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Spicy “Get Well” Chicken Soup

5 Feb

I’ve been sick for a month and I never get sick. Apparently the whole world is feeling it. For me, every time it seems over, with my defenses down a different bug comes barreling in and takes over. Plus, try as I might when I don’t feel well, I don’t eat well. Comfort food city, you know?

But I hit a wall this weekend: “I’ve had enough of this $@#%~!” 

So I created a spicy chicken soup designed to shock my system with fresh, healthy and spicy ingredients, something I could detox on all week. 

Spicy Get Well Soup

Turns out, though, it also happened to end up one of the best soups I’ve ever made. This is light, fresh and incredibly healthy soup with a spicy kick.  But you don’t have to have the flu to love this soup. I’m even having it for breakfast. It’s that good. 

If you do have the flu, an appetizer of my garlic salad and a bowl of this chicken soup will have you well on the way to recovery. After a weekend of eating both, I seriously feel 100 times better.

And so I present to you: 

TOM’S SPICY “GET WELL” CHICKEN SOUP

This is a great “throw a bunch of stuff in a pot without worrying too much about the amounts and it still comes out amazing” kind of recipe. You could easily vary the ingredients and it will turn out well. But use the specific ingredients noted here the first time you make it to get the genius. Then you can start messing with it.

Note 1: Whatever you do, use all the garlic and chilis noted. That’s the point. And it tastes great.

Note 2: I make this in my 7 Qt. Dutch oven. If you use a smaller pot, just halve the recipe.

Note 3: Homemade bone broth really makes a difference in this recipe. It’s easy. And so good for you. Just do it. A simple, beautiful recipe also below.

Note 4: You could easily make a more Tex-Mex version by eliminating the ginger, then adding some cumin with the garlic (I like to use cumin seed but ground is fine), then tossing in two corn tortillas, broken into small pieces, with the chicken. Even a can of your favorite white or red beans, rinsed. The Tex-Mex version will be wonderful as well, but a little thicker and more like a tortilla soup. Try the original first, though.

Finally: you will never know the fennel is there. Just use it even if you think you don’t like fennel. Umami baby.

INGREDIENTS

1 bulb fennel, white only, cored and very thinly sliced

1 large sweet onion, thinly sliced

3 stalks of celery (and leaves) sliced thin

2 Fresno chilis, sliced into thin rounds, with seeds

1 large Jalapeno, sliced into thin rounds, with seeds

2 colored bell peppers, sliced vertically into strips

12 cloves garlic, thinly sliced

4 carrots, sliced into thin coins (do not peel)

2 quarts bone broth (See a recipe below)

1 stalk lemongrass, snapped in half and crushed

1 package sliced crimini or button mushrooms

1 package of boneless, skinless chicken breasts, sliced into bite sized pieces

a chunk of fresh ginger, peeled, in one piece

1 head of kale, sliced into ½ inch pieces (or spinach or chard)

1 carton cherry tomatoes, halved

the juice of 2 limes

salt

white pepper

sliced avocado (optional for garnish)

chopped cilantro (optional for garnish)

DIRECTIONS

Sauté’ the fennel, onion, celery, Fresno chilies and Jalapenos in a glug or two of olive oil on low. Go long and slow, let them get soft. This takes a while, 15 or 20 minutes. Then add the bell pepper and continue to sauce for 10 more minutes. The original ingredients could even begin to softly caramelize.

Add the garlic and carrots, toss and continue to sauté on low for 3-5 minutes. Don’t let the garlic burn, just soften. Add a few pinches of salt and a shake or two of white pepper as they cook.

Add the broth and lemongrass. Bring to a boil then turn down as low as you can go. Add the chicken pieces. Let cook, stirring occasionally, 10 minutes, then add the kale and the mushrooms.

Continue to cook for at least 30 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through and the kale has started to soften. At this point, it can cook for even an hour more, it just gets better and better. But you can also now add the tomatoes and lime juice, and let cook another 15 or so minutes. Taste for salt and white pepper. You can add more broth depending on how soupy you want it.

It should have a pretty wonderful kick. Top with chopped cilantro and avocado slices if desired.

SIMPLE BONE BROTH

Take your largest pot (I have a stock pot, into which I put a pasta strainer, so it is easy to strain at the end) and fill it 2/3’s with water. Add 5-6 good meat bones (most grocery stores now sell soup bones) and a few chicken backs or chicken wings. Bring to a pic, then bring heat to low. Simmer for an hour, skimming the impurities from the top.

Add:

2 heads garlic (do NOT peel) halved horizontally

2 onions, with skin, quartered (if you do this through the root, they won’t fall apart too much)

2 fresno chilis, halved

4-6 stalks of celery, cut in large chunks, with leaves

4-6 carrots, with peel, cut in large chunks

1 head of kale, washed and cut into pieces

1 stalk of lemongrass, snapped in half and crushed

a bunch of thyme

1 lemon, halved

a handful of black peppercorns

a couple of whole cloves

Let simmer another few hours, still skimming.  I go 12 hours at least, sometimes even 24, but even by 6 hours you will have a lovely broth.

Strain. I like to then put the broth through cheesecloth or a nut bag (or very fine mesh strainer) to make the broth very clear but you don’t have to.

If you want, you can use the broth immediately.  Or, for later use, let it cool and then stick in the fridge. The next day, you can easily skim the fat off the top… if you want.

If you use a smaller pot, just use a couple less bones and halve the vegetable amounts.

Best Cookbooks 2017

13 Jan

Better late than never, right?

These lists can be a bit silly because I obviously did not read nor cook from every cookbook released this year. I am a proud cookbook whore, however, and read and cooked from quite a few. These are the cookbooks I particularly loved this year, you can’t go wrong with any of them. 

And remember, if you are building a cookbook library, always a great thing to do, I have a good primer here: Building Your Cookbook Library Vol. 1.

On to the best… If you don’t want all five (!!!), see which food type strikes your fancy and pick that one. Or just buy:

GJELINA

 

Based on the recipes from one of Los Angeles’ most highly acclaimed restaurants, this is my cookbook of the year. From the wonderful recipes, much easier than you might expect, to the technique beautifully taught including marvelous pantry items to have in your cupboard and fridge, this is a book I will use the rest of my life. These are rustic dishes exploding with fresh vegetables and amazing flavors. Fish, chicken, beef, lamb, soup, vegetarian… the book has it all. I also love how easy the book is to use… many cookbooks have spines that make them difficult to prop open on the counter. Gjelina has a wonderful spine I wish every cookbook publisher would mimic. It easily flops open and stays open right where you want it. Read, cook and enjoy.

LA VIE RUSTIC

 

Heaven. I’ve written here and here about the cookbook nights my beloved friend Tiffiny and I have, where we pick a new cookbook and try a dozen or so new dishes from the one book. We did this again last summer with La Vie Rustic and the meal was out of this world. These are french inspired dishes that are remarkably simple: when Tiff and I started to go through the book to pick recipes, we were a little worried it would not end up being a stellar, showy cookbook night, given the simplicity of most of the dishes. Goodness, were we wrong. From the best pate any of us have ever had, to killer main courses and sides, this is also a book I will return to over and over. Just wonderful. 

TORO BRAVO

 

My good friend and fellow Yogi Marc Peters (wonderful guy) lives in Portland, Oregon with his family. One one of my trips up there, he introduced me to Toro Bravo, a fabulous tapas restaurant with continual waits out the door. Damn, was that good food. Finally, the chef, John Gorham, came out with a huge, amazing cookbook filled with all the recipes from the restaurant and a ton of stories as well. If you get this, don’t be initially thrown by the first half of the book, which is all stories, no recipes. The stories are wonderful, instructive, and hilarious, and there are plenty of incredible recipes in the second half. The book, the food, the restaurant are all one hell of a party. 

MY MASTER RECIPES

 

Any reader of the blog knows my love for Patricia Wells, about whom I’ve written many times, including a post about how she changed my life. Here is her masterwork, a great reference book with many, many recipes both old and new. Included are a mind-blowing french fry recipe I’ll be posting about in the coming months and a no-rise pizza dough that is also out of this world. All of the recipes follow her simple, fresh approach to the best food possible. She’s a great lady and this is a great book.

ON VEGETABLES

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For me, this probably comes in second for cookbook of the year. Wow. Incredible book. It starts with Jeremy Fox’s moving, rough, personal story, then dives into his approach to cooking, which has been lauded for years and years. An amazing reference book and teaching bible as much as it is a recipe book, it’s hard not to order you to order this book right now. He may be a Michelin starred chef but the recipes are very approachable for the home cook.

Do you have a cookbook that inspires you? Let us know in the comments!

Looking forward to another great year with all of you. I always intend to post more, then life gets the best of me. I’ll do my best and so appreciate all the faithful readers and comments. Here’s to a glorious 2018! With lots of wonderful food and films!

 

Your Perfect Thanksgiving

17 Nov

While this is an amalgam of previous Thanksgiving posts, I hone every year. I know you have your favorites! We all do. But trust me… add a few of these (the cocktail and the turkey in particular.. and the dips… and, well, you know… ) and you will have the best dinner ever. Hell, just follow it all! I won’t let you down. 

Not a lot of writing below… you can scan other Thanksgiving posts for more detail. If it’s on the list below, I’ve made it many times, it’s easy, and your friends and family will be thrilled. 

COCKTAIL

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Cranberry Daiquiri

This is my signature cocktail for people from Thanksgiving thru New Years. Not too sweet and incredibly tasty. Once you have the syrup made, you can make it fast anytime:

Cranberry Daiquiri

DIPS

Pim Cheese corn dip

Spicy Pimento Cheese Dip

The pickle dip is killer. The pimento cheese dip is now referred to as “crack” by everyone who has tried it. Both will make you supremely happy:

Dill Pickle Dip

Spicy Pimento Cheese Dip

TURKEY

There is no better way to prepare a turkey. Nor is there an easier way, though you have to start the dry brine a few days ahead.  You can even prepare it early and bring it somewhere. You’ll never go back:

The Judy Bird

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The Perfect Turkey

 

SIDES (click links for recipes)

What’s better than stuffing?? (Or dressing for many southerners.) Nothing. Here is a post devoted entirely to this glorious dish. Oh and try adding fresh shrimp and lump blue crabmeat to your basic stuffing. Heaven:

Stuffing

stuffing

The Best Macaroni and Cheese Ever. ‘Nuff said:

The Best Macaroni and Cheese

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Macaroni & Cheese

 

Creamed Spinach, Drunken Mushrooms (whoa, wow) and the best Creamed Corn (dairy free!) all can be found here:

Three Amazing Sides

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Drunken Mushrooms

 

Traditional sweet potato casserole is just too sweet for me. So instead I make this crazy good sweet potato salad that is just right. (I eliminate the cranberries, also too sweet, but you may want to keep them):

Sweet Potato Salad

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Sweet Potato Salad

 

I’m not a huge fan of mashed potatoes, which for many of you probably calls anything I say into question. This, however, is a great recipe and travels beautifully:

Mashed Potatoes

Mashed-Potato-Casserole-spoon

Mashed Potato Casserole

 

Two wonderful cranberry recipes:

Cranberry Heaven

Raw Cranberry Relish

Cranberry Relish

 

BREAD

If you are like me and not much of a baker, these drop biscuits may not look like much but wow do they taste great. And so easy to make! You can also make and freeze them ahead of time and just rewarm:

Drop Dead Drop Biscuits

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Drop Biscuits

DESSERTS

The world’s best Pecan Pie:

Pecan Pie

A wonderful Pumpkin Pie:

Pumpkin Pie

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Pumpkin Pie

 

And if you need some chocolate, this is the best chocolate dessert ever:

Chocolate Pots De Creme

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Chocolate Pots De Creme

 

 

 

Homemade Butter… in 5 minutes

14 Sep
Homemade Butter.jpg

Butter made in 5 minutes

One of my favorite movies of all time is Rosemary’s Baby, still as chilling and brilliantly acted and directed as it was almost 50 years ago when it debuted. A favorite line in the movie has a modern relevance regarding food.

Rosemary (Mia Farrow), as you should know, becomes pregnant after moving into an old gothic apartment building on Central Park. On the advice of her doctor, she begins drinking a fresh, healthy milkshake every day, mixed and delivered by her next door neighbor, Minnie Castavet (Ruth Gordon deservedly won an Oscar for this role). According to Minnie, the shake contains raw egg, gelatin, herbs, and something called Tannis Root.

Rosemary Baby Shake 2

Mia Farrow and Ruth Gordon in “Rosemary’s Baby”

Rosemary, along with the audience, slowly begins to suspect there is a conspiracy to steal or harm her baby. Famously, very little happens in the movie yet it ruthlessly crawls under the skin. The ordinary becomes terrifying as we wonder if something is actually happening or if Rosemary’s imagination is running wild. 

When the book (1967) and the movie (1968) were each released, both phenomenal hits, our country and much of the world was in the midst of a decades long embrace of chemically created food over natural: formula over breast milk, margarine or oleo over butter, Saccharin and corn syrup instead of sugar, boxed food over food made from scratch, etc, etc. It seems so obvious now that something natural would be healthier than something created in a lab. But given years of misinformation and outright lies from both the government and food corporations, there was no reason for the public to believe otherwise. (I really despise the FDA, a rant I’ll reserve for another post.)

What’s fascinating today about Rosemary’s Baby is that the shake, made from natural ingredients, is one of the creepiest things in the movie. It becomes a focal point and a source of fear for the audience, and then Rosemary herself. A knot begins to form in our stomachs every time Rosemary takes a sip. As her paranoia increases, she finally snaps and revolts against what she perceives is being done to her. Rosemary then delivers the line I love:

“I want my vitamins from pills, like everyone else!”

Crafted and created in a lab is what was healthy and normal to audiences at the time. Natural was not. Even with our modern perspective, we are thrilled when Rosemary takes this stand. Is she too late? Is anything actually wrong? You’ll have to watch this brilliant movie to find out. (Note: It’s free if you have Amazon prime… the movie is gorgeously shot by William Fraker so try to watch it on a big screen!)

We are thankfully moving away from the days of margarine and corn syrup (lies, LIES!) and the idea that crafted in a lab is good for you. We have returned to the wonderful knowledge that something as simple and wonderful as butter can be enjoyed without the guilt that was thrust upon us for years. It actually is healthy!

Yet true, decadent butter is still hard to find, at least in the USA, thank you FDA. Years ago I was in Italy and ate at a small family owned hotel/restaurant on a farm. After I sat down, they brought me bread and butter. I tasted the butter on the bread and thought my head would explode. I’d never tasted anything so good. I called the owner over and in my very broken Italian kept asking him, ‘What is this??” He kept shrugging and saying, “It’s butter.” I kept saying,  “No, this is NOT butter.” He became frustrated and looked at me like a stupid American and finally threw up his hands. “It’s just butter!” I realized later it was butter that had been churned that very day, with no pasteurization. My goodness, was that incredible butter, so different than what we buy in most stores. 

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Il Falconiere

I’ve recently discovered you can make such butter at home, fast, without a churn! All you need is some heavy (whipping) cream and a food processor. With basically no effort at all, you will have fresh, incredible butter. Give this a try (and let me know what you think!)

For the recipe, click here: Continue reading

Simple Fruit Tarts

24 Aug
tart

watercolor by Frances Newcombe

This post should actually be entitled Fruit Tarts for Dummies…  or rather, Fruit Tarts for A Dummy. Because, listen, if I can do this … I, me, someone with absolutely no patience for baking or dough or measuring exactly or any of that silliness… if I can do this, you can do this. And you will be so happy.

Fruit trees are one of the many benefits of living in Southern California. Not just fruit trees, but bountiful fruit trees that need very little upkeep. I am as bad at gardening as I am at baking (that patience issue) yet I have in my yard lemon trees, orange trees, apricot trees, a pomegranate tree, a kumquat tree, avocado trees, a macadamia nut tree and a glorious fig tree that goes crazy in season. Consequently, I’m always looking for ways to use the fruit.

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Prepping Fruit Tarts

I’ve written before about Patricia Wells, a chef whose writing and cooking had an incredible influence on my life. In her book At Home In Provence, there’s a gorgeous Apricot-Honey-Almond Tart you can also make with figs. It looked so incredible, and so easy, I had to give it a try. My first attempt turned out so well I kept making these tarts over the summer, in different variations, to master the tarts and see which fruits worked best. And so I give you below my slightly tweaked take on her recipe.

Did I mention how %@$# incredible they taste? Wow, are they wonderful. This recipe slays everyone by both beauty and taste. Anyone you serve the tart will have no idea how simple it is (and there’s no reason to let them know!) They’ll look at you like you had Patricia fed-ex the tart from her kitchen in France. Because it’s best served room temperature, it’s perfect not only for your home but to bring to a picnic or to a potluck. My goodness, these taste good. And they are light as well! While gorgeous, this tart is the opposite of a heavy, dense dessert. But you get all the pleasure just the same. 

Apricot Tart

apricot tart, right out of the oven

ONE NOTE: Hearty fruits such a stone fruits or figs are best with this recipe. The blueberry and raspberry versions I tried tasted great but those soft fruits started to break down into mush by the time they were finished cooking.

***!!! As an added treat this week, my beloved friend Frances Newcombe did some art for the post, including a downloadable PDF of the recipe – click here to download what you see below.

For the recipe and download, click here: Continue reading

Garlic Salad, My Most Requested Dish

10 Aug
GS Ingredients

Ingredients for Garlic Salad

Given all the food I cook, it should be annoying that something so ridiculously simple as my garlic salad would be the dish people currently request the most. Annoying, that is, if I didn’t love it myself and could eat it every night.

And often do.

GS - salad

Garlic Salad

I say its “my” garlic salad because I landed on this recipe after many, many attempts and variations. But to be honest, it’s my attempt at recreating a favorite dish from growing up, Mama Colichia’s House Salad. Colichia’s Italian Village was opened by Mama Colichia in 1935 in Port Arthur, Texas. I’m not sure the original location but when our family was going, which was often (same for much of my hometown), the restaurant was in the Colichia’s house on Proctor Street. The tables were set up in the living room and dining room and Mama Colichia worked out of her kitchen. 

The food was pure old fashioned Sicily and absolutely wonderful. I always ordered either the Veal Parmigiana (mostly) and the lasagna (on special occasions). The Spaghetti and Meatballs were also a town favorite. But the most remarkable dish that came out of that kitchen was the house salad Mama Colichia served with every meal. She made each salad by hand right before it came out of the kitchen. She used — and pardon my Texas-French — a shitload of garlic and distilled white vinegar. Good Lord, that salad. You can live on it.  We would talk about it as a family, obsessing on it. My dad, whom Mama Colichia loved, thought for years she put a dash of Dr. Pepper in the salad, because she used a Dr. Pepper bottle to hold her vinegar. (It works great!) You could see her making the salad when the swinging door dividing the kitchen from the dining room would swing back and forth when the waiters walked through the door. 

While Mama Colichia passed years ago and the house on Procter is no longer an Italian Village, her children and grandchildren still run updated versions at home and I always slide in to have the salad. 

Over the years, I’ve tried different variations to see if I could get close. I’ve finally ‘mastered it’, if you can call the rather ramshackle recipe below mastering. No matter. I will in no way claim this is a good as Mama Coilichia’s, but if/when I ask people what they want for dinner, I hear this the most. And so I give it to you.

Don’t be scared of the garlic. It’s good for you and you will love this.

Oh, and when I made this salad to take the pictures for the blog, I ate the whole bowl. It’s all I ate for dinner, with a martini, so don’t think I’m a pig. And I’m a rabbit, I love all salad in general. But yes I ate the whole bowl. It’s that good.

GS garlic salad

My dinner

For the recipe, click here: Continue reading

Killer Easy Soft Tacos

4 Aug
Soft Taco Ingredients

ingredients for soft tacos

I may be of Cajun heritage but growing up in Texas, Tex-Mex was easily the most consistent staple of my diet.  Our family ate Tex-Mex all the time: at least twice a week at restaurants (El Charro, I miss you so much) and ground beef crispy tacos frequently at home. Cheese Enchiladas with Chili Gravy remain one of my favorite foods in all the world, something I cannot seem to find anywhere but Texas, a version worth eating, at least.

In college, I ate these amazing enchiladas at least three times a week. I always had them as part of the “Deluxe Platter”, a standard on any Tex-Mex menu. The “Deluxe Platter” consists of a first course which is a large plate consisting of one Crispy Beef Taco, one Bean Chalupa, some Chili Con Queso and a Guacamole Salad. Then comes the second plate of two Cheese Enchiladas with Chili Gravy, a Beef Tamale and Rice & Beans. With flour tortillas on the side.

Deluxe platter

A Tex Mex Deluxe Platter

Yes, three times a week. Minimum. Seriously. And I loved putting the enchiladas into a flour tortilla, which I would imagine to some is a terrible faux pas but who cares when you can be this happy.

I was a bit shocked when I moved to California after college. While there’s just as much Mexican food in Los Angeles, it’s very different than Tex-Mex. Shredded beef tacos instead of ground beef? Red Sauce on enchiladas not chili gravy? Corn tortillas with soft tacos, not flour? Black beans instead of pinto peans?

What on earth were these people thinking?

I was quite grumpy about a new type of Mexican my first few years here… although the side effect of not eating a Deluxe Platter at least three times a week was that I lost 25 lbs in my first two months in Los Angeles without even trying. And I’ve come to love the more interior Mexican food of California but I still love Tex-Mex the most.

Another great Tex-Mex dish is soft tacos, which are always made with flour tortillas, not corn. Breakfast tacos – a flour tortilla filled with scrambled eggs, cheese, pico de gallo and bacon or sausage – are heaven and easy to make. We consumed mass quantities of breakfast tacos in college at 3 AM, usually at The Lazy Daisy on Guadalupe which was conveniently located a block from our fraternity house. (Lazy Daisy, I miss you so much.) But I love grilled steak and fish soft tacos as well.

Steak Tacos

Steak Soft Tacos

Let me give you, then, an easy and wonderful dinner you can make quickly when you have all the ingredients on hand. Even better, if you live near a Trader Joe’s, you can get most everything you need in one shop, save canned Chipotles, which you should always have in your pantry anyway.

Take my word for it, people go nuts over these soft tacos.

For the recipe, click here to  Continue reading