February 6 – February 12, 2023
Monday: Fresh and Wild Mushroom Stew with Polenta
Tuesday: Smoky Tomato Carbonara
Wednesday: French Onion Soup
Thursday: Italian Hot Sausage and White Beans with Escarole Stew
Friday: Broiled Ginger and Yogurt Shrimp
Saturday: Dinner at Julie’s – always a treat: Crown Roast of Pork, Puree of Celery Root and Cauliflower and a wonderful desert of (Chantilly?) Cream with Raspberry Sauce and Raspberries, not to mention a ‘self-service’ bar
Sunday: White Chicken Chili – Apps of
Guacamole and Chips, Driftwood Oven Pepperoni Pizza
Short-cuts, Gadgets, and a Recipe
Putting dinner on the table everyday is easy – it’s cooking the dinner that’s hard. (Please supply your own drum roll and cymbal clash to punctuate this feeble attempt at humor.)
The truth is, cooking is not that difficult, but it does take time and on some days, you just don’t want to face it and short cuts are in order.
On Sunday we had a small Super Bowl party with dinner at half-time, and we had some tried and true favorites – chili, guacamole and chips and an absolutely luscious pepperoni pizza. You will notice that one of the ingredients, at least, was store-bought – the chips. But the pizza was actually par-cooked at Driftwood Oven and then sauced, cheesed, pepperonied and baked at Casa Stuarti. And part of the chili was shredded chicken from a store-bought rotisserie bird. We also had salsa from Trader Joe’s. Do I feel guilty about these short-cuts? On the contrary. We had good food, I saved a little time and we contributed to the livelihoods of the good folks (not the owners) of Giant Eagle, Trader Joe’s and Driftwood Oven.
In any event, the point of our cooking is to put healthy, delicious food on the table every night and we’ll take all the help we can get with that. I spurn no store-bought food, so long as it is fresh, doesn’t contain a ton of sugar or preservatives and was not prepared by Uyghurs working for the Chinese government. I don’t worry about cooking from scratch, I am not a vegan, vegetarian, paleo, Mediterranean, keto or whatever the next fad that comes down the pike is, and I do not know the source of my protein or where my eggs come from.* In Pittsburgh, this leads me to recommend Giant Eagle’s rotisserie chicken, which beats Whole Foods flat, and Driftwood Oven’s par-cooked pizzas, and the salsa and chips from Trader Joe’s.
*Who the hell has time for that, other than writers who get paid to spend time on what is after all a futile quest? I think of Michael Pollan, slim as a refugee from Biafra, who knows his local suppliers, some of whom, I fondly hope, plunk a few discount store-bought eggs into his cage free cartons.
Last week also got me thinking (after our Kitchen-Aid manual can opener gave up the ghost) about the kitchen tools I would have trouble doing without. That can opener is one. Have you ever tried to open a can with the hook end of the old-style bottle cap openers? For an arthritic, this activity is torture.
What else couldn’t we do without? Our Dutch ovens come to mind, particularly Beez’s mother’s favorite pot:
Cast-Iron skillets – good knives – a decent coffee maker – wooden spoons – a box grater – and all sorts of odd little items that we use, if not for their intended purpose, for our very own intended purposes, like this cheese slicer:
which Beez uses to flip and plate breakfast sausages. (I should mention here our addiction to Bob Evans’ original sausage patties. On any Sunday, after church, put one of these babies on an English muffin, add some ketchup and you will be fueled and ready to tackle the Times’ Spelling Bee, crossword and cryptic.
And here’s a non-essential item which is definitely not a must-have, but pretty useful – a stand which will hold a cookbook open to the page you need for any given dish.
And, finally, here is a reasonably simple recipe for French Onion Soup. It does take time to caramelize the onions, but after that, everything is smooth sailing until you dig into the gooey, Gruyère crusted baguette slice sitting atop the umami-laden sweetness of that genius French elixir. Yes – I got carried away here. The word ‘umami’ should probably be banned. But the French do deserve praise for that soup.
FRENCH ONION SOUP
(adapted from NYT Cooking section January 29, 2023)
Timing: 90 minutes – give yourself an extra 20 if you’ve never caramelized onions
You really need to purchase French soup crocks for this dish – they are oven safe and will make you feel like you’re in Paris. Seriously, I would worry about putting some bowls directly under the broiler – so splurge – Beez ordered these on Amazon and we had them two days later:
Ingredients: 6 Servings
3 pounds large red or yellow onions (this might take 4 onions), peeled and thinly sliced
8-12 slices of French bread (baguettes, sliced on the diagonal are the perfect size, but boules can be cut to fit)
1 1/12 cups of grated Guyère Cheese (this is a splurge, but don’t skip it)
3 tablespoons butter
2 quarts beef stock – the cardboard packages will be just fine, but don’t use the canned stuff
1 cup dry white wine
1 tablespoon dry sherry
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon black pepper plus more to taste – we used maybe 2 teaspoons
¾ teaspoon kosher salt – you’ll need a good bit more to adjust the seasoning at the end of the cooking
Slice the onions.
You can measure out the other ingredients while the onions are being caramelized and grate the cheese and slice the bread as the soup is cooking.
Warm the broth in a saucepan over low – don’t let it boil or simmer aggressively.
Melt the butter in a heavy Dutch oven over medium. Add the onions and ½ teaspoon of salt, stir and cover for five minutes. (You’ll need to stir a bit, you want to get most of the onions coated with the fat.)
Now remove the lid (the onions will have softened) and lets the onions caramelize until golden brown. Do this over medium, but adjust the temperature if they are browning too quickly and stir from time to time to make sure all of the onions make contact with the bottom of the pan. This caramelization with take up to one hour or a bit longer – keep and eye on it; you do not want to burn the onions.
Now add the wine and Sherry and bring to a boil. Stir in the flour and let it thicken for a minute or two (stirring to make sure that all of it cooks).
Slowly add the warm broth and the pepper and another ½ teaspoon of salt and boil, uncovered, for 10 ten minutes. Adjust the salt and pepper to taste.
Now preheat the broiler and arrange the ovenproof soup crocks on a baking sheet. Ladle the soup into the crocks and cover the top with the bread slices. Sprinkle each crock with a lot of Gruyère. Broil for one or two minutes, until the cheese melts and browns. N.B. you must keep an eye on this. If you walk away, the bread can burn. (A little char on the edges is fine.)