Sunday, January 31, 2016

Ho Hum, Another Boring French Farm Wife Braise - Not!

In some ways, I wonder if it might have been more fun to learn Thai or Spanish formal cooking than what I learned at Le Cordon Bleu. One of my classmates there, Nuriam, was Thai, and what she prepared at school was beautiful, but a bit bland. However, when she prepared her own food and shared, it was far from bland.

However, I was in London, and French was as avant-garde as I could manage. The plus side is that because of Julia Childs' example, all cooking shows and cook books are formatted for French style.

This recipe hails from Provencal, an area of southern France known for perfumed herbs and wines, and well outside of the Parisian butter based cooking. Olive oil is the normal cooking fat and olives and citrus are common ingredients. After the 17th century, tomatoes took hold as well.

This recipe is very Mediterranean and blurs the lines between Spanish, French and Italian. Serve it over polenta for gluten free. Serve it over spaghetti squash for carbohydrate free, and serve it over noodles or rice for other options. Literally, you cannot go wrong with this.


Chicken Provencal

(Editors Note: This recipe draws heavily upon the September 2003 Cooks Illustrated recipe. If a person were to pick only one cooking magazine to purchase, Cooks Illustrated or Cooks Country would be my first two suggestions.)


4 to 8 bone in chicken thighs, trimmed of excess fat and salted and peppered well
1 small onion diced small
1/4 cup thin leek rings
6 to 8 garlic cloves, minced fine
1 anchovy fillet, minced
1 can, 14.5 ounce, drained diced tomatoes
2.5 Tablespoons tomato paste
1/2 cup sliced Nicoise or Kalamata olives
zest of 1 orange
1 Tablespoon thyme
1 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon Herbs de Provence
1 teaspoon Penzys Sunny Paris
1 bay leaf
1 inch square of parmesan rind
1 cup dry white wine
1 cup chicken stock
1 large splash Sriracha
minced parsley


Adjust oven rack to middle and preheat oven to 300 degrees.

Heat 1 Tablespoon olive oil over medium heat in a dutch oven to the shimmering stage. Place the seasoned chicken thighs, skin side down, in the hot oil. For 5 minutes, do not move the chicken and allow a brown crust to develop. Turn them over and brown the underside. Remove the chicken to a bowl. Pour off the fat and reduce the heat to low.

Saute the onion and leeks in the dutch ovens, stirring to avoid browning. When the onions are translucent, add the tomato paste and the herbs and stir well to mix. Cook another minute, then add the garlic. cook until fragrant. Add the cup of wine, the cup of chicken stock, and the splash of Sriracha. Cook 1 minute and then remove the skins from the thighs and add them plus their juices to the mixture in the dutch oven. Stir well and spoon a bit of the liquid on the thighs. Bring the dutch oven contents to the boil and cover. Place the dutch oven in the oven and bake for 75 minutes.

Remove the dutch oven from the oven and take the thighs to a separate bowl and cover with foil. Place the pan over low heat and add the zest. Cook 5 minutes, stir, and add the olives. Heat until warm and serve over the chicken and your choice of base.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Fantastic Fish Pie!

Nancy and I lived in London for a while. Until you do, you cannot begin to understand how different they are from us. Some easy examples:

  1. Their newspapers have pictures of nude women on page three.
  2. Snooker is a prime time television event.
  3. At the grocery, the chips aisle is full length on both sides.
  4. They serve baked beans at breakfast and corn on their pizza.
  5. They congregate outside their pubs and drink in large groups on the sidewalk.
  6. Both men and women wear black suits to work, every day, but their shirts are every hue of the rainbow.
Nonetheless, we adapted and learned to enjoy any number of things. I miss Biggles, the sausage shop we patronized. I wish I could find a local Borough Market substitute - an open air twice weekly market that featured the finest produce, meats, fish, cheeses, and wines you could imagine. I want to go back to the Kew Gardens during azalea season!

One thing we learned to love were the British versions of cooking shows. Not nearly as Hollywood as what you see here in the US. The people actually cooked. The showed local prices for the ingredients. They actually drank spirits on the show. Among those we watched were Gary Rhodes, Anthony Worrall Thompson, Nigella before she was here, and a young chef from the River Cafe in London called Jamie Oliver. Before he came to the US, he really was charming and innovative.

One show of Jamie's that we watched featured a kind of shepards pie made with smoked haddock. We tried it at our home. It was fantastic. We make it regularly to this day. Unfortunately, here in Arkansas we can't get smoked haddock. Instead I use walleye I catch in Tablerock Lake across the street.

My name is Randolph Stainer, and I endorse this recipe:


5 russet potatoes, peeled and diced in 1 inch cubes
2 eggs
1 onion, diced
1 carrot, diced
1 large double handful fresh spinach
2 cups grated sharp cheddar cheese
1 to 1.5 cups of cream
juice of 1 lemon
1.5 teaspoons English dry mustard (optional: plus .5 teaspoon curry powder)
1 handful parsley, finely chopped
1 pound of bite size pieces of walleye, cod, or smoked haddock (optional: half fish and half shrimp; half fish and half smoked salmon)
fresh grated nutmeg
salt and pepper to taste
extra virgin olive oil for frying and for mashing with the potatoes

They were small and had bad spots so I did extra.


Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Rack at middle shelf level.

Add the potatoes and eggs to boiling, salted water and bring back to the boil. After 10 minutes, remove the eggs and plunge in ice water to stop the cooking (This also prevents that nasty purple outside of the yolk from forming.)

While the potatoes and eggs cook, put the spinach in a colander and pour a teakettle of boiling water over it. When the spinach cools, squeeze the water from it and chop it.

Check the potatoes, and if done, drain them and put them back in the hot pan to steam. Add salt, pepper to taste and two tablespoons of olive oil. Mash the potatoes, adding olive oil and dairy as need. Do not whip the potatoes. 

After 10 minutes in the ice water, peel and quarter the eggs.

Fry the onions and carrots in a Tablespoon of olive oil until they soften but do not turn brown. Stir in the the dry mustard and lemon juice and then add the cream. Bring to cream to a simmer (not a boil) and add the spinach and cheese. Gently melt the cheese. Adjust the mixture for salt and pepper.

Use spray grease to coat your casserole.

Place the fish and eggs in the casserole and cover them with the hot cream and cheese mixture. Grate the nutmeg on top of the mixture. Cover the casserole with the mashed potatoes. Place the casserole on a try in case of overflow and place, uncovered, in the oven. Bake until golden brown and bubbly, 25 to 30 minutes.

Nancy did not want any of the potatoes to go to waste!

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Beef, Barley, and Mushrooms Mean Soup

I was in the store last week and as I passed the meat counter, I noticed beef shank bones had been marked down to move them. I could not resist.

I took the bones home and placed them in a roast pan with a halved onion, a stalk of celery, and a carrot. The pan went in a 375 oven for over an hour. By that time the bones and vegetables were very brown.

That night I put them in a large slow cooker with the scrapings from the pan. I added a few peppercorns and three cloves of garlic plus some parsley. I covered everything with water and set the cooker on low. The next morning, I removed the solids from the stock and removed the small amount of meat from the bones to add back to the liquid. That pan went in the refrigerator to form a fat cap I could remove.

For the soup itself, dice a small onion, a carrot, and one or two stalks of celery. Dice six baby portabella mushrooms. Measure out 1/3 cup pearled barley and 1/2 cup frozen green peas.

Use some of the beef fat removed from the stock and make a roux using a 1/4 cup of flour. Work a heaping Tablespoon of tomato paste into the roux as it cooks. When the roux is cooked and beginning to turn brown, add 1/2 cup of dry white or red wine. Stir well and immediately add the stock.

Be sure the meat chunks are included.

Add the fresh vegetables shown above as well as the barley and two minced garlic cloves. Add three splashes of Worcestershire sauce and three splashes of fish sauce. Add 1 Tablespoon of Herbs de Provence. Bring the soup to the boil and reduce the heat to low simmer for three hours. 

Twenty minutes before service, add the frozen peas. At time of service, adjust the seasoning and serve with crusty bread.