Recipe: Coq au Vin Blanc in an Instantpot

 

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Ingredients:

An Instant Pot (though see below)

4 ounces of roughly chopped bacon

8 ounces of mushrooms– I like a variety, but whatever you like/can get

2 or so tablespoons of butter and/or olive oil

2 to 4 chicken thighs (depending on how big they are, with the skin and the bone)

2 chicken breasts (with skin and the bone, or just more chicken thighs)

Salt and pepper to taste

8 ounces of carrots– baby carrots are easy, or roughly chopped

4 good-sized shallots, peeled and cut in half or quarters

2 cloves of garlic, minced

1 tablespoon (or so) of either dried thyme or herb de Provence seasoning

2 cups of drinkable dry white wine (or red– see below)

2 or so more tablespoons of butter

1 tablespoon of flour

Mashed potatoes or cooked egg noodles

1 or 2 tablespoons chopped parsley

I’m trying to write more recipes on my blog this year for basically two reasons. First, I’m trying to write up the recipes for things I make all the time in one place so I don’t have to keep digging through different books and web sites and stuff. Think of it as a public and electronic version of the box of index cards that used to be in pretty much every amateur home cook’s kitchen back in the old days. Second, I think it’s kind of fun to write recipes. Not exactly sure why, but it is. And hey, if others find these things helpful or interesting or whatever, that’s great.

This is a recipe closely based on Bon Appetit’s recipe on their web site, though of course there are a zillion different ways to do some version of this classic French “chicken cooked/braised in wine.” One of the things I like about this is I make this in an Instant Pot, though to be honest, I’m not sure this is really the best use of that (admittedly gimmicky) appliance. It doesn’t really cook that long in an oven anyway.

The other reason I like this recipe and most of the other chicken recipes I plan to post is I can actually get my wife and son, both of whom do not like chicken, to eat it. Personally, I don’t understand this. I love chicken and could easily eat it in its many forms several times a week; Annette and Will, not so much. But they both tend to be okay with dishes like this that are braised/stewed/slow cooked like this– or, in this case, pressure-cooked.

Instructions:

  • Put the chopped bacon in a large nonstick skillet, on medium-low heat, slowly brown the bacon to get it crispy and to render out the fat. You could do this all in the Instant Pot on the sauté setting, but I think that setting is kind of wonky and it’s harder to control the temperature than the stovetop. Then again, cooking this first in a skillet and then putting it in the Instant Pot does mean digging out and dirtying up another pan, so your call.
  • When the bacon is done crisping up, scoop it out with a slotted spoon and leave behind the bacon fat. Put about half the bacon aside to finish the dish and the rest of the bacon into the Instant Pot container (or, if you decided to sauté in the Instant Pot, put it all in a large bowl big enough to hold all the ingredients). A lot of these recipes also say to drain all but a tablespoon of the bacon fat, but I’ve never understood why you’d do that. Add up to 2 tablespoons of butter or olive oil and let it melt and get bubbly.
  • For the mushrooms: first, clean them up. Supposedly you’re not supposed to wash mushrooms, but even before Alton Brown and some other food nerds disproved this, I’ve always put them in a colander of some sort, given them a good rinse, and dried them off with paper towels, which also wipes away any dirt or grit. I like to use a nice mix of mushrooms for this, but whatever you want to use and/or can get will work fine. Cut them up into about quarters or bite-sized pieces. Get those prepped mushrooms into the sizzling butter and bacon fat and sauté for a few minutes on medium heat, just until the mushrooms get a bit browned in places. Put them in the waiting Instant Pot insert (or your big bowl) along with the bacon.
  • Liberally salt and pepper the chicken and brown it over medium or so heat. You’re not trying to cook the chicken through– just browning it– so don’t worry about it not being done. But you also don’t want to just skip this step because the browned chicken will help make a delicious sauce and the mix of bacon fat, chicken fat, and butter– well, that’s just delicious. This takes about 10-15 minutes. If your pan isn’t big enough, you’ll need to do this in batches. Put the browned chicken into the Instant Pot container.
  • Add the carrots and shallots to the hot pan, stir, and season with salt and pepper. You’re just trying to get a bit of color on them and to scrape up/soak up some of the stuff stuck to the pan. Toss in the chopped garlic and herb de Provenance or thyme for just a minute or so and then pour in two cups of dry white wine. Let that cook just a few minutes, just to reduce it and cook off some of the alcohol a bit. As the saying goes, you should only cook with wine you’d be willing to drink, though for me, that means about a $5 bottle of wine and when it’s for drinking and not cooking, I spend more than that. I use white wine somewhat because of the taste, but also the color. Coq au vin is more traditionally made with red wine, but that turns everything kind of a muddy purple color, and I think that looks kind of gross.put all of this into the Instant Pot insert or the big bowl where you’ve been putting everything else.
  • Arrange the chicken and mushrooms in the Instant Pot insert so it’s spread out even and add the vegetables and wine. Set the Instant Pot to pressure cook on high for 15 minutes. Let it the natural release happen for about 10 minutes, then release and unseal the pot.
  • There are two things to do while that’s cooking and cooling a bit. First, put the flour and the butter in a little bowl and squish it together with your fingers or a fork. Second, cook either masked potatoes or egg noodles to be a base for your dish. I suppose this is optional, but c’mon, with the sauce and everything, why would you skip this?
  • Once it’s cooled off enough to handle the chicken, start plating by beginning with the potatoes or egg noodles. Using a slotted spoon to leave behind as much of the sauce as possible, arrange the vegetables and chicken on top of the potatoes or noodles.
  • Put the Instant Pot insert back in and turn on the sauté option. As the sauce comes up to heat, add in that flour/butter mixture and whisk it in. Keep mixing until it has thickened up a bit, about 3 minutes tops. Top each serving with the sauce, sprinkle on some of the parsley and reserved bacon, and eat it.

If you don’t have an Instant Pot: Well, you might want to start with a new recipe, but here’s what I’d suggest. Preheat the oven to 250. Instead of using a skillet, use a Dutch oven or similar deep pot that can old everything. Cook everything in steps int the Dutch oven. Once you have everything in the pot and things are simmering a bit on the stove, put on the lid and put it in the oven for about 45 minutes. Check it and of course make sure your chicken is cooked all the way through (160 degrees). Put the pot on the stovetop, plate the potatoes or noodles and the chicken and vegetables just like before, heat up the sauce and whisk in flour/butter mixture.

Recipe: Easy Potluck Potatoes

Ingredients:

A big disposable and oven safe pan

2 lbs frozen hash browns, thawed

1 stick melted butter

2 cans of Campbell’s potato soup (or cream of mushroom or a mix)

1 pt sour cream

1 small onion, finely chopped

About 1 cup of milk

1 tsp salt, 1 tsp pepper

1/2 cup parmesan cheese (preferably the kind that’s in a green can)

1/2 cup breadcrumbs (pre-packaged, of course)

A couple of weeks ago, my son (now a PhD student studying cellular-molecular biology, and no I don’t really understand what he does) was going to a properly socially distanced potluck of some sort. He’s in Connecticut, which has a pretty good handle on the whole Covid thing, and he had some kind of event to go to with people in his lab. So he asked for this recipe, which is really from my mom and probably also on the side of a package of frozen hash browns, a can of potato soup, or maybe all of the above.

This is also one of things I often bring to things like potlucks or whatever. It’s an unapologetically unhealthy and kind of trashy “dish” I got from my mom, just barely in the category of cooking. But it does taste good. Oh sure, you could probably make this better with real and hand-grated parmesan cheese and a roux-based sauce instead of canned soup, and maybe some chopped herbs (I am sure chives would be very nice), some bacon, etc., etc. But the cheap shit is fine for this.

I include a “big disposable and oven safe pan” here mainly because my son doesn’t own a properly large casserole dish, but I don’t know, somehow I think this tastes that much better out of an aluminum foil pan that (hopefully) gets rinsed out and properly recycled when your done.

Instructions:

  • Get one of those cheap and disposable casserole pans, the kind of thing that is usually aluminum but sometimes made out of some kind of plastic too. Doesn’t matter, though one that you can recycle when you’re done is obviously best. Bonus points if you have a lid for it.
  • Preheat the oven to 350.
  • Mix together the thawed potatoes, the melted butter, sour cream, chopped onion, salt, pepper, and milk all together. If you’ve got a big bowl, great; if not, mix it in the disposable pan.
  • Mix together the breadcrumbs and parmesan cheese together in a separate bowl.
  • Put the potato mixture in the pan (if you didn’t mix it in a bowl, of course) and put in the oven uncovered and bake them for 45 minutes.
  • Take them out and carefully sprinkle the breadcrumbs and cheese mixture on top of the potatoes. Bake for another 15 minutes until golden brown and bubbly.

 

 

Recipe: Slow Cooker Boston Baked Beans

Ingredients:

1 pound dry white beans (navy beans, but almost anything will work)

1/3 cup molasses

1/3 cup brown sugar

1/3 cup ketchup

1/4 cup Dijon mustard

1/8 tsp ground cloves

3 cups water

1 tsp salt

1/2 pound of thick cut bacon cut into large chunks

1 to 1 1/2 cup chopped onion

More salt and pepper to taste

About & Method:

We’re all looking for things to do during the pandemic days weeks months to pass the time, plus I’ve been thinking lately that I need to write down a lot of my go-to recipes here mainly for myself. I have a lot of recipes that I go back to again and again, but I also find myself needing to track down whatever cookbook or website where that recipe is again and again. In the old days, I would have cut out the recipe from a magazine or copied from a book onto a card and then put that all in one place– and I do actually have a scrapbook sort of recipe collection like that. But I thought it’d be more convenient for me to type these recipes up here so I could find them later, plus if I did it this way, maybe someone else on the internets might find them useful. So, that’s why I’m doing this.

Baked beans is a weird place to begin, especially since I don’t make homemade baked beans that much. For me, homemade baked beans are usually like homemade ketchup: sure, you can do that to put your own spin on ketchup and plenty of fancy (and not so fancy) restaurants and gastropub kinds of places do that all the time, but it always tastes weird to me. When I want ketchup on something, I want the manufactured product, preferably Heinz. I have the same feeling about baked beans: there are obviously a lot of recipes and variations out there, but for me, the “right” baked beans are B&M Baked Beans, and the ones in the glass jar. They are the ones I had growing up, and they are the only ones I will buy at the store.

Here we are in mid-summer during the coronavirus pandemic, and I guess there’s a lot of people who feel the same way as I do about B&M baked beans with my grilled hamburger or brats or hot dogs or whatever because I have not been able to find them in the store at all. Fortunately, I came across a recipe that’s pretty close to what’s in the jar, though my version is slightly adjusted to add some ketchup. I also prefer the smaller pinto beans, but really, just about any dry dean should work. Note also this basically takes a day and half of planning! Not that any of it is difficult; it’s just that it’s not what to turn to if you want the right baked beans right now. Note also this is a slow-cooker recipe. I suppose you could do this in the oven in a traditional bean pot, but I don’t have one of those and a slow-cooker doesn’t require me to pay much attention to it.

  • Put a pound of dried beans (navy or some other white bean) into a large bowl and enough water to cover by a couple of inches. Soak the beans for at least 6 hours, and up to 12 or so would be good too. The best time to do this is in the morning/early afternoon the day before you are planning on eating your beans. When ready to assemble, drain the beans and discard the soaking water.
  • Sometime in the late afternoon/early evening the day before you are planning on having your baked beans, mix together in another bowl the hot water, molasses, brown sugar, mustard, 1 tsp salt, ketchup, and 1/8 tsp of cloves. Obviously, you can of course adjust the seasonings to your own tastes. I do think the cloves do add that “this is just like B&M baked beans” flavor, but go easy on it– believe it or not, that tiny bit of ground cloves goes a long way.
  • In the bottom of your slow cooker, spread half of the chopped bacon and half of the chopped onions. Then layer in half of the dried beans; then the other half of the bacon and onions, and then the other half of the beans.
  • Pour in all of the stuff you mixed with water, which should be more than enough to cover the beans, onions, and bacon. If it’s not, add a bit more water.
  • Plug in/turn on the slow cooker to the low setting for 10 to 12 hours. Go to bed.
  • The next day when you get up, check on the beans. They should be just about done at this point. Give them a stir and taste them; they might need some salt and pepper. If they are too liquid-y, continue slow cooking them for another hour or two, but leave the lid half off so some of the liquid can evaporate.
  • When they get to the consistency you want, eat them or put them in storage containers for the fridge and reheat them gently. They’ll be delicious for a few days.

Recipe: Spring Pea Soup with Mint

 

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Ingredients:

One very small onion, finely diced (about 1/4 cup)

Olive oil

Quart of vegetable or chicken stock

Salt and pepper to taste

16 oz bag of frozen green peas

About 10-12 mint leaves, plus  leaves for garnish

Two tablespoons of minced parsley

1/3 cup sour cream, plus more for garnish (or creme fraiche)

Lemon wedges and olive oil

About & Method:

This is my interpretation of a recipe from the Culinary Institute of America cookbook Seasons in the Wine Country, a really excellent book with several recipes that are among my favorites. I’d strongly recommend it. Several years ago, we started having an informal Easter dinner with our friend Rachel, her kids, and Rachel’s partner Colin.

The kids grew up, we missed a few dinners here and there, and Rachel and Colin moved. Then on Easter during the coronavirus pandemic, we all got together on a Zoom session and talked about all kinds of things, including this soup.

I think there are three great things about this recipe. First, it’s great looking and has a lovely intense pea and, well, green flavor. Second, it’s easy to make this completely vegetarian (with veggie stock) or vegan (skip the sour cream). Third, it is ridiculously easy to make. While I don’t think I’d really want to make this a meal, it’s a fun first course.

  • In a 3 quart or larger pot, heat some olive oil on medium heat and lightly sauté the onions for about 5 minutes, just to soften.
  • Add the stock, frozen peas, mint (saving some for garnish), and parsley, and then just bring it to a simmer– the peas and herbs don’t really need to cook. Taste and season with salt and pepper.  Take the pot off the heat and let the soup cool for 10 or so minutes.  I think the stock matters in this recipe because there aren’t a lot of ingredients. So if you can use homemade stock, either chicken or vegetable, it’s worth the extra step. The original recipe talks about using fresh peas for this, but honestly, I cannot imagine that it’d be worth it shell that many peas, and f I had that many fresh peas, I’d probably just them as is.
  • Blend the soup thoroughly. How you do this kind of depends on what you have and/or are willing to use to do the blending. An immersion blender works well, though see the next step: if you want to strain it, you’re going to need a second pot or something that is big enough to hold the strained soup. If you have a really good blender (like a Vitamix) and want to deal with blending up hot liquid (it can be kind of a mess and a good way to get burned), you can get a really fine and smooth soup. But hey, kind of chunky and not smooth is good too.
  • Here’s the optional next step: strain the soup with a fine mesh strainer. It just depends on how smooth a soup you want, and if you used a good blender and mixed the hell out of it, you probably don’t need to do this anyway.
  • Gently reheat the soup. When it is hot enough to serve, turn off the heat and whisk in about a third of a cup of sour cream (or skip this step for the vegan version).
  • Serve it (around a cup a person), and garnish (if you want) with a bit of sour cream, mint, a splash of olive oil, and lemon wedges.

Learning how to write is like learning how to roast a chicken. And vice-versa

I tried a new way to roast a chicken the other night, closely resembling this “Herbed Faux-tisserie Chicken and Potatoes” recipe from Bon Appétit. I’ve roasted a chicken with one recipe or another hundreds of times, but experimenting with a different recipe got me thinking about how learning to cook a simple meal suitable for sharing with others is like learning how to write. And vice-versa.

First, both are things that can be learned and/or taught. I think a lot of people– particularly people who don’t think they can cook or write– believe you either “have it” or you don’t. I’ve met lots of struggling students who have convinced themselves of this about writing, and I’ve also met a lot of creative writing types (from my MFA days long ago and into the present) who ought to know better but still believe this in a particularly naive way.

I believe everyone who manages to get themselves admitted to a college or university can learn from (the typically required) writing classes how to write better and also how to write well enough to express themselves to readers in college classes and beyond. I also believe that everyone with access to some basic tools– I’m thinking here of pots and pans, a rudimentary kitchen, pantry items, not to mention the food itself– can learn how to cook a meal they could serve to others.  Learning how to both write and cook might be more difficult for some people than others and the level of success different writers and cooks can reach will vary (and I’ll come back to this point), but that’s not the same thing as believing some  people “just can’t” cook or write.

Second, I think people who doubt their potential as cooks or writers make things more complicated than necessary, mainly because they just want to skip to the meal or completed essay. Trust the process, take your time, and go through the steps. If an inexperienced writer (and I’m thinking here of students in a class like first year writing) starts with something relatively simple and does the pre-writing, the research, the drafting, the peer review, all the stuff we do and talk about in contemporary writing classes, then they will be able to successfully complete that essay. If an inexperienced cook starts with something relatively simple– say roasting a chicken– and follows a well-written recipe and/or some of the many cooking tutorials on YouTube, then they will be able to roast that chicken.

Third, both writing and cooking take practice and self-reflection in order to improve. This seems logical enough since this is how we improve at almost anything– sports or dancing or painting or writing or cooking. But one of the longstanding challenges in writing pedagogy is “transference,” which is the idea that what a student learns in a first year writing class helps that student in other writing classes and situations.  Long and complex story short, the research suggests  this doesn’t work as well as you might think, possibly because students too often treat their required composition course as just another hoop, and possibly because teachers have to do more to make all this visible to students. Whether or not it gets taken up by students or conveyed by teachers, the goal of any college course (writing and otherwise) is to get better at something.

In my experience, the way this works with food is when you’re first trying to learn how to roast a chicken, you do it for yourself (or close family and/or roommates who basically have the choice to eat what you cook or to not eat anything at all), and you make note of what you would do differently the next time you try to roast that chicken. Next time, I’ll cook it longer or shorter or with more salt or to a different temperature or whatever. A lot of my recipes have notes I’ve added for next time. Then the next time, you make different adjustments; repeat, make different adjustments; and before you know it, you can roast a chicken confidently enough to invite over guests for a dinner party.  Also, the trial and error approach to following a recipe for chicken helps informs other recipes and foods so you can serve those guests some mashed potatoes and green beans with that chicken, maybe even a little gravy.

Both writing and cooking involve skills and practices which build on each other and that then allow you to both improve on those basic skills and also to develop more advanced skills and practices. It was not easy for me to truss a chicken the first time I did it; now it’s no big deal. Writing a good short summary of a piece of an article and incorporating that into a short critique is very hard for a lot of first year writing students. But keep practicing it becomes second nature. I routinely have students in my first year writing class who gasp when I tell them the first essay assignment should be around five pages because they never wrote anything that long in high school. By the end of the semester, it’s no big deal.

Finally, there are limits to teaching and not everyone can succeed at becoming a “great” writer or cook. Never say never of course, but I do not think there is much chance my cooking or recipes will ever be compared to the likes of Julia Childs or Thomas Keller, nor do I think my writing is going to be assigned reading for generations to come. I don’t like words like “gifted” or “genius” because people aren’t better at things because of something magical. But for the top 1% of writers/cooks/athletes/actors/etc., there is something. At the same time, it’s also extremely clear that the top 1% of writers/cooks/whatever get to that level through hard work and obsession. It’s a feedback loop.

So for example: it’d be silly to describe myself as a “gifted” writer, but I am good at it and I have always had a knack for it.  I’ve been praised for my writing since I was in grade school (though I did fail handwriting, but that’s another story) and it isn’t surprising to me that I’ve ended up in this profession and I’m still writing. That praise and reward motivates me to continue to like writing and to work to improve at it. I spend a lot of time revising and changing and obsessing and otherwise fiddling around with things I write (I have revised this post about a dozen or more times since I started it a week ago).

In any event, even if I have some kind of “gift,” it ends up being just one part of a chicken vs. egg argument. Being praised for being a good writer motivates me to write more; writing more improves my writing and earns me praise as I get better. A knack alone is not enough for anything, including writing or cooking.

Oh, and for what it’s worth: I thought that recipe was just okay. I liked the idea of the rotisserie-like spice rub and I can see doing that again, maybe putting it on a few hours or the day before. But cooking at 300 degrees (instead of starting it at say 425 and then dropping it back to 350 after about 20 minutes) meant not a while lot of browning and kind of rubbery skin.

Recipe: Mediterranean (-ish) Fish Stew/Soup

 

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Mediterranean-ish fish stew.

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Ingredients:

  • Olive oil
  • Four ounces or so smoked pork chorizo sausage (basically one link from a four-pack of sausages)
  • One small fennel bulb, diced (about 2/3rds of a cup)
  • One small onion, diced (about 2/3rds of a cup)
  • Two cloves garlic, minced
  • Half a cup of white wine
  • One 14 ounce can of diced tomatoes
  • One 12 ounce bottle of clam juice
  • Teaspoon of dried thyme
  • Half a cup to a cup of vegetable stock, fish stock, or water (optional)
  • 12 ounces of firm white fish like cod
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Juice of about half a lemon (plus wedges for garnish)
  • Half a cup of chopped Italian parsley

This is a simple stew/soup that is largely based on a recipe from an America’s Test Kitchen “cooking for two” magazine/recipe collection. I’m a fan of America’s Test Kitchen shows and cook books. The recipes are simple, interestingly written, and (unlike so many cook books) they “work.”

An interesting tangent here I learned in Googling America’s Test Kitchen: I wasn’t quite sure what the deal was with Christopher Kimball who used to be the face/host of the PBS show, until he showed up on Milk Street. I guess I had kind of assumed that Milk Street was a spin-off of the America’s Test Kitchen series since they are basically the same show but with different hosts. Little did I know that the split between Kimball and his former employer was an ugly one where ATK argues Kimball ripped off the whole concept for his own show (and magazine and cookbooks and web site). Hard to argue with that. There is what I believe is an ongoing lawsuit about all this.  Go figure.

Anyway, there’s obviously a lot of variations to this kind of stew/soup. I have cooked similar recipes with a lot more vegetables (and no sausage) and different flavor profiles, everything from a more spicy/Creole vibe to Asian. I don’t know if this is “Mediterranean” so much as vaguely Portuguese or Spanish, but whatever. I wouldn’t recommend omitting the sausage (chicken chorizo would probably be okay) because that’s what gives this soup/stew its unique flavor; so if sausage/meat isn’t your thing, I’d suggest a different recipe, or I try messing with this one with different spices. Clam juice was a new ingredient to me for this recipe– and honestly, I was suspicious because it sounds kind of gross to use the juice that clams were soaking in– but it does add just a hint of pleasant ocean fishiness to the finished dish. I use cod, but I can easily imagine other kinds of fish and/or shrimp. Note this recipe serves two, or provides one person leftovers the next day. I am certain it could be doubled or tripled with no serious problems. Last but not least, I think of this as a stew/soup because I prefer it a little more on the “soup-side” of things– which is why the addition of stock or water is optional.

Steps:

  • Use a large enough and heavy-bottomed pot to cook this– I use a small Dutch oven. Heat up a few tablespoons of olive oil and sauté the diced chorizo, onion, and fennel for five or ten minutes until it’s softened and a bit browned. I find this is a lot easier to do if you have everything cut up ahead of time before you get started.  For the chorizo, I just use the garden-variety links available nowadays at most grocery stores– pre-cooked and smoked. Dicing up a fennel bulb for the first time can be a little tricky, but basically, you want to core the bulb and cut off all the top stuff. Martha Stewart has a nice demo video of how to do this here.
  •  Taste and add some salt and pepper.
  • Add the minced garlic and cook for another 2 or 3 minutes, stirring constantly.
  • Stir in the half a cup of wine, scraping the bottom of the pan to get any of those good tasty bits in there.
  • Stir in the tomatoes, clam juice, and thyme, and taste it again, adjusting the salt and pepper to your tastes. Bring it up to a simmer. If you want it more soup-like, add more stock or water; if you want it more stew-like, add just enough stock or water so it doesn’t dry out.
  • Cook the base/broth 15 or so minutes. This is also a great “make ahead” kind of dish because you can do all of this up to this point, turn it off, and just leave it covered on the stove for an hour or so until you’re ready for the seafood.
  • While the soup cooks, dice up the fish and chop the parsley. Also, the lemon: juice half of it and cut up the other half into wedges to serve with the stew/soup.
  • When everyone is ready to eat, add the lemon juice from the half a lemon, half the parsley, and the diced fish. Give it all a stir and cook for about 10 or 12 minutes on medium-low heat. It doesn’t take much to cook fish in a broth like this and you don’t want to overdue it.
  • Serve with parsley to garnish and lemon wedges on the side. A simple salad and nice crusty bread is a good side, too.

Recipe: Salmon and Lentils (w/bonus leftover lentils)

 

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Ingredients:

  • About two cups of dried lentils (preferably black or French green ones)
  • One medium-ish carrot, diced
  • One small onion, diced
  • One medium-ish potato, peeled and diced
  • Two or so cloves of garlic
  • At least a tablespoon Herbes de Provence seasoning (or about 2 tsps dried thyme, 1 tsp dried rosemary, and 1 tsp dried oregano)
  • Salt and pepper
  • Olive oil
  • Two to four portions of salmon filet cooked how you prefer, about six to eight ounces per person (This amount of lentils would work well for four servings and with enough leftover lentils to repurpose for a side dish, soup, etc.)
  • Lemon wedges, plus parsley to garnish

I’m not likely to ever open a restaurant, but if I did, it’d probably be some kind of riff on a French bistro, and if I did open Cafe La Steve, I’d probably have this dish on the menu. I can’t say I remember ever seeing this on a menu in a restaurant– French or otherwise– but it does feel like a good French bistro recipe to me.

This is based on the recipe in Mark Bittman’s How To Cook Everything, which is a good book for finding basic recipes for, well, everything. You could definitely jazz up the lentils with some bacon or maybe chicken stock or some more fresh herbs or what have you. I keep it simple both because it then is a weeknight (when you have a little extra time) kind of meal, and also because it’s easier to repurpose the leftover lentils into different forms.

Steps:

  • Put the lentils into a Dutch oven or other large heavy pot, cover with water, bring to a boil, and cook them for around 15 minutes, not until they’re finished but just until they are starting to soften. If you’re pretty quick about dicing up the vegetables, you can do that while the lentils cook. If you are slower (like me) about dicing vegetables and/or you’re trying to do more than one thing at a time in the kitchen (also like me), it’s probably a little less stressful and easier to dice the vegetables before you cook the lentils. Use your judgement on that. I like to use black lentils for this because they keep that cool black color after they cook, but French green lentils are easier to find.
  • If you want, rinse your lentils. Now, this is probably a completely unnecessary step and I’ve never seen it described in any other lentil recipe, but I do it this way because it makes the final version seem less “muddy” to me. So give it a try if you want and see if it makes a difference, or just skip it. To rinse the lentils: after they’ve cooked have cooked about 15 minutes, set up a fine mesh strainer in the sink and carefully drain your hot lentils into this strainer. Rinse off the lentils and rinse out the pot.
  • If you don’t drain the lentils, then just add the vegetables into the pot, and make sure there is enough water to cover. If you do drain the lentils, add a little olive oil to the bottom of the now drained and rinsed out pot and sauté the vegetables with a little salt and pepper for a few minutes, just to get them beginning to soften, stirring pretty much the whole time. If they are sticking a bit to the bottom, add a little water and stir to unstick them from the pot. Put the drained lentils back into the pot and add enough water to cover.
  • Stir in a heaping tablespoon of Herbes de Provence. I just use a mix I always have on hand– it’s a very handy seasoning– but if you don’t have that, you can just try a combination of about 2 tsp thyme, 1 tsp dried rosemary, and 1 tsp dried oregano. There’s a lot of lentils there, so you can be aggressive with the amount of herbs you put in.
  • Cook the lentils and vegetables on medium heat, allowing them to just barely simmer and reduce to a thick consistency but without letting them dry out completely. Check on them and stir the pot about every five minutes or so. This takes around 20 to 30 minutes, though you can turn the heat down to warm and keep it on the stove after it’s done for an hour or more while you get everything else ready.
  • While that’s going on, this is a good time to slice a lemon into wedges (and get rid of the seeds) and chop up a bit of parsley.
  • When the lentils are almost done, taste them and add more salt and pepper as you see fit. I usually turn the pot down very low and then prepare the salmon. You could also easily do this ahead of time (up to several days ahead if you put the lentils in the fridge) and simply reheat the lentils and vegetables when ready to eat.
  • As far as the salmon goes: how you want to cook it is up to you. If you like the skin crispy and don’t mind a bit of smoke and clean-up hassle: put a bit of salt and pepper on top, and heat up a non-stick pan with just a bit of oil in it. Put the salmon in skin-down, allowing the skin to crisp up and render some of the fat. This will make a fair amount of smoke and sputtering, so open a window and if you’ve got a splatter screen for your pan, have it handy. After they’re crispy, flip over the filets to brown a bit. Turn down the heat to let it finish to your liking– or if you like your salmon on the rare-side, take the pan off the heat and let it finish in the cooling pan.I don’t do this often because Annette doesn’t like the crispy fish skin and also because (like I said) it’s kind of a mess. So instead, I usually turn on the broiler and set up the oven rack so it’s not too close to the heat. Then  I put the seasoned salmon on a cookie sheet lined with aluminum foil (it just makes it a lot easier to clean), and then put it under the broiler for just a few minutes, until the skin is crispy. Then I take them out, peel off the skin and discard it, flip over the salmon, maybe add a little olive oil to the top of the filet, and put it back in until the top of the salmon is just beginning to brown. This whole process takes maybe 10 minutes.
  • Plate by ladling a nice pile of lentils and vegetables in a nice shallow bowl, place a piece of salmon on top of those lentils, garnish with lemon wedges and parsley, and eat.

Bonus leftover lentils!

Inevitably, this recipe provides me with leftover lentils, which is actually a good thing. I’m not much of a leftovers kind of person, but I think these leftover lentils are quite good. I’ll sometimes just heat them up in the microwave as a kind of “side dish” to a sandwich or something like that. Usually though, I’ll make them into soup simply by adding however many lentils I want with broth, either vegetable or chicken, and if I want to get really “fancy,” I’ll cook up a slice of bacon, cut that up, and add the crispy pieces to the soup.

On Baking Bread

Bread Baking (Fall 2017)

I baked bread again last weekend. That’s not all that unusual; I don’t think I’ve bought bread since March or April. It kind of came up on Instagram and Facebook because my long time friend and colleague (and fellow baker/cook-type) Bill Hart-Davidson commented that I should post some pictures. So I did. More than necessary. And now here I am writing about baking bread, also more than necessary.

Continue reading “On Baking Bread”

Because more than one person asked: Squash Ravioli

This is based closely on a recipe for pumpkin tortellini from the cookbook The Silver Spoon, which is sort of The Joy of Cooking of Italy:  it’s one of those books that’s been around forever and it has recipes for everything.  I mean everything: this book has a section of recipes for cooking Ostrich.  Well worth the purchase.  This is a double recipe; I figure if you’re going to go through the trouble of making these, you might as well make plenty.

Filling:

  • About 8 cups or so of squash (roughly speaking, this is about two small to medium-sized butternut squash), peeled, seeded, and cut up into chunks
  • 3 to 5 cups of grated Parmesan cheese
  • 4 eggs, lightly beaten
  • two or three cups of bread crumbs
  • about a half teaspoon or so of grated nutmeg
  • salt and pepper to taste

Pasta:

  • 3 and a 1/2 cups of flour, with extra for dusting
  • 4 or 5 eggs, lightly beaten
  • a pinch of salt

Cook the squash (butternut, pumpkin, something like that) on some cookie sheets in a 350 degree oven for about 35-45 minutes, or until tender.   Cool, and then pass it through either a food mill or a ricer (I use a ricer; I would think a food processor would be a bad idea as it would turn this mixture into something too gummy).  Mix all the other filling stuff in with it.  The mix should be fairly dry, so if it’s still mushy, add more bread crumbs.

There’s a lot of ways to make fresh pasta, but I tend to use the classic “well method.”  Pour the flour out onto a clean surface and make a well in the middle of the pile.  Beat up the eggs– four if they are large eggs and it’s kind of damp outside, otherwise five– and pour them into the well.  Use a fork and begin incorporating the egg with the flour.  When it is all mixed in, start kneading it.  This will seem to be a hopeless process at first, but if you put some weight into it and a little time, you’ll eventually get a nice ball of a stiff dough.  Put this in a ziplock bag and let it sit for at least 30 minutes.

Get out your pasta maker, roll it out, and make ravioli.   Did I mention you need a pasta roller to do this? Yep, pretty much.  If you don’t have one and/or you want to skip the whole rig-a-ma-roll of making your own pasta sheets, I suppose you could buy some pre-made pasta sheets or some won-ton wrappers.  I’d also recommend doing this as a group activity.  Making ravioli is the sort of thing that works well as small group entertainment, either with a child and his friend visiting for a sleep-over or for some sort of dinner party.  There are lots of ways to make ravioli; the most common method I see in cookbooks is to roll the dough out, put small mounds (about a half tablespoon at most) of stuffing in regular intervals on the sheet, fold it over, press the edges firmly, and cut it into little squares.  We have this press thing which will make a dozen nicely sized ravioli at a time.

As you make them, lay the ravioli out on a cookie sheet, separating layers of pasta with wax paper or plastic wrap.  Put the ravioli in the freezer until harden, and then “bag ’em and tag ’em.”  They’ll keep for months, and this recipe is enough for at least a dozen servings.

How to serve?  Well, they cook up fast:  five minutes or less fresh, about seven or eight minutes frozen.  When they float to the top of a large pot of boiling water, they are done.

The best and classic sauce is with browned butter and fresh sage– just melt half a stick of butter, add some fresh chopped sage, and when the ravioli are done, scoop them out of the water and toss them around a bit in the butter.

Also nice and not near as rich and fatty:  finely dice some vegetables like onion, carrot, and celery, and sweat them for a few minutes in a bit of olive oil.  Add about 2 cups chicken broth, and reduce the mixture to about a cup or less.  Pour this over cooked ravioli.  Or add more chicken stock and other soup stuff and keep the whole thing a soup.  Add the ravioli right to the broth about 10 minutes before serving.

Speedy no-knead bread

As much as anything, I’m posting/linking this here so I can find it later:

“Speedy No-Knead Bread,” which is a recipe/article from Mark Bittman in the New York Times last week. I tried this over the weekend and I have to say I was pleasantly surprised with the results. I might have to give the previously published longer version of this recipe this weekend, if I get the time.