Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Beef chili

I’ve made my own recipe for pork chili for a number of years for our annual New Years “Toy and Game Day.” This being the 27th (and in 3 days Peter’s and my 28th annuiversary), I hauled out my recipe again and immediately decided to reinvent it.

One reason is we had stew beef in the freezer already. Ordinarily I would add a fair amount of chicken or beef broth. However, I wanted a smaller quantity of product and I wanted it to be thick and meaty.

I cheated a little by using jarred salsa verde, but it was just too much labor to make my own. Also, this was a way to add spice. The tortillas add thickness and depth of flavor. I like beans, so there’s beans.

I learned something by watching “Secrets of a Restaurant Chef,” featuring Anne Burrell, on Sunday morning. She was making a Bolognese sauce and strongly emphasized the importance of the browning process. I took her at her word and extended the browning well beyond anything I had previously done. It paid off.

She did one thing I did not emulate: over-salted. I tried a meat rub for steak that I saw her make a while back. The meat was nearly inedible due to the amount of salt. She salted the onion and celery while browning, the beef while browning, and then salted more as broth and water were added later.

I did salt and pepper as things went along, but very judiciously. I think this is my best chili ever. Jack up the heat if you want to, but we were serving this to guests, and took them into consideration.

Chili con carne y frijoles
3 ½ lbs stew beef
1 lge onion, chopped
2 stalks celery, sliced thin
2 16 oz jars salsa verde
2 lge cloves garlic, pressed or finely chopped
1 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes
1 14.5 oz can navy beans, drained and rinsed
1 tbsp chili powder
1 tbsp red pepper flakes, or to taste
3 corn tortillas, torn into 1” pieces
salt and pepper
Olive oil for browning
Chopped cilantro and sharp cheddar cheese for garnish

Cut the beef into ½” pieces.

Heat a couple of tablespoons of oil in a large pot with a heavy bottom. Brown the onion and celery very well over medium-high heat, stirring often. Salt it when you start browning.

Add the beef to the pan, add salt and pepper, and brown until steam stops rising from it. That will mean all the water is gone. Add the garlic and stir it in. Cook for 1 minute.

Add the chili powder, salsa, tortillas, beans and tomatoes. Bring to a simmer, lower the heat, and cover. Maintain a bare simmer and let it go for 2-3 hours until the tortillas have melted and the beef is falling-apart tender.

Check seasonings and adjust. The chili will be relatively mild, depending on the heat in the salsa and the amount of red pepper flakes.

For a free excerpt of my book, “A Year of Food,” in which I opine, report, cook, muse and philosophize about everything that passed my lips for an entire year, write to me at:

Friday, December 26, 2008

Lobster Mac and Cheese

The chef, Frank Bonanno, won a “Top Chef” contest on Food Network by trotting out his signature dish at Mizuna, his restaurant here in Denver. I found two versions of his recipe on-line, neither of which quite did the trick. So I did what I do best, I fixed it.

Lobsters are currently very cheap, $7.89 per pound at our favorite Chinese supermarket, Pacific Ocean Market in the Alameda Square shopping center.

We’re going to indulge and have steamed lobsters for New Years Eve and another lobster dish on our 28th anniversary, Jan. 3, 2009.

Just for the record, the diminutive portion you get at Mizuna goes for $18. Our home portions were about 3 times larger and, while not exactly the same, very, very good.

Lobster Mac and Cheese
1 lobster, about 1 ½ lbs.
7 oz. whole wheat rotini or other pasta
3/4 cup mascarpone
¼ cup white wine vinegar
2 large shallots, sliced thin
1 bay leaf
¼ cup white wine
1 stick butter, 8 oz.
1tbsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic, pressed
salt and pepper to taste

Steam the lobster for 10 minutes which will nearly, but not quite, cook it through. Drop it into a sinkful of cold water until cool enough to handle. Remove the claw and tail meat. Boil the lobster shells and the body of the lobster in enough water to cover for about an hour. Remove the shells, strain the liquid, and reduce it by 1/3. Refrigerate and save for shrimp risotto (coming to this space very soon).

Heat a pot of water and a generous bit of salt and cook the pasta according to package directions, stopping just short of its being completely cooked al dente.

Heat the oil in a big sauté pan and melt the butter into it. Add the shallots and the bay leaf and cook over medium heat until softened but not colored. Add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds.

Meanwhile, mix the mascarpone, cream, and white wine in a bowl. Add to the sauté pan. Bring to a simmer a cook until it begins to thicken slightly.

Remove the bay leaf and add in the lobster. When the lobster is heated through, add the pasta and toss. Continue heating for 2-4 minutes.

Serve in hot bowls.

For a free excerpt of my book, “A Year of Food,” in which I opine, report, cook, muse and philosophize about everything that passed my lips for an entire year, write to me at:

Creamed spinach

Yesterday’s Christmas dinner was a real treat. 2 of the 3 dishes that comprised the meal were prepared a day ahead, freeing us up to spend the afternoon house-hopping with our dear friends Lew and Leslie. The advance prep was for a whole roast duck and a pear and parsnip puree.

We had our first bloody Mary in the lobby of the Brown Palace Hotel at 12:30 pm. Subsequent bloodies were tail-gated as we arrived at our various destinations. Yep, I had a cooler with vodka and tomato juice/clamato/hot sauce all ready to go. So we dropped in on friends with our own libations in hand.

We did have the good sense to limit our snacking to the point where we didn’t spoil our appetites for a sumptuous dinner.

There was plenty of time for me to assemble the final dish, creamed spinach. I haven’t been overwhelmed by my previous attempts at this, but this time I got it right. You certainly can use fresh baby spinach. I think next time I will. But for now we had frozen spinach on hand.

Creamed spinach
2 10 oz. bags individually quick-frozen spinach
2 tbsp butter
1 tsp olive oil
1 large clove garlic, pressed
¼ cup mascarpone cheese
¼ cup heavy cream

Melt the butter in the oil and add the spinach. Heat until thawed, then add in the garlic. Saute over medium heat for about 5 minutes, then add salt and pepper.

In a bowl, mix together the mascarpone and cream. Add to the spinach and bring it all to a simmer. Top with a pinch of freshly grated nutmeg, taste for seasonings, and serve in hot bowls.

For a free excerpt of my book, “A Year of Food,” in which I opine, report, cook, muse and philosophize about everything that passed my lips for an entire year, write to me at:

Dill pickle slices

On September 25, 2008, I posted my recipe for dill pickles. The good news was that we could get pickling cukes at that time at our favorite farmers market. The bad news is that we can’t get them in the winter.

More good news: I have found that one can make quite delicious dills using the so-called seedless or English cucumber.

I’ve tried this twice, the first time using the basic recipe from September. I think because the English cuke is sliced it absorbed too much salt. They were surprisingly ready to eat in just hours instead of days. I had to exchange the pickling liquid with a mix of white wine vinegar and water to tame the sodium.

The second batch is much milder. What I will post here is a third batch which should be just about perfect. The pickles will be quite mild. If you try this, post a comment and let me know what you think.
If you don't have, or don't want to have, pickling spice, just add a couple of pinches of any or all of the following that you do have: cinnamon, peppercorns, mustard seed, powdered ginger, coriander seed, dill seed, mace, allspice, juniper berries, cloves and bay leaf.

Dill pickle slices
1 English cucumber, sliced in ½” rounds
1/3 cup white wine vinegar
1 2/3 cups water
1 tbsp kosher salt
2 tsp pickling spice (such as McCormack's)
1 tbsp sugar
1 tsp dill seed
1 tsp fennel seed
1 tsp red pepper flakes

Mix all the brine ingredients together, making sure to dissolve the salt and sugar. Place the pickle slices in a jar. I have a commercial dill pickle jar that holds 32 fluid oz. which is the perfect size. If necessary use two smaller jars.
Bring the brine to a boil over medium high heat. Remove from the heat and allow to stand until it's just cool enough that you can stick a finger in it. For whole cucumbers you would pour the boiling brine over them. I think, because these are slices of cuke, that you'll avoid mushiness by letting the brine cool slightly first.

Pour the brine over the pickles and refrigerate for 2-3 days.

For a free excerpt of my book, “A Year of Food,” in which I opine, report, cook, muse and philosophize about everything that passed my lips for an entire year, write to me at:

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Tilapia filets

This is not the most creative thing I’ve done of late. However, it was startlingly good. I mentioned using bisquick in place of flour the other day, I think. It brings something lovely to the party – extra crispness and good texture to the coating. These tilapia filets are just like the best fish sticks you ever had.

Tilapia is inexpensive and universally available (particularly in Mexican restaurants where they deep-fry it whole without mercy). I’ll offer two ways to prepare it. One is pan-fried, the other is oven-fried.

Tilapia filets
2 5-6 oz. tilapia filets (substitutes: cod, catfish)
1 egg
panko breadcrumbs (or regular, un-flavored crumbs)
salt, pepper and paprika
vegetable oil

Rinse the filets under cold water and dry them well with paper towels.

Sprinkle the fish with salt, pepper and paprika. Use your hands to press the spices into the fish so that they stick.

Put some bisquick in a fine-mesh strainer and shake it over the fish, coating it with a fine layer on both sides.

Lightly beat the egg with 1 tbsp water or milk.

Dip the filets, one by one, into the egg, coating them completely. Let the excess drip off and coat the filets with breadcrumbs, pressing them onto the surface.

Place the filets on a wire rack over a plate and refrigerate for 30-60 minutes. Remove them from the fridge about 30 minutes before cooking. This is crucial to getting the coating firmly setup enough that it will not separate from the fish while frying. If you are using method 2 below, this step is not necessary.

Method 1: Coat a sauté pan, large enough to accommodate both filets in one layer, with 1/8” vegetable oil. Heat the oil over medium high heat until a spatter of water pops instantly when flicked in. Carefully lay the fish into the pan. Fry undisturbed for 4 minutes. Use 2 large spatulas, one on top and one underneath, and great care to turn the filets over. Fry on the second side for 3 minutes. Remove the filets to the wire rack which you’ve cover with a layer of paper towels. Sprinkle a bit of fine salt on them and let them rest for just a minute. Serve on hot plates and dig in immediately while the fish is still hot and very crispy.

Method 2: Spray the wire rack with cooking spray and place it over a baking sheet. Preheat the oven to 400°. Bake the filets for 20 minutes or until the coating is firm and lightly browned. No resting time required, but do sprinkle a bit more fine salt on them.

For a free excerpt of my book, “A Year of Food,” in which I opine, report, cook, muse and philosophize about everything that passed my lips for an entire year, write to me at:

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Boneless pork ribs

Country-style ribs are hugely meaty as compared with spare ribs. For some reason our Safeway sells the country-style without the bones. I wouldn't have bought them except for the fact that they were in the specials bin and cost only $3.
They are extremely lean and I was concerned about them coming out dry. So I brined them. I also made a sauce with which I basted them every 30 minutes after the first hour of cooking.
The picture to the left ("borrowed") from someone's web site is of ribs with bones. However, despite that, the similiarity to the look of mine is quite remarkable.
Boneless pork ribs
4 boneless country-style pork ribs (about 1 3/4 pounds)
2 cups water
2 tbsp kosher salt
2 tbsp sugar
10 peppercorns
2 tbsp cumin
2 tbsp paprika
1 tbsp cayenne pepper
3/4 cup catsup
1/8 cup pomegranate juice
1/8 cup pomegranate molasses (regular molasses)
black pepper
Stir the salt and sugar into the water until dissolved. Place the liquid, the peppercorns, and the ribs into a gallon-size freezer bag, squeeze out the air, seal, and refrigerate for an hour (2 hours if you can).
Remove the ribs from the fridge and dry them with paper towels. Don't rinse them.
Mix the cumin, paprika and cayenne together and liberally dust the ribs with the mix. Use all of it. Again refrigerate the ribs uncovered on a plate for at least an hour (or more) if you have the time. Remove from the fridge 1 hour before you begin cooking.
Preheat the oven to 275°.
Place the ribs on a rack on a shallow roasting pan. Add 1 cup chicken or beef stock to the pan, cover tightly with foil, and roast for 1 hour.
Meanwhile, mix together the catsup, pomegranate juice and molasses. Reduce the oven to 250° and start generously basting the ribs every 30 minutes. Turning them each time you do so. Keep them covered.
Total roasting time will be 2 1/2-3 hours. Let the ribs rest, still covered, for 10 minutes before serving.
For a free excerpt of my book, “A Year of Food,” in which I opine, report, cook, muse and philosophize about everything that passed my lips for an entire year, write to me at:

Monday, December 22, 2008

A light and delightful soup

Soup, wonderful soup. That’s today’s topic.

Here’s the simplest soup to make you’ll ever find.

Egg flower soup with pork
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 quart low sodium chicken broth
2 scallions, chopped
2 sausages (Italian, bratwurst, whatever)*
¾ snow peas
¼ cup Chinese cooking wine
salt, to taste
white pepper (or black), to taste
pinch of Sichuan pepper
juice of ½ lemon

Cut the sausages into ½” pieces. Put them and the broth on the stove and bring to a simmer. They should cook through in about 6-7 minutes. Remove them to a small pan along with about ½ cup of the broth. Place the pan over low heat, add the snow peas and cover.

Bring the broth back to a strong simmer. Season it with salt, pepper, and Sichuan pepper if you have it. With a wooden spoon stir it vigorously in a circle to create a sort of whirlpool effect. Slowly drizzle in the egg, pouring it through the tines of a fork.

Add the pork and snow peas and the liquid they are in. Add the lemon juice and scallions. Taste to check for seasonings. Serve in heated bowls.

*You can use some ground pork, chicken or turkey if you wish. You'll need to season the soup differently if you're not using a flavorful sausage.

For a free excerpt of my book, “A Year of Food,” in which I opine, report, cook, muse and philosophize about everything that passed my lips for an entire year, write to me at:

Friday, December 19, 2008

Chicken pot NOT

I’ve been thinking about chicken pot pie for a while. I downloaded a recipe mostly because it was a two crust version, whereas, most of the time, there’s just a crust on the top.

Yesterday, having been CFTBD (cook for the boys day), was the perfect opportunity. I’ve been cooking a chicken in the pressure cooker for the “boys” (read “dogs”) for the better part of two years. I save either the breast portion or the legs and thighs for Peter and me. While pressure cooking is time-efficient, it is a bit unpredictable in terms of the outcome.

Depending on how much of the chicken is frozen (yes, even though the bird is in the refrigerator case, the store keeps the temperature so low that much of it is hard as a carp), one has to determine the proper cooking time. Generally speaking 12-15 minutes with the rocker rocking does the trick and you just run cold water over the cooker to drop the pressure.

However, breast meat done in the pressure cooker is hard to get ‘just right.’

So…I’ve started poaching the chicken after disassembling it into its component parts. There are two upsides to this: you can get wonderfully delicate breast meat; you get a larger amount of stock.

So…back to the pot pie. I decided I wanted to make it. Then I realized we had just had two consecutive meals with bisquick involved and the starch of a two-crust chicken pie was a turn-off. Hence the recipe below; no crust – just what you would expect to be in a chicken pot pie. I call it:

Chicken pot NOT
1 whole chicken breast
3 tbsp butter
1 tbsp olive oil
½ cup celery, diced
½ onion, sliced
¾ cup mixed bell pepper strips
1 large carrot, cut into 1/8” rounds
8 oz. mushrooms, sliced
3 garlic cloves, pressed or minced
½ tsp dried thyme
½ tsp dried oregano
½ tsp dried tarragon
½ tsp red pepper flakes
3 tbsp flour
2 cups chicken broth
1 cup baby spinach leaves

Cut two slices into the chicken breast, one in the middle and the other near the neck end. Cut all the way down to the bone.

Place the breast into a pot and cover with water. Bring the water to a simmer and reduce the heat to a gently bubble and poach for 30 minutes. Remove the chicken to a cutting board to cool.

When it’s cool, remove the skin and pull the breast meat off the bone and shred it with your hands. Set aside.

Heat a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add the butter and oil. When the butter is melted, add
Onion, garlic, pepper strips, carrot, celery, and mushrooms. Cook until the onions are softened but not browned, about 10 minutes. Add the stock and bring to a simmer. Cook until the vegetables are softened but still retain some texture, 8-10 minutes.

Add the herbs and the flour and the chicken. Bring back to a strong simmer and cook until thickened to a gravy-like texture.

Serve over perfectly cooked (as Peter will do) basmati rice which you have topped with baby spinach leaves.

For a free excerpt of my book, “A Year of Food,” in which I opine, report, cook, muse and philosophize about everything that passed my lips for an entire year, write to me at:

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Ham and egg cake

I have a wacky idea for something to do with ham and eggs. I think it will go something like this: get a ham slice from market; grind it using the fine blade; lightly beat some egg; mix the egg and ham together, adding, perhaps, a bit of flour as a binder. Pipe the mixture into simmering broth or perhaps into hot oil. Will it hold together?

Next generation of this idea: put the mixture into well-greased muffing tin, first lining the cups with baby spinach; should come out like a quiche; the jury’s still out (in my mind) about the flour idea.

Third generation: bingo, I’ve got it! Looked in the cupboard and, sure enough, there was a box of Bisquick in there…been there for probably a couple of years. AND, on the back of the box was a recipe for an Italian “bake” which included ground beef, frozen peas, and some grated cheese. Now we’re talkin’.

I still want to try my idea in paragraph 1 above, but that will keep until another day.

Bear in mind that this recipe uses exactly what I already had on hand. The only thing I didn’t alter was the wet-dry proportions for the Bisquick itself.

Ham and egg cake
1 ham steak, about 1 lb.
1 cup frozen bell pepper strips, thawed and chopped
1 scallion, green and white, chopped
black pepper
3/4 tsp dried tarragon
2 cups Bisquick
2 eggs
1 cup milk (I used 2% along with a bit of half and half)
1 cup baby spinach leaves
1 cup grated cheese (in our case some goat mozzarella and some romano)
1 tbsp butter

Preheat the oven to 400°.

Trim the ham of all gristle, most of the fat, and the bone that’s probably in it. Grind it fine, or chop with some pulses of a food processor.

Spray a medium sized casserole dish with cooking spray. Spread the spinach leaves over the bottoms and sides of the dish.

Add the ham, peppers, pepper, scallion, and tarragon. Salt isn’t necessary because the ham is salty, as is the romano.

Mix together the Bisquick, milk and eggs. Pour over the ham mixture. Dot with little pieces of the butter. Bake for 25-30 minutes, until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.

Top with the cheese and return to the oven for 4-5 minutes. Allow to rest for 5 minutes before serving.

For a free excerpt of my book, “A Year of Food,” in which I opine, report, cook, muse and philosophize about everything that passed my lips for an entire year, write to me at:

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Dirty Rice


Okay, the disclaimer's out of the way.

I got to thinking about dirty rice a couple of months ago and began saving the livers from the chickens I was cooking for the boys (that's Scooper and Pupkiss, our King Charles Spaniels (for them'uns among you who don't already know that)). The chickens seem to lack livers more often than not, but I did manage to accumulate 3 of them.

I am proud of how I have been able to clean house as concerns the freezer compartment of our fridge. Today's lunch used up: a container of cooked duck liver, the 3 chicken livers, and a package of cooked turkey gizzards. From the fridge came leftover cooked basmati rice. From the pantry came dried shiitake mushrooms, two skinny dried red peppers, and a tiny bit of dried sun-dried tomatoes (isn't that somehow redundant?).

Don't try to copy this recipe. Rather, inventory your own stockpile of goodies you've waited far too long to use up. What follows is merely a roadmap. Find your own rest stops and choose your own tourist attractions along the way. Oh my god, was that a metaphor?

Dirty Rice
3 cups cooked rice
1/2 cup chopped bell peppers, any color
1 cup chopped onion
2 large garlic cloves, pressed
4 oz. cooked turkey gizzards, trimmed of gristle
3 chicken livers, finely chopped
1 duck liver, already cooked and chopped
2 scallions, chopped
1/4 oz. dried shiitake mushrooms, reconstituted and sliced, liquid reserved
2 Mexican red chiles, reconstituted, seeded and finely chopped
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp butter

Heat the oil in a sauté pan. Add onion, garlic, bell pepper, mushrooms, scallions and some salt and pepper. Cook until softened and fragrant, about 6-7 minutes.

Move the vegetation to the side of the pan and add the chicken livers, cooking just until no longer pink. Add the gizzards, duck liver, and the liquid from reconstituting the u-know-whats.

Add the rice. Stir to combine, bring to a simmer, and watch until all the liquid is absorbed.

Add the butter and toss until melted.

Serve in heated bowls, adding salt and pepper to taste.

For a free excerpt of my book, “A Year of Food,” in which I opine, report, cook, muse and philosophize about everything that passed my lips for an entire year, write to me at:

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Tandoori chicken

There’s something I just have to share with you. Back on Nov. 5, I posted a recipe for broiled chicken parts. It’s a superb recipe. Several days ago we got our winter copy of “Cooks Illustrated” magazine. They put forth a plan for tandoori-style chicken done in the oven and finished under the broiler. We love Indian food flavors and I decided to try it last night.

Now, I know that this blog is supposed to be about my creativity. However, most of you probably don’t have a subscription to the mag and can only know about this if I share it with you. Let me just say this: the results were phenomenal; so much so that for 2 hours after dinner I reveled in the lingering glow in my mid-section.

Christopher Kimball, editor of the magazine and host of the tv show “America’s Test Kitchen,” constantly reminds us that he doesn’t care for spicy food. With that in mind, I deduced that the spices in this recipe needed boosting. I accomplished it by simply using the amounts called for for 3 pounds of chicken parts even though I was cooking only 2 pounds (4 chicken legs and 4 thighs, bone in and skin on).

Other than that I followed the recipe slavishly. If I ever offer something I think is a must-try, this is it.

Oops, I nearly forgot to tell you about the perfectly cooked basmati rice Peter prepared. It was cooked in some homemade chicken stock and tossed with a bit of butter. I asked Peter over dinner what makes basmati so unique and special. He wasn’t sure. I’ll do some research and get back to you.

Tandoori chicken
2 tbsp vegetable oil
6 medium garlic cloves, minced or pressed
2 tbsp grated ginger
1 tbsp garam masala
2 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp chili powder
1 cup plain yogurt (whole milk or reduced fat)
4 tbsp lime juice (probably 2 limes)
2 tsp salt
2 lbs bone-in, skin-on chicken parts

Heat oil in small skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Add garlic and ginger and cook until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add garam masala, cumin and chili powder; continue to cook until fragrant, 30-60 seconds longer. Transfer half of the mix to a medium bowl; stir in yogurt and 2 tbsp lime juice and set aside.

In large bowl, combine remaining garlic-spice mix, 2 tbsp lime juice, and salt. Using a sharp knife, lightly score skin side of each piece of chicken, making 2 or 3 shallow cuts about 1 inch apart and about 1/8 inch deep; transfer to bowl. Gently massage salt-spice mix into chicken until all pieces are evenly coated; let stand at room temperature 30 minutes.

Adjust oven rack to upper-middle position (about 6 inches from heating element) and heat oven to 325°. Pour yogurt mixture over chicken and toss to coat evenly. Arrange chicken pieces, skin side down, on wire rack over a rimmed baking sheet or broiler pan. Bake chicken until instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of chicken registers 125°.

After removing chicken from oven, turn oven to broil and heat 5 minutes. Be sure to leave the oven door ajar throughout the broiling process to avoid the heating element from cycling off. Turn the chicken pieces over (skin side up now) and broil until chicken is lightly charred in spots and instant-read thermometer registers 165° for breasts and 170° for thighs and legs. Remove from the oven, tent loosely with foil and allow to rest for 5 minutes.

For a free excerpt of my book, “A Year of Food,” in which I opine, report, cook, muse and philosophize about everything that passed my lips for an entire year, write to me at:

Friday, November 28, 2008

Deep-fried turkey, southwest-style

We just had a wonderful southwestern-style Thanksgiving dinner yesterday. The dishes were tradition-based: dressing, potato gratin, slow-braised green beans, giblet gravy, and 3 kinds of pies (pumpkin, apple, and apple/cranberry). The unusual parts were a mole Peter made (with rich homemade chicken stock) and the turkey.

The interesting part for me was to adjust our usual Cajun brine (used to inject the turkey before deep frying) to reflect the tone of a meal inspired by a different region.

It’s best to inject the turkey and let it sit in the fridge, uncovered, overnight. Then take it out 2 hours before cooking.

I realize this is kind of an after-the-fact posting, but it might give you an idea for what to do the next time you want a turkey dinner. At our house we are determined this year to have turkey again sometime over the winter.

I see no reason why you couldn’t use this recipe for a roasted bird. Just follow the directions below and roast in your usual fashion.

The injection liquid will seem somewhat spicy, but it won't be that way after the turkey is cooked.

Southwestern-style deep-fried turkey

1 14 pound kosher turkey
¾ cup chopped onion
handful of cilantro
3 cloves garlic, rough chopped
1 jalapeno pepper, ½ seeded, ½ not seeded, chopped
1 guajillo pepper, seeded
1 tbsp cumin plus 1 tsp
1 tsp dried Mexican oregano
1 tbsp hot sauce (or to taste)
1 tbsp ancho chile powder
1 ½ cup chicken broth
salt and pepper

Preheat oil to 375°.

Saute onion.

Add garlic

Add broth, Serrano, guajillo, 1 tsp cumin, oregano, cilantro and bring to a boil. Simmer for 15 minutes, remove from heat and, when cooled, strain out the solids and discard them.

Inject turkey all over with the liquid.

Mix 1 tbsp cumin and 1 tbsp ancho chile powder and rub under skin of breast, legs, and thighs.

Making sure the turkey is as dry as possible, carefully lower it into the fryer and set a timer for 45 minutes. Check internal temperature. When it’s 160°, let it rest for 15 minutes before carving.

Let rest for 20 minutes, carve and serve.

For a free excerpt of my book, “A Year of Food,” in which I opine, report, cook, muse and philosophize about everything that passed my lips for an entire year, write to me at:

Monday, November 17, 2008


Sometime last week, while googling for something, I hit on a recipe for laksa, a spicy noodle soup. It has many variants all around Asia with roots in Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand and Burma.

I watched 3 videos of home cooks preparing laksa and downloaded a basic recipe. Once I had it in hand I immediately saw the possibilities for making my own version of it.

I won’t bore you with the details of how I made it my own, except to point out that we are fortunate in Denver to be able to get pretty much any Asia ingredient. So a trip to my favorite store garnered me everything I wanted.

Shrimp laksa
12 oz. fresh Chinese egg noodles
1 14 oz. can low sodium chicken broth
1 13.5 oz. can coconut milk
12 oz. shrimp, peeled and deveined
2 tbsp fish sauce
1 tbsp dark soy sauce
1 ½ tbsp red curry paste
½ tsp ground turmeric
½ cup sliced pickled mustard leaves
¼ cup Chinese cilantro, chopped
juice of ½ a lime
salt and pepper
2 cloves garlic, sliced
vegetable oil

For garnish:
10 red pickled chilis, finely chopped
2 scallions, chopped (both green and white parts)

Bring a large pot of water to boil and cook the noodles according to package directions, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking. Try to time the soup preparation below so that your noodles are ready at just the right time and, using a spider, transfer them.

Heat your wok over medium high heat. Add 2 tsp oil. When it is very hot, drop in the garlic and stir fry for 30 seconds. Add 1/3 of the coconut milk and bring to a boil. Add the curry and turmeric and stir until fragrant.

Add the remainder of the coconut milk, chicken stock, fish sauce and soy sauce. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a boil and reduce the heat and simmer for 5 minutes.

Add the shrimp and watch carefully to see when they are almost opaque. Now add the noodles and cilantro and toss everything. Turn off the heat and add the lime juice.

Serve in heated bowls topped with red chilis and scallions to taste.

For a free excerpt of my book, “A Year of Food,” in which I opine, report, cook, muse and philosophize about everything that passed my lips for an entire year, write to me at:

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Refritos (re-fried beans)

Buy a can of refried beans if you must, but there will be no comparison with the taste of homemade. My method is entirely made up by yours truly and must be considered “Nuevo Norte Americano.”

As so often happens with me, the inspiration for something comes from ingredients that are hanging around in the pantry, the fridge, or the freezer. In this case it was half a bag (about 1 ½ cups) of frozen black-eyed peas (which are actually beans), and some thin-cut top sirloin steaks which cried out for a good flattening and preparation as milanesa, breaded and fried thin beef as found in practically any Mexican restaurant. Oh, and a third thing: requeson, a Mexican ricotta-like cheese. We had this because Peter had made a Latino-inspired stuffed winter squash a few days ago.

You certainly can make this ahead by a day or two and reheat them while you prepare the milanesa. I’ll include directions for this just in case you want to try both of these together.

Refritos (refried beans)
1 ½ cups (more or less) frozen black-eyed peas
1 14.5 oz can pinto beans, well-rinsed
2 medium size tomatoes, peeled and chopped (canned are ok)
½ red onion, rough chopped
2 or 3 Hatch chiles, skinned and seeded (or substitute jalapenos to taste)
1 or 2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp dried Mexican oregano
3/4 cup chicken or beef stock
1/8 cup epazote leaves or cilantro, roughly chopped
salt and pepper to taste
1 tbsp olive oil

In a large sauté pan, cook black-eyed peas according to package directions. Set aside and wipe the pan clean.

Heat the olive oil and sauté the onion and garlic over medium heat until softened but not browned, about 6-8 minutes. Place all ingredients in the food processor and whir them up to a rough texture (according to your preference).

Return the mixture to the sauté pan and heat to a low simmer, adding more stock if it seems to thick. Cook, covered, over low heat for 30 minutes after checking and adjusting seasonings. Remove the cover for part of the cooking time if the beans seems to wet.

Thin-cut steak
Egg, 1 per pound of steak
Breadcrumbs, unseasoned are best, but suit yourself
Salt and pepper
Vegetable oil

Pound the steaks to no more than ¼” thickness.

In a wide bowl, lightly beat the egg with a tbsp water. Season with a pinch of salt and pepper.

Dip each piece of steak in the egg to coat completely. Dredge in the bread crumbs, pressing them into the steak so that they adhere. Carefully lay the meat on a wire rack over a plate and refrigerate until ready to cook. Season the tops of the steaks with salt and pepper. (You’ll do the other side while cooking them.) If you have an hour it will help the bread crumbs to set up and stick better when you fry the meat.

Heat the oil in a large sauté pan until a tiny pinch of bread crumbs immediately sizzles when dropped in.

Cook the steaks in a single layer (in batches as necessary) for exactly 2 minutes per side, starting with the seasoned side up. When you turn them season the cooked side with salt and pepper. Remove to the wire rack which you have now covered with some paper towels. Cover with a sheet of foil and keep warm in the oven if you have to do more than 1 batch.

For a free excerpt of my book, “A Year of Food,” in which I opine, report, cook, muse and philosophize about everything that passed my lips for an entire year, write to me at:

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Oil-poached shrimp, potato, green bean salad

For many years we’ve had a recipe for tuna poached in olive oil (tonno ventresca). Peter prepared it once, so long ago we have no idea when it was. You can buy ventresca tuna in cans at specialty shops. It’s an excellent product. I thought it might be interesting to do it from scratch.

Marcella Hazan, perhaps the doyen of Italian cooking, is so fussy about everything being from scratch that I used to say her ventresca tuna recipe should begin, “First, rent a fishing boat.” I took the easier path of getting ¾ lb. of nice fresh tuna from my local monger. It had some of what I think is called the bloodline, that dark stuff, on the side of it. Monger Bruce told me it was edible although somewhat strong tasting. I chose to cut it off.

Our recipe gave very explicit instructions for how to do this: put the tuna in a pan, cover it with oil, add a garlic clove or two, and bring the oil up to a temperature where it bubbles ever so slightly. After ten minutes remove the pan from the heat and add a couple more things. Then marinate the tuna overnight before constructing the tuna salad.

I didn’t want to have leftovers, and made basically a half recipe. It was the perfect amount for our lunch on Sunday. In order to reuse the oil, I prepared enough potatoes and green beans to make up another lunch, this time using shrimp.

I couldn’t find very good directions for poaching shrimp in oil, so I had to kind of make this up. To be honest, I liked the shrimp salad result better than the tuna. For the tuna, a red wine and oil dressing was called for. It tasted very good, but I replaced the vinegar with lemon juice for the shrimp.

The basics of the recipe are from that one we found in one of our recipe binders (we have more than 650 pages of them). I did some tweaking and consider this to fit in with the intention of my postings: invention. This is well worth trying.

This picture "resembles" my shrimp salad, but I confess to having borrowed it from FoodNetwork. It's fun to have a picture.

Oil-poached shrimp salad
12 oz. shrimp, peeled and deveined
8 oz. green beans
8 small potatoes (1-2” diameter)
olive oil
dried thyme
2 garlic cloves, cut in half
1 garlic clove, minced or pressed
1 bay leaf
zest of 1 lemon
¼ cup chopped parsley
juice of 1 lemon
salt and pepper

Put the shrimp in a saucepan and just barely cover with oil. Add the garlic. Bring the oil’s temperature up over medium-low heat. If it starts to bubble, turn the heat down. Carefully watch the progress of the shrimp turning pink, tossing them frequently with a fork. At the first sign they are close to being cooked through (about 5-6 minutes), remove the pan from the heat.

Add the lemon zest, thyme and bay leaf to the oil. After 5 minutes remove the shrimp, let cool completely, and refrigerate overnight.

Allow the oil to cool completely, then refrigerate it overnight also.

Place the potatoes in another pot and cover with cold water. Bring the water to a boil, add a generous amount of salt, and simmer them until fork tender, 20 minutes or so. It will help to cut in half any disproportionately large ones.

While the potatoes cook, trim and wash the green beans. When the potatoes are cooked, remove them to a colander and bring the water back to a full boil. Add a bit more salt and blanch the beans to your preferred crunchiness. For me it was about 9 minutes as the beans were fairly mature.

Drain the beans and rinse them for a minute with cold water, using your sink sprayer attachment. When the beans and potatoes are cool, refrigerate them along with the shrimp and the oil.

Now you could construct and eat this salad the same day you poach the shrimp. It probably would be pretty much as good. But I had the time and did it a day ahead.

To construct the salad:*
Cut the potatoes into ½” pieces. Cut the green beans into ½” pieces. Put them both in a large bowl. Cut the shrimp into similar sized pieces and add to the bowl. Add the parsley and toss to mix.

For the dressing:
Put the lemon juice into a bowl in which you can whisk the ingredients. Add salt and pepper and more dried thyme. If the poaching oil has solidified (as it almost certainly will have), warm it over low heat. Add some of the oil to the dressing bowl. How much? No more than an amount equel in volume to the lemon juice. Whisk the mix together until the oil emulifies, ½ - 1 minute. Taste. If it is too lemony, add a bit more oil. At this point your taste buds must be your guide. Add salt and pepper as necessary.

Pour the dressing over the shrimp, potato, green bean mix and toss to coat. Sprinkle with a little more salt and pepper. Serve and enjoy.

*We were eating our salad on a very chilly day and wanted it to be at least warm. That was accomplished easily by combining the beans and potatoes and microwaving them for 90 seconds. Then, when tossed with the shrimp and dressed the salad was nice and warm.

For a free excerpt of my book, “A Year of Food,” in which I opine, report, cook, muse and philosophize about everything that passed my lips for an entire year, write to me at:

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Reuben sandwich

I managed to resist eating my homemade corned beef before Peter got back from his trip. Yesterday we made Reuben sandwiches. I realized on Tuesday that I needed to get Swiss cheese and sauerkraut, two of the 4 ingredients in a traditional Reuben along with Russian dressing.

Remembering the partial head of napa cabbage in the fridge, I consulted the book “Charcuterie,” a compendium of all things cured. I was dismayed to find that the recipe for sauerkraut called for a 3-week cure. I had 24 hours! So I improvised.

Following the basic plan the book gave me I shredded the cabbage, ending up with only about 2 cups, enough surely for 2 days of Reubens. The cabbage was tossed in a glass bowl with a generous amount of salt and about ½ tsp of caraway seeds. That was it – covered it with plastic wrap and put it in the fridge. I stirred it up a couple of times over the next day. When I tasted it it was pleasantly sour and salty. I rinsed it off and dried it as well as possible. It worked very well in the sandwich.

I am not anal retentive enough to want to extend my homemade repertoire into the fields of bread and cheese making. Those items came from the supermarket.

Peter whipped up a very plausible Russian dressing using just mayo and ketchup. The bread was a new Safeway product, packaged panini bread. It wasn’t as good as what the deli counter has sold me a couple of times, but it was fine when grilled.

Reuben sandwiches
2 slices panini bread
4 slices Swiss cheese
generous helping of corned beef
Russian dressing
Homemade sauerkraut
1 tbsp butter

Layer the sandwich thusly so that it will hold together when you flip it. Of course I’m assuming that most folks, like us, don’t have a dedicated panini press – that’s why you gotta turn it.
Russian dressing, half the cheese, corned beef, sauerkraut, the remaining cheese.

Heat a sauté pan over medium heat and rub a stick of butter onto it where the sandwich will go. Place the sandwich in the pan. Cover with a piece of foil and weight it with a teakettle. Cook for 4 minutes. Set the sandwich aside while you rub the pan with more butter. Return it to the pan, turned over, for 3 more minutes weighted. Cut across the sandwich to make 2 portions.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Broiled chicken legs and thighs

I have mentioned at least a couple of times how I pressure cook a chicken to make dog food (with brown rice and frozen vegetables). Each time I do it I save either the breast portion or the legs and thighs for human consumption.
I "borrowed" the above picture from another website. My thanks and apologies. You certainly can leave the legs and thighs attached, but I am in the habit of separating them. I don't think it particularly matters, so suit yourself.

America’s Test Kitchen did a number on what they call “picnic chicken” a few months ago. We tried it 2 or 3 times and, while it was good, it wasn’t great. The following recipe comes under the category “great” in my book. Using all the various techniques I’ve come to espouse in recent years, I made this up yesterday. It may be the best version of chicken I have ever made.

Chicken is hard to screw up. After all, you can grill, poach, roast, or fry it. The only trick is to get it cooked through but not over-cooked. If you use an instant read thermometer you should be golden.

Broiled chicken legs and thighs
2 chicken legs and 2 chicken thighs
Dry rub (recipe below)
2 tbsp salt
2 cups water

Dissolve the salt in the water and put it and the chicken in a freezer bag. Squeeze out as much air as you can, seal, and place the bag in a large bowl and then into the refrigerator for at least an hour, preferably 3 hours.

Remove and rinse the chicken with cold water. Dry the pieces well with paper towels. Place a clean paper towel on a plate and put the chicken on it. Coat the chicken with the dry rub. Put the plate of chicken into the refrigerator uncovered for an hour or two. Remove 45 minutes before cooking and allow to come to room temperature.

Preheat the broiler and place the oven rack on the second location below the heating element. This is important: if you use the top location the chicken will burn. Here’s a hint about broiling in the oven: if you close the oven door the heating element in an electric oven will cycle on and off and you will be baking more than broiling. Every oven I’ve ever had has a position for the door which leaves it open a few inches. The purpose for this door setting is clearly for broiling. With the oven door ajar the heating element will remain on throughout the cooking time. It has been years since I've had a gas oven (although I would prefer to have one), so I'm not sure if the gas broiler element will cycle off if the door is closed. If you don't know about your gas oven, do a test run.

Put the chicken on a wire rack on a raised-sided baking sheet. Place under the broiler. Broil for 5 minutes and then rotate the pan 180°. Broil 5 more minutes and then turn the chicken pieces over. Broil for 5 minutes and turn your oven to “bake” and set the temperature to 350°. Close the oven door and allow to continue cooking for another 5 minutes. Check the internal temperature. If it has reached 160° remove it from the oven and allow to rest for 10 minutes. If it’s not quite there, just leave it in the oven for a few more minutes with the oven turned off.

Dry rub
1 tbsp onion powder
1 tbsp garlic powder
1 tbsp dried parsley flakes
1 ½ tsp sweet paprika
1 tsp ground white or black pepper
PLEASE NOTE: do not add salt to the chicken after brining.

Mix all the ingredients together in a small bowl.

For a free excerpt of my book, “A Year of Food,” in which I opine, report, cook, muse and philosophize about everything that passed my lips for an entire year, write to me at:

Monday, November 3, 2008

Classic cassoulet

“Cassoulet is a rich, slow-cooked bean stew or casserole originating in the southwest of France, containing meat (typically pork sausages, pork, goose, duck and sometimes mutton, and pork skin. The dish is named after the cassole, the distinctive deep round earthenware pot with slanting sides in which cassoulet is ideally cooked.”

The above is courtesy of wikipedia, as is the picture.

Peter went out of town yesterday and I made myself a double helping of cassoulet, according to my own plan, though influenced by a published recipe. Good golly was it satisfying!

I may have mentioned the other day that I had some pork cuttings I cured in the same solution one uses to make corned beef. It essentially turned out to be like ham. Instead of using fatback or some other pork cut for my cassoulet I used my homemade product. If I hadn’t had it, I would have simply used bacon.

For the purposes of the recipe below I have doubled what I made yesterday. It would be enough to serve 4, or 2 meals for 2 people. There seemed to be little purpose to going to all this trouble (mostly just time cooking) for a single serving.

I will make this for Peter just as soon as the weather chills down again. As for me, I couldn’t have enjoyed it more than I did even in spite of the outside evening temp being about 60°.

For the beans I used the remains of a package of frozen black-eyed peas. Use fresh dried beans if you wish, but it just makes the prep more laborious. The sausages I chose were a brat-like Italian-style link sausage.

4 strips thick-cut bacon
4 sausages, your favorite kind
1 medium onion, quartered
2 medium carrots, cut into 1” pieces
3 cloves garlic, sliced thick
2 red-skin potatoes, quartered, skins left on
1 qt. chicken stock
1 lb. frozen black-eyed peas
1 14 oz. can whole peeled tomatoes
salt and pepper
bouquet garni (1 sprig parsley, 1 stalk celery, 1 sprig thyme, bay leaf, tied together in a bundle)
½ cup fresh bread crumbs

In a cast iron pot, render bacon. Remove and set aside.

Brown the sausages in the bacon faat. Remove and set aside.

When you quarter the onion, just trim the visible roots, trim the top, but leave the thick root-end part on so that it will hold the quarters together. This is largely a presentation thing, so if you want slice the onions in thick pieces.

Add the carrots and onion and cook over moderate heat, turning the onion pieces occasionally, until they begin to caramelize, about 7 minutes. Add garlic and cook 1 minute. Add, potatoes, the bouquet garni, and bacon. Add just enough stock to come up to the level of the vegetables and bring to a boil. Season with salt and pepper. Cover the casserole and gently simmer over low heat for 1 ½ hours, stirring occasionally. Add the frozen black-eyed peas and sausage after 45 minutes, increasing the heat briefly to get back to a simmer.

Bring the tomatoes to a simmer in a saucepan and preheat the oven to 325°.

Stir the tomatoes into the casserole and sprinkle with the bread crumbs. Add more broth if necessary. It probably won’t be if you use the tomatoes with their juice. Bake the cassoulet for 1 hour longer, removing the lid for the final 30 minutes. It is done when the bread crumb topping is well-browned. Remove from the oven, discard the bouquet garni, check the seasonings, and allow to rest, covered, for 20 minutes before serving.

For a free excerpt of my book, “A Year of Food,” in which I opine, report, cook, muse and philosophize about everything that passed my lips for an entire year, write to me at:

Saturday, November 1, 2008

The laws of slaw

I love wikipedia, don’t you? The citation below will give you more information than you ever thought available about coleslaw.

"Coleslaw (or cole slaw) is a salad consisting primarily of shredded raw cabbage. It can also include shredded carrots.

There are many variations of the recipe which include the addition of other ingredients, such as red cabbage, grated cheese, pineapple, or apple. It is usually mixed with a dressing which traditionally consists of vegetable oil and vinegar or a vinaigrette. In the U.S. coleslaw often contains mayonnaise (or its substitutes); although many regional variations exist, and recipes incorporating prepared mustard are also common.
A variety of seasonings may be added. The dressing is usually allowed to settle on the blended ingredients for several hours before being served. The cabbage may come in finely minced pieces, shredded strips, or small squares.

Coleslaw is generally eaten as a side dish with foods such as barbecue, French fries, and other fried foods; notably, fried catfish in the southern U.S. Also, in this region, it is common as a sandwich ingredient, often placed on barbecue sandwiches, and on hamburgers and hot dogs along with chili and hot mustard. It is sometimes used as an ingredient in the Reuben sandwich. A variant with vinegar and oil is often served with pizza in Sweden. It is common for West Virginians to place it on hot dogs with chili, yellow mustard, and chopped onion.[1]

"Asian" coleslaws are also popular in the U.S. and usually contain all the typical ingredients plus dry noodles or almonds and no mayonnaise.

Coleslaw was probably consumed, in its earliest form, in the times of the ancient Romans.[2] Since then, it has been adopted in many countries, including (but not limited to) the United Kingdom, the United States, Germany, Belgium, and Spain. However, the mayonnaise variety of coleslaw could not have arisen until the 18th century as mayonnaise was not yet invented. The term, "cole slaw", arose in the 18th century as a partial translation from the Dutch term "koolsla", a shortening of "koolsalade", which means "cabbage salad". It was commonly called cold slaw in Britain until the 1860s when "cole" (meaning cabbage) was revived. "Cole" originates from the Latin, colis, meaning "cabbage", and is the origin of the Dutch word as well. In addition to calling it "coleslaw," U.S. Southerners also refer to it as "slaw." In Arabic it is called 'Salatit Al Malfooof' سلطة الملفوف meaning the cabbage salad. Today, coleslaw generally refers to the variation of the recipe with a mayonnaise-based dressing on the shredded cabbage and other vegetables."

If you use wikipedia you''ll understand the meaning of the blue highlights. Ignore them, I don't know how to get rid of them!

The reason for my diversion into wikipedia slaw: it’s the consequence of an improvisation I executed when making sandwiches for lunch today, and is a further demonstration of what to do when you meal is figuratively at the goal line and your best running back and pass receiver both had to hit the john at the same time.

I had no mayonnaise!

Later today I found that I had bought a jar the other day and it had slipped out of the grocery bag in my trunk.

Here’s what I did have: apple cider vinegar, napa cabbage, horseradish, mustard, yogurt, salt and pepper – everything I needed to get into the end zone.

Do yourself a favor and a mental exercise as to what you could have done with on-hand ingredients. Let’s say you have lettuce but no horseradish. Not a problem. Let’s say you have vinegar but it’s not cider. Use another kind but remember that cider vinegar is a little sweeter than white, red wine vinegar will give an entirely different taste, and Japanese vinegar will do pretty much the same thing as the cider.

Sorry if this seems didactic, but the central purpose of this blog for me is to share imaginings, communicate inspirations, and leave a tad more information in the world than when I found it.

Coleslaw without mayo
thinly slice napa cabbage, about 1 cup tightly packed
1 tbsp prepared horseradish
½ tbsp mustard
1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
salt and pepper
1/8 cup yogurt (an herbed sauce left from several days ago, but plain would be fine)

Toss all this stuff together and taste for seasoning. Ideally this would sit and allow the cabbage to wilt a bit for, say, an hour. I didn’t have any time for that.

It went very nicely with a kielbasa sandwich and a chicken cutlet sandwich (to which we added some sliced avocado). We assembled the sandwiches, cut them in half, and each got some of each.

For a free excerpt of my book, “A Year of Food,” in which I opine, report, cook, muse and philosophize about everything that passed my lips for an entire year, write to me at:

Friday, October 31, 2008

Bits and pieces

Peter is making a lentil curry for our dinner. I’m off duty for the rest of the day. That doesn’t mean I’m not thinking about food. Some very interesting stuff looms in our future over the next week.

Corned beef: I bought a cheap cut of beef, something called a cross-rib chuck steak, on sale at Safeway about a week ago. I’m corning it. Brisket is the normal cut for corned beef, but I’ve learned (much to my surprise) that corning has long been a technique for improving wild game of various sorts. There is also something called corned lamb for sale in cans. It comes from Australia. I’ve also learned that corned beef is not an Irish tradition. Hugh, our high-end cheese purveyor at St. Kilian’s Cheese Shop, told me he never had corned beef when he was growing up in Ireland.

I cured some turkey legs in the corning brine some time ago. After they were simmered for a couple of hours they tasted great, much better than the packaged “smoked” turkey you get at the market.

After trimming up a cut of pork to make a Japanese-style curry earlier this week, I was left with some fatty strips. I put them in the same solution as the beef (not together with it) and anticipate it will turn out to be a kind of bacon. If the result is what I expect, I can see hunks of it in a cassoulet with potato and sausage. I think I will bake it after rinsing the brine off – just enough so that it’s no longer raw – and then see what happens if I grill (stovetop) a piece of it. Fascinating!

I downloaded a magnificent looking chicken pot pie recipe a few days ago. Sorry, I don’t remember the link. It has great pictures (I hope to start including some here soon).

Peter goes away from Sunday midday until Tuesday afternoon, and I’ll be thinking and planning how to share all this stuff with him when he gets back.

On another front, I bought a hand-cranked pasta machine of Ebay. I’ve seen Lydia Bastianich use one on her tv show many times. I’m excited to give it a try. My first dish will be ravioli stuffed with buttercup squash with a sage butter sauce.

The wonderful thing about winter’s approach is that we have set aside the cold and room temperature dishes and can go heavier: stews, slow-cooked hunks of protein, etc. I don’t know if today’s curry will be ample enough to be dinner again tomorrow or if we will eat it for lunch. I’ll keep an open mind about it all.

We have leftover napa cabbage which I will turn into sauerkraut over the weekend. That way, when Peter is back home, we can have homemade Reuben sandwiches next Wednesday. I had to go back through this blog to discover that I haven’t discussed cassoulet. That makes sense, as I began writing in July. Cassoulet is cool weather food. I have my recipe for it in my book, “A Year of Food.” I’ll post it here sometime soon.

Well, that’s about it for today. Mostly I’m writing to get my thoughts organized about all the delights we’ll enjoy soon.

Happy cooking and eating!

For a free excerpt of my book, “A Year of Food,” in which I opine, report, cook, muse and philosophize about everything that passed my lips for an entire year, write to me at:

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Macaroni with cauliflower and spinach

What to have for dinner? There was a good deal of cauliflower left from the curry from a few days ago – actually ¾ of a head. I don’t know where the idea that jumped out at me came from. I think it’s from memories I have of my childhood when, with 5 children in the house and a step-father who always had a job but never made a lot of money, my mother shopped and cooked very frugally. That wasn’t a bad thing much of the time, but cheap beef liver made it onto our menu more often than I would have wished.

As an adult I learned to love liver, primarily by discovering calf liver in a restaurant in, of all places, Portugal. Now I will eat beef liver occasionally, chicken liver occasionally, and calf liver whenever I see it on a restaurant menu. However, liver is not today’s topic.

A concoction we also had often (really inexpensive) was macaroni with tomatoes and ground beef. I think of it often and have put together various improvisations on that theme over the years. Off I went to Safeway.

After checking the manager’s specials (the meats that are within a day of their “best if used by” date) and not finding anything, I had a look at the various smoked sausages and kielbasa. I settled on a turkey kielbasa. For some reason adding a few handfuls of baby spinach sounded like a good idea. I would have bought an onion if I’d thought of it, but I had scallions at home.

Most of us are aware that food manufacturers are manipulating us by keeping the price of their canned or boxed products the same but making the containers smaller. Do you still assume that a box of pasta is going to be a full pound? Many are, but Barilla makes a “plus” pasta in several shapes that is whole grain and very satisfying. It does, however, come in a 14.5 ounce package.

The good news is that Peter and I eat so much less than we did some years ago, that box, once a single meal for the two of us, now yielded leftovers using only half of it!

Anyhow, this is a homely recipe, but a very good one. The prep work isn’t over the top and you can have this on the table in half an hour if you’re in a hurry; or an hour if you start early, make a Cosmo and watch an episode of “Millionaire” while you sip it – pasta water warming on the stove and your mise en place in place.

Macaroni with kielbasa, cauliflower and spinach
1/2 box pasta in any shape you like
1/2 piece kielbasa, about 7 oz.
¼ head of cauliflower, cut into ½” floweret’s
¼ lb baby spinach
2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
4 tsp olive oil
1 tbsp unsalted butter
¾ cup chicken stock
juice of 1/2 a small lemon
¼ cup scallions, white and green parts
¼ tsp celery seeds
¼ cup heavy cream
salt and pepper (use white pepper if you have it)
Grated romano cheese to taste

In a large sauté pan, heat 1 tsp olive oil and 1 tbsp butter. Add 1 pressed garlic clove and stir briefly. Add the baby spinach and cook just until barely wilted. Remove and set aside.

Add 1 tbsp olive oil and another clove of garlic. After 30 seconds add the cauliflower and scallion. Toss to coat with the oil. Add chicken stock, celery seeds, lemon juice, and salt and pepper to taste. You could use celery salt in place of the seeds and salt, but be judicious; that stuff is fiendishly salty. Bring to a simmer, cover and cook until the cauliflower is tender but still a tad al dente.

Meanwhile, bring a pot of water to a boil, season generously with kosher salt, and cook the pasta according to package directions. When it’s done, use a spider to transfer it to the sauté pan. This is so that you add a bit of pasta water to the mix. Alternatively, reserve 1/8 cup pasta water, drain the pasta in a colander, and then add it and the reserved water to the sauté pan. Add the cream and the wilted spinach to the pan and toss everything together. Taste and adjust for seasonings, top with some cheese, and serve in heated bowls.

For a free excerpt of my book, “A Year of Food,” in which I opine, report, cook, muse and philosophize about everything that passed my lips for an entire year, write to me at:

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Double Indian Dish

We are fans of “America’s Test Kitchen,” a PBS show produced by “Cooks Illustrated” magazine. Even though the two chief “testers” are women who talk in upspeak (one of them distinctly more than the other), what they teach us has led to some good meals here in chez Stephen and Peter.

We watched an episode the other day in which two Indian curry dishes were prepared. They made us hungry and we decided to try their ideas yesterday. What we did was to combine the two recipes into a one-dish meal. One was a vegetable curry and the other was chicken tikka masala, which made use of garam masala, a spice mixture we’ve had in the pantry for quite some time and rarely have used.

My result was terrific thanks to the test kitchen basic recipe and my own creativity. After the fact, my challenge here will be to remember all the adjustments I made on the fly.

The tikka did not call for curry, but the vegetable dish did – so I used it. I discovered a new way to dice onions. I used a mandoline with the julienne blade attached. Slice the onion in half, leaving the stem end intact. Peel the skin off and, using the mandoline, slice the onion. You can get a very fine dice this way in a hurry.

The main thing the test kitchen crew did was cook the chicken separately from the sauce, a diversion from the traditional cooking method. The aim was to keep the chicken moist. It worked wonderfully well. In most traditional Indian recipes a little extra garam masala is added at the end of cooking, just before serving. On test kitchen the chef said it gave the dish a slightly "harsh" taste. Having added garam masala at the end of preparing pureed eggplant last week, I disagreed and did add a bit more must before serving.

Peter made a yogurt sauce to garnish this. Using a hand-held immersion blender, he mixed together yogurt with mint leaves and cilantro. The only down side was that the amount of moisture in the mint and cilantro rendered the yogurt quite loose. It still tasted really good on the dish.

Even more good news - there was enough for last night's dinner and today's lunch.

Chicken Tikka Masala with curried vegetables
2 chicken breast halves, skinned and boneless
¼ tsp ground cumin
¼ tsp ground coriander
¼ tsp cayenne pepper
½ tsp salt
1/3 cup plain whole-milk yogurt
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 medium garlic clove, minced or pressed
1 tbsp ginger, grated or minced
1 medium red potato, in a ½” dice
1+ cup small cauliflower flowerettes

Masala sauce:
2 tbsp vegetable oil
½ medium onion, diced fine
1 medium garlic clove, minced or pressed
1 tsp grated ginger
1 fresh Serrano chile, minced
1 tbsp tomato paste
1 tbsp garam masala
1 14 oz. can diced tomatoes, with their juice
1 tsp sugar
1/3 cup heavy cream
1/8 chopped cilantro leaves

Combine cumin, coriander, cayenne, and salt in a small bowl. Sprinkle both sides of the chicken with the spice mixture. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour, or up to 3 hours. In another bowl, whisk together yogurt, oil, garlic, and ginger; set aside.

Heat 1 tbsp vegetable oil in a large saute pan or Dutch oven over medium heat until shimmering. Add the onion and cook for a few minutes until softened and slightly colored. Add garlic, ginger, chile, tomato paste, curry, and garam masala; cook, stirring frequently until fragrant – 1-2 minutes. Clear a space in the middle of the pan and add another tbsp oil. Drop the potato and cauliflower in and stir the whole mixture thoroughly together.

Add tomatoes, sugar, and salt; bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer until the vegetables are tender – about 20 minutes, maybe more. Stir in cream, remove pan from heat, and cover to keep warm.

While the sauce simmers, preheat the broiler with the rack in the top position. Thoroughly coat the chicken pieces in the yogurt mixture and arrange on a wire rack set over a foil-lined rimmed baking sheet or broiler pan. Broil chicken until the thickest part registers 155° on an instant-read thermometer. The outside should color in places slightly. Flip the chicken once half way through cooking. Total time will be 12-14 minutes.

Let the chicken rest 5 minutes, then cut into 1 inch chunks and stir into the sauce over medium heat. When hot, but not simmering, stir in cilantro and serve over basmati rice, white or brown.

For a free excerpt of my book, “A Year of Food,” in which I opine, report, cook, muse and philosophize about everything that passed my lips for an entire year, write to me at:

Monday, October 27, 2008

The power of ramen

Behold the lowly, cheap, ubiquitous ramen noodle. A package can be had for 15 cents, sometimes less. Prepared simply according to package directions they are a quick and tasty small meal. Doctored up or used like pasta, without the flavoring packet, they are versatile and offer countless possibilities.

Let’s say you need a fast meal. Would you rather wait 10-12 minutes for pasta or have your food ready in 3 minutes? I vote for the 3-minute choice.

While the water boils you can rummage through your fridge and find whatever you can: scallions are an excellent choice. Toss them in with the noodles while they boil if you prefer to get the rawness out of them. Toss in a few cherry tomatoes or leave them raw and quarter them.

Any leftover meat in there? Cut it into bite-size pieces. Nuke it. Or, take those scallions, tomatoes and the meat and warm it in the microwave. Nothing will prevent you from being ready to chow down in only the amount of time required for boiling the water and cooking the ramen.

Toss the hot noodles with some parmesan cheese and garlic, add tomato sauce if you have it. Ecco - Italian food! Leftover lamb, chicken, or beef and a splash of good yogurt – you’re now in the eastern Mediterranean. Open a pouch of tuna, warm it up, add those scallions again and maybe some jack cheese – tuna noodle casserole. Mac and cheese with noodles? Why not.

The possibilities (I risk repeating myself) are indeed endless. Eat them in a taco, a pita, between slices of bread. A noodle sandwich? Well, the other day (actually for two successive days) Peter and I ate eggplant parmesan jammed between the halves of steak rolls with slices of crispy bacon. Marvellous!

Perhaps you have looked at those packages of ramen noodles in the supermarket and mentally wrinkled your nose. I am not suggesting you should forgo pasta, only that when time is of the essence (or your budget), there is this alternative.

A meal for one is what 1 package is. Just think, for 30 cents and the leftovers you can make a lunch or late-night snack for 2.

Stir a dab of peanut butter into ½ cup of chicken broth, add scallions and a splash of nam pla (fish sauce) and chili flakes. You’ve just transported yourself to Thailand.

Add a can of clams with their liquid, some grated cheese, a bit of mashed garlic and you have a very serviceable substitute for linguini and white clam sauce. Make it a quasi-red sauce by mashing up some cherry tomatoes or adding spaghetti or tomato sauce you may have. Now you’ve got a red sauce.

Throw some medium sized shrimp in (shell them first) with the noodles, add something for a sauce (maybe even just the flavor packet they come with) and you’re hunger pangs will be gone. If the shrimp are small or already cooked, add them for the last few seconds of the 3-minute cooking period.

There’s always parsley, cilantro, oregano, or tarragon with grated cheese for a simple vegetarian version (got any leftover veggies on hand, or frozen ones?).

The secret of ramen is, first, to have them in your pantry. Buy 10 packages ($1.50 – big deal) of mixed types. If you don’t use the flavoring packet all the noodles are exactly the same. Have all of the ingredients I’ve suggested above on hand. Who doesn’t have peanut butter, maybe tuna, something leftover? You may not have nam pla. If not, it’s worth trying.

I’ve gone on long enough. Just wanted to share.

For a free excerpt of my book, “A Year of Food,” in which I opine, report, cook, muse and philosophize about everything that passed my lips for an entire year, write to me at:

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Lamb skewers with yogurt sauce

I got caught short the other day. I was planning to make dolmades, stuffed grape leaves, using leaves from our huge grape arbor behind the house. I picked the leaves a few weeks ago and stored them according to directions I found on the web. When I got them out they were covered with mold; and we had a freeze last night which rendered the remaining grape leaves outside unusable.

So I got the idea to make teeny lamb skewers as an appetizer for a dinner party we were giving last Friday night. I made something like this once before. They were considerable larger and were quite good. I have no recipe, but know how to make one up.

Mini lamb skewers
1 lb lamb, ground
1 egg, lightly beaten
½ cup bread crumbs
¼ cup flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp ground coriander
7 oz. Greek-style yogurt*
1/8 cup finely chopped fresh mint
juice of 1/2 large lemon
1 clove garlic, finely minced or pressed
salt and pepper

Cook the onion in 1 tsp olive oil until translucent. Set aside to cool.

Preheat broiler.

When the onion is cool, combine with lamb, egg, bread crumbs, parsley, cumin, salt and pepper, and the lemon juice in a bowl. Stir until thoroughly incorporated. Make one small rectangle, about 1” x ½”. Microwave it for 30 seconds and taste for seasonings.

Shape into similar small rectangles. Place on a baking sheet that has been sprayed with Pam and broil close to the heat for 2 minutes. Rotate the pan 90° and continue broiling for 2 more minutes. Turn the lamb pieces over and broil another 3 minutes, rotating the pan again halfway through.

Remove from the oven. Reduce oven to 170°. Place a toothpick in each patty through the narrow end. Recover with foil and keep warm in the oven.

Mix yogurt, lemon juice, mint, garlic, and salt and pepper (to taste) in a small bowl. Season with salt and pepper and drizzle with a tiny bit of olive oil. Serve as a dip for the skewered lamb.

*At our supermarket we can get 7 oz. containers of real Greek yogurt. It is thicker and tastier by far than more generic yogurts. The plastic container it comes in is just large enough to mix the sauce in it without dirtying an extra bowl. If you can’t get real Greek yogurt, take 6-7 oz. of plain yogurt (lo-fat if you wish, but not no-fat if your diet can accommodate it) and place it in a fine-mesh strainer. Let it drip into the sink for 30 min. to an hour. Then proceed with the recipe as above.

For a free excerpt of my book, “A Year of Food,” in which I opine, report, cook, muse and philosophize about everything that passed my lips for an entire year, write to me at:

Monday, October 20, 2008

Pastiche of the day

For 3 days, while Peter was out of town, I ate a monotonously delicious diet. His last night home I made turkey Milanese, cutlets dredged in flour, dipped in egg and breadcrumbs, and lightly fried. I had brined the cutlets in salt and sugar water for several hours and they were practically falling apart even before cooking. I fried them in 1/8" of vegetable oil for exactly 2 minutes per side and they were wonderful.

I cooked only what we were going to eat that evening and stored the rest under plastic in the fridge. The next night I cooked what was left and had enough for two dinners. My lunches were gravlax (made last weekend) on toast. I was in culinary heaven.

Last night Peter was back home and I wanted to make something special. In fact, I made 2 somethings special: eggplant puree and what I must call a pastiche. ‘Splain that to me, Lucy.

First of all the eggplant puree recipe came from an internet recipe. It stewed gently on the stove for about 3 hours until a little judicious mashing with a potato masher turned it into a soft and delicious puree – a little spicy, but not past our point of tolerance. If such a dish interests you, go that google thing. You'll find dozens of different possibilities.

The pastiche is an object lesson in what to do without having to go shopping. We all have various and sundry things in the pantry, sometimes for so long we don’t even remember buying them. Here’s what I found: Israeli couscous, homemade chicken stock, celery, ½ a yellow bell pepper, ½ an onion, and 2 brat sausages I bought thinking I would eat them while Peter was away.

Pastiche of the day

Chop a stalk of celery. Chop the bell pepper. Chop the onion. So far pretty easy, say what?

Chop up the brats – no need to remove the casings. Put all of the above in a sauté pan with a bit of olive oil and a nice fat clove of garlic and cook until the sausage is no more than slightly pink.

Add 2 cups of chicken stock to the pan and bring to a boil. Add the couscous and simmer uncovered until it’s tender, about 6-8 minutes (I wasn’t watching the clock). Season with salt and pepper to taste. If the concoction is too wet (mine was), strain off the excess liquid and save it.

That’s all there was to it. The result was extremely satisfying. There’s enough of it, and enough eggplant, to provide a lunch today.

If I seem pedantic and didactic, it’s because I am. The whole purpose of my blog postings is to inspire the home cook to get busy and creative. The eggplant dish could certainly be made a day ahead. I was making it on a Sunday, so available time was no issue. My pastiche took 30 minutes including both prep and cooking time. If you don’t have 30 minutes to devote to a delicious and nutritious dinner, do carry-out.

For a free excerpt of my book, “A Year of Food,” in which I opine, report, cook, muse and philosophize about everything that passed my lips for an entire year, write to me at:

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Caesar-style salad

I call this “Caesar-style” because it’s not a real Caesar salad. It does not have egg in it and includes lemon juice instead of vinegar. However, it is reminiscent of the real thing and quite tasty.

As with many of the things I prepare, I made this up. The hearts of palm are optional, but are a wonderful addition. The olives are also optional.

One of the best Caesar salads I ever had was at a Denver restaurant, Prima, where Peter and I had lunch, paid for with a gift certificate he had received as a Christmas gift. I recall my entrée was cioppino, made by a new cook at the restaurant. Our waitress was eager to know what I thought of it. After a couple of years I don’t really remember much except that, in general, I liked it.

We started lunch with a shared Caesar salad. It was a copious quantity of hearts of romaine lettuce with a delicious dressing and shaved parmesan. Indeed the salad was over-dressed, at least in terms of how we eat at home.

As it happened we had Castelvetrano olives, a very mild green variety, and romano cheese on hand. I guess the only kind of olives I would not use would be standard green ones in a jar – the kind that might be stuffed with pimento.

Caesar-style salad
1 head heart of romaine
juice of 1/2 lemon, about 2 tbsp
1 medium garlic clove, minced or pressed
extra virgin olive oil
parmesan or romano cheese
salt and pepper2 pieces hearts of palm4-6 olives, any kind you like

Slice the lettuce in half lengthwise and trim the bottom end. Keep the halves intact and place each on a salad plate cut side up. Alongside the lettuce place a piece of heart of palm, sliced or not, and a few olives.

For the dressing: put the lemon juice in a bowl. Add garlic and salt and pepper and whisk in olive oil, tasting frequently, until an emulsion is formed and there is a good balance of the flavors (your judgment counts for everything here).

Stir in finely grated cheese, again to taste. Spoon dressing over the lettuce, palm and olives, and top with a bit more grated cheese if you wish.

For a free excerpt of my book, “A Year of Food,” in which I opine, report, cook, muse and philosophize about everything that passed my lips for an entire year, write to me at:

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

New England-style clam chowder; bread sticks

When I was at my seafood store last week I spotted containers of chowder clams in the freezer. It gave me an immediate hankering for clam chowder. As is my usual method, I consulted numerous recipes and narrowed them down to one. What drew me to it was the inclusion of fish broth and clam juice, both of which we had. I basically made a half recipe as the original was to feed 8.

The recipe is from Jane Brody’s “Good Seafood Cookbook.” Back in the day, we adhered to a low fat diet. We don’t do that anymore. My cholesterol was barely within bounds in spite of our diet. The solution in the end was medication – Zocor. In 6 months my overall number dropped from 310 to 181 or thereabouts.

As I constructed the chowder in my mind I had to make some changes. For one thing I was not about to add 3 cups of water, how tasteless could that be. And I was not about to use evaporated milk. Half and half with chicken broth was the way to go.

I paid no attention to her clam quantity. She called for fresh clams or canned. Why not frozen? I had a quart container of clams and used them all. Clearly, for lower fat purposes, her choice of Canadian bacon was appropriate. I used real bacon.

Jane wanted corn kernels, I had frozen peas. My shrimp stock didn’t have a lot of taste, so I bumped up the amount of broth. Beyond these qualifications, I followed the assembly guide fairly closely.

It came together quickly and was superb. More good news: there’s leftovers for today’s lunch.

New England-style clam chowder
1 quart chowder clams, thawed, liquor reserved
3 slices bacon, cut into 1” pieces
¾ cup chopped onion
¼ cup chopped scallions
½ cup chopped celery
1 large clove garlic, minced or pressed
1 12 oz. bottle clam juice
1 cup shrimp or fish stock
2 cups chicken
1 lb red potatoes, cut into ¾” dice
1 cup peas, thawed
1/3 cup chopped parsley
½ tsp dried thyme
½ tsp sweet paprika
white pepper and salt, to taste
2 tbsp cornstarch, dissolved in water
1 tbsp butter
¾ cup half and half

In a large pot, cook the bacon until crisp and set aside on paper towels. Pour off all but 1 tbsp of the grease. Reheat the pan over medium-high heat and cook the onion, celery, garlic and scallions for 5 minutes.

Add the clam juice, reserved liquor, shrimp stock, chicken broth, thyme, salt and pepper, along with the potatoes. Cook until the potatoes are tender, 12-14 minutes.

With the liquid at a simmer, stir in the dissolved corn starch. Stir until thickening takes place. Add the half and half, butter, and clams and bring back to a simmer. Cook for 1 minute, remove from heat, check seasonings, and let the chowder stand for a couple of minutes.

Serve with puff pastry bread sticks (recipe below) in heated bowls.

Puff pastry bread sticks
1 sheet puff pastry
Parmesan or romano cheese
white pepper

Preheat the oven to 400°.

Thaw the pastry sheet and unfold on a cutting board. Brush lightly with olive oil. Grate cheese to taste over the top and also several pinches of white pepper. Slice into 9 strips in the direction of the fold.

Place on an ungreased baking sheet and bake for 12-15 minutes until golden brown. Let stand on a cooking rack for 5 minutes before serving.

For a free excerpt of my book, “A Year of Food,” in which I opine, report, cook, muse and philosophize about everything that passed my lips for an entire year, write to me at:

Friday, October 10, 2008

An off-the-cuff dinner

Sure you can get out your “Joy of Cooking” and find a perfectly good meatloaf plan, probably with optional variations. But when you find a piece of top round in your freezer that you just know is not going to give you an edible London broil (I know from experience), and the weather is quite cool, screw your courage to the sticking point and get creative. I did consult “Joy” for just one thing: internal temperature for the meatloaf - 160°.

The fact is you could simply prepare ground beef as if for a burger, put it in a loaf pan, top it with cheese and have “burger loaf.” Same for chicken, turkey or pork. A standard meatloaf mix will generally have 2 or 3 different kinds of meat. Anything you would do to a hamburger you can do to meatloaf. Be brave. You have to go quite a distance to screw it up.

If you are using ground beef and ground veal 160° is too high a temp. However, lots of people use chicken, turkey or pork along with beef. The poultry must get up to 160°; the pork to 145°. That low for pork? Scientists tell us the infrequent potential from undercooking piggy meat is obviated at a temperature of 137°. Personally I go for 140° for, say, pork tenderloin or a roast of pork.

“Joy” told me to get the meat up to 160° with ground pork in it. I didn’t think I wanted to go that high, but caved in to my uncertainty about the processed pork sausage I used. In the end the meatloaf was well done and a little dense but had excellent flavor. And, dressed with some homemade tomato sauce (you could use a jarred spaghetti sauce for this), it was very, very good. Next time I’ll go for 150°, as I indicate below.

I couldn’t help but notice some other components of the cookbook meatloaf recipe: meat quantities, egg quantity, bread crumbs, etc. But I was dealing with specific amounts of ingredients I had on hand and adjusted everything accordingly.

I went out to buy one thing I didn’t have, pork sausage. The Safeway had some available in bulk and I was able to buy the ½ pound I wanted. The clerk assured me it was spicy sausage. That turned out not to be true. If I do this again with that same product, I’ll definitely add some red pepper flakes.

Recently I posted a recipe for baked artichoke hearts. I got it from Rachel Ray. Each time I’ve made it I like it less. The food network website gave me a few ideas and I invented an artichoke braise that I think is superb. It was a side dish to the meatloaf along with some polenta.

So, starting from square one…

(Don’t let your) Meatloaf
1.4 lbs. top round, ground
½ lb hot Italian sausages, casing removed
3 eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup unseasoned bread crumbs
1 large garlic clove, minced
1 tsp dried thyme
½ medium onion, finely diced
1/8 cup parsley, chopped, plus more for garnish
1 tsp salt and 1 tsp pepper
2 tbsp pimiento, chopped
4 bay leaves
4 tbsp tomato sauce, plus more for garnish

In a large bowl, mix the meat and sausage together with your hands, just until combined. Add remaining ingredients except bay leaves. Toss lightly until combined.

Put the sausage through the grinder if it is particularly sticky. It will blend better with the beef than way.

Preheat the oven to 350°. Place the oven rack in the lower third of the oven.

Spray a loaf pan with Pam. Place bay leaves on the bottom of the pan. Add the meatloaf mixture, pressing it carefully into the pan to eliminate air pockets. Top it with tomato sauce. Place the loaf pan on a baking sheet and put it into the oven.

Bake until the internal temperature is 150°. Remove from the oven, tent with foil, and allow to rest for 10-15 minutes. The sides of the loaf should start to pull away slightly from the sides of the loaf pan.

You could try to remove the meatloaf from the pan, but I chickened out and managed to extract the first (most difficult) slice intact. Slice with a serrated knife into 1-inch slices or larger if you want. Served with your favorite steak or barbeque sauce if you wish.

Braised artichoke hearts

I am far too lazy to disassemble artichoke hearts. You can get them frozen at the market and, while not quite as good as fresh, they are perfectly viable.

1 package frozen artichoke hearts, thawed and at room temperature
6 thin slices of lemon
1 clove garlic, minced or pressed
pepper (white if you have it)
½ cup chicken stock

Heat 1 tbsp olive oil in a sauté pan. Add the lemon slices and the garlic and cook, stirring, for 30 seconds. A word about the lemon: slice them across including the peel and be sure not to include any seeds. The rind will not be bitter after its cooked.

Add the artichoke hearts and salt and pepper and sauté just until the hearts start to take on a little color. Add the broth, cover, and simmer for a few minutes while you finish up other dinner preparations. You can always reduce the heat to very low at let them sit a bit longer. Or, you can take them off the heat and serve them warm, though I think not a room temperature.

What could be simpler than that?

For a free excerpt of my book, “A Year of Food,” in which I opine, report, cook, muse and philosophize about everything that passed my lips for an entire year, write to me at:

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