Posts Tagged ‘flavor base


Momo’s chicken soup

PJ’s “small and beautiful”* celery soup from a couple of weeks ago made me want my grandmother’s similarly delicate and unassuming chicken soup.

Yields about 3 quarts

Phase 1

  • 1/2 pound chicken scraps (backs, necks, wingtips, whatever)
  • water to cover
  • salt to taste

Put the chicken scraps in a stockpot with water to cover and salt to taste. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook, covered, for 30 minutes.

Phase 2

  • 1 medium potato, chopped large
  • 1/2 yellow onion, chopped large
  • 5 medium cloves garlic, quartered
  • 3 small stalks celery, chopped large
  • 1 medium jalapeño (seeded and deveined if that’s your thing; I don’t), chopped large**
  • 1/2 pound bone-in, proper cuts of chicken (I prefer legs and thighs); remove skins and excess fat (there’s already plenty in there)***
  • juice of half a medium lime
  • more salt
  • a generous dash ground cumin
  • lots of fresh ground black pepper
  • about 3 cups more water


While Phase 1 is simmering, prepare the ingredients for Phase 2. Skim the gunk off the top, then add everything on the list above. Return to a simmer and let cook, covered, until the freshly added chicken is done (another 20-30 minutes).

Phase 3

  • 1 ear corn, hacked into rounds that will just fit on a soup spoon to be nibbled at****
  • 1 double handful cilantro*****
  • maybe some more salt, pepper, cumin and/or lime juice, to taste


Fish the chicken out of the soup and put in the ingredients listed above, returning to a covered simmer for while you shred the proper chicken parts. Discard the bones and the chicken scraps from Phase 1. Return the shredded chicken to the pot for 5 minutes or so, and you’re done.


* Small and beautiful, as opposed to aiming for the TV chef goal of “bigass flavor.”

** My grandmother has ulcers and has been told not to eat spicy foods, but at least one chile always makes it in. When I asked her to describe what she put in this soup, the jalapeño was an afterthought. “Oh, and a pepper.” For flavor, of course.

*** I used boneless this time and relearned the important lesson that it cooks too fast and gets rubbery. Bone-in is the way to go. Can’t get it falling-off-the-bone tender without a bone to fall off of.

**** I may help my diners by shredding the chicken before serving (my grandmother certainly doesn’t), but the rounds of corn are non-negotiable. Nibbling them is half the fun. (For a non-summer version of this soup, just leave the corn out.)

***** Every time I rake a fork through a handful of parsley or cilantro to get the leaves off the stalks, I think of John Kraemer, who taught me that quick and easy technique.


mother of salsa

John Kraemer tells me that he has created a new elemental condiment–on the level of mustard or curry paste–that he’s calling “mother of salsa.” His instructions:

“Juice some limes, and add enough salt that the solution tastes about equally salty and sour (whatever that means). Mince together a few ripe hot peppers (thai, habanero, scotch bonnet), some chives and/or chive flowers, and lots of cilantro — enough that when they’re added to the lime the mixture behaves kind of like a viscous liquid, with no layer of clear juice floating on top. Then give it a bit to let the flavors come together. … adding it to chopped/diced/minced tomatoes it produces a plausible salsa cruda (likewise avocado/guacamole), but it also serves as a good finishing touch for many tex mex or thai dishes, and makes a good table condiment.”

The only problem is that the citric acid from the lime juice is not doing the trick of keeping the colors bright for longer than a few hours in the fridge, he says. I suggested storing at room temperature, but he that’s worse, if anything. I suggested tearing, rather than cutting, the herbs, and seeing how long it keeps without refrigeration. He said he’s mincing them pretty fine, so that would be tedious. I asked if a plastic lettuce knife would be any better. I also sent him to look in the Cooks Illustrated archives for relatively benign color-maintaining additives: anyone else have any bright (heh, heh) ideas?

Off to London…


a (counter)revolutionary dinner

On Sunday, Rainbow had some adorable little eight-ball zucchinis that I couldn’t resist. Tonight, I baked them with a stuffing of onion, ancho, garlic, cumin seed, breadcrumbs, zucchini, cherry tomatoes, cheddar, and egg.

My method (largely from the Joy of Cooking): Heat the oven to 400F. Slice the tops off the zucchinis and scoop them out, discarding the seeds. Chop the remaining flesh and sweat it in a bowl with some salt. Steam the shells cut side down for five minutes. Meanwhile, soften half an onion and half an ancho, both finely chopped, in some fat. Add one clove minced garlic, 1/3 cup plain breadcrumbs, and a pinch of cumin seeds. Let the breadcrumbs toast while you squeeze the excess water from the zucchini flesh. Put the squeezed zucchini and some halved cherry tomatoes in the skillet, too. Cook 3-4 minutes longer. Mix with one egg, lightly beaten, a little more salt, and half a cup of cheddar cheese. Stuff the zucchini shells, then stand them in a baking dish with 1/8 inch water. Bake 30 minutes. The tops will be nicely puffed and brown, no need to broil.

There was stuffing left over, of course. I did what any sensible person would do–I fried it. Oh, and garnished everything with cherry tomato halves. Here’s the result:

J-P says it’s very fifties. I don’t like to think of myself as reactionary (I didn’t even wear an apron!), so I’ve decided instead that the zucchinis look like little grenades. Zucchrenades! Revolutionary!

Serving dessert in cocktail glasses probably didn’t help my case:

They’re cherry bombs, all right? Cherry bombs!

For dessert, I used this recipe from Taste of Beirut, with a lot of substitutions. In the pudding, I used some mascarpone we had lying around instead of Puck cheese spread, and I used maraschino liqueur instead of her suggested flavorings. In the jelly, I used fresh cherries instead of frozen, because we’ve had them at the farmers market here for a few weeks now. Rainbow didn’t have sour cherry nectar, so I used black cherry juice concentrate. I also added a small dollop of the syrup from the fancy maraschino cherries we keep in the fridge, but I didn’t add any further sugar.

It was the first time I’d used agar agar to make a jelly, and now I can tell you that “squares” are at best an awkward substitute for powdered. But they were what I could find, so. They look delicate, don’t they? Like they’ll shatter if you give them the ojo?

Not so. I couldn’t crush the stuff in my hands, nor in the molcajete. Not even in the food processor, neither by itself (video) nor with cherry juice. I finally minced some of the cherry juice-soaked stuff from the food processor and followed the package’s directions to simmer it long enough for it to “melt.” The jelly did set, but there was a steep learning curve.


on cooking in California: part 6

Most of my out-of-the-house work is loaded into the afternoons and evenings. Monday night, J-P and I were at the Bike Kitchen from 6:30 til 9:30, so we ended up having a pizza delivered there. We were there late Tuesday night, too, but we didn’t want two dinners out in a row.

So, at 9:20 Tuesday morning, I found myself simultaneously mincing garlic and monitoring the progress of two hard-cooked eggs and a third seasoning of the cast iron skillet. The garlic and eggs were (ostensibly) for that night’s late dinner, the skillet just because.

For the dinner, I followed Elaine Louie’s recipe for Bihari Green Beans Masala. To up the protein, I decided to cook it Burmese style–or at least Burma Superstar style–by adding hard-cooked eggs.

I decided to form the eggs into cute shapes using Japanese egg molds. I have two: one succeeded, one failed. The failed egg got unmolded and unceremoniously chopped and stirred into the sauce. The other became garnish.

I had a little of the dish for lunch yesterday, but I wasn’t thoroughly pleased with the taste. So I added some slivers of ginger before I put it in the fridge, hoping that they would add their flavor over the course of the day and while we reheated the food.

The ginger actually ended up having more time than that to do its work, because we were weak creatures of habit last night and went to the St. Francis instead of going home to the food I’d made. (It’s all right, I was craving French fries.) By tonight, the ginger had worked some magic. I’d recommend the recipe, as long as you simmer ginger in the sauce in the first place.

All of this brings me to one more change that living in California has made to our household cuisine: more Asian flavors. A red coconut curry sauce was already part of my repertoire before we moved here. (Thai restaurants were my chile-using refuge in a Boston barren of good Mexican.) Here, we’ve experimented with Mark Bittman’s Asian-fusion sauces, which have generally disappointed us with their strong taste of Worcestershire.

His fried garlic and ginger sprinkles are genius, though, and my dal makhani turned out all right. But the real winner so far has been our Bike Kitchen friend Al’s 1-2-3 pork: pork simmered in 1 part rice wine, 2 parts vinegar, 3 parts (or less) sugar, 4 parts soy sauce, and 16 parts water. I’ve also added a crushed garlic clove and a crushed half-inch of ginger to Al’s 1-2-3 sauce, but it’s perfectly tasty as is.

I think the main reason Asian and Asian-inspired recipes are so hit or miss for us is that neither of us has enough background with any particular Asian cuisine to judge a recipe before we’ve tried it. We just haven’t built up a sense of which ingredients produce which flavors, or how they work in combination. Give us chiles, onions, tomatoes, and we’re golden. But we’ve only just added sesame oil and mirin to our pantry.


diner chili

Lest you think my Texas Red relies too much on canned and otherwise preserved foods, let me share my method for vegetarian diner chili. (I did say vegetarian chilis were a whole nother thing, didn’t I?)

You’ll need:
cooking fat
1 sweet yellow onion; chopped medium
4 cloves garlic; minced
1 can (abt 15 ounces) each of red, black, and pinto beans; drained
1 similarly sized can diced tomatoes with green chiles; undrained
some spicy tomato/vegetable juice
several tablespoons chili powder
a teaspoon or so ground comino
pickled jalapeños, chopped medium

Chop the onion medium and soften in hot fat. Add the minced garlic for a minute or two before you add the beans, tomatoes, and juice. Add the spices, jalapeños, and salt to taste. Let simmer about half an hour. Serve with the usual accoutrement: grated cheese, chopped scallions, saltines.


My Texas Red Algorithm

There are two reasons I don’t make chili very often. One is that it takes a honking lot of beef, the other is that I always remember it as being harder than it is. There’s no solving the former problem (vegetarian chilis are a whole nother thing), but recording my method can solve the latter, and keep it from feeding back into the infrequency of my chili-making. So.

Thaw 1-1.5 pounds ground beef. Assess its fattiness. Heat an appropriate amount of fat in a stockpot or Dutch oven. (This weekend I used about a tablespoon duck fat, in the stock pot, as the Dutch oven needed reseasoning.)

Soften two medium-sized sweet yellow onions, chopped medium, in the fat. Add one large ancho/pasilla (long, wide, green, moderate heat) pepper, chopped medium. Add six-ish cloves of garlic, minced, and the ground beef. When the beef starts to look cooked, add 3-4 tablespoons of San Antonio chile powder from Central Market. When you’re just about ready to add tomatoes, first add two teaspoons ground comino and one teaspoon dried oregano. Then add two 15-ounce-ish cans of diced tomatoes, juice and all. It’s ok if they have (appropriate) flavorings–this weekend, I used one can with green chiles (Muir Glen brand, aka Hippie Rotel) and one with roasted garlic.

Once the tomatoes have been added, throw in a couple cloves more minced garlic. Add about half the chiles from a 12-ounce can of chipotles in adobo, and most of the adobo. Keep adding adobo and chile powder until the stew is as spicy as you like and the right color–a deep, serious red. Taste for salt–the adobo has a lot, so you won’t need much. And add just a teaspoon or so of cocoa powder, which mellows things and marries the flavors. I’m not kidding.

Let this simmer down. Meanwhile, someone has been making cornbread according to J-P’s algorithm, and someone else has been grating a mound of cheddar, colby, or jack cheese. Serve the three together, et voilà–dinner.


A Tex-Mix Manifesto

What exactly is Tex-Mix, besides a cute term I came up with for my own household cuisine?

Tex-Mix uses the Tex-Mex flavor base in preparations from other cuisines. Tex-Mix cuts bagna cauda with lime juice, eats hummus with jalapeños and tortilla chips, and adds canned tomatoes with chiles to French lentil ragouts. Tex-Mix puts comino in its candied sweet potatoes. Tex-Mix thinks Moosewood’s bulgur-based vegetarian chili is clever. Tex-Mix was spiking its brownies with cayenne long before Mexican chocolate was cool. Tex-Mix takes garlic for granted.

Tex-Mix plugs elements of other cuisines into the forms that define Tex-Mex. Tex-Mix swoons over Lebanese quesadillas and amardeen margaritas. Tex-Mix wonders about tamales filled with smoked duck and cherry demiglace. Tex-Mix even enjoys a broccoli and tofu burrito with Thai peanut sauce—sometimes.

But bland grilled veggie wraps are right out. And Tex-Mix would never dream of emptying that undercooked zucchini into a bowl with some hard black beans and a dollop of fat-free sour cream and calling the result Mexican. Whether its food is good for its health is not Tex-Mix’s main concern. Tex-Mix gets enough exercise. If Tex-Mix leaves out the lard, it’s probably because duck fat seemed tastier in that recipe.

Tex-Mix doesn’t care if duck fat isn’t authentic. In fact, Tex-Mix doesn’t care if it is. (The Mexica had Muscovy ducks, after all). Tex-Mix loves pickled jalapeños, flour tortillas, and pinto beans. It took Guatemala to teach Tex-Mix the joys of fully cooked black beans. It’s not self-conscious atavism but the need for a bitter note that puts cocoa powder into Tex-Mix’s Texas Red. That chili makes a great Frito pie, by the way. It’s also terrific over vermicelli—that’s not Cincinatti, that’s la abuelita’s home cooking. What’s more, esta abuela puts peanut butter in her mole, and has never touched a metate. But her cooking is absolutely authentic.

Tex-Mix loves and respects its grandmother, but it didn’t learn all its recipes from her. Did you? There’s no getting around it: Tex-Mix is mixed. (Before that was cool, too.) Tex-Mix owns it. Tex-Mix understands that innovation and eating what you like are as important to cuisine as tradition and eating what you know. Tex-Mix is not humble. Tex-Mix avers that it improves on its grandmother. Tex-Mix has a broad palate, and Tex-Mix knows how to cook.

Tex-Mix's Photostream