Cooler winter days cry out for a change in menu, for something that stays hot during the whole meal, that feels like the enveloping warmth of a dinner lit by a fireplace and candles.

Now is the perfect time to break out the cognac, slice some French bread (or sourdough), get out the little tureens and impress family, friends, or a date, with perhaps the most romantic soup: the French onion.

Like so many French recipes, this will involve bread and cheese, butter and onions, cognac and time. Some of the time will be spent attentively watching onions as they slowly brown in butter, but the majority of the time can be spent away from the stove as the soup simmers, and simmers, and then simmers some more.

French onion soup starts not with onions, or French bread, or nice cheese, but with stock, which builds the base everything else is built on. There are many strongly held beliefs on the stock that should form the base of the French onion soup.

Some call for making your own veal stock, with pounds of veal neck bones, or veal shanks, roasted in the oven, then boiled for at least two hours. Others call for making your own beef broth, with beef neck bones.

Still others say store bought beef broth will do, even the low sodium kinds, or even chicken broth, although if you have a turkey carcass still being covered, consider turning it into stock. Still some say skip the animals and go straight to vegetable broth.

Bon Appétit’s Chris Morocco goes so far, in his “French-ish Onion Soup” to get rid of stock altogether, instead letting the namesake of French onion soup to do all the work.

This recipe is a bit of a hybrid. I’ve pulled from a few different sources, including Morocco, Julia Child and Petit Trois, the French bistro in Los Angeles and Sherman Oaks. (They’re the ones who call for six pounds of veal neck bones.)

This recipe comes in a few parts. You can serve the soup with toasted French bread (or sourdough) on the bottom, on the top or float it on the top, cover it in cheese and bake it in the oven. You take it up a notch with an egg yolk, Worcestershire sauce and some extra cognac for a deluxe soup.

This recipe can easily be vegan, by omitting the cheese, using vegetable broth and using olive oil instead of butter, or just vegetarian, with the use of vegetable broth.

One final note: French onion soup takes time. There are no shortcuts and there is no cheating. You can’t increase the heat on the stove to make the onions brown faster.

French onion soup takes time is well worth the wait. Photo by sousvideguy/Flickr.

 

Ingredients

 

For the soup

2-3 pounds thinly sliced yellow onions

4 tablespoons butter or olive oil

1 tsp salt

¼ tsp sugar

3 tbsp flour

8 cups of stock — beef, chicken or vegetable

½ cup dry white wine or dry white vermouth

3 tbsp cognac

1-2 cups grated Swiss or Parmesan cheese

 

For the toasted French bread

8 slices of French bread or sourdough bread, cut ¾ to 1-inch thick

Olive oil

Grated swiss or Parmesan cheese

 

Directions

Heat a heavy, 4-quart saucepan over medium heat until hot. Add 3 tablespoons butter and 1 tablespoon oil and all the thinly sliced onions. Turn heat to medium-low and cook the onions slowly for 15 minutes, while covered.

Uncover the saucepan, raise the heat to medium, and stir in the 1 teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon sugar, which will help them brown. Cook for 30-60 minutes, stirring frequently, until they have turned an even, deep and golden brown. They should be evenly golden, but not mushy.

Sprinkle the flour over the cooked onions and cook for another 3 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

In a separate pot, bring the stock to a boil.

Take the saucepan off the stove, once the onions are done, and blend in the 8 cups of stock, the white wine or vermouth, and add salt and pepper to taste.

Return the saucepan to heat and simmer for 30-40 minutes. Add salt and pepper as needed.

While the soup simmers, put the bread on a roasting pan and bake for 30 minutes, until the slices are dried out and lightly browned. After 15 minutes, baste each side with a teaspoon of olive oil. After the bread comes out of the oven, rub each piece with a cut piece of garlic.

Just before serving, stir in 3 tablespoons of cognac.

Either:

Pour the soup into individual soup cups or tureens, on top of the rounds of bread and pass out grated parmesan and Swiss cheese to be added by guests or

Pour the soup into individual oven-proof cups or tureens and float the rounds of bread on top and spread the grated Swiss and Parmesan cheese on top, then sprinkle with olive oil or butter.

Bake for 20 minutes in the oven and finish under a preheated the broiler for 1-2 minutes until the cheese on top of brown and serve immediately.

Recipe adapted from Julia Child, Chris Morocco and Petit Trois.

As the weather begins to cool, I find that its time to think about warming foods, hearty foods and perhaps, most importantly, what to serve at dinner parties that will impress, will wow, that can double as a Sunday dinner, or even work for a holiday, like Christmas.

Enter beef bourguignon, the long-simmering French delicacy, a hearty beef stew made with a base of red wine (typically, burgundy), that takes hours to make and longer to simmer but is well worth the wait. Like most stews, it tastes even better the next day.

This French stew gets much of its richness from browning the beef before it goes into a pot, which then goes into the oven, for the long simmer (two to three hours). The rest comes from the wine that serves as the stew’s base, three cups of a full-bodied young red wine, like Chianti.

So too does richness come from pork fat, added in the form of blanched bacon, put in boiling water to remove its signature smoky taste.

Really, though, the richness in the recipe comes from a whole host of places. So too does it come from the pound of fresh mushrooms, sautéed in butter, and the small white onions, braised in stock.

The mushrooms, and onions, have their own set of instructions in the recipe, and should be done while the stew is in the oven.

When done correctly, the mushrooms will be lightly brown and will not exude their juices while being cooked. For this to happen, the mushrooms need to be dry, the butter needs to be very hot and the mushrooms can’t be crowded in the pan. Sauté too many at once, and they steam, instead of browning. If you don’t have a large enough pan or a hot enough stove, consider making the mushrooms in multiple batches.

The cooking for this recipe is done in either a large casserole dish (I’m a fan of enameled cast iron, like Le Creuset or Lodge), for the stew proper, or in large skillet, for the mushrooms and onions.

While it might be a stew, most of the long cooking time is spent in a casserole dish or pot in the oven. This is done to create a more uniform heating, rather than just the heating element at the bottom of the pot.

This recipe should serve six, with a basic ratio of 1 pound of beef per two people.

Julia Childs writes in “Mastering The Art of French Cooking” that beef bourguignon is typically served with boiled potatoes, but buttered noodles work as well. Personally, I enjoy some warm bread, either a crusty sourdough or a French baguette, with a little butter.

Mastering the art of beef bourguignon (a French beef stew with a red wine base) could be the key to a new Christmas dinner tradition.

 

Ingredients

6 slices bacon, cut into small strips or cubes

3 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

3 pounds stewing beef, cut into 2-inch chunks

1 large carrot, sliced

1 large white onion, sliced

1 pinch coarse salt and freshly ground pepper

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

3 cups red wine

2 1/2 to 3 1/2 cups beef stock

1 tablespoon tomato paste

2 cloves smashed garlic

1/2 teaspoon thyme

1 crumbled bay leaf

3 1/2 tablespoons butter

 

For the onions

18 – 24 small pearl onions

½ cup chicken stock, white wine or water

2 tablespoons butter

1 herb bouquet (4 sprigs parsley, 2 sprigs thyme, 1 bay leaf)

 

For the mushrooms

1 pound fresh mushrooms, quartered

2 tablespoons butter

1 tablespoon oil

Salt and pepper

 

Directions

Remove rind from the bacon and cut bacon into sticks 1 ½ inches long. Simmer rind and bacon for 10 minutes in 1 ½ quarts of water. Drain and dry. Skip this step to retain some smoky flavor in the stew.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

In a 9- to 10-inch fireproof casserole, at least 3 inches deep, Sauté the bacon in the oil over moderate heat for 2 to 3 minutes to brown lightly. Remove to a side dish with a slotted spoon. Set casserole aside. Reheat until fat is almost smoking before you sauté the beef.

Dry the stewing beef in paper towels; it will not brown if it is damp. Sauté it, a few pieces at a time, in the hot oil and bacon fat until nicely browned on all sides. Add it to the bacon.

In the same fat, brown the sliced vegetables (but not the mushrooms or pear onions). Pour out the sautéing fat.

Return the beef and bacon to the casserole and toss with the salt and pepper. Then sprinkle on the flour and toss again to coat the meat lightly with the flour. Set casserole uncovered in the middle position of the preheated oven for 4 minutes. Toss the meat and return to the oven for 4 minutes more. (This browns the flour and covers the meat with a light crust.) Remove casserole, and turn the oven down to 325 degrees.

Stir in the wine and enough stock or bouillon so that the meat is barely covered. Add the tomato paste, garlic, herbs, and bacon rind. Bring to simmer on top of the stove. Then cover the casserole and set in the lower third of the preheated oven. Regulate heat, so liquid simmers very slowly for 2 ½ to 3 hours. The meat is done when a fork pierces it easily.

While the beef is cooking, prepare the onions and mushrooms. Set them aside until needed.

For the onions, place them in a saucepan or skillet with ½ cup white wine or chicken stock. The butter and the herb bouqet. Cover and simmer very slowly, rolling the pearl onions in the pan periodically, for 40-50 minutes. The onions be tender but keep their shape. Add more liquid if it all evaporates. Remove the herb bouqet and reserve.

For the mushrooms, put a skillet on high heat with the butter (2 tablespoons) and oil. Once the butter foam subsides, add the mushrooms. Toss and shake in the pan for 4 to 5 minutes. In the first few minutes, they should absorb the fat, which will reappear on the surface as they begin to brown. Once browned, remove to a separate dish until later on.

When the meat is tender, pour the contents of the casserole into a sieve set over a saucepan. Wash out the casserole and return the beef and bacon to it. Distribute the cooked onions and mushrooms over the meat.

Skim fat off the sauce. Simmer sauce for a minute or two, skimming off additional fat as it rises. You should have about 2 1/2 cups of sauce thick enough to coat a spoon lightly. If too thin, boil it down rapidly. If too thick, mix in a few tablespoons of stock or canned bouillon. Taste carefully for seasoning. Pour the sauce over the meat and vegetables. The recipe may be completed in advance to this point.

 

For immediate serving: Covet the casserole and simmer for 2 to 3 minutes, basting the meat and vegetables with the sauce several times. Serve in its casserole, or arrange the stew on a platter surrounded with potatoes, noodles, or rice, and decorated with parsley.

 

For later serving: When cold, cover and refrigerate. About 15 to 20 minutes before serving, bring to the simmer, cover, and simmer very slowly for 10 minutes, occasionally basting the meat and vegetables with the sauce.

 

Adapted from Julia Child’s “Mastering The Art of French Cooking”

(See just the recipe here)

Love and courtship might be a little bit harder in a time of pandemics and lockdowns, but if you’re trying to woo someone with a sweet tooth or offer a home-made delight, instead of the usual package of chocolates or flowers, I have the perfect recipe.

These brownies befuddled by German friends. They carry an extra amount of cocoa powder.

It’s brownies.

I know you’re probably thinking, brownies? I’ve done that before, or I buy the box in the store.

Well, that might well be true, but I have found these befuddling brownies are easy, cross cultures and are sure to win a few hearts.

I have always used brownies as a way to win hearts and minds. New workplaces, new sources, new groups, new classes and new love interests. They’re great for winning all kinds of positive attention, romantic or otherwise.

When I moved to Germany to become an au pair, I was in for a surprise. Brownies did not exist. Germans are not big on sweets – many American staples I baked were totally new to my guest family, including cookies, crumbles and crisps.

Even some of the language we use to describe brownies, mainly fudge, did not exist, because fudge just isn’t a thing. For the record, I’m firmly in the fudge camp, which also means a few minutes less in the oven.

Germany did have the basic needed ingredients, although instead of chocolate chips, I had to buy chocolate bars and chop them by hand. When I did make them, my guest family, my language class, my friends, everyone was befuddled by this thing they had never had before.

Baking the brownies

When it comes to making the brownies, there are three problems with the run-of-the-mill brownies, and brownie recipes – overuse of sugar, underuse of dark chocolate and a lack of dark cocoa powder.

I also differ from some recipes in my use of oil instead of butter. After some taste testing, I found I could not really discern any difference between the two. As for flour, I use whole wheat. I find it gives a coarser texture and a slightly nuttier flavor.

If there is one thing you take away from my brownie recipe, it should be the use of normal and dark cocoa powder, and the increased amounts of each in the brownies. This gives them a much richer taste that pairs well with an increased amount of dark/bittersweet chocolate. When I learned dark cocoa powder was a thing, I initially tried the brownies with just it but found a combination between the two came with the best taste. Either way, the amount of cocoa powder in this recipe should be higher than many comparable ones.

There is one key step I have learned the hard way: thoroughly mix the cocoa powder and flour before adding it to the mixture of oil and eggs. Otherwise, they both tend to clump.

Finally, I suggest using parchment paper to line the baking dish instead of greasing it. I always find it much easier to remove than trying to cut into brownies in a pan.

Befuddling brownies

These brownies are especially rich, thanks to the use of dark cocoa powder.
Prep Time20 mins
Cook Time38 mins
Total Time58 mins
Course: Dessert
Cuisine: American
Keyword: brownies
Servings: 1 9x13 pan
Author: Wheeler Cowperthwaite

Ingredients

  • 1 cup oil vegetable, canola, etc., or butter
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1+ tbsp vanilla extract
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1 cup dark cocoa powder
  • 1/3 cup lighter cocoa powder
  • 1 1/2 cups chocolate chips or morsels

Instructions

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees
  • Combine oil, sugar, vanilla extract. Beat the eggs and then add them to the oil-sugar mix. Mix until combined.
  • Mix the cocoa powders and flour until well combined.
  • Add cocoa powder/flour mixture to the oil-sugar combination and mix until well mixed with no remaining clumps.
  • Mix in the chocolate chips.
  • Line a 9”x13” baking dish with parchment paper or grease the baking dish.
  • Pour the mixture onto the parchment paper and bake for 32-38 minutes. Brownies should not jiggle too much. Let cool. Baking for less time will result in a more fudgy consistency, while baking longer will result in a cakey consistency.

Thanksgiving is in just a few days so here are some Thanksgiving cooking columns and recipes, for one person, a few people or even a bevy.

There are three recipes here: spicy cranberry sauce, make-ahead giblet gravy and sage-sausage stuffing with sourdough bread.

First, the spicy cranberry sauce. Try it; it’s usually a hit.

Next up is the gravy. I like to make my gravy ahead of time, and add in the pan drippings, because there’s nothing worse than not having enough gravy on Thanksgiving. Then again, I love gravy.

Finally, my favorite recipe and a must-have at any Thanksgiving I host: sage-sausage stuffing made with sourdough bread. This is something I’ve developed over time, starting with the sage sausage, and ending up with sourdough bread instruction. The combination of good bread and sage sausage, along with some bok choy instead of celery, puts it over the top for me.

Spicy cranberry sauce

See the spicy cranberry sauce column by itself or see just the recipe

It’s mostly about the taste, but somewhat about the presentation.

Cranberry sauce (or relish) is usually a dish reserved for Thanksgiving, Christmas and any other time you’re serving a turkey.

Whatever the occasion, cranberry sauce is one of the dishes you should make before before roasting the turkey, along with stuffing and most of the gravy.

Now, before you entirely discount this recipe, being spicy, I can attest that it was one of the biggest hits from Thanksgiving 2017. The fact that spice is a part of what would normally be a sweet dish adds some to the allure.

It’s also very easy, although how cheap depends on if you can get cranberries on sale.

It’s essentially your regular cranberry sauce recipe (which will gel in the refrigerator) with the addition of lemon and lime juice, a little ginger and some jalapeños.

The biggest pain in the recipe is making sure to keep mixing the ingredients, while they are on the stove, to keep them from burning.

See just the recipe here

Spicy cranberry sauce/relish

A spicy cranberry sauce that goes well with turkey.
Prep Time5 mins
Cook Time30 mins
Course: Side Dish
Keyword: sauce
Servings: 6 people
Author: Wheeler Cowperthwaite
Cost: $5

Equipment

  • Medium-sized sauce pan

Ingredients

  • 1 ¼ cups sugar
  • 2 jalapenos finely diced
  • 1 tsp lime juice
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp chile powder
  • 1 tbsp grated ginger can substitute powdered ginger
  • 12 ounces cranberries
  • 1/2 cup water

Instructions

  • Combine the sugar, jalapeños, lemon and lime juice, salt, chile powder and water in a medium sauce pan and put over medium-high heat. Stir, as it simmers, until the sugar dissolves, about 2 to 3 minutes.
  • Add the ginger and cranberries and bring the combination to a boil.
  • Once it boils, reduce the heat to medium and stir enough so the cranberries do not burn on the bottom of the pot. Continue to simmer (and periodically stir) until the cranberries soften and there is no liquid remaining in the pot, between 15 to 20 minutes.
  • Allow to cool and refrigerate until it’s ready to be used. It will store for two weeks.

Notes

Recipe adapted from David Tanis.

Make-ahead turkey giblet gravy

This make-ahead gravy assures there will be plenty for the meal and beyond
Course: Side Dish
Servings: 1 quart
Author: Wheeler Cowperthwaite

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup butter More as required
  • 1/2 cup flour More as required
  • 5-6 cups water
  • Turkey giblets heart, liver, gizzard (Chicken giblets work also)
  • 6-10 pepper corns
  • 1 Turkey neck
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 carrot
  • 1 onion
  • Salt to taste
  • Turkey pan drippings
  • 1-2 cups Optional: 1-2 cups white or red wine More as required for deglazing
  • 1-2 cups Optional: Chicken or beef broth
  • Optional: 1 celery stick

Instructions

  • Put the water in a medium pot on high heat and set to boil.
  • Add the turkey neck, all giblets (chicken giblets also work), bay leaves and pepper corns to the pot of water.
  • While the water comes to a boil, cut the carrot and onion into quarters and add to the pot.
  • When water boils, cover, turn heat on low and simmer for at least 1 hour but preferably for 2 and 1/2 hours or longer. The longer the simmer, the better the stock.
  • While the stock simmers, either combine the butter and flour in a small bowl or put a skillet on medium heat, put the butter in the skillet and slowly whisk in the flour. Continue to whisk until it begins to turn golden brown. Remove to a separate bowl. This is the roux.
  • When the stock is done simmering, strain the stock and return to the pot it was simmered in. Add chicken or beef stock, if using.
  • Remove the turkey neck, heart and liver from the strainer. Remove the meat from the neck and finely mince. Finely mince the heart and liver. Add back to the stock and throw the rest of the material in the strainer away.
  • Add the roux to the stock. Stir until well combined. Add wine, if desired. Put on low heat and simmer if the gravy is too thin or make and add more roux.
  • If using turkey and pan drippings: Once the turkey has been removed from the pan, add a little water or wine, depending on how much liquid is in the pan, and deglaze over a medium-high heat, scraping the browned bits from the bottom.
  • Add the pan drippings to the gravy and stir until well combined. A little more flour may be required to be added.
  • Freeze or put in the refrigerator if being made significantly ahead of the serving time.

Sage sausage and sourdough stuffing

Sourdough, sage sausage and bok choy are the keys to this simple but delicious stuffing.
Course: Side Dish
Author: Wheeler Cowperthwaite

Ingredients

  • 8 cups sourdough bread cubes dime to quarter sized pieces, which is a little under a pound and half. Rye or whole wheat also make for good stuffing
  • 1 lb. sage sausage
  • 1 cup bok choy, chopped or other vegetable of one’s choosing, such as celery
  • 2 medium onions, chopped
  • 1-2 cups minced parsley

Instructions

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees if any of the stuffing is to be baked.
  • In a large skillet (12 inches), cook the sausage, separating it into quarter-sized pieces. Once it is almost done cooking, remove the sausage into a bowl.
  • Brown the onions and bok choy (or other vegetables as desired).
  • Add the sausage back into the skillet, as well as the cubed bread and parsley. Mix and continue to cook over medium-high to medium heat, until the bread begins to heat through.
  • Stuff the turkey with the stuffing or put the stuffing into baking dishes.
  • If baking the stuffing alone, bake at 350 Fahrenheit for 40 minutes with a tinfoil covering.
  • Remove the tinfoil covering and continue to bake for 20 minutes.

There’s one recipe that is passed down through the generations in my family: oatmeal chocolate chip cookies.

The baked oatmeal chocolate chip cookies, also called the German Slayers.

(See just the recipe here)

It’s such a simple recipe, and yet, it creates the most delicious cookies, but after years of baking them in a multitude of states, jobs, ovens and countries, I have found a few tips, tricks and tweaks to make them just a little bit better.

There is one caveat with my cookies. They’re not pretty or picture perfect. They are delicious.

I first started perfecting the recipe when I lived as an au pair in Dresden, Germany. While my German guest family had heard of cookies, nothing like the American confection existed.

The bakeries had dark breads, black breads, tart breads, thick breads, thicker breads and nut breads but no cookies. Nothing even came close.

These oatmeal chocolate chip cookies, which I lovingly refer to as German slayers, took them by storm.

In addition to being an au pair, I was also going to a language class every day with students from around the globe, including Europe, Asia and the middle east. To most of them, the cookies were a novel experience.

Baking these cookies in Germany was a lot harder than should be expected. Brown sugar didn’t exist so I had to substitute molasses, since there were no chocolate chips I had to cut them off of large blocks of baker’s chocolate and imitation vanilla came in tiny vials.

Rolled-out cookie before baking. Quarter for size comparison.

White flour, too, was complicated. Germans have plenty of flour but plain white flour is not one of them. Eventually, I shifted my flour use to whole wheat, which is the first change I’ve kept.

Whole wheat flour gives the cookies a little more texture and a slight nutty flavor. Sometimes it’s desirable and sometimes it’s not.

Next, I experimented with spices to match the cookies to the hot mulled wine served in winter called Glühwein. That included ground cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and other spices. In this recipe, I’ve listed them as optional. After I came back stateside, I started to add shredded coconut.

Next on the big list of tips is to freeze the batter before baking it. This helps the cookies retain a rounder shape when baked. When taking them out of the oven, they may seem a little undercooked, but once they cook down, they will be nice and soft. I’m also a full convert to the use of parchment paper on baking pans. I don’t know what I would do without it.

Last, I stress that the flour and baking soda should be mixed together before being added to the rest of the batter. That makes mixing everything evenly that much easier.

Guten Apetit!

German-slaying oatmeal chocolate chip cookies

These oatmeal chocolate chip cookies use a little less sugar, white or whole wheat flour and are delicious.
Prep Time30 mins
Cook Time8 mins
Time in freezer/refrigerator1 hr
Total Time1 hr 48 mins
Course: Dessert
Cuisine: American
Keyword: cookies
Servings: 25 cookies
Author: Wheeler Cowperthwaite
Cost: $5

Equipment

  • baking sheet
  • large mixing bowl

Ingredients

  • 2 sticks unsalted butter 250 grams
  • 1 cup brown sugar (firmly packed) 232 grams
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar 112 grams
  • 1+ tsp vanilla
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour 220 grams
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 3+ cups oatmeal 265 grams
  • 1 cup chocolate chips 200 grams

Optional ingredients (spices)

  • 1 tsp Ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 cup shredded coconut add with oats

Instructions

  • In a medium bowl, mix the butter and sugars together until creamy. Add the eggs and vanilla and mix together.
  • In a separate mixing bowl, combine the whole-wheat flour, baking soda and optional spices until well mixed. Add to the bowl of creamed sugars and mix well.
  • Add the oats and, if using, shredded coconut to the bowl and mix well. Add the chocolate chips and stir in until combined.
  • Refrigerate or freeze for 1 to 8 hours.
  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Line baking sheet with parchment paper.
  • Using a spoon, or hands, make roundish balls of dough, about the size of a half-dollar, and put them on the baking sheet, spaced about an inch and a half apart.
  • Bake for eight to 10 minutes.

Notes

Use parchment paper instead of greasing the cookie sheet.
Spices will make the cookies taste . . . spicy.
Whole-wheat flour gives the cookies a slightly nutty flavor and more texture, but white flour can be used as well.
Refrigerating or freezing the dough keeps the cookies from flattening in the oven.
The more oats, the better!

This year has been a banner one for my garden which has been bolstered by all the time I spend at home, by being the one outdoor space I have to use and by all the extra time I can devote to it that normally I would spend commuting every day.

One of the banner crops that really has pushed its way through the garden, going so far as to knock over a corn stalk, is the zucchini.

Plated zucchini fritters

Zucchini fritters are way, other than bread, to easily use up the abundant crop. Here they are served with zhug, a Yemeni cilantro-based hot sauce, and tzatziki, the yogurt-based sauce.

I have so, so many of them and, I have absolutely no doubt that you, or maybe your neighbor, or maybe just the person down the street, is just like me and drowning in a sea of zucchini.

That’s where fritters come in.

Fritter is a broad term for potatoes, zucchini, fruit, meat, dough, and probably many more things, that have been combined and are fried. In this case, the recipe is kind of like latkes (also called potato pancakes), but with zucchini instead.

The comparison is important because both potatoes and zucchini are jam packed with lots and lots of water that need to be removed before they are turned into fritters. It’s the same process that goes into preparing decent hash browns, although usually hand power gets them dry enough for the skillet.

In this recipe, salt will help drain the water out of the shredded zucchini, with the aid of a strainer. That only gets so much water out, so there is a second step. Either the shreds can be wrung by hand or, they can be balled up into a dish towel and wrung out as the towel is twisted. I find the dish towel applies enough force to get most of the water out.

The other reason I chose to write about fritters is they go great with two other recipes I’ve already shared in previous columns, mainly, tzatzikizhug and hummus. All three make great dips for fritters.

 

Dill piles up in a container of yogurt being used to mix the Tzatziki.

Dill plays a starring role in tzatziki and it goes great in the fritters as well.  Most herbs would do well as a seasoning but, since I like to pair them with tzatziki, I always reach for dill first. It does not hurt that the dill has also been having a banner year, since it has not, yet, been pushed over or smothered by the zucchini.

One thing that most fritters need is some kind of binder. Here, I use eggs and crumbled feta, as well as a little bit of flour.

When it comes to the frying, use a lot of oil if you really want to go for that deep-fried taste, or use a lot less if you’re using a non-stick pan. I personally use cast iron skillets so a little oil often goes a long way. Alternatively, the fritters could be baked in the oven.

 

 

Zucchini Fritters

These zucchini fritters are a great way to use up a bumper crop and go great with tzatziki, zhug and hummus.
Prep Time1 hr
Cook Time30 mins
Total Time1 hr 30 mins
Course: Appetizer
Cuisine: Mediterranean
Keyword: fritters, zucchini
Servings: 12 fritters
Author: Wheeler Cowperthwaite

Ingredients

  • 2 lbs zucchini
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 eggs beaten
  • 1/2 to 1 medium onion
  • 4 tbsp minced fresh dill
  • 1/2 cup Feta cheese
  • 2 garlic cloves finely minced
  • 1/4 tsp pepper
  • 1/3 cup flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • oil as needed for pan frying

Instructions

  • Shred the zucchini through the large holes of a grater. Transfer to a strainer on top of a bowl and toss with the salt and let sit for 10-30 minutes.
  • Wring out the zucchini shreds, either by hand or by putting handfuls into the center of a clean dishtowel and twisting the towel. Try to get out as much water as possible.
  • Finely mince the onion or shred it with the grater. Mince the fresh dill and the garlic.
  • Beat the eggs in a large bowl.
  • Heat a large skillet on medium heat and add a little bit of oil.
  • Mix in the zucchini, the feta cheese, the onions or scallions, the dill, the garlic and the pepper. Mix.
  • Sprinkle and mix in the baking powder and flour until well combined.
  • Drop large spoonfuls of the batter onto the skillet, but do not crowd them together. Lightly press down on the fritters with the back of a spoon.
  • Turn when golden brown, about three minutes. After the other side is golden brown, remove to a plate and serve with tzatziki and hummus.

Summertime, and the living is hot, which means cooking indoors is a pain. There is a solution. The grill.

I love grills for a multitudes of reasons. They can be quick, they are outdoors, they are tasty and easy and, in the summer, cooking inside is far too miserable.

That’s where a new take on grilled chicken comes in. Specifically, it is a Thai take on the humble hunk of chicken meat.

Gai yang, also called kai yang or ping gai, or simply Thai grilled chicken, brings together some of the most prominent flavors in the west: lime, cilantro, garlic and chiles.

Thai grilled chicken, or Gai Yang, with steamed rice and a grilled green chile.

The flavors mix, meld and create something worth adding to the regular stable of meat marinades.

I was lucky enough to, most recently, take a return trip to Thailand just on the cusp of the current pandemic. That meant tourism was down and the streets were not nearly as packed as I have seen them in travels past. Although there were fewer people, there were still plenty of street food vendors with small grills and bags of marinating meat.

Many of the grilled foods had two common ingredients: lime and chiles. There is a third ingredient, which smells awful, but really adds a savory, or unami taste: fish sauce. I swear by it in most marinades, where it adds a saltiness and depth of flavor not offered by soy sauce.

It’s an ingredient that is in lots of Thai cuisine but its influence melds into the background, becoming indistinguishable on the palate, except for a sparkle.

Really, gai yang is not that different from a regular citrus marinade, with the exception of fish sauce: cilantro, garlic, lemon and lime.

The original marinade recipe I used as a base calls for chopped lemongrass and cilantro roots. I know finding cilantro with the root still on his hit or miss, and lemongrass is hard to find, so I’ve substituted lemon rind.

Making the marinade requires a good processor or blender and the chicken should sit for at least three hours, if not overnight.

I serve this chicken with some green chiles roasted on the grill and rice.

Wheeler’s Thai grilled chicken

This Thai grilled chicken, or Gai Yang, with a side of roasted chiles and rice, makes a great weekday staple.
Prep Time45 mins
Cook Time15 mins
Total Time1 hr
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Thai
Keyword: grilled chicken, Thai
Author: Wheeler Cowperthwaite

Ingredients

Main

  • 1-4 lbs chicken breasts, thighs or drumsticks
  • 2+ green chiles
  • 1 cup cilantro, coarsely chopped

Marinade

  • 3 tbsp chopped garlic
  • 2 jalapeños, chopped
  • 1 tbsp brown sugar
  • 3 tbsp fish sauce
  • 2+ tbsp lime juice
  • 2 tbsp white or red wine (optional)
  • 1 tsp sesame seed oil (optional)
  • 2 tsp soy sauce
  • 15 sprigs cilantro, coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 lemon, deseeded, coarsely chopped

Sauce

  • 2 dried red chiles, soaked, then coarsely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
  • 1 tbsp brown sugar
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup rice vinegar

Instructions

Marinade and sauce

  • At least three hours prior to grilling the chicken, prepare and marinade the chicken.
  • In a blender or food processor, combine the marinade ingredients. Blend for 2-3 minutes, until everything is well combined. Everything should already be chopped.
  • Combine the chicken and the marinade in a container, bowl or ziplock bag and refrigerate for at least three hours. Overnight is preferable.
  • While the chicken is marinating, combine all of the sauce ingredients in the food processor or blender and mix until well combined. Remove to a separate container for serving and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Grill

  • Grill the chicken over medium to medium-high heat until done. Chicken thighs taken longer than breasts and bone in takes longer than boneless. If the chicken is bone-in, cook over medium heat. Add a little of the marinade to the chicken while it cooks.
  • While the chicken is grilling add the green chiles, cut lengthwise, to the grill and cook until the skin is well blistered.
  • Once the chicken is done, remove from the grill and allow to rest for 2-3 minutes.
  • Serve with rice and the sauce you previously made in the blender/food processor and the roasted chiles.
  • Garnish the plates with the chopped cilantro.

Notes

Serve with hot rice.
Barbecue chicken sauce recipe from Practical Thai Cooking by Puangkram Schmitz and Michael Worman.

Learning a pressure cooker, or in my case, an electric pressure cooker (brand Instant Pot) means trying out new recipes and seeing what it can do.

In the case of chicken noodle soup, the answer is a whole hell of a lot.

When I made it, I went online to see what the general suggestions, and recipe directions/ingredients are for chicken noodle soup.

The best suggestion, which I heeded, was to cook the noodles separately because of the difference in required cooking time.

Other included cubing the chicken before cooking it (for people using boneless chicken breasts or thighs) and suggestions on how much broth and water to include in the pot.

Finally, I was reminded that cooking bone-in chicken means leftovers will be a little gelatinous, from the natural binders in the chicken cartilage.

(See just the recipe here.)

Chicken noodle soup made (mostly) in an electric pressure cooker (Instant Pot). Bone-in skin-on chicken legs were used, as well as green chiles (Anaheim peppers).

I didn’t see any particular instructions on what to do with chicken legs.

Chicken legs are probably the cheapest meat I can get and when I went to the store to get ingredients, they were only $1 a pound, by far the best deal in the store.

They also go on sale for $4 for a 10 lb frozen bag.

If you’re looking for a cheap chicken soup, this is it.

I put the metal steam rack in the bottom, put in two chicken legs, the cut veggies (squash, zucchini, carrots and green chiles), poured in six cups (32 ounces) of chicken broth, a little water, half a bullion cube, locked the lid and turned it to 15 minutes .

After it finished cooking, and I allowed it to “natural release” for 15 minutes, I vented the unit and extracted the first chicken leg with a gloved hand and started taking the meat off the bone and putting into a bowl. Once both chicken legs has been stripped of their meat, I threw them back in the pot and started stirring. Meanwhile, I already drained the pasta and, after realizing everything would be easier in a larger pot, I transferred everything to the pot the pasta had been in.

I added the noodles and realized it lacked salt, so, remembering a Cook’s Illustrated I read on the topic, I grabbed my trusty light soy sauce, my trustier fish sauce and seasoned the soup.

Voila!

Unfortunately, for leftovers, the pasta continued to soak up the broth. I was fine with it, but one could have added a little more.

What did I learn?

Chicken legs or (bone-in) thighs work just fine, so long as you’re willing to fish them out, strip the meat off the bones and put it back in the pot.

 

Pressure cooker chicken noodle soup

Makes 10 servings

Ingredients

2-3 chicken legs (bone in, skin

6 cups chicken stock (48 ounces)

2 cups water

1 bullion cube (optional)

1 lb carrots

1 medium onion (optional)

1 zucchini, Mexican squash, yellow squash or other squash

2-5 green chiles (Anaheim peppers) or other peppers of choice, such as bell peppers or Poblanos.

1/2 to 1 lb pound mushrooms (optional)

Other vegetables as desired, including celery and garlic

Soy sauce to taste

Fish sauce to taste

Pepper to taste

1 lb noodles

Directions

1. Cut all the vegetables into bite-sized pieces.

2. Place the steamer rack at the bottom of the (electric) pressure cooker, then place the chicken legs on top.

3. Put the vegetables in the pot, followed by the chicken stock, the bullion cube (if using) and the water.

4. (Electric) Set the pressure cooker for 15 minutes. Allow for 15 minutes of natural release, and then vent, if desired. If using a stove top pressure cooker, bring to pressure and cook for 15 minutes.

5. While the soup is cooking, in a medium pot, heat water to boiling. Salt the water, then add the noodles and cook as per directions.

6. Once the soup is vented, or the top can be opened, remove one chicken leg at a time and, being careful not to burn your fingers, with a fork, knife or both, remove the meat from the chicken bones. Cut the meat into the desired-sized pieces. Continue with the rest of the chicken legs. Add the meat back to the soup.

7. Drain the pasta and combine with the chicken soup. If desired, transfer the soup from the pressure cooker to the pasta-cooking pot.

8. Season with soy sauce and fish sauce, until soup reaches desired saltiness.

Cranberry sauce (or relish) is usually a dish reserved for Thanksgiving, Christmas and any other time you’re serving a turkey.

Whatever the occasion, cranberry sauce is one of the dishes you should make before before roasting the turkey, along with stuffing and most of the gravy.

Now, before you entirely discount this recipe, I can attest that it was one of the biggest hits from Thanksgiving 2017. The fact that spice is a part of what would normally be a sweet dish adds some to the allure.

It’s also very easy, although how cheap depends on if you can get cranberries on sale.

It’s mostly about the taste, but somewhat about the presentation.

It’s essentially your regular cranberry sauce recipe (which will gel in the refrigerator) with the addition of lemon and lime juice, a little ginger and some jalapeños.

(more…)

Whenever someone asks, “What’s a healthy recipe that’s easy and I can snack on?” I have a stock reply.

Hummus. (See just the recipe here).

It’s easy, it’s healthy, it’s delicious and it can go with vegetables, bread, with other sauces, or be served as a spread.

So, what is hummus and why should you make it at home?

Hummus is a mix of cooked and crushed chickpeas, also called garbanzo beans, with tahini, also known as sesame seed paste.

There are some other ingredients: lemon juice and salt, as well as a host of optional ingredients including garlic, peppers, artichoke hearts and other seasonings.

Mainly though, it’s just cooked chickpeas and tahini, blended together.

Things can get a little bit more complicated if you’re willing to take the extra step (frugal and healthy) of cooking the chickpeas yourself.

Even then, hummus is a super simple recipe.

It’s also cheap.

Adding the chickpeas to the blender.

Normally, stores sell 8-16 ounces of hummus for $3 to $8.

You need eight ounces of tahini for this recipe which sells for $3. The pound of dried chickpeas is another dollar.

It makes a full 72-ounce blender full, which is a decent return on investment.

Most of the time, I do not eat it fast enough and it begins to ferment. Not go bad, per se, but you can tell it’s fermenting after 10 days or so, despite all the lemon and lime juice in it.

This is also a great recipe if you want to take the first step toward cooking your own beans, instead of buying them in the can.

It’s forgiving, it’s delicious and no one will know they’re eating beans.

I’ve included instructions for both electric pressure cooker users (such as the InstantPot) as well as those using a slow cooker.

The finished green chili hummus, after everything has been blended.

You could also cook the beans on the stove, but I prefer one of the two plug in methods.

Because hummus is so simple, and its basic ingredients are so few, it is a type of blank slate dish that can take on any number of additional flavors.

My favorites are roasted green chiles (a New Mexico favorite) and marinated artichoke hearts. Take a look at the commercial hummus being sold in your local store: there’s pimento hummus, there’s hummus with dill, there’s hummus with ingredients it shouldn’t be paired with.

 

Goes-with-everything hummus

This hummus can be jazzed up with most anything and goes great as a side and as a dip.
Course: Side Dish
Cuisine: Mediterranean
Keyword: dip, sauce
Servings: 72 ounces
Author: Wheeler Cowperthwaite
Cost: $5

Equipment

  • Blender

Ingredients

  • 1 pound dry chickpeas or 7 cups cooked/canned chickpeas also called garbanzo beans
  • 8 ounces tahini
  • 2 tablespoons lime juice
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons chopped garlic more to taste
  • Salt to taste
  • 1/3 cup reserved chickpea cooking water
  • Artichoke hearts (optional)
  • Chopped green chile, roasted or unroasted (optional)
  • Chopped peppers (optional)

Instructions

  • Soak the chickpeas overnight in cold water at a rate of three times the quantity of water to chickpeas.
  • If cooking the chickpeas in a slow cooker, cook on low for 5 to 8 hours. Make sure the chickpeas are covered with water.
  • If cooking the chickpeas in an electric pressure cooker, cover with 3-4 inches of water and set for 15-20 minutes, or 20-25 minutes on beans.
  • Drain the chickpeas, reserving 1⁄3 cup of the cooking water.
  • Add 2⁄3 of the chickpeas (or all, to make a creamier hummus) into a blender or food processor, along with the lemon juice. When blending, a little more liquid can help facilitate the process. Add a few tablespoons of cooking water as needed.
  • Add the tahini and continue blend until everything is mixed. Once the chickpeas blend with the tahini, the color should change to a lighter shade of yellow.
  • Decant the mixture into a mixing bowl and add into the blender the garlic, the lime juice, the olive oil and, if using, the artichoke hearts or other ingredients and blend. Add the new mixture into the mixing bowl and stir until well combined.
  • Add salt, or garlic salt, to taste. Start with two teaspoons. Just enough salt will make the flavors of the hummus pop.
  • Add the rest of the chickpeas, either only briefly blended or whole, depending on texture desires.
  • Refrigerate or enjoy immediately, The hummus will get just a little bit better and thicken after it has been refrigerated.

 

See just the recipe here.

See the full album of photos on Flickr.

 

The cooked chickpeas (garbanzo beans) after they have been strained. The flecks of red are from red chiles they cooked with.

 

Lemon juice helps the blending process and adds a necessary acidity.

 

I add garlic (chopped) to the blender before adding the garbanzo beans.

 

Roasted green chiles, before they are diced and thrown into the blender. They were roasted on the barbecue.

 

You can get the perishable Trader Joe’s tahini sauce ($2.99 per 8 oz container) or get a larger container at an Asian market.

 

The tahini (sesame seed paste) is added on top of the chickpeas, in the blender.

 

The finished green chili hummus, after everything has been blended.