Saturday, October 11, 2014

Onion Soup, Lyonnaise Style

So this is completely ganked from Jacques Pepin. There was a repeat of a 2011 episode of 'Essential Pepin' on PBS this afternoon and I just had to try it.

Oh. My. God.

Onion soup is pretty much mindless. So is this one. But the late addition of egg yolk with wine makes this a total winner. I just had a giant bowl, and I can't wait to have it reheated for lunch tomorrow.

Serves 6 to 8

15–20 thin slices (1/4-inch-thick) baguette
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 medium onions, thinly sliced (about 3 cups). I used the mandoline for this and it took 2 minutes tops.
6 cups homemade chicken stock or low-salt canned chicken broth (I used a 32 oz box of unsalted chicken stock from the store, plus 2 cups of water)
1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 cups grated Gruyère or Emmenthaler cheese (I used a mixture of both).
2 large egg yolks
½ cup sweet port. If you don't have port on hand (as I didn't) you can substitute pretty much anything. I used 1/4 cup of leftover sake, plus some dry vermouth. You could also use sherry, or a sweet red. Go nuts.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Arrange the bread slices on a cookie sheet and bake for 8 to 10 minutes, until browned. Remove from the oven and set aside. (Leave the oven on.) Melt the butter in a large saucepan. Add the onions and sauté for 15 minutes, or until dark brown. Resist the urge to keep the burner on high: You want the onions caramelized, not burnt.

Add the stock, salt, and pepper. Bring to a boil and cook for 20 minutes. Pepin advises pushing the whole mess through a food mill. Don't bother. If you're really bothered by onion pieces, you can run an immersion blender through it if you want. I wouldn't.

Arrange one third of the toasted bread in the bottom of an ovenproof soup tureen or large casserole. Sprinkle with some of the cheese, then add the remaining bread and more cheese, saving enough of the cheese to sprinkle over the top of the soup. Fill the tureen with the hot soup, sprinkle the reserved cheese on top, and place on a cookie sheet. Bake at 400 for approximately 35 minutes, or until a golden crust forms on top.

At serving time, bring the soup to the table. Combine the yolks with the port in a small bowl and whip with a fork. With a ladle, make a hole in the top of the gratinée, pour in the wine mixture, and fold into the soup with the ladle. Stir everything together and serve.

Have some extra bread on hand. Trust me.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Pasta alla Norcina

This September, I will have the great good fortune to spend a week in Tuscany with wonderful friends. As a side-effect, I've been trying some more non-traditional Italian fare. Oh, I still love a good Bolognese (and mine kicks ass, if I do say so my own self) but I wanted to try a pasta that did not include either tomato or pesto.  And lo and behold, I came across Pasta alla Norcina.

The sauce is based on pork. And cream. Yes, you heard me right. Pork and cream. Add in a naked soccer team and you have nature's most perfect food. But I digress...

Here's what you need:

1 lb ground pork
10 oz cremini/baby bella mushrooms
1 lb orecchiette pasta (would also work with rotini or cavatini)
3/4 cup cream
1 cup white wine
3/4 cup pecorino
Olive Oil
Baking Soda

So, the authentic Norcina uses a pork sausage from Norcia, a little town in Perugia. Since I'm not in Perugia, and I'm guessing you're not either, it's time to improvise. Take your pound of ground pork, and throw it in a bowl. Add a little bit of water, about a half teaspoon of salt, and maybe 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda. Take a spatula and smear it around in the bowl until it's all combined.  Add some garlic, black pepper and rosemary, mix it again and set it aside to sit for about 15 minutes or so.

While the pork is resting, throw the creminis in a food processor and pulse a few times until they're pretty finely chopped. You could do this by hand, of course, but then you'd have forearms like Popeye and really, what's the point?

In a large skillet or saute pan, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil until it shimmers but doesn't smoke. Throw the pork into the pan and brown, about 5 or 6 minutes. Remove the pork, place in a bowl and pour in the cream. Let it sit there getting good and creamy/porky.

Now, throw the mushrooms in the pan with a pinch of salt and some more garlic. Cook until browned and dry, about 5 minutes. Pour in the wine, scrape all the brown bits (fond, if you're pretentious) up, and cook on medium-high until the wine is 95% evaporated. OK, I made up the percentage. Just cook until it's almost dry.

Then, pour the porky cream mixture into the pan. Cook on medium until it starts to thicken. Take it off the heat, and add the pecorino and some fresh basil, chopped or chiffonade, if you intend to keep on being pretentious. I don't judge.

Of course, while all of this is going on, you also have to cook your pasta. 1 gallon water, 1 tablespoon salt. Bring to a boil, dump in the pasta and cook it how you like it. I will admit, in print, that I am not a fan of al dente.  Perhaps it's my New England upbringing, but I'm not really fond of something that's not cooked all the way through when it comes to noodles.  If the box says "11 minutes" for al dente, I'll cook it for 12.

Drain the pasta, reserving a cup or so of the pasta water. Dump the pasta in the pan with the sauce, and stir to coat it well. If it's a little thick, add some of the pasta water.

Salt & Pepper to taste, and add a sprinkle of the pecorino on top, just to be fancy.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Toad in the Hole

Toad in the Hole!

I was introduced to this gastronomic version of a flannel robe and a hug by my friends The Brit Bitches. It is not to be confused with the American "Toad in a hole", known to my relatives as "Egg in the Hole" - that's a slice of bread with a hole in the middle, into which you crack an egg and fry in a pan. Oh, not at all.

"Toad in the Hole" is sausages encased in Yorkshire Pudding. Which is not actually pudding, but a batter much like a popover. Confused yet?

Short history lesson: Yorkshire pudding is an unleavened batter that was traditionally cooked under a roast. The roast was cooked right on the grate (no pan, thank you.) Below the grate, you placed a pan full of a flour/egg/milk batter. As it cooked and puffed up, the juices from the roast above would drip down into the batter, adding flavor.  My mouth is actually watering this very second.

Anyhoo, on to "The Toad".

This is a great midweek meal. It is easy, fast comfort food that doesn't really require much thought or effort. The most exacting part is putting together the batter. And how hard can that really be?

A couple of things I've learned along the way: Don't skimp on the resting time for the batter. 30 minutes is 30 minutes, no less. Also, get some fairly good sausages. Proper bangers if you can find them, but if not, any reasonably good pork sausage will work.  If all that's available is Italian style, I'd go for hot rather than sweet, but that's just me. The batch pictured was made with some Big Y pepper & cheese sausages that were going to expire the next day - so I got a pound for $1.99. Deal!

If you're trying to be The World's Best Mom, you'll probably want to serve this with a side of simply steamed veg. With vinegar on top, as this is, after all, British.

Toad In The Hole


1 lb pork sausage of your choice (in casings)
1 1/2 cups All-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups Whole Milk
3 large eggs
1 tsp salt
1 tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp dry mustard (I use Coleman's. Of course)
2 tbsp butter
Cooking oil (Canola, Vegetable, something with a high smoke point. Not olive oil)

1. Combine the flour, milk, eggs, salt, pepper, mustard and butter in a bowl (or in a blender if you have one) and whip the shit out of it until well blended. Put this in the fridge for 30 minutes to chill.

2. Preheat the oven to 425.

3. Use a 9x9 cake pan (or really, whatever pan you have that is about that size - this is comfort food, not brain surgery). Put 2 tablespoons oil in the bottom of the pan, and put it in the oven to heat. We want the oil screaming hot when we throw the ingredients in, so you can just leave it there as long as you want.

4. Brown the sausages in a skillet. They won't get much color once they're in the batter, so we want to make them look purty.

5. When the pan in the oven is screaming hot, pull it out of the oven. Dump the chilled batter into the pan (sizzle noise is good here), then drop the sausages on top of the batter. Be artistic if you want with the arrangement, but nobody'll really give a shit in the end, anyway.

6. Pan goes back in the oven. Close the door. Do NOT be tempted to open the door for the next 20 minutes. If your oven does not have a light and a window so that you can check the progress... what the hell are you cooking in?

7. Cook for 25 - 30 minutes until the Yorkshire pudding part rises up and gets golden on top.  If you're really lucky (which I am about 2 out of 3 times - as in the picture above) it should actually puff up over the top of the pan like a souffle.

8. Serve immediately with onion gravy (or brown gravy, or whatever. I'm still trying in vain to find Bisto in this country) and whatever sides you think you may need to feel better about yourself.

You can refrigerate/freeze any leftovers, but be aware that while it'll still taste OK, the light fluffy quality of the Yorkshire pudding won't quite be the same as it is fresh out the oven.

When you've finished dinner, nip down the pub for a pint.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

White Guy Kimchi

So. Kimchi. Also spelled Kimchee or Gimchi according to Wikipedia. The first time I tasted it was when I lived in San Diego. I can't remember the occasion, but I remember the sensation vividly. Spicy, hot, sour, crunchy. If you left it in the fridge for a couple of days with the top of the container tightly sealed, it would bubble when you opened it.

I didn't grow up with a tradition of fermented foods, so it was alien and wonderful all at the same time.I would buy it on and off when I would see it in the market. It was hellishly expensive so I would never keep it as a staple. That has come to a screeching halt.

I've been perusing kimchi recipes online for a while. A friend at work has a lovely Korean mommy who made some kimchi which I got to taste. That was it. I had to make some.

Here is the recipe I followed. It's kind of an amalgamation of several different recipes with a little slap-dash invention that I came up with just because I'm sort of slap-dash as a rule. I put mine in a couple of mason jars to age, as that way I could control the fermentation a little better than I'd be able to in a bucket or some such.

White Guy Kimchi

1 head (1.5 to 2 pounds) napa cabbage or green cabbage, cut into 2 by 1-inch pieces.  I cut the cabbage head into quarters, cut out the core and thinly slice it and add it back to the pile of cabbage.
1 daikon radish, if it's really big cut it in half
1 leek, cleaned and sliced into 1/4 inch rounds
3 tablespoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons minced garlic (about 2 large cloves)
1 1/2 teaspoon peeled, finely grated fresh ginger
2 tablespoons fish sauce
1 tablespoon shrimp paste
1 teaspoon sugar
3-5 tablespoons Korean chile pepper flakes (gochugaru). This is completely up to you, based on your tolerance for heat. I tend to go for really hot, as the heat mellows as the kimchi ages.

Cut up the cabbage and place in a very large bowl. Cover with water and add the salt. For the daikon, I peeled it, and then, using the peeler, cut long strips of the radish and dumped that in the bowl with the cabbage. For the leek, cut off the root end, slice the rest into rounds. Be sure to wash the leek well because those suckers will ALWAYS have dirt in them. Always. Let the whole thing brine for a minimum of one hour, more time is better. Maybe 3 hours tops. Some people say brine overnight, but to me that makes it a little too soft.

Meanwhile, you can prepare the red pepper paste.  In a separate bowl, combine the other ingredients. You may need to add a little more fish sauce than indicated in order to get a really loose pepper paste.

Drain and rinse the cabbage/daikon/leek mess, and put it back into the big bowl. Add the pepper paste and toss. I used rubber gloves to do this. Put a little water into the bowl you had the pepper paste in to slop it all up and pour this into the cabbage mix as well. Toss this all around by hand until everything is coated with the red pepper goodness.

If you're using a large container to cure the kimchi, just dump the whole thing into the container and cover loosely. I used a couple of quart mason jars. If you're doing that, just pack the cabbage mixture into the jars tightly, leaving yourself about an inch of headspace. I then put a lid and ring on the top of the mason jars and left the ring loose. You'll find out why.

Whichever type of container you use, you now just need to leave it out at room temp. For 3 days. If using the mason jars, be aware that the jar WILL 'outgas' and bubble over with liquid. This is normal for food that is fermenting. Bubbling is good.  I put the jars on top of my stove on a big plate with a lip, to keep the juices from running rampant when the inevitable bubbling-over happens. Every night I would rinse off the jars, rinse off the plate, and use a clean utensil to pack down the kimchi in the jar to keep everything covered.

After the 3rd day, you can put the kimchi in the fridge. The fermentation will continue in the fridge, but at a much slower pace. The online wisdom is that it should keep for 6 months or more in the fridge, and the flavor will deepen over time. I've never been able to keep it around that long.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Cast Iron Mac 'n Cheese

I have a rather mixed history with mac 'n cheese. As a kid, I wouldn't touch it. Meanwhile my brother lived on the Kraft 'blue box' version for most of his childhood. Go figure.

Cut to several years later. And by several, I'm counting in decades. I found a recipe that sounded good and tweaked it back and forth until I got to where I really liked it. And this is what resulted:

Cast Iron Mac 'n Cheese

1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 pound of shredded cheese (I use a mix of regular and sharp cheddar, but go nuts and use what you like).
2 1/2 cups milk
1/2 tablespoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon dry mustard (I use Coleman's)
6 strips of bacon, sliced into small pieces
1 small onion
8 oz of pasta (I prefer cavatappi, otherwise known as cellentani or spirals)
1/4 cup parmigiano reggiano (grated)
1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs

In a 12 inch cast iron skillet, brown the bacon, then toss in the onion, diced. Cook until the bacon is rendered and the onion is browned. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside.

Add the butter to the skillet with the remaining bacon fat. Add the flour, stir until combined, then add the milk slowly. (This is also known as a quick 'n dirty Bechamel sauce. Don't stress, it's not that hard.)

While doing this, boil some water to cook the pasta.  You'll want to cook it for about 8 minutes, so it's almost but not quite done.

So, your Bechamel is bubbling at this point, so now you add the shredded cheese a bit at a time until it's melted and delish-looking. Also at this point you add the cayenne pepper and the dry mustard. Remove it from the heat while the pasta is finishing.

Drain the pasta, and throw it into the skillet with the cheese sauce. Mix until all the pasta is coated.  Sprinkle the top of the whole mess with the breadcrumbs, parm regg, and the onion/bacon mixture that you set aside earlier.  Pop the skillet into a 350 oven for about 20-25 minutes. You may want to put a cookie sheet under the skillet so any bubbling-over (and there will be some) doesn't hit the bottom of your oven.

When the skillet comes out of the oven, let it sit for at least 5 minutes. Then try not to inhale the whole thing.