Is there anything more comforting on a cold winter day than soup?? A hearty minestrone, fresh tomato basil, and a good old fashioned chicken soup are all satisfying, but my favorite has always been French Onion. Is it the soup or the crusty melted cheese over a slice of French Bread (or Sourdough) that makes it so delicious?? My best friend from high school, Leah, and I would often order it as opposed to the typical pizza or mozzarella sticks in the budget of the day, and we became quite the critics. I was, after all, half French, my maiden name being Duvall and all.

My Nana, who was 100% Irish, made a delicious version that I recall having bowl after bowl of. It could frequently be found on our Christmas Eve potluck buffet we shared with our neighbors after the vigil mass along with a Caesar Salad, some crusty bread and plenty of grated Swiss Cheese alongside sprinkle in to get the melty, stringy, gooeyness that makes it oh so yummy. A giant pot of it always made it up to ski weekends and greeted us when we came in chilled after a few runs for lunch.

Nashua Country Club, in Nashua NH, where my parents were members for many years, always made a delicious version that my brother Gary and I were particularly fond of. My Nana’s was delicious, but the NCC version had a little extra something … the melted crusty cheese on top helped, of course, but there were some herbs in there that were lacking in Nana’s. As my palate evolved, I identified Rosemary and Thyme…and being 50% French, I would know, right??

Using my Nana’s recipe as the base, I set about trying to tweak it to get to my own perfect recipe that included the flavors of the NCC soup. Just when I thought I had it figured out, which I think the recipe proves, the shoe dropped . . . My parents decided to take the Ancestry tests and when the results came in, we were knocked for a loop. We fully expected to learn that my mother, with her olive complexion and propensity to “change race” rather than simply take on a golden glow when sunbathing, would have some Spanish or North African blood in her, the product of the Spanish Armada. Nope, she came in at 99.9% Irish, completely in keeping with what we understood as the Mahan and Clougherty family history. My father, on the other hand, the 50% French part of me, came in at 11% French and 89% Irish and Northern British Isles. So much for the “French Chef” in me, I’m a mere 5.5% French and pretty much Irish for the lack of further clarification. It’s a good thing I married an Irish guy, so I have the Irish name now. So, contrary to what many of us think, cooking talent is not necessarily simply in our blood, anyone with an interest, commitment and desire can become a superlative cook, like my Irish Nana, who shared her love through her wonderful treats, sweet and savory, and inspired me to develop my own culinary skills, explore my creativity and find joy in the process.

FRENCH ONION SOUP

ktinakelleher
While my Nana's French Onion Soup was delicious, I wanted to incorporate some herbs from the Nashua Country Club version that my brother and I loved. I prefer a lot of onions with texture, so I've doubled the amount my Nana used. Better store bought ingredients are available these days, including good quality stocks and "Better than Bullion" provides a great depth of flavor without the saltiness of bullion cubes.
You can use a food processor to slice your onions, but I find hand slicing gives the right thickness to provide the texture I prefer. A really sharp chef's knife is essential and it really doesn't take that long when cutting in 1/4" slices.
This is a rich soup that is a great first course or a perfect light meal along with a salad. Delicious on the day you make it, but the flavors will continue to develop and deepen after a day or two, becoming super savory.
Course Soup, Soup, Appetizers
Cuisine American, French
Servings 12 healthy crocks or 16 cups

Equipment

  • Dutch Oven
  • Saute Pan
  • Knife
  • Food processor (optional)

Ingredients
  

  • 6 TBSP Olive OIl extra virgin
  • 6 TBSP Butter
  • 20 Cups Onions, sliced 1/4" thick, 8 large onions, combination of yellow & sweet
  • 4 Shallots, thinly sliced
  • 1 1/2 TBSP Garlic, minced (about 4 large or 6 medium cloves)
  • 1 1/2 TBSP Sugar
  • 1/3 Cup Flour
  • 2 TBSP Fresh Rosemary, minced
  • 1 TBSP Fresh Thyme, minced
  • 2 TBSP Worcestershire Sauce
  • 3/4 Cup Cognac (or brandy)
  • 1 1/2 Cup White or Red Wine (Chardonnay or Pinot Noir)
  • 2 Quarts Beef Stock
  • 1 Quart Chicken Stock
  • 3 TBSP Better than Bullion BEEF (or 10 Beef bullion cubes)
  • 4 Cups Water
  • 1 tsp Kosher Salt
  • 1 tsp Black Pepper freshly ground
  • Gruyere Cheese (for serving)
  • Sourdough Bread or Baguette (for serving)

Instructions
 

  • Trim the ends from the onions, cut in half and peel the skins. Slice into 1/4" slices. (You can use a food processor with the wider slice attachment, but I prefer to do by hand with a very sharp knife . . . the time consuming part is the trimming and peeling.)
  • Divide the olive oil and butter into a large stock pot and a large saute pan (3 TBSP of each) and heat over medium heat until until the butter is just melted.
  • Divide the onions and add to the oil and butter and stir well. Cover and cook until the onions are soft and begin to become golden, stirring frequently to ensure they are not sticking to the bottom of the pans, about 5-7 minutes.
  • When the onions are soft and golden, add the shallots, sugar and salt and continue to cook, uncovered, until they become a deep golden brown and are very soft but still have texture, about another 4-5 minutes. Again, scrape the bottom of the pans frequently to ensure they are not burning.
  • Transfer the onions in the saute pan to those in the stock pot and add the garlic, rosemary, thyme & black pepper. Cook for about 2-3 minutes. At this point the onions should be a deep brown.
  • Add the flour and cook for 2 minutes.
  • Add the Worcestershire, Cognac and wine and cook for 2-3 minutes to cook off the alcohol.
  • Add the stocks, water and "Better than Bullion" (or cubes if you are using). Bring to a boil and then reduce to simmer.
    Simmer for 30 minutes with lid partially on (half on/half off), stirring occasionally to ensure the onions aren't sticking to bottom of the pot.
  • Ladle into onion soup crocks, place a slice of sourdough bread (or baguette if you haven't been on the sourdough kick), top with grated gruyere cheese and place under broiler until the cheese just starts to melt.
  • Using a creme brulee torch, brown the melted cheese until it is nice and crusty.
  • Enjoy with a nice glass of red wine!

Notes

KTINA’s TIPS
  • I find that splitting the onions into 2 pans, the stock pot that you will prepare the whole soup in, and other saute pan, allows the onions to cook faster and more evenly.  
  • If you’re gluten free, try gluten free flour.  
  • Good quality stock is readily available at most grocery stores.  I like the Kitchen Basics brand or even the Whole Foods 365 brand, but do use Stock and not Broth.
  • You can certainly make this and serve the same day and it’s quite delicious, but if you let it sit for a day or two, the flavors will develop even further and it will become richer.  Depending on your palate, you may wish to add an additional cup of water ot 2 if you think it has gotten too thick and rich.
  • If you’ve been making sourdough bread, a day or two old slice is perfect for your crouton, otherwise you can toast fresh bread or use a slice of baguette. 
  • I like to use Gruyere for my cheese, grated, piled on top of the crouton and melted under the broiler and finished with a creme brulee torch for that beautiful crunchy crust.  
  • You can always just toss in a bit of grated cheese, it will melt and become stringy, but you may find it clumps in the bottom of the crock.  
  • Vegan??  Use margarine (I cringe, but I’ll give you leeway) and skip the cheese.
Keyword French, French Onion Soup, Onion, Onion Soup, Soup

Back in the late 90’s and early 2000’s, the hottest chef in Boston was Todd English. He initially had two restaurants in Charlestown, where he and his family lived. Figs was the more casual pizza place that my friend Leah and I loved and frequented on our girls nights out. Olives, however, was the flagship and the most difficult place to secure a table in it’s heyday. People would line up in hopes of getting a table, as it they didn’t take reservations. When Dennis and I were first dating and he was in town for a weekend while I was still living in the Boston area, we decided to try our luck to see if we could get in. Fortunately for us, my brother Gary lived right up the street at the time, so we were able to walk over and successfully get our name on the list and then go back to his place to hang out for the several hours wait for our table. The signature dish was the Braised Lamb Shanks, which was what I ordered and they were delicious.

I had the opportunity to meet Todd at a book signing for the release of his cookbook “The Figs Table”. My friend Leah had already given me that book for my birthday, so I decided to buy his previously released “The Olives Table”. As I flipped through the pages awaiting my turn to meet Todd and have my book signed, I was delighted to see the recipe for the lamb shanks I had enjoyed at that dinner with Dennis just a few weeks before. As my turn approached, I’m sure I was star struck, as it was like meeting a celebrity for me as a fledgling foodie, but I was taken aback by his brusqueness and lack of interest in engaging. Perhaps he was uncomfortable out of his element in the kitchen and irritated by the need to signed hundreds or more books for the long line of excited fans. In any event, I left a bit deflated at the thought that he was rather arrogant and had become rather taken with himself as a result of a steady diet of rave reviews and accolades. Perhaps I wasn’t off, as his popularity was soaring and he was in the midst of creating his restaurant “empire”, opening Olives in Las Vegas, New York and multiple international locations along with developing other concepts. Sadly the time away from Olives in Charlestown took its toll and the quality suffered. After several closures due to citations by the Health Department and no fewer than 3 fires, Olives in Charlestown closed for good in 2013.

But I digress . . . I have made the Ginger Braised Lamb Shanks from “The Olives Table”, and while delicious, I have tweaked things over the years. When we decided to host our first dinner party following our move to Houston, I wanted to do something Mediterranean that could largely be made ahead that would minimize the amount of time at the stove so that I could visit with our guests. My favorite store, Central Market had beautiful looking lamb shanks from Colorado, so thought this might be the perfect dish, especially given the weather had turned chilly, ideal for a hearty braised dish. Lamb can be very polarizing, people either love it or hate it, so I did a quick pulse check with our guests and I was in luck, everyone liked lamb. The verdict was “delicious” and I hope you’ll agree. A fantastic Bordeaux from St Emilion, heavy with merlot, is a perfect pairing.

MEDITERRANEAN BRAISED LAMB SHANKS

ktinakelleher
These lamb shanks are full of Mediterranean flavors and make a delicious one dish dinner served over mashed potatoes, as the onions, fennel and chickpeas provide the vegetables. Perfect for a snowy day where you don't want to leave the house, as they require several hours of braising in a low oven. I've also made these on Christmas Eve, popping them in the oven before heading out for mass. The meat becomes super tender and is literally falling off the bones. The flavors intensify if you make them a day in advance. These are a great meal when entertaining, as they can be made in advance and kept warm in the oven until you are ready to serve, leaving you free to visit with your guests.
Cook Time 3 hrs
Course Main Course, Meat
Cuisine Mediterranean
Servings 4 people

Equipment

  • Dutch Oven

Ingredients
  

  • Lamb Shanks
  • 1/2 Cup Olive Oil estra virgin
  • 2 Cups Onions, thinly sliced 1 very large or 2 medium onions
  • 2 Cups Fennel (Anise), cored & thinly sliced 1 large or 2 medium bulbs
  • 6 Cloves Garlic, minced
  • 1/4 Cup Fresh Ginger, minced Peel & mince in a small food processor
  • 1 Cup Balsamic Vinegar
  • 3/4 Cup Red Wine
  • 1/2 tsp Fennel Seeds
  • 1/2 tsp Crushed Red Pepper Flakes
  • 2 tsp Cumin ground
  • 1 tsp Kosher Salt Morton's
  • 1/2 tsp Black Pepper freshly ground
  • 4 Cups Beef Stock or Broth
  • 2-4 Cups Chicken Stock or Broth
  • 1 Can Fire Roasted Tomatoes, including juice 29 ounces
  • 1 Can Chick Peas, drained 29 ounces
  • 3 Sprigs Fresh Rosemary

Instructions
 

  • Allow the lamb shanks to come to room temperature (about 30-45 minutes before you are ready to cook) and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
  • Measure the spices out into a small ramekin or a cup.
  • Heat 2 TBSP of olive oil in a large Dutch Oven over medium high heat. When the oil is hot, add the lamb shanks and brown on all sides, being careful not to burn, reducing the heat if necessary. Lamb has a lot of fat and creates a lot of smoke, so be sure to use your exhaust fan.
  • Remove the shanks from the pan and place on a plate/platter.
  • Wipe the pan clean with a paper towel, being careful not to burn yourself.
  • Preheat your oven to 300* (or 275* on convection, which I prefer). Set your oven racks to the lower third, ensuring there is room for your Dutch Oven (you may need to remove a rack).
  • Add the remaining 2 TBSP of oil to the pan and return to medium heat. Add the onions and fennel and saute until just softened.
  • Add the ginger and garlic and stir for 1 minute, making sure not to let the garlic burn.
  • Add the spice mixture and mix well.
  • Add the Balsamic Vinegar and Wine and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium and allow to reduce by about half.
  • Add the tomatoes and their juices, the chick peas and 4 cups of beef stock and 2 cups of chicken stock.
  • Return the shanks to the pan and spoon the vegetables over them so they are nestled into the liquid and vegetables. If there is not enough liquid to cover the shanks fully, add another 2 cups of chicken stock, or a bit more if necessary.
  • Add the Rosemary sprigs. Increase the heat and bring to a boil.
  • Place the pot in the oven, uncovered, and cook for 3 hours until the meat is very tender and falling off the bones.
  • Serve with Mashed Potatoes and ladle the vegetables over the top.

Notes

KTINA’S TIPS:
  • I prefer Colorado lamb, it is much milder in flavor than Australia or New Zealand lamb and may convert those that recall the gamey lamb of their childhoods.  It’s worth sourcing.  
  • Lamb shanks are relatively inexpensive, so provide a great dish without breaking the bank.  If you don’t see them at your butcher, ask, as they may have them in back, often frozen.  
  • I like to use a large oval Le Creuset Dutch Oven when I’m making 4-6 lamb shanks.  
  • I like the Muir Glen brand of Fire Roasted Tomatoes.  You don’t need organic, but sometimes that’s all I can find. 
Keyword Braised, Lamb, Lamb Shanks, Mediterranean

Those were the exact words my friend Joe commented on my first post after a long hiatus! Really, who decides to embark upon a major renovation in the midst of a pandemic and a severe disruption in the supply chain resulting in LONG delays in furniture and appliances? Well, we did, that’s who. As if packing up and moving from Chicago after being happily settled there for 10 years, wasn’t enough of a challenge, what started out as a little “tweaking” of the kitchen in our newly purchased Houston home turned into a total gut job. In for a penny, in for a pound, right? We were lucky to find a contractor who could start right away and his 90 day timeline didn’t seem unreasonable in February, bringing us to about Memorial Day. I had been through a complete renovation of our Chicago kitchen, and I was pretty clear on what I wanted, so I set about making selections of appliances and fixtures. I was advised that appliances were backordered by about 12 weeks, which didn’t seem like such a big deal since the mid-May delivery dates I was being quoted seemed just about in keeping with the timeline.

Well, that was the week before the historic freeze that hit Houston in mid-February, shutting the city and its power grid down for the better part of a week. Once the power grid was restored and burst pipes repaired and thus water restored, we thought we were back on track. Then came the great national foam shortage. As we all know, foam is needed for furniture, but it is also necessary for insulation in appliances such as the refrigerators, freezers and ice maker that I had just ordered. It turns out several of the largest foam manufacturers are in Houston and they were victims of the freeze. Our 12 week backorder more than doubled with mid-September the new estimated delivery time. This was going to be painful.

The contractors were back on track in a mere 2 weeks and were making great progress with the cabinets. I pivoted with selections if something was backordered and the new kitchen began to take shape. We were looking at a late June move in, which was only a month off, and I know from experience that you need to tack on a few weeks to keep expectations in check and frustration at bay. We anxiously awaited word on the wood for the flooring as lumber prices soared, and we breathed a sigh of relief when it arrived a week early,

Our pack up in Chicago was scheduled for the third week of June, so we let the contractor know he had a hard deadline of June 29th, at which point we would be moving in. The walls of the temporary apartment that we were in since the end of January were beginning to close in on us and with our belongings packed up in Chicago and headed to Houston, it was “ready or not, here we come”. The painting contractor brought in extra crews and the house was habitable, though we still were waiting for appliances. We moved the refrigerator that came with the house to the laundry room, and the washer and dryer were in, so we could manage. In late August the refrigerator/freezers arrived and we seemed to be close to the finish line. Then the project manager quit…not our job, but the contractor. Thankfully, one of the partners took charge and set about fixing the things the project manager had dropped the ball on. Clearly he had “left” before giving his notice, and there was a long list of things that were wrong (outlets for refrigerators too high and needed to be moved), broken (cracked mirror on a new piece of furniture) or lost (like all the doorknobs removed by the painters that we planned to reuse). The profit margin was dwindling, but while that wasn’t our problem, and it was our problem, as the delays continued due to the need to order replacements, reschedule installations, and make repairs.

Meanwhile, furniture ordered in the spring began to arrive . . . Dining room table and chairs, the extra counter stools for the kitchen island, so the house was starting to look like a home. Finally in early October the range arrived and was installed! There was still a hole for the further delayed ice maker, but at long last we were operational and ready to host our first dinner party!

While the move from Chicago to Houston was emotional, the transition has been made easier thanks to the blessing of great friendships . . .both those we have known for many years from our time in London together and are like family, as well as new friends who have welcomed us with open arms. The menu of a Mediterranean Mezze with Hummus (HUMMUS), Tabbouli (TABBOULI) & Olive Sourdough Bread (SOURDOUGH BREAD), Braised Lamb Shanks and Creme Brulee was a hit (recipes coming).

The long renovation was worth it and KtinasKitchen is officially Back in Business…new recipes and posts on the way!

Oh yeah, the ice maker arrived the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, and the panel is finally being installed next week!

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.

ASIAN MARINADE & SAUCE

Course Main Course
Cuisine Asian, Thai

Ingredients
  

  • 1 jar 8-10 ounces Hoisin Sauce
  • ½ Cup Orange Juice pref fresh
  • ¼ Cup chopped Ginger about 4” piece
  • 3 cloves of Garlic
  • ½ Cup Soy Sauce or Tamari for gluten free
  • ¼ Cup Rice Wine Vinegar
  • ¼ Cup Sesame Oil
  • ½ Cup packed Brown Sugar
  • ¼ Cup Honey
  • ½ bunch Cilantro rinsed (leaves & stems)
  • 1 fresh Fresno pepper or long Thai Chili or a Jalapeno seeded
  • ½ tsp freshly ground Black Pepper
  • 1-2 tsp Hot Chili Oil to taste, optional

Instructions
 

  • 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.
  • BARBECUE SAUCE:
  • 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.

Notes

KTINA’S TIPS
  • 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)

ktinakelleher
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.
Course Main Course, Pasta, Sauces
Cuisine Italian

Ingredients
  

  • 2 Cups Onions, finely chopped (1 large onion)
  • 3 TBSP minced Garlic (6 cloves)
  • ¼ Cup Olive Oil pref Extra Virgin
  • 1 1/2 tsp Crushed Red Pepper flakes
  • 4 cans 28 oz Crushed San Marzano Tomatoes
  • 2 cans 28 oz Tomoato Puree (Passata)
  • 1 can 6 oz Tomato Paste
  • 1 ½ Cups Red Wine
  • 1 ½ Cups Water
  • 2 TBSP Sugar
  • 2 tsp Kosher Salt
  • 1 tsp Black Pepper pref freshly ground
  • 1 ½ TBSP Oregano dried
  • 1 ½ TBSP Basil dried
  • 2 Bay Leaves
  • 2-3 Parmigiano Reggiano Cheese Rinds
  • ¼ Cup fresh Basil leaves, chopped
  • 1 recipe Meatballs approximately 18
  • 8 Pork Chops boneless, center cut
  • 8 Hot Italian Sausages
  • 1 Coil Mild Italian Sausage or 8 individual sausages

Instructions
 

  • 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.

Notes

KTINA’S TIPS
  • 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.  
Keyword Spaghetti & Meatballs, Sunday Gravy, Tomato Sauce

MEATBALLS

ktinakelleher
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.
Course Main Course
Cuisine Italian

Ingredients
  

  • 2 pounds Ground Beef Chuck
  • 1 pound Ground Veal **
  • 1 pound Ground Pork
  • 3 Hot Italian Sausages, remove from casings or 1 pound bulk sausage
  • 1 Cup Onions finely chopped
  • 2 TBSP Garlic finely minced
  • ½ Cup Flat Leaf Parsley chopped
  • ½ Cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano
  • 4 Eggs
  • 1 Cup Bread Crumbs preferably fresh
  • 4 slices Bread crusts 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)
  • ½ Cup Milk
  • 1 tsp Kosher Salt & Black Pepper freshly ground
  • ½ Cup Olive Oil it does not need to be Extra Virgin

Instructions
 

  • 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.

Notes

KTINA’S TIPS
  • 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.  
Keyword Meatballs, Spaghetti & Meatballs, Sunday Gravy

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 feeding my sourdough starter with bread flour & water, it doubled in size in 4 hours.

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!

SOURDOUGH BREAD

ktinakelleher
This bread is so easy and delicious you may never buy a loaf again. The most important ingredient is mature sourdough starter, which you can keep in your refrigerator and feed once a week until you are ready to bake.
Other than the starter, you need time, as the dough will need to proof for 8-12 hours before you can bake it. The amount of time to proof, will vary depending on the temperature of your kitchen (70* is ideal). Depending on your schedule, you can either prepare the dough in the evening and allow it to proof overnight and bake in the morning, or prepare it in the morning and bake in the evening. If you're an early bird, you can make your dough, proof and bake in time for dinner.
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.
Prep Time 12 hrs
Cook Time 45 mins
Course BREAD
Cuisine American
Servings 1 Loaf (Boule)

Equipment

  • Dutch Oven (I use a 5 1/2 quart Le Creuset)
  • Large Bowl
  • 1/3 Cup DRY measuring cup
  • 2 Cup or larger LIQUID measuring cup
  • Rubber spatula (or Spoonula)
  • Disposable kitchen gloves (I like the Nitrile ones)

Ingredients
  

  • 1/3 Cup Sourdough Starter heaping
  • 1 3/4 Cups Water (warm)
  • 4 1/4 Cups Bread Flour
  • 2 tsp fine Sea Salt

Instructions
 

  • If it has been a while since you fed your starter, then you will need to feed it 8 hours before baking to ensure it is at least doubling in size, which means it is strong enough to make the bread rise. If you have been feeding your starter regularly, you can use it straight from the fridge as long as it has been fed within 7 days, however leave it on the counter for about an hour before making your dough.
  • Measure a heaping 1/3 cup of the starter in a dry measuring cup. It will be quite sticky. Add the starter to the water, after a couple of seconds it should float, which means your starter is strong and active.
  • Whisk the starter and the water together 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. It will take a bit of elbow grease to get the last bits of flour incorporated.