I haven’t written much recently because I have been in project management mode in preparation for our move from Chicago to Houston. Since mid January, we have purchased a new home in Houston, Dennis started a new job, we embarked on a renovation project involving a gut rehab of the kitchen, and have been preparing our Chicago home to go up for sale. It’s a lot of work staging one house to sell while decorating another, especially in two different cities that requires me to zigzag back and forth every other week. Managing contractors, plumbers, electricians, painters, real estate agents and decorators doesn’t leave much time for cooking. Not to mention our temporary accommodations in Houston are not as not as well equipped as my Chef’s kitchen in Chicago, which means we have been eating out a lot. Who would have thought a year ago when we were DYING to go to a restaurant that we would be sick of eating out!
On my last trip back to Chicago, I thought I better clean out the refrigerator and noticed the sourdough starter that I had been neglecting over the past several weeks. It looked pretty sickly, with a watery layer covering the gluey flour mixture. I opened it and gave it a sniff and it smelled pretty much the same as the last time I had fed it back in late February. After a quick Google search to inquire about how to tell when sourdough starter had gone off, it didn’t seem that it was exhibiting any of the symptoms of death (namely a red/orange streak or mold growth), so I decided to try feeding it to see if there was still any life in it.
I fed it and left it to sit out overnight and when I went to the kitchen to make coffee, I was pleasantly surprised to see that the starter still seemed to have life in it. It had more than doubled overnight, though did seem to be a bit less lively than when I had been feeding it regularly. I did a little more research and learned that it is suggested to feed “neglected” started more frequently until it doubles in 8 hours (or less), so I fed it again and left it on the counter while I went about my chores for the day. When I checked back later that afternoon, it had more than doubled in 8 hours, so it seemed that I hadn’t killed it after all! The only way to find out was to try making bread.
Since it was 9 pm on Wednesday evening and I was flying back to Houston on Thursday afternoon, it was now or never. I made a batch of dough and folded it over once. The recipe calls for letting it rest and repeating the stretch and folding process, so I went to wash my face and brush my teeth so that I could crawl into bed immediately. Truth be told, the second fold and stretch never happened as I fell asleep while waiting the extra 20 minutes since I was so tired. I woke up on Thursday morning to see the abandoned dough and the television still on, The dough had risen overnight, so I rather than discard it, I thought I may as well conclude my experiment and see just how robust this stuff is. I stretched the dough, prepared my dutch oven and preheated the oven.
When the timer went off after 25 minutes, I lifted the lid expecting that it would be a dud, but was pleasantly surprised to see the bread looked just like the success loaves I had baked since receiving the starter from my friend Jenny. I returned it to the oven for the remaining 20 minutes. It was nice and brown and although it was not as high as some loaves I had made, it certainly had risen and looked like a beautiful sourdough boule. As I removed it from the pot and placed it on the cooling rack, I could hear it crackling as the dough continued to expand. An hour later, I cut into it for the final test . . . it was delicious! I texted Jenny to tell her that i hadn’t killed the starter after all, to which she replied “it’s impossible to kill!” I brought the loaf to Houston with me and it made for a tasty avocado toast with an over easy egg for breakfast.
Last, but not least, it was Timmy Lynch’s turn to spend the day in the kitchen with me. As the youngest at 8 years old, (and 11 and 8 years younger than older brothers Billy and joe) “the Caboose” is not very adventurous about food, so I wasn’t sure what we were going to cook. He announced during Joe’s Spaghetti & Meatballs dinner “I want to make Fried Chicken when it’s my turn”, which I thought was funny since we had already made it together before Christmas. It’s his choice, so fried chicken it would be, but if he thought he was taking the easy way out by choosing something he knew didn’t involve knives he was in for a surprise.
What goes better with fried chicken than Potato Salad?? So, while the chicken was brining, the first order of business was to get the potatoes prepped to cook, which meant cutting them into smaller pieces and using a knife. I know his mother would have been cringing and worried about a trip to the emergency room, but with some instruction and careful supervision Timmy did a great job and not a drop of blood was shed. While the potatoes were boiling and I chopped the celery, onions and dill, I put Timmy in charge of making the dressing, which is essentially a lot of measuring, so no sharp objects involved (I figured I’d quit while I was ahead on the safety front).
With the potato salad done, it was time to take the chicken out of the brine and rinse it. While the chicken came to room temperature, we had time to make an appetizer to serve when the rest of the Lynch clan arrived to snack on while the chicken was cooking. Guacamole is a hit with everyone, so we got to work on making it. Once again, I took care of the chopping and mincing, but Timmy was in charge of the rest. One perk of being the chef is you get to be the taste tester and dip the first chip. “Delicious” was the verdict and we were ready to focus on the main event.
Now we were ready to go and the Lynches arrived just in time to watch the fried chicken production. We set up a dredging station with the seasoned flour and buttermilk. I heated the oil and dunked the chicken pieces in the flour, then buttermilk, then flour again and it was ready to be fried. We may have survived the knives, but now we had to face hot oil, so safety was key to ensure we wouldn’t be heading to the burn unit. I took care of the frying and Timmy whisked up the Honey Hot Sauce.
At last it was time to eat . . . some champagne for the grownups, which is the perfect pairing. It was a deliciously fun day and the rest of the Lynch clan loved it all. As a bonus they took home leftovers for dinner another night (or two). Timmy declared he “didn’t care for” the potato salad, but I guess that’s an 8 year old’s palate. He was a great helper and I can’t wait for him to come back to my kitchen to cook something else.
After the Spaghetti and Meatball factory closed, it was nephew, and Dennis’s godson, Billy Lynch’s turn to spend the day in Ktina’s Kitchen. As a sophomore in college on break, I thought getting him to commit to a day might be a challenge, but he enthusiastically committed to the Sunday following Joe’s day as a chef. Like his brother, I had an idea of what his favorite meal that I cook is, so it was no surprise when his response to what he would like to cook was Thai Peanut Noodles and Asian Pork.
The first order of business was to make the marinade so we could get the pork marinating. Since a lot of the ingredients in the peanut sauce are also in the marinade, we got going chopping lots of fresh ginger and peeling the cloves from 2 heads of garlic. Thankfully the Cuisinart mini-prep took care of all the chopping, and then it was all about measuring and pouring ingredients into the blender and Voila, marinade done. We made a double batch so Billy had some to take home to share with the rest of the Lynch clan and to try with a different protein another time. Once the pork was covered and in the refrigerator soaking up the flavors, it was time to make the peanut sauce. Just as the blender took care of most of the work on the marinade, the food processor did the heavy lifting for the sauce. With the garlic and ginger already prepped, it was measure, pour, whiz and the sauce was done. Now all we had to do was to slice the garnishes for the peanut noodles and we were good to go.
Since the peanut sauce is the basis for Chicken Satay, we pulled a chicken breast out of the freezer and thawed it for an appetizer. In keeping with #trysomethingnew, I also pulled out some Tom Yum Goong broth that I had in the freezer. While Billy has never been a seafood fan, he agreed to try the soup, which is “Hot and Sour Shrimp Soup”. He loves spicy food, and the Tom Yum Goong is very spicy since it includes Thai Red Curry Paste, and fish sauce and lime juice add salty, sour flavors. It turns out 19 is a lot different than 9 and he not only tried the soup, he liked it!
Now it was time for the main event , . . once the pork was on the grill, we poured the marinade into a sauce pan and brought to it a boil to kill off any bacteria and allowed it to reduce to make a syrupy sauce. We assembled the peanut noodles and it was time to eat. Everything was delicious and Billy devoured tons of pork (we cooked 2 and there was not a speck leftover). I guess it really is his favorite meal! We had a great time and the best compliment was that Billy said he wanted to come back to cook again before he returned to school later in the month.
1fresh Fresno pepper or long Thai Chili or a Jalapenoseeded
½tspfreshly ground Black Pepper
1-2tspHot Chili Oilto taste, optional
Place all ingredients except chili oil in a Vitamix, blender or food processor fitted with a steel blade and process until smooth.
Taste and add 1-2 tsp chili oil if you prefer a bit more spice.
Pour 1 ½ cups of the marinade into a small sauce pan over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil and reduce until the sauce thickens, about 15 minutes, stirring frequently.
This marinade works well with just about any protein: Chicken, Pork, Beef, Duck, Shrimp or firm Fish such as Halibut, Tuna or Swordfish.
Pour sauce over until well covered and refrigerate several hours or overnight. I find a Ziploc bag works well to allow even distribution of the marinade.
While grilling the meat, pour the additional marinade into a saucepan and bring to a rolling boil. Boil for about 5 minutes, which will kill any bacteria from the raw meat, and reduce heat to medium and cook for an additional 5-10 minutes and use as a sauce for your grilled meat.
Shrimp or Fish – Pour sauce over and marinate for 15-30 minutes before grilling or pan searing. Do not marinate longer than 30 minutes as the acids will begin to “cook” the fish.
THAI PEANUT NOODLES and THAI WATERMELON SALAD make a delicious meal.
MANGO SALSA make a tasty accompaniment to any protein except beef.
I often make a double batch of the sauce to share, and it keeps for a couple of weeks in the refrigerator
Keyword Aisan Pork, Asian Marinade, Thai Peanut Noodles
One of my first memories of cooking when I was young was helping my father make and roll meatballs to add to a huge pot of simmering tomato sauce on a Sunday. It was the perfect thing to make on a cold New England winter day, as it was a big project from the trip to the butcher for just the right sausages and meat, to the slicing, dicing, rolling and frying. It took all day as the sauce simmered for hours allowing the meatballs, sausages, pork and chunks of pepperoni (my father’s specialty) to impart their flavors. I recall sneaking tastes by dunking hunks of bread into the sauce and noticed how the flavors developed as the hours went by and the sauce reduced. It was always a family favorite, which continues to this day with my nephews and nieces.
With Christmas being a bit different this year due to the pandemic, I was a little stuck on what to get my Chicago nephews, as my usual tradition is an experience such as Celtics at Bulls, Bruins at Blackhawks, theater, etc. With those not options at the moment I asked my sister in law, Julia, for ideas, and she suggested that in keeping with the experience theme that I invite each of the boys to spend a day in my kitchen for some one on one time to cook with me. Well, that was easy! I did find some super cool Vans in a Chicago motif for something to open that were a huge hit, so I wasn’t sure the “Day in Ktina’s Kitchen” was going to be too exciting, especially since it meant they were going to have to work. I was surprised and delighted when their reaction was “that’s awesome” when I told them to pick a day to cook their favorite dish with me. First up was Joe, my godson, and it was no surprise that his response to what he would like to cook was “Spaghetti and Meatballs please”. What might have been a surprise was the amount of work that was in store.
Just as my father did, I headed up to my favorite butcher, Paulina Meat Market to purchase the meat: ground beef, ground veal, ground pork, hot and mild Italian sausages and pork chops. Next was Eataly to get the tomatoes, cheese and spaghetti and I was ready. First up was to make the sauce and get it simmering so the flavors could begin to develop while we prepared the meat. Sausages and pork chops were grilled (less mess) and then added to the sauce. Next up the main event, meatballs. It’s a messy, time consuming job with all of the chopping, so I asked Joe if he understood why I make so much, to which he nodded and said “because it’s a lot work” – smart kid!
Once the meatballs were browned, we realized there was not going to be enough room in our pots, so we transferred some sauce to a third pot and added the meatballs. All we had to do was stir it occasionally to make sure nothing was sticking to the bottom and let it simmer away to reduce and let all the flavors develop. Our dinner guests, the rest of the Lynch clan, arrived at 4:00 and we were good to go. All we needed to do was cook the pasta and dinner was served!
While I have always called what my father and I make “sauce”, there are some that would say what we made is “Sunday Gravy”. I first heard of this when I was in college and a friend who hailed from North Providence, Rhode Island (the Italian neighborhood where even the lines in the streets are painted in red, white & green like the Italian flag) referred to the dish as “gravy”. Since I’m not Italian, I thought perhaps I was wrong to call it sauce, so I asked another friend, Mike Ricchio, a few years ago who emphatically answered “SAUCE”! I had apparently struck a nerve, as he and a friend had debated for years over this, so I thought I would delve a bit further. I referred to a cookbook that my good friend Marie (Borelli) Hatton had given me “The North End Union Italian Cookbook”, with the North End being the landmark Italian neighborhood of Boston. What I found was an entire chapter entitled “Sauces and Gravies” peacefully coexisting and there it was, “Sunday Gravy”. I called Marie and asked “Sauce or Gravy?”, to which she replied “SAUCE”! Hmmm, so where does the gravy thing come from. The cookbook indicates that it refers to the use of the meat drippings as the basis for the sauce. Since I make mine with olive oil and simply add the meat to the simmering sauce, it must be SAUCE, right? Either way, it’s DELICIOUS! A real crowd pleaser, it’s well worth the effort, and when you do, make A LOT so you have leftovers to share and freeze.
TOMATO SAUCE (Sunday Gravy)
I was inspired by watching my father make sauce over the years. I don't know that he had an actual recipe, it was all about the taste, which is how I've learned to cook myself. When I had a hankering for sauce and was living overseas, I attempted to create his sauce and have tweaked it over the years. While my father adds pepperoni to his, it's not my personal favorite so I omit it. I love the sweetness that the pork imparts to the sauce. The longer the sauce simmers, the richer it gets. After freezing, some of the meat falls apart and it becomes more like a Bolognese. Makes enough for a crowd plus extra to share and freeze.
1Coil Mild Italian Sausageor 8 individual sausages
Place the largest stock pot you have over medium heat. (I use a 13 ¼ quart Le Creuset dutch oven.)
Add the oil, onions and crushed red pepper flakes. (I like to add everything before the pan is hot and allow the onions to gradually begin to sweat as the oil heats.) Saute until the onions are translucent, stirring frequently. If the onions begin to brown, reduce the heat.
Add the garlic and cook for 1-2 minutes until it is very aromatic (don’t allow the garlic to brown).
Add the tomatoes, puree, paste, wine, water, sugar, spices and cheese rinds, stirring after each addition.
Increase heat to medium-high and bring to a boil. When it is boiling, give a good stir and reduce heat to low. Partially cover the pot, leaving about an inch opening on one side and allow to simmer, stirring every 20-30 minutes.
While the sauce is simmering, prepare the meat.
Grill the sausages and pork chops on the grill or in a grill pan until evenly browned. They do not need to be cooked through, as they will finish cooking in the sauce.
Prepare the meatballs (see separate recipe)
Add the meats to the sauce as each is finished and while still hot. (You may need to divide the sauce into 2 pots to accommodate all the meat.)
Allow the sauce and meat to simmer over low heat for 30 minutes and add the fresh Basil.
Continue to simmer for at least another 30 minutes and up to 4 hours, stirring occasionally, making sure to scrape the bottom of the pan as the cheese rinds tend to stick. The longer you simmer, the more the flavors will develop. The sauce will bubble up a bit just after stirring, so beware of splatters.
This is not difficult, but it is labor intensive and time consuming, so when I make it, I like to make a lot so that I can share and stock my freezer.
My father adds pepperoni to his sauce – cut a stick in 2” chunks if you like.
Depending on your butcher, both the Hot and Mild Italian sausage may come in coils. I like to use the individual sausages for the Hot and the coils for the Mild so that I can tell them apart in the sauce, as the ends are cut and they are curved.
I usually end up making another batch of sauce to cover the meat and freeze in individual meal portions. I freeze extra sauce separately in Ziploc bags (double them so the don’t leak), which stack easily.
If you don’t like Hot Italian sausage, use all mild. I like the flavorful blend of both. Chicken or Turkey sausage works equally well.
At the end of the summer when my farmers market has bushels of San Marzano and Plum Tomatoes, I go the extra mile and make the crushed tomatoes from them. It is labor intensive to peel and seed all the tomatoes, but it really makes for a wonderful fresh flavor. You will still need to use the puree and paste.
These meatballs are packed with flavor thanks to the addition of Hot Italian Sausage, which was inspired by my father in law (though I never had the opportunity to try them). The veal and the milk add tenderness so they are not too dense. Rather than pan frying them, I cook them on rimmed sheet pans in the oven which is so much easier, especially when making a lot. My nephew Joe says they are the "Best Ever". Makes 18 3" or 24 2" meatballs.
3Hot Italian Sausages, remove from casings or 1 pound bulk sausage
½CupFlat Leaf Parsleychopped
½Cupgrated Parmigiano Reggiano
1CupBread Crumbspreferably fresh
4slicesBreadcrusts removed (use a good quality bread, such as a rustic Italian or Sour Dough, not seeded, you can use the same loaf for bread crumbs)
1tspKosher Salt & Black Pepperfreshly ground
½CupOlive Oilit does not need to be Extra Virgin
Preheat oven to 350*. Place 2 racks on the upper and lower thirds of the oven.
Place bread slices in a shallow baking dish or pie plate. Heat the milk in the microwave for 30-45 seconds (until hot but not boiling) and pour over the bread.
Place all of the meats in a very large bowl. Using your hands (I like to use disposable kitchen gloves) combine the meats until they are well blended.
Add all remaining ingredients, crumbling the moistened bread so that there are not any large pieces.
Mix together with your hands until well blended, making sure to scrape from the bottom to ensure all ingredients are well incorporated.
Line a sheet pan or cookie sheet with parchment.
Roll meat mixture into balls and place them on the parchment lined pan.
Pour 1/4 cup oil into 2 rimmed sheet pans and place in the oven to allow the oil to heat for about 5-10 minutes.
Place the meatballs on the sheet pans with the hot oil and return to the oven.
Bake for about 15 minutes, until the meatballs are browned on the bottom. Turn the meatballs to the other side and then return to the oven, switching the position of the pans, and cook for another 10-15 minutes.
Add the meatballs to the Tomato Sauce and simmer for at least 30 minutes and up to 2 hours to tenderize and absorb the flavors from the sauce.
You may need to have your butcher grind the veal for you.
To make fresh bread crumbs, simply toast 8 slices of the bread and grind in the dry container of a Vitamix or in a food processor.
Along with the Sauce recipe, a lot of chopped garlic is needed (especially if you’re doubling it as I sometimes do), so I like to buy peeled garlic and pop it into my Cuisinart Mini-prep food processor to save time. You can also use a garlic press.
I like to make larger 3” meatballs as I find they hold up better to freezing.
It is not important that meatballs are cooked through, as they will finish cooking in the sauce.
A few weeks ago I received a text from my friend Jenny saying that she “left a small present” on my front steps to thank me for the dinner I had prepared the evening before. I was expecting perhaps some flowers, as she had given me a gorgeous rosemary plant back in the spring when I was in the midst of experimenting and perfecting my Rosemary Focaccia. What I found instead was a small container of what looked like wallpaper paste, which was 100 grams of Sourdough Starter, along with a note instructing me to store it in the refrigerator and that I would need to “feed” it weekly. I was grateful, but a tad anxious, since I had managed to kill the rosemary plant in a few short weeks and now I had what was basically a new “pet” that I was responsible to keep alive. I dutifully popped it in the fridge and figured I had a week to learn what my new friend liked to be fed to stay healthy.
After about a week, I noticed the lid kept popping off of the container and a layer of liquid had formed on top. I reached out to Jenny and she advised that it was probably telling me that it needed to be fed. I took a few notes and then consulted a few websites to learn more, and immediately became confused as there are so many different recipes for maintaining sourdough starter and most strongly suggest the use of a kitchen scale for precise measurements or risk of failure. As I’ve mentioned previously, I much prefer cooking to baking for the very reason of the precision required for baking, so I wasn’t sure about this “gift” at this point, as it was beginning to feel like more of a project. I managed to find a site that gave suggested measures in ounces and cups, so I commenced with the first feeding and then waited to see if anything happened. I was delighted to see that in a short time the mixture was rising and in four hours had doubled- I hadn’t killed it! I called Jenny to report my success and she told me that this starter is strong stuff, hers having come from her sister in law in San Francisco, who in turn received it from her sister in law in Louisiana.
Now that I had fed my starter and it was flourishing, it was time to bake. With the only ingredients being flour, water, salt and the starter (which is simply flour and water), I was’t sure how this was going to end up with tasty bread, but I figured I had nothing to lose and I owed it to my thoughtful friend to give it a go. The dough seemed pretty sticky, but I resisted the temptation to add more flour since my focaccia also has a sticky dough and it comes out crunchy and delicious every time.
Voila! Sourdough Bread! I wasn’t sure how it would taste, but it was delicious and reminded me of my grandfather (Papa), who used to bring back sourdough bread when he traveled to San Francisco. Dennis popped some in the toaster and said it was “awesome”, so I toasted up a slice and made avocado toast, which was so tasty. After the initial success, I decided to try to recreate the fantastic olive bread that Publican Quality Meats sells (from Publican Quality Breads, not open for retail sales) which I love and use to make decadent croutons for my Caesar Salad. The first one needed a little work with the olive distribution, but it tasted exactly like PQM’s and the croutons were great. When you feed your starter you are supposed to discard all but 1/2 cup, so I’ve since been re-gifting to friends, though the batch I sent to my sister in law never arrived, so we think it might be a science project gone wrong. . . the starter may have been too active for shipping and actively fermenting exploded. SO, I’ll try again, but make sure it is in a container with plenty of room to expand, after all it is a living thing!
This bread is so easy once you have mature sourdough starter, the main thing you need is time. If you a lucky to have a friend who shares starter, you're ready to go, otherwise you can make your own starter in about a week. There are many websites that offer instructions. Once you master the basic sourdough, try adding herbs, nuts, seeds, olives and incorporating whole wheat or rye flour (substituting 1/2 – 1 cup) to the bread flour.
8 hours before you wish to bake, feed your starter (1/2 Cup Starter, 1/2 Cup warm water, 3/4 Cup + 2 TBSP Bread Flour; leave at room temperature). If you keep your starter in the refrigerator and it has been fed within the past 7 days, you can use it straight from the fridge.
Whisk the starter and the water until the starter is dissolved and you have a murky liquid.
Mix the wet and dry ingredients with a rubber spatula (Spoonula) until a shaggy dough forms and there are no streaks of dry flour.
Let sit for 15 minutes.
Wet your fingers and pull one side of the dough from the sides of the bowl and stretch and fold it over the other half of the dough.
Give the bowl a quarter turn and repeat until you have made a full turn (4 times total).
Let the dough sit 15 minutes and repeat the stretch and fold process.
Cover the dough with plastic wrap or a damp kitchen towel and allow to proof for at least 8 and up to 12 hours. Depending on your schedule, you can make the dough at night and allow to proof overnight and bake in the morning, or make the dough in the morning and bake in the evening.
After "proofing" your dough should have risen and approximately doubled. It should have a curved dome and look a bit like a distended belly. If you poke it with a floured finger, it should slowly come back.
Line a clean bowl with baking parchment. Make sure to use a parchment that can take high heat, as you will be baking at 475-500*. I use the brand IF YOU CARE, available at Whole Foods, Amazon and other specialty stores and buy the pre-cut sheets).
With wet fingers, grab the dough with both hands and rise it high above the bowl and allow it to stretch. As it returns to the bowl, fold it over itself.
Wait about 90 seconds and repeat the stretching 2 more times. After the 3rd stretch, mound the dough into the parchment lined bowl, shaping it so the "seam" is on the bottom. Dust the dough lightly with flour and place in the refrigerator while you heat your dutch oven.
Heat oven to 500* (or 475* on convection setting, which is what I use).
Place the dutch oven (covered) in the oven and allow it to heat for 45 minutes to an hour.
Carefully remove the dutch oven and remove the lid. Lift the dough by the corners of the parchment and place in the dutch oven.
Using kitchen shears, cut a long slice in the top of the dough or several slices to make an X or flower pattern.
Cover and bake for 25 minutes.
Remove lid and bake for an additional 20-25 minutes until dark golden brown.
Remove to a rack and allow to cool for an hour before slicing.
If you are lucky enough to have a friend (like me) to share starter with you (let me know and I’ll send), then you are good to go. Otherwise, you can easily make your own starter in about a week.
It is best to make bread when your starter is “hungry” meaning it has recently been fed, has at least doubled in 8 hours, has peaked and is starting to drop.
If you keep your starter in the fridge and it has been fed within the past 7 days, you can use it directly from the fridge, but remember to keep feeding it weekly.
Feeding your starter calls for discarding (perfect time to share) all but 1/2 cup and adding 1/2 cup of warm water and 3/4 cup + 2 TBS bread flour . . . mix well and leave, covered, at room temperature until it has risen an inch or two and then return it to the refrigerator. If you are baking, let it rise for 8 hours until it peaks; if you a just doing a weekly feeding, do not let it peak, just let it get going and then return to the fridge.
For Olive Bread, substitute 1 Cup whole wheat flour for a cup of the bread flour (ie: 3 Cups bread flour and 1 Cup whole wheat flour). After stretching your proofed dough, turn it onto a lightly floured surface and press out. Add 3/4 Cup mixed pitted olives and press in lightly. Roll the dough over, jelly roll style and then form into a ball and place in the parchment lined bowl, dust with flour and place in the fridge while the dutch oven heats and bake in the same manner as the plain bread.
As I mentioned in one of my early posts “A Taste for Thai Food”, I began experimenting with making Thai Curry Pastes when we lived in Argentina due to the lack of availability of tasty Thai food. Thai Curry Paste is a blend of aromatic herbs, spices and chilies that are pureed to a fine paste which you then fry in oil and whisk in coconut milk to make a sauce. The coconut milk tames the heat of the chilies, so even if you don’t care for things too spicy, you can tone it down to accommodate your palate. The addition of protein such as chicken, beef, pork, tofu or fish along with vegetables finishes the “curry” which is then served over rice to make a complete, tasty meal. The pastes are also key ingredients to other sauces and soups such as Tom Yum Goong (Hot & Sour Shrimp Soup) and Tom Kha Gai (Coconut Chicken Soup).
Now that I’m in Chicago, I can certainly simply buy curry paste in a jar, but I find that making it from scratch is really worth the time and effort, as the taste is so much fresher. While my local Whole Foods usually has fresh lemongrass, chilies and sometimes even galangal, a trip to the Asian markets just a few miles to the north usually provides me everything I need at a fraction of the cost. When we were at the Cape for the summer, I couldn’t find lemongrass, galangal or Kaffir lime leaves anywhere, so I ended up ordering online and was able to get what I needed within 2 days through Etsy. As I had to improvise when we lived in Argentina and some ingredients were not reliably available, so too did I have to pivot when I learned a friend is allergic to shrimp and I would not be able to serve the curry due to the shrimp paste that is typically included. I found that anchovy paste was a perfect substitute, with no discernible difference in the taste, and now I use it all the time so that I don’t have to be concerned about a shellfish allergy when menu planning.
THAI CURRY PASTES
These pastes are the basis for Green Curry, which I typically make with chicken and Red Curry, which I usually prepare with pork, beef or seafood. The Green is a bit more herbacious due to the additional Coriander seed and the absence of dried chilies. The process is the same for both, with the addition of the soaked dried red chilies for the Red. While this may seem tedious to try to source the ingredients, it is so much better and fresher tasting than most store bought curry pastes that have preservatives to extend their shelf life. These make about 2 cups of each, so I divide them into small containers store some in the refrigerator for use within 2-3 weeks, share some with foodie friends and freeze the rest. You can also freeze it in individual portions (about 2 TBSP) in plastic bags.
In a small saute pan, toast the Coriander, Cumin, Salt and Peppercorns over medium-high heat until fragrant. Toss or stir frequently to make sure the seeds don't burn.
Transfer the toasted spices to a spice grinder or coffee grinder and process to a fine powder.
Place the lemongrass and galangal in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade and pulse to chop. Galangal is quite coarse, so it may help to cut your slices into smaller pieces.
Add all of the chilies, spices and remaining ingredients and process until a fairly smooth paste forms, scraping down the sides occasionally.
Transfer to airtight container(s) and store in the refrigerator for 2-3 weeks or freeze.
If you have Asian grocery stores near you, it’s worth heading there as you are likely to find all of the ingredients you need, particularly lemongrass, galangal, kaffir lime leaves and chilies. If you don’t have the luxury, or can’t find them, you can source them online through many sources via Amazon and Etsy.
Many grocery stores stock fresh jalapenos, serranos and fresno chilies (which look like a red jalapeno, but they are actually different), as well as Thai “bird” chilies. If you can’t find them easily, you can source them online including at Amazon and Etsy, which serve as go between for small specialty vendors. I had great luck with Melissa’s Produce (melissas.com) for Fresno chilies when I could not find them anywhere.
I use Hot New Mexico Hatch chilies for the dried red chilies. They are available at many grocery stores, or readily available from many online sources. They don’t weigh much, so don’t order the 5 pound bag like I did or you’ll have enough for your lifetime.
When soaking your dried chilies, they will float to the top, so I place a small plate or saucepan lid on them to keep them submerged. Make sure to take off the stems and drain the water.
I use an old coffee grinder that I keep for the sole purpose of grinding spices and it works beautifully.
Keyword Curry, Green Curry, Thai Basil, Thai Curry, Thai Green Curry, Thai Green Curry Paste, Thai Red Curry, Thai Red Curry Paste
GREEN CURRY with CHICKEN
Whether using Green or Red Curry Paste, the process is the same as outlined here. I use the vegetables that most frequently turn up in this classic, but feel free to experiment with any protein or vegetables that you like or have on hand.
2Boneless, skinless Chicken Breast halves cut into 2" pieces
2TBSPCanola or Peanut Oil
2-3TBSPGreen Curry Paste2 for less spicy, 3 for more
1-2TBSPPalm Sugar or Light Brown Sugar
4fresh Kaffir Lime Leaves, spines removedsubstitute dried if you can't find fresh
1Red Bell Pepper, cored, seeded and cut into 2" chunks
18 ouncepackage Button Mushroom, cleaned
1Cupfresh Green Beans cut into 2-3" pieces
1/4CupCilantro leaves and/or Thai Basil leaves.
Pan sear chicken in a saute pan in a bit of oil over medium high heat until it is lightly browned all over. Remove from the pan and drain. (The chicken does not need to be cooked through, as it will finish in the curry sauce.)
If using the same pan, wipe out any juice from the chicken. Add another TBSP of oil and when it is hot, add the curry paste and stir fry until fragrant, about 2 minutes.
Whisk in the Coconut milk a little at a time, starting with the cream at the top of the can. Allow to come to a boil before adding more of the milk, whisking constantly.
Reduce heat to medium (or medium low) and add the Kaffir Lime Leaves, 1 TBSP Fish Sauce and 1 TBSP Sugar and cook for 2-3 minutes, reducing heat so that it just simmering.
Taste the sauce and adjust if it needs a bit more Fish Sauce and/or Sugar.
At this point, if you are not ready to eat (or your rice is not ready), cover and turn off the heat until you are ready to eat.
Increase the heat to medium-high and add the chicken and mushrooms to the sauce. Cover the pan and allow to cook for 3-4 minutes until the mushrooms have released their liquid, stirring occasionally to ensure the meat doesn't stick to the pan.
Then the mushrooms have cooked, add the green beans and cook, covered, for 1 minute then add the peppers. Cook for 2-3 minutes and sprinkle with Cilantro leaves or Thai Basil leaves.
Serve immediately with Jasmine or Basmati Rice.
Use the same process for Red Curry regardless of what protein you choose.
I think it makes a big difference to pan sear your meat, chicken or tofu before adding to the sauce, otherwise the meat will “stew” and it’s juices will water down the curry.
The curry should have a spicy, sweet, salty flavor from the paste, coconut milk, fish sauce and sugar and the lime leaves brighten it lending a citrusy note.
If your sauce is too spicy, add more coconut milk. Not spicy enough, add more curry paste.
Keyword Green Curry Chicken, Thai Curry, Thai Green Curry
Is it me, or have you noticed that Fried Chicken is all the rage at the moment? Much like the current obsession with bacon, it seems every restaurant has their own version, even our local Italian restaurant around the corner starting offering Fried Chicken in a Basket before the pandemic shut down restaurants in mid-March. There was no Italian twist, just old fashioned fried chicken and potato wedges and it stood out on the menu like the old Sesame Street game “one of these things is not like the others”. Since restaurants re-opened in June, and now are outdoor only dining, it has disappeared from that menu, but it is prevalent on those of many other fine dining establishments and not simply at KFC or Chick-fil-A.
In all honesty, I’ve never quite understood all of the hype. My father used to bring home that red and white striped bucket for dinner on an occasional evening and while I recall liking the coleslaw, I thought the mashed potatoes were more akin to wallpaper paste and the gravy was always congealed by the time it arrived on our dinner table from the KFC in town. My brothers loved it, though, so it was a good alternative to pizza when it was my mother’s night off from the kitchen or when they needed to feed us kids before they went out for a “date night”. I was completely turned off around the age of 10 when I was sick after one such dinner while on vacation in North Conway, New Hampshire. Truthfully, I probably had the flu, but even to this day the smell of those 11 herbs and spices makes my stomach flip, so I have had an aversion to it ever since.
Leave it to a couple of Michelin 3-star chefs to change my mind, namely Thomas Keller of The French Laundy in Napa, California (as well as Per Se in New York, Bouchon Bistro and Ad Hoc) and Grantz Achatz of Alinea in Chicago (as well as Next, The Aviary and Roister), who studied under Keller at the French Laundry before striking out on his own. Both chefs have the distinction of winning the James Beard award for Best Chef in America and their restaurants have been ranked #1 in the US, with Alinea holding that title at the moment. We attended a Dom Perignon vs Krug champagne dinner at Roister last November and fried chicken was one of the pairings. I don’t recall if the Dom or Krug was the winner, but I do remember it was delicious. Since Dennis is a huge fan of fried chicken, I decided to give it a try since I had nothing but time on my hands and it was most definitely in keeping with #learnsomethingnew. I pulled out my “Ad Hoc at Home” cookbook and embarked on Thomas Keller’s version. I had to make a few adjustments and cut the amount of brine in half and shortened the brining time to 4 hours since I didn’t have restaurant size storage and we wanted to eat before midnight. I also took the shortcut and bought the chicken parts already cut up and only had to cut the breasts in half. All in all, it worked out perfectly and Dennis’s verdict “AWESOME”!
Upon returning to Chicago after 4 1/2 months on Cape Cod and lots of seafood, I offered to make friend chicken on Sunday. While not difficult, it is time consuming and thus it’s worth it to make a large batch, so we invited the Lynches over for dinner. I enlisted our nephews Joe and Timmy to help with the dredging while I fried the chicken. I put Julia to work whisking up the Honey Hot Sauce that I had concocted during the first attempt, which was inspired by a sauce that Maple & Ash serves with their fried chicken that is very tasty. I had the recipe for Maytag Blue Cheese (MBC) Coleslaw from a restaurant that my brother in law Brian used worked at that I adapted, so that and Ktina’s Potato Salad were the sides to round out the meal. And of course Champagne was the perfect pairing!
Maple & Ash is an upscale steak house around the corner from us in Chicago and they serve a honey chili dipping sauce with their fried chicken. I love the sweet and spicy combination so concocted my own version that is so easy it probably doesn't even qualify as a recipe. Try it with fried chicken and I think you'll love it.
Whisk the ingredients together. That's it! Serve as a dipping sauce for fried chicken and make sure to have plenty of napkins as it's sticky.
This is basically 2 parts honey to 1 part hot sauce, so use proportions according to your crowd.
This will keep for several weeks in an airtight container or jar. I suggest keeping in your pantry and not the refrigerator, as the honey will crystallize in the refrigerator.
I like the tang of Frank’s Hot Sauce (plus it is available in a large bottle, since it’s the original Buffalo Wing hot sauce), but feel free to experiment with other hot sauces that you like. There are endless options, but you may need to adjust the proportions depending on the heat so as not to overpower the honey and allow some sweetness to come through.
Keyword Dipping Sauce, Fried Chicken, Honey Hot Sauce
During a summer of the Coronavirus pandemic where there were so many restrictions on our movements and what we could do in order to stay healthy, it might seem strange to write about it in terms of FUN. As it turns out, the summer of 2020 will hold many fond memories for the relationships that were strengthened through times spent together in smaller, more intimate gatherings. While “back to basics” may seem trite, it truly was the case. With so much uncertainty, it would be easy to be overcome with anxiety and become depressed, so enjoying what we could do, playing golf at Hyannisport (and we played lots of it), helped to keep things in perspective and the beautiful surroundings were a reminder of the many blessings we have despite the circumstances.
While so many events had to be canceled or postponed, we were not about to let our friend Nell’s 60th birthday go unrecognized. Her birthday was not until November, but her days on the Cape were running out, so we planned to get together for cocktails at Darlene’s to toast the big day before she headed back to RIchmond and “real life”. What she didn’t know, was that Darlene, Lisa and I had contacted some additional friends and family and a proper Surprise Party was hatched. We kept it small, only including those in her golfing and personal “bubbles” and simple, champagne, canapes and cake from 5-7 pm. It was clear that everyone was ready for something to celebrate and it was the perfect way to close out what was an imperfectly fabulous summer.
Lisa made some killer Scallops Wrapped in Bacon and prepared a beautiful Charcuterie Board. I made Chicken Satay with Peanut Sauce. Shrimp Cocktail from our local fish market and Smoked Blue Fish Pate from Fancy’s in Osterville, plus an adorable cake rounded out a simple, yet delicious menu.
Chicken Satay is always a crowd pleaser and so easy to make for a cocktail party. I have tried using chicken tenders or cubes of chicken, but found that it gets dry, especially if it is not being served right away. By cooking the chicken breasts and slicing them on the diagonal at the last minute, the chicken remains juicy and flavorful.
Summer is winding down, you can tell by the way the light reflects off the ocean and sparkles like diamonds. The days are getting shorter, the nights cooler and family & friends are starting to make plans to head back to their year round homes. While we were craving a bit of Cape Cod in Chicago back in the Spring, we are now hankering for a bit of Chicago after two and half months of enjoying the bounty of fresh seafood that is available fresh from the ocean. Swordfish, Striped Bass, Halibut, Cod, Scallops, Clams, Oysters and, of course, Lobstah!! I have been remiss in posting, but I have been cooking up a storm, creating new recipes and taking lots of photos, so all that will be coming soon.
Just as the Cape is eponymous with seafood, Chicago is famous for it’s steak houses. There are endless choices from the national chains such as Ruth’s Chris, Smith & Wollensky, Mastro’s, Steak 48, Morton’s (though native to Chicago), to the locally born and bred Ditka’s, RPM Steak, Bavette’s, Swift & Sons, Gene & Georgetti, Chicago Chop House and, perhaps the most famous, Gibsons. While they are all great, the quintessential steak house experience continues to be Gibsons, which is frequented by the “high rollers, politicians and hookers” and the waiters bring out trays of raw steaks displaying the various cuts. When restaurants were closed for in person dining, Gibsons not only did take out, but began offering their prime steaks to purchase and cook at home. We enjoyed a number of them before departing to the Cape, so it was welcome news when I received an email announcing that they had started Gibsons Steak with nationwide shipping available and I promptly placed an order.
My shipment arrived just in time to host dinner the night before the Fall Member-Member, which has become a tradition this year having brought us luck the two prior times. My regular Monday game is with great friends Darlene, Lisa and Nell, and we were all playing as partners in the tournament (me with Darlene and Lisa with Nell), so I announced that Dennis and I would host the pre-tournament dinner as a Chicago Steakhouse theme and everyone was in. Lisa offered to make dessert, Nell said she would bring an appetizer, and Darlene said she would pack her PJ’s (it’s true!). I texted to let everyone know it would be casual, to which they responded “Too Late” . . . they were dressing up, wearing heels, jewelry and makeup… and the guys were wearing jackets, just like we would if we were going out to a steak house for real. A quick shoe change and lipstick application was in order.
We started with the classic “Seafood Tower”, or rather an abbreviated one with local Barnstable Oysters and Lobster Cocktail. Nell & Tim brought delicious Smoked Bluefish Pate and Ham Biscuits straight from their home in Virginia. The salad course was Tableside Caesar Salad with homemade croutons. Dennis cooked the steaks perfectly and I made the classic sides of Au Gratin Potatoes, Grilled Asparagus, Roasted Brussel Sprouts and Sauteed Wild Mushrooms, all served family style. Dennis selected a delicious Handwritten Coombesville Cabernet Sauvignon, which was a perfect pairing. We saved just enough room for Lisa’s incredible cheesecake with fresh berries and caramel sauce. (Shout out to fellow BC ’87 alum Jean Boyle Johnston for her mother Regina’s recipe). It was the perfect evening of fabulous friendship and so much fun! Both teams were in the money on skins and Darlene and I ended up winning the day prize on Sunday, so it was a lucky dinner indeed and the tradition has been firmly cemented.
These creamy, cheesy potatoes are super decadent and irresistible. I serve these at Christmas with Prime Rib or Rack of Lamb, and they are the perfect family style share dish for a steak house dinner. They are worth the extra statin! The original recipe says it serves 4-6, but I have no idea who can eat that amount of potatoes. . . they must weigh 800 pounds! I have adjusted the recipe from the original to use large potatoes and more cheese. I often make them in 2 separate dishes – one to serve, one to share or freeze. They are super easy and can be made ahead, which is why they are a dinner party staple of mine.
1/8 tspWhite Pepper, or finely ground black pepper
Preheat oven to 350*
Lightly butter a large oval au gratin dish or oval roaster* or 9 x 13 pyrex dish.
Rub the cut sides of the garlic around the pan. Discard the garlic.
Whisk the cream with the spices together in a very large bowl.
Using a mandolin** slice the potatoes paper thin (1 or 1 1/2 setting) and add to the cream mixture.
Add the grated cheese to the potatoes and cheese and blend well.
Pile the potatoes into the prepared dish (dishes), making sure the potatoes are stacked flat.
Pour any leftover cream mixture over the potatoes.
Place the potatoes in a larger roasting pan and add hot water halfway up the sides to create a Bain Marie.
Bake for 2 hours until bubbly and golden brown. Check at 90 minutes to ensure they are not too brown, if so, cover with foil for the remainder of the cooking time.
Allow to cool 15-20 minutes and serve.
No need to buy potato brush or gloves . . . simply take out a brand new scrubby sponge and use the scrubber side to wash the potatoes, then use the sponge to wash your dishes.
*I love the Apilco Deep Oval Roasters that I buy from Williams Sonoma. The #6 is perfect for this recipe.
There’s no need to buy a fancy mandolin if you don’t own one. OXO makes a simple one that does the trick. Microplane makes Kevlar gloves that I highly recommend when working with a mandolin or microplanes to save your fingertips and nails from the razor sharp blades.
If you are making ahead, cook the potatoes for 90 minutes, removed from oven and cover with foil until you are ready to pull dinner together. Place in a 350* oven for 30 minutes about an hour before you are ready to eat.
Keyword Au Grantin Potatoes, Potaotes, Union Square Cafe
I love sauteed mushrooms as a side to a great steak, but not just any mushrooms. I like to use a blend of wild mushrooms for a robust, earthy flavor as opposed to simple button mushrooms. The addition of fresh Rosemary and Thyme adds a lovely flavor that is the perfect Steakhouse side.
4 ouncesPortobello Mushrooms, washed, halved & sliced1 cup
4 ouncesShitake Mushrooms, washed, stemmed & sliced1 cup
4ouncesOyster, Trumpet or Chanterelle Mushrooms, washed & sliced1 cup
2TBSPExtra Virgin Olive OIl
2TBSPMinced Shallots(1 shallot)
4ClovesGarlic, minced finely
1 1/2tspFresh Rosemary, minced
1 1/2tspFresh Thyme, minced
1/2 tsp Black Pepper, freshly ground
1/2 CupRed Wine
Melt butter with olive oil over medium low heat.
Add shallots and sweat until just softened, making sure that the butter doesn't brown,
Add mushrooms, increase heat to medium to medium high, stirring frequently.
When mushrooms begin giving off liquid and are starting to brown, add the salt, pepper, herbs and garlic. Stir and cook for 1 minute.
Add the wine and bring mixture to a boil.*
Reduce heat to simmer and cook until most of the liquid has absorbed.
May be made ahead, but add half the wine and when the liquid has absorbed, remove from heat and cover. Just before ready to serve, bring to heat and add the remaining wine and bring to a simmer and serve.
Use a damp paper towel to clean the mushrooms. Don’t rinse in water, as mushrooms will absorb the water and won’t absorb the butter, oil and spices as well.
Bringing friends together for dinner is tricky at the moment, but our huge (5 foot square) dining room table is perfect for 4 couples to dine at a comfortable distance, so I offered to cook dinner for some friends. We had a narrow window, with Nell arriving a few weeks later than usual this year and Meg having to head out to get back to her year round home to return to work. After a week of texting, we finally found a date that worked for everyone, which turned out to be the Thursday evening before the Club Championship weekend. Friday was qualifying and we were all playing, but our tee-times were not too early, so it was a go.
After checking with everyone about allergies and aversions, I decided to go with predominantly Thai dinner. Cape Fish & Lobster had some beautiful Striped Bass (Striper), so I grabbed it, since it’s a short season. Striper is a “Quota” fish, which is established each year to promote sustainability, and when the quota has been reached, that’s it, the season is over. Striper with Red Curry Sauce and Mango Salsa was the main event with Thai Peanut Noodles and Thai Watermelon Salad rounding out the main course. I had made this exact dinner when the Lynches were in town for a visit, and my sister in law, Julia, proclaimed it “the best thing I ever ate” (wait, isn’t that a show??), so I thought it was a safe bet. Lisa had more tuna (“Heaps of Tuna), so ceviche was a must for a starter. The verdict: a Winner! Nell said she could make a whole meal out of the watermelon salad, and Lisa proclaimed the Asador (grillmaster Dennis) had cooked the fish perfectly. We decided it’s a new tradition, as it was clearly good luck . . . Lisa and I were medalists in our respective flights for Qualifying and Nell went on to win the Club Championship!
I made a fresh batch of Red Curry Paste using anchovy paste in lieu of the traditional shrimp paste, since Nell is allergic to shrimp. The lemongrass, galangal and dried chilies are not readily available at the Cape, and so I ordered on line. I think I may have overdone it with the 5 pound bag of red chilies… I guess I will be coming up with more recipes using them, perhaps some New Mexico inspired dishes will be coming soon. In the meantime, I have a huge batch of Red Curry Paste . . . if you’re in the area and would like some, send me a note!
Place first 5 ingredients in a blender (Vitamix) and puree until smooth
Cut tuna into 1/2" cubes and place in a glass or plastic bowl (not metal) and pour sauce over to coat entirely. Refrigerate for 1 hour.
Add avocado and gently toss.
Garnish with red onion slices and serve with tortilla chips.
A super sharp knife is key to cutting the tuna. Placing in the freezer for 15 minutes will allow for easier slicing without tearing.
Simply tear the cilantro from just above the rubber band or twist tie and rinse.
This is best made just before you wish to serve, as the longer the fish sits in the marinade, the more it cooks.
Keyword Ceviche, Tuna
This salsa is very balanced, sweet with just a touch of heat from the jalapeno. It pairs equally well with Thai or Mexican dishes. I have used it successfully with, Grilled Halibut with Red Curry Sauce, Pan Seared Scallops with Red Curry Sauce, Sauteed Soft Shell Crabs in Red Curry Sauce, Grilled Pork Tenderloin in Chipotle Marinade or Asian Marinade.
1/2CupRed Bell Pepper, finely chopped1/2 large or 1 small bell pepper
1/2Cupfresh Cilantro leaves, chopped
1Jalapeno pepper, seeded & minced finely
2TBSPfreshly squeezed Lime Juice
1/4tspKosher Salt & Black Pepper
Mix all ingredients together in a non-reactive bowl (glass or plastic).
Allow to sit for an hour before serving to allow the flavors to meld and juices to release.
Keyword Mango, Mango Salsa
THAI PEANUT NOODLES
These noodles are packed with flavor and have been a family and friend favorite for many years. They are a great side dish for Sesame Crusted Pan Seared Tuna, Teriyaki Steak Tips, or Asian Marinated Grilled Pork, Chicken or Shrimp. I usually make a double batch of the sauce to keep some on hand or to share. It is super easy to make a double or triple batch of the noodles when serving a crowd and can be made ahead and served at room temperature or cold. The sauce is super versatile and is a delicious dipping sauce.
½bunch of Scallionswhite and green parts, thinkly sliced on diagonal
½Cupfresh Cilantroleaves only, washed and chopped
2TBSPThai Basil leaveschopped (optional)
1poundPad Thai Rice Noodles or traditional Spaghetti or Linguine
Place garlic, ginger and chili pepper in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Pulse several times until finely minced, scraping down the sides.
Add all remaining ingredients, except chili oil, and process until smooth. Taste for spice and add 1-2 tsp chili oil if you prefer a bit more heat.
Prepare pasta according to package directions. (If using Thai rice noodles, make sure to stir frequently so that they don’t stick. Taste for doneness, as I find they may take longer than the package indicates.)
While the pasta is cooking, pour 1 cup of the peanut sauce into the bottom of a large serving bowl.
Drain noodles and immediately toss with the sauce in the bowl, adding a bit more sauce if needed to completely coat the noodles. You don’t need to drain too well, as a bit of hot pasta water helps to loosen the sauce.
Allow the noodles to sit for 10 minutes or so to absorb the sauce, adding a bit more sauce if it seems tight. You don’t want the past