The Gastronomist Manifesto

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Archive for the category “Comfort Food”

Bigos: My Easter Tradition

Well, technically, bigos was a tradition at my holidays on my Polish side. This year I just needed that comfort of home, so I whipped up a huge batch of it today for Easter.

After Mass I came home and started right into the preparations. I was so excited that I forgot to make any notes about quantity or time with the ingredients! Well, that’s going to make for a shitty recipe. But nonetheless I am going to at least explain the process. Bigos is one of those things that has almost unlimited variations. Technically, it is a soup made with a variety of meats and cabbage/sauerkraut. Legend is Polish hunters would make this and throw whatever they caught/killed/carried while on hunting trips. They would just keep the stew on a low simmer and continually add to it, which leads to another trait–very long cooking time.

For meats, I used pork shoulder, kielbasa and beef (beef is uncommon, but worked with my budget.) Pork belly, bacon, veal are more traditional inclusions. They were given a quick browning (not to cook!) and added to a pot with sauteeing onion, lots of sauerkraut and seasonings: garlic powder, caraway seed, juniper berries and bay leaves. Immediately the heat went down to low, a dull simmer, with 60-40 chicken broth and apple juice, plus a can of tomato paste.

Then comes the Herculean effort to just let it sit. After a few hours of low simmer I added sliced kielbasa. Another hour I added sliced mushrooms. Over-all I let it go for over six hours, and it’s still simmering now, seven hours later.  But the wait is worth it…



NOTE: I used a large wok-like pan to make mine. That is not a good way. Use a large soup pot or a slow cooker. But to my horror this morning that was all I had that was large enough so I had to make do.



Weatherbeaten: Sunshine Soup

It’s known to rain in Portland, Oregon. A lot, perhaps. Today I got caught in what is probably the worst torrential I’ve seen in my 1+ year here. A metal “Park Here” sign, with about two feet long feet holding it up, was blown half the way across the street. My umbrella is broken, the metal of the stem snapped right at the base of the parasol–I mean bent and then ripped open. Figuring I know have pneumonia I better start the hot soup and tea fast.

Sunshine Soup

1 golden beet, chopped
1 large carrot, chopped
1/2 an onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
1/3 cup of green peas
1 teaspoon honey
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon of curry powder
1 teaspoon of ginger powder
1 dash of cinnamon
water (see below for amount)

1. Prepare all your vegetables ahead and have them ready except for the peas. In a pot on low-med heat add oil or melt butter to gently coat the bottom. Add the onions, garlic and carrot. Cook for about 8 minutes, lowering the heat if browning starts to occur. Next add the beet, and stir for two more minutes.

2. Pour in water, enough to just submerge everything, and turn the heat to high. At this point you can add all the seasonings right in, plus honey and lemon. When the water comes to a boil, lower it to a simmering temperature.

3. After about 30 minutes you can start testing pieces of beet for doneness (just pull one out, blow on it and bite.) Continue cooking until the vegetables are soft and tender. Then add the peas and continue cooking until they are done as well.

4. The soup is done, but an optional step is to use a thickener, which I did. I pulled the soup off the heat until it was steaming but off boiling temperature. I think started sprinkling a little bit of one tablespoon of flour off the edge of the spoon in a thin layer, then stirring quickly; repeating slowly until all the flour is in. If you just dump the flour in, or do when there is a boil, it will just thicken into lumps.

Pretty easy recipe to make. And the bloody irony of it all is, as you can see by the picture, by the time it was done the sun was shining. Damn you! Weather gods!

Baked Cheese with Double Salsa.

This is a dish I made a couple days ago after getting the craving for a homemade salsa. I don’t like to go too far out of my way for food, so when I saw a good price on some tomaillos at the nearest market to me, which specializes in Mexican food I got them, and made a simple salsa verde (literally, “green sauce” in Spanish.) Because cheese and verdant, tart foods don’t generally mix I also got some chipotle peppers that went into a rich red salsa. These were layered into queso fresco and baked in a tortilla as brie is so often done. The results were colorful and delicious. Wish I’d had this written before the “Big Game.”

Salsa Verde:

1/3 onion chopped
3 cloves of garlic chopped
chilis to taste, I used two entire jalapenos but you can tone it down or up as you like
about 7 tomatillos chopped, about 2-3 cups worth
1 lime, juiced

Start by sauteeing your onions, garlic and chilis in a bit of oil until they start getting soft. Maybe 8 minutes? Add the tomatillos and lime juice, plus about a teaspoon of sugar (tomatillos and lime are both sour, but you don’t want this salsa to pucker your mouth.) Cook until the ingredients are soft, that is when you can basically mash any of it with the gentile pressure of a spoon. Take it off the heat, LET IT COOL, and throw it into a blender or food processor until liquified. Why do I CAPS LOCK “let it cool?” Never put near-boiling liquid into a blender; even if you feel sure the lid is on tight, that whirlwind of liquid pain will find a way out and onto your arm.

Salsa Chipotle:

1 7oz can of chipotle peppers in adobo sauce (adobo is just a basic marinating sauce; if you use dried chipotle peppers just soak them and keep all their moisture, don’t drain them) diced up
1/4-1/8 cup of minced onion
a splursh of liquid; either white wine, dark beer, tomato/marinara sauce, stock, water…
1 pinch of oregano

Add all the ingredients straight to one sauce pan. When I say a “splursh” of liquid, basically it is to give a bit of something to break up the absolute power of the chipotle flavor, like 8oz or so, the approximate of a “shot.” Chipotle is hella smoky, so if you don’t cut it then you’re basically just applying smoke to the dish. I borrowed a bit of ale from a half used bottle of beer a roommate left in our fridge to nice result. Wine and tomatoes will add a tartness; beer or stock will add richness; or add juice or what you have on hand. Let it simmer until it’s reduced, thickened and the peppers are broken down.

Last preparations:

Prep your oven to 400 degrees. Take a cylinder of queso fresco and cut it into thirds against the width of the cheese (12 oz and you’ll have more than enough salsa for this  if you wanted to make two or three of these, or reserve the salsas for chips.) Place one layer of the cheese onto a large tortilla, add one of the layers of salsa, then a layer of cheese, another of the second salsa and the last cheese layer. Flip it over while tucking the tortilla over the cheese. Place on a baking tray covered with parchement paper or foil. Break and mix an egg and give the tortilla surface a wash. Place this into the oven and cook for 30-40 minutes.

*Actually, the tortilla thing is for show. If I ever do this again I think I might omit it.

Serve warm with tortilla chips or your standard crudite. Also, you might want to really pile on the salsa. I thought I had but as you can see in the second photo the layered effect was kind of lost in the end. So I spooned over the excess salsas. In fact, you might want to just make it easier and skip baking the salsas in layers of the cheese and just skip to serving them alongside. Maybe meat or vegetables instead of the salsa in layers?

Que es queso fresco?! Queso fresco is an unaged cheese–like cottage cheese, paneer or feta–that is indigenous to Spain and popular in Mexican cooking. I would describe it best as being like feta without the salt or a less chewy paneer. The great reason to look for it and use it here is that queso fresco practically does not melt. Meaning you can bake it and wont form a gooey pool as a Monterrey or Cheddar will. This is due both to the type of milk used and also the process that makes it curdle. I thought I saw a bit off spillage with mine, but it turned out to be run-off from the egg wash. Queso fresco will not melt.

The Rant and the Recipe: A Twist on Macaroni and Cheese

Recently NPR’s “All Things Considered” did a feature on a series of billboards in NY trying to scare Americans into thinking cheese is a prime cause of obesity in America and working towards banning it (“no more cheese! except in our taste for billboards!”) The perpetrators of this horrendous propaganda are the PCRM–one of the most illegitimate and scam-fueled crack-pot organizations on the food scene today. Dig yourself into the bounty of their scam charade.

Granted, foods topped with cheese are often bad on a nutritional level, but the campaign reaches the lowest dregs of logic and reason. A lack of general nutritional sensibility in America is not going to turn 180 by a ban. But research-based information is not for the PCRM and their financiers’ (PETA) strong suit. Scare tactics are. Good, legit, pragmatic diet tips from experts (the PCRM is none of those things) say the same thing: Moderation.

Moderation is not “cleanses” that do absolutely nothing but psych you out. It’s not the “Diet Plan of the Season.” It’s not “lose 20 pounds in a week with this simple trick.” It’s not PETA acting under and funding false “physician” groups to promote vegan diets. Lose weight? Cut calories. Eat more fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean meats. Above all, a good, moderate health plan means not expecting results in unreasonable time spans. I myself am trying to lose weight, and I’ve dropped 13 pounds in several months, and no special diet plans were involved, just the same common-sense and scientific advice that’s been preached for decades now. And you know what else? I get to keep my cheese! As in this recipe…

Mac ‘n Cheese… With Chorizo, Roasted Peppers and Baked in Acorn Squash

This was a tinge of inspiration. I’ve seen plenty of recipes calling for baking items in hollowed out squash; and I know of baking mac ‘n cheese. This was just a touch of inspiration and more-so, this is a middle-finger to the PCRM, who say we should banish cheese. Here is my counter strike. This dish is *not*, I should say, low in fat or calories, but it does take a very common comfort dish and does diminish the calories, adds hella flavor and is really fun to prepare. And it’s pretty easy, despite the number of steps involved.

To start, you need to heat an oven to 400 degrees. Let it heat and take a baking pan/dish and line it with foil (this makes for 1 second clean-up later.) Take an acorn squash and split it in two.  Advice, comrade!: Acorn, butternut and many squash varieties are hard to cut even with a sharp chef’s knife or cleaver; thankfully, my friend Jess passed along this amazing bit of advice for cutting squash: put it in the microwave for one minute at a time, repeating and testing the process until that squash yields to your knife. I don’t know how I’d prep squash without her advice. It works like magic.

When your oven is heated, throw your squash in, on the foiled sheet, for about 40 minutes. I would advise using the top rack as it’ll crisp up and brown the top of the squash more, but this is not really important. Meanwhile, or within that cooking time….

Take approximately 1/2 a link of Mexican chorizo and draw a knife across it so you can split its casing. It’s important here to note that there is a major difference between Mexican and Spanish chorizo. Normally, I prefer Spanish, but Mexican chorizo is raw, soft and essential here. Add it, whole, to a small pan with a light coating of oil on a med-low heat (and when I say “med-low” I don’t mean “medium!”) Stir and try to break it apart gently with a spatula or spoon. More advice from Party Command: I rarely cook with chorizo, and even though I bought fresh-made, spatulas and forks could not break it down to a “crumble.” If this just happens to you too, just pass it too a cutting board and use a knife.

So when the chorizo was getting brown, had released some juiciness; I tossed in one minced garlic clove and about one half of a roasted red pepper (store-bought, you can find them in the deli section of a Whole Foods.) With a dash of paprika, salt and pepper; I lowered the heat to low and just let them sit.

Back-tracking a bit, just a bit before you start that mix of sausage and peppers, put a sauce pot of water to boil for the macaroni noodles. For the mac ‘n cheese part of this dish I went all out… Whole Foods boxed, but you can use the old Kraft if you want too. Although boxed mac ‘n cheese is not as good as the “real thing,” this recipe is not about “the real thing.” This is about simplicity and comfort food. So take your box, cook it as the directions say, and wait for MY further instructions…

Watch your pan of sausage/peppers/garlic and when the garlic starts getting a slight tan and your chorizo is cooked through, stop cooking. Add this to your mac ‘n cheese from a box when that’s done too, and stir. After 40 minutes in the oven the acorn squash should be tender–you can test with a fork–remove and when it’s cool enough to handle scrape out the seeds with a spoon. Reduce your oven temperature to 300. Spoon out a seedles bowl in the squash and add the mac ‘n cheese to where it’s just overflowing. Here you can sprinkle bread crumbs over top or hit a drizzle of olive oil if you like–but this is optional.

My gorgeous girlfriend, displaying the final result of the mac ‘n cheese.

Place the squash-mac back into the oven and let it cook until it gets to your level of done-ness. Here I do not think opening the oven to check is going to harm anything. If you want it lightly browned or crispy–use judgement and remove. Allow the bowls to cool. When ready serve on a plate. Best of all, this is easily tweakable. Vegetarian? Omit the chorizo, use tempeh or a diced veggie. Unsure about, or can’t find chorizo? Swap chorizo for Italian sausage or Andouille sausage.

This is comfort food at it’s best.

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