My Son’s Soup

I talk about kids learning about food and nutrition just as much as I talk about the obesity epidemic. That is not a coincidence. I feel strongly that the best answer to the future health of our world lies in education. It is up to us parents to make this happen. Since we have 5 kids I start right here at home.

I think that it is more important to be resourceful and creative in the kitchen than it is to be able to prepare a handful of recipes by rote. Nearly every recipe I write is meant to be adjusted, played with and changed at the will and fancy of the cook on the other end. Ingredients are never exactly the same and availability changes by season, location and demand. Tastes change and evolve, too. My son used to eat lemons whole and now won’t touch them. Things change.

We cook and feed our family really well. They are somewhat spoiled. We cook and sit down together as a family at least four times a week and often more. We also buy some frozen food for easy preparation. But there are times that any or all of them have to figure it out. Somehow they must, since we never seem to have any food left.

Last night was one of those occasions. Only the vegetarian had not been fed and was asking me what was for dinner. I knew there was next to nothing in the house, I wasn’t about to go to the store and he wasn’t about to eat frozen mac and cheese. I said: “How about soup and you make it?”

I stirred a little, advised on some knife technique and turned the flame down. It seems that the immortal aspect of being a teenager slops over into the overuse of fire. I turn down more flames than anything else in the kitchen. So this soup was improvised by my son Harrison, and I thought I would share it with you. It was improvised completely from what (little) was on hand. I thought it was delicious. You can certainly make this recipe, or you can improvise your own. The basic premise is the same.

Ingredients

  • 3 Red Potatoes, quartered
  • 2 Celery Stalks, chopped
  • 1 Onion, diced
  • 1 Ear Roasted Corn, off the cob
  • 16 oz. Vegetable Broth
  • 1/2 Cup Water
  • 1/2 Cucumber, sliced
  • 1 Teaspoon Chili Flakes
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Smoked Paprika
  • Pinch of Hungarian Paprika
  • Pinch of Cumin
  • Sprig of Fresh Thyme
  • A Few Fresh Mint Leaves
  • Olive Oil
  • Salt and Pepper

Tools

  • Chef’s Knife
  • Large Pan
  • Stick Blender (Optional)
  1. Sauté the onion, celery and chili flakes in a little olive oil with a little salt and pepper in the bottom of the pan. 
  2. Add potatoes, water and broth and bring to a boil for about 10 minutes.
  3. Add the rest of the ingredients and simmer for 15-20 minutes.
  4. Adjust seasonings.

Spicy Scallops

A few years ago, my wife and I happened to have the good fortune to be in Paris for a few days. We had attended a wedding of a colleague in Brittany and had some time before I needed to be back in London for work. We had an amazing time. It was about this time of year when the sun sets at about 11 and the streets are filled with everyone basking in the Joie de vivre.

I have been to Paris sporadically over the years and love to explore, but I always return to a few favorite spots. Unlike many cities, Paris is one of those places that you can fall into a restaurant because it looks good and 99% of the time it will be mind-blowingly great. These meals stay with you. I experienced a little place on the left bank once and have returned many times and also sent friends who now also return on every one of their visits. I took my wife to this place one evening. Just steps from where Julia Child lived is Au 35 Rue Jacob. It is a tiny hole in the wall with a handful of tables inside and – on beautiful evenings such as the one we had – there are a few tables on the sidewalk.

That night we sat outside enjoying an amazing meal, great people watching and a renewed hope for the world. The restaurant was not busy, in fact there were only a couple in the back and a single man reading his book a few feet from us. We didn’t exchange words with him, we were enjoying each other and fairly oblivious to others. We were the last to leave. We asked for the bill and the waitress just looked at us: “The gentleman, he pay.”

A perfect stranger paid for our dinner without a word. He wanted nothing from us, other than maybe to remember the moment and possibly pass it on. I was stunned but my wife said that those things happen sometimes. Now, my wife is a beautiful, tall blonde with stunning features, a smile the size of Kansas (from where she hails) and an openness that has prompted busboys to spill their entire life stories after the request for a glass of water. I was not surprised that this may have happened to her – but she was with me?  Whatever his motivation, he felt the desire to be generous. I have never forgotten and neither has my wife. We have since made similar gestures (when we can). It’s easy and it reverberates. The next time you get a bonus or work some overtime or win the lottery, buy the person’s groceries behind you in line; pay for the gas at the pump next to you; buy someone a drink at a bar just as you are leaving. We don’t only need to help the less fortunate, we also need to be nice to one another. It’s not the money, it’s the gesture.  You never know how much you may have changed that person’s day.

Ingredients

  • 6-8 Scallops
  • 1 Lemon
  • Zest from that Lemon
  • 2 Thin Slices Prosciutto, cubed
  • 1 Shallot, minced
  • Really Good Sea Salt
  • Pepper
  • Butter
  • Olive Oil
  • 1 Teaspoon Red Pepper Flakes
  • Dry White Wine
  • Pinch Fresh Thyme

Tools

  • Sauté Pan
  • Tongs
  • Chef’s Knife
  1. Wash and pat dry the scallops.
  2. Place them in a shallow bowl or plate.
  3. Salt, pepper and squeeze some lemon.
  4. Heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil in the sauté pan. 
  5. When it’s hot add the prosciutto. Cook until it starts to get crispy. The idea of the prosciutto is that it should end up being flakes so cube it accordingly.
  6. Add the shallots, red pepper flakes and a pat of butter. Be careful not to burn the shallots.
  7. Add about a teaspoon of zest to the pan.
  8. Add the thyme, pinching off little bits from the stems. In this dish a little thyme goes a long way.
  9. Gently sauté the ingredients together for a few minutes.
  10. Add the scallops and cook on one side for about 5 minutes, no longer.
  11. Flip and add a glug of white wine.
  12. Sauté for another 5 minutes.
  13. Remove scallops and add another pat of butter and the rest of the lemon zest.
  14. Turn the heat up and reduce by half.
  15. Serve the sauce over the scallops.
This dish works great with fresh pasta. One of the great things about the pasta is that the timing of the boiling water and cooking the pasta work out almost exactly with the preparation of the scallops.

Whippet

Last night on Anthony Bourdain’s “No Reservations” Anthony went to Mexico. He nearly revealed the wonderful food and wine of Baha. It was a little difficult to discover – between the editing, the foul mouth and the slurred speech – what a fantastic place the Mexican Wine Country can be.

Just north of Ensenada and 10 miles inland is La Valle de Guadalupe. It is a beautiful and rustic valley planted with some of the most delicious wine grapes, inns and restaurants that you can imagine. My good friends Phil and Eileen Gregory moved down there several years ago and opened the most amazing inn.  La Villa Del Valle is a purpose built 6 bedroom bed and breakfast with sweeping views of the valley. Phil has become an accomplished winemaker and has located his winery, Vena Cava on the property. And recently they have opened a spectacular restaurant, Corazon de Tierra. If you are looking for a great escape from Los Angeles, you will be more than pleasantly surprised, you will be completely smitten.

I don’t usually feature a cocktail during the week, but we had one of these last night and I thought it was really delicious. It was a play on the greyhound, so my wife suggested the name.

Makes two cocktails and a lovely evening

Ingredients

  • Juice of 1 Pink Grapefruit
  • Juice of 1 Lemon
  • 4 Shots Good Vodka
  • 2 Shots Cointreau

Tools

  • Cocktail Shaker
  • 2 Martini Glasses, chilled
  • Hand Juicer
  1. Dampen the glasses.
  2. Fill the cocktail shaker 1/2 full of ice. While getting the ice, place the glasses in the freezer.
  3. Juice the grapefruit and lemon in the shaker.
  4. Add the booze.
  5. When you put the vodka back in the freezer (You do keep it in the freezer, right?) grab the glasses. It’s all the time it takes to get a nice frost on them.
  6. Shake and pour into the frosted glasses.

Fried Chicken

I grew up in Ohio, but my mother’s side of the family was from the hills of Kentucky. Many of my relatives remained in Kentucky and West Virginia while I was growing up. I have fond memories of long car trips south to see Aunt Birdie, Betty Jo, Hump and Mill, Tootsie, Lilly and Otha. Wonderful, odd, very southern and always hospitable. They loved my mom and therefore all of us. The one that sticks out in my culinary memory the most is Curt Blair. Curt was Aunt Birdie’s husband. He was big as a house and used to grab my knee and make me squirm. He was a produce man and was the first man I know that cooked. The traditional dishes for breakfast in Curt Blair’s kitchen included fried chicken. As I was growing up I thought everyone ate fried chicken for breakfast. This is NOT Curt Blair’s fried chicken; that recipe left with him and that is probably for the best. I’m sure that the ingredients and the kind of chicken that he used are both long gone, too.

This recipe is every bit as good as my memories of those visits to Huntington. This comes from my wife’s side of the family so there are a few Kansas type touches, but trust me, just go along with it. This is not something I suggest you eat very often, but the occasional treat is extremely pleasurable. Also, it is a lot of work. Pick a weekend day or holiday like today and enjoy the process. It is well worth it.

Ingredients

  • Whole Organic Chicken, in pieces (8)
  • Buttermilk
  • Corn Flake Crumbs (yes, Kelloggs)
  • Flour
  • Eggs
  • Milk
  • Crisco
  • 1 Teaspoon Paprika
  • 2 Dashes Tabasco Sauce
  • Salt and Pepper

Tools

  • 1 Large Mixing Bowl
  • 2 Shallow Bowls
  • Large, Deep, Heavy Pan
  • Large Serving Tray
  • Paper Towels
  • Tongs
  1. In a large Bowl, fill with buttermilk. You want just enough to cover all of the pieces of chicken. Add Paprika, tabasco and a good amount of salt and pepper and stir.
  2. Soak the chicken pieces in the buttermilk, covered and refrigerated for at least 6 hours.
  3. Combine equal parts corn flake crumbs and flour in a shallow bowl. Add salt and plenty of pepper. The amounts really don’t matter as you will replenish this at least once.
  4. In another shallow bowl add two whole eggs and about a cup of milk and mix together. You will also replenish this at least once.
  5. Remove a piece of chicken from the buttermilk mixture and dredge through the dry ingredients, coating well.
  6. Dredge through the egg mixture.
  7. Dredge once again through the dry mixture and sit aside. When the dry mixture starts to get clumpy, replace with more. Use a new bowl if necessary. Same with the egg mixture. The idea is to get a thick, even coat of crust on the chicken pieces.
  8. Repeat until all of the chicken is coated.
  9. Heat enough crisco in a pan so there is about an inch of oil. The amount will depend on the size of your pan. 
  10. Once the oil has been heating over a medium, high flame for a few minutes flick a few drops of water into it. If they sizzle it is ready. If you want to be scientific, the oil should be between 325 and 350.
  11. Carefully drop a few pieces of chicken in the hot oil. Do not crowd the pan.
  12. Let them fry for 10-12 minutes then turn. Same for the other side.
  13. Remove to a tray with paper towels to absorb the excess oil.
  14. Repeat until all of the chicken is cooked.
I always recommend organic whenever possible and affordable. I feel that it is especially important with this dish. You want really good tasting chicken. Otherwise, it’s not worth the effort.

Beer Mustard

I must not have been paying attention or haven’t been to a chain movie theater in a while. Last night we were at the AMC and I noticed for the first time the listings of calories next to the items on the menu board. It only took seconds for my wife to clock that I had noticed and forbid me from talking about it. I drive her crazy with my obsession on nutrition. I don’t go to chain restaurants other than the occasional starbucks, so I haven’t seen this vulgar display until now. It was amusing, disgusting and embarrassing, but it certainly wasn’t helpful to the people purchasing large drinks that contained 1500 calories. That’s right, 3/4 of the daily caloric intake recommended by the US government in a cup with a straw!

Earlier yesterday I rode my bike past a McDonalds and thought, “Somebody should be standing out here with a sign telling these unsuspecting people how bad this place is.” Then I realized that its not the right time or place. People need to be educated about nutrition, good food and cooking, not be confronted and belittled for their lack of knowledge.  A fast food restaurant is not a good place to educate. First of all, you can’t learn anything when you are hungry. This is why the breakfast programs at schools are so important. Second, you can’t brow beat people into healthier lifestyles, especially if they have already made a decision to the contrary.

My wife uses a really good measuring stick when it comes to choices of marginal or calorie dense foods. She will taste something and say: “It’s not worth the calories.” This is a simple and straight forward way to make this decision. We all like treats of various kinds. I love doritos, but are they worth the calories? Not often. It’s not very scientific, but at least it is a thought process that keeps your eye on the ball (or waistline),

By the way, I don’t mention it often, but I have lost 10 pounds since I first announced I was going to lose weight. I’m a little behind schedule but I am headed in the right direction.

Here is the last ingredient for your picnic. I have made all of the common condiments with little effort and very little expense. Ketshup was the most expensive because I used store bought tomatoes. This summer, when we have an abundance of tomatoes from the garden, it will be much cheaper.

Mustard is very, very easy to make. It is as simple as two ingredients, mustard seed and cold water. It is important to use cold water as this releases the pungency of the mustard seed without the bitterness. The rest of the ingredients are purely for taste. The vinegar and salt also help to preserve it. The vinegar also stabilizes the spiciness. If you make simple mustard without an acid, it’s pungency could fade really quickly.

Ingredients

  • 6 Tablespoons Brown or Black Mustard Seed
  • 6 Tablespoons White (yellow) Mustard Powder
  • 1/3 Cup Cold Water
  • 1/3 Cup Beer
  • 3 Tablespoons Vinegar (I used White Wine and Balsamic)
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Salt

Tools

  • Bowl
  • Spice Grinder or Mortar and Pestle
  • Glass Jar or Bowl with cover
  1. Grind the seeds to break them up. You can still have some whole ones but in order to release all of that mustard punch you need to break the seed. The brown or black is hotter than the white so pick your proportions accordingly. I liked this half and half ratio.
  2. Combine powders and add the water and beer. Stir and let sit for 10 minutes or so.
  3. Add the rest of the ingredients, stir well, cover and refrigerate for at least 12 hours. 
You can also add just about any flavor you can imagine: Fresh herbs, honey, sugar, garlic, horseradish.

Manhattan Corn Chowder

I go on about gadgets in the kitchen. Most are a waste of counter or drawer space. The dishwasher is another pet peeve of mine. It really should be called the dish sanitizer. Although most of my family thinks it actually does wash dishes, therefore they put them in without rinsing, the truth is that the heavy lifting needs to occur (scraping, scrubbing and rinsing) before the dishes ever go into the machine to be “washed”. A waste of space, energy and strong detergent if you ask me.

Speaking of cleaning up, I find that if you clean as you go, there will be many less dishes at the end of the production. Most cleaning is quickest and easiest when the tool, pot or pan is just used and washed right away, not giving any time for whatever ingredient to dry and harden – requiring soaking and elbow grease. This is especially true with wood and other porous materials. I find that if you wash wooden bowls, cutting boards and spoons as soon as you use them then there is less chance for whatever food that was on them to permeate and stay on them. When you wash right away you can use less soap, which can also permeate. It is not pleasant to cut a piece of fruit for breakfast and find that it tastes like garlic, or soap, or both!

This recipe is sticking with our picnic, in a sense. This weekend when you are grilling corn, add 3 or 4 extra ears to make this soup during the week. I am always looking for new and delicious vegetarian meals for myself as well as my vegetarian son. This can be made totally vegan, but can also be made with bacon and chicken broth. Either one is good to start with and better the next day.

Ingredients

  • 3-4 Ears Grilled Corn, cut off cob
  • 16 oz. Frozen Corn
  • 3 Small White Potatoes, chopped
  • 1/2 Pound Fresh Tomatoes, quartered
  • 2 Celery Stalks with Leaves, chopped
  • 1 Onion, chopped
  • 4 Garlic Cloves, minced
  • 1/2 Jalapeño Pepper, seeds removed and minced
  • Water or Chicken Broth
  • 2-3 Pieces Bacon (optional)
  • Salt and Pepper
  • Olive Oil
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Curry Powder
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Smoked Paprika
  • Avocado (optional)
  • Walnut Oil (optional)

Tools

  • Large Sauce Pan
  • Baking Dish
  • Chef’s Knife
  • Blender or Stick Blender (optional)
  1. Roast the tomatoes with a drizzle of olive oil and salt and pepper for about 20-30 minutes.
  2. Par boil the potatoes for about 5 minutes.
  3. If you are using bacon, cook it slowly in the bottom of the sauce pan to render all of the fat. Remove to paper towels.
  4. Add a little olive oil and sauté onion and garlic.
  5. Add the celery and pepper.
  6. Add the corn, potatoes and tomatoes.
  7. Add just enough water (including the potato water) or chicken broth to cover.
  8. Add spices including salt and pepper.
  9. Boil for 5 minutes then reduce heat to simmer for 45 minutes to an hour.
  10. Taste and adjust seasoning if needed.
  11. Serve with a slice of avocado, a light drizzle of walnut oil and a few bits of crumbled bacon.

Ketshup

I did extensive research (one wikipedia page) and discovered a tradition of “dinner on the ground” picnic on memorial day. Kinfolk would come together in the family cemetery, usually have a religious service and (of course) eat. There really isn’t any escaping the traditions of food. From baptism or briss to the funeral buffet, we celebrate, mourn, commemorate and kvetch over food. No matter the occasion, we’ve got something special to eat. You gotta eat! Right?

This Memorial Day please join me in preparing a “dinner on the ground” and take a moment or two to remember the fallen. The courage, bravery and commitment that our men and women of the military make so we may have our freedoms can never be taken for granted. And when a soldier makes the ultimate sacrifice, we can never thank them enough or pray for their families enough. If you see a soldier, give them thanks, give them a handshake, give them your seat. They are willing to give their lives for you.

Ketchup or Catsup or Catchup, a tangy, tomatoey, spicy sauce by any other name would be the same. I also looked up the derivations and will not bore you with the details. The spellings are all correct and the most common one that all of the manufacturers have settled on is Ketchup. The amounts, ingredients and processes are as many and varied as any sauce that has made it this far through history (at least 400 years). I happen to love the one that I grew up with, but have no idea how it is made so I winged it. Here is what I ended up liking:

Ingredients

  • 2 Lbs. Ripe Tomatoes
  • 1 Small Onion, chopped
  • 2 Garlic Cloves, chopped
  • 1/2 Cup Red Wine Vinegar
  • 2 Tablespoons Brown Sugar
  • 1/4 Teaspoon Cayenne Pepper
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Smoked Paprika
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Ground Cloves
  • Dash Tabasco Sauce
  • Olive Oil
  • Pinch or two of Salt
  • Two Twists of Black Pepper

Tools

  • Blender or Food Processor
  • Strainer
  • Wooden Spoon
  • Heavy Duty Pan
  • Ovenproof Dish
  1. Pre heat oven to 350.
  2. Core and quarter the tomatoes.
  3. Arrange them in the bottom of the dish.
  4. Roast in the oven for 30 minutes.
  5. Sauté the onion and garlic in a little olive oil until translucent. Then let cool.
  6. Puree onions and garlic in the food processor.
  7. Wipe pan clean and return onions and garlic to pan.
  8. Let tomatoes cool.
  9. Puree tomatoes in the food processor.
  10. Pour puree through a strainer into pan. Use the back of the wooden spoon or rubber spatula to force all of the liquid out.
  11. Add the rest of the ingredients to the pan.
  12. Bring to a boil for a about 5 minutes.
  13. Turn down to simmer for 1 1/2 hours. Let cool.
  14. Cover and refrigerate for up to a month.
Some people recommend storing in a sterilized jar. Since you are refrigerating right away I don’t bother.