Tag Archives: slow

After Christmas dinner comes plum pudding

As you might have guessed I’ve given Christmas Dinner a lot of thought. There have been culinary highs and lows. I’ve made far too much, too rich food. I’ve lost a lot of sleep. I’ve allowed my kids too much Christmas chocolate and suffered some mind-bogglingly bad behavior. Two years ago I had to spend the afternoon on Christmas day in bed, trying to catch-up on rest I was too wired to get the night before. A lost cause. I’d drunk too much coffee!

Figuring out how to have a nice day, a nice dinner and nicely behaved kids forces me to be reductive. I don’t want to spend the whole day in the kitchen. I want to play a board game, do a puzzle, get out of the house for some fresh air with the family and the dog. I want to make food that my kids will look forward to, that will thrill the grown-ups. If we want to be sure to have happy kids, this would not be the time for experimentation, even though my natural inclination is to try something new. Experimentation feels festive to me and I have to shelve that impulse. I have tried to create a tradition that isn’t bogged down by either trendy recipes that will quickly seem passé or uninspired renditions of the menus we had as kids.

After much trial and error I’ve finally arrived at what feels like the perfect Christmas meal. It has been a long haul. One year I prepared a slavishly Swedish smörgåsbord with smoked fish, ham, meatballs, lingonberries and all the trimmings. The next year I made a totally traditional British meal with a haunch of roast beef, billowing Yorkshire pudding, crisply roast potatoes and gravy—followed by plum pudding. Cooking such complicated heavy meals takes weeks of prep and planning and it gets boring. This led to exhaustion (me), bad behavior (my kids) and frustration (Martin). Then I had an illuminating conversation with my aunt.

The answer to my dinner conundrum turned out to be French dip sandwiches. Seriously. And no, they aren’t too pedestrian for the main event on Christmas Day. My aunt takes the French dip sandwich to a whole new level and yet she manages to keep the process easy so that her Christmas day is a relaxing one where she can enjoy her family and still have a meal that everyone looks forward to. She makes a standing rib roast for all of us on Christmas Eve and then, with leftovers, builds the most luxurious French dips the next day.

I can do this! I thought. So now I roast a beef tenderloin, which is a very easy thing to do on Christmas Eve, and slice it up the next day. I stir a little horseradish into some creme fraîche so it’s got a searing edge to it. I open a jar of cherry chutney that I buy at the store—that’s easy. I put par baked little French breads from La Brea into the oven; they are perfect with a crispy crust and an interior with just enough oomph that it doesn’t melt into the brothy dip. (Once I tried brioche rolls – a disaster! They disintegrated.) I butter the bread and layer it with piles of thinly sliced rosy beef. Wrapping the sandwiches in foil, I put them in the oven to make sure they get good and hot and move on to the salad. The beef broth for dipping is made the weekend before, and heated up just before serving.

With the sandwiches there will be a salad, a variation on the one that I made a few weeks ago, the failed salad. I’ve tweaked the recipe and now it works. The watercress gets a much milder blue cheese, blood oranges and candied walnuts. I kept the pickled currants and shallots and added juice from the blood orange to the vinaigrette. Now the salad is perfectly balanced. The colors are vibrant and very Christmas-y.

For starters we have smoked salmon on homemade Swedish rye bread with all the trimmings: minced red onion or chives, lemon, unsalted cultured butter, sea salt. With this you must serve champagne.

The one thing I couldn’t ditch was the plum pudding. And I’m going to tell you how to make it, even though I would put money on the fact that nobody who reads this will actually try making one. My grandfather faxed the recipe to me from England, transcribed from my grandmother’s “norse mutterings”, back in 1991. It really wouldn’t be Christmas dinner if I didn’t serve Granny’s Plum Pudding afterwards.

Christmas Menu

Smoked salmon, creme fraiche, minced red onion and lemon on Swedish rye bread with fennel seed and orange rind

French dip sandwiches with horseradish cream, sour cherry chutney and strong beef broth for dipping

Watercress salad with gorgonzola dolce, blood oranges, candied walnuts, quick pickled dried currants and shallots

Granny’s Plum Pudding and Hard Sauce

Plum Pudding  

You can make this weeks in advance of Christmas. It will only improve with age.

  • 3/4 cups softened butter
  • 2 cups soft bread crumbs from white bread
  • 1 tsp pumpkin pie spice
  • 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 3 cups dried currants
  • 1 1/2 cups raisins
  • 1 1/2 cups golden raisins
  • 1/2 cup candied citron or orange peel or a mixture of both – chopped
  • 1/4 cup dried cherries
  • 1/2 cup chopped blanched almonds
  • 1 large cooking apple, grated
  • 3 eggs
  • the zest of one orange and one lemon
  • 3/4 cup sherry—or “any booze you have”; some people like Guinness for this. Others, ginger beer.

Stir all the ingredients together until well combined. Pack into a buttered pudding basin and steam in a soup pot for 6 hours. You do this by sealing the pudding basin and placing on a stainless steel vegetable steamer. Fill the pot with water so that it comes a quarter way up the sides of the pudding basin. After six hours let it rest uncovered on the counter until it is cool. Store in the refrigerator for weeks if necessary and reheat in a steamer on the stove. This seems to take about 2 hours. All this cooking will not hurt the pudding in any way.

Martin says that Plum Pudding is really just a vehicle for the following hard sauce and I understand what he is saying up to a point. In my opinion, you do need to serve Plum Pudding with some sort of sauce. We like Hard Sauce. Some people serve it with a sickly rum creme anglaise kind of thing but I don’t approve of that.

Hard Sauce

  • 3/4 cup softened unsalted butter
  • 1 1/4 cups soft brown sugar
  • 3 tbsp brandy

Cream the butter and then add the sugar. A hand mixer or food processor will make this very quick. Then add the brandy and process until smooth. Taste it; you may want more brandy. Put the hard sauce in the refrigerator to chill. I like this lethally strong as the contrast of the boozy sauce melting over the the mindbendingly rich and steamy pudding is so completely diverting.

It would be very much in the spirit of the Christmas season to have a not-too-small piece heated up in the microwave the morning after with a spoonful of Hard Sauce. Eat it in bed before the kids have woken up with a cup of strong Indian tea with milk on the bedside table, while reading one of the books you unwrapped the day before.

That’s what I would do.


More cannellini beans. More soup with bread stirred into it. What can I say? I imagine it will be difficult to convince anyone that they ought to run out and try this soup. I was dubious too, the first time I tried it.

I don’t think it’s just the memory of the candlelit barrel vaulted brick ceiling in the restaurant or of being an architecture student in Florence or of walking out in the chilly darkened narrow streets of late fall behind the basilica of Santo Spirito. That memory is sketchy and faded and would be unlikely to have any bearing on how I remember this soup. It was over 20 years ago after all. I do remember the cistern quality of the room, the dim light, the heavy dark wooden furniture. Also that it was kind of thrilling to enter a space that was so deep underground. A dozen of us crowded around a long corner table. We’d been strongly encouraged to try the ribollita. Yes, skip tagliatelle al cinghiale e porcini. Skip bistecca alla fiorentina. (It’s way out of your meager student budget anyway.) Don’t just order a salad or pasta. So I, like everyone else at the table except for one extremely picky person, shrugged and ordered ribollita. I am still so happy I did.

Ribollita is not a brothy soup. It looks like wet stuffing. (I shouldn’t have written that. Now you’ll never try it.) There are ragged shreds of cavolo nero run all through it – it wouldn’t be ribollita without the cavolo nero. Don’t think you can just substitute plain old kale or cabbage and still call it ribollita. Bread is essential. I have come across recipes that layer the bread in the soup like some kind of bread lasagna. This seems wrong to me. It needs tearing up and stirring in; transforming plain old minestrone into a deliciously rich velvet mess. A drip or two of green olive oil over the top, just before serving – that’s also important.

Ribollita is the easiest thing in the world to make and at the same time, time consuming. To extract rich flavor from such simple ingredients, you have to let it cook for awhile but the hands on part is minimal. You will be richly rewarded for a little planning and labor! I think I might be begging you to try this…No, I am begging you to try this. You won’t regret it. Ribollita is just the thing for December. Utterly warming and deeply satisfying on an almost spiritual level for adults. And yet my four year old plowed through a large bowl. Even after burning his tongue, he kept on eating. Then he asked for seconds.

Ribollita – serves 6

  • 1 cup of cannellini beans, soaked over night and simmered for about 45 minutes until tender. Save the cooking liquid. (Simmer with a bay leaf and a couple of smashed cloves of garlic. Add a tablespoon of salt towards the end.)
  • A small bunch of chopped parsley, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped
  • 4 large stalks of celery, chopped
  • 2 medium carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 2 red onions, peeled and finely chopped
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 (14 1/2 ) ounce can whole plum tomatoes, drained and chopped
  • 1 bunch cavolo nero, stalks removed and sliced into coarse shreds
  • 1 loaf of stale pugliese or other Italian style bread, crusts removed and torn into 1-2″ pieces
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • extra virgin olive oil and parmesan
  1. Over medium heat, in a large heavy soup pot, place the parsley, garlic, celery, carrot, onion and olive oil and stir. When the vegetables are hot and gently sizzling, turn the heat down to low and cover. Leave for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Do not let it stick or brown.
  2. Add the tomatoes, and cook for another 30 minutes in the same way.
  3. Add the cavolo nero and half the cannellini beans with enough of their cooking liquid to cover everything and make the soup liquid. Simmer for another 30 minutes.
  4. Using an immersion blender if you have one or a food processor if you don’t, puree the remaining cannellini beans. Add them to the soup. If the soup looks dry, add a little boiling water until it is just liquid.
  5. Add the bread, several glugs of extra virgin olive oil, and season to taste with sea salt and pepper.
  6. The soup should be extremely thick.
  7. Garnish each serving with more olive oil at the table and parmesan if desired.

Summer with a twist – Rhubarb cocktails and gravad lax

It’s summer (sort of) here in the Pacific Northwest.  I’m going to keep this quick and offer Gravad Lax – home cured salmon – as an option for when you are tired of the grill.

For me this happens maybe once each summer – usually during a heat wave when it’s too hot to stand around flipping burgers in front of a red-hot pile of charcoal. Instead of singeing your eyebrows off in 90 degree heat by the Weber while your guests are sitting over there drinking cold beer, your dinner is already done, so you can be sitting in the sun with a beer too. You see, you salt the fish two days before you eat it, allowing it to cure in the refrigerator. About half an hour before you want to eat, pull the salmon from the cold of the fridge and shave the thinnest translucent slices possible from the fish. The salt will have pulled all the moisture out and the color will be vividly red. The cool salty-silky salmon is a welcome change from peppery charred filets you might expect on a hot June night. Even though it’s not exactly hot here in Seattle.

I like to imagine serving gravad lax in the long bright evenings you get in Stockholm at midsummer, but without the mosquitoes. We didn’t have mosquitoes last week but since this is Seattle in June, we had rain, rain, rain. No sultry summer evening in the garden for us! Still, we had a fantastic time with friends. With the salmon, we served rhubarb cocktails. I’m including both recipes. Happy summer!

The Stockholm – serves 1

  • 1/2 ounce aquavit
  • 1/2 ounce cointreau
  • 1 1/2 ounces rhubarb puree (recipe follows)
  • dash of orange bitters
  • Prosecco to top up
  • a piece of orange peel, cut wide with a sharp vegetable peeler

Rhubarb puree – makes enough for many cocktails

  • 4 stalks rhubarb, rinsed and sliced into 1/2″ slices
  • 3-4 tbsp sugar
  • juice of one lime

  1. Preheat the oven to 400.
  2. Toss all ingredients together in a small baking dish (for instance, an 8″x8″ square pan or a gratin). Cover tightly with aluminum foil.
  3. Bake in the oven for about 1/2 an hour until the fruit is completely soft.
  4. Push the rhubarb through a fine mesh sieve with a wooden spoon or, if you are feeling completely lazy, puree in the food processor. (if you opt for the food processor, the puree will be somewhat fibrous)
  5. Refrigerate until cold and proceed.

Assembling the cocktail:

  1. In a tall cold champagne flute stir together the aquavit, cointreau, rhubarb puree and the bitters.
  2. Top up with chilly Prosecco and float a wide piece of orange peel to finish.

This is now my favorite summer cocktail. That St. Germaine that I sometimes rave about would potentially be an excellent substitute for the Cointreau if you happen to have any lying around.

Gravad Lax – serves 6-8 as a generous appetizer

Allow 4 days to complete the recipe. Note that there is a total of 15 minutes  easy work though.

  • 2 pounds salmon (I used Copper River sockeye)
  • 2 teaspoons peppercorns (I used mixed), lightly crushed
  • 4 tablespoons kosher salt (not fancy kosher sea salt & not sea salt, just regular old kosher)
  • 2-4 tablespoons sugar (I used 3)
  • About a cup of rinsed, coarsely chopped dill
  • lemon wedges, finely minced onion, chopped chives, crème fraiche, cucumber slices, coarse sea salt, thinly sliced dark rye bread to serve

  1. Day 1-2: Freeze the salmon for 48 hours to kill any parasites.
  2. Day 3: First, cut the salmon fillet in half across the short dimension. If you pull any pin bones with needle nosed pliers, you will make slicing and serving a lot easier.
  3. Stir the peppercorns, salt and sugar together in a small bowl.
  4. In a rimmed baking dish (to catch any salt that doesn’t adhere) rub about a third of the salt mixture on the flesh side of each piece of salmon.
  5. Sandwich the salted fish, flesh sides together, with the rest of the salt mixture and the dill in the middle. The thick part of one piece should top the thin part of the other. Place in a gallon-sized Ziploc bag, carefully sealed, in the bottom of the refrigerator for 2 days. I would put the bag in a baking dish. Turn the bag a couple of times a day.
  6. Day 5: After 2 days, drain any liquid and scrape off the salt mixture and dill and place in the freezer for half an hour (you don’t HAVE to put it in the freezer but it sure makes slicing it very thin a lot easier)
  7. Gravad lax keeps for at least a week, drained of all the accumulated liquid, in the refrigerator. Well wrapped, it keeps for 3 months in the freezer.
  8. Serve with crème fraiche, chopped chives or minced red onion, lemon wedges, maybe a few cucumber slices and if you are feeling ambitious (I recommend this) some excellent homemade rye bread with fennel seeds. (If you haven’t tried rye without caraway seeds, you haven’t lived. You won’t be disappointed I promise – send me a comment if you want the recipe!) Otherwise some of those rye cocktail squares or German style pumpernickel would be fine.

I like to make a big platter with everything, piling up the gravad lax and all the condiments in heaps. Little teaspoons can scoop up the crème fraiche and onions. Everyone can build little sandwiches according to their own taste. A little bite of sandwich, a taste of the cocktail, and around it goes. What a nice party! A more organized person than I am would at least provide cocktail napkins. Oh well.

White Bean and Kale Soup, Fennel Variation: Part 2


I don’t think my dad can stand it anymore. I think he might stop coming for dinner. My kids are complaining.  I just need one last brothy fennel scented bowl and I might be able to stop for awhile…

I hope you’re feeling smug. You have stock in the fridge and the freezer now.   Now the soup will be a snap. One thing about making stock is that it slips so easily into the rest of the day – especially if you’re fearless about leaving the barely bubbling pot on low heat and getting on with other things. Although I like all the small building blocks – slicing an onion is an exercise in thoughtful efficiency, smashing every clove in a head of garlic can be cathartic. The scent of fennel seeds crushed under a pestle – and I’m in Italy. There is nothing monumental about any of these tasks but the result is there simmering on the stove. If all you ever do is open a box of stock, all you get is that funky boxy chicken smell.

The work on Day Two is minor. You set the beans to soak  late in the day after the dishes are done, your kids are asleep and you are about to open a good book. At least that is what happens to me every single time. I get into bed at about 11:30 PM with my book, something I’ve been dying to read all day, and then suddenly I remember, I have to soak the beans! So I haul myself out of a warm bed, through the cold house, and downstairs to dump 1 1/2 cups of cannellini beans in the biggest Pyrex bowl and cover them generously with water. Then I go back to my book. That’s the end of Day Two. See what I mean? A four year old could do it – if he could stay up that late.

In the morning, it’s good to start before anyone else is awake. Outside is still darkly grey, but I flick on the light and the kitchen glows like a lantern. Drain the beans and put them in a large pot. Then cover them with 2 inches of water. Add a few smashed cloves of garlic. 24 peppercorns (don’t ask me why 24 – I read it in some recipe somewhere a long time ago and it just stuck) and bay in a large mesh ball. Start the pot to boil. When it does, lower the heat and leave to slowly simmer. I make a cup of coffee and go with my mug back to bed. I can laze around with my book for around 45 minutes then it’s probably time to turn off the stove. Taste a bean and see if it is soft – not mushy though – and nearly ready to eat. Now it is time to salt – if you salt at the beginning, the skins will be tough. Add salt to the water until it is quite salty – at least 2 tbsp. Turn off the heat. Let the beans sit there in the cooking liquid until you’re ready for them.  For me this could take at least until lunchtime.

Kale and Cannellini Bean Soup with Fennel, (Finally!)

  • 8 cups homemade chicken stock
  • 1 red onion
  • 1 generous pinch of red chili flakes
  • 3 carrots
  • 3 celery stalks
  • 1 fennel bulb
  • 1  bunch of kale
  • 4 cloves of garlic
  • 4 canned plum tomatoes
  • the cooked cannellini beans, drained
  • 1 tsp fennel, freshly ground in a mortar and pestle or in a clean coffee grinder
  • the juice from one lemon
  • sea salt and pepper

Optional condiments

  • grated parmesan
  • green spicy olive oil
  • homemade croutons or toast with olive oil and garlic

Ok – the rest is quick.  Check it out: Chop the onion.

See how I sliced the onion in half from top to bottom, then made long parallel cuts toward the root.  After that it is very simple to slice thin perpendicular cuts to get perfect small dice. Cutting an onion this way is much faster than randomly chopping into tiny pieces.

Peel, then chop the carrots:

Trim then slice the celery:


Trim and core the fennel, slice into 1/4″ slices – they should look like long quarter moons.

Wash and remove the ribs of the kale. Slice into ribbons.


Take a large heavy bottomed soup pot (I use a 7 1/2 qt. enameled cast iron) and heat over medium heat.

Add 1/3 c. olive oil, the chopped onion and 1 tsp. chili flakes. Stir thoroughly and lower heat. Cover. Simmer for 10 minutes stirring occasionally.

Add the carrots and celery. Raise the heat to medium-high. Stir and cook with the lid off for 5 minutes.

Add the chopped garlic , ground fennel and sliced fennel. Cook for two minutes.

Add the tomato. Cook for 2 minutes.

Taste for salt and pepper. If you decided not to salt the stock, be sure that the vegetables are salted until they taste deliciously but not too salty.

Add the beans, then stock. Bring the soup to a simmer. Cook for 15 minutes. Add lemon juice to taste and taste again for salt and pepper. I like the lemon subtle. The juice from one small lemon should be plenty – this is not lemon soup.

While the soup simmers, bring a medium pot of water to the boil. Add a tbsp of salt and blanch the kale for 3 minutes. Drain and rinse with cold water.

If I were you, here’s what I’d do.  (I am always guilty of overselling – sigh. I do hope you like this!)  If you have one, set a wide soup plate on the counter. Pour a glass of wine and leave it on the table where you plan to eat so that the flavors open up. Toast a piece of rustic bread by brushing it with olive oil and running it under the broiler. Don’t burn it and do toast both sides – it should be golden and crisp on the outside and almost creamy inside. Peel a clove of garlic and cut it in half. Rub the cut half over one side of the toast and put it in the soup plate. A handful of  blanched kale goes on the toast. Ladle soup over toast and kale until the bowl is brimming. Drizzle a tablespoon of pungent green olive oil over the top and grate parmesan cheese lightly over all of it. Take the soup plate and go sit with the glass of wine.  Take a deep breath – the fennel and garlic are the most forward. Then the warm scent of chicken stock. Pale and yielding cannellini beans contrast with deep green chewy kale. Something about the toast pushes me over the edge. Taste it. White Bean and Kale Soup is grown-up and sophisticated yet so mild and comforting it could be child’s food.

There you have it. My most favorite meal. (at the moment)



My Desert Island Food: White Bean and Kale Soup, Fennel Variation: Part 1

Consider that for years I have scrupulously avoided all dark mineraly leafy greens. Chard, spinach, escarole, kale. So bitter and chewy – not what I was after in a vegetable. So no one could be more surprised than I that my current obsession is with lacinato kale. Dinosaur Kale. Black Kale. The blackest, most tooth-y leafy green of them all. I’m still not quite sure how it happened. And of course kale’s healthy. In fact, as far as I can tell, it’s the healthiest thing at the grocery store. It gets a 1,000 point ANDI* score, right up there with mustard, turnip, collard greens and watercress, making it almost 30% more healthy than even spinach! Why the fixation on kale? The strange dark chewiness – intriguing! I have a girlfriend who is so into lacinato kale that she eats it raw. But first she has to massage the kale. She said it was part of being macrobiotic or something. Massage. Kale. Really?! I should be on the receiving end of any massage, not mere kale.

Anyway I don’t eat it raw. No. I like kale blanched then sauteed with little rings of shallots and ribbons of prosciutto. Tossed with sherry vinegar and a knob of butter. Or in white bean soup. And make that cannellini beans not navy beans. For me, white bean and kale soup is the pinnacle of all soups. I have been working on variations of this soup for over a year and I think I am nearly there. White bean and kale soup might be a strange thing to crave on a desert island, I know, but for me this is the best kind of food: flavorful, nourishing, and more-ish. So today, I am going to start a two-part article on my desert island food which, shockingly, turns out to be White Bean and Kale Soup with Fennel. The creamy beans, the blackish intensity of the kale, the delicate, particular perfume of fennel. Not to mention the chicken broth holding the whole thing together.

Store-bought stock will not cut it in this recipe. I don’t want you to try this with Pacific Organic Chicken Broth or anything else from the soup section at your grocery store. The full experience starts with a deeply flavorful but light-handed, deftly salted broth. If you start with stock from a box, I can’t be responsible for your impression of my favorite soup! You will think I’m a nutcase if you start with industrial broth. (You probably think I am a nutcase anyway!) We have to start from the beginning. Chicken bones, water, salt and pepper, carrots, celery, etc. And go from there. This is how I do it. Part One.

Chicken Broth

People like Ina Garten start their stock from whole chickens. In Ms. Garten’s case, from 3 whole chickens. I have tried this with 2 whole chickens (my pot, while huge, is not that huge) and it is very nice, but it costs $28 just to buy the birds. Stock should be about thriftiness, though not mean frugality. The components should be fresh and plentiful, but whole chickens?! Not here. Save them for roasting and do as I do. Fresh backs and necks with maybe a leftover roast leg or thigh for richness.

Don’t freak out about the length of the recipe. This is fifteen minutes of hands on work. Fifteen minutes! You can handle it.

  • 4 pounds of backs and necks
  • if you have them, any frozen roasted chicken bones or leftovers from a roast chicken
  • 3 large carrots, peeled and chopped into 1″ pieces
  • 3 celery stalks, washed and chopped into 1″ pieces
  • 2 red onions, peeled and cut into 8 pieces
  • 1 head of garlic cut in half across the equator
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 24 peppercorns
  • parsley, tied up and tied to the pot
  • olive oil, sea salt, ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 450.

Toss the raw chicken backs and necks in a wide roasting pan, giving the bones plenty of space with 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil and 1 heaping tsp of sea salt and some freshly ground black pepper.

Roast for 4o minutes, until deeply browned and very fragrant.

Put the bones in the bottom of your soup pot. I used to use an enormous stainless steel pot, but it was so unwieldy and the process became too much of a production. Now, I use an 8 quart Le Creuset stock pot that I think of as medium sized and make enough stock for 2-3 pots of soup. I use 8 cups of stock for the soup and freeze the leftovers.

Once the bones are in the soup pot, the roasting pan will be a sea of chicken fat and olive oil, pour all of it off and dispose of it properly (not down the drain!). Then take about 1/2 cup of water and scrape up all the brown flavorful bits off the bottom. Do this while the pan is still hot! Be thorough – there is a lot of flavor there. Pour all of the browned pieces and now very flavorful water into the stock pot as well.

Add any leftover roasted bones from a roasting chicken now, or any leftover cooked chicken on the bone if you have it.

Place the carrots, celery, onions, garlic, bay, peppercorns and parsley into the pot. You can tie the parsley to the side, or not. I like to fish the parsley out at the end as it is kind of slimy and soggy – even though I strain the stock anyway.

Add water until it completely covers the chicken and vegetables and is dangerously close to overflowing.

Heat the water over high heat until just about to boil. Then lower the heat and simmer very, very gently (barely bubbling) for 3-4 hours. Skim off any scum that forms on the top.

When the level of the soup has dropped about an inch and your house is redolent with the the warm scent of chicken broth, it is time to taste. Be thoughtful – you haven’t added sea salt yet.  You have to think carefully about what you are tasting. And you have to choose, salt the broth now or salt the soup later?  I usually salt the soup later – at the beginning when I am cooking the onions, carrots and celery. If you can’t wait that long to start to see that it is perfect already, add one teaspoon of sea salt (I love Redmond Salt from Utah), taste and then add very small increments until your stock tastes lightly salted and totally delicious.

Now it is time to strain off all the vegetables and chicken and bones which will be sapped of anything worthwhile and need to be thrown away. Line a colander with 3 layers of paper towels and ladle the broth through them into a large bowl. You will probably need at least two large bowls.

Then, if you are making soup the next day, ladle 8 cups into a storage container that fits into your refrigerator. Ladle the rest into Ziplock bags in either 4 or 8 cup increments and freeze, labelled and with the date.

I do this every 3 weeks and now I have a huge stockpile of…errr, stock!

*Aggregate Nutrient Density Index    http://andiscores.com/

P.S. Ok…after some thought – who am I kidding?! Kale and White Bean Soup may be my desert island food right now – but how long will this obsession really last!?!?! When I change my mind, I’ll let you know.

Pulled pork sandwiches – yes you can

If there is anything that would stop me from becoming a vegetarian (okay, there are many things) one of them would be the pulled pork sandwich. And carnitas. And those little grilled pork skewers you get with rice noodles and salad at a Vietnamese restaurant. The carnitas and the pork skewers always seem to taste better in the restaurant but I think you can easily approximate barbecued pulled pork at home. A real grill master would certainly beg to differ and it’s true: true barbecue is grilled over hardwood and the smoke imparts flavor. I (lamely, I gather) grill mine on my gas grill.  The great thing about making it yourself though, is how easy it is. Although the actual pulling of the pork initially may seem a little arduous, the work is actually minimal considering that when you are done you will be able to feed 15 people.  It really pays.

Pulled pork sandwiches feel celebratory to me – I think this is because they are so extremely delicious. This year, for Martin’s birthday picnic on the ski slopes, I made pulled pork sandwiches with west North Carolina Barbecue sauce which as the author informs us, is the red, ketchup-y kind as opposed to the vinegary spicy type which is from east North Carolina. I put it all together the day before and we warmed it up on the portable grill of a friend, tailgate style in the parking area.

Yes, yes – a real grill master gets up at 4 am to start the fires and get the pork on but you don’t have to do that. I got the 5 lb Boston butt out of the refrigerator at 12 pm, let it come up to temperature for half an hour on the counter, rubbed it with kosher salt and pepper and put it on the gas grill. Because it’s gas, I never have to worry about tending the fire or running out of fuel. I just let it alone for about 3 hours, and it’s done. Or at least the pork was cooked. The sauce took another 5 minutes of prep and 10 minutes of being left alone on the stove. The time consuming part, should you choose to do so, is hand-pulling the pork. Now, you could just slice it (so lame) and you could just chop it (not for me – it’s just not good enough).  That would indeed be very quick.

When I have to do something time consuming and repetitive (notice I didn’t say laborious) I get into the rhythm of it. Music helps. For instance, I put the Shins mix (or the Talking Heads or something Bollywood or Schubert – whatever) on Pandora and get to work. Anything repetitive in the kitchen and I put on some music and focus. Five pounds of meat takes me about about half an hour of pulling.

What they don’t tell you in the cookbooks, is how to pull pork. They just write: pull the pork into shreds. Which tells you nothing. It is easy to pull a chicken breast and there is nothing to avoid – little gristle, no fat. Pork shoulder is completely different. I kind of wonder if they don’t tell you because they don’t want to put people off. The truth is: Pulling pork is not for the squeamish. You should though – pull pork. If you are too squeamish about things you will miss out on some of the best stuff in life – like these pulled pork sandwiches.

There are motherlodes of pork fat running through the shoulder of a pig (a.k.a. Boston butt) and you have to pull around them.  They are slick and gelatinous. I find that a 6″ chef’s knife can scrape away the worst of it. Your knife and your hands will be slick with grease. Definitely wear an apron. If you slice or chop the meat – these gelatinous and unappetizing pieces end up in your sandwich and you don’t get the textural pleasure that is unique to pulled pork. Although I bet that the real grill master is not as fastidious as I am about getting most of the fat out. Actually, it is very satisfying to pull the pork yourself once you get over the “ick factor”. Just crank up the music and go. If you’re going to eat meat – you’re going to have to get used to fat and tendons and other parts of an animal’s body – that’s all there is to it.

We served the pork on toasted Kaiser rolls and I made black bottom cupcakes. The picky kids got hotdogs. Our friends brought the beer and hot chocolate. We warmed the pork in a cast iron skillet on the grill with a big squeeze bottle of sauce on the side.

Pulled Pork Sandwiches with West Carolina Barbecue Sauce – Weber’s Big Book of Grilling 2001

Serves 15

This book was such a surprise to me, recommended by a friend.  Normally I would never try a book by a manufacturer.  I guess I thought it would read like a technician’s manual. Weber’s Big Book of Grilling is a very different thing than the books that come with the KitchenAid mixer or the Cuisinart.  They have nothing to recommend them; they barely scratch the surface of what the machines are capable of, and are never, ever inspiring. This book is different. I bet I have tried and loved more recipes from this book than any other on my shelves.

The Sauce

  • 3 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1/4 c minced yellow onion
  • 2 c ketchup
  • 2/3 c packed light brown sugar
  • 1/2 c yellow mustard
  • 1/2 c cider vineger
  • 2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tsp Tabasco
  • 5 lb boneless pork shoulder, also known as Boston Butt rolled and tied (your butcher can do this, mine was already tied when I bought it)
  • 1-2 tbsp kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Heat the grill on high heat. Take the pork out of the refrigerator 1/2 an hour before you want to grill. Rub the pork all over with kosher salt and black pepper. Set the grill to indirect medium. On my grill this means you leave the two outer burners on, set to medium and turn off the one in the middle – for indirect heat.  Place the roast fat side up, on the grill. I have a digital thermometer to insert into the meat that beeps when the temperature of the roast gets to 185 F. A five pound roast takes 3 hours more or less. If you have a regular meat thermometer, use that and check every 20 minutes or so after 2 hours.

While the roast is on the grill, make the sauce. In a medium sized saucepan over medium high heat, melt the butter. Add the onion and cook for 5 minutes, occasionally stirring, until translucent. Add the rest of the sauce ingredients and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 10 minutes.

When the pork is done, let it stand at room temperature covered in foil for at least 20 minutes. The outside will be burnished red and crisp and incredibly tasty – salty like a potato chip and crunchy and chewy all at once.  You will need a large bowl for the pork, a bowl or plate for the scraps and a cutting board. The hard part – at least the first time – was the distinction between the meat and the fat. It’s not immediately clear.

Since I have never had the pleasure of eating at a true barbecue joint, I have no idea if what I decided to do was authentic. What I do know is that it was completely delicious. You have to use your fingers and know that your hands will become incredibly greasy. I pulled large pieces of meat off the roast.  They were edged with the slick fat that coated my knife and my fingers. That clear fat I pulled off as best I could. Then I took my knife and scraped off any really fatty looking parts clinging to the meat. What I realized after I’d pulled the pork for awhile is that the reddish crisp outer layer of the roast must also be pulled, the fat clinging to the back must be scraped away. If you throw away the crisp part, you get rid of the most wonderful part of this sandwich. It is just the right kind of chewy, with small succulent pieces of pork clinging to the back. Just pull it apart, scrape off the fat and add it to the bowl.

When you have pulled apart the entire roast, toss the meat with a couple of ladles of the warm sauce, just to moisten. Serve the remaining sauce on the side with toasted Kaiser rolls, spread with butter if you like. I like my sandwich pretty saucy and the recipe allows for that.

The Big Bolognese

Sometimes I have an urge to spend a few hours in the kitchen with something big simmering gently on the stove. When I do, I often turn to the Bolognese Meat Sauce from Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking.  As you can see in my copy, p.204-5 is where the book has split into 2 pieces, from overuse.

Although it’s not overuse. Because anyone who tastes this incredible (and time intensive) sauce will kiss the ground you walk on.  So it’s worth it.

What is it about this sauce?  Is it because I spent a semester in Rome as a student? Or the memory of my mom’s big spaghetti night? My grandfather’s garlic bread? I think its a little of all those things.  I really like that this is an “authentic” recipe. The meat is gently simmered in milk before the wine is added and then it all has to evaporate before adding the tomatoes.  Only then can the three hour marathon of true simmering begin.  Gauging the heat carefully so that there are several seconds between the bubbles breaking through the surface of the sauce allows the sauce to reduce slowly and maintains the utter tenderness of the meat. The result is nothing like the typical American recipe, those chewy bits of ground beef and soupy-sauce tomatoes drowning long strands of spaghetti. This Marcella Bolognese is the essence of something. I am not sure exactly what.

As Marcella writes “There is no more perfect union in all gastronomy than the marriage of Bolognese ragu with homemade Bolognese tagliatelle.”  Wow.  It’s hard to mess with that.  But I do – mess with that. Despite the fact that I love the long involved traditional process, I serve this sauce American style. The accompaniments are always the same: a big mixed salad and garlic bread made by slathering a split French batard with melted butter and minced garlic and tossing it, wrapped in foil into the oven.  I wouldn’t serve it with spaghetti though, the way my parents (and everybody else) did in the 70’s.  I like a short tube or trumpet shaped pasta that cradles the sauce. And I don’t use parmesan from a green cylindrical shaker.  A real reggiano parmesan is the only way to go.

And so what if the sauce takes 4 hours. While the sauce bubbled away on the stove, I put the little guy to bed, folded a load of laundry, started a book that I’d gotten for Christmas and fell asleep on the couch with Max, my cat. When I woke up, there was the scent of dinner: very homey and purely delicious. January is way too gloomy in Seattle. Making bolognese all afternoon is the perfect antidote. Initially there is some minor chopping. MINOR. A carrot, some celery, a little yellow onion. Everything else is pour, mash, stir.  No big deal.  And the simmering part is easy. You don’t have to stand there. If your kids don’t think you walk on water for making this incredible meal, that’s ok. You just open a nice Montepulciano,  pour yourself a glass and revel in a job well done.

Saturday Menu

(I won’t lie to you, this menu takes minimum of 4 hours start to finish.  However – there are 3 hours of downtime!)

  • Cavatappi with Bolognese Meat Sauce
  • Green Salad Vinaigrette
  • Garlic Bread
  • Mint Chip Ice Cream with Chocolate Sauce.

Marcella Hazan’s Bolognese Meat Sauce and a few pointers

  • I always double the recipe so I can freeze half, but I am reproducing it here in the proportion for 1 – 1 1/4 pounds of pasta.  This makes very slightly more than the original recipe.  Still, you might find that this makes less sauce than you are used to eating with pasta.  In Italy they think of sauce as something more akin to a condiment.  When you serve, put a tablespoon of butter on the hot pasta before adding the sauce.  Dust each plate with freshly grated Parmesan.  It makes all the difference – you won’t miss the pasta taking a overly deep bath in sauce.
  • Use an enamel pot, such as Le Creuset or Lodge for even heat and slow, slow simmer.   I use a wide, fairly shallow one.
  • Add salt as soon as you add the meat to extract the most flavor.
  • This is NOT the time for a lean cut of meat.  Ground chuck is what you want.
  • Cook, uncovered, at a bare simmer for at least three hours.  I mean one bubble, wait several seconds, another bubble, and so on.
  • For speed I would do all chopping in the food processor – pulsing  – so as not to overdo it

This makes 2 heaping cups of sauce.  Marcella says for 1 1/2 pounds of pasta.  I usually make a generous pound.

  • 1 tbsp mild olive oil
  • 3 tbsp butter plus 1 for tossing with the pasta
  • 1/2 cup onion (I use 1/2 of one 3″ in diameter)
  • 2/3 cup celery (I use 2-3 stalks)
  • 2/3 cup carrots ( I use 1 large)
  • 1 pound of ground chuck (if you like, use 1/3 pork; I do.)
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • Freshly ground nutmeg
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 1 28 ounce can whole Italian plum tomatoes, drained of juice then chopped
  • 1 1/4 pounds dry pasta (or if you are ambitious – homemade fresh tagliatelle)
  • Freshly grated parmesan at the table.
  1. Put the oil, butter and chopped onion in the pot and turn on the heat to medium.  Cook and stir the onion until it has become translucent – I do 8-10 minutes.  Then add chopped carrot and celery.  Cook for two more minutes, stirring to coat them with the oil and butter.
  2. Add the ground beef, a large pinch of salt and some freshly ground pepper.  Crumble the meat with a wooden spoon, stir well and cook until no longer red.
  3. Add the milk and let it simmer gently, stirring until it has bubbled away completely.  There will be clear liquid left.  Add about an 1/8th teaspoon grated nutmeg.
  4. Add the wine, and simmer again until evaporated.
  5. Add the tomatoes and stir until thoroughly coated.  When the tomatoes begin to bubble, turn down the heat to a very slow simmer – barely bubbling.  Cook this way for at least three hours.  You might have to add a little water to prevent sticking.  At the end there will be no liquid left, the fat will separate from the sauce.  Add salt to taste.
  6. Toss with cooked drained pasta, adding a tbsp of butter and serve with Parmesan.

Garlic Bread

Start 1/2 hour before you eat.

Preheat oven to 200F

  • 1 baguette or batard, cut into three pieces and split lengthwise
  • 2-3 fat cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1/4 pound butter

Melt the butter and add the garlic and stir.  Paint onto the inside of the bread with a pastry brush. Wrap tightly in foil and pop in the oven until dinner time.

Green Salad Method

Start this just after you put the bread in the oven.

I am not going to give a recipe for this – but this is what I do:

I like 3 tbsp of spicy green olive oil and 1 – 1 1/2 tbsp of red wine vinegar, a generous pinch of salt and pepper tossing each ingredient separately and in that order on to freshly washed and torn lettuce, seeded and sliced cucumber, sliced red pepper, halved cherry tomatoes and grated carrots.  Some people might think this sounds like an institutional salad but if everything is very fresh and crunchy it is a good counterpoint to the melting richness of the sauce and pasta.

Crazy Thursday = Braised Lamb Shanks? What?!

Thursday is too crazy. Volunteer work in the morning, multiple kid commitments in the afternoon – all overlapping of course, sometimes all of us five plus my dad for dinner, sometimes only half the family. So why would I decide to braise lamb shanks on a day when it really should be quesadillas and guacamole? I don’t know. I bought them on the weekend and the thought of them 2 days after the Thanksgiving gourmet gauntlet kind of put me over the edge so I tossed them, already seasoned with s & p into the freezer. But there they sat niggling at me. I thought I might forget about them there and that I would come across them in May under a thick coating of freezer burn. So I pulled them out of the freezer and now find myself on crazy Thursday with a braise and gremolata to play with. Also, my father-in-law brought a bottle of St. Germain home and I’ve been DYING to try some, so I popped a bottle of champagne in the fridge as a mixer for drinks before dinner. What’s going on? I don’t drink drinks before dinner – not on crazy Thursday.

I was wrong to be overwrought about this. Stew – which I love – drives me nuts; getting the deep caramelized browning on all those pieces of meat without steaming them (by overcrowding the pan in the zeal to complete the task), or the possibility of burning the fond because of the desire for deep browning. Also there is a fair amount of chopping involved. Carrots, potatoes, onions. I love stew but I rarely make it Monday-Thursday.

The shanks turned out to be a lot easier! They’re large and I’m making 6 so I did have to do two batches, but because they’re big it’s actually hard to crowd them into the pan. You wouldn’t want to prop them up on each other. The entire side of each shank should lay flat on the bottom of the pot, maximizing the area to be browned. Twelve minutes of browning for each batch with very little attention from me seems reasonable. While they were browning, the peeling and rough chopping of carrots, onions and a head of garlic (whacked in half) was very straight forward. With the addition of a can of peeled tomatoes, a little wine and chicken stock, the whole thing came together in less than half an hour. Not too bad. The cooking time is long, plan on 2 1/2 -3 hours. There is about 10 minutes of work on the serving end, skimming off the fat and straining the sauce, making the gremolata. But, I can see myself – elderflower scented champagne glass in hand – blithely chopping parsley, garlic and lemon rind. I hope I don’t chop one of my fingers off.

Braised Lamb Shanks

  • 4 lamb shanks trimmed of excess fat
  • Salt and Freshly ground pepper
  • Olive Oil
  • 2 onions. peeled and cut into 1/8ths
  • 2 carrots – peeled and cut in 1″ pieces
  • 1 head of garlic, cut in half
  • 1 small dried chile pepper
  • 4 black peppercorns
  • 1 sprig of rosemary
  • a bay leaf
  • 3/4 cup white wine
  • 1/2 can of whole peeled tomatoes, chopped
  • 2 cups chicken broth

Season the lamb shanks with salt and pepper. Best if you can do this the night before, leaving them covered with parchment in the refrigerator overnight.

Generously cover the bottom of your dutch oven with the olive oil and heat on medium high. When the olive oil shimmers add the 4 shanks – if they fit flat on the bottom of the pan; if not, do them in two batches. Brown them well on all sides – this will take about 12 minutes. If you know your pan and your stove, don’t hang about watching them brown, get chopping! This will be over very quickly if the vegetables are ready. When they are deeply browned, remove them from the pan and pour off the fat. If the residue in the pan is blackened or bitter smelling, wipe the inside of the pan carefully before continuing with the recipe.

Add more olive oil to the pan, and again over medium high heat add the onions, carrots, garlic, chile pepper, peppercorns, rosemary and bay. Cook until the vegetables are slightly soft, about 3 or 4 minutes, then add the wine and tomatoes. Turn up the heat to high.

When the wine has reduced by half, put the lamb shanks back into the pot and add the chicken broth, arranging the shanks so that they are mostly covered by liquid. Bring to a boil and pop the whole thing into the oven at 325 for 2 1/2-3 hours. Remove the cover during the last 20 minutes of braising to allow the lamb to brown a little.

When the lamb is very tender and is falling away from the bones, take the meat out of the liquid and put on a plate. Skim off all the fat with a flat serving spoon. The clear, viscous liquid on the surface of the braise is what you are looking for. Skim it all off! It won’t add to the finished dish. Take the remaining skimmed liquid and put it and all the vegetables through a food mill – it will catch any rough pieces of the garlic, bay and chiles and turn the vegetables into a beautiful smooth sauce. You may need to thin it with a little more broth. Taste, then add the lamb back to the sauce.


Near the end of cooking time, you will need to make gremolata.

  • parsley
  • lemon
  • garlic

Get out a chopping board and a sharp chef’s knife.

Chop washed and carefully dried parsley to make 3 tbsp then chop one clove of garlic. With a microplane grater, take the rind from an organic lemon. Mix it all up and you’re good to go.

The shanks go nicely with polenta or mashed potatoes, but because it’s crazy Thursday I am making buttered egg noodles and calling it a day. Steamed broccoli rabe on the side.

My house smells inviting and deliciously wintery. I, on the other hand, smell like browned lamb shanks, which is weird but worth it. For this recipe I have to thank Alice Waters again and The Art of Simple Food.

P.S. It is worth noting that Crazy Thursday might not be the best time to introduce an unfamiliar dish to kids. Thursday is over-programmed enough at our house without adding meltingly tender and flavorful meat that has, unfortunately (for them), a modicum of visually-unappealing-to-kids-connective-tissue and fat on it. The little guy didn’t eat one bite and the biggest one was coerced into three. If she hadn’t been so tired I really believe she would have eaten the whole thing though…I really do.