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.

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Gumbo Z’herbes with Yeasted Corn Biscuit Dumplings

Gumbo Z’herbes

If you know me you know I love greens.  I go to them for comfort, for quick meals and just about any reason, now that I think about it,  I am not even sure I need a reason.

There was a day not all that long ago when I would always add some sort of smoked pork or, at the very least, smoked turkey legs to the greens.  At some point we started to eat  less meat and started to enjoy vegetables for being vegetables.  Since those days of long ago I have added the pork back to my greens on occasion and each time I do I always say to myself, “well, that was a mistake.”   For me,  I have found I like greens for greens and the pork just overpowers them.

Even so there are dishes were not adding the requisite pork is damn near criminal and it might be in some states south of the Ohio River.  I thought not adding tasso ham to my Gumbo Z’herbes might be one such crime but then I got to thinking about it and I came to understand, for the most part, it is the herbs used to cure the tasso that I like.

I am sure you see where this is going.

The biscuits dumplings aren’t traditional but the gooey bottoms and crunchy tops sure are a plus in my mind.

Note: the yeast used in the biscuits is really more for the yeasty flavor then it is to make them rise.  While I am sure it helps them rise it is not the reason they rise the baking soda is.  So don’t omit the soda because there is yeast in the recipe.  Also, not only are these really good as dumplings but they are  just as good when baked as biscuits.

Serve 4 to 6

For the gumbo:

peanut oil

1 1/2 cups yellow onion, peeled trimmed and cut into a small dice

3/4 cup green pepper, membranes and seeds removed, cut int a small dice

3/4 cup celery, cut into a small dice

3 tablespoons, garlic, minced

1/4 teaspoon cayanne

1/2 teaspoon marjoram

1/2 teaspoon allspice

1/2 teaspoon fresh ground white pepper

7 cups vegetable broth

1 teaspoon gumbo file

8 cups mixed greens, collards, turnip, or kale, rinsed at least three times and chopped into thin ribbons

kosher salt

For the biscuits:

1 cup buttermilk, room temperature

2 teaspoons active dry yeast

1 teaspoon sugar

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 cup corn flour, not cornmeal

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup unsalted butter, cold and cubed

extra flour for dusting

1. Place a 3 1/2 quart cast iron Dutch oven over medium heat.  Add enough oil to the pot to just cover the bottom.  Add the onion, peppers and celery.  Season them with salt and pepper and stir them to keep them from browning but let them become soft.

2. Add the garlic, cayenne, marjoram, allspice and white pepper.  Stir until everything becomes fragrant with out letting the garlic brown.  Add the vegetable stock and bring it to a boil.

3. Add the greens by the handful until each addition is wilted and you can add more to the pot.  Do this till all 8 cups have been added.

4. Bring the gumbo back to a boil then reduce the heat to a simmer.  Simmer uncovered for 1 hour.  At the end of the hour add the gumbo file and stir it into the broth.  The greens will be tender and gooey.

5. Heat the oven to 425˚ F.  While the oven is heating combine the yeast and buttermilk and let the yeast dissolve.

6. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, or by hand using a heavy duty wooden spoon, combine the flour, cornmeal,  sugar, baking soda, and salt with the butter.  Mix the flour with the butter until it has the appearance of coarse cornmeal.  Add the buttermilk and process until the biscuit dough is just combined.

7. You can use a small ice cream scoop, make sure you don’t sink the biscuits into the liquid,  and make a drop biscuit topping by gingerly and gently plopping the dough right out of the scoop and into the gumbo or you can turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface roll it, cut it into rounds,  and then lay these on top of the gumbo.

8. Either way be careful not to sink the dumplings.  Place the pot into the oven and bake the whole thing, uncovered, for 20 minutes or until the biscuits have browned nicely.

6. Serve

Sweetbread Po’ Boy

Sweetbreads make the perfect po’ boy for anyone not living close to the ocean and oysters, well, and for that matter even those living near the sea may want to give this a go.

It is so amazingly delicous but then you have to be a fan of sweetbreads. If you have never eaten them this would be a good way to go at them for the first time and if you love them you will really like this sandwich.  This is also a great latenighter or one of those things you eat when you are the only one at home, then of course, you can revel in its full splendor.

Makes 4 Po’ Boys

To poach the sweet breads:

1 pound, sweet breads, carefully cleaned of any membrane

1 lemon, halved

1 onion, peeled and quarted

2 stalks celery, chopped

2 bay leaves

4 sprigs flat leaf parsley

1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns

11/2 teaspoon kosher salt

4 garlic cloves, crushed

1/4 cup white wine

water

For the poor boy:

blanched sweet breads

2 cups flour, season with 1 teaspoons each black pepper, thyme & paprika

egg wash, two eggs beaten with 1 cup milk

kosher salt

1/2 cup mayonnaise

1 teaspoon lemon juice

1 teaspoon capers, drained and chopped

1/2 teaspoon cornichon pickles, minced

1 teaspoon flat leaf parsley, minced

2 cups romaine lettuce shaved into ribbons

2 loaves french bread, halved

peanut oil for frying

1. Squeeze half the lemon and then drop the spent lemon into a 3 quart pot along with the onion, celery, bay leaves, parsley, peppercorns garlic salt and wine, Add the sweetbreads and enough water to cover.

2. Place the pot over low heat and slowly bring it to a boil, adjusting the heat as necessary. Simmer the sweet breads till just cooked through, not long. Remove them from the heat and let them sit in the poaching liquid until it has cooled.

3. Remove the sweetbreads from the liquid and place them on a parchment lined sheet tray. Place another piece of parchment on top and then a sheet tray. Wrap the whole thing in plastic wrap to keep the sweetbreads from drying out.

4. Put the wrapped contraption into the fridge and place a gallon of milk, or some sort of weight on top of them and let them compress overnight.

5. The next day make the spread. Place the mayo into a small mixing bowl and add the lemon juice from the left over half a lemon, the capers, cornichons, and parsley. Stir the spread and season it with salt and pepper. taste and adjust the seasoning.

6. Remove the sweetbreads from the fridge and unwrap them. Season them with salt.

7. Place 1 inch of peanut oil into a 3 inch high, or higher, Dutch oven and place it over medium high heat.

8. Put the seasoned flour into a paper or plastic bag and add the sweetbreads. Gently roll them around to coat them with the flour. Remove them and drop them into the egg wash. Check the temperature of the peanut oil with a deep fry thermometer. It should be close to 350˚F.

9. If the oil is to temp remove the sweetbreads from the milk, let the excess milk drain back into the pan, and put the sweetbreads back into the flour. Toss them around gently until they are well coated with the flour.

Place them gently into the oil and deep fry them until brown. Remember they are already cooked so you needn’t worry about anything other than making sure they are hot.

10. Once they are browned assemble your sandwiches, bread, spread, lettuce and sweetbreads, then dig in to some good eating.

 

Note: If you are going to make the fries heat your oven to 250˚F and fry the sweetbreads and then place them on a rack placed over a sheet tray and keep them warm while you fry the fries.

The Poor Wretches Pasta


Street walkers pasta and now poor wretches pasta.  Leave it to the Italians to come up with an interesting name for their local eats.  This is Sicilian by birth.  The pine nuts and currants aren’t traditional but I like what they bring to this dish.

Eggplants are abundant at the moment.  You could take the time to make eggplant parm, moussaka or some other multi-step dish or you could keep it simple and make this.  It is simple but that doesn’t mean it isn’t flavorful.  I have made it twice already and probably will make it again.  I am not doing so because I have eggplants, and lots of them, but because I like it that much.

Makes 4 to 6 servings

good quality olive oil

2 or 3 eggplant, depending on size, peeled and cubed into 1 inch pieces, about 5 cups

2 cups tomato sauce

2 teaspoons red pepper flakes

3 tablespoons currants

2 tablespoons pine nuts

1/2 cup fresh bread crumbs

16 oz. penne pasta

kosher salt and fresh ground pepper

1. Add 1 1/2 tablespoons of olive oil to a small saute pan.  Once it is hot add the bread crumbs and pine nuts.  Season them with salt and pepper and cook them until they are browned.  Add the currants and toss a few times.  Empty the pan into a small bowl  and let the topping cool.

2. About one hour before you start cooking put the eggplant cubes into a colander.  Season the cubes with a fair amount of salt and either place the colander in the sink to drain or in a large bowl.

3.  Place a large pot of generously salted water over high heat.

4.  While the water is coming to a boil place a 14 inch saute pan over high heat and add 1/3 cup of olive oil.  Once it is shimmering but not smoking add the eggplant.  It might splatter a little if there is a lot of water clinging to the pieces so be careful.  Brown the eggplant.

5. Add the red pepper flakes, a little more oil if the pan looks dry,  and then the tomato sauce.  Reduce the heat and simmer the sauce.

6. Add the pasta to the big pot of boiling water and cook the pasta according to the cooking time listed on the box.  Once they are done, add a 1/2 to 1 cup of the starchy pasta cooking liquid to the sauce depending on how reduced it has become.

7. Strain the noodles and add them to the sauce.  Toss to combine and coat the noodles.  Pour the pan out into a large bowl and top with the bread-crumb-currant-pine-nut topping and serve.

French Onion Soup

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

Onions slowly brown and take time to get cararmelized

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

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

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

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

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

Makes 6 servings

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

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

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

1 cup red wine

4 cups richly flavored stock

1 tablespoon dried thyme

kosher salt and fresh ground pepper

1/2 pound Fontina, grated

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Lentil Cakes Tikka Masala

These cakes have become a standard in our rotation.  Not always as Indian cuisine but as other styles too.  The Lentil du Puy base is a really good foil for all kinds of flavors and the texture of the meal is toothsome which is also very satisfying.  I would imagine the possibilities to be endless and I will let you know if we make any discoveries that deem reporting back to you.

Serves 4

For the Lentil Cakes:

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

For the Sauce:

1/2 yellow onion small dice

1 cup tomato sauce

1/2 cup cream

1/2 cup plain yougurt

pinch cinnamon

pinch tumeric

2 teaspoons cilantro

canola oil

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.

7. Drain the oil from the pan, place it back on the heat and then add the remaining diced onion. Sauté until tender then add the rest of the sauce ingredients. Stir to combine, bring to a boil then reduce the heat. Let it simmer for ten minutes to come together. You can puree the sauce to make it smooth or leave the onion chunky making the sauce rustic.

Serve with rice.

Mother’s Grits and Debris

I snuggled in behind the wheel of what became known as the Starship Enterprise, it was no longer a minivan fit for a family vacation.  Instead it morphed into a party pod for a convoy of misfits headed to Mardi Gras.  I was old enough to know better but I never let that stop me.

Fortunately,  we only lost one car and one person both of which later turned up in Florida.  I guess they just needed a change of venue, besides the important thing is we all managed to stay out of jail.

I could smell the chicory coffee wafting out the front door and blowing down Tchoupitoulas.  It drew me in like a voodoo king casting a love spell and deposited me at Mother’s front door.  The sign about the world’s best baked ham didn’t even register as I walked past it and sat down near a window hoping the low morning sun would cast some clarity onto the crumpled two day old newspaper I was trying to read.  I thought the sunlight might help me focus but it didn’t and in the end I had to leave that to the coffee.

The bite of the chicory brought me around long enough to order another cup and a bowl of Grits and Debris, which was really all I could afford.  What the coffee couldn’t do, breakfast did.  I didn’t realize how bad I needed food.  It was one of those occasions when you realize booze and nicotine isn’t a sustainable diet.  My breakfast was nourishing from the first bite to the last.

I only ate at Mother’s this one time but I revisit often on mornings when what is needed is a little something more.

Debris: the parts, bits and crumbs of roast beef that fall onto the carving board while you are slicing the meat.

Serves 2

1/2 cup brown rice grits, fine grind or corn grits

1 1/2 cups water plus 2 tablespoons

kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper

1/2 cup debris, chopped pot roast or some sort of chopped cooked beef

1 cup au jus or beef broth

1 shallot, peeled and sliced thinly

2 eggs, optional

oil or butter for frying the eggs, optional

chive is you feel so inclined

1. Place the grits and water into a sauce pan.  Add a healthy pinch of salt and several grinds of black pepper.  In another sauce pan combine the shallots, au jus and debris.  Place both pans over high heat and bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat of the grits to a simmer and cover.  Reduce the heat under the debris to medium low and let it bubble briskly.

Optional eggs:  Heat a saute pan over high heat and add the butter.  Fry the eggs to your liking.

2. Bowl up the grits, ladle half the debris and au jus over each then sprinkle with chives.  Serve with some good coffee.

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Jambon Persillé Maison

Jambon Persillé Maison

In the heat of the summer sometimes it is good to have a dish you can simply slide out of the fridge, slice off a hunk,  add a condiment, some pickles and you have lunch or a light dinner.   Somehow and I am not sure how but I believe collagen has a cooling effect.   While I know it is great for your joints  and colds, one reason real chicken and noodle soup is called penicillin, I am not sure why it would be cooling other then it is, well, served cold, stupid I know but I have no other answer and, honestly I need to get back out to the garden and finish weeding.  But first a quick lunch.

Makes a 4 x 4 x 8 inch loaf

2 1/2 lb. chunk of ham, mine was two pieces
1 celery stalk, trimmed and chopped
1 onion, trimmed and halved
1 carrot, peeled and chopped
1 small head of garlic, trimmed, halved
2 bay leaves
5 sprigs fresh thyme
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup shallots, minced
1/2 cup flat leaf parsley, rinsed, dried and minced
1 1/2 sheets of gelatin
1 1/2 teaspoons red wine vinegar

1. Place the ham in a large pot with the celery, carrot, onion, garlic, bay, and thyme.  Add cold water to cover the ham by and inch.  Place the pot over high heat and bring it to a boil.  Reduce the heat to a simmer and simmer for two hours or until the ham is tender enough to shred with a fork.

2. Remove the ham to a sheet tray or something that will allow you to shred it without making a mess.
3. Add the half cup of wine to the ham pot and bring the broth to a boil.   Reduce the liquid to about 2 or 2 1/2 cups.
4. Shred the ham while the broth is reducing and add the parsley, shallots and a few grinds of black pepper.
When the broth is reduced taste it for seasoning.  If it needs salt add a little.  Remember this will be served cold so it needs to be seasoned aggressively but it is ham so it is already salty.  You will need to use your own best judgement.  Remove the vegetables from the broth.  I just ladled out the broth and left the thyme leaves in, remember this is a rustic dish.
5. Place the gelatin into a bowl and add some of the hot broth.  Let the sheet curl up and then flatten out then swirl the broth around until the gelatin has dissolved and then add the rest of the broth.  Add the vinegar and mix well.
6. Mix the ham well with the parsley and shallots.  Grab a good handful of the ham mixture and pat it into the bottom of the loaf pan with the authority of a TSA agent.  Add some of the broth to just come up to the top edge of this layer of ham.  Add more ham and then do the same with the broth until you have filled the pan.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.  I didn’t put a weight on top of the ham to compress it but feel free to do so if you have the urge.
7. The next day slice and serve with pickles, mustard and crusty bread.

Mexican Street Fair Corn

Nothing new, been done countless ways and yet if you get, grow or steal perfect sweet corn and make this dish you will continually come back to it again, and again, and again throughout the summer.

SERVES 4

8 ears of the tastiest sweet corn, still in the husk, you can lay you hands on

mayonnaise

2 cups grated hard cheese, Asiago, Manchego, or Cotija

2 tablespoons ancho chile powder

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper

3 tablespoons cilantro, minced

lime wedges

1. Soak the corn in a water filled sink for 2 to 4 hours.

2. Fire up your grill for direct heat grilling. While the grill is heating peel back the husks leaving them attached to the ear of corn making a handle. Remove the bulk of the silks but you are going to be grilling the corn so any remaining threads will burn off, this is one of the pluses of grilling corn. Combine the cheese and cilantro on a large plate. Combine the ancho and garlic powder.

3. When the grill is hot add the corn and cook it until tender. It should get splotches of brown caramelization if the grill is hot enough.

4. When it is done use a pastry brush to paint the ears with mayonnaise. Roll them in the cheese and cilantro crust. Then sprinkle with chile garlic powder combo and salt and pepper. Serve with a squeeze of lime.

Japanese Beef and Noodle Soup

Japanese Beef and Onion Soup

For real, once you make this soup and see how easy it really is you will make it time and again. It will fall into your weeknight rotation and you will start stocking the stuff you need in your pantry. It is seriously good folks.

You are going to have to take a trip to the Asian grocery. Don’t you think it is about time? First off, I have said it time and again, the vegetables are great and, as is true with most ethnic grocery stores, the prices are great. Think of it as and adventure. A cultural adventure and realize that the people working in the store are there to help you, want you to know about their food culture and will do their best to get you the product you are looking for

Dashi is a Japanese stock made from dried bonito flakes. They are smoky and rich and key to making this right. Also you will need kombu, konbu or dried kelp sheets which is seaweed, but don’t substitute other seaweeds they are not the same. You want kelp. And finally don’t try to substitute dried ginger for the fresh, again, it is not the same. Ginger purchased at the Asian market is like a third of the price as your regular grocery because people are actually buying it before the owners have to throw it away so there is no lose of overhead due to spoilage.

I also use an organic Japanese soy sauce but you don’t have too. Just realize you want a Japanese style soy that doesn’t have a lot of additives. Pretty much it should have water, soybeans, maybe wheat, and salt and nothing more. Do not get aged or reduced or thickened soy for this recipe either.

You literally can use any kind of thin noodles you want. If you feel most comfy with spaghetti because that is what you have always cooked then go for it. Just make sure, one, you salt the pasta cooking water heavily, it will make your noodles taste good, and when they are done cooking cool them immediately in a cold water to stop the cooking. This way you won’t have mushy tasteless noodles.

This recipe is the culmination of many but is probably most closely related to Japanese ramen or even sukiyaki. I think you will like it. Enjoy.

Japanese Beef and Onion Soup

Serves 4

1 tablespoon grape seed or canola oil
2 large onions, peeled and julienned
1 leek, white part only save the green end for stock
1/4 cup garlic, peeled and sliced thinly
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, peeled and minced
1/3 cup mirin
1/2 cup soy sauce
8 cups dashi
12 very thin slices of beef tenderloin at room temperature
fresh ground black pepper
salt
a handful of cilantro leaves
1 pound of thin noodles of your choice, cooked

1. Heat the oil over medium heat in a 3 1/2 quart heavy bottomed sauce pan.  Add the onions , ginger, and the leeks and sweat them, stirring occasionally until they begin to brown.   The less you stir the sooner they will brown but eventually you also want to stir so they brown nicely on all sides.
2. Add the garlic about halfway through the browning process.  You want to soften the garlic but not brown it or it can become bitter.  Now add the mirin and let it reduce by half.  Then add the dashi and soy.  Taste and add salt if necessary or more soy if you think it needs it.  Reduce the heat and let the broth simmer for a bit, about 20 minutes or so.  Just enough to let the flavors come together and the onions to be very tender but not mush.
3. If the noodles are cold place them in a strainer and run hot water over them for a few minutes to warm them.  Shake out the excess hot water  then divide them between four bowls.  Arrange 4 tenderloin slices in each bowl and top with some cilantro.
4. Bring the broth to a boil and ladle it over the noodles.  It will slightly cook the beef and will heat the noodles.   Grind some fresh pepper over the top along with some cilantro and serve.

Meatballs Emilia-Romagna with Pasta Sheets

Meatballs Emilia-Romagna with Pasta Sheets

Although I have never been for a visit,  I have been fascinated with this region of Italy ever since I first tasted tagliatelle with a game ragu. I like the richness of the food, and yet it never seems overly heavy and filling. I think it has to do with the restraint and balance of the rich and decadent foods they use. I chose to use ground short ribs for the base of the meatball for several reasons. One, they stay moist because of the fat content, and two I also caramelize the meatballs because that is one of the great things about short ribs is how rich they become after browning. I also grate the onion and garlic on a micro plane so it permeates the bread crumb and milk panade and then the entire meatball. If you make these meatballs hours ahead of time and put them in the fridge when you go to roll them they will seem like they are not going to bind together. As you work them in your hands the heat of your hands will soften the fat and the will come together nicely.

SERVES 4, WITH ENOUGH MEATBALL MIX TO TEST FOR SEASONING
1 1/2 pound short rib meat, sinew removed and ground, you butcher can do this for you too.
1/2 cup whole milk
1/2 cup dry bread crumbs
1 teaspoon fresh garlic, grated on a micro plane
1 tablespoon yellow onion, grated on a micro plane
2 tablespoons flat leaf parsley, minced
1/2 cup parmesan reggiano, grated
1 egg
kosher salt and black pepper
extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 cup yellow onion, small dice
3/4 cups carrots, small dice
3/4 cups celery, small dice
1 tablespoon fresh garlic, minced
2 thin slices of prosciutto, diced
2 bay leaves
1 sprig of fresh rosemary, about 6 inches long
1 cup dry red wine
1 1/2 tablespoons double concentrated tomato paste
2 cups beef stock or chicken stock
1/2 cup whole milk
2 tablespoons heavy cream

8 each lasagna sheets

1.    Combine the bread crumbs, milk, grated garlic and grated onions in a bowl and mix to combine. Let it sit for 5 minutes. Combine the beef, egg, parmesan and parsley with the bread crumb mixture and mix very well. ( I used the paddle attachment on my mixer.) Season with a half a teaspoon of salt and a few turns of fresh ground pepper. Make a walnut sized meatball. Place a small saute pan over medium heat. Add some oil and saute the meatball until it is done. Taste and adjust the seasoning as necessary. Keep in mind the garlic and onion will grow stronger as the mix sets so you are really only tasting for salt. Place them in the fridge while you cut you veggies.
2.    Roll the meatballs making them golf ball size. I used a #20 scoop.Heat a large 14 inch non stick skillet over medium high heat. These meatballs start out very tender but firm up as the fat is rendered. Add a couple of glugs of olive oil and gently add the meatballs and brown them on all sides. Remove them to a sheet tray with sides when they are finished browning.
3.    Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
4.    Empty out the grease and put the pan back on the heat. Add a glug or two of olive oil and add the prosciutto. Once the prosciutto is crisp add the chopped onions, carrots, and celery. Saute until they begin to soften but don’t brown. Add the garlic.
5.    Once you smell the garlic add the wine and the bay leaves. Reduce the wine to a glaze and then add the stock and rosemary sprig. Reduce the liquid by half. Add the milk and cream. Let it come to a boil and then then place the pan into the oven.
6.    Slide the meatballs into the oven too. Set a timer for 16 minutes.
7.    About 4 minutes before the timer goes off drop the noodles into the pot of boiling water and cook for 3 to 4 minutes.(if you are not using fresh pasta start to cook it according to the time on the box and plan to have it done at the same time as the ragu) Remove the pasta and let it drain. Remove the sauce and meatballs from the oven. Remove the bay leaves and rosemary sprig from the sauce. The sauce should not be thick but should be reduced.
8.    To plate hold the end of a noodle with a clean towel. Place about a tablespoon of sauce between each layer as you bunch it on the plate. Place three meatballs on top drizzle with some ragu and grate more cheese over the top and serve.

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Smothered Chicken

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.

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.

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Swiss Steak

This dish epitomizes Midwest and plains state farm food of German heritage.  It is something that your grandmother most definitely would have made and when you walked into the mud room to park your dirty boots on the old rag rug you would get the warm fuzzies.  You knew not only would the steak be tasty but more than likely the mashed potatoes or the buttered egg noodles with parsley and stewed green beans would be accompanied by home made yeast rolls.  Some sort of carrot salad or slaw and a piece of spice cake for dessert, well, makes for a great Sunday dinner.

Serves 4

1 round steak, 2 1/4 lbs.
canola oil
2 cups yellow onion, thinly sliced
1 red pepper, cored and sliced thin
8 oz. white mushrooms, brushed of dirt and sliced
1 garlic clove, large, minced
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon marjoram
1 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoon flour
2 to 3 cups of water
kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper
minced parsley for garnish

1. Season the round steak on both sides with salt and black pepper.  Let the salt dissolve before you continue.  Heat the oven to 325 degrees.
2. Heat a 14 inch heavy bottomed saute pan (you will also need a lid) over medium high heat.  Add the canola oil, it should shimmer if if doesn’t let it heat some more, then carefully place the steak into the pan.  Sear it until it is very brown and caramelized on both sides.  You want to build what is called a fond on the bottom of the pan.  The fond is the gooey brown stuff that is sticking to the pan and you want to take care not to burn it.  The fond is going to give loads of flavor to you sauce.  It is ok to let it become deep brown but if it is getting to dark to quick turn the heat to medium.
3. Remove the steak to a tray.  Place the butter into the pan and add the onion, mushrooms, and peppers to the pan.  Let them cook until they wilt and start to take on some color.  Add the flour, garlic, marjoram and thyme.  Stir the flour in and let it cook for a minute or two to burn off the starch flavor,  add the water.  Using a wooden spoon scrape up all the brown bits from the bottom of the pan.
4. Bring the sauce to a boil and then place the steak on top of the veggies.  Put the lid on the pan and slide it into the oven.  Set a timer for 1 hour.
5. At the end of an hour check the tenderness of the round steak.  You don’t want it to be fall apart tender but you don’t want it to be tough either.  So cut a little sliver off and give it a go.  Either bake it with the lid on for another half hour or serve.
6. To serve:  Place the steak on a platter, preferably warmed in the oven for a minute or two,  and ladle on the sauce, finally, garnish with parsley and serve.

Glazed Carrots with Lettuce

I am not sure when my fascination with carrots began but it wasn’t as a kid. I really don’t think I thought much about carrots until I started growing them in my garden. I think the fact that a good carrot in the middle of winter taste so good and feels so completely nourishing while you are eating them it makes them hard to pass up.

This recipe uses classic technique, yet, is really simple. I find this recipe to be old school Flemish/Belgian and borderline Dutch. The first time I made it years ago I had my doubts about the lettuce addition but they quickly dissolved into bliss. As always the best and freshest produce you can lay you hands on is always going to make the best food.

SERVES 4

16 carrots with tops, you can tell how fresh the carrots are by the tops, not more than 3/4 inch diameter, peeled and timmed with 1 inch of top left on

1 teaspoon sugar

scant 1/2 teaspoons salt

1 1/2 teaspoon white wine vinegar

1 bay leaf

1 sprig of fresh thyme

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

a few grinds of white pepper

water

1/2 dozen bibb lettuce leaves, larger ones torn in half

  1. Place everything, except the lettuce, into a 12 inch heavy bottom saute pan. Add about 1 cup of cold water to the pan or just enough to reach an 1/8 inch from the tops of the carrots.
  2. Place the pan over high heat and bring to a boil. The idea here is to have the water all but evaporate at the same time the carrots finish cooking leaving you with a rich and delicious glaze to coat and be poured over the dish. If the water seems to be evaporating before the carrots are close to being done you can add a little more. At the same time if the carrots seem to be getting to done remove them from the pan. Reduce the glaze and then at the end add the carrots back to warm them and to cook the lettuce.
  3. The whole idea here is to have a tender carrot that is not mushy or one that when you cut it is so hard it shoots across the table. It is timing and you can always use a toothpick to test the fattest part of the carrot. It should yield with a some pressure pressure. As the water gets close to being gone add the lettuce. Let the lettuce wilt and get soft. You want it to be vibrant green but tender like cooked spinach. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Plate, drizzle the glaze over the veggies and serve.
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Banana Cream Pie

Banana Cream Pie

With the impending second storm barreling down on the Midwest it was feeling like more than a three hour tour. In keeping the castaways at ease we dove into a family baking project, used the last three bananas and watched old episodes of Gilligan’s Island.  After tasting this pie I know why the castaways never left the island.

SERVES 6 – 8

For the pie::

1 1/4 cup graham cracker crumbs

1/4 cup sugar

1/4 cup unsalted butter, softened

4 large egg yolks

1/2 cup sugar

3 tablespoons corn starch

1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt

2 1/2 cups whole milk, do not substitute

1/4 teaspoon cardamom

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

3 bananas

For the brittle and whipped cream::

1/4 cup honey

1/4 teaspoon cardamom

1/2 cup macadamia nuts, toasted and chopped, a good time to toast them is when you bake the crust

2 3/4 cups heavy cream

1/4 cup powdered sugar

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Combine the graham cracker crumbs, sugar and 1/4 cup of butter in a mixing bowl and combine with a fork until you have a mealy looking mixture.
  2. Pour the mixture into a 9 inch pie pan. Press out the crumbs until you have and even crust up the sides and bottom of the pie pan. Bake the crust until it is beginning to brown and is set. About 5 to 10 minutes. Remove it from the oven and let it cool.
  3. While the crust is cooling combine the corn starch, sugar, egg yolks, cardamom, vanilla and salt in a mixing bowl. Whisk until well combined.
  4. Place the milk into a sauce pan and bring it to a boil over medium high heat. While whisking the egg mixture add a cup of hot milk and whisk. Add the egg mixture to the milk pan and put it back over the heat.
  5. Let the pudding come to a boil and then whisk until thick. Remove it from the heat and whisk in the butter. Pour the pudding into a bowl and set the bowl into an ice bath to cool the pudding.
  6. Place the honey and the remaining cardamom into a small sauce pan and bring it to a boil over medium heat. Let it boil until it becomes very foamy.(have a cup of very cold water handy and drop a small droplet into the water. It should separate into thin brittle threads) Add the macadamia nuts and stir. Remove the brittle from the heat and pour it onto a greased parchment lined sheet tray. PLace the brittle into the fridge.
  7. Slice the bananas and layer them onto the pie crust. If the pudding has cooled pour it over the bananas. Refrigerate the pie for two hours or more.
  8. Once the pie has set make the whipped cream topping. Either with a stand mixer or a hand mixer whip the cream until it begins to thicken. Add the powdered sugar and the vanilla and whip to stiff peaks.
  9. Chop the brittle.
  10. Pipe the whipped cream onto the pie and then top with the chopped brittle. Serve.