Monday, January 31, 2005


I made this last night, and this morning my entire apartment smells like onions. I think even the cats smell like onions. I have showered, shampooed, put on clean clothes, and driven 30 miles to work, and I can still faintly smell onions in my hair, on my breath, oozing out of my pores. None of this should deter you, however, from making this French onion soup recipe, because it’s relatively easy and quite delicious. Let us give thanks, once again, to Jack Bishop, who published this in Vegetables Every Day. We shake our fingers at him slightly for using cognac—which required visits to several liquor stores before we could find a small enough bottle for our budget (I ended up with an adorably small bottle of Hennessy containing exactly half a cup)—and for not being very clear on what to do with the bay leaves we put into the soup (more on this later), but overall we are pleased. I couldn’t eat this too often, because hey, it’s basically just a big steaming bowl of onions, even if glorified by cheesy toasts, but with a nice green salad it made a rich, yet simple, Sunday supper. Plus, you get that nice fancy-pants feeling that comes from making something at home that you are accustomed to eating only in restaurants.

Funny story about these onions: I got them at the farmers’ market, where I had remembered buying them in 1-pound bags for $1 apiece. So I got three bags and brought them home. And after I had sliced up about a bag of them, weeping copiously, I started to think, “Wow, this is a heckuva lot of onions.” Luckily, at this point I thought to check the label on the bag, which stated that it contained 2½ pounds of onions. No wonder A had complained so much about having to carry these onions around the farmers’ market, considering he had actually been lugging 7½ pounds of them. So we have a few spare onions on our hands. (Do you have onion recipes? Send them hither!) I’m just glad I didn’t try to put them all in the soup. (I was on the phone with K when I made this discovery, and she reminded me of the time when she got her terminology confused and used an entire head of garlic instead of just a clove.)

2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 pounds yellow or red onions, halved and sliced thin
1 teaspoon salt
½ cup cognac
5 cups chicken, beef, or vegetable stock (I use homemade chicken stock. Jack recommends homemade beef broth as traditional, but says not to use canned beef broth because it’s just too salty, though canned chicken or vegetable are OK. Personally, I think if there’s any way you can make some homemade broth of any kind, you should go for it, because this soup is just basically onions and broth, so the quality of the broth matters. But maybe now that I have my chicken-broth-making skillz, I’m just becoming a big fat Stock Snob.)
2 sprigs fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
4 sprigs fresh parsley
freshly ground black pepper
6 thick slices French bread, toasted
8 ounces Gruyere cheese, shredded (about 2 cups)

1. Heat the butter and oil in a large soup pot (Jack asks for a heavy casserole or Dutch oven, but I just use my Revere Ware kettle) over medium heat. When this is warm, add the onions and cook them, stirring often, until they wilt and start to brown. (Jack said this should take about 10 minutes, but my onions must have been incredibly juicy, because they let off an incredible amount of liquid and became nice and soft and broken down, but stubbornly refused to brown for at least 20-25 minutes, until all the liquid had finally cooked away. I think this probably made them turn out even better, but it made the cooking take a lot longer than the recipe instructed. I think the pan may have been too crowded for them to brown properly.) When they look a little brown, add the teaspoon of salt, raise the heat to medium-high, and continue to cook them, stirring more often, until they're nicely browned (Jack said 15 minutes, but again, it took me a little longer). When browned bits get stuck to the bottom, scrape them off with the spoon and mix them into the onions, because browned flavor is good here.

2. Add the cognac to the onions and simmer until the liquid evaporates, about 2 minutes. Mmm, alcohol and onions. Add the stock, thyme, parsley, bay leaves, and black pepper. Here is where Jack confused me, because there was never an instruction to remove the bay leaves at the end, as is usual (who wants big leaves floating in the soup?). And he never says what to do with the thyme and parsley—chop it? Or leave it whole and then remove that, too? Because I like herbs with onions, I went ahead and minced the thyme (I also used a lot more than two sprigs—more like a couple teaspoons) and the parsley (about a tablespoon).

4. Bring the soup to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer until the flavors have blended, “about 10 minutes” (a little longer is OK, depending on how much prep you have to do for the cheesy toasts).

5a. Traditional method, requiring use of overproof bowls: Preheat your broiler, set 6 ovenproof soup bowls on a rimmed baking sheet, ladle the soup into the bowls, float a piece of toasted bread in each bowl, sprinkle 1/3 cup Gruyere over each bowl, and place the baking sheet in the oven until the cheese browns.

5b. Handy Bookcook detour method, for those who don’t have ovenproof bowls (or aren’t sure if they do): slice up the French bread (my baguette was very thin, making the resulting slices more like croutons, so I did more than 6) and put it on a baking sheet under the broiler for a minute or so on each side just to toast it, then put Gruyere on each piece of bread and broil it until melts and gets a little brown. Then just ladle the soup into bowls and float the little cheesy croutons in the soup. Or, if you're making leftover portions and don't want the croutons to get soggy, store the croutons in a plastic bag and don't add them to the leftover soup until you're ready to eat it.

Serves: 5-6 (Jack says “6 as a first course or for lunch”; we were eating it as a main course for dinner, so we got 5)
Time: 1 hour

Friday, January 21, 2005


Despite the luxurious-sounding title, this recipe is nothing fancy, really, something I only tend to make when I’ve got extra cream in the refrigerator to use up and spinach is one of the only fresh vegetables in season. Sure ain’t anything wrong with it, though—quick and easy as a wink, all creamy and cheesy and garlicky, with nice green spinach livening it up. I made this on Wednesday night after fighting the traffic home from work for an hour and a half, and I still had the time and energy to rearrange the entire living room after dinner. In my world, that’s a true testament to a simple and speedy recipe.

Note: If I have half-and-half in the fridge instead of cream, I substitute 1 cup half-and-half for the 1/2 cup cream and 1/2 cup milk. Same diff.

1 pound spaghetti
10 to 12 ounces fresh spinach
3 tablespoons olive oil
4 large cloves garlic, minced
1⁄2 cup heavy cream
1⁄2 cup milk
a pinch of nutmeg
3⁄4 teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste
freshly grated Parmesan cheese

1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat for cooking the pasta. When it boils, add the spaghetti and cook it until it's almost done.

2. If the spinach is not prewashed, wash it. Tear off and discard the stems and tear up the leaves (I've skipped this when I'm lazy or in a rush, however, and it turns out just fine). When the pasta is almost done, add the spinach to the water (with the pasta still in it). Stir the spinach into the boiling water and cook until it's wilted and the pasta is done, about 2 minutes, then drain it (and the pasta) in a colander.

3. Return the (now empty) pasta pot to the stove over medium-high heat and add the olive oil to it. Heat the oil over medium-high heat until warm, add the garlic and sauté for 1 minute, pour in the cream and milk, and then stir in the drained pasta and spinach. Sprinkle on the nutmeg, salt, and a lot of black pepper, toss everything together, and heat it for 1 minute. Serve each portion sprinkled with cheese.

Serves: 6
Time: 20-30 minutes

Thursday, January 13, 2005


This is not a surprising recipe, but it combines a lot of things that go well together into a rich, flavorful whole. I’ve had it for quite a while (where’s it from? Don’t know), but don’t make it too often. Mostly when I do, it’s when I crave tomatoes but fresh ones aren’t available. I used to really hate canned tomatoes, but now I’ve made my peace with them. Especially since I can get such good ones at Trader Joe’s. Maybe the tomatoes are what made it so good this time around, or maybe it was the real wine, not cooking wine, or maybe the brown (cremini, I think?) mushrooms instead of the plain white ones, but whatever it was, this was probably my best execution of this recipe and we thoroughly enjoyed it. A nice, luxurious, comforting winter pasta that's surprisingly simple to put together.

1 pound fettuccine
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
12 ounces (4 and 1⁄2 cups) sliced mushrooms
4 garlic cloves, minced
1⁄4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
28-ounce can whole plum tomatoes, well drained and chopped
1⁄4 cup white wine
1⁄2 cup heavy cream
1⁄2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1. Put a large pot of salted water on the stove to boil for the pasta.

2. Heat the olive oil and butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. When this is hot, add the mushrooms and sauté until they brown and the juices begin to evaporate (the recipe says about 7 minutes).

3. When the water boils, add the pasta and cook until al dente.

4. When the mushrooms are cooked, add the garlic and red pepper to the skillet and cook for 2 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the tomatoes and wine and boil for 2 minutes, stirring often. (I like my tomatoes pretty broken-down, so I try to cook them a lot longer, more like 10 minutes--or however long I can get away with before the pasta's done.) Then add the cream and salt and boil for 1 minute.

5. When the fettuccine is done, drain it and add it to the sauce, sprinkle on the Parmesan cheese, toss quickly, and serve.

Serves: 6
Time: 40 minutes


Eh. This is, I think, the second time I’ve made this recipe, and it had been a long time since the first time, so I was doing a check to make sure I really liked it enough to make it worthy of inclusion in my recipe book. Everything seemed so good in theory. I’d spent the better part of the day—Sunday, this was—making homemade chicken stock, which should have boosted everything up a notch, flavorwise. And cashews are delicious, and squash and butter and cinnamon and brown sugar all go together very well, but—eh. A and I were underwhelmed. The flavors went together so well they sort of just became one big flavor, one big sweet flavor, and although adding more salt and pepper helped, it just wasn’t enough. The soup wasn’t unpleasant, just blah. I think I’ll yank it from my recipe book, but I felt like I should post it anyway, because (a) then if I change my mind and want it later it’ll still be floating around in cyberspace, and (b) maybe someone else will try it and like it. I think I should only be not posting recipes here if they’re so incredibly bad that I want everyone to stay away from them, and even then a disastrous cooking story is always fun to tell, so who knows. But I feel a little bad for this one and kind of want it to find a home somewhere else, because it is healthy and easy to make, but just needs a little help. Maybe someone can fix it and nurse it back to health? Meanwhile, I think I’ll go looking for a different butternut squash soup recipe.

I served this with Cheesy Bread (French bread sliced lengthwise and sprinkled with shredded Cheddar, then toasted lightly under the broiler) and a green salad, both of which I enjoyed more than the soup itself. But we were watching the premiere of 24, so that made everything better.

1 butternut squash
1⁄2 cup salted cashews
2-4 cups stock
5 dashes nutmeg
2-3 dashes cinnamon
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon butter
salt and pepper to taste

1. Trim the ends from the squash, cut the squash into quarters, scoop out the seeds, and bake or microwave it until tender. (The recipe is really this vague; after consulting a baked butternut squash recipe in one of my cookbooks--as always, thanks, Jack Bishop--I preheated the oven to 450, placed the squash quarters in a lightly oiled Pyrex baking dish, covered the dish with tin foil, and baked for maybe 45 minutes. The squash came out quite tender, all the better for pureeing.)

2. When the squash has cooled slightly, scoop out the flesh and discard the skin. Put half the squash flesh in the blender with 1-2 cups of chicken stock (just eyeball it based on the consistency you like) and half the cashews, and puree this until it's very smooth. Pour the soup out into a saucepan, then repeat with the remaining squash, 1-2 cups broth as needed, and cashews. Puree this and add it to the saucepan.

3. Season the soup with the nutmeg, cinnamon, sugar, butter, salt, and pepper and heat it on medium-high heat until it just begins to bubble, then serve.

Serves: 4-6
Time: 60-90 minutes, but most of that is squash-baking time

Friday, January 07, 2005


Don’t you just love the word “fritter”? And all the crispy, golden, fried goodness it implies? As the author of this recipe, Jack Bishop, points out, however (in Vegetables Every Day), “These fritters are more like savory pancakes than conventional fritters…. The batter is pan-fried in a film of olive oil until the exterior of the fritters becomes crisp. The interior remains soft and a bit creamy.” Sounds just fine to me, Jack. And they are. Nice, green pancakes, a little eggy, a little garlicky. Not too challenging to make, either (though I did go through a lot of paper towels, between the squeezing of the water out of the zucchini and the patting the oil off the cooked fritters). Jack says they can be served as a side dish with chicken or fish, or as a light main course accompanied by salad. I served mine with North Beach Grilled Chicken (sorry, too tired to link to it), and it was good. Next time, I’ll let the oil get a little hotter and let them get a little browner, but overall, thumbs up from A and me. But how could fritters really let you down?

1 pound zucchini
1 large garlic clove, minced
3⁄4 teaspoon salt
1⁄4 teaspoon black pepper
1 large egg
1⁄2 cup all-purpose flour
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 lemon, cut into wedges, for garnish (optional)

1. Trim the ends from the zucchini and then coarsely grate them (the zucchini, not the ends) on a grater with large holes. Wrap the shredded zucchini in several layers of paper towel (or you can use a kitchen towel, which I find works nicely because it doesn't tear) and squeeze gently to get rid of excess water. Continue squeezing, using new paper towels periodically (this would be a good paper-towel commercial, because my inferior generic-brand ones got soggy and tore pretty quickly), until the zucchini seems pretty dry.

2. Place the zucchini in a large bowl and add the garlic, salt, pepper, and egg. Mix well, then stir in the flour.

3. Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. When it's good and hot, fill a 1⁄4 cup measuring cup with the batter, turn the batter into the frying pan, and use the back of a spoon (or, even handier, the bottom of the measuring cup) to shape it into a 2-to-3-inch patty. Repeat until the pan is full, but not too crowded (for me, this was 4 pancakes). Saute until the fritters are nicely browned on the bottom, 2-3 minutes. Flip the fritters over and continue cooking until they're browned on the other side, another 2-3 minutes. Transfer the fritters to a plate lined with paper towels.

4. Briefly heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil in the skillet, then repeat the process, adding the remaining batter to make more fritters. Cook the fritters until brown on both sides, then drain them on the paper towels. Serve garnished with lemon wedges, if desired.

Serves: 2-4
Time: 30 minutes

Tuesday, January 04, 2005


Yes, yes, it’s been (eep!) a month since I last posted a real recipe here. For some of that time, I was out of cooking commission, being wined and dined by friends and family in Minnesota. For most of the rest of that time, I was, I swear, cooking, but only repeats of recipes already posted here. At least, I’m pretty sure most of them were repeats. I need to print out my archives so I have a definitive list of what I’ve posted, and then devise some marking system (Post-Its?) in my cookbook (the black three-ring binder that holds all the recipes I’ve typed up, printed out, and placed in plastic page covers) to flag what’s been posted and what hasn’t. Then, hopefully, I can try to get around to making some of the not-yet-posted ones and writing them up for your reading and cooking pleasure. (Of course, part of the problem is that some of these are spring/summery meals, so I might not get around to it for a little while yet.) And, although I’m finally beginning to be content with my standard repertoire of recipes (I’ve collected a lot more non-pasta ones, so there’s starting to be a nice variety), I still need to keep cooking the occasional new recipe to keep this site going (and keep myself interested). Luckily, I got Jack Bishop’s Vegetables Every Day from my parents for Christmas (Hi! Thank you!), and I’ve checked his other two books out from the library. And I’ve got two spanking new (spanking, I tell you) recipes coming your way this week, in honor of the new year.

The first, this beef stew, is from Martha Rose Schulman’s Ready When You Are, which has proven to be a font of consistently toothsome, but challenging and laborious, meals. This one is no exception. With its multi-step cooking and three-hour simmering time, it pretty much demands to be made on a Sunday afternoon, so that’s what I did. I was excited about it—I don’t cook with beef much, and it sounded so warm and dark and savory, with the beer and brown sugar and onions and all—and then, as I started to cook, I grew suspicious. It looked like it might be bland. It smelled odd, not quite appetizing (I blame the hickory-smoked bacon I had, my slight aversion to bacon in general, and maybe the vinegar, for this effect), and I was having a grumpy and frustrating day. As the cooking wore on, I convinced myself the result was going to be awful. Then, about midway through the simmering, I had to turn off the stove and drive out to pick up A from work. When we came home, out of the rain, suddenly the apartment smelled good to me. And when we ate, it was very good. Very beefy, though, which I’m not used to, and I spent a while contemplating whether it had really quite merited all that work, but in the end, I decided, good. And perfect for a winter day. A, a fan of all things meaty and gravy-covered, was extremely enthusiastic.

The recipe recommends serving this over rice or potatoes. I boiled a pound and a half or so of red potatoes, then put a few in each serving bowl and smashed them up with salt and pepper before pouring the stew over it. It was nice and hearty, though we had green salads on the side to balance out the meat-and-potatoeness.

Postscript, November 2010: I don't think I ever made this again, having found tastier and less labor-intensive ways to satisfy my occasional beef cravings (e.g., chili and goulash). So I'm consigning it to the "Not Favorites" category.

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
salt and pepper
2 pounds boneless chuck or round steak, cut into 1-inch cubes
4 ounces bacon, trimmed of some of its fat and diced
2 tablespoons butter
2 large onions, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon cider vinegar<
1½ cups dark beer
1 bay leaf and a few sprigs of fresh flat-leaf parsley and fresh thyme tied in cheesecloth
potatoes or rice

1. Combine the flour, ¼ teaspoon salt, and a few grinds of pepper in a small bowl and lightly dredge the meat in it. When finished, discard the unused flour mixture and set the meat aside.

2. Heat half the bacon over medium-low heat in "a large, heavy Dutch oven or flame-proof casserole" (neither of which I have, but the average Revereware soup pot seemed to do OK) until it renders its fat, i.e., starts getting greasy. Add a tablespoon of butter to this and all the onions and cook, stirring often, until the onions are tender and light brown, about 10-15 minutes. Add the sugar and stir everything together, then remove the pot from the heat.

3. While the onions are cooking, heat the rest of the bacon over medium heat in a large, heavy nonstick skillet. When it's cooked, remove it from the skillet using a slotted spoon and transfer it to the pot with the onions.

4. To the bacon grease in the skillet, add the other tablespoon of butter. When it has foamed up and subsided, lay the meat cubes in the skillet (I had to do this in three batches, as they wouldn’t all fit at once) and brown them on all sides. Transfer the meat to the pot with the onions.

5. Pour off any remaining fat from the skillet (there wasn’t much when I did it) and discard it. Add the vinegar to the skillet to deglaze it, scraping all the caramelized meat bits from the bottom and pouring them into the soup pot. (At this juncture I had a very interesting adventure when I finished deglazing the pan, then looked over and realized I still had a third batch of meat to brown. Admittedly, I just plopped the skillet back on the stove, heated it up, and browned the meat in whatever vinegar and traces of fat remained, which worked well enough and I don’t think damaged the results much).

6. Add the beer (I used Guinness) and the herb bouquet (sadly, I didn’t have any cheesecloth, so I tied the bay leaf, parsley, and thyme together with a bit of thread, and then the bouquet disintegrated as it cooked so I ended up having to fish all the bits of it out before serving, but no one choked on any string or anything, so it wasn’t too bad a strategy) to the soup pot and bring everything to a simmer. Reduce the heat to very low, cover the pot with its lid, and simmer gently for three hours, stirring from time to time, until the meat is fork-tender and the liquid is thick.

7. Serve with steamed or mashed potatoes, or rice, and accompany with beer.

Serves: 4-5
Time: About 4 hours (but only 1 hour of that is active work on your part)


I’m not much of a baker, mostly because if I made cookies or cakes or bread regularly, then I’d be compelled to eat them all, so usually I wisely avoid even opening that door. But it is helpful to have at least a few homemade treat recipes up your sleeve, so when Christmas is coming and your office decides to have a cookie exchange, you can whip up a tasty confection and bask in some complements (as well as a buzzy-brained sugar high). It’s even better if said confection requires no actual baking, only four ingredients, and cuts into very little of your gift-wrapping, card-writing, wassail-drinking time. And, oh yes, it tastes like the best Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup you’ve ever had.

I got this recipe from my mom, who used to make these for Christmas when I was younger. For the past several Christmases, she’s been making an even better variation involving pretzels (you’ll find directions for this at the end of the recipe).

1 cup crunchy peanut butter
1 cup powdered sugar
2 tablespoons butter, softened
8 ounces chocolate candy coating

1. Mix together the peanut butter, powdered sugar, and butter in a large bowl (you can do this with your hands). Mine turned out a bit sticky, which, I discovered later, can be remedied by adding a little more sugar—my mom says it should have the consistency of soft Play-Dough.

2. Line a baking sheet with waxed paper (actually, I Martha-Stuartly used parchment, left over from A’s former roommate). Form the mixture into one-inch balls by rolling it between your palms, placing them on the baking sheet. Put the baking sheet in the refrigerator and chill until the peanut butter is firm.

3. Melt the candy coating in a large bowl in the microwave, according to the package instructions. Dip the peanut-butter balls into the coating (a toothpick would work best here, but I didn’t have one and used a fork instead). Place the candies back on the wax paper and chill until the chocolate is dry.

VARIATION: Make peanut-butter balls as directed, but place each one on a miniature pretzel before chilling. Once peanut butter is firm, hold each one by the pretzel and dip into the chocolate coating (so that only the peanut-butter ball is coated, not the pretzel). Chill until dry.

Makes: 2 dozen
Time: 30-40 minutes