Dinner as the reward of virtue

First, let me admit that I am most definitely no goody-two-shoes, uber-organized, Martha Stewart-wannabe.

I once overheard a woman say that she tries to retrieve her laundry from the dryer before the clothes go cold.  I try to retrieve my laundry from the dryer before the clothes go out of style.

There is, however, one exception.

Growing up, my father was in the Coast Guard.  Their motto is Semper Paratus – Always Ready.   My mother’s personal motto is Clean as you go along.  The result of being raised with these two philosophies is that when cooking, I am a cleaning, prepping machine.

There are few things I love more than getting into the kitchen and knocking out every step of a meal up to the final cooking.

Which is exactly what I was doing the other day when I was putting together a pot of goulash.

I grew up eating goulash.  It consists of hamburger, pasta, tomatoes, and loads of garlic.  It’s also known as American chop suey or beefy mac.

This time I did all the prep, and after adding the pasta, covered it, and took it off the heat.  An hour later I discovered that the residual heat had almost cooked the pasta.  But they were still opaque, and tasted a little doughy.  So later, when we were ready to eat, I cooked it briefly, stirring frequently, until the cavatappi was translucent and tasted cooked.

If you want to cook it right away, instead of taking it off the heat cook it on medium covered for 10 minutes, and uncovered for 10 more, or until the noodles are cooked and the sauce is thickened and clinging to the pasta.

Now-R-Later Goulash


1 lb. 80/20 hamburger

12 ounces mushrooms

1 onion

2 heads garlic

½ teaspoon bacon fat or vegetable oil

2-14 ounce can tomatoes

1 ½ cups beef stock

2 tablespoons tomato paste

½ cup sherry

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

2 bay leaves

1 ½ teaspoons dry thyme + ½ teaspoon

1 teaspoon dry oregano

1 tablespoon fresh rosemary finely chopped + 2 sprigs

2 teaspoons kosher salt + pinch

1 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper + pinch

1 pound cavatappi pasta

Roast garlic:

Preheat oven to 350.  Cut heads of garlic in half horizontally.  Lay in piece of foil about 9 inches square. Place ½ teaspoon thyme, rosemary sprigs, pinch of salt, pepper, and oil.  Wrap, and bake for 45 minutes.  Remove from oven and let cool.  Extract garlic cloves from skins and set aside.

Put hamburger into large heavy pot with a cover.  When it’s just about cooked through, add onions, mushrooms, salt, pepper, and remaining herbs.  Cook until the veg have released and cooked out all their liquid.

Add garlic and stir.  Cook for 2-3 minutes.  Add tomato paste and mix in.  Cook until the paste has darkened, and started to stick to the bottom of the pot.  Add sherry, stir to pull up all the stuff on the bottom of the pot.  Cook until the sherry’s cook in.

Pour in tomatoes and juice.  Add beef stock.  Stir in pasta. 

Cover, take off the heat and let sit covered for 60 minutes.

10 minutes before service, put it on a medium burner, gently stirring frequently, so that all the pasta cooks to opaque.

Serve with a dollop of sour cream of Mexican crema.  Serves 8.

So, practicing the virtues taught to me by my parents, I was rewarded with a dinner that virtually cooked itself.

It’s like we dined on instant karma.

Thanks for your time.

My, how fun

I was born with what I believe is a legitimate congenital defect.

The technical, Latin nomenclature for this is (or should be), Lingua Infans, or “Baby Tongue”.

Regardless of appetites or desires, the ingestion of fiery, spicy foods results in pain and distress.  As a result, I can eat almost no Indian food, and Jamaican food scares the pants off me.  Even a heavy-handed use of black pepper can overwhelm.

Many people make fun of this flaw, and inform me that it’s a matter of will; that if I want to be a grown-up and eat spicy foods, I should just put on my big girl panties, and do it.  Not true.  I’d love to be able to tuck into a plate of tikka masala, or some spicy nachos, but I am physically unable to do it.

But what I also don’t do is make a big deal out of it.  It’s my habañero-covered cross to bear, no one else’s.  So when eating out I’ve become very good at avoiding suspect menu items.

I think that’s one reason why I love Chinese food so much.  While there are dishes with enough heat to really hurt me, they don’t comprise the bulk of the menu.  Other Asian cuisine; most notably Thai, are not so safe.

This week’s recipe is my home version of Chicken Mei Fun (pronounced, “my fun”).  It’s very similar to fried rice, but instead of rice grains, angel hair pasta made from rice is used (Find it in Asian markets and some grocery stores).

Chicken Mei Fun

8 ounces rice vermicelli

Lay into a pot of very hot water, and soak for 20 minutes.  After soaking, pour into a colander in which you’ve placed the spinach.  This will wilt the spinach and get it ready to toss into the stir fry.



3 cups shredded rotisserie chicken

3 eggs, well beaten

2 tablespoons chives, chopped

2 teaspoons vegetable oil

Make an omelet with the eggs and chives.  Cut into 1/2-inch strips and set aside for assembly.



2 carrots, julienned

1/2 yellow onion, sliced thinly

8 ounces mushrooms

1 tablespoon vegetable oil



3 cloves garlic, minced

2 tablespoons grated ginger

1 large shallot, diced



Whisk together

3/4 cup soy sauce

2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil

1 tablespoon brown sugar

1 tablespoon cider vinegar

1 tablespoon Sherry



2 cups raw spinach

1 cup frozen peas, thawed

 *Stir frying goes crazy fast once it gets started, so get all of your prep done before turning on the burner.

To cook:

If you don’t have a wok, get a very large, very heavy pot almost smoking hot.  Add 1 tablespoon oil to the pan.  Put in the carrots and mushrooms.  Cook for a couple of minutes, and when all the liquid has released and cooked out, add onions.  Cook for 30 seconds.

Stir in aromatics then immediately add the proteins.  Pour in sauce and toss.

When coated, pour in noodles, spinach, and thawed peas.  Gently mix to coat.

mei fun

Serves 6-8.

I’ve eaten this from a few Chinese restaurants.  But the more popular recipe is called Singapore Mei Fun.  It’s a reflection of the Indian population living in Singapore, and this version has curry.  As you can guess, because of my affliction, I do not have a good relationship with curry.

But if you would like, you are welcome to Singapore up this recipe with the addition of 1 ½ tablespoons curry powder and 3 dried bird’s eye chilis.

Bon Appetite, intrepid soul.

Thanks for your time.

Ally goat

“Walk away.  Just walk away.”

That’s a phrase one of my culinary heroes, Alton Brown, uses.  It’s meant to get the cook to back off and not overwork it or tweak it to death.  Like over mixing biscuit dough, developing the gluten, and ending up with tough, rubbery, inedible results.

It’s also what I tell myself when making mashed potatoes.

I mash them by hand with a good amount of butter.  When the spuds are mashed,  but still chunky, I mix in buttermilk, about ¾ cup at a time until they are just a little thinner than I’d like (they’ll tighten up while standing).  Then I cover them and walk away ‘til service; because if I continue to stir, I’ll develop the starch in the potatoes, and they’ll end up gluey.

But gluey can actually be a desired trait in a certain potato dish.

I love America’s Test Kitchen.  They have cookbooks, magazines, and a pair of PBS television shows.  Using theirCook’s Illustrated magazine, I finally got over my fear of cooking sugar; caramel, fudge, the whole candy thermometer megillah.  I also appreciate that if they offer a recipe, they have tested it into the ground.  One of The Kid’s culinary schoolmates was an America’s Test Kitchen intern and has verified that each dish was made with hundreds of variations to be assured of having the very best, most successful, recipe.

One Sunday afternoon I was watching an episode of ATK, and became extremely intrigued by a potato side dish they made.

It was called pommes aligot (pronounced “pom ally go”).  It’s a dish from the Aubrac region in France.  Aligot basically turns conventional mashed potato wisdom on its head.  The potatoes are whipped like crazy, cheese is added, and more stirring ensues.

The result is a rich, creamy, cheesy dish that is shiny and elastic.  The French sometimes use this as a dip for bread sticks and raw veggies, kind of like a fondue.

In France the dish is made with Tomme; a semi-soft cheese made in the Pyrenes and Alps regions.  It is almost impossible to find in the states.  Christopher Kimbel and the gang at the Test Kitchen came up with a gruyere/mozzarella combo to mimic flavor and texture.

I don’t buy a lot of Gruyere, and was pretty horrified by the prices.  I didn’t want to get too far off the reservation the first time I made the recipe, so I used Gruyere, but found a smoked version that was two bucks cheaper.  It added a nice, subtle smoky flavor to the finished dish.

Pommes Aligot


3 pounds red-skinned potatoes (6-8 medium)

3 tablespoon kosher salt + more for seasoning

Water to cook potatoes

2 cloves garlic, minced

6 tablespoons butter

1 cup whole milk

1 cup shredded smoked gruyere cheese

1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese

1/8 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg (a big-gish pinch) 

1/4 teaspoon freshly cracked pepper

Peel the potatoes, cut them in half, then into 1/2-inch slices. Place in a large pot with 3 tablespoons of salt. Add water to cover the potatoes by at least an inch. Bring to a boil and cook for fifteen minutes or until easily pierced with a paring knife. Drain the water. Put the potatoes in a food processor with the minced garlic, salt to taste and the butter. Pulse a few times, add the milk, and pulse until smooth. Return the mixture to your pot and turn heat to medium. Sprinkle in nutmeg and pepper.  Slowly add the cheeses, stirring vigorously with a wooden spoon while doing so, over a period of 3-5 minutes, until stretchy, elastic consistency is achieved.  Check for seasoning.  Serves 8.

I made them on Sunday night with some Denver steaks I was lucky enough to catch on sale, along with peas and carrots.  It was a Valentine’s dinner that wowed Petey.  The spuds turn out glossy and gorgeous.

To be really honest they are at their most basic level, cheesy mashed potatoes.  But, the type of cheeses is unusual, and the method of preparation is fancier.  These are gorgeous, velvety mashed potatoes with a sexy French accent.

I googled “Sexy French”, and this rather attractive young man came up.  Is he French?  Don’t know, don’t care.

Thanks for your time.



Jam session

Although some people who know me (Hello Petey and The Kid) may call it an affliction, I just happen to appreciate jam and jelly.

Right now in my fridge there are 13 jars of various fruit preserves, including the Stonewall Kitchen caramel apple butter I picked up yesterday.

Accueil Caramel Apple Butter

That’s not counting Goober Grape and the many, many bottles in the honey/syrup subsection.  Give me some toast, a biscuit, or waffle, tell me your mood, and I’ve got a topping for ya.

Roll over image to magnify

My true life-long love affair. Petey Who?

Even though I pick up new sugary, jewel-colored jars wherever I go, there are a couple of types that I would never consider buying because I always make them from scratch: onion marmalade and garlic jam.

this is approx since i don t really measure 2 med large red onions ...

The onion marmalade derived from a newspaper article I read many years ago.  And the garlic goop is the byproduct of making garlic oil, which I always try to have on hand.

Either can be used by themselves, like a schmear under some melted cheese on a sandwich or a burger or to dress up some crostini.  You can also use it as an ingredient; I stir a heaping tablespoon of onions into the sauce for my smothered pork chops, and the best red salsa I’ve ever had includes garlic jam.

Neither is hard or expensive to create.  They only cost time and the willingness for you and your home to be heavily allium-scented for a day or so.

Onion Marmalade

5 pound yellow onions

2-3 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt

3/4 teaspoon freshly cracked pepper

1 teaspoon dried thyme

Peel onions and cut in half.  Slice into ¼ inch thick half-moons.

Place largest, heaviest pot you own on a burner and turn to medium-low.  Put in all ingredients, and toss to coat.  Cover and cook for about 15-20 minutes or until most of the liquid has been released from onions.

Uncover and cook on low, stirring frequently until the onions have cooked down and are deeply amber, about 3-4 hours.  Don’t rush or they will burn and stick.  Taste for seasoning. Makes 2-3 cups.

This’ll last about 2 weeks in the refrigerator.  I usually keep about a third in the fridge to use right away and label and freeze the rest.  It will give anything you use it in a serious depth of flavor—but be careful, the taste is intense; it’s easy to overdo.

The garlic is even easier.

Garlic Oil and Jam

4 heads garlic, separated and peeled, with tough, dry ends cut off

2 cups olive oil

3 cups vegetable oil—I use grapeseed

Salt & pepper to taste

½ teaspoon dried thyme

Juice of 1 lemon

Place garlic in heavy saucepan and pour in oils.  Turn to medium-low and cook slowly until garlic is light golden-brown, about 45-60 minutes.  Turn off burner and let oil and garlic cool.

Remove cloves to bowl of food processor and pour oil into clean receptacle and refrigerate for up to 3 months.

Process cloves with salt, pepper, and thyme until mostly smooth.  Pour in lemon juice and process until it is very smooth and looks like humus.  Taste for seasoning and refrigerate for 2-3 weeks in airtight container.  Makes about 1 cup.

With these in your fridge, you can spike a quick weeknight meal, and that dinner will take on a slow-cooked, fussed-over taste.

Or, like The Kid, you can eat the garlic jam from a spoon when you think nobody’s looking.

katey's new hat

The Kid, in disguise, after eating all of the garlic marmalade.

Thanks for your time.

Hello Yellow

It’s a bum rap.

Calling a faulty piece of machinery a lemon—it’s wrong and unfair.  It’s just blatant anti-lemon propaganda.

It may not look like much, but don’t you dare call it a lemon.

Lemons are one of the tastiest and most versatile items in any kitchen.

The other day I was waxing rhapsodic about lemons, and said, “Lemons make everything better.”

A miracle can grow on a tree.

And Petey said, “Not if you don’t like ‘em.”

Well first off, I don’t think that person exists.  But, for the sake of argument let’s say that this freak of nature is out there somewhere, leading a lonely, lemon-hating life.

There are unconfirmed reports coming out of North Korea that this man is an unrepentant lemon hater. Figures.

Unbeknownst to him, he probably ingests them all the time.

Many fruit juices add lemon to keep them from becoming cloyingly sweet.  Lots of salad dressings contain a spritz or two.  And all kinds of dishes, especially long cooked ones, are finished by squeezing a bit of lemon juice into them.  Just enough to perk up the flavors, but not enough to taste.

Recently I cobbled together a recipe for sautéed spinach.  Except for creamed spinach, I’ve never liked it cooked, because it seems bitter and slimy.  But I read about a method that’s easier, and less messy.  I had a surfeit of spinach in the fridge, so I decided to experiment.  Besides, The Kid loves sautéed spinach, and I get a kick out of giving my culinary schooled child a little schooling from me.

Popeye called. He wants in.

To my surprised delight, wilting the spinach by microwave gets rid of both bitterness and sliminess.  I loved it.

Sautéed spinach

32 ounces fresh baby spinach (2 large boxes)

*1 tablespoon garlic oil

1 large shallot or 1/2 red onion, diced

¼ teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg

Juice of ½ lemon

Kosher salt to taste

Cracked black pepper to taste

*To make garlic oil, peel 2 cloves garlic and bruise by giving them a whack with a spoon.  Place into skillet with olive oil.  Warm until fragrant, then remove cloves with slotted spoon and discard.

Directions for spinach: Place raw spinach into very large bowl, pressing down to get it all in.  Cover with damp paper towel.  Microwave for 2 minutes.  Toss and put back into microwave.  Cook in 2 minute increments until completely wilted.

Put into colander and let it cool enough to handle.

Once cool, squeeze with your hands to get out as much water (and the bitterness it contains) as possible.  Put it on a cutting board and roughly chop.  Return to colander and squeeze it again to get out all the liquid you can.  Let rest in colander until ready to cook—or refrigerate and hold for up to 6 hours.

Heat skillet, add garlic oil.  Add shallots, season, and cook until translucent.  Stir in spinach, and nutmeg.  Season.  Sautee until it’s hot and it seems almost dry.

To preserve color of the spinach, take pan off heat then stir in lemon juice.  Check for seasoning, and serve.  Makes 4-5 servings.

Even though there’s lemon in the spinach, it only brightens the flavor.  So, there you go, mythical lemon hater.

But if you like lemon, there’s all kind of places to put it for a kick of citrus.

Lemon can make a good thing better.

Add it to scrambled eggs—but only after cooking; adding it to raw will curdle them, which is a pretty unappetizing sight at breakfast.  Give soup a hit; I recently added lemon juice to both Panera’s cream of chicken, and a bowl of egg drop soup.  Turned out awesome.  But lemon loves salt, so taste and re-season if needed.

Not just savory, lemon’s heavenly in sweets.

For a quick delicious dessert that will impress and delight your diners, make a granita.

A granita is a frozen non-dairy dessert that when placed in a goblet, looks like a million bucks.

See how pretty?

Just make a pitcher of lemonade and pour it into a baking dish and freeze (add a splash of grenadine for pink lemonade).  Every 15 minutes, take it out and scrape with a fork.  Keep doing this until it’s completely frozen and looks like snow.  Scoop into wine glass, and garnish with a sprig of mint or a twisted strip of lemon peel.

I hope I’ve convinced you to appreciate this sunny, daffodil-colored fruit so much that you, like me, are beseeching life to give you some lemons.

May I some more, please?

Thanks for your time.

A Kernel of Truth

Originally published in the Herald-Sun 12/19/2012.

At our house, we are huge fans of carby comfort food.

We have a repertoire of dishes, everything from blue box mac, to an invented dish we call a ‘pasta toss’ (pasta, usually with sautéed veg and lots of lemon and garlic).

When Petey is saving lives at Duke, my baby and I dine alone.  On those nights we love nothing better than to get into our jimmies, and hop onto the couch with a couple of plates of steamy noodle goodness.  Then we dine, while watching a cinematic classic like, “Super Lobster Versus Mega Kitten”.

One night, prowling the Food Network website, I came upon a picture of a pasta dish with corn and green onions.

It looked fresh and light, yet luxurious.  Crazy gorgeous.  It made my stomach rumble.

I copy/pasted the illustration, and emailed it to The Kid, who was ensconced upstairs in the fortress of solitude, with various beeping and blinking devices.

It was given a thumb’s up.  We decided to create our own corn and pasta dish.

We immediately started making plans.

For pasta, we decided on parpadelle.  It’s as long as spaghetti, but as wide as an egg noodle.  The good stuff is as silky as a French nightgown.  It’s eggy and yummy.

For flavoring and fat in which to saute, we decided to go with pancetta.  It’s Italian.  They make it with pork belly, which also makes our American bacon.  It’s cured and rolled. But unlike bacon, which is smoked, pancetta is never smoked, but flavored with peppercorns and other herbs and spices, like rosemary and juniper berries.

Although I am an onion lover, my child is not, so instead of green onions for our dish, we would stir in a handful of fresh chopped parsley.  This would give us both color and fresh bright flavor.

As for our star of the show, corn, a trip to the farmers’ market presented us with a myriad of choices.  We settled on some beautiful sweet juicy ears still in their pale green silky robes.

Some stuff about fresh corn:

As soon as the ear leaves the stalk, the sugars in those sweet kernels start converting to starch.  In two days, about 80% of the sugar has mutated.  So, only buy fresh corn on the day you will use it.  And don’t buy it if it’s been languishing at the grocery store for days. The way to get the tastiest corn is to get freshly picked.

Otherwise, buy frozen.

Don’t be ashamed to be seen in the freezer aisle.  IQF, or individually quick frozen vegetables is the way most veg are prepared these days.  They’re cleaned and frozen as quickly as possible, sometimes within minutes, in buildings just feet from the fields in which they grew.  I promise they will be fresher than the sad, middle-aged specimens declining in your supermarket veggy department.

To shuck corn, quicker and cleaner; drop each ear into boiling water for a count of fifteen.  This will make the silk practically jump off the corn.  To completely eliminate the mess and bother, make the kids do it–outside.

To get the kernels off the cob, just hold the cob upright on a cutting board, and cut down with a sharp knife, turn it, and repeat.  After kernels are removed, scrape down the cob with the back of your knife, to get the juice.

Some folks swear by resting the cob on the opening of an upright bundt pan.  The theory is all the stuff goes only into the pan.  It never works for me.  It is a messy job, no getting around it.  I suggest a drop cloth, and a shower after.

Once we had our components, we set about making our newest pasta toss.  It was a blast conspiring together to create this new recipe.

Happily, all the fevered intrigue paid off.  It’s the perfect, yummy plate to devour while watching “Grizzlygator versus Colossal Hedgehog 2”.  This time I hear it’s personal.

Summer Corn & Parpadelle

Serves four as a side dish, or two as a main.

1 lb parpadelle

¼ lb thick sliced pancetta, cut into cubes

2 cloves garlic, peeled, and smashed, or thickly sliced

6 ears fresh corn, cut from cob (or 12-16 ounces frozen shoe peg, if fresh is not available)

1 shallot, diced

1/3 cup white wine

1 cup chicken stock

½ cup grated parmesan cheese

2 T butter

1/3 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

Salt and pepper

Set a very large pot with heavily salted water on to boil.  When it boils, add pasta and cook ‘til al dente. 

In a large heavy skillet, cook pancetta until completely browned on medium-low, and remove from pan. Turn up to medium, and put garlic in.  Cook until lightly golden and fragrant.  Remove and discard. 

Put shallots into skillet, and cook until softened and lightly translucent.  Add corn with juice.  Cook until the liquid is almost gone, and add wine, and stir to coat everything.  When wine has evaporated, add chicken stock, and turn up to medium-high. 

Let it bubble away to thicken, while paprpadelle is cooking.  When the consistency is right, turn off heat, and stir in cheese and butter (called mounting).

When the noodles are done, don’t strain them, remove from water with tongs or a large slotted spoon, and add directly to sauce.  Add parsley, and toss everything together.  If the sauce is too stiff, add a little pasta water to thin it.

Check for seasoning, plate, scatter top with pancetta bits, and serve. 

The Kid called this past weekend, and told me next week’ll be finals for food and wine compatibility class.  The directive is a dish that pairs well with a chardonnay.

Guess what recipe my child is choosing to make for the exam?

Thanks for your time.