Sunday, February 27, 2011


You asked for it, all of you! So here it is. Patrick O’Connell’s Chicken and Dumplings, from Refined American Cuisine, is a fabulous recipe, and a great place to start, but it’s extremely rich and very costly. Perfect for special occasions, beneath the dumplings are just chicken, carrots and morel mushrooms in a thick cream sauce. For an ordinary day, I prefer a leaner approach. O’Connell’s dumpling dough, which gets a boost from club soda, can’t be beat, so I stick with that, though I’ve tweaked the proportions a bit. I also like his trick of poaching the chicken in stock, and then reducing the stock and adding heavy cream which also has been reduced. But the sauce is much too much, so I lighten it up, and increase the amount as there never seems to be enough sauce. Only every once in a while can we afford morels.  I usually just use a mix of fresh mushrooms and dried mushrooms, and for a deeper, earthy flavor, add the liquid from soaking the dried mushrooms to the broth. And I also add some kind of bacon or ham and more vegetables and herbs.

So here’s the strategy, formula, and technique. This recipe is for 2-4 servings, made in a medium sized pot, with extra chicken, vegetables, and sauce for later. The proportions are more or less, give or take. Multiply or divide as you wish:

To make the dumplings, heat ¼ c milk and 1.5 tablespoons butter until butter melts.  Sift 1 ¼ c flour, 1 ½ tsp baking powder, and ¼ tsp salt into a bowl. Quickly mix in ¼ c milk and ¼ c club soda or seltzer water. The dough should have some body but still be gooey (insert joke here). Cover and let rest at room temp.

In a small pan combine 1 c milk and one 12 oz can evaporated milk, and reduce to about a cup. Whole or reduced fat milk works best, an if you don’t have or like evaporated milk, you can use half-and-half. I like using evaporated milk because it thickens up as it reduces.

Soak about 2 oz (about a cup) of dried mushrooms-any mix you’ve got: wild, shiitake, portabella, chanterelles, etc- in 1 ½ c warm water for at least a half an hour. Remove mushrooms from soaking liquid and rinse them. If they are larger than a spoon, cut them into smaller pieces. Strain the soaking liquid once or twice, reserving liquid. Sometimes dried mushrooms can be sandy, so be sure that you’ve gotten any sand out. If there is a lot of sand, you can let it settle to the bottom and pour the liquid off the top.

Prepare about 2 c pearl or small boiler onions. Either microwave them, covered, in a bowl with a little water for a minute or two, or poach them with the chicken in the next step. Then trim the ends and peel them, and for the boiler onions cutting any really large ones in half.

Poach 2 chicken breasts or other parts in 4 c chicken stock with a bay leaf for about 10 – 15 minutes, until cooked. Remove chicken from broth, and cut into ½ - 1” pieces.

Skim broth if necessary. Add mushroom soaking liquid to chicken broth. Reduce to about 2 ½ or 3 cups.

Pour reduced milk through a strainer into reduced chicken/mushroom broth, pressing any thickened milk, but not the “skin”, through.

In a large pot, on low heat sauté a few tablespoons of chopped bacon, pancetta, country or other ham until it begins to brown around the edges. Add pearl onions and cook for a few minutes until they begin to brown. Add 1 carrot, peeled and cut into 1” pieces, cook for a minute, add 1 celery stalk cut in ½” pieces (chop and reserve celery leaves). After another minute add soaked dried mushrooms and a cup of fresh button or crimini mushrooms, washed, stems trimmed, with the small ones left whole and the larger ones halved or quartered. Add a little olive oil or butter if necessary. Cook for a few minutes until mushrooms are browned.

Add chicken and then broth mixture to vegetables. Salt and pepper to taste. Add chopped celery leaves. If you’re using dried herbs, a good mix for this, about a teaspoon in all, is: more thyme, a small amount of rosemary, and a barely perceptible spot of sage, and some chervil or parsley, but if you’ve got any French mix- bonnes herbes, fines herbes, herbs de Provence- they would do too, just use what you like, but don’t overdo it. If you’re using fresh herbs it is the same as for dried, but start with a tablespoon or two, keeping it heavier on the thyme and parsley. I only use a small amount rosemary and a very small amount of purple sage if it is fresh in the garden. Chervil is lovely if you’ve got it and so is marjoram, but if you use marjoram, skip the rosemary and sage. Got that?

Anyway, bring this to a simmer. There should be a lot of broth. Using a teaspoon, drop small amounts of the dumpling dough onto the surface, leaving a little space around them and shaping them into roundish shapes.  Make them small, as they’ll expand quite a bit. Cover and simmer for about 10 minutes.

 Dust lightly with paprika and serve. 

*Please note: Recipe Request #2, “Things you can make on a stove with no oven,” is an ongoing request, and will influence recipes posted henceforth.


About this time of year, we start getting teases of springtime. As the afternoons start to get longer, there will be a few moments in the day that feels warm, or at least not so cold. There might be an evening of glorious gusty winds with smells of faraway places, to remind you that spring is just around the corner. The ground will soften up and get muddy for a few hours or a few days, and any patches of leftover snow will dissolve, trickling into the gutters by day, refreezing into thick ice by night. We’ll have days of cold rain, and days of biting winds. Some afternoons, just a sweater will do.

And as the air warms and the ground softens, we’ll be able to dig around for a few little underground gifts from last year’s garden.
And start to clean the beds up and dream of gardens to come. 


I sometimes make carrots this way roasted in the pan with a lemon pork loin, so this stovetop version is flavored with bacon or pancetta, but you can leave it out and use oil or butter instead.  If you don’t have or care for tarragon, use any other herb you like or leave it out. Same with the brandy & lemon, but then you’ll have to call it “Carrots”!

So here’s the strategy, formula, and technique. The proportions are more or less, give or take. Multiply or divide as you wish:

For one or two servings: wash and peel carrots, and cut them into 1” pieces, about a cup or so.

 In a frying pan sauté some minced bacon or pancetta, about a tablespoon or two, and when they start to brown add your carrots. Sauté on low heat for a minute or two, and then add a small amount of water, about ¼ c, and a teaspoon of lemon juice. Cover pan and cook on low for about 10 minutes, or until they’re soft but still firm. Remove lid and cook off any extra liquid. Still on low heat, let the carrots brown up, adding a small amount of butter or oil and a pinch of sugar or a little honey, if needed. Add a tablespoon or two of brandy, ignite, and let it burn off.  Finish by adding a little more butter, S & P, about a tablespoon of fresh tarragon, chopped (or a teaspoon of dried), and about a teaspoon of lemon zest

Lemon tarragon has a nice flavor, if you can find it to grow. This came from my friend, Cecily, who has a patch in a community garden in Arlington. She grows vegetables and herbs and gives them away. This basket was given to me in memory of her sister.

Renee's Garden is one of my favorite seed companies.

Compost, even in winter!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

WHAT TO DO ON A SNOW DAY: Make Sausage & Have a Party

A few weeks ago, like most of the country, we had another snowstorm, and what better thing to do in a snowstorm than to make sausage?
BC working the grinder.

We combined various recipes according to BC's experience.

And seasoned to our taste.
Chicken~Garlic Sausage, and Venison Sausage

As a member of a Nice Ladies’ Lunch Group, who sillily call themselves “The Delicious Divas” or the “DDs”, the next day I was up for the January luncheon. What would be better for a luncheon on a cold day than cassoulet, hot out of the oven and full of beans and various meats?

But since January is Diet Month, I thought I should try to respect that and used Julee Rosso’s cassoulet, from Great Good Food, as a guide. She calls for venison sausages, and one of the Nice Ladies, M~R~ had kindly brought us some venison - from a deer her son had shot -to make them.
Nobody here would let a little snowstorm get in the way of their lunch!

For dessert we had a raspberry and red-velvet trifle with a yogurt sauce rather than custard, made by K~ and an out of this world raspberry merlot from Windham Winery, Hillsboro, Virginia. Dessert wine is often very unbearably thick and sweet, but this wine is nice red with a touch of raspberry. Highly recommended.

OK, now I can I admit it. I followed Rosso's recipe-sort of. It calls for venison sausage, and I used that, but skipped on the lamb (I don’t care for it), duck breast (too expensive), lean turkey sausage (forgot), and Canadian bacon (had ham in the freezer), and made it pretty much the way I usually. I did skip throwing large slabs of fat.

So here’s the strategy/formula/technique for how I usually make cassoulet. The proportions are more or less, give or take. Multiply or divide as you wish:


For a party sized batch, use a big pot, use 2 lbs (about 3 - 4 cups) dried white beans (great Northern, cannelini, navy, whatever you’ve got, and if you’ve just got red or pink beans, you can use them too). For a family sized batch, or a medium sized casserole, use 1 lb (about 2-3 cups), and for a one or two person batch, use ½ lb (about 1-2 cups). You will want a large amount of beans, since this is basically a pot of beans with meat in it.
Rinse these beans –and pick out any misshapen ones or rocks! Put them in a bowl or pot and cover by several inches with water. Soak them for several hours or overnight.

Rinse them, put in a pot, again cover with water by several inches. You can add a bit of salt to the water, but I wouldn’t salt these beans too heavily, as the meats you’ll be using later will have plenty of salt.  Add an onion that you’ve studded with a few cloves, a couple of cloves of garlic, a carrot, a stalk of celery if you like, and a bay leaf or two tied together with a few sprigs of parsley and thyme. Bring to a boil. Immediately turn down the heat and simmer for about an hour, or until the beans are soft enough to eat. Keep in mind that even though they’ll be cooking longer, the acid in the wine and tomato will stop them from softening further.

While the beans are roasting, get your meat ready. Either use roasted meat leftover from dinner, or roast it now. Again, use whatever you’ve got around, You can use pork (I prefer a fatty butt or shoulder piece to a loin, chicken (legs, breast, whatever), duck and or duck confit (that certainly would be if you have it), ham, bacon, or any combination you like.
If you’re roasting your meat, add some wine-white or red- &/or broth to the roasting pan, and roast for an hour or so, until cooked through. Save the cooking juices.

Also while the beans are cooking, put a few link sausages, of any sort (bratwurst, chicken garlic, Italian, venison as Julee Rosso does, whatever you’ve got), into the pot with the beans and cook until firm.
Pearl or boiler onions are nice in this, so either drop a few handfuls of them in the sausage water too, for a minute or so, fish them out and peel them, or microwave them for a minute and then peel them, cutting off the hard end.
When the sausage is firm and the beans are soft, drain beans, removing vegetables and herbs, but reserve the cooking water.

For a medium sized batch, mix a tablespoon or so of tomato paste (J.R. uses a lot more) with some chicken broth (If you don’t have tomato paste, just use whatever kind of tomatoes you have and adjust the liquid accordingly, and if you don’t have chicken broth just use water or beef broth. Mix this with a couple of cups of your reserved bean water. Mix in the cooking juices from your meat.

Rub a clean pot or deep casserole dish with a clove of garlic. In the bottom, put down a layer of beans, then a layer of mixed meats. Add some pork or duck fat if you have it, and you’re not on a diet. Sometimes I also like to include a smoked ham hock or two if I have them- that will give it a smoky flavor. Spread some of your onions around on the meat, and sprinkle with a bit-not too much-thyme and parsley, a tiny bit of marjoram or oregano, (marjoram is better) and season with salt-as needed-and pepper. But don’t go overboard with your herbs. You’ll want to taste that broth. Continue your layers until you fill your pot.

Pour in some of your tomato-bean water, and then a bit of white wine – red if that’s what you have—none if that’s what you have—and fill up with liquid. I like my cassoulet pretty soupy. Cover with breadcrumbs that have been mixed with minced parsley and thyme, and pour a little olive oil or butter on top. Bake in a 350 oven for about 45 minutes until hot and bubbly and the breadcrumbs are brown.

One batch of sausage chilling in the snow.
*For those of you who have only a stovetop to work with, just saute the meat in a pan instead of roasting it (or you could microwave it, but sautéing would give you nice pan juices). When the casserole is assembled, cover it and cook it on a med-low heat until it is very hot and the flavors come together. Meanwhile, toast your breadcrumbs in a pan with some butter or olive oil until they are nicely browned, and then put on top of hot cassoulet.

Monday, February 14, 2011


I know, bacon desserts are so last decade, and cream puffs are so last century, but you know what? They’re still really good! Working through ideas for our next supper club, which has the theme of bacon, I came up with several possibilities. Which should I make?

Use candied orange zest, chocolate pastry cream, bacon, and orange marmalade.

Use candied orange zest, orange curd, bacon, and orange marmalade.

Use almond pastry cream or vanilla pastry cream, bacon, and almond bacon brittle.

Use vanilla pastry cream, bacon, and chocolate pastry cream.

OR Mix and Match any way you like.

To make the Candied Orange Zest:
Thoroughly wash 2 oranges. Trim off the tops and bottoms, and then score from top to bottom, about 1” apart. Peel away these sections, and if the white part is very thick, scrape some of it away with the edge of a spoon, leaving about 1/8” – ¼”. Put in a bowl, and cover with 2 c cool water and 1 ½ tsp salt. Let soak for at least an hour, and for several more  if you don’t care for bitterness. Rinse, put in a saucepan, cover with cool water, and bring to a simmer. Simmer for 30 minutes and then drain them.  Cut into ¼” wide strips. Put orange strips back in pan with 1 c sugar and ¼ c water.  Bring to a simmer and simmer for another 30 minutes. Put ½ cup superfine (caster) sugar on a plate. Dredge strips in small batches, coating with the sugar entirely. Cool on waxed paper, and store in an airtight jar.

To make Vanilla Pastry Cream:
Beat 4 egg yolks with ½ c sugar until pale and light. Mix in 1/3 c flour. Scald 2 c milk. Strain through a sieve, and add a 1/3 cup of it to the eggs; blend together, and then gradually add the rest of the milk to the eggs. Cook in double boiler (or back in your saucepan if you’re daring), stirring, until it is very thick. Don’t let it boil. Strain again if necessary. Add 1 tsp vanilla extract (you can flavor this by putting a vanilla bean in the milk before you scald it, and then scraping the bean interior into the milk. I don’t think it is necessary in this dessert, though, since there is so much else going on with it). Refrigerate; will thicken as it cools. Makes 2 cups.

To make Chocolate Cream:
Per one cup of pastry cream, melt 1oz semi sweet chocolate (about 1/4 c. chopped pieces or chocolate chips) and mix in 1 ½ tsp cocoa. Blend this into warm pastry cream. Cool.

To make Almond Cream:
Per ½ c pastry cream, mix in 5 oz (1/2 c) almond paste. Blend in 1 T soft butter and 1/8 tsp almond extract. Cool.

To make Orange Curd:
Zest an orange. Put strained juice of 3 oranges with 1T lemon or tangerine juice in a small saucepan and reduce to ½ c.  Cool to room temperature. Beat 3 eggs, 1 egg yolk, 1/3 c sugar, reduced orange juice and a pinch of salt in the top of  a double boiler (or in a saucepan if you’re daring), and heat, stirring. As it warms, beat in 5 T butter, a bit at a time, allowing each addition to blend in before adding the next. Cook, stirring constantly, until thick enough to coat the back of a spoon (it will thicken as it cools). Add 2 or 3 drops of vanilla, and orange zest. Refrigerate, but serve at room temperature (when refrigerated, it may harden up a bit, but will soften up at room temperature).

To make Almond Bacon Brittle:
In an 8” heavy pan, cook 4 thick slices bacon until crisp. Chop bacon into small pieces.  Strain the bacon fat from pan and reserve. Wipe pan out with a paper towel. Into pan put 1 c whole blanched almonds, chopped bacon, 1 c sugar, pinch of salt, 2 T butter and 2 T reserved bacon fat, and heat over medium heat, stirring, until sugar melts, the almonds begin to pop, and  it turns an amber color. Pour and spread onto a chilled greased pan, and when it is cool enough to handle, flip over in pan. Let cool and break or cut into pieces.

To make Cream Puffs or Eclairs:
 In a saucepan boil 1 c water, ½ c butter, pinch of salt, and 1tsp sugar. Add 1 c flour and cook, beating over low heat until it becomes a thick paste and pulls away from pan. Remove from heat and, one at a time, beat in 4 eggs.
To make cream puffs, put spoonfuls on a greased pan. To make éclairs, pipe with a pastry bag into 4” x 1” strips. Bake at 425 for 15 minutes, reduce heat to 375 and bake for a few more minutes until browned.

To assemble éclairs:
Cook several slices of bacon to crispy. Chop into small pieces
Slit cream puff or éclair near bottom. For the orange cream puffs, first put in about ½ tsp orange marmalade.  Put in a few pieces of bacon along with either chopped candied orange zest or chopped almond bacon brittle. Fill with pastry cream, either chocolate, almond, vanilla, or orange curd. Put a dot of pastry cream on the top of the cream puff, and top with bacon and either candied orange zest or chopped almond bacon brittle.

Recipe reference, with some changes: Louis Diat, Gourmet’s Basic French Cookbook, Techniques.
Farm Journal, Homemade Candy. Field and Courchesne,  The Art of Preserving



We are lucky enough to have family friends who give us wonderful gifts of food, which we enjoy, then freeze and dole out later. This recipe is made of all things that those friends have given to us:

Per grit-cake: mix together ¾ c cooked grits,1egg,  and a pinch of salt. Mix in ½ T crumbled blue cheese.  Form into one large cake or two smaller ones, and dust with flour. Chill.
Toast a handful of chopped pecans in a frying pan and cook for a minute or two, until slightly browned. Remove from pan. Fry one strip of bacon in pan. Remove from pan and chop or crumble. In same pan over low heat cook grit cakes. Be sure to give it enough time to form a nice crust before you flip it. Cook until a nice crust has formed on both sides.

To serve, top with some chopped green onions, ½ T crumbled blue cheese, pecans, and bacon!


Per sandwich:
Soak ½ c dried wild and shitake mushrooms in 1 c warm water for 30 min. Remove tough stems from mushrooms and chop. Strain mushroom water and reserve.
Microwave 3 or 4 boiler onions, for about 3 minutes, and then peel them and cut in half (or you could just use chopped onions)
Cook 2 strips bacon. Remove from pan and drain. To that pan add a handful of sliced fresh mushrooms, and soaked dried mushrooms. When they begin to brown, add a splash of tamari or soy sauce (or a pinch of salt).
Make a béchamel sauce: melt 1.5 T butter with 1 crushed garlic clove and blend in 1.5 T flour, add ¾ c warm milk and ¼ c strained reserved mushroom broth, and a small bay leaf.  Add Heat and cook, adding mushroom broth to thin it if it is too thick. Mix in a few tablespoons grated parmesan cheese.
Assemble your sandwich in an ovenproof dish: put down a slice of toast, cover with the mushrooms, and then the bacon. Sprinkle with fresh thyme. Cover with béchamel and top with 2 T grated parmesan cheese. Run under broiler until bubbly.


Bacon is just plain tasty. It can be a meal in itself, hot out of the pan and eaten as you stand around the kitchen, enjoying it until you can’t take another bite. But it also improves just about anything you care to add it to. Just a bit of it will transform whatever you’re cooking into something deeper and richer.
We first enjoyed it right out of the pan. Then we had some good old bacon and eggs. After that we started using it in just about everything we cooked, and ended with a day spent trying to come up with a bacon dessert for supper club next month, aptly themed “BACON!”


We had bacon and eggs,

and grits
Bacon in beans

fennel, carrots,

and fish
Clam chowder,
and an onion, fennel, and bacon tart.
UP NEXT: Some recipes...



For this one, there were two options: bacon or pancetta. Pancetta sounded hot to me!


Late to start, as I wasn’t able to get any pork belly from the Amish farmer who delivers to my buying group, I headed out around town trying to find some last minute tenderly raised belly in time to get it going. Finally found one, but by then there wouldn’t be time for the pancetta. I was afraid I was late to the dance: by then my fellow Charcutaploozians were posting glorious stories and pictures of their pork conquests. 

Since pancetta takes three weeks, and bacon takes just over a week, I decided to try both.

I'm glad I did. Homemade bacon rocks!

I can see how there’s so much love of bacon going on out there, why people are lustily tweeting bacon love songs day and night.

I took one taste of our fresh bacon, and just about forgot about the lonely pancetta hanging all by itself in the basement.
Maybe the bacon is just a flash in the pan. We’ll have to see about that next week when the pancetta is ready.

Until then, its bacon love.
The aliens have landed, and they're demanding BACON!

LESSON LEARNED:  Start looking early, and keep in mind that you never know where you’ll find love.

A Nice Fat Pig
Pablo Picasso, The Lovers