trails of white remain.
10. Pour 3/4 of the chocolate filling into prepare pie crust. Refrigerate the pie and the remaining filling.
11. To make the whip cream whisk the remaining 1 3/4 cup of cream until it begins to stiffen. Add powdered sugar and vanilla extract until and continue to whip until stiff peaks form.
12. Whisk the extrea cold chocolate filling. Fill a pastry bag fitter with a star tip with the filling and pipe a it around the outer edge of the pie.
13. Fill the the circle you just made with whipped cream being sure not to cover up the piped chocolate.
14. Grate chocolate over the top of the pie and refrigerate for another hour.
15. Cut the pie into pieces. Serve cold.

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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.

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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.

The Lobster Roll’s Better More Lovable Brother

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

Shrimp and Okra Stew

Some lucky people grew up eating okra; there are even families with rich okra histories that they pass on from generation to generation. I am not one of those lucky people.

I came late to okra — or at least my love for it did. Since I didn’t come from a family of okra-eaters, I always remained skeptical of the vegetable. My relationship with it was like that of boys and girls at an elementary school dance: standing at opposite corners of the room. It’s not that I didn’t like okra — it was that I had no idea what to do with it. I preferred to stay in my comfort zone and stick to eating green beans. Continue reading

Classic Creamy Coleslaw

cabbage

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

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

Cuban Style Skirt Steak + 5 Tips for a Better Sear

Cuban Style Skirt Steak

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

Continue reading

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

Tips for Better Braising:

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

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

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

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

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

Serves 4 or more

For the chicken legs:

olive oil

8 to 10 chicken legs, skin-on

1 cup celery, diced

1 1/2 cup yellow onion, diced

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

12 to 18 garlic cloves, chopped

1 cup dry white wine

2 cups tomato purée

1 cup vegetable broth or water

2 bay leaves

1 1/2 tablespoon rosemary, minced

1 1/2 tablespoon flat leaf parsley, minced

Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper

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

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

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

For the mashed potatoes:

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

6 tablespoons unsalted butter

1/3 cup whole milk, possibly more

kosher salt and fresh ground white pepper

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

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

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

Spicy Chickpea and Sour Tomato Curry with Pasta

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spicy Chickpea and Sour Tomato Curry with Pasta

Serves 6

Two 14.5-ounce cans of chickpeas, drained

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

3 tablespoons olive oil

2 cups yellow onion, julienned

1 tablespoon fresh garlic, minced

2 cups tomato sauce

1 tablespoon fresh ginger, peeled and minced

1 teaspoon turmeric

1/4 teaspoon cayenne

2 teaspoons Madras curry powder, or your favorite kind

1 teaspoon cumin seeds, coarsely ground

Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

Cilantro, green onion, or both

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

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

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

3. Cook the noodles.

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

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.

Mustard Crusted Beef Tenderloin with Sauce Robert

Brown the tenderloin first for added flavor before crusting and baking in the oven.
Brown the tenderloin first for added flavor before crusting and baking in the oven.

Through most of the month of December, I spend a lot of my time preparing recipes that taste great but don’t absorb a lot of my time. It’s the holidays after all, and not only do I want to enjoy them but I have other things to do: trim the tree, make cookies, go to the neighbors’ caroling party where they serve the punch that requires a second cup of coffee and a little extra recovery time the next morning. Continue reading

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.)

DSCF0970

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

The Virtues of Routine and Braised Cabbage

I like repetition. It guides me from one task to another. Like how in the morning I’ll make my wife’s coffee exactly the same way and take it to her while she is getting ready for work before making my own. Then I’ll pack the kids’ school lunches, followed by preparing breakfast, and every Tuesday, I go to the grocery store immediately after the kids get on the school bus.

I follow a routine when I go to the grocery, too. The automatic doors swoosh open like the welcoming arms of an old friend as I enter, and I wonder who the first person I’ll see will be. A stranger? A familiar face? What will they look like and will they be smiling? Which fruits and vegetables are right up front this week and who made the covers of the gossip rags at the checkout line? All pressing questions, I know.

But the other day I broke routine, for an observation. As usual, the endcap to the vegetable aisle was full of cabbage — red cabbage, green cabbage, some Napa and even Savoy. What occurred to me was that this endcap is always full, always a mountain in fact, of cabbage. It wasn’t just replenished either — they don’t restock until 9:30. I am nosy too, and often leer into peoples’ carts just to see what they are eating and, I can assure you, I don’t often see cabbage tucked into carts, other than those few days cabbage gets its due during the corned beef holidays. So why is this end cap continually dedicated to an Everest of cabbage? Are cabbage eaters late night shoppers? Is it for looks much in the same way as a mannequin in a window at Saks? Who, besides me, buys cabbage?

Yes, I eat cabbage and I am proud of it. So much so that I could write a poem, Mon Petite Chou, and it would be an ode to the poorest of poor man’s food. That is what it is though isn’t it: poor man’s food? Maybe this is why it is shunned, that to buy it means you are nearly destitute, for why else would you eat it? I used to feel this way, and never really encountered cabbage other than as a creamy coleslaw side to an all-you-can-eat catfish dinner — and even then I usually stayed closer to the hush puppies and fries.

That is, until Paula Wolfert’s book The Cooking of Southwest France introduced me to the possibilities. And there are many when it comes to cabbage — braised, steamed, creamed, and stir-fried. Cabbage, now, has become a part of my routine.

Tips for Choosing, Storing, and Preparing Cabbage

Pick a hefty cabbage.
I grow a lot of cabbage and I am always amazed at how solid cabbages can be, like a bowling ball. So when I do buy them at the store I look for very solid cabbages that feel heavy.

Look for purple leaves
Typically, the grocer cuts off the outer leaves and trims the stems. As the cabbage ages, they trim them up so to keep them looking pretty. You know you have a fresh cabbage when the leafy outer purple green leaves are still there.

Keep it cool
Cabbages can last a long time in the fridge. Make sure the outside leaves are free of moisture and wrap the cabbage in plastic wrap, then store the cabbage in the crisper. I like cabbage because it stores well, so I use up all the perishable veggies early in the week saving the sturdy ones, cabbage, for the end of the week.

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

Simple Braised Cabbage

Serves 6

3 ounces pancetta, small dice
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup yellow onion, small dice
1/3 cup celery, small dice
2 teaspoons garlic, minced
1/2 cup carrots, peeled, small dice
6 to 8 cups Savoy cabbage, julienned
2 bay leaves
Scrape or two fresh nutmeg
1 tablespoon flat leaf parsley, minced
1 1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme, minced

  1. Place a 3 1/2-quart Dutch oven with a lid over medium heat. Add the pancetta and render its fat. You want a gentle render here. You aren’t trying to crisp the pancetta, just render.
  2. Add the butter and, once it has melted, add the onion, celery, garlic, and carrots. Sweat the vegetables until they are tender, don’t let them brown. Add the cabbage, bay leaves, and season with salt and pepper. Turn the cabbage to coat the leaves in the fat. Add a quarter cup of water and put the lid on the pot. Reduce the heat to low. Cook the cabbage until tender, about 25 to 30 minutes. Add a scrape or two of nutmeg, the parsley, and thyme. Stir to combine, then serve.
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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.

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

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.

A Delicious Roast Chicken for Any Night

I have a simple rule, whenever I figure out what good restaurant cooks like to make at home I follow suit.  It’s because most professional cooks like simple but deeply satisfying meals, roast chicken is one of those, it is a cook’s meal.  When I say simple I don’t mean in flavor and not necessarily in ease of cooking but more that it falls into the category of not being fussy.

And really, that is it isn’t it, that roast chicken is delicious, very satisfying and not at all fussy. Most importantly though it is easy on the cook and that is always something to grasp hold of and learn how to do.    So this is how I do it, I try not to complicate roast chicken, I use only a few dried spices  and I try to follow some simple guidelines I have come to trust over the years.

Roast Chicken Know-How:

  • Season the chicken with salt the day before you want to cook it.  Then set it into a tray with sides.  Place it uncovered into the refrigerator to dry out the skin and soak up the salt.  This drying of the skin makes for a deeply colored crispy skin.  The salt helps keep the chicken moist.
  • Trussing the chicken helps the chicken to cook evenly.  Besides we eat as much with our eyes so why not make it pretty.
  • You can cook the chicken on top of vegetables if you like letting the juices drip down onto them making for a wonderful side dish.  I do this as often as not but I never throw out the pan juices.  The pan juices make a wonderful addition to all sorts of things from pasta to…well, anything.
  • Adjust the top rack of your oven so the top of the bird is 5 to 7 inches from the top of the oven.  If it is to close to the top it will brown the skin well before the meat is cooked.
  • Avoid buying birds that are more the 4 or 5% juices added.  The birds that are 12% are brined and they are very, very salty.
  • Save any and all pan juices.  Use them in a vinaigrette to dress a salad, in pasta or in chicken salad but don’t waste them.

Cost to roast a chicken:  it depends on what kind of chicken and where you buy it but anywhere between 6 and 10 dollars for a 4 pound bird.  It should feed four with the added bonus of making soup from the carcass.

Click here for a pasta recipe using roast chicken leftovers: Chicken, Black Olives and Lemon with Spaghetti

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To Roast a Chicken:

kosher

1 teaspoon fennel seeds

3/4 teaspoon dried thyme

1 teaspoon paprika

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1 chicken, about 4 pounds

1. Salt the chicken the day before you want to cook it or at least 4 hours before you want to cook it.  To do this sprinkle salt onto all sides of the bird including inside the cavity.  Place the bird onto a tray with side and put it back into the fridge.

2. Crush the fennel seeds either using the bottom of a heavy pan to grind it or with a mortar and pestle.  Combine the fennel with the rest of the spices and, again, sprinkle the spice rub all over the bird including the cavity.

I like to slice the chicken before serving. I like to slice the breast off the bone so I have a carcass for soup at the end of the night.
I like to slice the chicken before serving. I like to slice the breast off the bone so I have a carcass for soup at the end of the night.

3. Let the bird sit at room temperature for a half an hour or up to an hour.

4. Heat the oven to 400˚ F.  Place the chicken, still on a tray with sides, into the oven and let it roast for 30 minutes.  Bast the chicken with the pan juices.  Bake another 35 minutes.  Check to see  if it is done.  I can usually tell by the legs.  If the meat has pulled away from the knee bones then there is a good chance the rest of the bird is done.  Wiggle a thigh.  If it seems loose then you are probably good to go.  Tilt the bird backwards and see if the juices running out from the cavity are red.  If  all three of these test are passed letting the bird rest will finish the cooking.   Let the bird rest cover with foil for 15 minutes.

5. Carve and serve.

Stir Fried Noodles

 

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

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

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

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

How to Make Any Stir-Fried Noodles 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Total approx. cost for this recipe.$8.03

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

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

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

8 ounces of cooked and cooled noodles

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

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Lentil Cakes, Red Onions and Sweet Potato Fries

Lentil Patties with Red Onions

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

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

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

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

Cost to make this dinner: under $15.oo

Get the lentil patty tikka masala recipe here.

For the Lentils(serves 4)

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

1/2 yellow onion, small dice

1 tablespoon fresh grated ginger

1 tablespoon cilantro, minced

2 teaspoons garam masala

1/4 cup flour, I used millet flour

1 egg

3/4 teaspoons kosher salt

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

For the onions:

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

vegetable oil

For the sweet potato fries:

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

oil

kosher salt and fresh ground pepper

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

Chickpeas in a Spicy Tomato Gravy

Khatte Channe

A wonderful blend of deeply caramelized onions, spicy tomato broth and creamy chickpeas.  Khatte Channe, as it is know in India, is traditionally served with a flatbread but as it is cooked in this recipe it has lots of sauce so it makes sense to serve it with simple steamed rice and some sort of green vegetable.

I don’t like to use a lot of canned goods but beans are one that I rely on.  They are no fuss, no standing over the stove stirring or adding liquid because they are already cooked.  In fact I think this dish benefits from canned because the peas stand out by not absorbing all the gravy flavors that long cooking would have infused in them .

There is some extra expense in buying spices for the dish but if you have an ethnic grocery nearby, either Asian or Indian, you should be able to find the ingredients.  Buy the smallest amount they sell and if you like the spices and find yourself using them to make other dishes then buy bigger quantities.

The thing I really like about this dish and these kind of bean dishes is even though it is of Indian descent it still feels familiar, I think of it as soul food.  It is warm with a hint of spice and very much like bean dishes from Central America and Mexico.  The dish is comfortable.

Cost to make this meal:

  • three 14oz. cans organic garbanzo beans $1.49 each or $4.47
  • 2 large onions .74 cents
  • one 14 ounce can crushed tomatoes .99 cents
  • at my local Indian grocery an 8 ounce bag costs $3.oo dollars or 2 teaspoons .12 cents
  • 1 head of garlic .99 cents 4 cloves about . 50 cents
  • fresh ginger 3.99 per pound 2 ounces at .48 cents
  • 48 oz vegetable oil  $2.99 or 3 tablespoons at .10 cents
  • cumin seeds vary in price greatly depending on where you purchase them  1 teaspoon at .25 cents
  • my recipe calls for tamarind but substitute a 2 tablespoon of vinegar to give the dish its sourness

Total cost range is from  $7.65 to  $9.00 and if you are only serving 4 you should have a couple of lunches.

This recipe is adapted from Julie Sahni’s Classic Indian Cooking.  If you enjoy Indian food her books are a must for you shelf.

Makes 8 to 10 servings

3 (14.5 oz.) cans chickpeas/garbanzos (drained and liquid reserved)

2 tablespoons tamarind paste mixed with half a cup of water (or substitute 2 tablespoon of vinegar with no water)

3 vegetable oil

2 cups yellow onions, peeled and thinly sliced

2 tablespoons garlic, peeled and minced

1 teaspoon turmeric

1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 (14.5 ounce) can crushed tomatoes

1 tablespoon fresh ginger, peeled and minced finely

2 teaspoons curry powder

1 teaspoon ground cumin, toasted

kosher salt and fresh ground pepper

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 to fast you want melted gooey onions not seared.  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 and cayenne pepper.  Give it a stir then add the tamarind,  tomatoes and ginger.  Reduce the heat and let the tomatoes simmer.

3. Add 1 cup of  the reserved bean liquid along with the cumin and curry powder.  Bring the liquid back to a boil reduce the heat and add the beans.

4. Cook the rice.  

5. By the time you finish the rice the beans will be warmed through and the flavors will have come together nicely.  Taste the peas and adjust the seasoning.  Serve over the rice.

Potato Cake

Potato CakeWhat thrills me the most about potato cakes like this is the crispy top and creamy interior.  If you use good potatoes the flavor is unbeatable and if you are creative you can even layer the interior with things like roasted garlic, wilted onions, green onions or even chopped frozen broccoli that has been thawed and drained of excess moisture.

Yukon Golds
Yukon Golds

There are few products that I recommend, or in this case don’t recommend, and those are conventional potatoes and canned tomatoes.  I don’t like conventional potatoes because they spray them with an anti-sprouting spray which means they have a longer shelf life.  I don’t know if the spray is good for you or not but I want potatoes that aren’t far from the harvest because I want fresh potatoes.  They taste better and I know they do, it’s that simple.  Organic potatoes can’t lollygag around and therfore are generally fresh.

The two types of potato most readily available at most groceries that would work for this dish are Russet Burbanks(Idaho) or Yukon Golds.  Both brown up nicely and both create a creamy interior.

As for tomatoes, I don’t like canned tomatoes because the acid leaches out the chemical from the liner of the can.  I only by tomatoes in glass or those nifty carton type boxes.

Cost to make the potatoes:

  • one bag of organic russet potatoes $3.49 about 10 per bag or $1.75 
  • unsalted butter .10 cents
  • canola oil  and salt .10 cents

Total cost to make this dish: $1.95

Serves 4 as a side dish

5 good sized russet potatoes, scrubbed under cold water with a brush

1 tablespoon butter, room temperature

1 tablespoon canola oil

kosher salt

white pepper if you have it

1. Smear the bottom of a 10 inch non-stick skillet with soften butter.  Make sure to spread it evenly across the bottom.  Drizzle the oil into the pan too.

2. Slice the potatoes into very thin slices, a 1/16 of an inch would be great but no more then an 1/8 inch.

3. Starting in the middle of the pan spiral the potatoes by fanning them.  They should overlap about half the potato before them, if that makes since or you should cover the potato before the one you are putting into the pan by half by the one you are putting into the pan.

4. Lightly season each layer of potato with a pinch of salt.  Once the first layer is down you can layer the rest of the potatoes into the pan without detail to fanning them.

5. Heat the oven to 350˚ F.  Place the pan over medium heat to begin browning the bottom layer.  This always takes longer then I expect. I also have a baking stone that has a permanent spot in my oven so I also know then the pan goes into the oven it will continue to brown the potatoes.

6.  Once the bottom is browned nicely cover the pan and slide it into the oven.  Bake until the potatoes in the middle are tender.  Depending on how many layers you created anywhere from 25 to 35 minutes.

7. Remove the pan from the oven with a oven mitt or towel.  Place a pizza tray or the bottom of a sheet tray across the top of the pan.  In one swift motion invert the pan and tray.  Place the tray into the oven and let the cake bake another 5 to 10 minutes to crisp the top.  Serve.

Pickled Green Onion Ranch

Pickled Green Onion Ranch

Grilled Pork Steaks with Ranch Dressing is yet another great use for the dressing.
Grilled Pork Steaks with Ranch Dressing is yet another great use for the dressing.

The only way buttermilk will go to waste is if you if you have a lack of ideas for using it and because of this don’t.   It can hang out longer then regular milk because of the live culture but it will eventually go bad.

This dressing alone can be used as a base, minus the green onions,  and  you can make parmesan black peppercorn or fresh herb ranch.  Then there are all the other products too, real Southern cornbread, buttermilk pancakes, bread and of course biscuits.

Buttermilk is full of probiotics.  Rumor has it the beneficial bacteria will help you to maintain a healthy stomach which helps in fighting off other sicknesses.   This, though, is if you drink it or use it uncooked.  The label should read live active culture in order for you to get the benefits.

There is a term in cooking, and at culinary school, that asks for you to cook a liquid or combine ingredients to a thickness that will coat the back of a spoon.  You go about this by dipping the spoon into the liquid and then, while holding it sideways, run your finger across the convex side.  The liquid should hang there for a second or two before closing the gap your finger created.

Cost:

  • 1 head of garlic .42 cents
  • 2 bunches of green onions $1.49
  • 1 quart Organic Valley buttermilk $3.25 or .40 cents per 1/2 cup
  • 30 oz. Hellman’s Real Mayonnaise $5.49 or $1.46 per cup
  • 12 oz. rice vinegar (do not buy seasoned rice vinegar) $1.48 or .25 cents per 1/4 cup

Total cost to make the dressing:  $4.02 for 12 ounces

Makes 1 1/2 cups plus

10 to 12 green onions, trimmed of roots

1 garlic clove, minced

1/2 cup water

1/4 cup rice vinegar

3 tablespoons sugar

1 heaping teaspoon kosher salt

2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

1/2 cup buttermilk

1 cup mayonnaise

1 1/2 tablespoon pickling liquid

fresh ground black pepper

salt

1. About three inches from the root end cut the green onions.  Reserve the green tops for another use (buttermilk green onion smashed potatoes comes to mind).  Place the green onions and garlic into a small heat proof container.DSCF5970

2. Heat the water, vinegar, salt and sugar in a small sauce pan set over high heat.  Bring it to a boil and let the salt and sugar dissolve.

3. Pour the hot liquid over the green onions and garlic.  Let the onions pickle for at least two hours.

4. Once the green onions are olive drab and soft remove them and the garlic from the liquid.  Mince them fine.

5. Combine the mayo, buttermilk, reserved 1 1/2 tablespoons of pickling liquid and lemon juice in a mixing bowl.  Add the green onions and garlic along with fresh ground black pepper to taste.

Smothered Chicken

foodquarterlyServes 4

Smothered chicken makes for a comforting Sunday dinner.  It’s the kind of dinner that will bring the kids back on Sundays after they have left home to be on their own.  The combination of peppers, onions and celery (known as the trinity in cooking) is very warming and homey.

It is a great dish to serve over boiled rice and if you were to serve green beans and biscuits with it you would, or at least I would, be in heaven.

Cost to make this dinner entree:

  • package of 8 chicken thighs $4.83
  • 1 bunch of celery $1.29
  • 2 onions .74 cents
  • 1 head of garlic .49 cents
  • 1 bell pepper $1.00
  • Loose cost of vegetable oil, spices, salt and flour $1.00
  • Total cost to make the dinner: $9.35

For the spice mix:

2 tablespoons paprika

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

For the chicken:

6 to 8 bone-in skin-on chicken thighs

2 cups yellow onions, julienned

3/4 cups green bell peppers, julienned

3/4 cups celery, julienned

water

kosher salt

fresh ground black pepper

1/4 cup green onions, chopped

2 1/2 tablespoons flour

vegetable oil

2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced

1. Combine all the spice ingredients in a small bowl. Season the chicken thighs on all sides with salt and then with the spice mixture. You may or may not have extra spice depending on how heavy your hand is and whether or not you season 6 or 8 thighs.

2. Place a heavy, large sauté pan over medium high heat. Add enough oil to the pan to easily coat the bottom completely. When it is hot add the thighs skin side down and brown them deeply. Once they are brown do the same to the other side.

3. Remove the thighs to a plate. Add the onions, bell pepper and celery to the pan. Season them with salt and pepper. If the pan is to hot turn down the heat and cook down the vegetables until they are brown and soft. Add the flour and sauté everything for a bit longer to cook out the flour flavor.

4. Add the garlic cloves and give the veggies a stir. Add the chicken thighs back to the pan and add enough water to cover the thighs by three quarters. The crispy tops should just be peeking out of the gravy. Add all but a tablespoon of the green onions to the sauce.

5. When the gravy comes to a boil reduce the heat and simmer until the chicken is cooked through and tender, this should take about thirty minutes. Season the gravy, stir and taste.

6. If the gravy is reducing to fast and getting to thick add more water and stir.  If you added more water bring the sauce to a boil and serve.