asparagus and mortadella
dinner thursday

I had a meeting at 7pm. That always makes for an awkward dinner. Carol gets home about 6:20 and I have to leave about 6:30, so maybe we can work in a first course together.


After lunch, I made some asparagus soup. When we have asparagus for dinner, the first step is to snap off the bottoms. I’ve taken to saving those to make asparagus soup and have developed a fabulous go-to recipe based on a recipe. He uses “the good part” of 12 spears and garnishes with a tip or two. I use whatever I have, in this case about 15 bottoms.

Cut the asparagus into one-inch pieces. Cook the asparagus in chicken or vegetable broth, uncovered for 30 minutes.


Should have used a smaller pot. In this pot, the asparagus cooked nearly dry and I had to add more broth… no big deal.

While that is going on, make a batch of Tomato Coulis.(included with the SC asparagus soup recipe)


Take two medium tomatoes and put in a blender. (I used four of my smallish San Marzano tomatoes home-canned last fall.) Add 1 clove garlic, 2 teaspoons olive oil, 3 anchovy fillets, 1/2 teaspoon dried basil, 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper and puree at high speed for 3 minutes.

Now 3 minutes is a really long time when you’re standing looking at a blender whirring at high speed. I have pureed this for 3 minutes and have also pureed for 1 1/2 minutes. Didn’t see much difference. Continue reading

Lidia's Chard Soup

Uncharted Territory
Carol often has Lidia Bastianich on the kitchen TV when I get home from the Farmers Market on Saturday morning. Usually I treat it as background noise, but this one particular day, she was doing something interesting. I made some notes and put them on the computer, tacked onto her recipe for Bucatini with Italian Tuna and Kalamata Olives. So it was effectively hidden for a few years.

Recently I was at the dentist to be prepped for a crown. Across the street is an A.G. Ferrari store. I had been thinking about Bucatini with tuna, so I stopped in and bought some; Ferrari is the only store I know that has these particular ingredients. (I learned the next day that Cheese Plus, near my house has fresh bucatini and better tuna.) So I got out the recipe and found these notes.

Lidia From the TV
Make a pestata
Onion, celery, parsley, basil inna food processor
Chop fine but don’t puree
Cook inna pot to caramelize
Add about 2T tomato paste inna hot spot, brown and stir in
Add boiling water
Add chard
Simmer 40 minutes
Put some broth inna sauté pan, poach eggs innit
Grilled bread inna soup bowl, eggs on bread, soup around

Here’s what I did. There is nothing in the notes to suggest amounts, so I borrowed the proportions of onion, celery, carrot, green pepper from K-Paul meatloaf and loaned them to Lidia’s ingredients:

3/4 cup onion
1/2 cup celery
handful parsley
handful basil – didn’t have any, used arugula

I chopped those in my handy little food processor. For the arugula and parsley I stuffed the bowl of the little food processor full and whirled away.

vegetables cook, sausage at the ready

vegetables cook, sausage at the ready

Cooked that with a generous amount of olive oil for about 8 minutes to caramelize the vegetables. Continue reading

Everyday Soup

Jack Soup… Fat Burning if you want it… and a protein to cancel the healthy soup.

Eric left a comment on I Cooked Topchii Ukrainian Borscht:

Cabbage soup is now a hot topic on the NYTimes web site. Have you ever done an Eats article on Jack Nicklaus’s cabbage soup? Do you still make it?
I haven’t made the Jack Nicklaus soup for years, but it was published in the eats iv installment of the original eats4one. Actual title: Barbara Nicklaus Fat Burning Cabbage Soup… For Jack I gleaned the recipe from Sports Illustrated April 1996. It was part of a cabbage soup diet where one would eat the soup every day for a week along with fruit and vegetables. Beef was allowed on Friday and Saturday. It’s actually good soup and I did the diet once or twice, but eating the same soup every day is a chore – even when it’s good. Patricia Unterman wrote a “cleaned up” version in the SF Chronicle. Now that you’ve got me started, maybe I’ll make some soup and do an eats treatment. dad

It took a couple weeks to get around to it, but I made the soup. It seems that my fabulous Frenched Pork Chops from GG Meat were in the freezer. Not only that, but Carol was in the process of being “crowned,” so soup would be good for that.

The “Jack Soup” as I call it was meant to be eaten every day for a week, so it makes a prodigious amount. I’m not going to eat it for a week, so I revised the recipe to scale it back. I also substituted a couple ingredients, based on my current tastes, but I kept the Lipton Onion Soup Mix — gotta have some ties to authenticity.

So here’s what I did:

Barbara Nicklaus Fat Burning Cabbage Soup… For Jack
Gleaned from Sports Illustrated April 1996; as I cooked it February 2011

1 large can San Marzano whole peeled tomatoes
2 leeks or 6 green onions
about 2 quarts beef, chicken or vegetable broth
1 package Lipton onion soup mix
1 small head cabbage (about 14 ounces)
1/2 pound frozen green beans or fresh (not canned)
1 green pepper (Jacques says peel your green pepper)
1 pound carrots
1/2 bunch celery
1/2 bunch parsley, chopped

Cut vegetables into medium pieces (bite sized).
Put tomatoes in a pot and break with your hands or a wooden spoon. Add everything else to the pot. Season with salt, pepper, curry or if desired, hot sauce or chili flakes.
Boil fast for 10 minutes, reduce to simmer, cook until tender.
Makes about 14 cups Continue reading

I Cooked Topchii Ukrainian Borscht

…and it is real good.
Many thanks to Eric for posting the step-by-step Topchii Ukrainian Borscht recipe as taught to him by Nataliya Topchii. I made these pictures to put with the recipe, so I’ll remember which pot I used, how much was made, and so on. They turned out so well, I thought I’d share.

Of course all of the ingredients and methods are included in Eric’s posting of Nataliya cooking. I suggest you revisit that and make the soup. It’s easier than pie, and tastes so good. When I do it again, I will probably use an extra beet and a little more cabbage. Otherwise the proportions of things are just right.


My ingredients. Starting at the bottom left, that’s a purple bell pepper. Green peppers aren’t in season and the pepper guy at the Market said the purple or white is closest in taste to the green. An onion, apple, three red skinned potatoes, two beets, a tiny head of cabbage, some baby carrots equal to two regular carrots, a bunch of cilantro and a wrapped beef shin.


So here’s the unwrapped beef shin. The butcher at Golden Gate Meat called it Osso Buco. I thought osso buco referred to veal shank, but I looked it up and its Italian translation is, “bone with a hole.” Anyway, this one is 1 1/2 pounds; look at that nice core of marrow that’s going to melt into the soup. I trimmed off five ounces of hard fat and tissue.


The meat in the pot. It doesn’t look like very much, but it turned out to be just the right amount.


I chose the right size pot for the meat and vegetables.

b6_potato_chunk b7_potatoes_mashed

I chose to include the Mikola Option: remove three big potato chunks from the pot and put them in a small dish with a spoonful of broth. Mash into a paste and add back to the broth for “extra flavor.” It took me one hour and 30 minutes to here, working alone. When I added the optional tomatoes, I seasoned with 1 tablespoon salt, 1 tablespoon sugar, two pinches of my salt/pepper mix and several grinds of pepper.


Here I am serving the Borscht. Lovely.


The Topchii Ukrainian Borscht was served with crudités, toasts and my newly discovered house red wine from Kermit Lynch: Coteaux du Languedoc, St Martin de la Garrigue, Cuvee Tradition 2008.


b10_left_overLeftovers… we’ll be eating borscht for a while. That’s a good thing. Those are two-cup containers.

Chili: A New Year's Meditation

Base Recipe:
For 6 Servings plus leftovers;
(items in parentheses are optional):

(2 lbs. meat)
1 lb. onions
1 to 6 cloves garlic
3 Tablespoons fat
(1 lb. vegetables)
(1 lb. dry beans)
3 to 6 Tablespoons chili powder
(1 to 2 Tablespoons standard spices)
(1 to 2 teaspoons aromatic spices)
2 quarts liquid
(1 to 3 Tablespoons acid)

(starch substrate)
(your favorite condiments)

–Soak beans overnight in plenty of water;

–In a pot big enough to hold everything and then simmer for hours, brown the meat in 2 Tbsp. fat;

–Fry the chili powder and spices (and flour if used as thickener) with the browned meat for about 30 seconds, then set meat/spices aside;

–Add remaining 1 Tbsp. fat to pot and saute the onions over medium heat, scraping the meat/spice fond from the bottom and sides of the pot, until the onions achieve the desired shade of brown;

–Add chopped garlic and any vegetables to sweat until heated through;

–QUICK CHILI: Add soaked beans and liquid and simmer until the beans are cooked (1 to 2 hours);

–FULL CHILI: Add liquid, simmer 2 hours to soften the meat, add soaked beans and continue simmering until beans are done (1 to 2 hours);

–Serve over your favorite starch substrate with your favorite condiments


For many years, on New Year’s Day, following the lead of my Father in some ways but heading in my own direction too, I’ve cooked chili. Lots of chili. I’ve tried many recommended recipes, but over time I’ve figured out that the very best way to do it is to find THE BEST ingredients that could go into a chili, and then create a new recipe around that. This year, in 2010, I made chili verde because we grew tomatillos in our garden and had frozen some at the end of the season; and I made a dark chili using beef heart and home grown beans. Both were outstanding, especially with a splash of Navarro verjus just before serving (see “ACID” below).

Let’s face it, more than almost any other meal, “chili” as a recipe is much more of a concept than a specific dish. Any recipe that ostensibly originates as a one pot dish from the Hispanic Southwest US (chili con carne = meat and pepper stew), yet has famous versions in Cincinnati (without chili powder!), New York, and Los Angeles, is inherently mutable.

That said, it’s still got a specific personality: a stew made in one pot that has meat and/or beans in it, and it should feature the namesake ingredient — Capsicum annuum — in one, several, or all of its glorified forms (sorry Cinci). And that’s pretty simple in concept: fry some meat, add spices, add onions and veg, add stock and beans, let bubble, and you’re done. It being that simple, there are millions of variations, all of them inevitably labeled “The Best…” or “The Ultimate…” or even “Traditional/Original/Authentic…”
Continue reading

Topchii Ukrainian Borscht

transcribed 24 Nov 2010 in Monroe, Maine by Eric Rector

Our borscht professor, Natalia
Our borscht professor: Natalia Topchii

“Alison and I had the pleasure of hosting Brian and Natalia for Thanksgiving this year, and I took the opportunity to document the Ukrainian Borscht recipe that Natalia taught me in Reno in June. Alison and I have made borscht for as long as we’ve taken cooking seriously — it’s a versatile soup that can be vegetarian or not, chunky or smooth, served hot or cold. It’s basis in root vegetables and storage crops lends itself to the things we grow in our garden and on our land. We normally grow everything but the bay leaves and the peppercorns in this recipe.

Before we met Natalia, she had heard that we liked to cook borscht and she emailed us her recipe to try, which we did. But there was no cabbage in the recipe, and other ingredients were probably lost in the translation, like ‘is paprika the powder of dried Hungarian peppers? or is it a fresh green bell pepper?’ It was still good, of course — it’s hard to go wrong cooking beef and vegetables together into a satisfying soup. But, of course, I’m chasing authenticity.

In that search, I’ve visited the Polish and Ukrainian restaurants on Lower East Side of Manhattan many times — the food is good, filling, and cheap — and had several versions of their borscht. However, after I sent an article in the New York Times profiling the history of one of these restaurants to Natalia (through Brian), she declared: ‘I do not recognize these dishes…this is not Ukraine food.’ Definitively. I know that there is a wide variation in recipes for the same dish across cultures, but I also know that when foreign dishes are adopted by American diners, they necessarily change as well and take a life of their own. bratwurst becomes hot dogs…focaccia becomes pizza, etc. So I was interested in a taste from the source, and Natalia could provide that for me. (See also “Memories Of Borscht” in the New Yorker food issue this November.)

The first time she showed me how to make Ukrainian Borscht was in Reno this June right before the Anniversary Party we threw for Marc and Carol. There were lots of interesting differences in her recipe that I noted, but admittedly I was too focused on the Party to document the recipe appropriately. The next time we saw Natalia and Brian was Thanksgiving week, and I planned for one day to be devoted to Borscht (many other ‘smatch-no’ items were produced as well, but that may be for another post). Following is the result.

Oh, also, the most authentic instruction given by Natalia in the course of teaching me how to make a true Ukrainian Borscht: almost every ingredient is optional and variable. No beef shin? OK, any beef is good, or hamburger will do. Or pork, or lamb (but never chicken). But beef stock is not necessary — you make your stock with your fresh meat. It is much better that way. Beets? That which would seem to make soup borscht? Optional. Potatoes? If you wish, one or three or five. Apple is very good, but not necessary. Carrots can be left out, as can green pepper, or can be used in larger quantity if you wish. Some people don’t like cabbage — that’s OK. But NEVER add celery — we don’t do that. Garlic is good, but never more than one clove in the pot — save the rest to mash and mix with bread. Parsley (that’s what we used because it was still growing in our garden, improbably through many frosts) is OK — dill leaves are much better. So much better that Natalia normally grows dill through the year, outside in the spring and summer, inside in the fall and winter. Which means that borscht is really just a soup with dill. Go for it.”



vegetable oil (peanut oil is preferable)
1 medium onion
1 pound beef shin with bone
3 quarts water
1 teaspoon salt
2 medium carrots
1 large (or two small) beet
1 green bell pepper
3 medium waxy potatoes (like Yukon Gold, Kennebec, or other boiling potatoes)
1 clove garlic, chopped (not minced or pressed)
1 apple, peeled, cored, grated
1 handful of chopped fresh parsley, dill leaves, sorrel leaves, or other green herbs of your choice
1/2 medium green cabbage head
1 can tomatoes (small can paste, regular can sauce)
2 bay leaves
3 black peppercorns
salt and sugar to taste

Continue reading

Cuban Black Beans

… with rice and kale

The New York Times Magazine recipes are often hits, sometimes misses, sometimes rained out. Generally, I save them in my “to cook” file where they can lie in waiting for weeks or months or be deleted (rained out). But sometimes I see one that I just have to cook… right now. This is that.
I had the black beans on hand and I had a ham bone in the freezer from my Super Bowl Party spiral ham. I went out and got a green bell pepper and was good to go. I halved the recipe as we are, after all, two. Not to mention that my ham bone was smallish.
On this day, my car was in the shop and I had to pick it up around 5pm, so I cooked the beans in the afternoon, got the car, did some prep (chop onion, jalapeno, bacon, garlic), sat for a while in front of the evening news with a small Scotch (my normal routine) while waiting for Carol to get home on the bus. I started cooking seriously at 7pm.
The instructions are pretty step-by-step easy. I made the sofrito and got the bean pot going. The recipe said “serve over white rice.” How boring is that? My brilliant idea (I must say) was to cook the rice with kale, providing a hearty body and fiber to stand up and compliment the beans. I used the same spices and herbs as are in the beans in the rice dish (cumin, oregano, black pepper).

By the time the beans came to a boil, the rice was cooking, so they finished at the same time. While that was going on, I made a little side dish of beets and boiled egg. (Should have cut the beets in wedges, rather than slices, would have looked better.)
Dinner at 8. I served the beans and rice in a bowl side-by-side rather than beans-over-rice. Carol mixed hers all up and polished it off in fine style, while I portioned my beans and rice by the forkful. In any case, it made a hearty and tasty meal. That NYTM recipe is a keeper. Continue reading

Sausage Soup

with leek, potato, green chard


Perusing the cooked sausage area at Whole Food, looking for something appealing, I spotted the Fra’Mani Classic Italian Sausage. I respect Paul Bertolli from his years as the chef at Oliveto in Oakland, his book, Cooking by Hand and the many Fra’Mani salumi I have sampled; but I didn’t much like this sausage. I first ate one steamed and fried, with mustard on a bun. It seemed chunky and tough prepared that way. The sausage is ground very coarse, so there are sizable chunks of meat and fat. Taste 10, texture 3, sez I, paraphrasing the song from A Chorus Line. I tried another sausage cubed and hashed with potatoes and celery. Same deal. Cubed in soup… same.


Then I noticed a recipe on the back of the label – Leek, Potato, Green Chard and Fra’Mani Classic Italian Sausage Soup; a rather verbose, but descriptive title. For this, the sausage is sliced thin. I gave that a try. Excellent. Sliced thin, the chunks of meat are broken down and the chunks of fat melt into the soup. What an amazing transformation. I guess I’ll be back for more.


Winter soups with leeks, potatoes and greens are not uncommon, and the addition of the tasty cured sausage is welcome. My addition of the goose stock; oh my… it’s like buttah, smooth and velvety.


Fra’Mani Classic Italian Sausage Soup
from Chef Bertolli (on the back of label)
makes about 2 quarts

2 tablespoons xv olive oil
1 large leek, diced (2c)
1 1/2 pounds whole red potatoes, peeled
1 large bunch green chard, leaves and stems sliced into 1/2 inch pieces
2 1/2 teaspoons salt
6 ounces Fra’Mani Classic Italian Sausage sliced into 1/8 inch pieces
7 cups hot chicken broth [I used 4 cups homemade goose stock and 2 cups chicken stock.]
Ground pepper
Parmigiano Reggiano cheese

Warm the olive oil in a heavy bottom soup pot. Add the leeks and cook over medium heat for 4-5 minutes, stirring often until softened.

Add the chard, potatoes, salt and sausage. Raise the heat and wilt the chard. Once wilted, add the chicken broth. Simmer the soup for 30 minutes.

Using a potato masher, crush the potatoes so as to slightly thicken the soup.

Serve in hot bowls with freshly ground black pepper and abundant Parmigiano Reggiano cheese.

That was so good. I looked at the label more carefully, seeking more.

“Serving suggestions: Serve with boiled Italian cannellini beans seasoned with onions and sage. Slice thinly and use as a pizza topping. Chop finely and simmer with soffritto and tomatoes for ragu. For additional recipes from Chef Bertolli, visit”

Noodle Beef


“Thorne has an accompanying recipe for Noodle Beef. The beef takes eight hours to poach, but based on the results with the chicken, I’m ready to embark on a beef adventure.”

So I said at the end of my Noodle Chicken story. Well, I have now cooked the beef. As a bonus, I cooked another batch of chicken during the first three hours of beef cooking. Both went in the fridge.

I used boneless beef short ribs from Golden Gate Meats. The meat poaches for eight hours at 170°F. I learned to control the water temperature by cracking the lid on the pot to a greater or lesser degree to keep the temperature in the acceptable range of 165 to 175. Although 8 hours is a long time, the cooking doesn’t require much attention. I checked every 30 to 45 minutes.


The poached beef was almost as tender and velvety as the chicken, but there was no mistaking the rich beef taste. Once cooled and shredded, the beef and its broth can be kept in a covered bowl in the refrigerator for a week or so.

The next day I made the Noodle Beef. The method is the same, but the ingredients vary to go with the meat — red bell pepper and Napa Cabbage to complement the chicken, carrots and bok choy for the beef — along with the common ingredients; scallions, garlic, ginger, chile paste and noodles.

When cooking the chicken version I found the recipe hard to follow. It’s written as though John Thorne made it up as he went along and prepped his vegetables while he was cooking. Maybe he did make it that way, but I’m not seasoned enough to cook like that. I have learned that if I get my mise en place together before starting to cook I don’t forget stuff. What one does with the carrot, for example, (2 medium to large carrots, peeled, cut into thirds and sliced vertically into wide thin strips.) I would note in the ingredients, rather than in the instructions. So I altered the recipe for the way I work. Continue reading

Noodle Chicken

Chicken Noodle Soup
… without the soup


I was browsing the cooking section of my local Books Inc on Chestnut Street in San Francisco. I had a list of potential books on cooking, but none appealed to me at the time. I spied a copy of Mouth Wide Open by John Thorne and bought it without looking inside. I know John Thorne, not personally to be sure, but I have his books Outlaw Cook and A Serious Pig and I once received his Simple Cooking newsletter, a gift from son Eric. Sadly, I allowed the subscription to expire. I guess I’d rather read books… newsletters tend to get misplaced. And I’d rather read books about cooking than cookbooks.

John Thorne writes the way I write — except way better. He takes a subject and explores it and usually invents something to suit his whims. In Mouth Wide Open, he addresses subjects such as Cod and Potatoes, The Grist on Grits, Go Fry an Egg, Swedish Meatballs, and my current delight, Noodle Chicken… comfort food, but comfort food with wit, substance and personality. He cooks the way I cook when I do breakfast or lunch for myself… I’ve got this and that… I wonder how those would go together? And what else might go with them?

One doesn’t necessarily read his books from cover to cover, but by skipping around, seeking out what’s interesting, or landing on a subject you know nothing about. I came upon his Two With the Flu chapter… what’s that about… probably chicken soup. I was right, but he took an entirely new approach. Regular chicken soup is a time tested method handed down from grandmother to mother to daughter or son: poach a chicken in a pot of water, pick off the meat and put back in the (now) broth, add carrots and celery and sometimes potatoes and noodles. There, chicken soup.

Tom Colicchio in the Stock Making chapter of his book, Think Like a Chef, has a twist where he puts his chicken in water, brings it to a boil and then pours off the water and starts over. “Pouring off the original water after the first boil will remove all of the blood and a lot of the coagulated protiens, which form a gray scum on the surface. Don’t worry that you’re throwing out flavor, you’re not. The bones need to cook a good deal longer to extract flavor.” His method — I call it “the Colicchio method” (duh!) — works well and I get a nice clear broth without scumming. I hate scumming, it’s never ending.

John Thorne takes an entirely different approach. He cooks his meat in a Ziplock w5_bag_coolingplastic bag at relatively low temperature for a long time. Sort of a poor man’s sous-vide. “The method … has three unique advantages: (1) The meat’s juices and flavor are neither diluted nor lost during the cooking process; (2) the scum produced in the cooking clings to the side of the bag, eliminating the need for skimming; and (3) the meat can be cooked in a small amount of liquid with no worry that it will overcook or dry out.”

Bingo. I’m hooked. I have to do this. Continue reading