Tag Archives: Cooking

Puff this…

Ok. So first a coupe things. These are crab and goat cheese puff appetizers, and they are delicious. They’re also (relatively) easy to make. The base is the classic pâte à choux, or sometimes simply referred to as “choux paste.” It’s a simple dough that is first cooked on the stove top before being used. It’s most often used for dessert recipes but it makes it’s appearance (unsweetened) as an appetizer as well. Once you have the dough made you can really mix in what you want (just a few cheese are delicious). And it can be baked or fried. Desserts are generally bake, and while the hot appetizers can be baked as well, they are really special when fried (some things are simply better when fried). Anyhow, try these and you won’t be sorry. But you’d better make extra because they won’t last long…

Crab and Goat Cheese “Puffs”


Makes about 3 dozen


For the pâte à choux (dough):


½ cup butter

1 cup water

1 cup all purpose flour

½ teaspoon kosher salt

4 large eggs


Combine the butter and water in a small sauce pan and bring to a simmer. When the butter is nearly melted add the flour and salt. Stir the flour with a wooden spoon until it forms a dough and pulls away from the edges of the pan. Continue to stir for another minute or so, then remove from the heat. Stir in the eggs one at a time, stirring until smooth after each addition.


For the Puffs:


1 recipe pâte à choux

1 pound crabmeat

4 ounces chevre cheese

½ bunch parsley, minced

1 tablespoon paprika

1 teaspoon granulated garlic

1 teaspoon granulated onion

¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper

vegetable oil for pan-frying


Combine all of the ingredients together and gently mix until combined. Heat about ½-inch vegetable oil in a skillet. When it is hot but not smoking, cook the puffs in batches. Scoop them into the hot oil using two spoons or a small ice-cream scoop. Cook them until golden, turning as necessary, then transfer them to absorbent paper. Serve as or with a dipping sauce.

A photo, a quote, and some recipes…


“Rice is a beautiful food. It is beautiful when it grows, precision rows of sparkling green stalks shooting up to reach the hot summer sun. It is beautiful when harvested, autumn gold sheaves piled on diked, patchwork paddies. It is beautiful when, once threshed, it enters granary bins like a (flood) of tiny seed-pearls. It is beautiful when cooked by a practiced hand, pure white and sweetly fragrant.”
~Shizuo Tsuji 

For rice recipes, click here.
Urban Simplicity.

Asparagus and Bean Curd with Thai Red Curry.

This is another recipe that is about the method and not necessarily the ingredients. What I mean is that this is a really basic recipe where the ingredients can be changed to your liking while using the same seasoning (or similar seasonings) but using the same simple stir-fry method to prepare them. Anyhow, this is really easy to make and super delicious.

 

Asparagus and Bean Curd with Thai Curry

Makes 4 servings

1 package extra firm tofu, drained

3 tablespoons vegetable oil, plus extra to oil a pan

1 onion, sliced

1 red bell pepper, sliced

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 pound asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces

2 tablespoons red Thai curry

¼ chicken or vegetable broth

2 tablespoons soy sauce

12 leaves fresh basil, course chopped

Preheat an oven to 400F. Dice the tofu and spread it onto a lightly oiled baking sheet. Bake the tofu for about 30 minutes, turning it every ten minutes, or until lightly browned. Remove the tofu from the oven and set aside. Heat the 3 tablespoons vegetable oil in a heavy skillet over medium-high heat, then add the sliced onion and bell pepper; stir-fry for a couple minutes, then add the garlic and cook a couple minutes longer. Add the asparagus, cook for a minute or two, then add the red curry, mixing it with the vegetables. Add the cooked tofu to the pan, along with the vegetable broth and soy sauce. Bring to a boil, tossing all the ingredients together, then stir in the basil and remove from the heat.

Asparagus and Bean Curd with Thai Red Curry.

  
This is another recipe that is about the method and not necessarily the ingredients. What I mean is that this is a really basic recipe where the ingredients can be changed to your liking while using the same seasoning (or similar seasonings) but using the same simple stir-fry method to prepare them. Anyhow, this is really easy to make and super delicious.
.
Asparagus and Bean Curd with Thai Curry
Makes 4 servings
1 package extra firm tofu, drained
3 tablespoons vegetable oil, plus extra to oil a pan
1 onion, sliced
1 red bell pepper, sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
2 tablespoons red Thai curry
¼ chicken or vegetable broth
2 tablespoons soy sauce
12 leaves fresh basil, course chopped
Preheat an oven to 400F. Dice the tofu and spread it onto a lightly oiled baking sheet. Bake the tofu for about 30 minutes, turning it every ten minutes, or until lightly browned. Remove the tofu from the oven and set aside. Heat the 3 tablespoons vegetable oil in a heavy skillet over medium-high heat, then add the sliced onion and bell pepper; stir-fry for a couple minutes, then add the garlic and cook a couple minutes longer. Add the asparagus, cook for a minute or two, then add the red curry, mixing it with the vegetables. Add the cooked tofu to the pan, along with the vegetable broth and soy sauce. Bring to a boil, tossing all the ingredients together, then stir in the basil and remove from the heat.

The Spice is Right…Two Recipes Inspired by the Near East

So one thing you likely know about me by now if you’ve visited here before is that I like ethnic food. A lot. Herbs and spices can change everything. The most mundane foods (like chicken and lentils, for example) become something really special when seasoned with exotic spices. Anyhow, I made these for staff lunch today and served it with saffron-infused brown rice…delicious. There is a simple curry recipe at the bottom of this post but a good quality store-bought brand would be fine…or use your own flavor combination. Enjoy.

Tandoori Chicken Stir-Fry

Makes 4 servings

¼ cup vegetable oil

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1 cup plain yogurt

4 cloves garlic, minced

2 tablespoons curry powder

1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger

2 teaspoons kosher salt

1 teaspoon ground black pepper

1/2 small onion, sliced

4 boneless chicken breasts, sliced

oil for sauteing

black sesame seeds for garnish

Combine all of the ingredients in a bowl (except the oil for sauteing and the black sesame seeds) and mix thoroughly. Refrigerate for one hour. Heat a small amount of oil over high heat in a large heavy skillet (cast iron works great). When to oil is hot, add the marinated chicken in a single layer. Allow the chicken to cook for a minute before stirring, Then gently stir the chicken and cook for another 5 or 10 minutes, or until lightly browned and thoroughly cooked. Transfer to a serving platter and garnish with black sesame seeds.

Curried Red Lentils with Potatoes and Peas

Makes 4-6 servings

3 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 small onion, diced

1 green bell pepper, diced

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 tablespoons curry powder

1½ cups red lentils

3 cups chicken broth or vegetable broth

1 cup diced tomatoes, fresh or canned

½ teaspoon salt

2 medium potatoes, peeled and diced

¼ cup fresh lemon juice

½ cup peas

Heat the oil in a heavy sauce-pot over medium-high heat. Add the onion and green pepper and saute for a couple minutes, then add the garlic and saute a minute longer. Stir in the curry and cook it for a minute or two, and then stir in the lentils, broth, tomatoes, and salt. Bring the liquid to a boil then lower it to a low simmer; cook the lentils for about 30 minutes. Add the potatoes and lemon juice and simmer another 15 minutes, or until the lentils are thoroughly cooked. Stir in the peas and remove the pot from the heat. 

 

Simple Madras-Style Curry Powder

Makes about 1/2 cup

3 tablespoons ground cumin 

3 tablespoons quality chili powder

2 tablespoons ground coriander

1 teaspoon ground turmeric

1 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper

½ teaspoon ground fenugreek

½ teaspoon ground black pepper

½ teaspoon ground cardamom

½ teaspoon ground ginger

Mix all the spices thoroughly and store away from direct sunlight in a jar with a tight fitting lid.

The Spice is Right…Two Recipes Inspired by the Near East

So one thing you likely know about me by now if you’ve visited here before is that I like ethnic food. A lot. Herbs and spices can change everything. The most mundane foods (like chicken and lentils, for example) become something really special when seasoned with exotic spices. Anyhow, I made these for staff lunch today and served it with saffron-infused brown rice…delicious. There is a simple curry recipe at the bottom of this post but a good quality store-bought brand would be fine…or use your own flavor combination. Enjoy.

Tandoori Chicken Stir-Fry

Makes 4 servings

¼ cup vegetable oil
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 cup plain yogurt
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons curry powder
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 small onion, sliced
4 boneless chicken breasts, sliced

oil for sauteing
black sesame seeds for garnish

Combine all of the ingredients in a bowl (except the oil for sauteing and the black sesame seeds) and mix thoroughly. Refrigerate for one hour. Heat a small amount of oil over high heat in a large heavy skillet (cast iron works great). When to oil is hot, add the marinated chicken in a single layer. Allow the chicken to cook for a minute before stirring, Then gently stir the chicken and cook for another 5 or 10 minutes, or until lightly browned and thoroughly cooked. Transfer to a serving platter and garnish with black sesame seeds.


 
Curried Red Lentils with Potatoes and Peas

Makes 4-6 servings

3 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 small onion, diced

1 green bell pepper, diced

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 tablespoons curry powder

1½ cups red lentils

3 cups chicken broth or vegetable broth

1 cup diced tomatoes, fresh or canned

½ teaspoon salt

2 medium potatoes, peeled and diced

¼ cup fresh lemon juice

½ cup peas


Heat the oil in a heavy sauce-pot over medium-high heat. Add the onion and green pepper and saute for a couple minutes, then add the garlic and saute a minute longer. Stir in the curry and cook it for a minute or two, and then stir in the lentils, broth, tomatoes, and salt. Bring the liquid to a boil then lower it to a low simmer; cook the lentils for about 30 minutes. Add the potatoes and lemon juice and simmer another 15 minutes, or until the lentils are thoroughly cooked. Stir in the peas and remove the pot from the heat. 
Simple Madras-Style Curry Powder

Makes about 1/2 cup


3 tablespoons ground cumin 

3 tablespoons quality chili powder

2 tablespoons ground coriander

1 teaspoon ground turmeric

1 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper

½ teaspoon ground fenugreek

½ teaspoon ground black pepper

½ teaspoon ground cardamom

½ teaspoon ground ginger


Mix all the spices thoroughly and store away from direct sunlight in a jar with a tight fitting lid.

When Buffaloes Fly…recollections of chicken wings

By now most of you reading this know that I was born, raised, and in fact still live in the great city of Buffalo, NY. I moved away a couple times but have always found my way home. And while we (as a city) have an incredibly rich culinary tradition, we are—for better or worse—known for chicken wings. In Buffalo they of course are not known as “Buffalo wings,” just simply wings. I didn’t think of them as a regional specialty until I was in my early twenties when I had moved away and someone first referred to them as such. You may have heard these stories before—in person or in print—as I’ve previously told them, but I made wings for staff lunch a couple days ago and I thought of this again.

Anyhow, the first time I had heard of them referred to as Buffalo wings I was in a music store in Nashville, TN. It was the mid-1980’s and I was buying a cassette (remember them?). Noticing my “yank accent,” the clerk asked me where I was from. When I told him Buffalo his eyes lit up and he asked me two things: if I was familiar with the band The 10,000 Maniacs and if I liked Buffalo wings. It sounded odd to me because I had never heard of them referred to as such. I’m sure I was smirking a little when I told him that I did. It hadn’t occurred to me that chicken wings—as a fried food—were unique to our region. I just assumed everyone ate them, like fries or hot dogs or hamburgers.

A couple years later I landed a job as cook at a French restaurant in New Orleans. One day the house butcher brought me a bowl of raw chicken wings. Normally they went into the chicken stock but this day he had saved them upon the sous-chef’s request. The sous-chef, who I feared more than the chef (primarily because the chef never spoke to me, or screamed at me like the sous chef), wanted me to make the staff wings for lunch. He knew I was from Buffalo. Most of the kitchen crew were Cajun and loved the spiciness of the sauce.

“Take some to the chef, he’s in his office,” suggested one of the cooks. Terrified, and with hands shaking, I walked into the office with the sous chef and set down a plate of steaming wings, complete with celery, carrot, and made-from-scratch blue cheese dressing. I rarely had the opportunity to talk to the chef let alone feed him. “Qu’est-ce que c’est?” he inquired. The sous-chef told him in his native French that I was from Buffalo and that these were our delicacy. The wings, he told him were tossed with sauce piquante monté au beurre (spicy sauce mounted with butter). He also warned that they were trés piquant. Speaking in English (a language, I was told, he detested and spoke only in necessity) the chef told me he’d been to Niagara Falls, then picked up a drumstick and bit in. About 10 seconds passed before he pushed the plate away, and in what seemed like desperation, chugged the remainder of his ever-present glass of wine. Panting, he questioned “Shit, why so #!&¢!# hot.” Hey, I thought, he was warned they were trés piquant, and I only made them medium.

At any rate, I feel I don’t need to mention the origin of this simple food as it has been in the media countless times, but the recipe for them is about as simple as one can get…simply deep fry some chicken wings (no flour nor seasoning required) and toss them in a mixture of melted butter and Franks Hot Sauce. Sure there are going to be people who claim to have a “secret recipe,” but there really is no such thing…butter and hot sauce are all that are required (though additions of garlic or onion powder or a plash of vinegar are tasty enhancements).

Traditional Wings

Preheat enough vegetable oil to 375 degrees Fahrenheit to fry as many wings as you see fit. While the wings are frying melt a good sized piece of whole butter in a large bowl and swirl in Frank’s Hot Sauce. When the wings float and are crispy and cooked throughout, remove from the hot fat. Drain them and toss with the butter and hot sauce.

When Buffaloes Fly…recollections of chicken wings

By now most of you reading this know that I was born, raised, and in fact still live in the great city of Buffalo, NY. I moved away a couple times but have always found my way home. And while we (as a city) have an incredibly rich culinary tradition, we are—for better or worse—known for chicken wings. In Buffalo they of course are not known as “Buffalo wings,” just simply wings. I didn’t think of them as a regional specialty until I was in my early twenties when I had moved away and someone first referred to them as such. You may have heard these stories before—in person or in print—as I’ve previously told them, but I made wings for staff lunch a couple days ago and I thought of this again.

Anyhow, the first time I had heard of them referred to as Buffalo wings I was in a music store in Nashville, TN. It was the mid-1980’s and I was buying a cassette (remember them?). Noticing my “yank accent,” the clerk asked me where I was from. When I told him Buffalo his eyes lit up and he asked me two things: if I was familiar with the band The 10,000 Maniacs and if I liked Buffalo wings. It sounded odd to me because I had never heard of them referred to as such. I’m sure I was smirking a little when I told him that I did. It hadn’t occurred to me that chicken wings—as a fried food—were unique to our region. I just assumed everyone ate them, like fries or hot dogs or hamburgers.

A couple years later I landed a job as cook at a French restaurant in New Orleans. One day the house butcher brought me a bowl of raw chicken wings. Normally they went into the chicken stock but this day he had saved them upon the sous-chef’s request. The sous-chef, who I feared more than the chef (primarily because the chef never spoke to me, or screamed at me like the sous chef), wanted me to make the staff wings for lunch. He knew I was from Buffalo. Most of the kitchen crew were Cajun and loved the spiciness of the sauce.

“Take some to the chef, he’s in his office,” suggested one of the cooks. Terrified, and with hands shaking, I walked into the office with the sous chef and set down a plate of steaming wings, complete with celery, carrot, and made-from-scratch blue cheese dressing. I rarely had the opportunity to talk to the chef let alone feed him. “Qu’est-ce que c’est?” he inquired. The sous-chef told him in his native French that I was from Buffalo (pronouncing it boof-ah-loh) and that these were our delicacy. The wings, he told him were tossed with sauce piquante monté au beurre (spicy sauce mounted with butter). He also warned that they were trés piquant. Speaking in English (a language, I was told, he detested and spoke only in necessity) the chef told me he’d been to Niagara Falls, then picked up a drumstick and bit in. About 10 seconds passed before he pushed the plate away, and in what seemed like desperation, chugged the remainder of his ever-present glass of wine. Panting, he questioned “Shit, why so #!&¢!# hot.” Hey, I thought, he was warned they were trés piquant, and I only made them medium.

At any rate, I feel I don’t need to mention the origin of this simple food as it has been in the media countless times, but the recipe for them is about as simple as one can get…simply deep fry some chicken wings (no flour nor seasoning required) and toss them in a mixture of melted butter and Franks Hot Sauce. Sure there are going to be people who claim to have a “secret recipe,” but there really is no such thing…butter and hot sauce are all that are required (though additions of garlic or onion powder or a plash of vinegar are tasty enhancements). 

Traditional Wings 

Preheat enough vegetable oil to 375 degrees Fahrenheit to fry as many wings as you see fit. While the wings are frying melt a good sized piece of whole butter in a large bowl and swirl in Frank’s Hot Sauce. When the wings float and are crispy and cooked throughout, remove from the hot fat. Drain them and toss with the butter and hot sauce. 

Urban Simplicity.

Before the party…

I was the first one in the kitchen today. This is not always the case but it was today. I enjoy it; I find it soothing. It was a busy day today–I knew this before I arrived–but in the early hours of this hundred-year-old kitchen by myself I find it tranquil. And as usual, I had a camera with me so I snapped a few photos. It relaxes me, at times, to look through a view finder. Anyhow, I thought I’d share a few of the photos.

Urban Simplicity.

Five (or Seven) Quotes from Julia Child

Julia Child (née McWilliams)
August 15, 1912 — August 13, 2004
“Find something you’re passionate about and keep tremendously interested in it.”
“I think every woman should have a blowtorch.”
“The only real stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking you’ve got to have a what-the-hell attitude.”
“Everything in moderation… including moderation.”
“Remember, ‘No one’s more important than people’! In other words, friendship is the most important thing–not career or housework, or one’s fatigue–and it needs to be tended and nurtured.”
“To be a good cook you have to have a love of the good, a love of hard work, and a love of creating.”
“I was 32 when I started cooking; up until then, I just ate.”
More Five Quotes

Bananas Foster!

Okay. So a few things first. This dish is so easy to make you won’t even have to think about it. It is really, really delicious. But it’s also really rich (every so often is ok, right?). The image above is the recipe in large quantity; I made it today for 120 people (in that recipe there is 4lbs butter, 4 lbs brown sugar, an entire bottle of rum, and 65 bananas).  Also in the recipe above the bananas are sliced crosswise, rather than the traditional lengthwise (which I recommend, but a crosswise is easier to handle with a large batch). This dish was invented at Brennan’s Restaurant in New Orleans in 1951 to honor Richard Foster, who at the time lead the New Orleans Crime Commission and was a good friend of Owen Brennan and a  regular at the restaurant. Anyhow, here’s a recipe for four servings.

Bananas Foster

Serves 4

4 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
4 medium bananas, peeled and sliced
1/2  cup dark rum
4 scoops French vanilla ice cream

Heat the butter and sugar in a large skillet; stir to dissolve the sugar. Add the bananas and cook them for a minute or so, until they begin to brown. Carefully stir in the rum and allow it to flambe. Spoon the bananas and sauce over the ice cream.

Urban Simplicity

Broth, Bouillon, Brodo (y Caldo)

Good soup is one of the prime ingredients of good living. For soup can do more to lift the spirits and stimulate the appetite than any other one dish.”
LouisP. De Gouy

A couple things…

Firstly, I have relatively little trouble eating (and ultimatley sustaining on) meatless or near-meatless meals. Actually, I prefer it. But I have to admit the one thing that would keep me from being a full-blown vegetarian is meat-based stock or broth…or what a vegan friend of mine refers to as “meat juice.” Rice cooked in water is bland, but cook it in a rich broth and it is a meal unto itself. If you have a rich broth and want a soup the flavor is already accomplished…whatever else you add is simply a bonus. I add chicken stock to most things I cook aglio e olio. The famed chef, Auguste Escoffier–whom which chef De Gouy worked under–has said that (and I’m paraphrasing) with a good stock anything can be accomplished. Stock/broth, to me, is a form of alchemy. And I love how the kitchen smells with a broth slowly simmering away (home kitchen or work kitchen). Today at work was slow and I made seven pots of the golden stuff (about 40 gallons) and the kitchen smelled amazing. Anyhow, for recipes and lore about soup and stock read this article I wrote for Artvoice a couple years ago. In the meantime…simmer. 

Maccheroni al Forno con Quattro Formaggi

That’s a pretty fancy name (referring to the title of this post) for something that translates to American English as Macaroni-and-Cheese (okay, macaroni-and-four-cheeses). The recipe is really, really easy, and really, really delicious. It may not be the healthiest thing to eat, but geeze o’ man is it delicious (did I mention how delicious this is?). The recipe pictured is the same one that is written below, but the beauty is that you can add your own twist to this. You can, for example, add or subtract whichever cheese(s) you like/dislike. Or better yet, add various other foods to the dish, such as broccoli florets, roast peppers (sweet or spicy), sausage (chorizo is awesome), diced ham, or even shrimp. Anyhow–and just to reiterate–this is super easy and super delicious. Enjoy.

Macaroni-and-Cheese
(with four cheeses)
Makes about four servings
8 ounces elbow macaroni
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 tablespoons flour
1 cup milk
1 cup cream
½ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
½ cup shredded cheddar
¼ cup crumbled Gorgonzola
¼ cup grated Parmesan
¼ cup grated Fontinella
¾ cup breadcrumbs
Preheat and oven to 350F. Boil the macaroni in salted water, drain, and set aside. Melt the butter in a heavy saucepan then add the flour, stirring to form a roux. Cook the roux over medium heat—while stirring—for a few minutes, then add the milk, cream, salt, and pepper. Using a wire whisk, stir the sauce over medium-high heat until smooth. Continue stirring until it is heated and thick. Cook the sauce for a minute or two then remove from the heat. Add the cheeses and stir until smooth. Add the cooked macaroni to the pot and gently fold into the cheese sauce. Transfer to a lightly oiled skillet or other oven-proof baking dish and sprinkle with the breadcrumbs. Bake the macaroni-and-cheese for about 20 minutes, or until it is hot throughout, bubbling, and golden.

Urban Simplicity.

Things That Can be Carried on a Bike (#416 & #417), a Brief Story Behind it, and a Simple Recipe

#416 (first photo above)…a canvas bag containing a few books; a double plastic bag containing a cooked turkey carcass, and a few vegetables for mirepoix.

#417 (second photo above)…a cardboard box containing 18 pint contains full of still-warm turkey broth.

Okay, so here’s the deal. Nearly every year, after our Thanksgiving feast at one of my sister’s houses, I take the turkey carcass(es) and make turkey broth with it/them the next day. I usually have off of work and it’s a great day just to take it easy around the house and let the broth simmer. Then, after straining and packaging it, I freeze it and have homemade broth for weeks/months ahead. Well this year I had to work…but I still took the turkey carcass (I’m a professional cook, I can’t let something that good simply be discarded). Anyhow, I carried the carcass to work, made the broth there (one of the many privileges of working in a kitchen), packaged it, and carried it home. It now resides in my small freezer for future use.

The recipe for turkey broth (which is super easy to make and really delicious) is below. For additional recipes that highlight ways in which to utilize Thanksgiving leftovers, click here or here.

Turkey Broth

1 cooked turkey carcass, and any scraps, juices, and pan scrapings
1 onion, quartered
1 carrot, cut into thirds
4 ribs celery, cut into thirds
4 cloves garlic, crushed
2 bay leaves
10 whole black peppercorns
Combine the ingredients in a heavy-bottomed stockpot and cover with enough cold water to cover them by two inches. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat to a slow simmer. Cook for a few hours, skimming the surface as necessary. Strain and refrigerate until needed. 

Gravy Deconstructed…

The following text was originally published in Artvoice; to see it at its original location, click here.

Gravy(grā’vē) n., pl.–vies a. The juices that drip from cooking meat. b. A sauce made by thickening and seasoning these juices.
–The American Heritage Dictionary

It’s as ubiquitous at a Thanksgiving feast as the turkey itself. Mashed potatoes would be nothing without it, ditto for the stuffing. Sometimes it’s thin and sometimes it’s thick but it’s always there. I’m of course speaking of gravy.

But what is it, really? If you think about it, it’s simply meat juice that has been thickened. But while this may be true it’s also nothing short of alchemy, for there are as many insipid and flavorless gravies as there are delectable ones.

Gravy may be part of our historical Puritan feast (though I do question if it were on the original Thanksgiving menu), but its roots go back further. Gravy is a simple sauce, to be sure, and French chefs were the first to codify sauce making. This said, gravy is something of a first cousin to the classic au jus (with juice), or jus lié(bound or thickened juice), or even more specifically and in plain English: the thickened juices that dripped from roasting meat.

The etymology of the word gravy also points to the French. According to historian Harold McGee, in his encyclopedic tome, On Food and Cooking, the word gravy comes from the antiquated French word, grané, which later became gravé. It’s easily apparent how this could come out sounding like gravy to an anglophile. Mr. McGee goes on to stay that the n was most likely changed to a v in a simple calligraphy error when transcribing one manuscript to another by hand.

Ok, by now you’re probably thinking enough with where it came from, just give me a recipe. The thing is, like many dishes, there is no one recipe for gravy, only methods; it really depends on your situation–but it’s still very simple to make. The variables are whether there’s a lot of liquid after the turkey is roasted or if the pan is dry, whether you’re making it directly in the roasting pan or a saucepot, and if you plan to thicken it with flour or cornstarch.

Speaking of starch, the preferred method by most professionals is flour, and to do this the flour should be cooked in fat (butter, oil, or turkey grease), lest it leave a lingering starchy flavor to the gravy. And when you cook flour and fat together you are really making a roux, which is not only the foundation to most thickened soups and sauces, but is also French in origin; the word roux is said to be derived from an old variation of the French word rouge, meaning red, which no doubt makes reference to the change of color that occurs when flour is cooked.

At any rate, I’ll stop complicating an uncomplicated recipe and offer three different methods for making gravy. They are extremely simple and can be adapted to whatever type of meat you happen to be roasting. When adding liquid to gravy I recommend using broth not water. Professional cooks have homemade stocks readily available, but in the home kitchen canned broth is perfectly acceptable. Keep in mind that canned broth already contains salt, even the low sodium variety.

Turkey Gravy #1: When the turkey is finished roasting and only a small amount of liquid remains this method works well. This is also the classic method.

Remove the turkey to a platter. Place the roasting pan on the stove over medium heat and cook it until the liquid evaporates. Pour off all but a couple tablespoons of fat. Add a few tablespoons of flour and cook it for a few minutes, taking care not to burn the flour. Then whisk in a cup or two of chicken broth and scrape any browned bits from the bottom of the pan, which are pure flavor. Simmer the gravy for a minute or two then strain it to remove any lumps and brown specks.

Turkey Gravy #2: If there is a large amount of liquid in the pan this is a better method to follow.

Remove the turkey to a platter. Pour the fat and liquid into a pot or bowl. Using a spoon or ladle transfer a few tablespoons of fat to a small sauce pot, remove the rest of the fat from the liquid and discard it. Heat the sauce pot over medium heat. Stir in an equal amount of flour and cook the flour/fat mixture for a minute or two while stirring. Add the turkey liquid to the sauce pot and bring to a simmer. Lower the heat and cook the gravy for a few minutes, then strain it to remove any lumps. Season with salt and pepper if necessary.

Gravy #3: This is the simplest method, though the gravy will have a transparent sheen to it, rather than the typical cloudy sauce-like appearance. With this method it doesn’t matter whether there is a lot of liquid or a little.

Remove the turkey to a platter. If there is a lot of liquid remaining in the pan, pour it into a sauce pot and remove and discard the fat. If there is little or no fat remaining in the pan add a couple cups of chicken broth and place it over medium heat. Scrape any browned bits from the pan, then transfer everything to a sauce pot; remove and discard the fat. Bring the liquid to a simmer. Dissolve a few tablespoons of cornstarch in an equal amount of cold water and add it to the simmering liquid. Bring the gravy to a boil and simmer for a minute or two. Season it, if necessary, and strain to remove any lumps or brown specks.

A Quick and Delicious Recipe (and how cooking can be therapeutic)

I’ve posted this recipe before and it’s one of my favorite stir-fries. Sometimes I make it myself and now-and–again I order it from a local restaurant. But, as often is the case, I’m jumping ahead.

Last evening I was stressed; over a few things but basically that I had too much to do and not enough time to do it. And often when I’m stressed it leads to melancholy. I had cooked and rushed around a kitchen (at work) all day, and had some studying and writing to do besides things around the house. I knew it was impossible to fit it all in that evening. And when I’m stressed I also tend to procrastinate. So that evening I went to the health club for a quick swim and a long steam. And as I sat in the steam room I thought of dinner…I’ll stop on my way home and pick up a portion of Broccoli-and-bean curd from a local restaurant, I thought. And as I pedaled and coasted home–and was really not feeling like doing the chores ahead of me–I remembered that I still had broccoli growing in my backyard (pictured below) and some tofu in my fridge. So instead of doing the chores I had planned I went home and cooked.

I cook all day at work for other people and sometimes it really feels good to simply cook for myself. Cooking, in the right conditions, can in fact be therapeutic (click here). So I poured myself a glass of wine and went in the backyard with my dogs to pick broccoli. It was already dark and a beautiful crisp autumn evening. So before cutting the broccoli I sat on a stool while my dogs wandered, sniffed, snorted, and peed the entire perimeter of the backyard (the garden is fenced off). I sipped my wine while I looked at the stars above. It felt good to be outside with a slight chill in the air. After cutting the broccoli I went in and prepared my meal in a mindful way.

As I sliced the broccoli I remembered pushing the tiny seedlings into the moist, cold ground some months earlier with the promise of summer ahead. I utilized all my senses as the tofu cooked and sputtered in the hot fat. I sipped wine and listened to NPR while I cooked. Things are good, I thought, and I skipped most of the chores I was to do that evening. Instead I watched a movie while I ate. The food tasted good–really good–and I was glad that I prepared it myself (for myself) instead of purchasing it. It was, I thought, just what I needed.

Broccoli & Bean Curd with Ginger, Garlic, & Hot Peppers
(This is a classic vegetarian dish but ti would be equally delicious with thin slices of chicken breast, pork, or shrimp). 
Yield: 4 servings

4 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
4 heads broccoli, cut into florets
12 ounces firm tofu, sliced into
1-inch pieces
1 cup vegetable oil (for frying)
1 small onion, sliced
1 red bell pepper, julienned
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon minced ginger
1 teaspoon crushed hot pepper
1-1/2 cups chicken broth

In a small bowl combine the soy sauce, vinegar, sugar, and cornstarch. Mix to dissolve the cornstarch and set aside. Par-cook the broccoli in boiling water, then drain it and cool it under cold running water.

Heat the oil over medium-high heat in a large skillet. Carefully add the tofu and cook it on both sides until golden brown. Remove the tofu and transfer to absorbent paper. Carefully pour most of the oil into a separate pan (or other safe container), leaving just enough oil to stir fry in. Heat the pan and add the onion and bell pepper. Sauté the vegetables until they begin to caramelize. Add the garlic, ginger, and hot peppers. Sauté for another minute or two.

Stir in the chicken broth; bring it to a boil, then stir in the soy-cornstarch mixture. Bring it to a simmer, then add the broccoli and bean curd. Stir and toss it to evenly coat it with sauce. Continue to heat the pan just until the broccoli is heated throughout.

Urban Simplicity.

"Tis the Season…

Yes, whether we like it or not, it is that time of year again. The weather is getting colder. And with it lighter foods give way to heartier ones, and one of my favorites is soup. I’ve posted this recipe before, or at least variations of it, but it is so delicious and easy to make I thought I’d post it again (it is a crowd-pleaser). The recipe–and the picture above–both utilize butternut squash, but this recipe works great with nearly any hard squash…it’s great with pumpkin. I add a bit of sugar in the recipe, but if you stay away from sugar simply omit it (or add more if you’d like it sweeter). A fresh chili or two is great also (but not included in the recipe)…spicy and sweet and creamy compliment each other. I also used heavy cream in the recipe, you can make it lighter with the use of milk or no cream at all, but it wouldn’t be as rich. And lastly, if you want to make this vegetarian or vegan , substitute the chicken broth with vegetable broth (don’t use water, it would be too bland) and soy milk to replace the cream. Anyhow–and just to reiterate–this recipe is delicious and easy to make…and it’s a great one to experiment with as well.

Butternut Squash Bisque with Apple and Toasted Walnuts
Yield: 6 cups
2 tablespoons butter
1 small onion, peeled and diced
2 tablespoonsflour
2 tablespoonssugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
2 pounds peeled and diced butternut squash
2 cups chicken stock
1 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup chopped, toasted walnuts
1/2 cup small diced apple

Melt the butter in a small pot over medium heat and add the onions. Sweat the onions over medium heat for 5 minutes or until they are translu­cent. Add the flour and stir over medium heat for 2 minutes. Stir in the sugar, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, salt, pepper, and diced pumpkin; sauté another minute. Add the stock and simmer for 15-20 minutes, or until the squash is very tender. Add the cream and simmer for 1 or 2 minutes longer. Puree in a blender or food processor. After ladling the soup into warm bowls, garnish it with the toasted walnuts and diced apple.

Urban Simplicity.

Four Photos of Food

OK, so I’m not sure what these have to do with the subject of Urban Simplicity other than the fact that they are photos of some of the things I do at work, which of course is a big part of my life (whether I like it or not). I took these over the last two days and thought they were interesting enough to share. Anyhow, from top-to-bottom, they are: semi-crudite sans sauce; jellied beet and goat cheese terrine; petite sandwich comprised of roast garlic and fig sausage (pork), topped with red onion marmalade and mango chutney, on a whole wheat roll; and lastly, chicken and duck mousseline flavored with curry and smoked paprika, and studded with ham, green peppercorns, and dried black currents.

Urban Simplicity.

Macaroni and Four Cheeses

This is a variation of the classic American dish, Macaroni-and-Cheese. The variation from the classic recipe in this one is that I used four cheeses…cheddar, Parmesan, Fontinella, and Gorgonzola. It is–if I do say so myself–mouthwatering delicious. And while this may not be the heart-healthiest meal you can eat it is easy to make, versatile, and delicious (did I mention how delicious it is). The recipe is really simple. It’s basically a Bechamel sauce (milk sauce thickened with roux) into which one or more cheeses are added, and then it’s folded into cooked macaroni (or other pasta). It’s usually topped with something–I use a bit more cheese and breadcrumbs, but crushed crackers, potato chips, and even corn flakes are not uncommon–then the whole concoction is baked in the oven until browned and bubbly. This is most often served as a side dish, but other ingredients can be added to make it more of a main meal. Vegetables will lighten it up a bit (fresh spinach and chopped broccoli are good choices), and more decadent options include–but are not limited to–foods such as ham, sausage, crab, shrimp, or even lobster. And if you want to reduce the artery-clogging cholesterol level of the recipe, some or all of the milk/cream may be replaced with chicken broth. Anyhow, this is really easy to make and way better than the all-to-common boxed variety…and you can make it in bulk and freeze it in increments (as pictured below).

Macaroni-and-Cheese
(with four cheeses)
Makes about four servings
8 ounces elbow macaroni
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 tablespoons flour
1 cup milk
1 cup cream
½ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
½ cup shredded cheddar
¼ cup crumbled Gorgonzola
¼ cup grated Parmesan
¼ cup grated Fontinella
¾ cup breadcrumbs
Preheat and oven to 350F. Boil the macaroni in salted water, drain, and set aside. Melt the butter in a heavy saucepan then add the flour, stirring to form a roux. Cook the roux over medium heat—while stirring—for a few minutes, then add the milk, cream, salt, and pepper. Using a wire whisk, stir the sauce over medium-high heat until smooth. Continue stirring until it is heated and thick. Cook the sauce for a minute or two then remove from the heat. Add the cheeses and stir until smooth. Add the cooked macaroni to the pot and gently fold into the cheese sauce. Transfer to a lightly oiled skillet or other oven-proof baking dish and sprinkle with the breadcrumbs. Bake the macaroni-and-cheese for about 20 minutes, or until it is hot throughout, bubbling, and golden.

Three-Color Gazpacho Shooter

Tonight we’ll serve these gazpacho shooters as a component of a cocktail party menu…pureed gazpacho made from perfectly ripe red and yellow tomatoes topped with yogurt and green onion puree. Easy to make, delicious, nutritious…and pleasing to look at. There’s a basic gazpacho recipe below (omit the breadcrumbs to puree it smooth) but if you’d like additional recipes or to read about cold soups and the stories behind them, read this article that I wrote for Artvoice a little while ago (the carrot vichyssoise recipe–included in the article–would be a delicious layer in the as well).

Gazpacho
Makes about 5 cups
2 large tomatoes, diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 English cucumber, diced
2 slices bread, crusts removed, diced
1/2 onion, diced
1/4 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
2 jalapeno peppers, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon basil
1/2 teaspoon oregano

Combine all of the ingredients in a blender and pulse until desired consistency. Let stand 10 minutes; served chilled or at room temperature. Optional garnishes include but are not limited to: diced raw onion, hard cooked egg, parsley, and olives.