Author Archives: Jeffrey Thal

Muesli — The healthiest stuff I’ve ever eaten

Truth time here.

If you follow me on Twitter or Instagram you know that I’ve lost more than 50 pounds during the pandemic—don’t hate me, please. But I could never have done it alone. I had an enormous boost from my beloved, who poked, prodded, encouraged, excoriated, and refused to buy me the ice cream I so desperately craved—still crave. But she also fed me well.

Somewhere about 20 pounds in she decided that she had to come along for the ride, but in her ever-Ellen fashion, she came at it both 745%, and with more research than a barrel of dieticians. She got herself a personal trainer/slavemaster who also, serendipitously, is a nutritionist/body-builder/…I hate her (and I love her)—let’s call her…Sally (that’s her real name, and if I call her anything else she’ll likely make me eat healthy or something).

So, Sally got us into this “clean-eating” thing. Eliminate white foods—breads of all kinds, sugar, high-fat dairy; you know; the stuff we all know and love.

And, real food—fresh vegetables, skinless chicken—broccoli, for God’s sake! And lots of it. Lots of protein. All the time—we have to eat some protein every time we put something in our mouths. And smaller meals more often. Actually, the plan is breakfast, lunch, dinner, and small protein snacks at 10:00 am, 3:00 pm, and just before bedtime. And by golly, it worked!

She made me reduce my intake of breakfast cereals—I should have just offed her right there. I just take some bran flakes with protein powder a couple of days a week and my new favorite breakfast food, which I make myself.

Muesli. That’s right, the legendary “nuts and twigs” plan.

But I’ve learned that that stuff—normally found in the “nuts and twigs” (read: health-food) store—can be really expensive. I think gasoline is cheaper—it certainly is, by the gallon (go ahead, do the math). So I decided to make my own. Hello Pinterest!

There are five-hundred twenty-five thousand, six hundred minutes in a year (thanks, Rent), and just as many muesli recipes on Pinterest. And I think I may have read them all. No, really!

And then, armed with more knowledge about muesli than that which a human being ought to be armed, I ventured forward and tried several, and tried abstracting several of them into a reasonably good product, one that I could make quickly, easily, and with readily available (already in my pantry) ingredients.

I finally settled on one recipe—the proof of the recipe is in the fact. That my beloved will actually take a handful from the jar and eat it like a small snack—it even has a pretty healthy dose of protein.

So, the moral of the story is…there really isn’t any moral of this story, I’m just rambling and free associating, and filling space—because that is what all the Internet recipe writers seem to do—and aren’t you sick of that? I promise that from here on in I’ll keep my blab down to about 600 words—that’s what the LNP people I used to write for made me do, and I guess that after this finely crafted example of bloated writing, it was probably a good idea.

So…Cheffzilla’s muesli… (Makes about 2 1/2 quarts)

Ingredients:

3 cups rolled oats (regular oats—steel-cut oats won’t work here)

1/2 cup sliced (or slivered) almonds

1/2 cup walnuts, medium chop—somewhere between course and fine, you figure it out.

1/2 cup pumpkin seeds (or sunflower seeds, your choice—I like the pumpkin seeds better)

1/4 cup flax seeds or chia seeds—again, your choice

1/4 cup dried cranberries

1/4 cup dried apricots, chopped to the same size as the cranberries

1-3 teaspoons fine ground cinnamon

Preparation:

1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.

2. Spread the oats on a sheet pan and shake the pan until they are evenly spread over the whole pan. Repeat with the almonds, walnuts, and pumpkin seeds, using a second sheet pan. Place the pans on two racks in the preheated oven (NOT ON THE BOTTOM RUNG OF THE OVEN—it gets too hot down there. Set a kitchen timer for 7 minutes.

3. After seven minutes, take the pans out of the oven, stir the product around on the pans (I toss them in a large bowl to mix them up) and return them to the pans, switching the pans top and bottom shelfs. Check after six minutes to ensure they are not burning. If they haven’t begun to brown slightly, give them another minute or two, rotating up and down again. They are done when they just begin to brown, especially. The oats. They’re not done until the oats begin to brown. If the nuts are done before the oats begin to toast, remove them from the oven and let them cool. When finished toasting, allow both the nuts and the oats to cool completely to room temperature.

4. While the oats and nuts are toasting, place the cranberries and chopped apricots in a bowl, add a teaspoon of cinnamon, and toss to coat the fruit. If they still stick together, add another teaspoon and toss some more. Ultimately, you want to add just enough cinnamon to keep all the fruit pieces separate, but no more—well maybe just a little bit more–but not very much.

5. Dump the cinnamon-dusted fruit into a very large bowl, add the flax or chia seeds, the nuts, and the oats, and mix thoroughly. Then mix again. And again, to make sure all the ingredients are fully mixed up. Funnel the muesli into quart-sized mason jars right to the lip, tap the jars on the counter and add more if necessary, to the top of the jar—the less air in the jar the longer the muesli will last.

And then, well, #NutsAndTwigs!

Seattle-Style Teriyaki Chicken

I’m obsessed with Seattle-style chicken teriyaki.

To begin with, let me state for the record that I have only been to Seattle once, and it was way back in the early seventies, when I lived in San Francisco for a short while, and took a motorcycle trip to Alaska up the AlCan highway, and the itinerary from SF took us through Seattle in the middle of the day. We managed to stop only for a rest-room break and lunch, then back on the bikes and northward we went.

But oh, that lunch!

Our itinerary took us through the Japanese section of Seattle’s downtown, where hole-in-the-wall restaurants were serving up dishes that were part of their culture. This was a couple of years before the first—and soon to become world-famous—Toshi’s opened and changed the face of fast food in Seattle forever.

Small places, few tables, limited decor—the phenomenon that was to become Seattle-style chicken teriyaki hadn’t happened yet, but places were already serving up the amazing dish as an undiscovered gem. A friend who was a Seattle native had recommended a small dive—I can’t for the life of me remember the name of the place—that served up this most amazing dish, and for just a couple of dollars I would get a lunch I’d never forget.

Guess what?

I never forgot it. A few years later Toshi’s opened up, copycats followed, and voila! A phenomenon was born. Today chicken teriyaki is to Seattle what the cheesesteak is to Philly, what BBQ is to Texas (or North Carolina, or Kansas City, or…or…or…), what key lime pie is to south Florida, what Sabrett’s is to New York, what deep-dish pizza is to Chicago—you get the idea.

Just Google ”Seattle chicken teriyaki” and then surf your way to paradise. You’ll find jillion’s of recipes, recommendations for “THE place.” Just like with cheesesteaks and Philly, everyone has their own opinion of which is the best, the most, the source.

But suffice it to say, it’s just about the best fast food on the planet—Seattlites will tell you that the sound of squeaking styrofoam boxes is just part of the teriyaki experience (even though styrofoam in Seattle is becoming extinct). It’s kind of like, ”…cheesesteak wit…”.

But whether you’re from Seattle, or have been there and tasted the real thing, or have never been there but heard of it, or have no idea what I’m writing about here, you can experience this treasure right in your own kitchen. And it’s really quite simple. Just marinate, grill, broil to finish, and enjoy—especially with an ice-cold Asahi Super Dry (or two or three). Charcoal or wood-fired grill is best, but a gas grill or a grill pan will do in a pinch. At the very least, use a super-hot cast-iron pan.

Try it for yourself.

You’ll thank me later.

SEATTLE-STYLE CHICKEN TERIYAKI

INGREDIENTS:

1/4 cup rice wine vinegar

1/2 cup water

8 boneless, skinless chicken thighs

4-5 large cloves garlic finely minced

2 tablespoons cornstarch

3 tsp freshly grated ginger

Lightly toasted sesame seeds

1 cup brown sugar

3 green onions

1 cup soy sauce

PREPARATION:

  1. In a small bowl whisk together soy sauce, brown sugar, rice vinegar, water, garlic and ginger. Pour half of the mixture over chicken in a large bowl (or in a zip-close plastic bag) and let marinate for at least 2 hours, or preferable over night (I like to do the prep first thing in the morning for a dinner-time cook). Reserve the other half of the marinade to finish at cooking time.
  2. When ready to cook the chicken, place the remaining marinade in a small pot over medium heat. Add the cornstarch and whisk until dissolved. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer 3-4 minutes, until it just begins to thicken. Remove from heat and set aside.
  3. Heat a grill or cast-iron pan over high heat and cook 6-7 minutes on each side to get a nice sear. Brush the teriyaki sauce on. Place the chicken under a hot broiler for another 3-4 minutes on each side or until juices run clear. The sauce will get sticky and caramelize—don’t let it burn.
  4. Let chicken rest 10 minutes, slice into 3/4-inch pieces across the grain, and serve with cabbage salad (Google it), sticky rice, and pickles, and top with green onions and sesame seeds

Thai Noodle Bowls

I’ve got an abundance in in of Thai basil and Thai chilies growing in my garden, and they’re begging to be harvested. Ok, so what to do with them?

A while back, at the Manheim Township public library, I did a cooking class in making Thai noodle bowls, and it was one of my most successful classes ever. So hankering for something different, tasty, and filling, I think I’ll make a batch for supper. 

Like noodle bowls? Try these:

Ingredients:

1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breast

4 cloves garlic

1 tablespoon fresh ginger, minced, thinly sliced

1 bunch scallions or lemon grass, white and light-green parts, cut to 1-inch pieces

4 sprigs fresh Thai basil

5 cups chicken stock

1 tablespoon red curry paste

½ teaspoon fish sauce

1 tablespoon soy sauce

1 tablespoon brown sugar

8 ounces rice noodles

Toasted sesame oil

Fresh bean sprouts

2 ounces thinly sliced mushrooms

1 red chili pepper, thinly sliced

Fresh limes, cut into wedges

Preparation:

Make the broth:

1. Heat a pan to medium high with coconut oil (or peanut or vegetable or canola oil).

2. Season the chicken with salt and pepper; brown the chicken on both sides, set aside on a plate and allow to cool to room temperature.  

3. Add the ginger, garlic, and scallions or lemon grass, and sauté until softened. Add the curry paste, stir, and simmer 1 more minute.

4. Add the stock, scrape the bottom of the pot, bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 30 minutes.

5. Prepare the rice noodles per the package directions, drain and toss with a bit of toasted sesame oil.

6. When the stock is ready add the fish sauce, brown sugar, and soy sauce.

7. Shred the chicken with 2 forks.

Prepare the bowls:

Place some noodles, sliced mushrooms, bean sprouts, and shredded chicken to each bowl and ladle in the broth. If desired, add slices of red chili pepper. Float a few drops of toasted sesame oil on each bowl, garnish with fresh Thai chili sprigs and a lime wedge.

The Last Word on Roasted Whole Chicken

I want to tell you about my latest adventure in roasting a whole chicken. I think I’ve finally mastered the beast, and I’m not changing a thing.

First of all, a few years ago on this site I posted what I think is the perfect approach to roasting a chicken. It’s mostly hands off, takes only a few minutes of preparation, and an accurate kitchen timer—30-40 minutes in a hot oven (450 hot) and the same time with the oven turned off. Perfect every time. The timing, of course, depends on the size of the chicken. ATK says 30/30, for a 3 1/2 pound chicken. Good luck finding one of them in the grocery store. Everything now os 5-6 pounds, loaded with growth hormones and water. But I do get them at the farmers’ market, and they tend to run about 4 pounds. At that size, use 35/35.

But now, I’ve discovered a new seasoning profile, and it’s so good that I’m loathe to try anything else. Because let’s face it—roasting a chicken is, while an essential skill, pretty boring.

Until now.

You’ve got to try this. Because it’s all about flavor. This recipe turns an ordinary every-day roast chicken into a feature dish to which to be looked forward (um…grammar rules, you understand, but still…)

So here’s the blueprint:

SPICE BLEND:

2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

1 Tbsp Harissa (mild or hot—you decide)

1 Tbsp dried sage

1 Tbsp kosher salt

1 Tbsp granulated garlic

1 tsp finely ground white pepper

1 tsp sweet paprika

1/2 tsp ground thyme

1/2 tsp Cayenne pepper

Start by mixing up the dry ingredients—standard stuff, mind you). Mix in some good olive oil and harissa until you have a thick paste. :

PREPARATION:

Run your fingers and/or thumbs under the skin of the breasts AND legs and thighs, to separate the skin from the meat.

Then, rub the seasoning glop all over the entire chicken—top, bottom, sides, into the crevices of the legs and wings. Then slather more under the skin, covering as much of the breast, leg, and thigh meat as possible. And don’t forget to dump a bit inside the front and rear cavities.

Tuck the wing tips under the bird.

Then follow the directions as in the earlier post—which I’ll repeat here because it takes only a few words. Preheat the oven AND A HEAVY 12-INCH OVEN-SAFE FRY PAN—an enamel pan is best, but a cast-iron pan works too—to 450 degrees. Carefully take the pan out of the oven, place the whole bird in the pan, and return the pan to the oven. Set the timer for 30-45 minutes (depending on the size of the bird). When the timer goes off, turn the oven off and set the timer for the same amount of time again. DO NOT OPEN THE OVEN DOOR!!! When the timer goes of this time, take the pan out of the oven, set it on the counter, cover the bird with foil, and set the timer for 15 minutes. Then carve and enjoy.

Perfect every time. And if you have a convection setting on your oven, even better. The skin will be crisp and tasty, the chicken will be perfectly done and as moist as can be.

You’re welcome.

And by the way, this goes double for a turkey (or triple, depending on the size of the bird (which I did, just before writing this entry). Just use a larger vessel for a turkey.

Mulligatawny: a Soup Apart

This one’s too easy not to share. And too good to keep it all to myself.

Mulligatawny is one of the signature dishes in all of Indian cuisine. It’s a soup, in the same fashion that a Rolls Royce is a car, or a Rolex is a watch, or Linda Ronstadt is a voice.

Capise?

Friday night in the time of the pandemic has become, for many of us, just another night. Boring. Routine. Yawn. I suspect that many of you share this sad way of life. Not because you’re boring, or unimaginative or worn out. I for one have fallen into the pandemic-driven blahs. I think you know what I mean.

We’ve decided to change that. Friday nights are special—should be special—so we’re making it so. It’s the end of our work week (the days all have run together this year, what with working from home and all, so that all the days have started to look the same.

Not any more.

Now I suspect many of you have reached this point already, but we are, I guess, a little slow.

But special it is. And we started at the top-shelf Lancaster restaurant Himalayan Curry & Grill. Which brings me back around to mulligatawny. Himalayan makes it as good as I have ever tasted. Thick and rich, sweet and spicy, familiar and comforting.

But then, hey, I can do that! My teacher taught me that flavor trump’s heat in a spicy dish, and that’s what this dish wants most of all—spicy, but flavor forward. I cruised the recipes on line, and came up with my own version, using only what I have on hand.

You should try it. It’s actually one of the easiest soups I have made, and yet so flavorfully complex. You should try it.

Ingredients:

1/4 cup olive oil

1 yellow onion, chopped

1 carrot, peeled and diced

1 red jalapeno, seeded and finely minced

3 garlic cloves, minced

2 teaspoons peeled and minced ginger root

2 small firm apples, peeled, cored and diced

1 (14.5 oz) can diced tomatoes

1 tablespoon curry powder

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon paprika

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric

1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

1/2 cup red lentils (uncooked)

3 cups vegetable broth

2/3 cup unsweetened coconut milk

Salt and black pepper to taste

Chopped cilantro and/or scallions for garnish

Preparation:

1. Heat the oil in a large pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat.

2. Add the onion, carrot, and jalapeno, then saute for 4 to 5 minutes or until the onions have softened.

3. Add the garlic, ginger, apples, and diced tomatoes to the pot. Saute for another 3 minutes, then add in all of the spices and toss to coat. Add in the lentils and broth and bring to a boil. Turn the heat down to medium-low and simmer uncovered for 30 minutes.

4. Puree about 3/4 of the ingredients by transferring the soup to the bowl of a standard blender. You may need to do this in two batches. Leave some of the vegetables whole, as it adds texture and consistency to the soup. Return the soup to the pot, then stir in the coconut milk, and bring the soup back to a slow simmer. Adjust the flavor to your liking with salt and coarsely ground black pepper.

5. Serve topped with chopped cashews and cilantro or scallions along with naan bread for dipping.

Cheffzilla’s Six Pepper Steak Sauce

Steak. It’s what’s for dinner, or so the marketing department of The Beef Council says. But not in the W-T household. Alas…

A little background: My Dad owned a small grocery store in Chester, PA, and the family owned a gourmet food market in South Beach. I grew up on good meat—mostly beef and lamb—we were, until I was 11 a strictly Kosher household, so pork wasn’t part of my childhood, until…well, that’s another story for another time.

The family also owned a meat-processing and packing business in the area of shallow North Philly—near Girard Avenue, for those in the know—known as the “meat-packing district” (some day I might relate the story of beef kidneys and my senior prom, or the story about the time my Dad passed on the opportunity to become the sole distributor of hamburger to McDonald’s, but those are yet other stories for another time). My Dad and his brothers operated this business for the distribution of meat products to seven small grocery stores in Philadelphia, Chester, and Ardmore. But they kept all the best products they could get their hands on for themselves—mostly because the best products were priced out of the range of the neighborhoods where their stores were located.

So, great steaks, chops, and roasts were on the dinner plates several times a week. I had no idea what a privilege that was until I got older and had to buy my own groceries. But still…

But from a very young age—maybe six or seven—I was interested in investigating food and how to make it better. My mom was an awful cook—boiling spaghetti was a challenge—but thought she was a great one. I ended up adding spices and flavorings to her recipes when she wasn’t looking, and developed skills of using herbs and spices, and of being able to remember and repeat recipes. Mom always thought it was her cooking that tasted so great. In reality she didn’t know where in the kitchen the salt shaker lived.

Very early on I began experimenting with steak sauce; it turns out my Dad LOVED spicy foods (Mom didn’t), and the steaks he brought home were the very best that could be had. So I started messing with sauces, to find one that both he and I loved, and that packed not just flavor, but heat; I have since learned, from my chef/mentor, that it takes no talent to make food suicide-hot. Any fool with a bottle of hot sauce and a loose wrist can do that. The real skill is making spicy/hot food TASTE GREAT (this has become my kitchen mantra).

Eventually I settled on one sauce blend that struck just the right note for both of us. I’ve been both fooling with it and making it ever since, and I’ve pretty much got it down to a science now. And I no longer mess with the recipe. I believe it’s pretty much perfect.

You might try making it yourself, and let me know what you think. And the quantities of peppers—there are six different kinds in the sauce—are to your liking, but I’ve got to tell you, this one is pretty darn spot on.

Try it for yourself:

Cheffzilla’s Six-Pepper Steak Sauce

Ingredients:

1 cup chili sauce (I like Heinz)

1/2 cup Heinz A-1 sauce

1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce

1 tablespoon red pepper sauce (Tabasco or Frank’s?)

1 teaspoon Asian chili-sesame oil

1 teaspoon red pepper flakes

1 tablespoon granulated garlic

1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt

2 teaspoons finely ground white pepper

1 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper

1/4 teaspoon Cayenne pepper (or more? This is where the heat comes from; the rest of the peppers are flavor)

Preparation:

Four to eight hours before you need the finished sauce, combine the first five ingredients—the liquids—in a medium bowl with the red pepper flakes, mix well, cover with plastic wrap for 1/2 – 1 hour and set aside.

Add the remaining ingredients, mix well, cover, and place in the fridge until ready to use. The sauce will keep in the fridge for up to three months, but use it up and make more.

Shrimp and White Bean Stew

I finally got to do some real cooking. I haven’t done much of that recently, what with us being empty nesters and all—both working, dogs and cats pretty much at war with each other, and my nicely blossoming indoor orchard of citrus trees. And then there’s the pending living-room remodel.

Sometimes there just isn’t much time left for real cooking. You know the kind I mean—where I actually get to start with making a stock, where I layer in the flavors thoughtfully one at a time, where I actually start with a found recipe and adjust and adapt it to my personal style and preference. Plus, since I’m now 50 pounds lighter than I was 11 months ago and plan to keep it that way, the choices I have from on-hand supplies is a bit different. Butter and flour as main ingredients aren’t much in the plan any more, so flavors and textures come from other, more creative places.

So there I was on a Friday evening, sipping quietly on a syrupy Zinfandel, and thinking through my dinner prep plan (yes, Virginia, we actual trained cooks think and make a plan).

Tonight’s menu was built around a tasty shrimp and white-bean stew with fresh basil and lemon zest, and a surprise. And it meant actually cooking!

Heaven in a kitchen.

E thought it was pretty good. I thought it was one of the best dishes I’ve eaten in a very long time. So good that I just had to write about it here, I haven’t been so inspired in a while, but tonight’s dish just struck that chord—definitely a major-seventh in D. I hope you’ll try this one. It’s a winner!

SHRIMP AND WHITE-BEAN STEW

Ingredients:

4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided

1 medium onion, chopped fine

1 pound jumbo shell-on shrimp (21-26 count), peeled, deveined, and tails removed, shells reserved

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

2 tablespoons sugar

¼ cup fresh basil, coarsely chopped

2 (15-ounce) cans cannellini beans (1 can drained and rinsed, 1 can left undrained)

2 teaspoons Thai fish sauce

1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes, drained

4 garlic cloves, peeled, halved lengthwise, and sliced thin

1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes

½ teaspoon grated lemon zest plus 1 tablespoon juice

Preparation:

1. Dissolve sugar and 1 tablespoon salt in 1 quart cold water in large container. Submerge shrimp in brine, cover, and refrigerate for 15 minutes. Remove shrimp from brine and pat dry with paper towels.

2. While the shrimp is brining, heat 1 tablespoon oil in 12-inch skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Add shrimp shells and cook, stirring frequently, until they begin to turn spotty brown and skillet starts to brown, 5 to 6 minutes. Remove skillet from heat and carefully add 1 cup water. When bubbling subsides, return skillet to medium heat and simmer gently, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes. Strain mixture through colander set over large bowl. Discard shells and reserve liquid (you should have about 1/4 cup). Wipe skillet clean with paper towels.

3. Heat 2 tablespoons oil. Add the onion, garlic, anchovies, pepper flakes, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper in now-empty skillet over medium-low heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is softened, about 5 minutes. Add 1 can drained beans, 1 can beans and their liquid, tomatoes, and shrimp stock and bring to simmer. Simmer, stirring occasionally, for 15 minutes.

4. Reduce heat to low, add shrimp, cover, and cook, stirring once during cooking, until shrimp are just opaque, 5 to 7 minutes. Remove skillet from heat and stir in basil and lemon zest and juice. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Transfer to serving dish, drizzle with remaining 1 tablespoon oil, and serve.

The Perfect Stir-fry Sauce—Two Ways

I need to talk about stir-fry sauce.

This has been a source of consternation for E and I for several years now, because we love to stir fry. It’s simple, quick, useful, healthy, and much better than calling for takeout whenever the mood strikes (which for me happens way more often than it should. It is also a fabulous way to use up those on-the-edge things that live in your vegetable bin–half an onion in a plastic container, old scallions, bunches of cilantro, last week’s broccoli, that remaining half head of cabbage, celery and carrots you’d like to refresh…

We have tried to incorporate a stir fry in our weekly menu plan, but sometimes we just seem to avoid it because it’s hard to get the sauce right consistently–and there’s not much worse in meal prep than a bad stir-fry sauce.

Problem solved!

It’s so simple you’ll wonder why you haven’t run across this before–I know I did. But now I have the solution, courtesy of Pinterest and a website called buildyourbite-dot-com and it’s curator, Joy Shull.

It’s perfect. Cruise on over there and have a look (Www.buildyourbite.com).

Thank me later,

So here’s the plan for the perfect–and adaptable–stir fry sauce. I have made it two different ways, regular and extra-spicy. Joy’s recommendation is to make it this way, uncooked and storable, and to always start your stir fry with fresh minced garlic and ginger. I concur. But I have found that it is a brilliantly conceived sauce base to add rice wine, peanuts, fresh basil or Thai basil, fish sauce, Star-anise, Chinese Five Spice, hoisin or plum sauce–whatever flavors your heart desires. And, of course, your favorite protein. A little goes a long way–about 2 tablespoons is right for a 2-4-serving stir fry. Too much is probably too much. Taste as you go.

I particularly like it on shredded cabbage with a tiny little bit of red onion, but that’s just me.

Just stir fry. Often.

Ingredients:

1/3 cup plus 2 Tbsp light soy sauce (gluten free if you wish)

1/4 cup toasted sesame-seed oil (hot-chili-sesame oil for the spicy version)

1 tablespoon cornstarch

Preparation:

Add the soy sauce and cornstarch to a Mason jar and shake WELL until combined.

Remove the lid, add the sesame oil and shake WELL again, to completely combine.

Then commence stir frying: start with a bit of peanut or other neutral oil in a HOT pan or wok, add the garlic and ginger and stir for ONLY 30 SECONDS, then immediately start adding your other ingredients, starting with the hardest or firmest, and working toward the most delicate. If including a protein, do that first, remove to a plate and set aside before adding produce.

When the produce is almost done–still crisply is best–add the protein back, toss to combine, and add the sauce and whatever other flavor ingredients you wish. Toss to coat and until the sauce starts to thicken. Then turn off the heat. My chef/mentor taught me to always add one tablespoon rice wine–off heat–and toss before serving. Take that for what it’s worth.

The stir-fry sauce can be stored at room temp in an airtight glass container, but must be shaken well before using, because the cornstarch will settle out.

The Best EVER Mushroom Soup

Mushroom soup: love it or hate it. Me? LOVE IT!!!

So I just had a hankering. Did you ever have a hankering?

Something that happened today–I can’t even remember what it was–that reminded me of growing up. I got to thinking about some memories of when I was a kid in Philly. Ball in the street, summer or winter, sledding on the Weiner’s hill behind the house, smoking cigarettes in my friend’s garage–way too young. And soup. My Mom always had soup ready to eat.

Now I have to go on record here with full disclosure–my Mom was a lousy cook–until, that is, until she started taking cooking classes after I left the house; she couldn’t take classes when I was growing up because I was a handful, and she never seemed to have time.

But soup? She could keep soup on the table. Campbell’s was always plentiful–tomato, chicken noodle, vegetable beef, cream of mushroom. Always cream of mushroom. It was a comfort food for me.

Those chefs at the Campbell’s Soup Company in Camden, NJ sure knew the way to my heart. And my Mom was surely smart enough to know when to open a can of soup.

When I went to work in the big kitchen in South Beach, what I remembered most was soup, and luckily enough, the market was legendary for its soups–they always had fifteen or twenty different soups in the display cases for your dining pleasure. Matzoh ball, three kinds of vegetable, red and white clam chowders–if you could suggest a soup they didn’t make they’d have it for sale within a week.

So I decided to make the soup (not sous) chef my best friend. I watched. I listened. I learned. And it became a specialty for me (have you had the chance to attend one of our (alas, late lamented) annual soup parties? Maybe some day we’ll revive the soup party. We’re working on ideas.

Anyhow, I digress.

Mushroom soup. I had a hankering. So I cruised the Internet for a mushroom soup that struck a chord. And I found one (actually, I found many, but I chose one to make that wasn’t too labor-intensive and would strike just the perfect note on a fall afternoon.

I massaged the recipe a bit–as I am wont to do–and came up with a luscious, creamy, dreamy chilly afternoon mushroom soup. Try this one at home…

Ingredients:

  • 1 large white onion – diced
  • 2 8-ounce packages white button mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
  • 1 8-ounce package baby portabello mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
  • 10 stalks fresh thyme – leaves removed
  • 2 cups vegetable broth–organic if you have it
  • 1 tbs. AP or tapioca flour or potato starch – don’t use corn starch here
  • 1 cup milk – if you want it vegan use almond, soy, or coconut milk
  • 1 15-ounce can white beans
  • 1 dried bay leaf
  • 1/2 tbs. fish sauce, or liquid aminos if you want it vegan
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • freshly ground white and black pepper

Preparation:

  1. In a large saucepan, over medium heat, add the diced onions. Allow to sweat while slicing the mushrooms. About 5-7 minutes.
  2. Move onions to the sides of the saucepan and add mushrooms, allow to cook 5 minutes uncovered.
  3. Stir the onions and mushrooms together. Add fresh thyme and allow to continue to cook, at least 10 minutes.
  4. You will notice a substantial amount of water has come out of the mushrooms, and they are reduced in volume by half.
  5. Add the bay leaf, the salt and the liquid aminos to the mushrooms
  6. Place the white beans and broth in a blender and liquefy the beans. Add the bean/broth and the milk to the mushrooms. Stir to mix
  7. Whisk the flour or potato starch into 1/2 cup cold water to completely dissolve the starch. Slowly add the starch slurry to the soup, stirring as you do. Mix well to combine the ingredients
  8. Reduce to a slow simmer and cook for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Taste and add freshly ground black pepper to taste.

Mediterranean Roasted Tomato, Garlic, and Basil Soup

So let me tell you about making soup in August.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is img_0689.jpg

I mean, who makes—let alone eats—soup in August? Except that, in August the garden out back is simply bursting with wonderful stuff, more than we newly empty nesters can possibly consume in a year when home entertaining is pretty much taboo.

So, Soup.

Out back I have five varieties of tomatoes, both heirlooms from the Landis Valley Farm Museum Seed Project, and Camparis and San Marzanos I started from saved seeds. We simply can’t consume all these tomatoes ourselves as they ripen, so I have to be creative and productive, and be ready to squirrel away tomatoes for the winter months, when the tomatoes at the grocery store come from South America. Yech! Plus, there’s the herb garden—thyme, sage, oregano, parsley, chives, sweet and Thai basil…

But…Soup?

Okay, okay. So I made copious quarts of sauce last week (recipe here: https://jeffskitchen.net/2013/08/25/canning-a-fabulous-marinara-sauce-quickly-and-simply/). And a batch of chutney. And admittedly, I will harvest, roast, peel, and can the last of the San Marzanos and Amish Pastes when the chill arrives—if it ever arrives—so that I have them to cook with in late fall and winter. And there is panzanella (recipe here: https://jeffskitchen.net/2018/07/02/authentic-tuscan-panzanella/ ) to be enjoyed while the big slicers are around.

Ergo, Soup!

This here recipe is about as good as soup recipes can get, especially if you like tomato soup. It’s not that “just-add-water-and-serve-with-grilled-cheese” creamy stuff from concentrate (although I have to admit, that’s pretty good too). And it’s not cold summer Gazpacho (although that’s pretty good too if you like cucumbers (recipe here: https://jeffskitchen.net/2013/07/16/cheffzillas-gazpacho-with-a-kick/).

But it’s a warm and flavorful chunky Mediterranean-style garden soup that tastes great, is completely vegan, freezes beautifully, and is even good cold.

So, if your garden is overflowing with tomatoes, if a bunch show up in the break room at work, if you can’t resist the huge piles of giant fresh tomatoes at the farmer’s market, or if you just want something sweet and swell, try this soup. It’s even one of the easiest soups you’ll ever make.

Then, SOUP!

Ingredients:

• 3 lb Roma tomatoes, halved, or whatever assortment you have on hand

• 2 to 3 carrots, cut into small chunks

• 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil (I used home made garlic-infused EVOO)

• 2 teaspoons salt and 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

• 2 medium yellow onions, chopped

• 5-10 garlic cloves (to taste), smashed (I used a whole head of garlic)

• 1 14-oz can crushed tomatoes (Muir Fire-roasted, if you can find them)

• 1 cup packed, fresh basil leaves, coarsely chopped

• 3 to 4 sprigs fresh thyme, or 2 tsp dried thyme leaves

• 2-3 sprigs fresh oregano, or 1 tsp dried oregano

• 1 tsp sweet paprika (you could use smoked paprika if you like, but I think it’s one too many flavors)

• 1 tsp ground cumin

• 2 1/2 cups vegetable stock

• Juice of 1 fresh lime

Preparation:

Heat oven to 400 degrees F.

• In a large mixing bowl, combine tomatoes, garlic, and carrot pieces. Add a generous drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. Toss to combine.

• Transfer to a large baking sheet and spread well in one layer. Roast in heated oven for about 45 minutes. When ready, remove from the heat and set aside for about 10 minutes to cool.

• Transfer the roasted tomatoes, garlic, and carrots, and all the juice to a food processor fitted with a blade, and blend till just barely chunky.

• In a large enamel or stainless (NOT ALUMINUM!!!) soup pot, heat 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil over medium-high heat until shimmering but not smoking. Add onions and cook for about 3 minutes, then add salt and pepper and cook briefly until golden. Don’t let the onions burn.

• Pour the roasted tomato mixture into the cooking pot. Stir in canned tomatoes, vegetable stock, basil, thyme, and spices. Season with a little kosher salt and black pepper. Bring to a boil, then lower heat and cover part-way. Let simmer for about 30 minutes or so.

• Remove the thyme springs, squeeze in the lime juice, and transfer tomato basil soup to serving bowls. If you like, add a generous drizzle of olive oil. Serve with your favorite crusty bread or grilled pieces of French baguette. Enjoy!

%d bloggers like this: