Marie’s Freedom Station and Crispy BBQ Chicken Thighs

Marie’s Freedom Tire Shop

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

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The Wonder Of Store-Bought Crackers

I have a deep affinity for crackers.  Not gourmet varieties, or even homemade, but good old plain Jane everyday crackers, be it Captain’s wafers, or saltines, and especially any kind that comes two-to-a-pack.  

I don’t think anyone needs a reason to like crackers  but my fondness, I am certain, begins with my childhood memory of inexpensive family restaurants and sit down pizza joints that bring cracker baskets to the table instead of bread.   I love the cracker basket and who in their right mind doesn’t?  They hold something for everyone after all.  Remember those crunchy breadsticky thingys, the sesame rounds, or the oblong townhouse crackers shaped like flattened capsules all wrapped up, by twos,  in cellophane.

Wandering along my merry way as we do in life,  I eat crackers.  I eat crackers without much thought.  I eat Club crackers wrapped in thinly sliced bacon and then baked, I learn it is okay to drink a martini with saltines topped with pickled bologna and American cheese because they are a match made in heaven,  I will never forget having Georgia cracker salad and realizing it is nothing more than a tomato, mayo, whitebread sandwich on steroids, and my favorite, I use all kinds of crushed crackers as croutons for my salad.  To this day every time I walk past a stick of butter I can’t help but want to drag a saltine down the length of the stick before popping it into my mouth, the perforations at the edges of the cracker leaving the soft butter to look like a perfectly raked zen garden. Continue reading

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Taiwanese Beef Noodle Soup (For the Slow Cooker)

I am new to slow cookers. I bought mine with the intention of immersing myself into the world of the crock pot.  My reasons are simple I need to create a few bigger blocks of time each week to immerse myself into other projects. It feels like the right thing to do. Continue reading

RECIPE CARD: All-American Crab Cakes

I can’t tell you how many times I made crab cakes while working at different restaurants.  I am pretty sure even I don’t  want to know.  What I do know is many times they had lots of flavors sans one, crab and I often thought the cakes were more bread crumb than crab.  So here is a quick, easy, and very crab tasting recipe that can be made any night of the week.  This recipe makes a lot of cakes but realize you can make the cakes and freeze them in sets of 4 cakes or whatever works for you. Continue reading

Aside

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

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

Octopus and Potato Salad with a Tomato Vinaigrette

Bar Pizza—It’s What You Crave

There has never been a more one-of-a-kind pizza like the bar pizza.  For the most part they are never good,  many times they are awful, but that has never stopped anybody from ordering one. Patrons order them because they are drinking.  Combine it with hunger and it makes these pizzas far better then they would ever be if a shot of better judgement was in hand.  Without exception a bar pizza reigns over the pink pickled eggs languishing in the murky liquid of the large glass jar back by the whisky.  Bar pizzas are also infinitely better then the microwavable cups of Spaghetti-Os or the burritos ensconced in a cardboard tortilla.  Even so, that doesn’t make them good. Continue reading

Barley Salad with Kalamata Olives, Sun-dried Tomatoes, and Parsley

I have cooked with whole grains for a long time.  My fascination began, simply enough, with bulgur wheat used to make tabouleh.  It was a gateway to all sorts of other grains; winter wheat, soft summer wheat, oat groats, farro,  you get the idea.  There are lots of grains readily available that a few short years ago were very difficult to locate.  A good earthy health food store went a long way to rectifying the shortage but now about every food store carries some sort of whole grain. Continue reading

A Very French Beef Stew

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

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

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

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

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

 

Clay Pot Beef Stew with Roasted Vegetables (serves 4)

2 TBS. olive oil

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

1 1/2 TBS all-purpose flour

3 medium yellow onions

15 cloves garlic, peeled and left whole

3 cups homemade beef broth of sodium free beef broth

1 1/2 teaspoons Herbes de Provence

1 tsp. kosher salt

2 tsp. Japanese tonkatsu sauce or Heinz 57

1 bay leaf

2 tsp. flat leaf parsley, minced

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

7 fingerling potatoes, washed and halved

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

 

Cheats, Lies, and Hucksters (How to Cook a God Damned Grilled Cheese Sandwich)

As a kid, learning to cook a fried egg and bologna sandwich is like teaching me how to load a gun without establishing any safety guidelines. While the combination of griddled bread, egg yolk, mayonnaise, seared bologna, and American cheese is white trash foie gras, perfecting the fried bologna without having made a grilled cheese, well, it is Picasso without a Blue Period, Miles Davis having composed no song book before Bitches Brew. There is no reference and no history, a drifting ship with no anchor. At the time, I didn’t understand the damage done by using the cliff notes without ever reaching for the novel.

But here we are, in that time of year when we think about grilled cheese. It is the age old discussion, as if we forgot the combination to the safe and it needs to be cracked again, of how to cheat a grilled cheese. As if the answers locked away are new kinds of offerings; in a waffle maker, with an iron, use mayonnaise instead of butter, or turn a toaster on its side.

So I am just going to say it, I am tired of hucksters and cheats. It pains me to be over sold or even worse, blatantly lied too. I am not putting myself on a pedestal, far be it from me to cast stones, I am no practicing perfectionist and neither am I an Elmer Gantry. I have my faults and I try to be honest about them. Even so, when I witness an egregious wrong I can’t keep my mouth shut. After all, I can’t have my children wondering around this world thinking they will be able to succeed without ever learning the fundamentals. It happens everywhere and now, of all arenas, the kitchen is under attack.

Why can’t we just learn to cook a god damned grilled cheese? What are we afraid of, actually learning how to cook? There are so many basics to be learned by placing a sauté pan onto the stove to griddle two pieces of bread with cheese stuck in between and yet at all costs we try to avoid it. I don’t care what kind of cheese is put between the slices of bread, I don’t even care what kind of bread you use but I do care that you know how the different kinds of bread are going to react to the heat, that types of bread with more sugars and fats are going to brown faster then lean breads made with nothing more then water, flour, and yeast. Or that certain kinds of cheese are so stringy when you go to take the first bite every bit of the cheese is going to come along with it.

Cheats and shortcuts are wonderful but only after you know how to cook the original dish in the tried and true fashion, only after you have mastered the grilled cheese is it okay to riff on it. If you ignore, or fail to recognize, the subtle nuances of cooking you can follow a recipe to the T and still have it fail. It is because there are so many variables that can lead you down the path to disappointment that it becomes imperative to learn how to cook, which is wildly different from simply following a recipe.

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Grilled Cheese Sandwich (makes 2 sandwiches)

4 slices Pullman bread
1 1/2 cups gruyere cheese, grated
1 1/2 teaspoons prepared horseradish
1 tablespoon green onion, minced
a splash of heavy cream
fresh ground black pepper
unsalted butter, softened

1. Combine the grated gruyere, horseradish, green onions, and a splash cream in a medium sized bowl. Add a grind or two of fresh ground black pepper. Mix everything with a spoon to combine.

2. Place a 12-inch sauté pan over medium heat. Liberally butter one side of each of the pieces of bread making sure to cover the whole surface. Place the bread, buttered side down into the pan. Top each piece with one quarter of the cheese mixture. Turn the heat to medium low.

3. Once the cheese begins to compress and soften check the bottom of the bread. If it is browning to fast turn the heat down. Once the bread is browned and the cheese melted put the sandwiches together. Cut the sandwiches into 4 crusty cheese sticks and serve.

 

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Searching for the Perfect Risotto

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Perfect Risotto Milanese (serves 4)

2 tsp. unsalted butter

1/2 cup yellow onion, finely diced

1/4 cup dry white wine

1 cup arborio rice

1/4 tsp kosher salt

2 3/4 cup homemade or sodium free chicken broth

1/2 tsp saffron

2 TBS. unsalted butter, cold

1/2 cup Parmegiano-Reggiano cheese, grated

1 TBS. chives, minced

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

 

 

Middle Eastern Braised Green Beans

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

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

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

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

Middle Eastern Braised Green Beans  (Serves 6)

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

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

A Delicious Lentil Soup With A Dirty Little Secret

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

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

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

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

4 Lentil Soup (makes 6 servings)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bean Myths

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

Dried beans

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

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

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

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

To Soak or Not to Soak?

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

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

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

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

A Quick Soak

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

Salt

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

Foaming

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

When To Add Acids

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

Baking Soda

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

 

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

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

Pasta Carbonara (A Midwestern Hybrid)

I melt for this pasta.  I always have.

As a kid I grew up on heavy, roux laden Fettuccini Alfredo.  It was the rigor of the day and it was served everywhere and with everything mixed into the noodles, from shrimp to broccoli.  Unfortunately, and even though it was a childhood favorite, cream based pastas in the Midwest were bad, no, they were awful.

Fettucini Alfredo in the Midwest became a Parmesan cream with noodles.  Sometimes more soup then pasta.  The Italian heritage of the dish suddenly was nowhere to be found.  Alfredo in Italy is simply a pasta of butter and Parmesan cheese much like carbonara but without using egg yolks as an emulsifier.  When the noodles are hot out of the cooking water butter and parmesan are tossed with the pasta and melt into a beautiful, silky coat for each noodle.  Fettuccini Alfredo in its Italian form has nothing to do with buckets of cream reduced or thickened with a flour and butter roux.

In the same breath, Carbonara had its day too but it also comes with its own set of problems.  Eggs used to enrich the bacon lardon and Parmesan base often become gloppy and sometimes make the pasta more dry then wet while at other times, because to much egg is used,  the dish ends up with the noodles stuck together in a pasta pancake better cut with a knife then twirled onto a fork.   When made right carbonara can be sublime but when done wrong it can be one of the worst pastas in the world.   Making carbonara involves proper technique and quality ingredients if the finished pasta is to be anywhere close to extraordinary.

This pasta is not a carbonara but neither is it an Alfredo.  It is what I like to think of as a Midwestern hybrid.  Something we do really well here in the middle states, for better or worse, we make dishes to our liking.  For me,  I like several things about this pasta.  To begin, I like the use of ham instead of bacon.  There is no rendering of any fat and yet the typical Midwestern farm ham, piquant with its rosy cure, matches perfectly with the peas, garlic, and pasta.  While the recipe calls for cream it uses far less then one might imagine and the use of starch heavy pasta water to thicken the sauce is a perfect alternative to a classic roux or eggs.  While they might look like an unnecessary garnish,  the parsley and chives are important in flavoring the final dish and should be added in the last minutes of cooking.

©Tom Hirschfeld 2016 all rights reseerved
©Tom Hirschfeld 2016 all rights reseerved

Midwest Carbonara (Serves 4)

1 tablespoon unsalted butter (55g)
1 tablespoon garlic
8 oz. ham, small dice (225g)
1/2 cup heavy cream (110g)
1/2 cup pasta water (110g)
3/4 cup frozen peas (170g)
1/2 cup sugar snap peas (110g)
1 tablespoon parsley, minced
1 tablespoon chive, minced
kosher salt
fresh ground white pepper
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated (110g)
1 pound vermicelli pasta (450g)

  1. Place a 6 quart (5.51l) pot, filled with 4 quarts (4l) of water, onto the stove. Add 2 tablespoons kosher salt and bring the water to a boil.
  2. While you are waiting for the water to boil heat a 14” inch (35.5cm) over medium heat. Add unsalted butter and let it melt. Add ham, stir then add garlic.
  3. When the garlic becomes fragrant but not brown add cream. Bring the cream to a boil and turn off the heat.
  4. This is about timing. The vermicelli only takes minutes to cook but if you are using a different noodle that takes longer adjust you timing.
  5. Add the vermicelli to the boiling water and cook according to the package instructions.
  6. Place the cream back onto the stove top and turn the heat to medium high. Bring the cream to a boil, add peas, season with white pepper.
  7. If the cream reduces to fast add pasta water by the 1/4 cup. Use pasta water because the starch will thicken the sauce.
  8. Drain the noodles when the finish cooking. Add noodles to sauté pan, carefully toss them with the cream. Add half the cheese and carefully toss the noodles with the cream. Taste, add salt if necessary, and a few grinds of fresh ground white pepper, half the chives and parsley. Carefully toss again taking note that it will be hard to get the peas and ham to mix into the pasta. This is okay.
  9. Pay attention in order to keep the pasta from scorching on the bottom of the pan.
  10. When everything is hot, use you tongs to place the pasta onto a large platter. Top the pasta with remaining peas and ham. Sprinkle on the remaining cheese, and top with remaining chives and parsley. Serve.

 

Asian Spaghetti, Changing Seasons

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

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

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

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

Asian Spaghetti (serves 4)

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

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1 lb. ground beef

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

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

1 tablespoon ginger, minced

1 tablespoon garlic

1/2 cup Hoisin sauce

1/2 cup canned chopped tomatoes with juice

1 tablespoon fresh squeezed lime juice

2 tablespoons soy sauce

1 Fresno red pepper, chopped

3 Shiso peppers, chopped

1/4 cup cilantro

rice noodles, cooked

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

The Best Corn on the Cob in the World

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

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

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

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

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

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The Best Corn on the Cob in the World

(serves 6 to 8 people)

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

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

1 cup water

1 stick of unsalted butter

sea salt

fresh ground black pepper

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Lobster Roll’s Better More Lovable Brother

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

Pressure Cookers + Chicken and Dumplings

Next to farm fresh brown eggs, nothing conjures up an image of the farmhouse kitchen quite like the site of a pressure cooker. It’s Rockwellian in that it brings to mind iconic images of the aproned farmer’s wife peeling home grown carrots at the counter while on the stove behind her sits a huge pot-like contraption whistling and blowing steam through a small whole in its lid.

The image leaves you with a feeling of wholesomeness much like homemade whole wheat bread. It’s as if the pressure cooker does something magical that only the farmer’s wife knows. After all, for some reason, we always equate wholesome home cooking with the country kitchen. Continue reading

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Thai Collard Wraps (day 5 )

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

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

Lunch today! Continue reading

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Seared Cauliflower Steaks (serves 2)

2 small heads of organic cauliflower

1/3 cup flat leaf parsley, minced

1 small garlic clove, grated on a microplane

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1 anchovy, rinsed

1/4 cup Asiago cheese

extra virgin olive oil

half a cup of salted almonds, chopped

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

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

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

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

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

My Favorite Tofu Scramble

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

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

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

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

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

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

Curried Tofu Scramble (2 servings)

10 ounces sprouted firm tofu, crumbled

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

peanut or grape seed oil

1 green onion, thinly sliced

1 jalapeno, chopped

1 tablespoon curry powder

1/4 cup tomato sauce

kosher salt and fresh ground pepper cilantro, optional

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

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

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

Perfect Microwave Broccoli

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

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

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

Dinner Rolls and a Bonus Southern White Loaf

I have been, and will continue to be a believer in simple good recipes that follow great technique.  I often feel as though complicated directions and hard to find ingredients set us up for disappointment and failure. Don’t get me wrong.  I understand the law of diminishing return.  That today’s worlds best recipe will be boring tomorrow.

We need to search out new tastes, techniques and flavors but it is also important to return to the classics.  For me, I also like to share my childhood favorites with my children.  These rolls are a part of me.  They connect me to my past, and by sharing them, they connect me to my children. Continue reading

Let’s Talk Turkey

Hen and Tom Broad Breasted Bronze As with anything in cooking there are many ways to cook a turkey. It is only limited by your imagination. Beer can, the Louisiana Turducken, deep fried, you name it and someone has attempted it, some with better results then others. Simply put, I am from the midwest. When it comes to the holidays I want to know what I am getting into. On the holidays I don’t like change, I am good with tradition and see no need to break with it. Continue reading

Farmhouse Chops in Wing Sauce

 

We love our wings in the Midwest but until I made wing sauce, equal parts real butter to hot sauce, I hadn’t had wing sauce. Sadly, and I know it is about cost, I doubt a single wing shop uses real butter in their sauce anymore. The good thing is you can have the real deal, easily, and without having to buy a pre-made version that is less then stellar. Continue reading

Shrimp and Okra Stew

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

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

Classic Creamy Coleslaw

cabbage

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

Morels with Asparagus & Five Reason to Eschew Recipes

Mushroom Hunting

There was a time when my father and I would have walked the distance up the hill to Gordon’s Rocky Top. We would have crossed the creek, stepping gingerly across the slick rocks like seasoned hopscotch players, hiked to the fork in the path, taken the trail on the left, and then quietly ascended the long, wooded hill. On our way, we would have walked past the pond, and if we were lucky, we might have spooked an owl or happened upon some white tail deer. Continue reading

Poulet á l’ Estragon (Chicken Tarragon)

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

Cuban Style Skirt Steak + 5 Tips for a Better Sear

Cuban Style Skirt Steak

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

Continue reading

Spicy Chickpea and Sour Tomato Curry with Pasta

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spicy Chickpea and Sour Tomato Curry with Pasta

Serves 6

Two 14.5-ounce cans of chickpeas, drained

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

3 tablespoons olive oil

2 cups yellow onion, julienned

1 tablespoon fresh garlic, minced

2 cups tomato sauce

1 tablespoon fresh ginger, peeled and minced

1 teaspoon turmeric

1/4 teaspoon cayenne

2 teaspoons Madras curry powder, or your favorite kind

1 teaspoon cumin seeds, coarsely ground

Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

Cilantro, green onion, or both

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

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

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

3. Cook the noodles.

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

Aside

Chinese Style Sticky Ribs

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

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

The Virtues of Routine and Braised Cabbage

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

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

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

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

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

Tips for Choosing, Storing, and Preparing Cabbage

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

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

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

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

Simple Braised Cabbage

Serves 6

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

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

The Art of Honest Fried Chicken (A Lifestyle Choice)

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

Grilling: Tips, Skirt Steak and more…

Skirt Steak with Greek Salsa

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

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

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

Island Style Chicken Fricassee

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

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

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

Fricassee en Pollo

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

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

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

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

Fricassee en Pollo (serves 6 to 8)

1 whole 3 pound chicken, cut into 10 pieces

1 tablespoon expeller pressed peanut oil

1/2 cup red bell pepper, small dice

1 cup onion, small dice

3 tablespoons fresh garlic, minced

1 tablespoon dried oregano

1 tablespoon dried thyme

1 tablespoon cumin, crushed

2 teaspoons paprika

2 bay leaves

16 ounces crushed tomatoes

2/3 cups green olives, halved

1/2 tablespoon capers, minced

kosher salt and fresh ground pepper

2 tablespoons hot pepper of your liking, minced

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

Using Herbs with Abandon

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

A Delicious Roast Chicken for Any Night

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

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

Roast Chicken Know-How:

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

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

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

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To Roast a Chicken:

kosher

1 teaspoon fennel seeds

3/4 teaspoon dried thyme

1 teaspoon paprika

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1 chicken, about 4 pounds

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

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

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

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

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

5. Carve and serve.

Image

Turkey Meatloaf with Peas and Gravy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1 pound ground turkey breast

1 pound ground turkey thigh

1/2 cup oatmeal, coarsely ground

1/2 cup half & half

2 teaspoons kosher salt

fresh ground black pepper

2 teaspoons sage

1/4 teaspoon marjoram

1 teaspoon thyme

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

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

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg, freshly ground

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

2 tablespoons rice or wheat flour

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

kosher salt and fresh ground pepper

ketchup (for the crust)

Pea shoots

1. Heat the oven to 325˚ F.

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

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

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

Pancetta Lardons, Sorrel and Mushroom Quiche

I grow sorrel every year.  That’s not true, it’s a perennial so it comes back every year all on its own.  So I am not so sure I grow it as much as just let it be.  Either way I have access to it each spring.  The thing is I rarely use it.  It is one of those vegetables where you always say to yourself you will get around to it but never do.  I guess for me sorrel is like when I lived in New York City and I always said to myself I need to go to the top of the Empire Stare Building or get out to the Statue of Liberty and then moved away before I ever did any of those things.

Last year though I started to make pesto from sorrel and I found it exciting and delicious but after that I found other vegetables and pretty much left sorrel at the side of the dance floor.

This year so far has been different.  I have made a sorrel gratin, creamed sorrel and now this quiche.   Maybe sorrel is a vegetable that takes time to get to know before you can become close kitchen friends. Continue reading

Red Onion and Rhubarb Fondue

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

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

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

Continue reading

Stir Fried Noodles

 

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

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

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

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

How to Make Any Stir-Fried Noodles 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Total approx. cost for this recipe.$8.03

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

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

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

8 ounces of cooked and cooled noodles

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

Breton Butter Cake

Breton Butter Cake

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Breton Butter Cake (Makes 12 pieces)

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

Polenta with Peas and Pork Sausage

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

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

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

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

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

Polenta with Peas and Sausage (serves 6)

one recipe of Carlo Middione’s Polenta Facile

10 ounces pork tenderloin, sirloin or loin

4 to 5 ounces pancetta

2 teaspoons red wine vinegar

a scrape or two of whole nutmeg

a handful of  parsley leaves

3 cloves garlic

2 tablespoons tomato paste

1 teaspoon dried thyme

1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary

1 bay leaf

kosher salt

fresh ground pepper

1 garlic clove, minced

1/2 cup carrots, small dice

1/2 cup onion, small dice

1/2 cup white wine

2 cups pork stock or chicken stock

1 1/2 cups fresh peas or frozen

chopped chives and parsley

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seasoning with Pork: Polenta with Peas and Pork Sausage

Chickpeas in a Spicy Tomato Gravy

Khatte Channe

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

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

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

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

Cost to make this meal:

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

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

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

Makes 8 to 10 servings

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

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

3 vegetable oil

2 cups yellow onions, peeled and thinly sliced

2 tablespoons garlic, peeled and minced

1 teaspoon turmeric

1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 (14.5 ounce) can crushed tomatoes

1 tablespoon fresh ginger, peeled and minced finely

2 teaspoons curry powder

1 teaspoon ground cumin, toasted

kosher salt and fresh ground pepper

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

2. Once the onions are browned to your liking add the garlic.  Once you smell the garlic add the turmeric and cayenne pepper.  Give it a stir then add the tamarind,  tomatoes and ginger.  Reduce the heat and let the tomatoes simmer.

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

4. Cook the rice.  

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

The Unctuous Possibilities of Pan Juices

Spaghetti with Chicken, Black Olives, Lemon and Au JusWe all know gravy or pan sauce in large quantities might be good for our soul but it isn’t so good for our heart health. After all we are doing nothing more then adding flour or cornstarch to the fat in the bottom of a roasting or sauté pan to thicken it and adding back some stock, wine, or cream for volume. So we have deemed it less healthy which to me means it is an occasional treat and as such we reserve serving gravy for holiday feasts or occasional celebrations, and rightly so.

So why then when I look into the chicken-less roasting pan that held tonights dinner only a short time ago and I see those beautiful glistening juices that are on the edge of coagulating do I feel like I am throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Don’t get me wrong I am no health nut. In fact I have this beautiful physique that could make me the poster child for a Bittman campaign on obesity. I am sure it goes back to my waste not want not way of thinking. Nevertheless all this made me think. pan jelly

When I make my own stock I always cool it down, put it in the fridge and then the next day I lift the disc of fat off the top. I know the stock is pretty fat free, although I haven’t calculated it and I have know idea how to do so, but it has to be pretty lean and I also know it has very little salt because I didn’t add any. So looking at it in this light I started refrigerating the roasting pan and the next day I remove all the fat cap and what is left is the reduced intensely rich jelly. I use a rubber spatula and scrap all the jelly up and into a small Ball jar. I have already made a plan for its use, did so before I even roasted the pork, beef or chicken, so I know when I store it in the fridge it will be used up in a day or two. I could freeze it but I don’t like to collect things like this and my motto is use it or loose it.

The jelly is infinitely better then bouillon cubes or stock base and can be used in all sorts of ways. Sometimes I like the jelly to have lots of debris(meat bits and spices) and other times I don’t but it is easy to heat and strain, if you need too, just before you want to use it. While you don’t have too I often try to keep in mind the flavors of what I roasted with the flavors of what I am going to make with the pan juices just to make sure they coincide.

Pan juice possibilities:

  • Of course it is always good to use the pan juices in soups.  Added to the broth it can give a flat soup the kick it needs.
  • Pasta or noodles of all kinds.
  • For chicken pan juices:  Make a simple fresh lemon juice and olive oil vinaigrette with salt and lots of fresh ground pepper, take a couple big hand fulls of baby Bibb lettuces  and toss it with the dressing.  Just before serving heat the pan juices and drizzle over the salad for a “healthier” wilted salad.
  • For beef:  You could make Grits and debris.  Make a bowl of grits, pour on the warm pan juices and top with a fried egg.
  • For pork:  Ramen noodles.

Pasta with Chicken, Black Olives and Lemon

(serves 4)

12 or 16 ounce box of spaghetti noodles

extra virgin olive oil

half a can of black olives, drained

1 1/2 cups cooked chicken meat

4 cloves of garlic, trimmed, peeled and slivered

1 1/2 teaspoons lemon zest

1/4 cup dry white wine

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

2/3 cup chicken stock

2 to 3 tablespoons pan juices

1 tablespoon parsley, minced

parmesan cheese

1. Place a large pot filled with 4 quarts of salted water over high heat.

2. While you are waiting for the water to come to a boil place a sauté pan over medium heat.  Add a good glug or two of extra virgin olive oil.  Add the garlic and let it gently cook until it just begins to turn golden, be careful because browned garlic can be very bitter.  Add the white wine and let the alcohol burn off.  Now add the lemon juice, stock and pan juices.  Bring them to a boil and season with salt and pepper.  Taste and adjust the seasoning.  Reduce the heat and let the liquid reduce.

3. When the water is at a roiling boil add the spaghetti.  Cook according to the directions on the box, I am guessing 10 minutes or so.  Once the pasta is just tender remove a cup of pasta water and reserve it, drain the pasta and immediately add it to the pan along with the chicken, olives and lemon zest.  Season the pasta with salt and fresh ground pepper.  Taste and make the necessary adjustments.  If it is to dry add a little bit of pasta water.  This is the kind of pasta that should have a broth.  Toss to combine and once the chicken is hot add the parsley toss again and serve with lots of parmesan.

Turkey Burgers with Lemon Parsley Butter

These burgers are great bun or no.  The key here, at least for me, is not to use breast only ground turkey which really dries out but a combination of ground thigh and breast. Read the labels  on the packages carefully.

Lemon parsley butter is a natural for these.  While you make more butter then you need,  through out the week you can easily use it up.  Simply use the compound butter in all sorts of things like sauteed green beans, broccoli or Brussels sprouts.  It is delicious way to finish off veggies and all you have to do is add it at the end of the cooking time, stir it around to just melt it, and voilà,  an extra punch at the table.

Cost to make the burgers:

  • Ground turkey $4.29
  • Curley leaf parsley .69 cents
  • Dried herbs and lemon $1.50
  • Butter $2.99 per pound or 1 stick @.75 cents

Total cost: $7.23

Makes 4 six ounce patties

For the patties:

1 pound 3 ounces ground turkey, a mix of breast and thigh

2 teaspoons curly leaf parsley

2 teaspoons lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

a heavy 1/2 teaspoon salt

canola oil for sautéing

For the butter:

1 stick unsalted butter at room temperature

2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

2 teaspoons lemon zest

1 tablespoon curly leaf parsley, minced

two finger pinch of salt

1. Combine all the patty ingredients in a mixing bowl.  Using your hands need it all together until it is well mixed.  Let the mixture sit, refrigerated for at least an hour.

2. While the turkey is melding, combine all the butter ingredients and mix well.  Set aside.

3. Form 4 patties of equal size.

4. Heat a heavy bottomed pan over medium high heat.  Add a glug of oil to coat the bottom of the pan.  Add the patties and brown them on each side.  Adjust the heat as necessary so you can brown them but also cook them through without burning them.  Serve topped with a dollop of lemon parsley butter.

Karilean Borscht with Resolution

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

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

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

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

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

Laotian Beef Salad (Larb)

Laotian Beef SaladI really enjoy making and eating the foods of Southeast Asia.  I make trips to the Asian grocery and buy up all kinds of different produce that aren’t found in my garden or at the local grocer.  I don’t really drive but an extra five minutes to get there, the groceries cost less which makes up for the extra in gas and I usually find some gem of a new product that I have never eaten, cooked with or sometimes never even seen.  It is always an adventure.  This time I happened in a day or two before the Chinese New Year and in honor of the holiday they gave Lynnie a box of the funkiest most savory cookies ever.  I couldn’t eat them but she loved them and this from the little girl who finds Chinese food sour.

I did something different here, something I wouldn’t  normally do.  Usually I would get the pan smoking hot and sear the protein but I didn’t get the wok hot enough and when meat hit metal it cooled down right away.  It became a happy mistake.  Instead of panicking I just let it sit.  I watched as all the beef juice bubbled up around the meat and then slowly subsided until it was gone.  Then the skirt steak caramelized really well and the fond, the sticky delicious stuff on the bottom of the pan, added tons of beefy flavor to the final dish.

It’s a great dish to serve with rice and a couple of nice vegetables.

Serves 4

canola oil

1 pound 2 ounces skirt steak, sliced then minced

6 garlic cloves, minced (about 2 tablespoons)

1 1/2 tablespoons lemon grass, minced

1/2 cup shallots, julienned

3 red Thai bird chile, minced

1 tablespoon fish sauce

1 tablespoon soy sauce

2 tablespoons water

1/3 cup mint leaves, torn

1/3 cup cilantro leaves, torn

1/3 cup green onion, thinly sliced

1/4 cup peanuts, smashed

1. Heat a large wok or skillet over medium high heat.  Add a tablespoon of oil to the pan and when it is warm add the minced skirt steak, garlic, lemon grass and shallot.  It should cool the pan down and as it cooks liquid should release from the protein.  Let it gently bubble while you occasionally stir.  As the juice begins to evaporate stop stirring.  Patiently wait for the meat to brown and the fond to build on the bottom of the wok or pan.

2. Add the fish sauce, soy and water.  Stir the larb to combine and until almost all the liquid is absorbed.  Using a spoon taste the larb and add a little salt if necessary.  Stir then remove the pan from the heat.

3. Once the steak isn’t so hot but still warm stir in half the chili, mint, cilantro and green onion.  Plate up the salad and then top with the remaining herbs and the peanuts.  Serve.

Dear Mr. Pepin,

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.

Jacques Pepin's Shrimp Gratin
Jacques Pepin’s Shrimp Gratin

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. Continue reading

Video

The Genius of Genius

Sprouts in oyster sauce

 

Reviewing a website isn’t something I would normally do.  In this case it isn’t the website but a feature on the site itself.  You all know I call Food52 home(that is a full disclosure).  I would give the site itself a triple A rating but my aim here is to call attention to a feature within the site, Genius Recipes.

If I were new to the kitchen, or an inexperienced cook, even a seasoned pro this is where I would go to get a bag full of genius recipes.  It is where senior editor Kristen Miglore will make you  feel and look good so  your dinner guest will thank you and your children will brag about you.

I can assure you once you start cooking with these recipes you will find yourself going back time and time again because they work, are dependable and because the recipes are ridiculously delicious.

The real bonus here is they are minimally invasive.  What that means is there are only a few steps and ingredients involved in getting the dish to the table.  What’s the take-away?  In short, it means there is no excuse not to make these recipes throughout the week.  And even if you can’t the Wednesday publishing of the posts allows you to collect the ingredients and prep the recipe for the weekend.

The author behind the feature, Kristen Miglore, does all the hard work for you.  Whats not to love about that?  Fortunately for her readers she brings us a five star recipe each week and then sets it up for success.  She tests the recipes and navigates you effortlessly through the steps as if you were following the blue dot on Google maps to a dive restaurant.   People,  she gives you the keys to the Mercedes, I mean how awesome is that.

So you have a great writer giving you the low down on why this recipe is so good with her fast paced prose, sprinkled with a pinch of humor and it’s always concise.   If asked she will be humble and give all the credit to the community members who pass along recipes but in the end it is Miglore who spots the winners and it is not always easy to recognize great recipes.  She has mad skills is all I can say.

I will vouch for any of these recipes and I can say many have fallen into the weeknight rotation of family favorites.  The Al Forno Penne with Tomato Cream and 5 Cheeses is one of my and the girls favorites.  Nobu’s Fried Asparagus with Miso Dressing became a regular this summer substituting in yard long beans, walnuts and shallots.  In fact, I can’t wait to plant yard longs in the garden again just to make this one recipe.  The Domino Potatoes scored big when the juices from the resting lamb chops co-mingled into the buttery potatoes to create one of the easiest best potato sides ever.  Most recently I have been making Momofuku’s Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Fish Sauce Vinaigrette and alternating in an oyster sauce.  I have also deep fried the sprouts and wow, if you care to take the extra step, do.

Next up will be Nigella Lawson’s Dense Chocolate Loaf Cake.  I am making two of them, one for home and one for the school bake sale and while I am sifting the flour I will be thanking Kristen for sifting through all these recipes and pointing me in the direction of the truly genius ones.

Need more genius? Click here.

                                                                                                                                                                                                         Deep Fried Brussels Sprouts with Oyster Sauce

1 pound Brussels Sprouts, trimmed and halved

vegetable oil for frying

2 1/2  tablesoons oyster sauce

1 1/2 tablespoons tamari soy sauce

1 tablespoon water

1 1/2 teaspoons fresh ginger,  very finely minced

1 1/2 teaspoons garlic, very finely minced

1 tablespoon green onions, minced

1 tsp honey

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       1. Combine the oyster sauce, soy, water, ginger, garlic, green onions and honey in a large mixing bowl.  Whisk to combine it all.  Set aside.

2 Add enough oil to a heavy bottomed 4 quart pot ( I used an enameled Dutch oven) to come no more then a third up the sides of the pot.  Turn the heat to medium high.  

3. Test the oil by dropping in a sprout leaf.  There should be a pause, then, it should rapidly sizzle.  

4. Add half of the Brussels sprouts carefully, they will bubble and pop, then add the rest of the sprouts.  Fry until brown.  Remove them from the oil to drain on a paper towel lined plate.  Toss the sprouts with the oyster sauce and serve immediately.

 

Lamb Meatballs with a Broken Yogurt Saffron Sauce

lamb meatballs with yogurt sauceAt 2am I got out of bed and went to the kitchen to write down a recipe idea for a lamb, blood orange, feta and mint tapas, after all I had been in the mood for North African influenced food. Yes, 2am, if I have an idea and I don’t write it down it is apt to disappear. I will stop anything I am doing to write down a recipe. I went back to sleep and on Sunday I started working on my new idea. Made it, loved it and its many layers of flavor. I photographed it and went about my day. The recipe makes 16 meatballs so there were leftovers and now it was dinner time. This was a spur of the moment creation that happened at the stove and it, at least to us who ate it, is amazing. Continue reading

Madeira Tart

Madeira Tart

This is a tart with an agenda. Its roots are old fashioned and small town but don’t let that fool you. It is as luscious and silky as Scarlett Johansson sauntering the red carpet. It is as lascivious as True Blood and as beaten-up as Mickey Rourke on a bad day.

There are tarts and then there are tarts. The best are the kind that even your mama would like. Never suspecting or questioning what makes up its character but just enjoying it for what it is because it is so good. All the while, later, you know you are going to lick your fork like…well, lets just say it is a tart that likes to please and it will.

Truly, it is like fine champagne on a Sunday afternoon. The basis of this tart has been around for a long time, the old fashioned egg custard pie, you know the one with nutmeg that has shown up at every family reunion since people started having reunions.

Well, take that base and an idea from Alice Waters and her Marsala cream pots, add in the videos on the FOOD52 site from Shuna Lydon about cooling your custard and then use duck eggs(again Waters idea) which make for an even silkier tart and what you come up with is nothing less than sexy. Never fear, I have written the recipe to use chicken eggs but if you ever come across fresh duck eggs by all means use them to make a custard.

SERVES 8

For the crust::

1 cup all purpose flour

1/4 cup semolina flour

1/4 cup sugar

1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened

2 finger pinch of salt

For the custard::

1 1/2 cup whole milk

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons madeira

4 large eggs, or 3 duck eggs

For the custard:

1. Place the milk into a sauce pan and scald it over medium high heat. Remove the pan from the burner. In a mixing bowl whisk together the eggs, sugar, madeira and salt. Temper the eggs by whisking in a 1/2 cup of warm milk and then add the rest while whisking. Cover the bowl and place the custard base into the fridge. You want it to be cold. It can sit in the fridge overnight which is probably best but at least let it get to 35 or so degrees. You could do this in an ice bath if you are in a hurry.

To finish the tart:

1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. In a large mixing bowl and using a large wooden spoon mix all the crust ingredients smashing the butter into the mixture with the back of the spoon until you have a cornmeal and cous cous looking crumble. You can use your hands rubbing them together with the mixture between them to make some of the bigger chunks smaller.

2. Place an 8 inch tart pan onto a sheet tray. This will make it easier to move around and get out of the oven. Dump the crumbles into the tart pan. Press the dough up the sides, packing it tightly as you go, and then work toward the center until you have a crust. Bake the crust for 20 minutes. Remove it from the oven.

3. Turn the oven up to 400 degrees. Strain the chilled custard through a fine mesh strainer to remove any albumen pieces. Pour the custard into the tart till it is half full. Place the tart into the oven and then finish filling the tart. You will probably have about a 1/2 cup of base left. I made a little extra so you wouldn’t come up short in case your tart pan was a little bigger.

4. Back the tart for 15 minutes and then reduce the heat to 350 degrees and bake it for another 20 to 30 minutes or until set. Depending on how cold you custard is will lengthen or shorten the baking time. If you give the sheet tray a gentle but sharp shake the tart should jiggle like jello if it is done. If it creates waves that look like you dropped a pebble into still water continue cooking.

5. When the tart is done remove it from the oven and let it cool completely. Cut and serve.

Grilled Marrow Bones with Chimichurri Salad

I often follow my instincts, albeit,  it is my primal instincts in this case.  I follow them nonetheless.  I can never get enough when it comes to marrow bones.  I love the fatty mouth feel of the marrow and the way the hot fat renders in my mouth.  Now,  before you go getting all crazy on me realize marrow fat has no saturated fat in it.  That said, it doesn’t mean I go around eating the stuff breakfast, lunch and dinner.  But there are healthy benefits to eating good quality fats.  They  include calcium, vitamin D, K and E absorption.  What’s my point?  There is good fat and bad fat, marrow is good fat.  So get yourself a skinny spoon and dig-in.

Serves 4

8 marrow bones, about 6 inches long and cut lengthwise in half

Penzey’s Old English Rib Roast Rub

kosher salt

1 cup flat leaf parsley leaves

1 cup oregano leaves

1 cup cilantro leaves

2 shallots, peeled and cut into very thin rings

1 or 2 garlic heads, depending on size

red wine vinegar

extra virgin olive oil

fresh ground black pepper

8 slices crusty artisanal bread

1. This step helps to remove any blood in the marrow. Place the bones into a nonreactive container. Add enough water to cover. Remove the bones and add 1 tablespoon of salt. Whisk the water to dissolve the salt. Add the bones back to the water and refrigerate six hours to overnight.

2. Remove the bones from the water and place them, marrow side up, on a sheet tray. Rub each bone, again marrow side only, with 1/2 teaspoon of the Old English Rib Roast rub. Refrigerate the bones uncovered for 2 hours. This step dries the surface of the bones so they grill better and allows the seasoning to penetrate the marrow.

3. Heat your grill for direct high heat grilling. Place both heads of garlic off to the side and let them cook while the grill is heating. Keep and eye on the garlic so the skin doesn’t char to quickly or the inside will brown to much before the cloves are roasted and tender.

4. Combine the herbs in a small bowl and set aside.

5. Brush one side of the bread with olive oil. Grill the bread until it has grill marks and a some charring. Remove the bread from the grill and season it with salt and fresh ground pepper. Set aside.

6. Grill the bones, marrow side first, until they are grill marked and hot. Don’t cook them too long or the marrow will disappear into the fire.

7. Remove the bones to a platter or individual plates. Sprinkle the herbs, to taste,  with red wine vinegar then with olive oil. Divide the salad between the plates sprinkling it over the bones. Add the shallots, then peeled grilled garlic cloves, and finally some more fresh ground pepper. Serve with toast.

Okra and Sweet Corn Purloo

It is the time of year, at least for me, where I have remnants–odds and ends–coming from the garden.  A few rebellious plants refusing to be defeated by a light frost are still putting forth small amounts of tender vegetables.  The real fall plants, broccoli, cauliflower and Brussel sprouts haven’t yet committed to blooming.  In my garden basket I have Silver Queen sweet corn, okra, and a few green peppers.

I make purloo, a simple but very satisfying one-pot of vegetables, rice and some sort of meat (meant more as a seasoning then an entree.)

Purloo is a dish of economy.  It is a dish of diversity.  It is a dish that tells many a family history simply by ingredients the cook chooses to use. It is of Low Country origin.  Most likely a slave dish.  It is meant to serve many and it is meant to be comforting.  It is.

Serves 6

3/4 cup onion, small dice

1/3 cup green pepper, seeded and small dice

1/3 cup celery, small dice

1 teaspoon garlic, minced

1 teaspoon dried thyme

1/4 teaspoon dried marjoram

1/2 teaspoon dried basil

2 cups okra, cut lengthwise or into stars

1 cup sweet corn, such as silver queen

2 cups smoked turkey thighs, skin removed, chopped (or ham)

1 cup short grain white rice

2 cups vegetable or chicken broth

kosher salt

fresh ground black pepper

 

1. Heat the oven to 400˚ F. Place a heavy bottomed 3 quart pot over medium heat. Add enough oil to the pot to barely coat the bottom.

2. Once the oil is hot add the onion, pepper, and celery. Season with a pinch of salt and a grind of pepper. Cook, stirring often, until the vegetables are soft but not brown.

3. Add the thyme, basil, marjoram and garlic. Saute, being careful not to brown the garlic, until they become fragrant. Add the okra, corn and turkey. Season the purloo again with salt and fresh ground pepper. Taste and adjust any seasoning necessary.

4. If the pan seems dry add a little more oil. Then add the rice and stir it around to coat the grains with the oil. Add the broth.

5. Grab the pot by the handle and give it a sharp shake so everything evens out and is distributed evenly. Bring the broth to a boil.

6. Turn off the heat, cover the pot with a lid and slide the whole thing into the oven. Immediately turn the heat to 325˚ F.

7. Set a timer for 35 minutes. At the end of thirty five minutes remove the pot from the oven, remove the lid and using a tasting spoon check the rice to see if it is done.

8. If it is not done, cover the pot and return it to the oven for 10 more minutes.

9. If the rice is tender, serve.

Lacinato Kale and Ricotta Tart

This tart is perfect for breakfast, lunch or dinner and, maybe, all three. Lacinato is also known as Cavelo Nero or dinosaur kale. It is becoming ever more popular not only for its great taste but for its presumed health benefits too. While this has many healthy components they are just a nice side note to the decadence of this wonderful tart.

The crust for this tart uses the idea of a shortbread crust to keep it tender while using whole wheat pastry and buckwheat flours. I like to serve the tart with a fruit salad of grapefruit supremes, toasted crushed hazelnuts and mint.

SERVES 6 TO 8

For the crust::

1 cup whole wheat pastry flour

1/4 cup buckwheat flour

1/4 cup parmesan cheese, grated

1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened

two finger pinch of salt

For the filling:

1 bunch Cavolo nero, chopped, rinsed and dried, 8 loose cups worth

1 cup yellow onion, peeled, small dice

2 teaspoons fresh garlic, minced

3 anchovy filets, minced (obviously omit if you want it to be meatless)

1 1/4 cup whole milk ricotta

3 large eggs

1/2 cup parmesan cheese, grated

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

1/4 cup water

kosher salt and fresh ground pepper

1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees.

2. Place the whole wheat pastry flour, buckwheat, parmesan, butter and salt into a large mixing bowl and stir it with a wooden spoon until it looks like a combination of cous cous and cornmeal. You may need to rub some of the bigger pieces between you hands to break up the butter.

3. Dump the crumbs into an 8 inch tart pan. Starting at the edges press the crumbs into the flutes. Use you index finger as a back stop by placing it at the top of the flute and pushing the flour up to it. Pack the crust tightly and evenly. Once you have finished the crust bake it in the oven for 20 minutes. Remove it from the oven.

4. While the crust is baking heat the olive oil and butter over medium heat in a 12 inch saute pan. Add the onions, anchovies and garlic. Season them with a little salt and fresh ground pepper. Saute them gently without coloring and until they are soft. You may need to adjust the heat and you will want to stir them to keep them from coloring.

5. Once the onions are soft add the Cavolo nero and toss and stir it to coat it with oil. Season again with a little salt and fresh ground pepper. Add the water and cover the pan. Let the Cavolo nero steam until tender but still vibrant in color, about 8 minutes over medium heat.

6. In a large mixing bowl combine the ricotta, parmesan and the eggs. Add a 1/2 teaspoon of salt and a few grinds of pepper and stir to combine.

7. Once the Cavolo nero is tender taste it and adjust the seasoning as necessary. Make sure all the water has simmered away from the Cavolo nero, you don’t want it to be to wet. Let it cool for a couple of minutes and then add it to the ricotta and stir it well to combine.

8. Carefully spoon the filling into the tart and smooth and level it out. Place the tart into the oven and bake it for 50 to 60 minutes or until set and nicely browned.

9. When the top has browned remove the tart from the oven and let it cool to room temperature before cutting. Serve at room temperature.

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.

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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.

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.

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.

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.

Baked Rigatoni with Currants and Pine Nuts

Baked Rigatoni with Currants and Pine Nuts

The most beautiful San Marzano tomatoes have been coming out, by the  bushel,  of the garden.  I have been canning sauce, making paste and oven dried tomatoes like it is my civic duty to waste not one tomato.  I am loving it.

I can’t wait to open a jar of sauce in the middle of winter.  One that has a sprig of basil hidden in the middle of the red liquid like a secret ingredient.  I lift the lid with a bottle opener and it lets out the familiar gasp of home canned goods.  The smell of last summer’s sunshine rises upward to my nose.

I hoard the stuff.  I don’t want to use it now but rather save it for later.  Then I realize how stupid this is.   So I use the left over sauce, the extra that wouldn’t fill a jar and make this dish.  It is very American-Sicilian in my mind but what do I know.  Well, I know it’s good.

Note: I use a box brand in the recipe but by all means if you have a great home canned tomato sauce use it.

Makes a 9 x 13 casserole

1 pound rigatoni, cooked and cooled according to the directions on the box

3 tablespoons olive oil

2 onions, small dice about 2 cups

2 tablespoons garlic, minced

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

1 teaspoon pomegranate molasses

2 each 28 oz. box Pomi brand chopped tomatoes

1 pound cottage cheese, drained

2 tablespoons flat leaf parsley, minced

1/3 cup currants

1/4 cup pinenuts

1/2 cup pecorino romano

2 cups or more, mozzarella, grated

1. Heat a 3 1/2 quart heavy bottomed pot over medium heat. Add the olive oil and onions and let them sweat until they are soft and become golden around the edges.

2. Add the garlic and when it becomes fragrant add the balsamic and pomegranate syrup. Season with salt and pepper and let the liquid reduce some and then add the chopped tomatoes.

Reduce the sauce to a simmer and let the tomato become thick. It will take about an hour or so. Add the currents to the sauce about 15 minutes before you have finished cooking the sauce so the begin to soften and release some of their flavor.

3. Combine the cooked rigatoni with the cottage cheese, parsley and pecorino cheeses. I usually do this right in the pasta cooking pot after I have drained all the water from the pasta.

4. Now add the tomato sauce and mix to combine.

5. Using a little olive oil oil a 9 x 13 casserole and then pour the noodles into the dish. Top with the mozzarella and bake in a preheated 375˚ F oven for 35 to 40 minutes or until the cheese is browned nicely. About 10 minutes before it is done sprinkle the pine nuts across the top so they brown up nicely. Don’t do this any earlier or the nuts will burn.

6. Let the casserole rest for 5 to 10 minutes and then serve.

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.

Beef Medallions with Mushroom Madeira Sauce

Beef Medallions with Madeira Mushroom Sauce

A la minute. A French cooking term used to describe a meal that is cooked of the moment. Meaning every thing is fresh and the dish should come together easily, in other words, if you have done your prep you can bring this dish together in less then 3o minutes.

This dish is a great date night, put the kids to bed early and have some alone time with your spouse kind of meal because it is really easy to cook for two. It is also easy to make for a larger crowd buy you have to do a few things differently.

So this is about prep. My prep starts with a whole beef tenderloin. I cleaned them for years while working in restaurants and always buy them whole. If you aren’t comfy doing this then by a couple of filets and simply cut then in half or into thirds depending on their size.

I have backed away from the buffet and have cut down on my portion sizes so I like the total portion size to be 5 to 6 ounces of beef and I call it a day. If you are a hungry man kind of eater then up it to 8 ounces. Regardless of the amount per portion you want the medallions to be no thicker then an inch and no thinner then a 3/4 inch. I am being specific here because you want to be able to cook them quick but you also want to be able to cook them to your desired temperature, rare, medium rare and so forth. Which also means you want all the pieces to be the same thickness so they finish cooking at the same time. It is not as complicated as it sounds and once you get into the thick of it you will easily see what I am rambling on about.

A beurre manie is nothing more then equal parts cold unsalted butter mixed with equal parts flour. It thickens without clumping, it is a short cut for a roux, but you have to be careful to simmer your sauce long enough to keep it from tasting floury. You see in a roux you have already cooked out the flour flavor.

Serves 2

6 two ounce beef medallions

1 1/2 cups of mixed mushrooms of your choice

2 teaspoons garlic, minced

canola oil

unsalted butter

1/3 cup madeira

1/2 cup broth of your choice

2 teaspoons beurre manie

1 tablespoon flat leaf parsley, minced

salt and pepper

1. Season the medallions with salt and pepper.

2. Heat a large skillet over medium high heat until really hot but not smoking. Add enough canola oil just to coat the bottom of the pan. Add the medallions to the pan and very quickly sear them till golden brown and delicious.

3. Remove the medallions from the pan at least one temperature below where you want them, so if you want them cooked medium remove them from the pan at medium rare.

4. Add the butter and while it jumps and sputters add the mushrooms. Season them with salt and pepper. Cook the mushrooms until they are brown and a little crunchy. then add the garlic and cook until fragrant.

5. Carefully add the madeira from a measuring cup not from the bottle. Madeira can easily ignite so be careful and this is the reason not to pour from the bottle because if it ignites the stream of madeira acts as a fuse and then you will have an exploding or at least burning bottle of madeira.

6. Once the madeira has reduced by half add the broth and let it start to reduce. Taste and season the sauce with salt and pepper. Add the parsley and stir to combine

7. Add one teaspoon of the beurre manie to the mushroom sauce and let it dissolve. Let sauce come to a gentle boil and thicken the sauce. If it is thick enough add the parsley and the medallions and warm everything to your liking then serve. If the sauce is not thick enough add the rest of the beurre manie, let it dissolve and the sauce come to a boil again. Now proceed with warming everything. Plate on hot plates and serve.

New England Clam Chowder

A good bowl of creamy chowder has always been one of my favorites. Even when I was a little kid I would gobble the stuff up.  As I have become more refined (defined: I have stopped eating with my hands and slurping my food) I don’t care so much for the clam shack version that is thick and goopey, although I give you directions for thickening the soup with flour.

This is the real deal and anyone who says,  “but it doesn’t have whole clams in it,” eats more with their eyes then there mouth.  I have yet to find a shell-with-clam in chowder that is any better then clams from a can.  Prove me wrong is my challenge because I would love to be.  After all I like the idea of being out claming then coming in and cooking up a pot of chowder on a blustery noreaster New England eve.

Makes 8 six ounce servings

2 eight oz. bottles Bar Harbor clam juice

2 six oz. cans Bar Harbor clams, chop them if they are whole, juice drained and reserved

4 oz. bacon, diced

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

2 cups yellow onion, small dice

1 cup celery, washed, trimmed and small dice

1 tablespoon garlic, peeled and minced

1 1/2 teaspoons dried thyme

1/8 teaspoon fennel seed, ground

2 bay leaves

2 tablespoon all purpose flour (optional, depends on if you want thick chowder or not)

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

16 oz half and half

salt and fresh ground white pepper

1 1/2 tablespoon chives, minced

1 tablespoon flat leaf parsley, minced

1. Place a 3 1/2 quart heavy bottomed saucepan over medium heat and add the bacon. Let the bacon render its fat (you should have about two tablespoons of fat in the pan) and saute it until it becomes crispy, not crunchy, and starts to brown.

2. Add the butter, onions and celery. Saute the vegetables until they are tender but do not brown them. Add the garlic, thyme and fennel. Saute until the spices become fragrant, not even a minute.

3. If you want thicker chowder add the flour and stir it around letting it absorb the fat. Once the flour starts to smell the slightest bit nutty add the clam juice and the reserved clam juice. It is important to cook the flour taste out of the flour so be patient and make sure you cook it long enough.

4. Add the half and half. Bring the liquid to a boil and add the potatoes. Bring it back to a boil and then reduce the heat to the lowest simmer setting you stove has. Taste the soup to see how salty the clam juice is, adjust the seasoning by adding more salt if necessary. Add a few grinds of white pepper. Cover the pot and let it simmer for 30 minutes or until the potatoes are cooked through.

5. Add the clams, turn off the heat and let the chowder sit, covered, for one hour to let the flavors meld.

6. Before serving add the parsley and chives. Adjust the seasoning and reheat the chowder till hot. Serve.

Old Bay Oyster Crackers (can be made a day in advance)

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 tablespoon Old Bay Seasoning

a two finger pinch of fine sea salt

5 cups oyster crackers

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

2. Combine the oil, seasoning and salt in a mixing bowl.

3. Add the crackers and toss to coat them well with the oil.

4. Spread then out on a baking sheet and bake them for 10 minutes or until they start to take on a little color. Cool.

Mother’s Grits and Debris

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Dashi

Don’t let its simplicity fool you. A well made dashi packs a wallop and is the foundation of Japanese cuisine. If you want the real deal you have to make this stuff from scratch. Possibly the easiest stock of all to make but again you will have to make a trip to the Asian grocery. Never fear though the stock only takes a couple of minutes to throw together.

Makes +- 8 cups

8 cups cold water

one 8 x 4 inch sheet kombu, kelp

one 2 1/2 inch finger of ginger, peeled and cut lengthwise into 4 slices

2 cups katsuobushi, dried bonito flakes

 

1. Gently wipe the kombu with a damp cloth to remove white salty stuff. Don’t worry if you don’t get it all.

2. Place the kombu in a pot along with the ginger and water. Place the pot over medium heat. Once the water starts to steam and develop lots of bubbles that are attached to the side of the pan turn off the heat. You do not want the pot to boil.

3. Set a timer for 12 minutes. At the end of twelve minutes remove the kombu. Turn the heat back on and bring the broth to just short of boiling again. Turn off the heat and add the bonito flakes.

4.Set the timer again for 12 minutes. At the end of twelve minutes strain the stock and use it immediately or store in the fridge. It is best if you use the stock within three days of making it.

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.