Last weekend I made my first visit to a Whole Foods Market since arriving on the West Coast. After a long visit at The Getty — my dad has serious endurance when it comes to art — we drove home along Pacific Coast Highway and stopped in Long Beach to pick up dinner. Exhausted from the day, my dad stayed in the car for a snooze.
Inside, I spotted a fairly large selection of grass-fed beef in the meat department. Though the man behind the counter did not know where the meat originated, I bought two slabs of flank steak. I have since learned it comes from Nebraska. I know, I’m a total hypocrite.
For dinner, we kept preparations very simple. Ben seasoned the meat with salt and pepper and threw it on the grill. As my dad worked his way through a wedge of Stilton, I prepared an arugula salad and sliced up some avocados. Dinner was ready in no time.
We all really loved the steak. Grass-fed meat is noticeably different than corn-fed. Its color, at all stages of doneness (rare, medium-rare, etc.), is a lighter shade of pink. Its smell, before cooked, is different too, earthy perhaps? And it tastes, well, grassier? It’s hard to describe. Ben said the meat tasted like an egg, and I don’t think that’s just because he has been eating a lot of eggs these days. Anyway, the steak was delicious. Too bad it’s not local.
And, for a change, Ben had some more desirable leftovers to bring to work this week. Piled in between two slices of whole wheat bread, slathered with mustard and mayo, and topped with arugula and cheddar cheese, flank steak makes a great sandwich — a vast improvement over the mixture of chard and brown rice Ben often zaps in the microwave for lunch.
Also, I’m having some technical difficulties with Google docs right now, but The Bulletin can be read here: Feeding A Marine
Grilled Flank Steak & Leftover Sandwiches Serves 3 for dinner, with meat for leftover sandwiches
2 smallish-sized slabs grass-fed flank steak kosher salt freshly ground black pepper
For the sandwiches: arugula whole wheat bread Dijon mustard mayonnaise cheddar cheese black pepper
For dinner: 1. Preheat the grill to high. Season meat on both sides with salt and pepper. Grill three to four minutes a side, depending on thickness. Let rest five minutes before slicing thinly against the grain.
For lunch: 2. If you are reading this blog, you likely know how to make a sandwich.
So, as you’ve likely gathered from recent entries, I’m having a little trouble at the grocery store, mostly in front of the meat counter. I never thought I would reach this stage, but last week at Albertsons, I stared at a package of lamb chops for five minutes before walking away empty-handed. I couldn’t purchase the lamb without knowing how it had been raised. And these days, I assume the worst.
Protein options in the Stafford household, as a result, have been reduced to grass-fed ground beef from Trader Joe’s, fish from the Sunday farmers’ market, organic chicken (which I’m not even that psyched about since the chickens probably lived in less-than-desirable quarters) and eggs from Don’s Farm Stand at the San Clemente farmers’ market.
Now, of the five or six different meals I currently have us rotating on, I most look forward to eating those featuring Don’s eggs. Prepared in any style — scrambled, fried, poached — these eggs taste delicious. Ben swore I had added something special — cheese? cream? — to his scrambled eggs Sunday morning. Don’s eggs, I assured him, need nothing more than salt, pepper and a splash of Tabasco.
I have no doubt that these eggs look — the yolks, as the picture below shows, are a rich, orange color — and taste the way they do because Don treats his chickens so well. Last Sunday, I asked Don what kind of laying hens he raises, and he pulled out a picture he keeps in his cash register. He has some Sextons, but most of his hens are a cross between a Rhode Island Red and a white breed, (the name of which I have forgotten).
His chickens roam around in a spacious area enclosed by wire fencing on his farm in Wildomar. Don feeds them all sorts of things: a high-protein feed he purchases; any apples or produce from the market other vendors cannot sell; and any leftover greens he cannot sell. His chickens, he says, love greens.
I feel so fortunate to have access to a fresh dozen of eggs every Sunday. Before I added eggs to our weekly dinners, I think Ben felt a little starved for protein. I guess I should say, I know Ben felt a little starved for protein. What gave it away? It might have been the Burger King bag he arrived home with one evening just before dinner.
My favorite way to prepare these eggs for the time being is poaching. And when I have leftover rice on hand, never am I happier. I microwave the rice, sauté some greens and poach three or four eggs — dinner can be made in no time.
Poached Eggs Over Rice Serves 2, with leftover rice
Note: This recipe gives instructions to make brown rice pilaf, but any kind of rice — steamed jasmine or basmati, Uncle Ben’s long-grain converted, or minute rice — makes a wonderful base for a poached egg. Polenta works as well. Serve some sautéed greens aside this poached egg-rice combination for a simple dinner.
1 tablespoon olive oil 1 teaspoon butter ½ to 1 yellow onion, peeled and diced kosher salt freshly cracked black pepper 1 cup brown rice (see note above) 1 bay leaf
2 to 4 eggs (1 to 2 per person) vinegar such as white, white wine, apple cider Tabasco, optional
1. Place the olive oil, butter and onion in a large, nonstick frying pan, and place over medium heat. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Let sweat for five to 10 minutes or until the onions are translucent and tender. Add the cup of rice, and stir until the rice is evenly coated in the oil-butter-onion mixture. Turn the heat to high, and add two cups of water and the bay leaf. Season with another pinch of salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a boil, cover the pan (aluminum foil works too), and reduce the heat to low. Cook for 45 minutes. Turn off the heat, and let sit, covered, for 10 minutes.
2. Meanwhile bring a small, shallow saucepan filled with water to a boil. Add a capful of vinegar. Crack eggs, one at a time, into a ramekin or small vessel. Reduce the heat of the pot to just a simmer — seriously, the water should hardly be moving. Gently drop the egg into the water. Turn up the heat to achieve that very subtle simmer, then add another egg in the same manner to the pan. As the eggs cook, fluff the rice with a fork or spoon. Place a mound of rice on each plate. The eggs should cook for only two or three minutes. Top each mound of rice with one or two eggs. Serve with sautéed greens.
3. Pass salt, pepper and Tabasco on the side.
A sign hanging at Don’s Farm stand at the San Clemente farmers’ market. These eggs are so good. Crack one open, you’ll see. And when you scramble up two or three, you’ll taste the difference too. Farm fresh eggs. Yum!
I know this sounds like a weird idea, but it’s pretty good. On Sunday, I bought a package of chipotle spaghetti, the latest addition to the Delaney’s Culinary Fresh pasta line. I followed owner Jordan Stone’s suggestion and sautéed peppers and onions with chicken, adding cilantro at the end. I dumped this mixture over the pasta with about ¼ cup of the reserved cooking liquid and a handful of grated Parmigiano Reggiano – yum!
So I don’t have much to report, just some random thoughts:
• I almost lost it today at Barnes & Nobles. I had a coupon for 20% off, something Ben had earned after purchasing a book on-line. After spending a half hour in BN, I went to the checkout carrying my goods, the Santa Monica Farmers’ Market Cookbook and Heat. The woman behind the register, endowed with bionic vision, looked at my coupon for one second and told me it had expired. I challenged. Today is the 18th, I said. This certificate expired at 6:56 EST, she said, 15 minutes ago. She cut me no slack and then tore my coupon in half. I was shocked.
The arugula from both the San Clemente and Laguna Hills farmers’ markets has been delectable. Look for smaller bunches, like this one pictured below – I was disappointed with a very large, extremely bitter tasting bunch I purchased a few weeks ago. Serve with a lemon vinaigrette and shaved Parmigiano Reggiano for a simple salad.
• Before Ben and I moved across country, I told many people I planned to work on a dairy farm once I got to California. I was going to learn how to milk cows and make cheese. Not a well-researched plan. As far as I can tell, there is one dairy operation in SoCal and it’s many miles from where I live.
• After reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, however, I now know I can make cheese at home. The book gives a recipe for making mozzarella in 30 minutes and recommends purchasing Cheesemaking Made Easy, a book filled with a host of other simple cheese recipes. It’s in the mail, and soon I hope to post about ordering bacterial cultures and making my own chevre, mozzarella, goat cheese, ricotta, etc. Yum.
This past Sunday morning, Ben and I enjoyed brunch at La Galette Creperie with several friends. I ordered the farmers’ plate, pictured below, and Ben ordered a bacon-, cheddar- and egg-filled crepe. Though Ben has recently declared he does not like crepes, he politely cleaned his plate.
• Last week, I saw a whale splashing about not too far from the San Clemente Pier – It was amazing!
• Mayonnaise: I like it. Not as a main ingredient in pasta or potato salad, but as a condiment. A couple teaspoons on a sandwich, I am rediscovering, makes such a difference.
• Do you ever feel there is nothing in your grocery-store meat department that is morally acceptable to buy for dinner? The February Bon Appetit, the “green” issue, lists a few eco-friendly meats: bison, grass-fed beef and heritage pork. Great, but I’m chastised if I send away for these meats. I’m going to a Roots of Change meeting tomorrow night to learn more about sustainable farming in Southern California. Will report back.
• And lastly, over the weekend, I read a very entertaining book: Skinny Bitch. I so badly want to quote the opening paragraph of one of the chapters (entitled “Pooping”), but feel I must refrain. This passage will make you laugh out loud. Please email me if you do not own the book and want to laugh. Lindsey and Mr. T., Meredith and Lisa, Bates and anyone else with a penchant for bathroom humor, please contact me.
Fajita Pasta Serves 4
left-over roasted chicken or 2 bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts or thighs olive oil kosher salt chile powder 1 T. olive oil 1 tsp. unsalted butter, plus more to taste 1 medium onion, peeled and thinly sliced 2 red peppers, cored and thinly sliced (green peppers would be fine too) cilantro to taste, washed and coarsely chopped 1 lb. fresh pasta, such as the Delaney’s Culinary Fresh chipotle spaghetti ¼ cup to ½ cup Parmigiano Reggiano, grated
1. Preheat the oven to 425ºF. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Line a baking sheet with foil (for easy cleaning). Place the chicken on top. Drizzle with a little oil, and season with salt and chile powder to taste. Roast until done, about 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from oven and transfer to a plate to cool.
2. Meanwhile, heat the oil with the butter in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until the butter begins to sizzle. Add the onions and peppers and sauté until tender and browned, but not caramelized (think fajitas — hot, charred peppers and onions in a smoking hot cast-iron skillet).
3. Meanwhile, remove the skin from the chicken and discard. Pull the meat from the bone and shred or cut into thin strips. Add the meat to the pan, season with salt, chile powder and cilantro to taste. Stir, then turn off heat. Transfer to a plate. Keep skillet on the stove.
4. Season the boiling water with a pinch of kosher salt. Cook the fresh pasta for 2 minutes. Just before draining, reserve one half cup of the cooking liquid. Drain the pasta but do not rinse. Place the cooking liquid in the skillet and place over high heat. Let reduce, scraping up any charred bits from the pan. Place the pasta in a large bowl. Add another teaspoon of butter and ¼ cup of the grated Parmigiano Reggiano. Add ¼ cup of the simmering cooking liquid and the pepper-chicken sauté, and toss gently to combine. Taste, adding more cooking liquid by the tablespoon and grated cheese in necessary.
5. Serve, passing more cheese and fresh-cracked pepper on the side.
As I mentioned on Monday, I have a new Sunday dinner tradition: Delaney’s Culinary Fresh pasta mixed with anything I find that morning at the farmers’ market. Last week, I could not resist buying a variety of beautiful, wild mushrooms despite a slightly sketchy story about their origin.
Fortunately, I have made a cyber friend, Melanie Lytle, author of the blog Livin’ the Vida Local, who set me straight. On a year-long mission to eat food grown primarily in the San Diego foodshed, Melanie has extensively researched local food producers, from those setting up booths at farmers’ markets to those selling meat, fish and dairy products in shops. Her blog has already been a tremendous resource for me.
After reading in an article Melanie sent me that the mushrooms I purchased last Sunday might actually have been shipped from Japan, I felt quite deceived. I now know, however, on this big West Coast, I must become a more savvy farmers’-market shopper.
And last Sunday I did make some prudent choices as well, including 8 (yes 8) bundles of Swiss chard which I purchased from the Eli’s Ranch (a farm located in Fallbrook) stand. It was a little excessive, I admit, but I had just read in Michael Pollan’s latest book, In Defense of Food, about the importance of eating leaves as opposed to seeds and about how the shift from a food chain with green plants at its base to one based on seeds — a shift embodied in the Western Diet — has had detrimental consequences to our health. (More on this book in an upcoming entry.)
So, I may have fibbed a little. Delaney’s Culinary Fresh pasta has become a little more than a Sunday night tradition. It has been more like a twice-a-week dinner affair, which supplies us with leftovers for lunch at least twice a week as well. The simplest and most delicious way I have thus far prepared this fresh linguini is this: Sauté sliced onions and fennel together over medium heat until caramelized. Transfer to a bowl. In the same pan, sauté Swiss chard with garlic and red pepper flakes until wilted and add to the bowl. Cook the pasta for two minutes, add to the bowl of vegetables, sprinkle with freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano and serve. Ben has been very pleased with this combination, loving particularly the toothsomeness of the pasta and the texture of the chard.
As I mentioned above, I will devote an entry entirely to In Defense Of Food, but for now, I’ll give you a little preview. In the last 50 pages of the book, Pollan gives some basic rules to help readers more simply figure out what to eat. Here are a few: Don’t eat anything your great grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food (such as Go-Gurt Portable Yogurt tubes). Avoid Products that make health claims (because even products such as corn oil can make claims such as, “One tablespoon of corn oil daily may reduce the risk of heart disease”.) And my favorite: Have a glass of wine with dinner.
Here’s another good one — one that is particularly relevant to this delectable fresh linguini: Avoid food products containing ingredients that are A.) unfamiliar, B.) unpronounceable, and C.) more than five in number. As a little experiment, I pulled a bag of egg noodles from my cupboard. Here are the ingredients: semolina, durum flour, egg yolks, niacin, ferrous sulfate, thiamine mononitrate, riboflavin, and folic acid. The Delaney’s Culinary Fresh red pepper linguini, on the other hand, is made with semolina flour, red bell pepper, egg and sea salt — ingregients we all recognize and know how to pronounce.
Visit the Delaney’s Culinary Fresh Web site to read owner Jordan Stone’s inspiring story, to find other locations to purchase this handmade pasta, and to read other ways to prepare a wonderful dinner in no time.
Farmers’ Market Linguini II
5 thin slices pancetta (Note: This can be omitted. I’ve made this basic recipe twice now, once with pancetta and once with olive oil, and both are delicious. Substitute a tablespoon of olive oil for the pancetta if desired.) 2 small heads fennel
kosher salt two large heads Swiss chard, escarole or kale, washed 1 tablespoon olive oil 2 cloves garlic, minced red pepper flakes
1 lb. red pepper linguini purchased, if possible, from Delaney’s Culinary Fresh Parmigiano Reggiano, grated freshly cracked black pepper
1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil.
2. Slice the pancetta into thin strips or cut into small dice. Place in a large, nonstick sauté pan over medium-low heat. Cook until the fat melts and the pancetta begins to brown. When the pancetta turns dark brown and becomes crispy, remove from the pan with a slotted spoon or tongs, and set aside. (This could take as long as 20 minutes or as fast as 10, depending on how patient you are with the heat dial and how much time you have to spare.)
3. Meanwhile, slice the fennel into half moons. Slice the onion into half moons as well. After removing the pancetta from the pan, sauté the onion and fennel together over medium heat until slightly caramelized. (Again, this can take more or less time depending on patience.) Season lightly with salt. Once slightly browned, transfer mixture to a bowl and set aside.
4. Meanwhile, if using chard, cut the stems from the greens and chop into 1/2-inch chunks. Cut the greens roughly too. Add a tablespoon of olive oil to the pan, add the stems and sauté over medium heat until tender, about five minutes. Turn the heat to high, add the garlic and the greens and season with salt and red pepper flakes to taste. Using tongs, rearrange the greens until nicely wilted. Turn off heat and add fennel-onion mixture to pan. Toss to combine. (If cooking the pasta right away, you can keep the pan on low heat.)
5. Cook pasta for two minutes. Drain, but do not rinse. Place pasta in a large bowl. Add a few large handfuls of the grated Parmigiano Reggiano. Add vegetables and reserved crispy pancetta pieces, and toss. Serve immediately, passing more cheese and freshly cracked pepper on the side.
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I seem to have been deceived. Contrary to what I believed before arriving to the West Coast nearly three weeks ago, it does rain in Southern California. And it also gets cloudy. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining. And while I’m not longing for East Coast weather by any means, yesterday, while shopping at the San Clemente’s farmers’ market, I found myself craving my all-time favorite pasta dish — pappardelle tartufate — found in only one place: a little, Italian BYOB, located 2,378 miles away (as the crow flies) in Philadelphia.
I have been mocked by many about my love for Melograno. Whenever anyone I know visits Philadelphia, I point them to the corner of 22nd and Spruce; whenever I learn of anyone living in Philadelphia who hasn’t been to Melograno, I gasp, and then point them to the corner of 22nd and Spruce. I also tell them what to order: the baby arugula and prosciutto salad to start; the papardelle tartufate as an entrée; and the tiramisu for dessert. Melograno serves many other delectable appetizers, desserts (and entrées) too, but the papardelle tartufate —a mix of homemade pappardelle pasta, wild mushrooms, chopped walnuts, Parmigiano Reggiano and truffle oil — must never be substituted.Anyway, while at the market yesterday, I began chatting with Don of Don’s Farm in Wildomar, CA. Don sells eggs, preserves, honey, apple butter, avocados, squash and a host of other vegetables. He also a variety of mushrooms — maitake, brown beech, white beech and royal trumpet — though I am unsure if he grows or just sells these mushrooms.
In any case, Don briefly described the growing technique: these bunches each grow in a bottle in a temperature-controlled room under a fine mist. They are not hydroponic; they are not grown in soil; they are totally organic. Don tells me, “they” — I’m not sure who this refers to, thus the confusion as to who is growing the mushrooms — are building a multi-million dollar facility to increase production of these prized fungi. (As a supporter of small, diversified farms practicing environmentally responsible growing techniques, I am instinctively averse to the idea of this facility: Is growing mushrooms this way any different than the way Earthbound Farms grows their organic greens, in large facilities requiring huge amounts of energy to keep the temperature controlled to prevent the greens from wilting? I’ll have to investigate further, for now, however, I’ll continue to enjoy these delectable fungi.)
Don recommends keeping the mushrooms in their plastic wrappings until cooking time. Do not wash them, he says, and snip off just the outermost end before cooking.
These are the maitake, meaning “dancing mushroom” in Japanese: I cannot say this recipe replicates Melograno’s pasta exactly, but it has satisfied my fresh pasta-truffle oil-wild mushroom craving. And this pasta, purchased at the Delaney’s Culinary Fresh stand at the farmers’ market, while completely different than the pappardelle at Melograno, is unbelievable. Last week I bought a pound of the red-pepper linguini and this week a pound each of the lemon basil and red pepper. The pasta will keep, I am told, for up to a week in the refrigerator or months in the freezer. Requiring only two minutes in boiling water to cook, this flavorful pasta remains toothsome and chewy and has already become a Sunday evening tradition. Farmers’ Market Linguini Inspired by Melograno in Philadelphia Serves 4
8 pkgs. mixed mushrooms: I used a mix of white beech, brown beech and maitake purchased from Don’s Farm at the San Clemente’s farmers’ market (Note: I only used four packages and found that was not sufficient for the one pound of pasta. I am doubling the recipe I made today as a result. I would guess that each package of mushrooms weighs about 4 ounces, so a total of 2 lbs. (or 1.75lbs at least) of mushrooms is required for 1 lb. of pasta) 2 tablespoons olive oil 2 teaspoons unsalted butter, plus more to taste 2 cloves garlic, minced 4 sprigs thyme, leaves removed and finely chopped kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste 1 lb. fresh linguini (I used fresh lemon-basil linguini purchased from the Delaney’s Culinary Fresh stand at the San Clemente’s farmers’ market, but any fresh or dried pasta will do. I actually think a dried orecchiette or bowtie pasta might be a better shape to toss with the mushrooms, though this fresh pasta is unbelievable!) freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano truffle oil, optional a few big, thick shavings of Parmigiano Reggiano to top each plate 1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil.
2. Meanwhile, in a large nonstick skillet, heat one tablespoon of oil with one teaspoon of butter. When hot, add half of the mushrooms, shake the pan once, then let them cook undisturbed for one to two minutes — this will help them get a nice brown, seared edge. Shake the pan again, and if necessary, stir and rearrange the mushrooms with a wooden spoon. Let cook until tender and slightly caramelized. Add half of the garlic and thyme, kosher salt and pepper to taste, and let cook for one minute longer. Transfer these mushrooms to a bowl then repeat with remaining oil, butter, mushrooms, etc. When all the mushrooms have finished cooking, return the first batch to the sauté pan to keep warm.
3. Cook the fresh pasta for 2 minutes. Alternatively, cook dried pasta until al dente. Drain. Place pasta in a large bowl. Add a dab of butter and a handful of grated Parmigiano Reggiano. Add the mushrooms and toss gently to combine.
4. Place small mounds of the pasta on all plates. Drizzle each serving with a tiny (or not so tiny) amount of truffle oil, if desired. Top each with the thick shavings of Parmigiano.
Note: Melograno also adds chopped walnuts, which add a nice crunch and good flavor. I forgot to purchase them and so did not include them in the recipe, but they would be a nice addition to this dish.
Many years ago, I traveled to the Cape with my aunt Marcy to see my Great Aunt Phyllis’ family. I don’t remember much of our short visit except that I returned home with the recipe for a pasta salad that we soon named after my cousin, Kristina, who had prepared the salad for us during our visit. That summer and for many summers that followed, we prepared this salad often — it’s particularly good warm, when the just-boiled shells melt the cheese, just slightly cook the tomatoes and soak up all the flavors of the olive oil and lemon juice.
Also, feel free to make adjustments based on your preferences: feta may have been used in place of mozzarella, sun-dried tomatoes in place of the roasted red peppers, etc. This salad can also be prepared ahead and served at room temperature — it tastes better the longer it sits in fact.
Kristina’s Pasta Salad Serves 6 to 8 as a side
1 lb. shells ½ cup pine nuts 1 pint grape tomatoes 1 bunch scallions (finely diced red onion is nice, too) 3 roasted red peppers (or used jarred) 2 balls (large size) or a small tub of ciliegine mozzarella 1 bunch basil extra-virgin olive oil kosher salt fresh cracked pepper 1 lemon, halved freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano
1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add pasta and a large pinch of kosher salt. Cook about 8 minutes or until done but not mushy. Drain and set aside.
Meanwhile, place pine nuts in a small skillet over low heat. Toast, stirring often to avoid burning. Remove from heat when evenly golden brown. Set aside.
2. Cut grape tomatoes in half lengthwise. Remove ends from scallions and discard. Chop thinly, using mostly the white and pale green parts (some of the dark green is ok, too). Chop the roasted red peppers into small strips. Cut the mozzarella into cubes about the same size as the cherry tomatoes (or if you are using the ciliegine, use them whole or slice in half). Set aside.
3. Place pasta in a large bowl. Drizzle olive oil over pasta until nicely coated. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add all of the prepared ingredients. Remove tiny leaves from basil stems and add directly to the bowl. Stack four to five larger basil leaves on top of one another. Roll into a tight spiral, then cut into thin strips. Add to the bowl. Squeeze the lemon over the top of the whole mixture starting with just one half. Add a few handfuls of the grated Parmigiano Reggiano. Toss gently with a large spoon. Taste, add more salt, pepper, olive oil or lemon juice if necessary.
So, I’ve found something else I’m going to miss about Philadelphia. On Monday, my sister and I met for lunch at Rouge where we enjoyed the crusty rolls served with sea salt-speckled butter and the French onion soup topped with Gruyère and provolone. These cheeses blister over garlic croutons insulating the delectable onion broth below. And the crusty bits clinging to all sides of the goblet-like bowls are irresistible.
While I can’t say I’m a French onion soup connoisseur, I have ordered my fair share of this bistro classic, including five bowls this week alone, a spree that began last Saturday up in NYC. A.O.C., the adorable Greenwich Village restaurant where I sat with two friends for a few hours, set the standard, one so high I feared no place in Philly could equal. And for the most part, the soups I sampled confirmed my worries. At both Brasserie Perrier and Caribou Café, the soup had not been thoroughly heated before being topped with the crouton and cheese and thrown under the broiler. Both should have been sent back to the kitchen.
My weeklong onion-soup bender also inspired me to make my own batch, which to my surprise and delight was very simple. I opened Daniel Boulud’s Café Boulud Cookbook, a book I have not used once, but has now piqued my interest. The success of French onion soup, says Mr. Boulud in his notes preceding the recipe, depends on cooking plenty of onions “very, very slowly until they are soft, sweet and caramel colored,” and deglazing with white wine, which adds the necessary “touch of acidity.”
My onions cooked for about an hour and I used a mix of Sherry and Madeira because I didn’t have any white wine. I also used homemade chicken stock, which Mr. Boulud describes as “rarely the star player,” but whose “supporting role can elevate just about anything.” I would agree that a homemade chicken (or beef) stock makes all the difference in this soup.
While any ovenproof bowls will work, it’s fun to eat this soup out of the traditional crocks. I found mine at Kitchen Kapers for $7.99 each. Fante’s and the Philadelphia Bar & Restaurant supply shop at 5th and Bainbridge also sell these vessels.
French Onion Soup Serves 6
3 tablespoons unsalted butter 2 pounds yellow or Spanish onions, peeled, trimmed and sliced thinly 1 clove garlic, minced kosher salt freshly ground black pepper 2 teaspoons all-purpose flour 1 cup dry white wine or Madeira or Sherry Herb sachet: (2 sprigs Italian parsley, 2 sprigs thyme, 8 peppercorns and 1 bay leaf, tied together in a cheesecloth) 2 quarts homemade chicken stock 1 mini French baguette 2 cups Gruyère or Swiss cheese, coarsely grated 4 to 6 sprigs parsley, leaves finely chopped
In a large Dutch oven or soup pot, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the sliced onions and garlic to the pot, season with salt and pepper, and cook stirring regularly, until the onions are a deep caramel color, about 30 minutes to an hour.
Dust the onions with the flour and cook, stirring for about five minutes to toast the flour and rid it of its raw taste. Add the white wine and cook, stirring until the wine almost evaporates completely. This happens almost instantly.
Add the herb sachet, the stock and a pinch of salt. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and let simmer 40 to 60 minutes.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350ºF. Slice the baguette into one-inch thick rounds. Place rounds on a baking sheet, and toast in the oven until lightly golden, about 10 minutes. Remove pan from the oven and let cool.
Preheat the broiler. Taste the soup. Add more salt and pepper if necessary. Remove the sachet and discard. Ladle the soup into individual ovenproof serving bowls. Cover each with two baguette rounds. Top each generously with the grated cheese. Top each with a pinch of chopped parsley. Place bowls on a baking sheet and place under the broiler. Broil until the cheese melts. Serve immediately.
Homemade Chicken Stock Yield = 1 gallon
4 lbs. of chicken legs 2 carrots, peeled, cut into large chunks 2 ribs celery, trimmed, cut into large chunks 2 medium onions, peeled and quartered 1 leek, trimmed, split lengthwise, and washed 1 bay leaf 1 teaspoon peppercorns 1 bunch Italian parsley
Place the chicken in a large stockpot. Cover with 2½ quarts of cold water and bring to a boil. Skim off scum that rises to the top. Simmer 10 minutes, skimming regularly.
Add the remaining ingredients to the pot and simmer gently for three hours, skimming as necessary. Drain the stock into a colander set over a bowl. Allow the solids to drain before discarding them. Strain stock again through a fine-mesh strainer. Transfer to storage containers and chill in the refrigerator over night.
The next day, scrape off any fat solidified at the top of the stock. Freeze stock indefinitely or keep in the refrigerator for four days.
On November 10, 1775, the Second Continental Congress resolved to create the Continental Marines, a force of two battalions captained by Samuel Nicholas, a Philadelphian. Later that day, Capt. Nicholas set up his recruiting headquarters in Tun Tavern, today regarded as the birthplace of the United States Marine Corps. (A plaque marking the approximate location of Tun Tavern stands on Front Street between Walnut and Chestnut.)
Since November 10,1925, when the first formal ball took place in Philadelphia, the Marine Corps has celebrated its birthday each year with galas all over the world. All commemorations of the birthday include a reading of Order No. 47, written in 1921 by General John A. LeJeune, summarizing the history, mission and tradition of the Marine Corps. Yesterday marked the 232 birthday of the USMC.
Last Saturday, presented with the rare opportunity to help my husband prepare for a weeklong field exercise, I found myself “fieldstripping” MREs (Meals, Ready-to-Eat), the self-contained, individual rations used by the U.S. military. Fieldstripping consists of removing excess wrapping (added weight) and unneeded accessories (such as pepper, sugar, and non-dairy creamer packets), leaving the package filled with the bare necessities: snack bars, chili and beans, and M&Ms, for example.
For my services, I got paid with a package of vegetable manicotti — classic field currency — and a few other MRE components as well. While I’m sure the novelty of eating this astronaut-like food fades quickly, at the moment I’m totally intrigued.
Within seconds of filling a small pouch with a couple of tablespoons of water, the heating unit tucked inside activated, causing the bag to puff like a balloon. Hot air burst through the open end, like steam escaping a whistling teakettle’s lid, making the plastic bag hot — dangerously hot — to touch. A chemical smell, redolent of burning plastic, filled the air as the heater began warming my vegetable manicotti, squeezed inside the pouch as well in its own plastic wrapping. Following the instructions, I positioned the pouch at a slight incline and patiently waited for the magic to happen.
In the meantime, I assembled a little hors d’oeuvre — crackers and peanut butter — and opened a side dish — mango-peach applesauce. I removed the contents of the accessories pouch, setting aside the damp-proof matches, a moist towelette and two pieces of gum, opening the salt and pepper preemptively.
After 10 minutes, I removed the meal pouch and tucked in, spooning out the meal straight from the bag, attempting to keep the experience as authentic as possible. Tomato sauce, the smell reminiscent of a cafeteria lunch buffet, covered a single tube of pasta, the vegetable purée inside textured like pâté. The taste, a touch institutional as well, was fixed by splashing the entire contents of a 1/8-ounce bottle of Tabasco into the pouch.
To wash it all down, I sipped on a vanilla dairy shake, fortified with vitamin D and calcium, packing a whopping 450 calories. And while I had hoped for a packet of peanut M&Ms or Skittles, a very dense carrot pound cake satisfied my sweet tooth.
Truthfully, while I quite enjoyed my meal, I perhaps relished even more the experience, one highlighted by having to use a bottle of Tabasco standing just taller than a book of matches. If I had to subsist on MREs daily, as my husband and fellow Marines had this past week during their patrol exercise, I probably would think otherwise. Moreover, as noted by my husband, I rarely would have the opportunity to enjoy my MRE as a sit-down meal: “Chow is continuous,” he says. “You eat when you can.” Each MRE contains approximately 1,200 calories, and often one MRE, when supplemented by a few grocery store items — beef jerky and Jif-to-go — will last an entire day.
Sometimes too, my husband reminded me, limited time precludes heating. I envisioned eating cold vegetable manicotti — a hard but not impossible act. And then I considered some of the others entrées — cheese omelet with vegetables, beef ravioli, and barbeque pork ribs — a harder idea to swallow. Apparently, hot or cold, “the omelet is the worst thing ever.” But everyone has a favorite, and once the meals are distributed, a fair amount of swapping takes place: Mexican-style corn for refried beans, for example, or pumpkin pound cake for a molasses cookie.
In 1980, the MRE replaced C-rations (combat rations), which consisted of six cans including an entrée, cheese, crackers, candy, an accessory pack, a dessert and four cigarettes. A C-ration contained no heating device, though troops devised “all sorts of ingenious heating mechanisms,” says retired US Army Lieutenant Colonel David Smith. Mr. Smith, a former helicopter pilot, would drain fuel from his helicopter into a can filled with sand to create a sterno-like heater. A tank’s engine could also be used as a heater. When Mr. Smith served, rations were swapped just as they are today, and of course there were favorites back then too — beans and franks, and ham and eggs.
MREs, a vast improvement over C-rations, are remarkable inventions: They have a minimum shelf life of three years, can withstand a parachute drop from 1,250 feet, and can sustain short-term temperature extremes of -60ºF and 120ºF. And MREs continue to improve: To eliminate the need for fieldstripping, scientists have been developing a lighter weight and more calorically dense ration, First Strike Rations, allegedly well received thus far.
I asked my husband if the guys, after being in the field for several days, ever talk about the food they miss.
“All the time,” he said.
I bet they did — homemade bread, spaghetti and meatballs, roast chicken. But I shouldn’t have been so romantic: My husband disclosed the food most craved when out in the field — Five Guys Burgers and Fries. I should have known. I did just learn, after all, that McDonald’s is the only restaurant that consistently exceeds my husband’s expectations.
Happy Belated Halloween! Well, this certainly won’t be the last pumpkin recipe of the season, but it’s the last for a few weeks at least. With Thanksgiving just weeks away, I have to admit I have been thinking a lot about pumpkin pie and pumpkin ice cream. Maybe that’s because I have a pecan pie sitting on my counter. I need to do something about that — I had a slice for breakfast. I wish I were kidding.
Anyway, I can’t pretend this recipe will take little effort. It might take all day actually. However, this recipe can be made over a few days: Roast the squash and make the filling one day; make the dough and shape the ravioli the next; cook them immediately or freeze them indefinitely. The sage brown butter sauce takes no time to prepare, so having these tasty pillows on hand (frozen) makes for a simple dinner.
And I guess they really can’t be called ravioli. I’m not sure what shape they are, but they’re yummy nonetheless.
Pumpkin Ravioli with Sage Brown-Butter Sauce
Filling: 1 sugar pumpkin* olive oil kosher salt and pepper 2 cups Parmigiano Reggiano, freshly grated 2 eggs, lightly beaten *Winter squash such as Hubbard, red kuri or butternut make fine substitutes for the pumpkin. One sugar pumpkin yields about two cups of flesh.
Preheat the oven to 400ºF. Cut pumpkin in half, scoop out the seeds and discard. Drizzle about a teaspoon of olive oil on a baking sheet. Season inside of pumpkin with salt and place cut side down. Roast for about 45 minutes or until a knife inserts easily through the skin into the flesh. Remove from the oven and let cool completely.
Scoop out flesh and place in a bowl. Add the two cups of cheese and season with salt to taste. Mix to combine. Taste and add more salt until the mixture tastes well seasoned — there is no salt in the dough, so this is your only chance to season the ravioli. Add the eggs and mix to combine. Set aside
Dough: 3½ cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for kneading 5 large eggs lightly beaten
Mound flour in the center of a medium-sized bowl. Make a well in the center of the mound of flour. Add the eggs to the center. Using a fork, beat the eggs and begin to incorporate the flour, starting with the inner rim of the well. When the eggs are almost completely incorporated, start kneading the dough in the bowl and then transfer to a large, lightly floured wooden board and continue to knead for 10 minutes, dusting the board with additional flour as necessary. The dough should feel elastic and a little sticky. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and allow to rest for 30 minutes at room temperature before using.
To Make: 4 T. unsalted butter 8 fresh sage leaves ¼ cup Parmigiano Reggiano
To make the ravioli, divide the dough into 4 pieces. Keep the dough covered with plastic wrap at all times. Lightly flour one of the pieces of dough, and shape into a rectangle about ½-inch thick.
Pass through the widest setting on a pasta machine. Fold the dough in three, like a letter, and pass through the same setting again feeding the short end in first. Repeat this step 2 times, adding flour as needed.
Without folding the dough now, repeatedly pass it through the machine rollers, reducing the space between the rollers after each pass. When it has passed through the thinnest setting, it is ready to be shaped into ravioli. (If the dough gets too long and difficult to deal with, cut it in half and feed each piece through separately until each has passed through the thinnest setting).
The dough should be just less than 6 inches wide. On the bottom half of the dough, place heaping teaspoons of the squash filling, evenly spaced every 1½ inches. Fold top half of dough over bottom half. With a knife or fluted roller, cut between each mound to create the individual raviolis. Gently pinch to seal the two dough layers together, using a tiny bit of water if necessary. Transfer to a baking sheet dusted with flour and cover with plastic wrap while you shape the remaining sections of dough.
At this point, decide how many ravioli you want to cook, and then freeze any remaining: Do not store ravioli in the refrigerator — they become a soggy mess.
To serve: Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add 1 tablespoon of salt. Place butter in a small sauté pan and heat until it bubbles. Add the sage leaves and let sizzle until crisp, about 1-2 minutes total. Turn off the heat, remove leaves with tongs and drain on a paper towel. Set aside. When water boils, add ravioli and cook until tender about 2-3 minutes (frozen ravioli also take only about 3 minutes). When ravioli are done, drain, or remove with a spider, but do not rinse under cold water. Place ravioli on a serving platter. Heat butter again until hot and begins to brown. Return the sage leaves and then spoon brown-butter over ravioli. Sprinkle with cheese. Serve immediately.