Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Giving Thanks

Do you ever wake up and say, "Ya know, I need to work on 'such-and-such'--I've neglected it for too long and need to get it working again..." The 'it' could be a garage, an auto, a weightloss program or in my case, a potential weight-gain program.
I'm talkin' 'bout some serious cooking! And what better time to get re-aquainted with our beloved pots and pans, our gadgets, and those trusted appliances than this week of Thanksgiving?
I'll match a tradtional, Thanksgiving food item with a gizmo that has been in a storage box or back of a cupboard, lonesome and forelorn.

Like ALL good kitchen excursions, this one starts with a story...it's 5 a.m. on a Tuesday morning, the first cup of coffee is down and I'm having a 'healthy' breakfast of Garam Masala Chicken with Coconut Milk in a cereal bowl as I write...

...the Quinn family FINALLY made the change of address from SW Portland to SE Portland; actually, we now reside in Milwaukie, a suburb. During that time of transition from one house to another, we stayed at a friend's house while ours was getting re-vamped. Yeah, VERY nice friend. Aye-yaye-yaye, was the new place a mess! Not sure what was worse, the three brimming cat-boxes that were left or the WWF hootchy-mama posters in the boy's basement bedroom.
When that blessed day of taking up residence arrived, we plopped down hastily assembled bedding, swept and mopped, then sat around and lapped up the intoxicating aroma of fresh latex paint in empty, resonant rooms.
"Hey, Mom, it doesn't smell like cat-crap anymore," proclaimed Liam.
"Liam!" said Dad.
"...POOP, it doesn't smell like cat POOP anymore..." he added, "Sorry, Mom."
Dad smiled.

We were in the new house but, had given away the '70s dining room set of Lisa's childhood. Not a lot of tears; we could never find the conquistadore paintings or club and mace set that went with the table and chairs originally. Darn.
"Mom, Dad, we need to have a meal at the table...together and on Sunday," Brendan informed us. Dang if he wasn't right! It was 6 weeks of commuter meals, dinner in a recliner on stylish Solo dishware. We were so busy with moving out of one home and getting into another that we forgot to sit down AS A FAMILY! Good God in Heaven, we neglected our mealtime together! This won't do, especially for the family that tries to make dining together a mainstay, an anchor for our lives.
Lisa found a beautiful antique table and chairs that fit snugly into our little dining area. She bought new placemats and matching napkins to go with her new interior color scheme.
She did a marvelous job on everything including our first dinner. We all sat down, parked the baby in her highchair on the corner and said our traditional blessing. There was a pause at the finish as we waited for an ad-lib:
"...and thank you God for our new house, our new table and chairs, that we may be forever grateful and that tonight is the first of many wonderful memories at this table.


Fresh Cranberry Relish (serves alot)
1lb. bag Cranberries, Oregon preferably
4 Oranges, juice and zest
1 cup Sugar, or to taste

Method: Buy a microplane or zester at the local, expensive kitchen shop. A microplane is worth it's weight in flawless diamonds, but, looks like a wood rasp. You will thank me. Remove the zest (outer peel) of the oranges by running along your microplane or zester and place in your food processor. Add cranberries and sugar. Cut your oranges in half and juice them. Add juice to the cranberries.
Blast away till a fine puree is accomplished; about 3 minutes. Place in a container and let rest overnight; the color will run and give you a brilliant, vibrant red on Thanksgiving Day.
Serve in a clear, crystal bowl to show off the aforementioned electric red!

The Best Turkey Gravy in the Whole, Wide World
This takes a commitment and is not for the 'instant chef.' If you want E-Z, open up some Knorr bouillion cubes or something, I dunno. If you want guests to pick up their plates and lick the gravy off, then, this is your recipe...

1 cup turkey giblets, diced
1/2 cup turkey fat, from your pan drippings
1 T. Italian seasoning
1 cup white wine, riesling or gewurtz, preferably
1 1/2 cups flour, AP
1 qt. turkey stock, made from bones
2 cups milk
to taste kosher salt

Method: Saute' diced gibs in the turkey fat and deglaze with the white wine once gibs are cooked. Add the Italian seasonings and reduce the wine by at least half. Add the flour to form a paste and reduce heat to medium-low. Add half of the stock (including the pan scrapings from the roasting pan!) and allow to thicken. Whisk in the remaining stock, allow to thicken and add the milk. Adjust texture with milk and saltiness with kosher salt.
Pour into a metal container and place in a water bath till service.
It is crucial that a stock is made with turkey bones, onions and celery and sprigs of fresh thyme. Stock is the palate upon which edible cooking becomes a simple work of art.

Enjoy your Holiday and remember...

"Food, Faith, Family and Friends--
the Best Things in Life Aren't Things."

God bless,
Chef BQ.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Grillin' and Chillin'

I like to work efficiently, whether in the kitchen, around the house or under a car. If you're there, ya might as well get a few things done. As long as the hood's popped, let's check the oil and also, the coolant, air filter, brake fluid and bugs in the radiator. Heck, while the garage door's open, let's find that gas can and tile cutter buried under stackable milk crates.

If the grill is on, let's do more than cook the burgers...what else can we burn...? How about some veggies, chicken thighs or some flat bread? All of these things are easily sourced at the market and will hold nicely for days in the fridge, to "feed another day!" This means that we need to P-L-A-N a little bit when shopping. Look at foods and wonder "what can I do with this..." then drop it in your cart.

Summer grilling can be somewhat messy and does require a time commitment.
Gotta heat up the grill...burn off the old grease...brush it down...get it to temperature. Turning on a gas valve in the kitchen stove is SO much easier! Yeah, but, we don't get those wonderful, tasty grill marks and seared, crispy skin. Not to mention, you'd miss the romance of the 'process' to which I am a slave. What about the whole 'dad fighting back licking flames, taming the smoldering beast, subduing the smoky serpent' thing? Ya gotta have a story to tell at the table about how you lost sections of arm hair and got black grease under your fingernails while preparing a meal for the family.

"No son, it wasn't a blown head gasket on the Ford, it was a pile of skirt steaks on the Weber with a little too much fat that gave me these scars..."

A properly involved grill cook has to earn his marks, his badges of courage!
Like my grandfather who was a WWII Navy veteran. We'd ask him where he got his tattoos, the green-blue faded designs of banners, anchors, ropes and stars. "The Indians gave 'em to me when they had me tied to the stake up by Reno," he would say, "Good thing your grandmother hit it big on the slots, 'cuz she came riding down on her horse and knocked 'em all on the head with her bag of silver dollars. She rescued me but not before the Indians gave me these marks..." We believed the part about the Indians but, grandma must've been 300 lbs in her knee-high hose. No way could she mount a horse...

Stories...Life is so much more interesting when there is a story involved. Like the time I forgot about the gas grill I turned on HIGH to pre-heat, only to have a child ask if that dark smoke coming out of the back porch would alert the fire department.

With our Dog Days of summer at hand, it's critical to work within the constraints of excessive heat. I chewed my son Liam's butt for turning the oven on to make a quesadilla last week when it was 103 degrees in Portland. "Here son, have a popsicle..." I offered to his amazement. We seldom have popsicles for dinner but, we had to work within the parameters of our heat wave.
So, we grilled several items out on the back porch to be eaten cold at later meals. I love grilled veggies that are drizzled with a balsamic vinegar and served cold. Chop up some fresh herbage from the garden and add a splash of some super deluxe extra virgin olive oil to make your summer grilled veggies sing! LaHHHH-DEEEE!

Spinach salad is a favorite of mine, especially with a creamy dressing. Add a protein like grilled and chilled chicken, salmon, tuna or steak and you have a healthy, satisfying AND delicious entree'. And as far as a dressing goes, make a vinaigrette using a bit of tahini paste in your standard Italian vinaigrette. We used this at the winery and the lads were practically drinking it out of the bottle! Tahini can be found at middle easten markets or specialty markets catering to the "Loca-vores," (those of us that try to eat foods from our area when available).

Hey, let's get that grill fired up...far and away from the house!
"Yo, yo! Keep on grillin' as you be chillin' this summa."

Grilled Vegetable Pasta with Garden Herbs
(serves 8)

2 Zucchini, halved length-wise
2 Crook necked Squash, cut same as Zucch
2 Heirloom Tomatoes, halved and stemmed
8 Garlic cloves, peeled and minced
2T EVOO (extra virgin olive oil)
1T Salt, kosher
1lb Pasta, your favorite kind

Prepare squash and tomatoes as directed. Place on a pre-heated grill and score on both sides. Grill has to be hot enough to leave good, clean, dark marks on the veggies but not to blacken the entire sides. Once grilled, place on a cookie sheet and cool.
As the veggies are cooling, put a gallon pot of water on the boil and make your way to the herbs outside (this implies that you are growing a variety of herbs at home!). Cut enough fresh thyme, oregano and rosemary to make 4T of chopped herbage.
Once water is boiling, drop pasta and cook to your desired doneness, giving it a stir to keep from sticking.
Place a larger saute pan, 12" or so, on a medium burner and pre-heat. Cut squash and tomatoes to fork sized pieces and reserve. Add squash to pan and saute' for two minutes, then add garlic and cook till smallest bits of garlic get a touch of color. Immediately add tomatoes and chopped herbs.
Cook till hot, season with salt to taste and spoon over cooked pasta.
Top with some grated Romano-Pecorino and you are good to go!

Is this easy, or what?! And with the herbs, garlic and cheese, you have all the spots on the palate getting the 'happys.'

Give this a go, and let me know.
And remember...

"Food, Faith, Family and Friends...
the Best Things in Life aren't Things!"

Take care and God bless,
Chef BQ.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Dry rubs, outdoor grills and Whoopi cushions

My middle son, Liam, is very 13. He devises battle implements out of broken garden tools, asks for permission to take apart the old microwave oven and sets boobie-traps using sewing thread. The other night, I 'tripped' one of those boy-traps.
Walked up the driveway after work and noticed a message scrawled on a post-it, attached to a beer bottle that was sitting on the antique milk box on the back porch. The placement, overwrought design and 'bait' had me smelling a rat, but, I proceeded. Two steps later, a sewing thread trip wire stretched across my chest and snapped. I stood frozen, waiting for a guillotine to slam down or a pit of pungie sticks to open up.
Then, a head popped out of a doorway, "Dang, it didn't work!"
"Hey son, what are you up to?" I asked.
"The string was supposed to make a cinder block fall on a whoopie cushion...guess it was too heavy." Brendan, our 10 year old, grabbed the cushion and placed it under his arm, activating the desired noise.
"Doesn't work as good under your arm, Dad, but, it's still pretty realistic," Brendan chuckled, "here, I'll sit on it."
And we, all three of us 'boys' laughed like heck as Brendan and Liam took turns impressing me with their simulated bodily emanations, complete with facial contortions.
I reached into the fridge, cracked a beer and leaned on the kitchen counter as Brendan laughed himself silly reinflating and deflating the whoopie cushion.
"Dad," he giggled, "I can't wait for summer and putting this under people's chairs outside. It's gonna be SO funny!"

Yeah, I thought, I can't wait for summer either, but, my thoughts usually run towards my grill and a good dry-rub. I love creating a rub that suits the day and the food. Sometimes a sweeter or more aromatic concoction is in order. Other times, spice is the name of the game. Outdoor cooking is as varied as your imagination; I'd like to help with a couple of guidelines.
I have a basic formula for all dry-rubs and then spin-off variations from there.
Give these a shot the next time you fire up the Weber and reach for a piece of salmon or a thick bone-in pork chop.
Just check your seat cushion if you swing by our house...

Dry-rub Base Blend
1 C Kosher Salt--(saltiness)
1/8C Black Pepper, whole--(heat)
1/8 C Red Chile flake--(heat)
1/4 C Paprika--(color)

Additional Variations (add to above recipe), 1/8 Cup=2 Tablespoons
1/8C Allspice--(sweet spice)
1/8C Clove--(sweet spice)
1/8C Fennel Seeds, freshly ground--(aromatic spice)
1/8C Cumin Seeds, freshly ground--(aromatic spice)
1/8C Coriander Seeds, freshly ground--(aromatic spice)
1/8C Basil, dry--(sweet herb)
1/8C Thyme, dry--(savory herb)
1/8C Oregano, dry--(savory herb)
1/8C Tumeric, ground--(yellow coloring spice)

Take the Base recipe and add your additional ingredients as you think you might like. Purchase all your herbs and seeds whole and grind them in a coffee mill--takes two seconds and you will have remarkably fresh flavors.
Guard your spice mill with zealous fervor; someone may want to wash it, to 'clean' it. That's like scrubbing your cast iron with steel fiber to get the seasoning off every time you use it. Just rip my heart out, puh-LEEZ!

These aren't huge batches so you won't be stuck with a dud if you make something you don't particularly care for.
Ease into it. Don't put all the ingredients listed above into a Nuclear Dry-Rub. More is not better.

Have fun and remember...
"Food, Faith, Family and Friends...
the Best Things in Life aren't Things."

Take care and God bless,
Chef BQ.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Snow, Snap and Spring

Came home the other night from the restaurant, it must've been after 10, tired, hungry for home cooking and felt the 'beer cramp' coming on. Ya know when your dominant hand gets that shape after a long, hot day at the rock pile; the pleasing involuntary response to caress a large, chilly bottle of fermented malt beverage? The hand was aching and I was more than ready for some hop therapy.

As I walked up the driveway, picking up a Razor scooter and parking a Red Flyer wagon, the sound of frogs in our neighbors neglected pool caught my attention.

"This is what I LOVE about spring," I thought, "the all-or-nothing serenade of Helen's frogs." Often time, Lisa and I would laugh in bed as one begins to chirp and within two seconds, thirty of his closest friends chime in. Then, even more suddenly, they come to an abrupt halt. Cessation may last a few minutes or a half hour, but, the frogs remind us of the joys of spring, the promise of new life.

Fumbling for the key to the back door, I take a deep breath and WHOOSH!...a rush of warm, lilac infused night air wafting down the breezeway envelopes me like a gentle ocean current.
"Now, THIS is what I love about spring!" I says to meself, key in the doorlock.
I stand there, breath in and breath out, breath in and breath out. Yes, these are still my favorite flower. Their delicate flavor never varies in intensity, their fragrance is as soft and soothing as a mother's hush.

Lilacs are only a two week window for us and mark the arrival of the 'fragrant' time of year. It's a nice change from the smell of mud and moss, fir nettle clogged gutters and damp wool. I could get used to this, the floral scented world. But, would I appreciate it if it was available all the time? Would I take this soothing aroma so sweet and heavy you can taste it on the back of your palate, for granted?

Probably. So thank God for seasonality!

And speaking of seasonality, I gotta tell you about a classic pasta combination of spring: Fresh Peas and Pancetta.
Lisa asked me about how my day went tonight and told her of a pasta special that sold very well. It had sugar snap peas in it with pancetta, garlic and a black pepper cream with penne pasta.
"That's like the one I used to do at Laura Silvestri's in Half Moon Bay," she said, "only we used prosciutto, snow peas and Parm-Reggiano. Same diff, though..."
I put me diet Coke down and asked her what they had for dinner earlier. I was starvin'!
"Here, I just wrapped it up for you. You're not gonna believe this," she said.
There to my amazement was a dish with a grilled chicken breast, arancini pasta tossed with butter and garlic, and a PILE of glistening, crunchy, sugar snap peas! No joke!

"This is what I LOVE about spring," I sighed.

My lover chuckled, "You're so easy..."

Penne Pasta with Sugar Snap Peas, Pancetta and Cream (Serves 4).

8 oz. Penne pasta, dry
8 oz. Pancetta, cut into cubes the width of a pencil
2 Tbs. Garlic, minced
2 oz. White wine
16 oz. Cream
1 Tbs. Black pepper, fresh cracked
1/2 juice of lemon
2 C. Sugar snap peas
1/2 C. Romano-Pecorino cheese, grated.
4 Air-kisses

Cook pasta in a rolling boil till done. Done is defined as how YOU like. My done is different than your done.
Drain when cooked and toss lightly with a smidge of oil to keep things from sticking
As the pasta is cooking, saute' the pancetta on med-high heat in enough cooking oil to just cover the bottom of the pan. Use a larger saute' pan for this job, maybe a 10-12 inch rig.
When cooked but, not crispy, add the garlic and warm till the smallest bits of garlic start to brown. Immediately, splash with white wine to bring down the temp of the pan and let the wine reduce. After about 2 minutes, add the cream and reduce by half. Add the lemon juice, black pepper and adjust for salt. Toss in the sugar snaps and swirl in the sauce for no more than a minute. Honest, you want to keep them crunchy and vivid green.
Add cooked pasta and shake that pan!

Serve in cool bowls that you found at Kitchen Kaboodle or Pier One Imports. Garnish with the Romano and have at it!

Find something to LOVE about springtime in your kitchen and remember:

"Food, Faith, Family and Friends...
the Best Things in Life aren't Things."

God bless,
Chef BQ.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

The 'Other' Turkey...

Raise your hand if you are one of the millions of Americans who, three days after Thanksgiving, declare that this is gonna be the year that you eat more turkey. Gosh, it tastes great, has a 'heart healthy' fat content, whatever that is, and is pretty darned cheap to put on. We love turkey sandwiches in a deli, but, seldom prepare turkey at home.

Why is that?

My buddy Steve recently took me to a relatively new deli in downtown Portland. He raved about the authentic feel in an urban setting but, it was the pastrami that made my friend go berserkawitz.

"Quinnster, ya gotta check out these sandwiches here...see this one, it's the corned beef brisket with special sauce on fresh rye...and the pastrami comes with chopped liver, like a pate'..."

Watching the cooks pull smoked corned beef briskets up from the holding oven and hand carving each sandwich was like sitting at the dining room table during a painfully slow turkey carving on Thanksgiving. I had to swallow several times and make a conscious effort not to reach across the counter and grab a taste of the trim.

"Sweeney, the sonsofbitches use real smoked corned beef for their pastrami," I whispered, "not some nasty top round jacked up on liquid smoke."

"Quinnster, THAT'S what I'm talkin' about!" he shouted as he smacked me on the shoulder.

Corned beef; the lowly, wretchedly colored neon red meat that some of us obligingly prepare once per year only to make our house smell a little weird when followed by boiled cabbage and over-cooked potatoes.

No wonder we only attempt it on an annual basis: it looks funny, has a lot of fat and takes FOREVER to cook!

Why bother?!

When it's done well, we LOVE it and can't wait to do it again. But, like a roast turkey, we never do. It's SO much work...the darned corned beef never seems to cook all the way...my cabbage and potatoes are reduced to mush by the time the beef has boiled to a close proximity of doneness. UUUHHHH! Just give me a couple of pints and let's call it good! Ta heck with corned beef!

Hear me out on this one: If given the right instruction and the proper tools (a killer recipe), anyone can succeed this coming week with a traditional St. Patrick's day dinner. This is 'THE YEAR' for all of us to kick some major booty in the kitchen when our American St. Paddy's dinner comes around.

Remember my 'Cooking with your Eyes Closed' segment...the whole schpeel on slow cooking overnight in a covered roasting pan with a bit of liquid...and it's called 'braising'? Well, those students that didn't do the homework can have an opportunity for a re-take.

We're going to prepare a Corned Beef and Cabbage dinner that will be the envy of every church dinner, any downtown pub, and those who dreamed of one day saying,

"Yes, I prepared Corned Beef in my sleep and my guests LOVED it!"

Corned Beef Brisket

First off, an inside tip: If you have a Costco, United Grocers/Cash and Carry, or some other quasi-wholesale food outlet, give them a call and ask for availability of corned beef brisket. Previously frozen is OK, these tougher cuts of meat don't suffer from freezing; they acutally help to tenderize the more stubborn cuts.

Corned beef brisket is running about $2.00/lb wholesale right now. Get a whole brisket and cut it into three pieces from short end to short end. This will allow ease of handling and slicing...how fun is that?!

OK, this is beyond EZ, but, I'm gonna tell you anyway...ready?

Take the brisket cut into three pieces and place into a covered pot that will fit into your oven. Empty the microscopic seasoning packet into the pot along with 2 bottles of your favorite ale. Not Buzz-wizer, not Sewers, but, a real friggin' ale made as local as possible, OK? splurg!
Now, place in a pre-heated, 275 oven when you go to bed (around 9 or 10 ). When you wake up at 6 or 7, your house will smell like a home with a fork tender corned beef brisket there to greet you in your bath robe (you in the robe, not the brisket...). Remove from the oven and using a big-ass spatula, gently extract the three pieces of meat from the pot. Place the meat on a cookie sheet and let cool at room temp for a half-hour. Then transfer to the fridge for a good chill. When ready to serve, slice the chilled meat on the short side, not the long side, into desired thickness. I like about a 1/8-1/4 inch slice. Place on a cookie sheet and into a 350 oven to re-heat; they get a little crispy and lose a little more fat. Dee-Lish!
Meat is done...was that easy or what?! Again, folks think you are the local version of Mario-friggin'-Batallia for 'creating' such a culinary triumph.

Cabbage and Preities

For the cabbage, use a standard head of green cabbage. Don't use red, Nappa or savoy; it ain't the same.
Get a pot of salted water on the boil. Take a head of cabbage with the stem side up and cut in half, right down the middle of the stem. DO NOT REMOVE THE CORE! Now, take each half and cut into 1/8th wedges, using the stem or core as the base of each wedge. The stem keep the leaves from falling off and turning the whole mess into cabbage goo. Drop the wedges into the salted water, which is simmering, and cook till fork tender. Remove and place in cold tap water to cool.
For the potatoes, use only red potatoes. If red potatoes are not available, then, well...just drink Guinness and have a wee dram of 'uisce beatha' the Gaelic beverage called 'water of life' which the brits call 'whiskey.'
Seriously, now cut your red pots (potatoes) into fork sized wedges or pieces and cook till fork tender in simmering, salted water. When done, strain and turn out onto a cookie sheet to cool. Place in fridge to chill. These can be reheated in the oven when ready to serve with a couple of lumps of salted butter and whatever else you like on top.

The Kicker
I wasn't going to do this for fear of becoming too involved but, I'll throw it out there for the adventuresome.
This is the Mustard Sauce from Hell. Ya ladle this delicately over the dish of corned beef, cabbage and spuds and well...people begin to weep uncontrollably.
I take no credit nor any blame as to what may transpire when guests partake of such a dish...

Make a roux with about half a cup of flour and half a stick of butter...low heat and create a 'wet sand' paste. To this add, cold chicken stock (broth if you hafta) of about 2 cups. Whisking all the while, add two more cups of chix stock as this thickens. Once the sauce comes to a light simmer, add 4 Tbs of whole grain mustard (Plochmans, Beaver brand, whatever) and adjust the salt with kosher salt.
This REALLY ties the whole thing together.
A man from Kerry once told me, "Quinn, 'dis is brilliant!"

Happy St. Paddy's to the only Irish guy I know named, 'Tony.'

Give this a go and hit me with some feedback...successes only.

Take care and remember:

"Food, Faith, Family and Friends...
the Best Things in Life Aren't Things."

God bless,
Chef BQ.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The Bloody French!

Being of Irish ancestry, I was taught that the Brits were the enemy. They turned the land of my fore fathers into a serfdom, starved the inhabitants and drove those well enough to travel, into exile. English invaders outlawed our hallowed Catholic faith and education, over took our churches and cathedrals, making them their own!
In traveling the continent, the UK and the Irish republic, I have found, however, that two generations and one hundred years have done much to soften the sting of British imperialism.
They are in fact, quite nice people. Most Brits are very friendly, eager to offer assistance to travelers (english speaking) and are most satisfied in their current state. These are folks you'd like to have as neighbors; dad drinks a little too much, mom tends to share privileged information on anyone and the kids are wise beyond their years.
Brits remind me of Oregonians who read; pale, educated, ruddy and pleasant.
They will sit there and hold their tongues on a topic till an invitation is extended either by gesture or comment.

"These tomatoes look nice," one could remark in a market, "Yes, they do..." a Brit would reply candidly.
"How d'ya think they grow them so nice her in England?" I would ask.
"They DON'T!" the shopper would snap, "they're either from Italy or North Africa...we caunt grow them here...the Bloody French pinch the good ones, too, on the way to England. These are the seconds!"
(O-kayyyy, a little animosity here...)

Lisa and I had spent 3 months in the UK and Europe during our honeymoon in 1990. The last leg of our journey was up from Portugal, through Bordeaux and into Paris for the train ride to London. After I smoked enough Cuban cigars to choke a mule, we boarded a train that would take us under the English Channel and into familiar language for the first time in 60 days. We checked into a B&B late that night in Folkstone on the Channel. It was up the hill and a stone's throw from the depot. Our hostess couldn't have been more welcoming; she was big-lady huggable: glasses, heavy-set, house coat, plump, rosy cheeks. A TV blared in the adjacent room behind a louvred glass door; father layed in his recliner, shoes off, dark socks on, looking at the paper but not really reading in his Vinny t-shirt and half-specs draped with a chain.

We awoke the next morning to the comforting aroma of bacon cooking, potatoes frying and tomatoes grilling. Lisa and I laughed in a bed that was so thick with blankets and comforters, we thought we would suffocate.
"I feel like we're home," Lisa said to the lady as we shuffled into the kitchen and sat at the table to enjoy our choice of tea or instant coffee. The lady smiled and commented that she wells with a great satisfaction when Americans stay and feel at home with a good English breakfast.
"Oh, but, we had SO much great food in Italy, France and Portugal. Gosh, the risotto, cheeses, grilled sardines...there was SO much wonderful cuisine on the continent," we continued, "but, to have eggs, bacon, potatoes, coffee...WOW! This is even BETTER than home after all the European fare."
"Oh now, you're being too kind," our hostess feigned,"we're just simple country folk, you know..."

"That may be," Lisa countered, "but, we cherish the beauty of simplicity done right!"
"Speaking of 'simplicity'...remember that onion soup with truffles in the Dordogne valley of France? That was exquisite..."

Our endearing, maternal hostess rose, clearing our empty plates with a huff,
"Bloody French..." she muttered and dropped them into a soapy sink.

Here's a recipe that is sure to inspire admiration and not scorn...

French Onion Soup (serves 8-10)

8 Onions, yellow, med, sliced (not rings!)
2 ribs Celery, diced
1/4 C. Cooking oil, (olive, canola, duck fat, whatever!)
1/4 C. Garlic, chopped
1T. Thyme, fresh, chopped
2 Bay Leaf, whole
1 gal. Chicken, Beef or Duck stock (from bones puh-leez!)
8-10 bread slices, artisan stuff
8-10 slices of some kinda Swiss cheese; Gruyere, Emmantaler, etc.

Saute' onions and celery with the oil in an 8 qt. pot. As the onions cook and reduce in volume, reduce your heat so things don't get black on the bottom. We want to allow the onions to get a little bit of color, some browning, but not black (that is the bitter, unappetizing flavor). This requires constant monitoring and attention. Stir the onions, check the bottom of the pot. DON'T go out and prune three rows of vines and think all will be well. It won't! Cooking the onions is a chemical process: we convert starches of the onion to simple sugars by way of heat. These simple sugars caramelize and give us the wonderful color for onion soup.
Now add the garlic, thyme and bay leaf. Cook for an additional 2 minutes. Add the stock and bring to a boil. Scrape the bottom of the pot with your wooden spoon to cajole the remnant bits of 'onion sugar' from the bottom.
Reduce to a simmer for 2 hours.
When ready to serve, adjust salt to taste. Ladle soup into bowls and serve with a crusty, cheesy, toasted slice of bread on top.

The savory character of the stock marries with the natural sweetness of caramelized onion sugars. Fresh herbs make it garden simple.

The 'Bloody French' have got it goin' on with this classic preparation.

Just add lotsa wine...

Take care, and remember:

"Food, Faith, Family and Friends...
the Best Things in Life Aren't Things."

God bless, Chef BQ.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Bones and Brew

It's chilly here in Portland this time of year. The warm rain gives way to windy, bitterly cold days that turn the mud into concrete-like adobe. The airstream dips down from the Arctic and blows our moderate, rainy Northwest into central California.

This is the kind of weather relatives down south reserve for the wilds of Lake Tahoe and the Donner Party. For those not familiar with California history, the Donner party were a group of pioneers who got stuck by early snow in the Sierra Nevada mountains and, well, ran out of regular food. They ended up using 'seasonal and local product.'

Could you imagine that, having to make a meal of a travel partner? Gosh, you'd have to cut away the fanny pack and Bermuda shorts; and who'd want to pull those sandels off?! Jeez, I mean how would you decide what cuts to use first? Do you go for the tender backstraps or if given some time, braise a tougher piece with lotsa flavor?

I think I'd probably opt for the veggie entree'; some tree bark and fiddlehead ferns with a splash of pure, mountain water...

Back in Oregon, the dry, frosty air of January and February lends the palate to rich, substantial flavors. Hearty reductions, marbled meats and earthy root vegetables beckon us to ladles and deep bowls. This is real, down-home, comfort food weather.

I came home one day and as I set foot in the back porch mudroom, the soothing vapors from a pot of chicken stock warmed my senses. As I unravelled a scarf, dropped a cap on a hook and hung up two layers of fleece, the gentle, savory aromas drew me closer to the source. There on the stove top sat a tall pot with a raft of chicken bones softly simmering along with onion, carrot and celery ends. Sprigs of winter thyme sprouted from within this delicious elixir. I hovered over the pot and drew deep breaths; it was like eating the air.

"So, what's for dinner?" I asked Lisa as we kissed, "This smells GREAT!"

"Well, it's kind of a Smorgy-Bob's," she stated. If it's an assortment of things from meals past, then it's a smorgasbord in our house.

"So, more to the point, WHEN'S dinner?!" I pleaded.

"Call the guys and we'll get started. Brendan, can you set the table?" the chef ordered.

"Whoa, somethin' smells good," exclaimed our tablesetter as he came up from the boy-cave downstairs.

As Pat and Liam pounded up the stairs, they too seemed pleased at Mom's choice.

"Dude, this must be Ninja Soup...'cuz it's kickin'," Liam joked with Patchy, giving him a Roger Moore judo chop and side kick.

Lisa had placed an array of bowls on the kitchen counter with everything from wild and basmati rice to broccoli and carrots. Some flat noodles occupied one bowl and sliced chicken was in another. Nine bottles of hot sauce lined the counter waiting for adolescent boys to challange one another. We ladled up piping hot broth over each unique bowl and gathered at the table.

"Mom, this is amazing, it's like better than what it's supposed to be," mused Patrick.

"Good chicken stock is the key. It's basically just bones and water," followed Lisa, "Good things have to simmer, though. You have to allow simple things the time to become great."

Here's a shot of medicine for your winter blahs...

Chicken Soup with Goodies

1 Chicken, deboned, meat reserved
4 qts water, cold
1 celery heart
2 carrots, cut in 1 inch pieces
1 onion, quarterd
few thyme sprigs
1 bay leaf

Place all (except chicken meat) in a 6qt pot and place on medium heat. Bring to a boil and immediately reduce to a simmer. Save all your skin and add to the bones for the stock.
Now, cut your chicken meat up into fork sized pieces and saute' with canola or olive oil. Be sure to get a little color on the meat; tastes better and doesn't look anemic.
Now comes the fun part: begin scavenging around your fridge for 'submersables;' things that will dwell nicely in the bottom of a bowl of broth. Look for veggies like onions, celery, carrots, cabbage, radishes or broccolli and cauliflower. Proteins to include: sausages, chicken, beef strips, salmon, shrimp. Herbal possibilities are: fresh basil, cilantro, mint, thyme or lemon grass.
The idea is to use what you have on hand; we ALL have stuff in our fridges that will wither away because they are the last of the bunch.
So, gather your goodies from 'Fridge Forraging', dice them, slice them and place them on a large tray or in separate bowls. Let the family create their own bowls and then ladle the steaming hot goodness over their creations. Finish with a squeeze of lime, pinch of kosher salt or a dash of Sriracha hot sauce!

Honest to Pete, the kids just LOVE it!
Give it a shot and lemme know of your successes.

Take care, God bless and remember:
"Food, Faith, Family and Friends...
the Best Things in Life Aren't Things."
Chef BQ.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Fanta, Cabbage and Peanuts

My wife, Lisa, had returned to our home just a few minutes after me. She was somewhat out of breath, the baby was crying and the kids were hungry. It was nearly 6:00 after all.

"Hey, where've you been? I thought the kids were out early today," I asked.

"Oh, yeah, they were, but, we stopped by the African family's house and we made some dinner for them," she exlpained.

Our parish has sponsored a family from Burundi at the last minute and they dropped out of the sky like an empty Coke bottle. None of us speak Swahili or K'rundi and equitorial Africa hasn't been on the TimeShare listings. Something about civil war and ethnic cleansing that can put a damper on cultural exchanges. Consequently, we weren't quite sure how our new toys worked.

Lisa figured them out, though, real quick.

"I looked up their country on the Internet and found that the base diet consists of, well...just about anything they can get. Mostly, it revolves around rice and sweet potatoes; protein if available," she followed, "Did you know that Burundi is THE poorest country IN THE WORLD?!"

Good God in heaven, she is really off the reservation on this venture, I thought. How can she go head-long into helping to relocate and acclimate folks that might as well be from Mars?!

"We went shopping today and they LOVE Fanta orange soda, unsalted peanuts and the mother wanted cabbage and fish," Lisa continued. "I showed her how to use the oven and stovetop."

I can just picture my dear bride, stirring a pot with one hand, bouncing a baby on a hip with the other. Laughing and gesturing the whole time...

"I'll get dinner going, don't sweat it. Here, let me pour you a glass of Gris," I said.

As Lisa placed our 6 month old daughter in the high chair, she told me of the elaborate menu prepared for our sub-Saharan guests.

"All I did was make a pot of Basmati rice, boiled some sweet potatoes and poured Fanta orange soda by the 2 liter bottle. You'd think it was dinner at the Benson Hotel, the way they dug in and celebrated!" Lisa took a long sip of her Pinot Gris then, requested an ice cube. "They just LOVED it!"

But for the Grace of God, so too go we, I thought.

"Here are three ice cubes, 'cause you deserve 'em," I boasted as they plopped into her stemware and clinked as we toasted. "Wow, cooking has brought us another new relationship but, I suspect we don't know what that is just yet," I concluded.

"Who knows?" Lisa followed, "One of those 8 children might find a cure for cancer, run for President or do the same thing for someone else someday."
I love it when she's right.

Thanks, Loverlu, for showing us what power, kindness and love can be found through Fanta, cabbage and peanuts.

Now, let's try another dish with peanuts, cabbage and mandarin oranges:

Pad Thai at Home (serves 6)

1 pkg Rice stick noodles, looks like fettucine, only different
1 Onion, medium, diced
2 lb chicken meat, cut to fork sized
6 cloves garlic, minced
2 carrots, peeled, halved and cut on a bias
2 cups chicken stock
1 cup coconut milk
1/2 cup peanut butter, either creamy or crunchy
2T soy sauce
1T fish sauce (found in the asian food section)
1/2 cabbabe, sliced as thin as possible, a 'chiffonade'
2 cups peanuts, ground
1/2 cup cilantro, chopped
6 each mandarins or clementines, peeled and sectioned

Put a 4 quart pot of water on the boil.
Saute' the diced onions and chicken. Add the garlic and cook for
another two minutes. Add the stock, coconut milk, peanut
butter, soy and fish sauce. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer.
Simmer covered for thirty minutes and stir occasionally.
Drop your noodles into boiling water for ten minutes or till desired
doneness. When done, strain and toss with half the sauce. Arrange noodles
on plates with a bed of the crunchy cabbage underneath. Ladle remaining sauce onto
noodles and garnish plate with peanuts, oranges, and cilantro.

Wine suggetion:
--dry Gewurtztraminer
--Pinot Gris

Thanks for reading and remember:

"Food, Faith, Family and Friends...
the Best Things in Life aren't Things!"

Take care and God bless, Chef BQ.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Futurama: Cooking for Tomorrow

"Futurama" always makes me think of think of the 'Jetsons' cartoon from the early '60s. One day, when there are no countries and we all live in peace, treadmills will whisk us from one point to another. Bubble-top vehicles will putter along silently, transporting throngs of commuters to destinations unknown. I always wished I had a robot that combined the efficiency of a computing device with that of a gingham apron-wearing, tear-shedding, never ending grandma-hugger like 'Rosie' from that show. Elroy was lucky...
'Futurama' also brings to mind the shoe pounding Nikita Kruschev being led around by the nose by a black haired vice-president Dick Nixon at an exposition in Berlin, 1958(?), showcasing the modern conveniences available to the average, American housewife.
Appliance garages, dishwashers, microwave ovens and push-button ease made life look pretty sweet for the pearl wearing mom in heels. Scary thing is, some kitchens haven't changed since then...

The 'Futurama' about which I speak, though, has nothing to do with space suits or communists' chagrin. It has everything to do with 'Cooking for Tomorrow.' I'm talking about 'Cooking Ahead' like, preparing today for the next several days. I love my weekends for various reasons, but, one of them in particular, is spending some quality time with Frank Sinatra, a glass or two of red wine and getting intimate with mire poix (diced onions, celery and carrots; the base of French cooking) and garlic over the 1947 O'Keefe & Merritt gas stove in our home. I can roast a chicken, cook off a 5-rice blend and get a tomato sauce on the low-n-slow in an afternoon while STILL having time to bounce our new baby girl and get spit-up upon.
Is Life great, or what?!

Cooking ahead is what we do in the restaurant biz; I prepare today for tomorrow and the next day. We don't re-invent the wheel everytime we tie on the apron strings. Therefore, things are in a continual state of preparation and execution. We cook today what we may need for the next couple of days. This constant flow keeps things fluid in the kitchen and at the table. Don't mess with the flow!

Below is a quick prep item that each home should have on hand. When you have it, you use it. If you don't, you make excuses and settle for less than your best. If I'm lyin', I'm dyin'...

Roasted Herb Chicken with Lemon.
1 chicken, whole
some salt, kosher
some pepper, ground
some paprika, ground
1 lemon, sliced
some herbs: thyme, rosemary and sage, whole

Method: Place chicken on a cookie sheet and sprinkle with an equal parts blend of salt, pepper and paprika from a height of 12" above the bird. This disburses the seasonings evenly. Paprika ALWAYS gives a great color to meat.
Place sliced lemons, and enough sprigs of thyme, rosemary and sage that will fit in the cavity of the yard bird into the critter. Place into a pre-heated 250 degree oven and cook till you have juices in the bottom of the pan. This signifies the extra juices of the bird are out and the protein is done. Give it the 'thigh test.' Grab the tip of the leg and pull away from the body; it it snaps back, the protein is still elastic and NOT done. If it kinda lays there, well, guess what...dinner's ready!
Now, you can serve this chicken as is...wonderful! Or, you can cool it in a window or uncovered in the fridge and pull the meat off the carcass when cold. Zip loc bags in the freezer keep things readily available. Save the meat for a chicken pasta, quesadilla or a light veggie broth with diced chicken. Reserve the bones for a pot of stock with onion ends and celery hearts with carrot tips.
Now, you have a protein ready to go for whatever dish you fancy.

The future is today, young man; not in plastics, as they said in 'The Graduate', but, in proteins. They are the foundation of our cooking. Cook ahead today and glide through your tomorrows.

Take care and God bless.
And remember: "Food, Faith, Family and Friends; the best things in Life aren't things."

Chef BQ.