Open Thread Plus Bites & Pieces

I’m still catching up from last week’s news and propaganda but I did read a couple of pieces that I thought were pretty interesting.

This was from the AP Friday.

MILWAUKEE (AP) — Abortion is still legal but getting one in many states will be difficult if laws passed this year are upheld by the courts. In a march through conservative legislatures, anti-abortion Republicans passed a wave of new restrictions that would sharply limit when a woman could terminate a pregnancy and where she could go to do so.

The push brought the anti-abortion movement closer to a key milestone, in which the procedure would become largely inaccessible in the three-fifths of the country controlled by Republicans even if still technically legal under Roe vs. Wade.

But rather than continuing to roll across the GOP heartland in synch with the pro-life movement’s plan, the effort may now be hitting a wall. The obstacle comes not from opposing Democrats but from GOP leaders who believe pressing further is a mistake for a party trying to soften its harder edges after election losses last year.

The resisting Republicans include governors and top legislators in more than a half-dozen states, including some of the largest and most politically competitive in the party’s 30-state coalition. They are digging in to stop the barrage of abortion proposals, hoping to better cultivate voters not enamored with the GOP’s social agenda.


This one’s a little long but a fascinating read on our 40 year war against marijuana.  I don’t indulge but it’s pretty clear, I think, that it’s time to change our policies.  I loved this Nixon quote.

President Nixon had already made up his mind. In May 1971 he told H.R. Haldeman, “I want a goddamn strong statement about marijuana. Can I get that out of this sonofa-bitching, uh, domestic council? I mean one on marijuana that just tears the ass out of them.” And Nixon told Shafer directly, “You’re enough of a pro to know that for you to come out with something that would run counter to what the Congress feels and what the country feels, and what we’re planning to do, would make your commission just look bad as hell.”


I’m pretty sure this isn’t going anywhere but it’s the thing I’ve been talking about since 2009…………..jeeze.  Medicare for all.  Here’s the money quote that makes it dead on arrival.

“Paradoxically, by expanding Medicare to everyone we’d end up saving billions of dollars annually,” he said. “We’d be safeguarding Medicare’s fiscal integrity while enhancing the nation’s health for the long term.”

Friedman said the plan would be funded by maintaining current federal revenues for health care and imposing new, modest tax increases on very high income earners. It would also be funded by a small increase in payroll taxes on employers, who would no longer pay health insurance premiums, and a new, very small tax on stock and bond transactions.


And since we have peppers coming out of our ears (garden) here I thought I’d post my Baked Jalapeno Poppers recipe.

I use a combination of whatever peppers we have in the garden.  I can usually get about 15 to 18 poppers from this recipe.

Slice peppers in half lengthwise and remove seeds and membrane.  I like to leave part of the stem on.


8 oz cream cheese

1 1/2 cup mozarella, jack or pepper jack cheese

1/2 tsp cumin

1/2 tsp or less cayenne

Stuff peppers with cheese mixture.

Bowl one:  1/2 cup seasoned flour

Bowl two:  2 eggs

Bowl three:  1 cup seasoned bread crumbs (I use plain bread crumbs and season them myself)

Seasoning:  salt, pepper, paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, cayenne pepper and Mexican oregano to taste.  I just wing it and add to both flour and bread crumbs.

Roll peppers in flour, then dip in egg and finally dredge with bread crumbs.  Refrigerate several hours and then bake in a 350 oven for about 1/2 hour……………..yummy

Bites & Pieces…Weekend Edition

I learned something this week; Brent enjoys the Bites & Pieces posts.  Well, in that case here we go.

Oooops, he and I don’t have much in common except that he’s a Democrat when it comes to social issues, and I’m pretty sure our food tastes will be as out of sync as our belief in the free market.

I’ve described myself as a grazer and I wasn’t kidding.  I offered up my kale and pine nut salad and he didn’t jump at the offer so I think I’ll offer up my prime rib, Yorkshire pudding and spinach soufflé instead.  I’d throw in my blueberry cheese cake but he’d probably have a heart attack and you guys would blame me for the loss of our Morning Report.

I only serve this meal once a year……… maybe, and I generally make a big salad to go with it so I can keep from starving to death while I watch everyone else inhale their dinner.

Prime Rib

Minimum 3 rib standing roast of quality, we buy prime.  The weight doesn’t matter and I’ve actually purchased a roast of only 2 ribs before and the recipe works.  You can have the butcher cut the bones away and reattach with string if you want.

Generously season the entire surface of roast.  We like a Monterey seasoning but you can use anything you want as long as it includes some salt.  Be creative.

Bring roast to room temperature and pre-heat oven to 375.  Place roast in roasting pan with a rack under it.  Put roast in oven, uncovered, and roast for 1 hour.  Turn oven off.

Leave roast in oven, with door closed until guests arrive or about 45 minutes before you want to serve dinner.  Do Not Open Oven Door and the roast must be in the oven for at least 2 hours after first roasting before you turn the oven on to finish.  It can stay in longer though.

Turn oven on to 375 and continue roasting; 35 minutes for rare, 45 minutes for medium or 55 minutes for well done.

I leave it in for 45 minutes and the outside pieces are medium and inside is medium rare.  Everyone around here says that’s perfect.

Serve with creamed horse radish sauce.  I used packaged au jus mix or brown/onion gravy for the meat and the Yorkshire pudding.  There won’t be enough drippings in the pan to make au jus or gravy generally.

Yorkshire Pudding (makes 12 muffins)


1 cup milk

1 cup flour

6 eggs

1 tsp salt

Vegetable shortening


Mix milk, flour, eggs and salt until well blended.  Refrigerate for at least two hours.

Spray muffin pan with Pam and put ¼ tsp of Crisco into each muffin tin.  Place pan in oven and heat in oven at 400 until Crisco is melted and quite hot.  Ladle cold liquid evenly between 12 muffins, quickly while pan is hot.  Bake at 400 for about 25-30 minutes until the Yorkshire is puffed up and brown.

Let muffins sit in the pan for about 5 minutes before removing as it’s easier to get them out.  Don’t skip the Crisco or spraying the pan.  They will fall as they cool but that’s normal.  There will still be little hollow places inside.

Spinach Souffle


1 cube butter or margarine

6 eggs

6 tbs flour

2 boxes chopped frozen spinach (defrosted and drained well)

2 lbs. cottage cheese

½ lb. American cheese (cubed)

Combine all ingredients in a round and deep baking dish and bake for one hour at 350.

If you only have one oven (I actually have two) you can cook the spinach with the roast at 375 for a little less time.  While the roast and spinach sit put the Yorkshire in.

As I mentioned, this is not a light or diet friendly dinner so be warned, but our family and friends look forward to it every time I say “that’s what’s for dinner”.  It’s generally a holiday or special occasion meal.  If you want to cut back on the fat content, save the spinach for another meal and have green beans instead….hahaha

Bites & Pieces: Slow Squid

Squid has a lot going for it. The species grows rapidly and so is considered sustainable. It’s high in protein and low in fat. Well, at least until you bread it, deep fry it, and serve it with marinara sauce. As bar food goes, it’s a favorite of mine. The Carlyle in Shirlington has a particularly good version. My mother always has it when visiting town. One of the most interesting squid dishes I had was at the Green Street Grill in Cambridge, MA. It was made Provencal style with garlic and tomatoes. It was an eye opener and one of my favorite ways to make squid.

I wanted to do something different with the squid I bought at my favorite waterfront fish monger on Friday (Captain White’s). Squid can be tricky to cook as if you cook it for more than a minute or two, you may as well serve up a plate of rubber bands. There are various strategies to tenderize it, but it comes down to a fast cook. Turns out that squid shares a characteristics with some of my favorite cuts of beef. You can cook it fast, but you can also cook it slow. In the case of beef, the collagen gradually breaks down and a tough cut of meat becomes melt in your mouth tender. That didn’t happen with the squid, but it was tender and the recipe is easy enough for a weeknight meal.

I slightly adapted a recipe originally published in Gourmet, which can be found on the Epicurious web site.. NPR also has a story on slow cooked squid with some recipes that I plan to investigate in the near future.

The dish has a flavor I’ve never gotten out of squid before. I love linguini with clams or mussels for the flavor one gets out of the shellfish, but don’t really care for the meat. We served the dish over black rice. It’d be good with linguini as well. I think that one could add fennel or another root vegetable to the dish.

I adapted the Epicurious recipe slightly. The original recipe calls for cooking just the garlic and parsley, then adding the squid. I decided to cook some chopped onions with the parsley and then add the garlic. I used a can of chopped tomatoes; they suggested using whole tomatoes and chopping them. The original recipe calls for adding ¾ of a cup of wine and ¼ cup of water after adding the squid and simmering for 10 minutes to reduce the liquid. Then, add the tomatoes and simmer on the stove top for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. I wanted to make this a simple dish, so I added the wine and tomatoes together, brought it up to a simmer, and then braised the dish in the oven.

[Edit: I forgot that I added a teaspoon or two of capers to the dish as I thought they would fit and, well, I love capers.]

I had two half pound squid bodies rather than the pound and a half, but it was plenty for us. I cut them up into half inch squares, then rinsed, dried and coated them with olive oil. I thought that would give me more even cooking at the onset. They were about a quarter inch thick, so made good meaty bites. This would work well with smaller squid and I would encourage you to use the tentacles. Octopus might be good in this dish as well.


1 ½ pounds of squid, cleaned
1/4 cup minced onions or shallots
1 bunch of parsley, finely chopped
1 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
¼ teaspoon of red pepper flakes (optional or use to taste)
½ cup of dry white wine
28 oz. can of chopped tomatoes


Cut the squid bodies into pieces or rings. Combine with tentacles if you have them. Rinse and dry, then toss with olive oil to coat.

Once the squid is ready, it’s a good time to turn on the oven. I set mine at 350 degrees, but would probably use a lower temperature (perhaps 300) the next time.

Reserve 2 tablespoon of chopped parsley for garnish (which I forgot to use).

Heat about 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a heavy pot or dutch oven. Add the chopped onion and parsley and stir for a minute. Add garlic and stir for another minute. Create a small open space, pour in a little olive oil, and add the red chile flakes. Mix everything together and add the squid. Cook for a minute or two and then add the wine and tomatoes. Bring to a simmer over medium heat and then throw into the oven, uncovered. Cook until the water evaporates, about 45 minutes to an hour.

Remove from the oven and serve over pasta or rice. Garnish with parsley.


Bites and Pieces: Macaroni and Cheese

Comfort food doesn’t get any more comforting than macaroni and cheese. Millions of harried parents crack open a box of Kraft Mac & Cheese and have an easy dinner that they know will be gobbled. I once ran into a financial emergency in graduate school. I miscalculated my expenses and ran out of money before I ran out of month. [How quaint. Someone in his mid-20s without a credit card.] I sold a text book and made plans to eat mac & cheese for a week. Not content with boxes, I bought a pound of dry macraoni, a block of Velveeta, and a few additions such as a can of diced green chiles.

Fifteen years later, I was introduced to a better approach. My girlfriend’s room mate used to work at the New England Conservatory of music. There would often been left-over (good) cheese from receptions, which she would use to make the mac and cheese recipe from Best Recipe, a complication of favorites from Cooks Illustrated. Their recipe is adapted from John Thorne’s book Simple Cooking. I’ve been making a slightly tweaked version of it ever since.

Home made macaroni and cheese usually consists of pouring a Mornay sauce (white sauce with cheese) over cooked macaroni, possibly topped with toasted bread crumbs. Good, but not necessarily rich. I like rich. This one is akin to a custard, so it is thickened with eggs, not flour. Here is the base recipe:


2 large eggs

1 can of evaporated milk (or 1 ½ cups of milk)

½ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon ground pepper (black is fine, though white is nice for color)

¼ teaspoon hot sauce

1 teaspoon dried mustard, dissolved in 1 teaspoon of water

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces (half an inch or so is fine)

12 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, shredded

8 ounces of dry macaroni


  1. Bring two quarts of water to a boil, add macroni and 1 teaspoon of salt. Cook until not quite done (it finishes cooking later).
  2. Meanwhile, whisk the eggs and combine with one cup of milk, salt, pepper, hot sauce and mustard. Shred the cheese.
  3. Pour macaroni into a colander to drain. Return to pot and toss with butter. Turn burn to medium and add the egg & milk mixture and 8 ounces of cheese. Stir until the cheese melts. Gradually add the remaining milk and cheese, stirring until the mixture thickens.
  4. Top with bread crumbs if you like. Did I forget to mention the bread crumbs?

The original recipe calls for evaporated milk, which makes a terrific sauce, but one very high in fat. I think whole milk works fine. You could probably use 2%, but I wouldn’t go lower in fat content. When I first used regular milk, my sauce took ages to thicken. I’ve found that I can obtain the right texture by undercooking the macaroni and stirring under medium high heat. You can also get away with dropping down to two or three tablespoons of butter. Don’t go underboard, though. CI later published a low fat version of the recipe, which just goes to prove that some things don’t work.


I’ve recently started varying the recipe a bit, mainly with the spicing. I was at my brother’s lake house in July and spotted some KC Masterpiece barbeque sauce. I replaced the spices with BBQ sauce to taste, probably about about a quarter cup. It was a hit. Another time, I tried using a teaspoon five spice powder instead of the mustard. It gave the dish a subtle twist.

The Competition

Post your favorite recipe in the comments section or email me and I’ll add it to the main post. Perhaps we can do a mac and cheese cook-off!


Michigoose’s contributions:

Stove-Top Mac-n-Cheese

from Alton Brown


1/2 lb elbow macaroni

4 T butter

2 eggs

6 oz evaporated milk

1/2 t hot sauce (I like to use Cholulu Sauce)

1 t kosher salt

3/4 t dry mustard

10 oz sharp cheddar cheese, shredded (I usually use a mixture of cheeses here, much like FB’s girlfriend’s roommate)

In a large pot of boiling, salted water cook the pasta to al dente and drain.  return to the pot and melt in the butter.  Toss to coat.

Whisk together the eggs, milk, hot sauce, salt, pepper to taste and mustard.  Stir into the pasta and add the cheese.  Over low heat continue to stir until creamy, about 3 minutes.

Very, Very Bad for you Baked Macaroni and Cheese

from Giada De Laurentiis


12 oz wide egg noodles

2 cups heavy cream

2 1/2 cups whole milk

2 t flour

2 cups grated Fontina cheese (packed)

3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese (packed)

3/4 cup shredded mozarella

4 oz pancetta, diced and cooked crisp

2 T Italian parsley, chopped

Italian bread crumbs

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees and butter a 13 x 9″ baking dish and set aside.

Cook the noodles until tender but still firm; drain well.  Whisk the cream, milk, and flour in a large bowl, then stir in half of each of the cheeses, the pancetta and the parsley.  Add the noodles and toss to coat.

Pour the noodle mixture into the prepared baking dish, sprinkle the remaining cheese over the top, then dust with bread crumbs.

Bake until the sauce bubbles and the cheese and crumbs on top begin to brown, about 20 minutes.  Let stand for 10 minutes before serving.

Michigoose’s Dad’s Macaroni and Cheese Supreme

I never actually got to eat mac and cheese when I was growing up unless it was at somebody else’s house.  My Dad had developed a serious aversion to it after he and my Mom had to eat it for weeks on end when they were first married and still poor college students.  After working on his own recipe for several years he finally developed one he could eat.  And like all my Dad’s recipe’s, it’s very, very involved!


1 cup macaroni, cooked and drained

1 1/2 T butter

1/2 small onion, chopped

1/2 cup mushrooms, sliced

1 T flour

3/4 cup skim milk

3/4 cup ham, fully cooked and cubed

1/4 t dry mustard

1 dash ground black pepper

1/4 t salt (he uses table salt, so adjust if you use something else)

1/2 t Worcestershire sauce

1 dash hot sauce (here he undoubtedly means Tabasco)

1/2 cup frozen peas, thawed

1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese

1/2 cup grated Swiss cheese

1/2 cup bread crumbs

2 T butter

2 T green pepper, chopped (I think he means a jalapeno here)

Heat oven to 375 degrees; cook macaroni to al dente, drain and set aside.

Melt butter over medium heat and saute onions until light golden in color.  Add the mushrooms and saute another 4 minutes.  Add the flour and cook, whisking continuously, for 1 minute.  Gradually add the milk, stirring constantly.  Bring to a boil and cook for 1 minute.  Remove from the heat.

Stir the ham, mustard, pepper,salt, Worcestershire sauce, hot sauce, peas and cheese into the milk mixture and stir until the cheese is melted.

Toss together the sauce and macaroni, then spoon into a buttered baking dish.  Bake covered for 20 minutes.  Uncover, dot the top of the casserole with the remaining 2 T of butter and cover with bread crumbs.  Bake another 10 minutes.

Garnish with the pepper and serve.

Bites and Pieces: Chawanmushi (or what to do when you have a cook book with ridiculously complicated recipes)

We have a few cookbooks written by chefs. We bought The Figs Table, by Todd English, with some of our wedding money. I haven’t made much from it, though the olive oil & basil emulsion is a lovely addition to many recipes. Pesto without pine nuts. Some years later, a friend of ours gave us a cookbook on ceviche by Guillermo Pernot, the chef of Passión in Philadelphia. Last Christmas, my parents gave us the Bluestem cookbook, by the chef/owners (Colby and Megan Garrelts) of my favorite restaurant in Kansas City. The level of cooking there matches anything I’ve had in NYC/DC/SF.

A frequent problem that arises for me with recipes in such books is a combination of difficult to find ingredients and complicated recipes. Something along the lines of making two cups of basil emulsion of which you will use two tablespoons. That’s great for a menu for which you’ll serve 100 plates. Not so good if you’re left with 1 3/4 cups of basil emulsion. I tend to go out to restaurants where they make something I don’t have the time or skill to make and these cookbooks drive that philosophy home. Tom Sietsema’s recent review of high end steak houses drives that point home. It doesn’t take great skill to cook a great steak. Cassoulet is something else entirely.

Fortunately, there are the occasional gems that you can make at home without tying up your kitchen for a day. Tonight’s offering is one such recipe. It’s a light custard based on dashi stock. Dashi is the basis for miso soup. You can find powdered dashi stock at Asian markets, though the real thing is pretty easy to make. What caught my eye was that I had the ingredients on hand and it looked promising.

Chanwanmusi, hon shimeji, scallion dashi

Heat an oven to 275 degrees.

Dashi stock

1 ounce kombu (dried kelp)

4 cups water

~18 grams bonito flaks

Rinse the kombu under water and cut a few slits into it to release the flavor. Add to the water and bring to a boil. Turn off the heat, remove the kombu, and add the bonito folakes. Let steep for a minute or two until the bonito sinks to the bottom. Strain the stock and set aside. [Note: you can find freeze dried dashi stock and skip this.]

Chawanmushi broth

Combine 2 ½ cups of the dashi with 1 tablespoon of soy sauce, 1 tablespoon of mirin, ½ tsp. of rice wine vinegar, and 3 large eggs. Mix at low speed in a food processor or whisk together. Divide evenly among 4 small bowls and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Place the bowls in a casserole dish with one inch of water. [Note: I was a bit nervous about this, but the plastic won’t burn if you’ve plenty of water.] Put the casserole dish with the bowls of chawanmushi in the oven for about 40 minutes. The custard should be just set—a little jiggly in the middle, but firm overall. This is a light custard, so don’t sweat it.

Meanwhile, slice up a few mushrooms and sauté in sesame oil. Well, or butter, because let’s face it. Butter and mushrooms are a transcendent combination. If there’s anything else you want to use as a garnish, go for it. Combine the remaining dashi with soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, and mirin (about 1 tablespoon of each).

Putting it all together

Take the custards out of the oven. Pour a couple of tablespoons of the spiked dashi over the top, top with the mushrooms (and whatever else you want) and serve. This is a five star dish without that much effort. My guess is that you could get away with using chicken stock in place of the dashi and still have a stunner of a dish.


Saturday Bites & Pieces: Southern Comfort

I’m baaaack!  There has not been time yet to catch up on all the ATiM posts and comments, but at a glance you certainly had some interesting discussions that I very much look forward to reading more thoroughly.  Thanks to all of you for that gift.

Mexico was fabulous, although I only got out of the resort for one excursion so unfortunately don’t feel like I experienced any of the local culture.  The food at the resort was plentiful but IMHO so-so in quality, with a few notable seafood exceptions, and obviously off-the-charts in sodium content.  So I’m happy to get back to my regular low-sodium diet, and this recipe is both quite healthy and very low sodium (fairly rare on both counts for a “comfort food”).

While shopping today at my local farmers market, I was overwhelmed by the gorgeous and inexpensive produce.  I wanted everything, so it took some self-discipline not to buy too much.  The local okra is coming in plentifully, and it inspired me to make one of my favorite southern-style comfort foods.  I love okra.  If this summer is as hot as last summer, I’m sure it will be another bumper crop.  I grew up eating a version of this (proportionately much more chicken) served over grits, but it’s just as good or better served over rice.  The original recipe (for the below, not for what I grew up eating) calls for twice the amount of chicken and half the amount of okra I’ve included below, but my modification lowers the calorie and fat content significantly.  If you are not particularly fond of okra, you probably would still like this in the original proportions or you could substitute squash or another veggie for the okra.  I hope you’ll give it a try.

FB, this is another “one-pot” meal (except for the grits or rice), but I have no idea if your boys will eat okra, especially considering the texture issues many people have with okra.  And it takes at most 30 minutes to prep and cook.


Makes 2 servings, 1 ½ cups each


1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

1 medium onion, chopped

1/2 cup fresh or frozen corn kernels

4 ounces boneless, skinless chicken thighs, trimmed of fat and cut into 1-inch chunks

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 teaspoon paprika

Pinch of cayenne pepper, or to taste

1 14-ounce can diced tomatoes, preferably no salt added

2 cups fresh or frozen sliced or chopped okra

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

1/8 teaspoon salt


Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion and corn and cook, stirring often, until lightly browned and softened, about 4 minutes. Add chicken and cook, stirring often, until browned, about 2 minutes.  (The chicken just needs to be browned, not cooked through because it will be cooked later.) Add garlic, paprika and cayenne and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add tomatoes and okra. Bring to a boil; reduce heat to a simmer. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until the chicken is cooked through, about 5 minutes. Add pepper and salt.


Per serving: 175 Calories; 4 g Fat (1 g Sat); 33 mg Cholesterol; 23 g Carbohydrates (8 g Sugar, 6 g Fiber); 13 g Protein; 173 mg Sodium

P.S.  I STILL  l.o.v.e  the Thunder.  They had a great year.


Old Fashioned Sweet Cherry Conserves

From The Joy of Cooking, 75th Anniversary Edition

Makes enough for about eight 1/2-pint jars

  1. Wash and cut oranges into very thin slices, discarding any seeds.
  2. Barely cover with water in a large saucepan, about 1/4 cup, and cook until  very tender.
  3. Wash, stem, pit (see Note below) and add 1 quart cherries.
  4. Add 6 tablespoons bottled lemon juice, 3 1/2 cups sugar, 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon, and 6 wholes cloves tied in a cheesecloth bag.
  5. Simmer the conserves, stirring frequently until thick and clear.
  6. Discard the spice bag and ladle the hot conserves into hot 1/2-pint jars, leaving 1/4-inch of headroom.  Process for 15 minutes.

Note:  To pit the cherries, I treat them like olives.  First put on an old t-shirt (one that you use for painting would work well), then take the cherries, a chef’s knife, and a cutting board outside to an area that will clean up easily (a pool deck is probably perfect).  Using the flat side of the blade, whack a couple of cherries at a time and remove the pit(s).  Once all of the cherries are pitted, go back inside and finish the conserves.

Bits and Bites: Stir Fry

My wife and I are fans of Cooks Illustrated. We bought a boxed set of the first ten years of bound volumes after getting back from our honeymoon back in 2003. Since then, we’ve added most of the individual volumes. I’ve always found their approach appealing as it strikes me as the way a scientist would go at a problem. Cooking as chemistry rather than art. It’s a good grounding in cooking. I’ve learned to indulge my creative side too.

One criticism of CI is that the recipes can be ridiculously involved. We have some vegetarian friends and so I make a vegetarian friendly stuffing for Thanksgiving. The vegetarian stock in CI is over the top. Two pounds of veggies and an hour of cooking to produce one quart of stock. REALLY??? I’ve simplified it a bit and double the amount of stock that I get out of it.

One of our favorite books is The Simple Recipe, from the same folks. The idea is to take the ridiculously complicated recipes and simplify them for every day cooking. It still takes time, but works for a weeknight meal. When it comes to throwing together a balanced meal, my most serious failing is in not making a side dish to balance out the meal. It’s too easy to just serve the main course with a starch. One pot meals have a nice way of handling this problem. Veggies included!

This brings me to my recipe of the week: stir fry. Everything is in one pan, so there’s no need to do anything on the side. Get some rice going, chop up some meat and veggies (or use a bag of frozen veggies), and you’re good to go. This does not, however, mean throw everything into a pan. Different veggies take different cooking times. Plus, if you crowd the pan, those veggies are going to throw off enough liquid to drown your meal. What I really like about the Quick Recipe approach is that it’s broken up so that everything has a chance to cook, not too much, and you throw it all together in the end. The meat marinates while you get everything else ready.

Here’s the general approach.

Step 1. Cut up ¾ of a pound of meat (or tofu) into bite sized pieces and combine with 2 teaspoons each of soy sauce and sherry. Not being English, I don’t often have sherry on hand, so I use white wine (if I don’t have it on hand, I’ll run over to Unwined).

Step 2. Combine a tablespoon of minced ginger, another of minced garlic, some chopped green onions (white parts), and a couple teaspoons of oil. Peanut oil is really good for stir fries as it has a high smoke point. Safflower and sunflower oils are a good alternative.

Step 3. Chop up 1 ½ pounds of veggies. They’ll need to be separated by how they cook. Spinach is going to get added in at the last moment. Carrots and onions go in early.

Step 4. Heat 2 teaspoons of oil in a 12” nonstick skillet (another thing I love about this method—no wok) until smoking. Add the marinated protein and cook, stirring occasionally, until browned. It’ll probably take 2 – 3 minutes. Less for shrimp (unless you’re a fan of chewing polyurethane). Transfer to a clean bowl.

Step 5. Cook the veggies. Add a bit more oil to the pan and heat until shimmering (not smoking!). Add the slower cooking veggies to the pan and cook until nearly done (tender, but a bit crisp). Move the veggies to the side, add a bit more oil, and add the quick cooking veggies.

Step 6. Clear out the center of the pan and toss in the garlic/ginger mixture. Cook for about a minute, mashing a bit, and then stir all the veggies together. Add the protein back in and stir to combine. Toss in ½ cup of sauce and serve over rice.

It’s time for me to add a note regarding sauces. This should be step 2.5. But hey, there’s some decent sauces that you can buy in the supermarket. This is, after all, supposed to be a weeknight meal. Their sauces are pretty easy to put together. One common theme is cornstarch as a thickener. In case you’re obsessive like me, here’s a few of my favorites.

Garlic Sauce

3 T. dry sherry

3 T. chicken broth

2 T. soy sauce

½ t. sesame oil

1.5 t. minced garlic

1 t. cornstarch

½ t. sugar

Hot and Sour Sauce

3 T. rice wine vinegar*

2 T. chicken broth

2 T. dry sherry

1 T. soy sauce

1 T. chili paste

1 t. sesame oil

1 t. sugar

1 t. cornstarch

*You can sub other vinegars, but cut it back as the rice wine vinegar is pretty low in acidity

Lemon Sauce

Zest and juice from one large lemon

2 T. chicken broth

2 T. dry sherry

1 T. soy sauce

2 t. sugar

1 t. cornstarch

½ t. black pepper

I’ll throw in a couple of my favorites. The basic template is adaptable to whatever you’ve got in the crisper. Okie and I chatted recently. She had a few ingredients available, but was lacking in inspiration. That had me going stir fry!

One of my favorites is beef and broccoli. I didn’t realize until well into my 40s that broccoli stalks were something you should enjoy. I figured you cut off the florets and discarded the rest. Here’s a recipe that I hope might convince you likewise.

Beef & Broccoli in Garlic Sauce

¾ pound thinly sliced flank steak

1 ½ pounds broccoli—florets broken into bite sized pieces; stalks peeled and cut into ¼” thick pieces

¼ cup of coarsely chopped walnuts

Garlic sauce (see above)

All the other stuff I mentioned above

1. Combine the beef with soy and sherry

2. Combine garlic, ginger, scallinos and oil (see above)

3. Toast the walnuts in that same 12” skillet you’ll be using. Set aside.

4. Add 2 t. oil to the skillet, heat until smoking, and toss in the beef. Cook, stirring occasionally, until well browned and transfer to a clean bowl.

5. Add another 2 t. of oil to the skillet and heat until shimmering. Add the broccoli, ½ cup of water, and cover. Cook until the broccoli turns bright green , 1 – 2 minutes. Uncover and cook, stirring, until the water evaporates and the broccoli is ready, About another 2 – 4  minutes.

6. Clear the center of the pan, add the garlic/ginger mixture and cook for about a minute. Stir it all together, add the beef and combine with the sauce. Toss the walnuts on top and dig in!

Shrimp and Peppers in Garlic Sauce

You may notice a theme, as I love the Garlic Sauce

1 pound of large shrimp

2 med. red bell peppers, diced

1 cup of scallion whites, coarsely diced

1 ½ cups of scallion greens, chopped

Garlic sauce

Other stuff as noted above

Note: If you don’t feel like spending awhile chopping scallions, use a medium white or yellow onion for the whites and some spinach for the greens.

Pretty much, you follow the same protocol. Marinate the shrimp and prep the other stuff. Cook the shrimp in smoking oil until browned. I’d say shrimp require a bit more attention Don’t worry if they’re undercooked, because they’ll continue to cook while set aside and go back on heat later. Cook the onions/white parts, toss in the bell peppers, and then add the green parts (or greens). Make some space, cook the ginger/garlic mix, throw everything together and eat!

May you all have a Memorable weekend. I’m taking my sons to visit their great aunt’s grave in Arlington National Cemetery and then we’re going to watch Rolling Thunder going over the Memorial Bridge.


Bites and Pieces: Build a Better Burger

Gourmet burgers have become all the rage in the DC area. The Five Guys burger chain has its origins at the intersection of Glebe Road and Columbia Pike in Arlington, not too far from where I live. Rays Hell Burger was locally famous before it became a favorite place for President Obama to take visiting dignitaries. Their burgers really are THAT good. BGR is another favorite of mine. The worst burger I ever ate was at a greasy spoon off campus of the University of Missouri. I was interviewing for a faculty position in the Physics Department. I ordered a burger for lunch, took one bite, and realized that the center was raw. My guess is that it hadn’t completely defrosted when they put it on the grill. My choices were to send it back, potentially causing an awkward moment, or to choke it down. I choked it down and probably was fortunate to not get sick. I didn’t get the job; they gave it to a former grad student of the chair of the search committee. On the plus side, we went to a wine dinner that night at a local shop that was worth the trip.

A good burger is a thing of beauty and a great base for whatever you want to do. In Santa Fe, New Mexico, it’s going to be topped by green chili. Treat it like a steak and top with bernaise sauce. When you come down to it, basic is best. Few things are finer than a simple cheese burger on a good bun. Perhaps some fried onions or ketchup. Keep the mustard and relish away from my burger, please. Waiter, if me and the boys wanted to eat a hot dog, we would have ordered a hot dog. [Credit to Humphrey Bogart]

So, why on earth am I going to waste a valued slot of Bits and Bites on burgers. We all know how to make a burger. Take some ground beef, make some patties and grill them. Simple, no? Well, it’s time for me to go all Alton Brown on you. I want to focus on the critical ingredient: ground beef. If you’re buying it from a supermarket, you are either paying too much or don’t know what you’re using. I’m not talk about pink slime, simply that the stuff sold as “ground beef” in supermarkets might as well be mystery meat. It’s all the trimmings ground together, adjusted for fat content, and thrown out there for $4/pound. Good for the bottom line, but not the making of a great burger.

I ground my own beef for the first time a few years ago. We were one of a half-dozen families who were getting together for a picnic and I was assigned burgers. One of our copies of Cooks Illustrated had an easy way of making ground beef using a food processor, so I decided to give it a go. The burgers were great, even if the picnic wasn’t. One of my sons had an extended crying jag and I had to leave around the time that enough people finally arrived for the grilling to commence.

Thereafter, there has been a repeated refrain when it comes to E Coli contamination: ground beef. Does anyone remember when E Coli hit Jack in the Box. I remember a suggested slogan for them after the scare. “Jack in the Box: We cook the shit out of our burgers.” The best way to have a burger is medium rare and the only way you can be sure of it is to know where the beef comes from or trust the source. As long as you’re going to make your own burger, why not take a bit of extra time on the most important ingredient?

What meat to use? I have two ways to make ground beef. Chuck roast is perfect for making ground beef, which is why you often see it listed as ground chuck. One gets about 20% fat, perfect for burgers. We have a Costco membership, so I pick up some chuck roast every so often. I can get it for about the same price as ground meat in the grocery store. Oh, but the quality is so much better. I sometimes use flank steak, which is flavorful, but quite lean. I pair the flank steak with boneless short ribs to get the right fat level. Other folks like sirloin. Hey, do what you want to do! I’ve read about using a cheap cut of relatively lean beef and adding in lard to kick up the fat level. You could go full gourmet and add duck fat.

How to make the ground beef? We bought a stand mixer a few years ago via Craigslist and the owner threw in a pasta making attachment (useless) and a grinding attachment (wonderful). So, I use that for making ground beef. A food processor works just fine. Cut the meat into 1” – 2” chunks, put it in the freezer for about 15 minutes to firm it up, and pulse it until you get the right consistency. It’s easy! Process it in batches and freeze the excess. I wrap the ground beef in plastic wrap, followed by a barrier layer of aluminum foil. It’ll keep and there’s no freezer burn.

How do you make a better burger? A great burger needs three things: ground beef, salt, and pepper. If you’re adding bread or onions or whatever else, you’re making meat loaf, not a burger. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good meat loaf. This, however, is about burgers. I do think that the salt and pepper should be mixed it. The entire burger should be seasoned. Otherwise, there’s a hit of seasoning on the crust, and nothing inside. So, mix in the salt and pepper. I like ½ teaspoon of salt and ¼ teaspoon of black pepper for a pound of ground beef. Once it’s mixed, divide the beef into about 5 oz. for each patty. Cook how you like. It’s hard, ok, impossible, to beat the grill. On the stove, I use a cast iron skillet. Avoid non-stick at all cost.

Now, sauce time. I can hardly fault the combination of grilled onions and cheese. I mentioned the New Mexico penchant for green chile sauce on burgers, so I thought I’d share my favorite salsa verde. It comes from Rick Bayless, the chef with a number of Mexican restaurants in the Chicago area, including Topolobampo and Frontera Grill.

1 pound of tomatillos
1 head of garlic, separated into cloves with skin on
8 Serrano peppers
1 lg. white onion
1 bunch cilantro
2 – 4 limes (depending upon how juice they are)
salt and pepper to taste

Remove outer wrap from tomatillos and wash. Rub with vegetable oil and put into oven (a toaster oven is great for this) on broil until skins blacken. Set aside to cool and remove skins. Don’t worry about getting it all. When skins are removed, toss into the bowl of a food processor.
Meanwhile, thoroughly coat Serrano peppers and garlic cloves with vegetable oil and put in medium sized pan. Cook over med-high heat, shaking occasionally, until skins of peppers blister and the garlic slightly blackens. Remove from heat, cover and let cool. Remove the skins from the garlic cloves and Serrano peppers. The steaming action while cooling makes removing the skins easy. Depending upon how spicy you like your salsa, you can remove some, all, or none of the seeds from the peppers. Toss the peppers into the bowl of the food processor.

Chop white onion and briefly blanch in hot water (I boil a bit, but very hot tap water works too). Drain and put in food processor. Rinse cilantro and coarsely chop. Keep the stems in as they’ve plenty of flavor. Blend everything and pour into a bowl. Add salt, pepper, and lime juice to taste.

I’m also moving Okie Girl’s tomato salsa as it’s a great ketchup alternative. [Hope you don’t mind me moving it up into the main post, Okie!]


This recipe came via one of the old regulars at a neighborhood dive bar I used to frequent to play shuffleboard. His nickname is “Lumpy” as a result of a serious car accident in which his neck was broken. He published the recipe in a cookbook the bar patrons all contributed to many years ago. Another regular patron who owned a local restaurant then began serving it in his restaurant and reported it was a huge success. I made some modifications that I’ll describe after the original recipe and began giving it as holiday gifts. It has been so popular I am now up to giving away 4-6 pint cases every Christmas.


6 lbs plus 3 oz canned chopped tomatoes
¾ C dried onion
½ C sugar
1 ¼ C white vinegar
3-4 jalapeno peppers (to taste)
1/8 C pickling salt
¾ Tbs chili powder
1 tsp pepper
1 tsp cumin
½ tsp alum
1 small can green chilies


Mix all ingredients together in large pan. Bring to a boil, then remove from heat. After it cools, pour into jars and keep refrigerated. Makes about 8 pints.


I use fresh chopped onion instead of dried, reduce the sugar a bit, and use a mix of canned and fresh tomatoes. This tends to make a rather thin salsa, so I use half fresh tomatoes and half canned crushed tomatoes to add some body. I also add a couple of cloves of minced garlic, a large chopped bell pepper, and about a half bunch of chopped cilantro. If I’m going to be using the salsa immediately, I reduce the vinegar a bit (to about 1C) but leave vinegar as is if I’m canning it.

Since this makes a more liquid salsa than I typically prefer, I frequently strain off some of the liquid and use it as seasoning in other dishes (such as using it for part of the cooking liquid for rice).

So, what’s your better burger?

BB (for beef burger of course)

Bites and Pieces. Cinco De Mayo edition

I don’t know if I shared my carne asada recipe, but I just did it for everyone tonight, and it is a perfect summer grilling dish.  I always kick off the camping season by doing this over a campfire.

1.5 lb skirt steak


1 white onion diced

3 fresh jalapenos

1 bunch cilantro

1 jar minced garlic

1 plastic lime of lime juice

1 tb salt

2 tb oilive oil.


2 tomatoes, diced

1/2 white onion, diced

1 tsp minced garlic

1 fresh jalapeno, with seeds and membrane removed

fresh cilantro.

Put marinade ingredients in a food processor and mince.  Marinade skirt steak for 3 hours.

Assemble salsa. Cut and mix

Grill skirt steak.  Cut to 2-inch strips against the grain.

Grill flour tortillas briefly to warm up.

Serve with beer, grated cheese, salsa, guacamole, and cholula sauce.

Bites and Pieces, Irish Style

In honor of the Irish backdrop to Suite Harmonic (thanks, Emily!), here is a colcannon recipe that came to me as an authentic County Mayo recipe.  This has long been one of my favorite comfort foods.


1 pound cabbage [can substitute kale in whole or part]

1 pound potatoes

2 leeks

1 cup milk

salt and pepper to taste

1 pinch ground mace or 1/8 tsp ground nutmeg

1/2 cup butter, melted


In a large saucepan, boil cabbage or kale until tender; remove and chop or blend well. Set aside and keep warm. Boil potatoes until tender. Remove from heat and drain.

Chop leeks, green parts as well as white, and simmer them in just enough milk to cover, until they are soft.

Season and mash potatoes well. Stir in cooked leeks and milk. Blend in the kale or cabbage and heat until the whole is a pale green fluff. Make a well in the center and pour in the melted butter. Mix well.  OR spoon colcannon into bowls and make a well in the center of each and pour in the melted butter.

Anybody else have a good Irish recipe?  Or maybe a recipe in honor of Cinco de Mayo?




Cinco de Mayo fresh tomatillo salsa [Mark]

1 lb. tomatillos, husked
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 C red onion, finely chopped
1/2 C fresh cilantro leaves, chopped
2 dried chipotle chiles
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon dried Mexican oregano
1/2 teaspoon salt

With foil covered baking sheet 6 inches from flame, broil the tomatillos for 15 min.
turning at 5 min and 10 min. Tomatillos will darken in spots.
Remove from the broiler, cool [I stick in freezer for 5 min when I am in a hurry]. Then chop.

Warm the olive oil in a skillet. Add the onion and sauté until softened.
In a bowl, combine the onion and tomatillos. Stir in all remaining ingredients.
Refrigerate and serve cold.    2 C

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