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.
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Marcella’s Broccoli and Potato Soup

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

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

fall vegetables

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Makes 6 servings

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

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

Everything but the Hamburger, Special Sauce Included

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Sadly, as I sit at the bus stop watching my daughters play, I have to tell myself: summer is so last season.

All summer I have been grilling vegetables for salads. Mostly zucchini and summer squash; I char it deeply and then chop it and toss it with basil, lemon juice, and olive oil, in sort of a grilled chopped salad. It captures all the flavors of early summer one could want. But at some point, either the zucchini or I tire and the dish no longer appears on the table. At least not until next summer, when the annual craving for these flavors peaks again. 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

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.

Braised Red Cabbage

Braised red cabbage
This dish will not be the same without the duck fat but that does not mean it won’t be equally as good. Bacon, bacon grease and even butter would all be good choices since I know most people don’t keep duck fat around or have access to it.

If planted midsummer red cabbage will mature just about the time of the first frost. As long as it is harvested before the first hard freeze it will last in storage until about the beginning of the year. Depending of the variety and the conditions under which it is stored it might last a little longer.

Whether you grow it or buy it red cabbage is a great winter vegetable that is under utilized by the home cook. It can easily be whipped into a tasty Asian slaw, turned into a comforting bowl of borscht or a wonderful braised red cabbage. This dish is perfect with pork chops or pork roasts and is also a fine accompaniment to ham or cured and smoked pork chops. Continue reading

Pork Pazolé

Chili is great, and a favorite, but sometimes it is nice to find an alternative. This is a nice change for sure. The sourness of the tomatillos cuts the richness of the pork while still letting the pork taste rich. The other thing about the tomatillos is the juice from them thickens the broth. The whole thing comes together easily and could even be pulled off on a weeknight by the ambitious.

Serves 4

2 tablespoons lard

2 1/2 lbs. pork shoulder, cut into 1 inch cubes

1 cup yellow onion, small dice

1 lb. tomatillos, paper skins removed

1/4 cup coarsely chopped garlic

2 teaspoons Mexican oregano

1 tablespoon dark chile powder

1 tablespoon tomato paste

one 14.5 ounce can yellow hominy

kosher salt and fresh ground pepper

1/4 cup cilantro, chopped

toppings: more cilantro, shredded cabbage, lime wedges, red onion, sour cream and cheese

1. Preheat the broiler. Place the tomatillos onto a sheet tray with sides, they will exude lots of juice, and broil them until they are charred nicely. Remove them from the oven and turn the oven off.

2. Season the pork with salt and pepper. Heat the lard over medium high heat in a 3 1/2 quart Dutch oven and add the pork. Brown it deeply on all sides taking care not to not to burn the fond forming on the bottom of the pot and reducing the heat if necessary.

3. After the pork has browned remove it from the pot to a plate. Add the onions to the pot and saute them until they start to become tender. Add the garlic, chili powder, tomatillos with all their juice, and the tomato paste. Stir to combine and let the mix become fragrant.

4. Add the pork, and accumulated juices, back to the pot and enough water to come just to the top of the pork. Let the pozole come back to a boil and then reduce the heat to a simmer.

5. Simmer until the pork is tender, about an hour, then add the hominy and the chopped cilantro and cook another 10 minutes. Ladle into bowls and serve with additional toppings and lots of home made corn tortillas.

Tuna with White Beans and Spaghetti

White beans and tuna have always been combined in salads and pasta and have long been purveyor’s of pantry dinners in Italy. I have taken up the habit of pantry pasta myself and while I don’t keep many canned goods I do keep tomato sauce, tuna in olive oil, dried beans and pasta on hand.

The cheese rind is imperative here. It is to the broth what bones are to stock. Besides you know it makes you mad to have to pay for this usually unusable part. So here is your opportunity. I Always try to have at least one cheese rind on hand and just store it in the fridge amongst the other cheeses.

This is not a skillet pasta but a long simmering sauce because it takes some time to build the flavors in the beans. As with all beans everyone has their own method to their bean madness. I have tried many and the one I use yields a tender beans with tooth. That is not to say it is crunchy or undercooked but what it means is it holds its shape while being tenders. I want to know I am eating a bean when I bite into one.

I also don’t make home made pasta for this dish because this is one time were store bought spaghetti noodles are the right choice.

I served this with a green side vegetable and after the pasta served a salad, as the Italians would.

Serves 6 to 8

2 heads of garlic, the top 1/4 inch of which has been sliced off

1/2 pound white beans

4 whole cloves of garlic, peeled and trimmed

10 sun dried tomatoes (dried, not in olive oil)

water

1/2 cup yellow onion, small dice

1/4 cup carrot, small dice

1/4 cup celery, small dice

1 1/2 teaspoons fennel seed, ground

1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes

2 bay leaves

1/2 cup strained tomatoes or tomato sauce

1 each 2 x 2 inch parmesan cheese rind

olive oil

kosher salt and fresh ground pepper

1/3 cup bread crumbs, toasted in olive oil then seasoned with salt and pepper then mixed

with 1 tablespoon of minced parsley

12 oz. tuna in olive oil

1 pound spaghetti, cooked according to the instructions on the box

  1. Preheat the oven to 300˚F. Place the heads of garlic in a small ovenproof dish and drizzle each with olive oil then season them with salt and pepper.
  2. Cover the dish with foil and bake the garlic for 1 hour. At the end of the hour make sure they have taken on alight tobacco color and are tender. Cook them another 15 minutes if you need to. Once they are done remove them from the oven and set them aside.
  3. Place the beans, garlic cloves and the sun dried tomatoes into a sauce pan and cover by at least 2 inches of water. Place the pan over high heat and bring it to a boil and let it boil for 2 minutes. Cover and remove the pan from the heat and let it sit covered for two hours or longer.
  4. At the end of two hours drain the beans. Rinse out the pot. Remove the sun dried tomatoes and chop them. Place the pot over medium heat and add a good 2 tablespoons of olive oil. When it is hot add the onion, carrots and celery and let them saute until they begin to become tender. Add the fennel, bay leaves and red pepper and saute until fragrant. Add the beans, sun dried tomatoes and garlic back into the pot. Cover the beans with water by 1 inch. Add the tomato sauce and cheese rind.
  5. Bring the pot to a boil then reduce the heat so the liquid is at a lazy bubble. Season them with pepper. Stir occasionally to keep anything from sticking to the bottom of the pot.
  6. Near the end of the cooking season the beans with salt to taste and take the roasted garlic and squeeze out the garlic paste then add the paste to the beans. Stir it all in and taste. Adjust the seasoning.
  7. When the beans are tender cook the pasta. Once the pasta is done drain it and immediately toss the pasta with some of the oil from the tuna. Toss the beans and pasta together.
  8. Put the pasta into a serving bowl, top with tuna crumbles and then the bread crumbs. Serve immediately.

Farro and Roasted Garlic Pilaf

Farro and Roasted Garlic PilafThe term farro can be very confusing. If you look it up you will see no one really wants to pin the tail on the donkey, and as such, all the authors of the articles seem to want to avoid naming a specific grain as farro.

People really want spelt to be farro but I can say spelt is not farro. Spelt is much larger and has a sweeter flavor to me. What I have found is farro can come in different sizes, roasted, and for lack of a better term, par cooked or pearled which means it cooks quicker.

In this recipe I use piccolo farro from Anson Mills. It is easy to cook, is extremely delicious and quite honestly I have become enamored with it as well. I think I can say with all clarity it should be spelled Pharroh because it is the food of gods. It feels nourishing to eat and is such a refreshing change, or I should say replacement, from rice or potatoes.

I always cook extra and use the grain, plain, when baking bread and I plan to save the cooking water next time and use it as well.

Serves 4 to 6

1 cup farro piccola

2 heads of garlic

1 stick unsalted butter

1 tablespoon marjoram

kosher salt

fresh ground pepper

1. Preheat the oven to 325˚F. Slice the heads of garlic across the top at a point where you will remove enough to expose as many cloves as possible but not so much that you loose a lot of the head. Usually I slice off about the top third of the head. Place the heads in a small ovenproof gratin or some other dish. Smear the heads with 1/2 teaspoon of butter and then salt and pepper them. Cover tightly with foil and bake the garlic for one hour. At the end of the hour remove the foil and bake another fifteen minutes to brown up the cloves.

2. Using a strainer rinse the farro under cold water. Place the farro into a 3 quart heavy bottomed sauce pan with a lid. Cover the farro with cold water to cover by two to three inches and add a two finger pinch of salt.

3. Place the pan over high heat and bring it to a boil. Turn off the heat and cover the pan. Let the farro sit in the pan for an hour to two or until the grains have popped.

4. Use a large strainer or colander and drain the farro.

5. Wipe out the pan and put the pan back on the stove over medium low heat. Add the remaining stick of butter. Let it melt gently and then add the drained cooked farro, marjoram and squeeze the roasted garlic into the pot. Stir in the creamy soft garlic smearing it into the farro. Season the pilaf with salt and pepper to taste.

6. Once it is hot, bowl it up, and serve.

Wild Rice and Barley Pilaf

Wild Rice and Barley PilafThis is so good for you you won’t even know it taste really delicious. Seriously good eats and a great side dish for roast birds of any kind and I’ll even throw salmon onto that list.

Yes, I know it uses two sauce pans but, please, neither grain leaves behind a sticky mess. You could almost just wipe the pan with a towel after emptying it of the grains. Don’t get any ideas I said almost.

Makes 6 to 8 servings

3/4 cup wild rice

3/4 cup pearl barley

1/2 cup yellow onion, small dice

1/4 cup flat leaf parsley, minced

3 to 4 tablespoons unsalted butter

kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper

1. Put the grains into two different sauce pans. Add water to cover by 2 inches and add a two finger pinch of salt to both pots.

2. Bring the water to a boil then reduce the heat to a gentle but continuous bubble. Cook both grains until they are tender. The barley should take about 30 minutes and the rice maybe 40. The rice will just begin to open up its pod.

3. Drain both grains. The dish can be done up to a day in advance at this point.

4. Put the larger of the two sauce pans over medium heat and add the butter. Once it has melted add the chopped onion and sweat it until it is tender. Add both grains and season everything with salt and pepper. I like lots of pepper but season to your liking. Heat everything until hot, taste, and if it needs more add more butter or even a dash of water. Stir in the parsley, plate it and serve immediately.

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.

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

Venison Liver

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

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

Serves 4

For the pickled onions:

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

1/2 cup water

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

3 tablespoons sugar

1 teaspoon salt

For the liver:

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

4 pieces speck or good smoked bacon

Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper

1/2 cup flour, for dredging

safflower oil

1/2 cup mayonnaise

1/4 cup buttermilk

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

2 teaspoons pickled onion liquid

1/4 cup unsalted butter

1/2 cup carrot, small dice

1/2 cup onion, small dice

1 1/2 cup fresh peas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hachis Parmentier

Hachis Parmentier

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

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

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

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

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

Serves 4

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

1/2 cup celery, finely minced

1 teaspoon capers, minced

1/2 teaspoon lemon zest, finely zested

1 teaspoon dill, minced

1 teaspoon chives, minced

1/2 cup comte or Gruyère cheese, grated

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

1 cup milk

1 teaspoon garlic, minced

water

kosher salt and fresh ground pepper

a handful of arugula leaves, rinsed and dried

1/2 teaspoon Dijon

1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar

1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dear Mr. Pépin

Shrimp Gratin

Dear Mr. Pépin,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sincerely,

Tom

Makes 4 servings

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

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

2 green onions, chopped

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

3/4 scant cup bread crumbs

1/2 cup parmesan, grated

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled

kosher salt and fresh ground white pepper

1/4 cup dry white wine

1. Heat you oven to 400˚F.

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

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

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

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

Grilled Sirloin, Cold Weather Greens and Buttermilk Parmesan Dressing

Sirloin Steak with Cold Weather Greens

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

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

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

Serves 2

1 1/2 lb. top sirloin steak

1 head of radicchio

2 Belgian endives

1 bunch of watercress or upland cress

For the dressing:

3/4 cup mayonnaise

1/3 cup 2% non-homogenized buttermilk

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

1 to 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

2 teaspoon or more of fresh ground black pepper

kosher salt

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

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

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

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

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

Barded Pork Rib Roast with Fall Vegetables

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

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

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

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

Serves 4

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

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

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

1 lb. Brussel sprouts, trimmed and cut in half

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

8 to 12 garlic cloves, trimmed and peeled.

a handful of thyme sprigs

kosher salt and fresh ground pepper

grape seed oil

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Three Onion Chowder

Three Onion Chowder with Parsleyed Oyster Crackers

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

SERVES 4 TO 6

For the Soup:

3 ounces pancetta, 1/4 inch dice

2 cups yellow onion, peeled and julienned

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

4 shallots, peeled and sliced

1/3 cup celery, 1/4 inch dice

1 1/2 tablespoon fresh garlic, minced

1 teaspoon fresh thyme, minced

1 bay leaf

2 cups chicken stock

2 cups half and half

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

1 tablespoon Italian parsley, minced

1 tablespoon fresh chives, chopped

Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper

Parsleyed Oyster Crackers:

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

1 cup oyster crackers

1 tablespoon Italian parsley, minced

Fine sea salt and fresh ground pepper

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

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

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

Texas Caviar

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

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

Serves 6 to 8

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

2 tablespoons red onion, minced

2 tablespoons celery, minced

1/3 cup cilantro, minced

1 tablespoon green onions, minced

1 garlic clove, minced finely

1/3 cup red wine vinegar

1/8 cup extra virgin olive oil

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

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

kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper

corn chips

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

Bodega Chicken Curry

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

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

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

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

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

Serves 4

Island style curry powder:

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

2 teaspoons whole allspice berries

1 tablespoon ground tumeric

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

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

For the curry:

peanut or canola oil

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

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

1 1/2 tablespoons fresh ginger, peeled and minced

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

4 to 6 tablespoons curry powder

8 to 10 fingerling potatoes, peeled and chunked

6 to 8 sprigs of thyme

2 cups chicken stock

1 cup water

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

kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper

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

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

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

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

5. Serve.

Spinach and Feta Pie

Spinach and Feta Pie

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

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

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

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

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

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

Serves 4 as part of a larger meal

For the strudel dough:

1 1/4 cup all purpose flour dough

1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons safflower oil

5 to 7 tablespoons cold water

For the filling:

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 cups yellow onion, small dice

1 1/2 tablespoons garlic, minced

two 1 x 4 inch pieces of orange zist

1 teaspoon finely grated orange zest

10 oz. baby spinach, washed

1 cup fresh bread crumbs

1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese

1/2 to 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes

2 tablespoons currants

kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper

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

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

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

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

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

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

7. Preheat the oven to 375 ˚F.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Olive Salad Taverna

Olive Salad Taverna

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

SERVES 4

1 cup mixed olives

1 cup garbanzos, cooked, or rinsed canned

2 teaspoons preserved lemon, finely minced

2 teaspoons shallot, finely minced

1 garlic clove, finely minced

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

1/2 teaspoon chile flakes

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

1 teaspoon pomegranate molasses

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper

1 head butter leaf lettuce

hunks of feta and pita, optional

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

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

Duck Sugo on Noodles

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

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

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

Serves 4 to 6

oil

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

1 cup yellow onion, peeled, trimmed and small dice

1/2 cup carrot, peeled, small dice

1/2 cup celery, small dice

1 tablespoon fresh garlic, minced

1 bay leaf

1/3 cup tomato paste

2 cups Pomi brand strained tomatoes

1 1/2 cup vegetable broth

1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, chopped

Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper

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

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

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

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

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

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

6. Plate the noodles,  sauce and serve.

Chicken, Basil, and Tomato Sausage with Cavatelli

Chicken and Basil Sausage with Cavatelli

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

.

Serves 6

Chicken Basil and Tomato Sausage with Cavatelli

6 sausages, Italian sausages would be great too

olive oil

3 onions, peeled, halved and julienned

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

36 ounces strained tomatoes or sauce

1 tablespoon double concentrated tomato paste

kosher salt and fresh ground pepper

1/4 cup cream

a handful of fresh basil

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cheese Lasagne

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

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

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

Serves 6 to 8

extra virgin olive oil

1 onion, peeled and chopped

3 cloves garlic, minced

2 teaspoons pomegranate molasses

one 28oz. box pomi strained tomatoes

one 28oz. box pomi chopped tomatoes

1/4 teaspoons fennel seed, ground

2 teaspoons oregano

2 tablespoons flat leaf parsley, minced

2 tablespoons tomato paste

1 pound no boil whole wheat lasagna noodles

12 ounces low moisture mozzarella , grated

12 ounces fresh mozzarella, sliced into eight rounds

1 pound cottage cheese, drained in a strainer

2 eggs

1 cup parmesan cheese, grated

kosher salt and fresh ground pepper

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oven Roasted Plum Tomatoes in Olive Oil

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

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

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

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

20110915-DSCF2320Recipe adapted from The French Laundry Cookbook

Makes 1 quart

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

kosher or sea salt

fresh ground black pepper

a handful of fresh savory or thyme sprigs

extra virgin olive oil

1. Heat the oven to 275˚F. 

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

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

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

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

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

French Onion Soup

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

Onions slowly brown and take time to get cararmelized

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

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

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

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

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

Makes 6 servings

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

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

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

1 cup red wine

4 cups richly flavored stock

1 tablespoon dried thyme

kosher salt and fresh ground pepper

1/2 pound Fontina, grated

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Heart and Soul

The tiny bright green stars of okra and the fresh lima beans, so tender the veins show through their thin skins, are nestled into a bed of bi-color sweet corn just shaved off the cob. Together they simmer in a liquid that is mostly melted butter, seasoned quietly with salt and black pepper.

Succotash is a poor man’s dish, made popular during the Great Depression. Somehow I never feel poor when eating it — but then, I feel that way about all soul food.

While succotash is comfort food, not all comfort food is soul food. I can find comfort in foie gras, but foie gras is not soul food. Succotash is.

At the back of the stove, the chicken thighs simmer away. Their crispy brown skin breaks the bubbling surface of pan gravy made with peppers, onions, and celery. There is a reason they call this mix of vegetables the trinity. It goes beyond the Southern flavor they bring to the dish — something distinct, even ethereal.

I am feeling sad. Sylvia Woods, of Sylvia’s Soul Food fame, has passed away. Over the years, her collard greens recipe became my recipe, her Northern-style cornbread a family favorite at Thanksgiving. It was with her recipe in hand one sultry Friday afternoon some years ago that I lost my red velvet cake virginity.

I pick up the paring knife used to peel the potatoes. It is dirty with powdery white potato starch. Fishing for one of the larger chunks of potato, I stick it into the boiling water, find one, and poke it with the knife, which slips to the center of the potato like it is room temperature butter.

Carrying the potato pot to the sink, I pour it into the strainer. Hot starchy steam rushes up and around my face before disappearing upward toward the ceiling. I let the potatoes sit in the strainer to steam out excess moisture and turn to the stove to stir the succotash.

The oven timer goes off.

I grab a kitchen towel to use as a hot pad and remove the black skillet cornbread from the oven. I can smell the thin, crispy bacon fat-and-cornmeal crust that forms when the batter hits the hot skillet, hiding now under the tender yellow interior. I set the skillet on top of the stove and cover it with the dish towel.

I like this point in the meal preparation.  The point where everything is coming together and there is a final rush to get everything done at the same time so all the food comes to the table hot.

I rice the potatoes.

It isn’t a coincidence the corn, okra, and lima beans are all at their peak out in the garden today.  At least that is what I am telling myself.

I always add the butter first to the riced potatoes so the fat gets absorbed by the starch.  Then I add the heavy cream, salt and pepper.
I like that soul food is about coming together not just as a family but as a community, even more so then it is about eating.  Not that the food isn’t important– it is about the value of sharing, too — but even the food shouldn’t trump the socialization that happens around it.

I taste the potatoes.  They are just the right texture and need no further seasoning, cream or butter.  I scoop them into a serving bowl, and do the same with the succotash, and put the smothered chicken on a platter with its gravy ladled over the top.

It is always lively at our table.  This evening, it might even be more so.

Get the Bona Fide smothered chicken recipe here.