Author Archives: Jeff's Kitchen
Tired of the run of the mill on Thanksgiving? Did you have the same-old same old? Not in this house we didn’t. Oh sure, we had a turkey–that world-class butterflied turkey roasted over root vegetable panzanella that I’ve been touting for a few years now (https://jeffskitchen.net/2013/12/25/christmas-2013-butterflied-turkey-root-vegetable-panzanella-and-mushroom-). The panzanella is amazing, and the barley pilaf is too.
But I’ve done something different than plain old cranberry sauce (not that my cranberry sauce is “plain old,” but lately I’ve been experimenting with chutneys, so I decided to attempt a cranberry chutney, just to add a little spice to the celebration, as if any more spice was really needed.
Also, Ellen dazzled with an amazing totally vegan mince pie, but I’ll save that for the next post.
So. Cranberry chutney. Actually, it’s a lot more complex than cranberry. It’s cranberry-apple-pear-ginger–you get the idea. But a real chutney it is, and it was spectacular. It also cans well, so if you’re into putting your wonderful cooking up in jars, this one is a perfect addition to your condiment shelf, and makes a great gift, as well.
4 cups fresh cranberries
2 cups white sugar
3/4 cup water
1/2 cup cider vinegar
6 whole cloves
2 cinnamon sticks
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, and diced (1/2-inch dice)
1 firm Red, Bosc, or Anjou pear, peeled, cored, and diced (1/2-inch dice)
1 small sweet onion, finely chopped
1 cup golden raisins
1/3 cup chrystallized ginger, finely chopped
In a large enamel-coated or stainless-steel pot over medium heat, combine cranberries, sugar, water, vinegar, cloves, cinnamon sticks, and salt. Bring to a boil and cook until the cranberries pop, 10-15 minutes. Turn the heat down to a simmer and add the apples, pears, onions, raisins, and ginger, and stir well. Continue to cook, stirring often until thick, 20-30 minutes. Remove from the heat, discard the cinnamon sticks and cloves (if you can find them), and allow to cool to room temperature. Chill at least 2 hours before serving.
Alternately, you can can the chutney. In this case, leave the heat under the chutney at the lowest setting. Wash and sterilizing 6 half-pint jars and lids, and prepare a water-bath canning pot. When boiling, place the jars in the water and turn down the heat to medium-low. Remove one jar at a time, pour the water back into the canning pot, and carefully fill the jar, leaving 1/4-inch headspace. Using a knife, slowly stir the hot chutney to remove any air bubbles that remain in the jar. Wipe the rim and threads of the jar and tighten the lid to hand tight. Set the jar back in the canning pot and repeat the filling process until all the jars are filled. Return the canner to a boil, cover, and boil for 15 minutes. Remove the jars from the canner and set on a wire rack and allow to cool to room temperature. The jars have sealed if the lids pop inward, so that they are concave. If the last jar is not filled to within 1/4 inch of the top, do not process it, but allow it to cool to room temperature, then refrigerate. It will keep in the refrigerator for two weeks. If any of the processed jars don’t seal, they will keep in the refrigerator for two weeks. Give them as gifts.
It’s as easy as it gets, and even better to put on a salad.
It’s the vinaigrette salad dressing that changed the salad-eating habits of Miami Beach folk forever. Before this small beauty came along, salad dressing meant Wishbone or Milano French dressing. Out in Vegas they were creating Caesar dressing, but in South Florida this was the magic, and it was oh, so simple. You can keep the memory alive with this simple dressing, just the way we made it.
6 ounces first cold-pressed extra-virgin olive oil
2 ounces red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon agave sugar (granulated will do in a pinch)
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 garlic clove, smashed but not chopped
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon dried marjoram
Make the dressing 24 hours in advance.
Place all the ingredients except the olive oil and the garlic clove in a stainless steel or other non-reactive bowl and mix well. Pour into a glass jar, add the garlic clove, cover and refrigerate for 24 hours.
Immediately before serving, remove the garlic clove, pour the dressing back into the sam bowl, beat rapidly with a wire whisk, and slowly drizzle the olive oil into the bowl to incorporate the ingredients. Add the garlic clove back into the dressing, pour into a serving vessel like a gravy boat, and serve immediately.
The dressing can be made ahead with the olive oil incorporated, but you will need to bring it to room temperature and whip rapidly before serving.
So yesterday our next-door neighbor presented us with a lovely surprise: fresh-picked figs from her tree. What to do…what to do? So I perused the Internet to see what could be done with beautiful, overripe figs. and you know what? Turns out there are too many recipes to choose from. So I took the dilemma to the family, to ask what they might like to see done with fresh figs, and here’s what I came up with: fig jam.
I haven’t had much to do with figs in forty years, when I had my own fig tree growing beside our house. Of course, there are always Fig Newtons, but why try to emulate them, since it’s almost impossible to improve on the ones I can get at the grocery store.
But jam? What an intriguing idea. I like jam. We enjoy the occasional English muffin with a fresh-made jam and a cup of tea–so very English, you know.
So here’s what I’m doing:
1 whole lemon
¾ cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons honey
1 ½ tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 teaspoons espresso balsamic vinegar
4 sprigs freshly cut thyme
1 pound very ripe figs
With a vegetable peeler, carefully take the outer layer of lemon peel off the lemon with as little of the white pith as possible. Toss the lemon into a medium-size, heavy-bottom pot. Add the remaining ingredients except the figs to the pot and mix well, until the sugar dissolves. Stem the figs and cut them into quarters, and add them to the pot, mixing again.
Bring the ingredients to a boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally; reduce the heat to low to medium-low, so that it continues to simmer gently. Stir occasionally, to prevent the jam from burning for 40 to 50 minutes, depending on how thick you want the final product. Remove the lemon peel and the thyme sprigs from the pot and discard. Mash the solids or whizz them with an immersion blender until the pieces are small.
Pour the jam into sterilized half-pint jars—you should get about two—and allow them to cool to room temperature. Place in the refrigerator, where it will keep for about a month. Alternatively, it can be canned and processed in a water bath for 10 minutes. Use normal water-bath canning procedures to do so, leaving ¼ inch of head space before setting the lids. This recipe can be doubled or tripled, but no more.
I can’t believe I’ve done it.
I’ve spent the past 35 years in search of the perfect recipe for cold peanut/sesame noodle salad. I’ve tried recipes from restaurants, cookbooks, friends, enemies, the Internet…you name it, I’ve tried it. I’ve experimented with numerous methods and techniques, different types of noodles, flavor combinations native to different nationalities–Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese, Korean, Burmese. I’ve tried different levels of spice and heat. I’ve experimented with the participants in cooking classes I’ve taught.
And each time there seemed to be some element of the recipe missing. I always thought: good, but not just perfect.
I think I’ve done it.
Recognizing, of course, that each of you has your own version of what’s perfect in this classic–it’s one of those recipes that you use to gauge how good an Asian restaurant is. This is one of mine.
I started my quest with my long-time friend Vicki (are you still with me, Vicki Corey? I bow in your general direction), who shared with me the basic concept of “threes.” Three tablespoons of this, that, and the other, three teaspoons of this and that. And this recipe, which I still have and which is reproduced way back in the early pages of this blog (here’s the link: https://jeffskitchen.net/?s=Vicki%27s, or search on Vicki’s Noodles), has served me extremely well. No matter where or which recipe I tried I kept coming back to this one as being as close to perfect as I had found. It even once won me a “Philly’s Best” award when I was making it for a small gourmet shop in Ardmore, PA, a place known for good food.
It’s (in my view) just the right amount of spicy/hot for everyone, but if you like it spicier/hotter, add more chili oil or some Sriracha to suit yourself. In this version of the recipe I’ll recommend specific ingredient brands, most of which are available at your local Asian grocery store.
Also, when you read my recommendation for the noodles to use, you’ll holler, “WHAT??? THAT’S NOT ASIAN!” Okay, I know that. But what are you expecting? Authentic or perfect? I’ll opt for perfect.
Try it. You’ll like it. Guaranteed!
Spicy Sesame Peanut-Noodle Salad
1 box (13.25 oz) rotini or fusilli whole wheat noodles, cooked al dente’
3 Tablespoons premium dark soy sauce
3 Tablespoons brown rice vinegar
1 Tablespoon fish sauce
2 Tablespoons toasted dark sesame seed oil
2 teaspoons sesame chili oil
3 Tablespoons dark brown sugar
3 Tablespoons Crazy Richard’s crunchy peanut butter
1/3 cup chopped red cabbage
1 medium carrot, shredded fine
1/3 cup chopped green onion, divided
1/3 cup chopped peanuts, divided
½ cup FRESH(!) bean sprouts
- Whisk the next seven ingredients (soy sauce through peanut butter) until they are completely blended.
- Cook the noodles per package, 1 minute LESS than the recommended al dente’ time; drain 5-10 minutes, but DO NOT RINSE.
- Place the noodles in a large bowl, add the sauce and toss to coat all the noodles well.
- Add the cabbage, carrot, ¼ cup green onion, ¼ cup peanuts, and bean sprouts and toss again to coat all the ingredients. If you wish a more Thai flavor, add ¼ cup shredded fresh Thai basil or chopped cilantro.
- If you wish to add a protein—slices of grilled chicken, steak, shrimp, or tofu, do it now.
- Allow to stand until the salad reaches room temperature.
Garnish with the remaining peanuts and green onion and serve at room temperature or refrigerate for later, but allow to return to room temperature for serving (garnish when serving).
And by the way, if you’re truly interested in an authentic Sesame Noodle salad or if you’re allergic to nuts, replace the peanut butter with tahini. And for an authentic noodle, you can use either 8 ounces medium rice noodles, or Soba or Udon noodles.
I came across an intriguing recipe the other day, and it looked about halfway unbelievable. I thought I might be able to improve it, and improve it I did. I changed it up from the original because A) doing so here would approximate plagiarism; B) I think my version came out way better than the original; and C) I’m not the biggest fan of zucchini in one-pot dishes–I find it to be mushy and I don’t think it adds significantly to the flavor layers in the dish. In most Asian cuisines there are layers of complex flavor and texture, and to me, zucchini doesn’t contribute enough to the dish to make it into the final product. I will, however, provide you with a link to the original at the end of the post.
The recipe as presented is vegetarian, but if you so desire, please try it with chicken, shrimp, pork, beef, or tofu for a jolt of protein and additional body. If you wish to add chicken, beef, or pork, cut into 1-2-inch strips and pound them flat (cut tofu into 1-inch cubes); marinate them 30-60 minutes in 2 Tbsp light soy sauce and 2 Tbsp rice vinegar; add them to the pot after the eggs are cooked; stir-fry them until just barely done; then set aside and continue on, and add them back just before adding the sauce. I am also presenting you options for oils, mushrooms, and leafy herbs based on your preferences. Any will work, in any combination–that’s the beauty of Thai cooking: options abound, while techniques remain the same.
This is a very tasty and simple-to-make one-pot noodle dish, and I highly recommend you try it when you need something quick, tasty, and different.
Spicy Thai Noodles
1 8-ounce package medium-width rice noodles
2 Tbsp peanut, coconut, or vegetable oil, divided
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1 head bok choi, chopped, largest leaves chopped into strips
8 ounces mushroom (preferably shiitake, but white will do), chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbsp brown sugar
1/3 cup low sodium soy sauce
2 tsp fish sauce (optional)
1.5 teaspoon Sriracha hot sauce (or more if you wish, up to 1.5 Tbsp–you know what you like)
2 inches fresh ginger, grated
1/4 cup fresh Thai basil (or sweet basil or cilantro–whichever you prefer), chopped
4 green onions, chopped
1/4 cup peanuts, chopped
1. In a large heavy pot, fill halfway with water, salt, and bring to a boil. Add the noodles and cook according to package directions. Drain and set aside.
2. In a medium bowl combine brown sugar, soy sauce, fish sauce if you are using it, sriracha, and ginger; whisk well to combine; set aside.
3. Return the pot to the stove, heat over medium heat, and add 1 Tbsp oil. Add beaten eggs and red pepper flakes and stir to scramble the eggs. Once cooked, set aside with pasta.
4. Return the pot to stove, heat remaining 1 TBS oil over medium heat. Add the bok choi, mushrooms, and garlic. Saute over medium high heat for 5-6 minutes or until veggies are cooked through but the white stalks are still crisp.
5. Turn heat down to low, add pasta and eggs back to pot, then pour the sauce mixture over the top. Using a wooden spoon, stir well to coat pasta and vegetables with sauce. Remove from heat, add peanuts, green onions, and basil or cilantro; stir to combine, then garnish with additional chopped peanuts and chopped green onions.
6. Serve immediately.
Notes: Serve warm or cold – it’s great both ways! If you choose shrimp as your protein, add that when there is about 2-3 minutes left with for the veggies to cook.
Also, if you wish to see the original recipe from which this is adapted, you can find it here: http://pin.it/smcI5bM
I can’t believe how good this is. I also can’t believe that I can cook Indian food this good.
Curried cauliflower and sweet potatoes and lentils? All that, and it’s low fat, almost zero carbs, lots of fiber and protein–it’s just about a perfect food.
We do meatless Monday around here, and I’m always trying to find ways to overcome the meat chromosome in my DNA. It’s tough sledding, but I’m getting better at it.
So red lentils form the foundation of this wonderful vegan stew, and it’s so easy to do and so good that it has, after one attempt, moved into regular rotation.
Even the kids liked it. It’s fragrant and delicious, and if you’re into vegan or vegetarian, I urge you to try this one. You’ll like if for sure.
Curried Cauliflower, Red Lentil, and Sweet Potato Stew
2 tablespoons coconut or extra-virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 large sweet onion, diced
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons fresh ginger, minced
2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and diced
1/2 head cauliflower, cut into florets
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 1/2 cups red lentils, rinsed
6 cups vegetable stock
Chopped fresh cilantro
1. Heat oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add cumin, turmeric, and curry powder and stir until fragrant, 2-3 minutes. Add onion and a few pinches of salt, and cook, stirring, until tender, about 6 minutes. Add garlic and ginger and cook, stirring, until tender, 1-2 minutes. Add sweet potatoes, bell pepper, and cauliflower and cook 3 minutes, stirring constantly.
2. Add lentils and stock. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until the lentils are tender, 25-30 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
3. Top with chopped cilantro before serving.
I’m a sucker for French onion soup.
Rich and fragrant, ooey-gooey cheesy, intensely flavored, and most of all, familiar. I try it whenever I find it on a menu, every single time. About half the time I’m disappointed. I’ve tried several times to create a good-as-a-restaurant French onion soup, with mixed results. I’ve made some pretty good ones and some pretty bad ones. Alas, the good ones are so labor intensive that I just don’t have the time, or the inclination, to repeat them. Complicating the problem is that we don’t eat beef around here, so making this pot-o-gold has become a real challenge.
So did I give up? You know better. I decided to create my own recipe. Trial and error usually works, so long as I’m willing to be patient. And dogged.
My rules were simple. It had to be good–restaurant good. It had to be vegetarian. And it had to be easy to make. Did I mention that it had to be good?
The trick is to layer lots of flavors in perfect balance, and know what flavors work well together. It turns out I know these things; I learned them from my cooking mentor Martin Betonio, the Filipino kitchen magician from Miami Beach.
And I make it in a slow cooker.
So here then, is my vegetarian easy-to-make, restaurant-good French onion soup.
6 Tablespoons unsalted butter
4 large sweet onions, halved and sliced
2 tablespoons sweet paprika
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 large cloves fresh garlic, finely minced
2 Knorr-Swiss vegetable bouillon cubes (Do not substitute other brands!)
6 ounces dry sherry
2 tablespoons dark soy sauce
7 cups vegetable stock
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon dried thyme
Freshly ground black pepper
1 baguette, sliced into ¾-inch slices and toasted under the broiler on both sides
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
1 cup shredded gruyere cheese
Fresh parsley, coarsely minced, for garnish
Melt the butter in a large, heavy stock pot over medium-high heat; add the onions and paprika and saute, stirring occasionally, until transparent. It’s okay if they brown, but don’t let them burn. Add the sugar and mash the bouillon cubes into the onions, turn the heat down to medium-low, and cook, stirring occasionally, another 10 minutes. Add the garlic and stir until the garlic is fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add the sherry and stir, scraping any brown bits from the bottom, until the pot is deglazed.
Pour the onion mixture into a crockpot. Add the stock, soy sauce, bay leaf, thyme, and black pepper, cover and cook on high for six hours, then low for two more, or eight -10 hours on low. Remove the bay leaf and adjust for salt and pepper, and add a bit of sherry, if desired.
To serve, ladle the soup into oven-proof bowls, place 2 toasted rounds on the soup, then top with 2 tablespoons each of mozzarella and then Gruyere, and place under the broiler until brown and bubbly. Garnish with chopped fresh parsley and serve immediately.
Do you slave over a hot stove for hours perfecting your generations-old spaghetti sauce? The one your grandmother made, the one your mother made, the one your aunt across town made and to whom you traveled on Sundays because “her gravy was THE ONE!”
I don’t. At least not any more.
Blame it on Nino.
He is Nino Elia. He’s a chef of note here in the Lancaster PA area, who specializes in-home dinner parties, small events, and private cooking classes. Ellen and I met him doing a cooking-class presentation at my new favorite gourmet shop in the area, Zest! They called it Date Night with Nino!, and boy was it ever. Sixteen (mostly) cooking enthusiasts who love to get together and have a good time. This particular event was all about cooking Sicilian.
Nino presented pan-fried Kalamata olives with rosemary and ricotta salata, pollo alla vucciria–which he called Chicken Chaos (aptly named!), and spaghetti con pomodoro arrosto al forno, which basically is spaghetti with oven-roasted tomatoes and basil. It was all amazing.
When I was single and living in Olde City Philadelphia I used to make the spaghetti dish almost every night, because it is filling, healthy, cheap, and simple. But I didn’t know it had a name–to me it was spaghetti with a quick, fresh tomato and basil condiment.
Nino has raised this dish to an art form, taking it to a place beyond what I knew of Sicilian cuisine. It isn’t actually very far from what I used to make, but far enough to have awakened in me a new appreciation for what gets made for dinner in Sicily. I can imagine this dish being served nightly at homes all over the Italian island, and no one ever tiring of it–in fact, one can imagine alterations from time to time to keep the idea fresh.
So no more long, loving hours in the kitchen with red gravy (save that for some other recipe). Don’t cook your sauce to death. This one reeks of fresh ingredients. But also, it is so quick and simple that you will likely want to make this one of your go-to “dinners in a hurry.” That’s the way it ought to be.
Spaghetti con pomodoro arrosto al forno
12 ripe Roma tomatoes
5-8 cloves fresh garlic, minced
1 bunch fresh basil, divided
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
kosher salt and pepper to taste
For the sauce: Cut the tomatoes in half and place on an olive-oiled baking sheet, skin side down. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, garlic, chopped basil, and olive oil. Bake for 20 minutes in a pre-heated 400-degree oven. After 20 minutes turn the tomatoes cut side down an bake for another 10 minutes. Remove from the oven, cover loosely with foil, and set aside until just before the pasta is finished. Pick off the skins and half the sauce in a large saute pan over low heat. Chop or mash the tomatoes into chunks, taste for salt and pepper and adjust the flavor.
For the pasta: Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil. When the tomatoes come out of the oven, add a tablespoon salt to the boiling water and stir once. Then add a box of spaghetti, stir once or twice, and cook for 2 minutes less than the recommended time on the package for al-dente pasta (the timing is important–the pasta will continue to cook after you remove it from the water). With a slotted spoon, remove the pasta from the water and place it in the pan with the sauce. Toss lightly to coat the pasta with the sauce.
Serve the pasta topped with the remaining sauce, garnished with more freshly chopped basil, freshly grated Parmesano Reggiano, and a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil.
Want to see more of Nino? Check him out at: https://www.facebook.com/Nino-Elia-145679935496202/
I think that this is becoming one of my life’s passions. Perhaps my single favorite bring-along dish when we go avisitin’ in the summertime is cold Asian sesame noodles–peanut noodles, for those of you who have been following along or catching the occasional posts I jam into this space. It’s also my favorite food, one that I am in constant movement toward the perfect version of this well-known and highly popular dish.
Sesame noodles. Just the words themselves send me into paroxysms of joy. Thinking about them make me quiver and want to try yet another version.
I won a local cooking prize once with my original version, which is not really my version, but rather a gift recipe given to me by a friend more than 30 years ago. Since then I have tweaked and twirled the recipe, made it twice weekly for a late, lamented gourmet shop in Ardmore, PA (where the chef gave me wonderful input for moving the recipe closer toward perfect), produced at least two dozen different versions for my own edification–always in the service of finding one single blend that might become my “always” recipe.
The difference in the recipes is always the sauce (duh!). There are as many different versions of the sauce as there are versions of Hoagy Carmichael’s Stardust. At least.
I took a stab at a recipe I found courtesy of the New York Times that was touted as “authentic,” one that stated the opinion that if it contained peanut butter it’s not sesame noodles (to that I retort: Bosh!!). That recipe was good–great, actually, but it wasn’t “The One.”
So on goes the search.
I found another recipe I decided to try that seems more authentic, and I made that, twice, the first time exactly as the recipe was written and then with a couple of tiny tweaks that I have found actually made my own version better.
So, because I understand that cold sesame noodle salad is entirely a personal preference thing, I’m going to present you with my latest attempt at perfection, one I got from a Vietnamese cook who swears that this is the true authentic cold sesame-noodle salad. Try this one on for size:
SICHUAN COLD NOODLE SALAD
8 ounces flat rice noodles
2 ribs celery, thinly sliced on the diagonal
1 large carrot, julienne cut
8 ounces fresh bean sprouts
3 tablespoons Chinese sesame paste (acceptable substitution is 2½ tablespoons tahini and 1½ teaspoon toasted sesame-seed oil)
2 tablespoons Chinese brown-rice vinegar
2½ tablespoons regular soy sauce
1½ teaspoons dark soy sauce
1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon Chinese chili paste (or more, or less, as you prefer)
1 heaping teaspoon Sichuan peppercorns, toasted and coarsely ground with a mortar and pestle
2 tablespoons toasted sesame-seed oil
12 ounces poached chicken breast, hand shredded
2 scallions, green parts only, cut into thin rounds
1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds
Cook the noodles according to the package instructions, always using the minimum recommended cooking time. Add the celery and carrot, cook one minute more, then plunge the noodles into cold water. Important tip: Do not overcook the noodles, they become mushy very quickly. Flush with cold water twice, until the water runs clear, and drain well. Toss with one tablespoon toasted sesame-seed oil and set aside.
Stir together all the sauce ingredients except the toasted peppers until smooth and well mixed. Taste and tweak the flavors with the sauce ingredients to find the blend of tangy, spicy, salty, and sweet that suits your taste. It should be slightly more pungent than you want, because the other ingredients will dilute the flavor a bit. When you are happy with the flavor, add the toasted peppercorns and mix well. Allow to rest about 10 minutes before mixing into the sauce (the sauce can be held in the refrigerator up to 3 days; allow it to come to room temperature and stir well before using).
To serve, toss the noodles, bean sprouts, and the chicken in a large bowl, add the remaining sesame-seed oil, pour the sauce over the top, toss once gently, and sprinkle with the sesame seeds and green onions.
You can also consider other optional ingredients to add: shredded red cabbage, julienned broccoli stems, dried tofu cubes, coarsely chopped peanuts, sliced water chestnuts, chopped fresh basil or cilantro.
Perfect? Pretty darn close. This version of the recipe allows you to adjust the flavors for yourself to find the blend that pleases you.
Isn’t that the essence of cooking?