• March 25, 2020

Dear Friends and Fellow Food Lovers, First, we send you well wishes and love. Thank you for the wonderful support we received last week from our Canal House Station at Home Takeout Menu customers. It gave us such joy to be able to fill your fridge and tummies while strictly following the rules of social distancing in the effort to combat the spread of COVID-19. Please check our websites, Canal House Station and Canal House for continued updates. This week, our neighboring community, Bucks County, Pennsylvania, issued a Stay-At-Home order. Therefore, as of today, March 25th, 2020, we must suspend our Order Online/Curbside Pickup menu offerings for the next two weeks and/or until it is safe to resume our takeout service (and eventually, our full-service restaurant). We will keep you updated. In the meantime, what perfect timing to resume our daily blog, Canal House Cooks Lunch. We’ll share with you what we are cooking out of our own home cupboards and fridges. We hope it might give you and yours a few good ideas. Visit or sign up to Canal House Cooks Lunch. Thank you all so much for your support. We look forward to welcoming you back to Canal House Station as soon as we can. Eat well and stay healthy, dear friends. Christopher & Melissa

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  • November 17, 2013

A POT BEANS

We often keep a pot of brothy beans in the refrigerator (they’ll keep nicely for up to 5 days). It gives us an instant leg up on putting a meal together. We usually use cannellini but often cook what we have on hand or what sounds good to us. Canned beans are okay in a pinch, of course, but don’t really have the fresh sweet flavor and just-tender, somewhat toothsome texture of beans that you have cooked yourself. You get the point. Cook a pot of beans on Sunday, and we’ll show you how to eat well all week—cassoulet our way, braised escarole and beans, tuna and sausages with white beans, beans with spicy black olive vinaigrette, beans on toast with olive oil and fried sage.

 

NOTES ON DRIED BEANS

We cook beans all the time, but we do it instinctively. To verify that our methods were up to scratch, we dove in and did a little bean research. Turns out our instincts were right. Here’s what we found out.

BUYING: Choose beans that have been recently harvested and dried; this may be the most important factor in cooking a good pot of dried beans. As beans age, their outer shell becomes tough and impermeable. Sometimes really old beans will never get tender, even after hours and hours of cooking. Shop at a store that moves a lot of beans off their shelves, ensuring that you’re buying from a current crop. Though it may be hard to spot, look for an expiration date on the package.

SOAKING: To soak or not to soak, that is the question. Soaking hydrates and softens the dried beans, giving them a jump start. But you have to think ahead and remember to soak them in the first place. If you choose to soak your beans, they only need about 4 hours (the oft-used phrase “soak the beans overnight” is more about convenience). Or you can use the “quick” soak method: put the beans in a pot, cover them with cold water, bring the water to a boil, and remove the pot from heat. Cover the pot and let the beans soak for 1 hour. Drain, then cover the beans with fresh cold water and gently simmer them until tender. This method will shorten the cooking time a bit and leach out some of the indigestible carbohydrates that cause flatulence (unfortunately, some of the beneficial vitamins and minerals will also get poured down the drain). If you forgo soaking, just put the unsoaked beans right in a pot, cover with cold water, and onto the stove they go. But be sure that you cook them at the gentlest simmer so their skins don’t break.

SALTING: Kitchen lore has it that adding salt to beans while they cook will inhibit them from ever becoming tender, but it’s just not true. In fact, salt accelerates the cooking time by tenderizing the bean skins.

COOKING: For plump, creamy beans that hold their shape, cook them slowly over low heat in plenty of water.

 

 

BASIC COOKED DRIED BEANS

makes 9 cups

It is your preference whether to soak or not to soak. MH likes to hydrate the beans before cooking; CH believes that with the gentlest cooking you can jump right in without a soak. Look for the “Best Used By” date when buying a package of dried beans. The fresher the beans, the more quickly they’ll cook. One pound dried beans will yield about 6 cups of cooked beans. Cooked beans freeze beautifully.

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3 cups dried beans, unsoaked or soaked
for 4 hours or overnight
1 onion, halved
1–2 cloves garlic
1 branch fresh thyme, optional
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2 bay leaves
Salt
Really good extra-virgin olive oil
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Drain the beans and put them into a medium, heavy-bottomed pot. Cover them with cold water by 4 inches or so. Add the onion, garlic, thyme, if using, and bay leaves. Bring the beans just to a simmer over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Reduce the heat to low and very gently simmer them until they are swollen and tender, 30–90 minutes (or more), depending on the freshness of the dried beans. The beans should remain submerged while they cook, so add more water to the pot, if you need to. Remove the pot from the heat. Stir in a generous pinch of salt. Add a good glug of olive oil. Let the beans cool to just warm or to room temperature in the cooking liquid. (The beans will keep in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.

  • November 17, 2013

CASSOULET OUR WAY

serves 2

To make a traditional cassoulet—the emblematic “pot of beans” from France’s Lengadòc region—it takes a special earthenware pot, at least five different kinds of meats, and three to four days of fussing and tending to prepare and cook. When we don’t have the luxury of time, we make this simplified version. If we don’t have our own confit of duck to use for this simple cassoulet, we buy it already prepared from the market. It’s an easy weeknight meal and satisfies our hunger for the real thing.

[wpcol_1half id=”” class=”” style=””]
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 fresh Italian sausages, pricked
1 small yellow onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
Salt and pepper
[/wpcol_1half] [wpcol_1half_end id=”” class=”” style=””]
3 cups cooked white beans, with a little of their cooking liquid
Confit of 2 duck legs
1 large branch fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
2 tablespoons butter, melted
1 cup fresh bread crumbs
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Preheat the oven to 350°. Heat the olive oil in a medium, heavy ovenproof pot with a lid over medium heat. Brown the sausages all over, about 5 minutes. Transfer the sausages to a plate and set aside. Add the onions and garlic to the pot, season with salt and pepper, and cook until soft, about 5 minutes. Transfer to the plate with the sausages.

Add half the cooked beans to the pot. Arrange the sausages and duck legs on the beans, then add the onions and garlic. Add the thyme and bay leaf, and cover with remaining beans. Add about ½ cup of the bean cooking liquid.

Toss the breadcrumbs with the melted butter in a small bowl. Scatter the breadcrumbs evenly over the beans. Cover the pot and bake for 35 minutes. Uncover the pot, and bake until the breadcrumbs are golden, about 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to rest for 10–15 minutes before serving.

  • November 17, 2013

WHITE BEANS WITH SPICY BLACK OLIVE VINAIGRETTE

serves 2–4

When we use canned beans, we like to give them a little love before we dress them. Drain them into a sieve, give them a good rinse under cold running water, then drain well and toss with a drizzle of olive oil and season with salt. Then go in with your dressing.

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½ clove garlic, minced.
¼ cup finely chopped pitted black olives
1 tablespoon finely chopped parsley leaves
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
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¼ cup really good extra-virgin olive oil,
plus more for drizzling
Pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
Salt and pepper
2 cups cooked cannellini beans
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Stir together the garlic, olives, parsley, vinegar, olive oil, and red pepper flakes in a medium mixing bowl. Season with salt and pepper. Add the beans and toss gently to coat. Taste and adjust the seasonings. Transfer to a serving platter and drizzle with more olive oil before serving.

  • November 17, 2013

BRAISED ESCAROLE WITH WHITE BEANS

serves 2

Escarole always needs a good soak in cold water to rid it of the dirt trapped between its leaves. We wash it just before preparing this classic Italian dish so that the leaves still have water clinging to them when they are added to the skillet. This way, when they meet the warm oil they wilt gently instead of frying. Either of the smaller variety of dried white beans—navy or great Northern—work just as well as the more traditional cannellini here.

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1 head escarole, dark green outer leaves discarded, inner leaves separated and trimmed of dark green tops
¼ cup good extra-virgin olive oil
1–2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
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1–2 cups cooked white beans with some of their cooking liquid or a small ladleful of water
Salt and pepper
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Wash the escarole leaves well and shake off some of the water. Put the olive oil and garlic into a large nonreactive skillet and warm over medium heat until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the escarole and cook briefly, turning the leaves as they begin to wilt. Add the beans and some of their cooking liquid or water, season with salt and pepper, and braise just until the beans are warmed through and the escarole is still bright and colorful, 3–5 minutes.

  • November 17, 2013

BEANS WITH SAUSAGES & TUNA

serves 2

We love beans with either canned tuna or good sausages. But here, we poach fresh tuna in good olive oil and serve the tuna and sausages together to make one of the best surf ‘n’ turf dishes we know.

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One 8-ounce piece fresh tuna
Salt
Really good extra-virgin olive oil
1 bay leaf
A few black peppercorns
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1 lemon
2 Italian sausages
2 cups warm cooked white beans
Freshly ground black pepper
1 handful parsley leaves, chopped
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Season the tuna with salt, put it into a small pot, and barely cover it with olive oil. Add the bay leaf, the peppercorns, and a strip or two of zest from the lemon. Poach the tuna over low heat until it turns pale and is just cooked through, about 10 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat and let the tuna cool to just warm or to room temperature in the poaching oil. Grill the sausages over a hot charcoal fire, gas grill, or in a skillet over medium-high heat until they are browned all over and cooked through, about 10 minutes.

Spoon the beans onto two plates and season with salt and pepper. Divide the sausages and the tuna between the two plates. Moisten the beans with some of the poaching oil from the tuna. Scatter the chopped parsley on top and serve with wedges of lemon.

 

  • November 17, 2013

TOAST WITH BEANS & FRIED SAGE LEAVES

serves 2

By week’s end, there aren’t enough beans left in the pot to make much of a meal, so we spoon the last of them over toast rubbed with garlic and seasoned with salt and olive oil. We fry sage leaves for extra flavor and scatter them on top of the soft starchy beans. Finally, the beans get a last drizzle of good olive oil. Now that’s a perfect meal to end the week.

Rub 2 thick warm slices of toasted country bread with a raw clove of garlic. Put the toasted bread on two plates, drizzle with some really good extra-virgin olive oil, and sprinkle with a little salt. Put a generous spoonful or two of warm cooked beans on top of each piece of toast. Drizzle with more olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Meanwhile, heat ¼ cup vegetable oil in a small pot or skillet over medium heat until hot but not smoking. Fry a small handful of fresh sage leaves, a few at a time, in the hot oil until fragrant about 5 seconds. Transfer the sage with a fork to a paper towel to drain. Season with salt. Garnish the beans with the fried sage.

  • February 16, 2013

A Week of Chocolate Valentines for
Bon Appétit — Day 6

From Canal House Cooks Every Day (Andrews McMeel, 2012)

FALLEN CHOCOLATE SOUFFLÉ CAKE

serves 8

Like most chocolate lovers, we think that if you are going to the trouble of cooking with chocolate rather than just eating it in its pure and heavenly state, you better make it really good. If memory serves us, we first had this cake at Maida Heatter’s Miami house overlooking Biscayne Bay. No one can bake like Maida—she just has the touch. And this flourless chocolate cake was no exception. It had a crisp sugary crust that collapsed over its rich mousselike filling. Maida got the recipe from pastry chef Mark Allen, of the long-gone New York City restaurant Foodworks. He learned to make the cake at the Culinary Institute of America. And now we make it. Good recipes pass round and round, year after year. Every time we make this cake, we think of wonderful Maida.

8 ounces unsalted butter,
at room temperature (plus some
for greasing the pan)

1 cup granulated sugar,
plus ¼ cup for the pan

10 ounces semisweet or
bittersweet chocolate, chopped

¼ cup espresso or
very strong black coffee

8 eggs, separated
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon salt
Powdered sugar

Preheat the oven to 300°. Grease a nonstick tube or bundt pan liberally with butter. Sprinkle the ¼ cup of sugar into the pan and shake to coat the bottom and sides with the sugar. Some sugar will fall to the bottom of the pan, that’s just fine.

Heat the chocolate and coffee together in a heavy small saucepan set over a larger pan filled with simmering water over medium heat, and whisk until melted and smooth. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool for about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, beat the butter with ¾ cup of the sugar in the bowl of a standing mixer or with an hand mixer on medium speed until pale yellow and very fluffy, about 5 minutes. Beat in the egg yolks one at a time, beating until very fluffy, about 5 minutes. Add the vanilla. Fold the cooled melted chocolate into the batter. Set aside.

In a clean bowl with clean beaters, beat the egg whites and salt together on medium speed until frothy, about 1 minute. Continue beating, gradually adding the remaining ¼ cup of sugar, until the whites are thick and hold a peak, about 5 minutes. Fold one-third of the whites into the chocolate batter, then fold in the remaining whites in 2 batches, taking care not to deflate the batter. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 2 hours. The cake will rise, then fall.

Cover the pan with a serving plate, turn the pan over, and unmold the cake onto the plate. It may collapse and look a bit messy, but that’s the nature of this cake. Serve warm, dusted with powdered sugar, if you like.

 

 

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  • February 15, 2013

A Week of Chocolate Valentines for
Bon Appétit — Day 5

From Canal House Cooking Volume N° 7

GELATO DI GIANDUIA

makes about 1 quart

In any form, the classic Piedmontese combination of toasted hazelnuts and chocolate is one of our favorite flavors. You’ll see why, when you taste this luxurious gelato.

3 cups skinned hazelnuts
2¼ cups whole milk
1¼ cups heavy cream
¾ cup sugar
6 egg yolks
Pinch of salt
6 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa
1 tablespoon Frangelico or other
hazelnut liqueur
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Heat the oven to 350° and toast the hazelnuts on a baking sheet until deep golden brown, about 15 minutes. When cool, finely grind 2 cups of the nuts in a food processor. Chop the remaining 1 cup of nuts and set them aside.

Put the milk and cream into a saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Remove the pan from the heat, stir in the finely ground hazelnuts, and steep for 1 hour. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve into another saucepan, pressing on the solids before discarding them. Add ½ cup of the sugar to the milk. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves.

Put the yolks, salt, and the remaining ¼ cup of sugar into a medium mixing bowl and whisk together until thick and pale yellow. Whisk in the cocoa. Gradually ladle about 1 cup of the hot milk into the yolks, whisking constantly. Stir the warm yolk mixture into the hot milk in the saucepan. Reduce the heat to low, and cook, stirring constantly, until the custard is thick enough to coat the back of the spoon and registers between 175° and 180° on an instant-read thermometer, 3–5 minutes.

Strain the custard into a medium bowl. Add the liqueur and vanilla and stir frequently until cooled. Cover and refrigerate until completely chilled, about 4 hours. This will keep in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.

Churn the custard in an ice-cream maker following the manufacturer’s direc-tions. Just before the gelato has finished churning, add the reserved chopped hazelnuts, letting the paddle stir them in. Transfer the gelato to a quart container with a lid. Cover and freeze for a couple of hours or until it is just firm.

 

 

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  • February 14, 2013

A Week of Chocolate Valentines for
Bon Appétit — Day 4

From Canal House Cooks Every Day (Andrews McMeel, 2012)

RED VELVET CUPCAKES WITH MERINGUE FROSTING

makes 24–28

We make these every Valentine’s Day for all our sweethearts. The meringue frosting—light, silky-smooth, and sweet—beats all the others we’ve tried, hands down.

[wpcol_1half id=”” class=”” style=””]FOR THE CUPCAKES
12 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
2 cups sugar
3 large eggs, at room temperature
¼ cup red food coloring
2 tablespoons good unsweetened
  cocoa powder
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3½ cups cake flour, sifted

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[wpcol_1half_end id=”” class=”” style=””]1½ teaspoons salt
1½ cups buttermilk
1½ teaspoons white vinegar
1½ teaspoons baking soda

FOR THE MERINGUE FROSTING
1½ cups sugar
4 large egg whites, at room temperature
Pinch of salt
Large pinch of cream of tartar

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For the cupcakes, preheat the oven to 350°. Line muffin pans with paper with 24–28 cupcake liners and set aside. Beat the butter and sugar together in a large mixing bowl with a mixer on medium-high speed until pale yellow and very fluffy, about 5 minutes. Beat in the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the food coloring, cocoa, and vanilla, and beat on medium speed until well combined.

Combine the flour and salt in a bowl. Add the flour and buttermilk to the butter-egg mixture alternately in thirds, beating after each addition until just combined. Mix the vinegar and bak-ing soda together, then add to the batter. Beat until the batter is smooth and well combined.

Divide the batter between the cupcake liners, filling them about three-quarters full. Bake until a skewer inserted into the center of the cupcakes comes out clean, about 20 minutes. Tip the cupcakes out of the pans, transfer them to a wire rack, and let cool completely.

For the meringue frosting, put the sugar and ½ cup cold water into a medium saucepan. Heat over medium heat, gently swirling the pan to help dissolve the sugar. When the syrup comes to a boil, cover the pan to let the steam run down the sides, washing away and dissolving any sugar granules clinging to the sides. Boil until the sugar is completely dissolved and the syrup is clear. Uncover, and continue boiling until the temperature registers 238° on a candy thermometer.

Meanwhile, put the egg whites, salt, and cream of tartar in a large mixing bowl. Beat with a mixer on medium speed until soft peaks form, about 2 minutes. Increase the speed to high and gradually pour in the hot syrup. Continue to beat until the whites are stiff, glossy, and have cooled to room temperature, about 15 minutes. Ice the cupcakes with the meringue frosting. (There may be frosting left over; unfortunately it doesn’t keep.)

 

 

 

  • February 13, 2013

A Week of Chocolate Valentines for
Bon Appétit — Day 3

From Canal House Cooks Every Day (Andrews McMeel, 2012)

THIN & CRISP CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES

makes about 5 dozen

Our friend Katherine Yang is a New York baker whose exquisite pastries and desserts always balance sweet and savory perfectly. We wanted the best chocolate chip cookie recipe ever, so we asked her advice. Always gracious, she shared her recipe for these delicate, crisp, salty-sweet cookies—just the kind we had in mind. Like most bakers, Katherine relies on measur-ing her ingredients by weight, not volume, for the most consistent results. We agree, but have included both methods below in case you don’t have a scale.

10 ounces room temperature
high-fat butter
1¼ cups (298g) dark brown sugar
¾ cup (149g) granulated sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla bean paste
or extract
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 large eggs
1¾ cups plus 2 tablespoons (265g)
all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
8 ounces chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 375°. Line baking sheets with parchment paper. Combine the butter, brown sugar, granulated sugar, vanilla bean paste, and salt in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on medium-high speed until light, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs and mix on medium speed until blended, about 2 minutes.

Whisk the flour and baking soda together, then add to the dough, continuing to mix on medium speed for 2 minutes. Stir in the chocolate chips.

Remove the bowl from the mixer. Using a spatula, quickly mix the dough, scraping down the sides and bottom of the bowl. Drop the batter by the well-rounded tablespoon, about 4 inches apart, onto the parchment-lined baking sheets. Bake until golden brown, 10–11 minutes. Let the cookies cool for 5 minutes before transferring them to a wire rack to cool.

 

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  • February 12, 2013

A Week of Chocolate Valentines for
Bon Appétit — Day 2

From Canal House Cooking Volume N° 2

CHOCOLATE GINGERBREAD

serves 12

We aren’t gooey cake fans so this cake is perfect for us—more about flavor than sweetness. The gooiest part is pouring on the melted chocolate icing. We smooth it out and just let it run over the sides of the cake. Who can resist warm gingerbread on cold winter afternoons?

FOR THE GINGERBREAD
2½ cups flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon dry mustard
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
¼ cup dark brown sugar
2 eggs
1 cup molasses or sorghum
8 ounces chocolate chips, melted
1 cup espresso or strong coffee, cooled

FOR THE CHOCOLATE ICING
8 ounces chocolate chips
½ cup heavy cream

For the gingerbread, preheat the oven to 375°. Grease a 9-inch springform cake pan, then dust it with flour, tapping out any excess.

Sift or whisk the flour, baking soda, salt, ginger, cinnamon, allspice, mustard, and pepper together in a large bowl then set aside.

Put the butter into a large mixing bowl and beat with an electric mixer on medium speed until light and fluffy. Gradually beat in the brown sugar, about 2 minutes. Beat in the eggs at one at a time. Beat in the molasses and the choc-olate until smooth. Add the dry ingredients and the espresso alternately while you continue to beat the mixture. Use a rubber spatula to help incorporate any batter on the bottom or sides of the bowl. Pour into the prepared cake pan and bake until the top springs back when you lightly press it in the middle, about 40 minutes. Remove from the oven and place on a rack to cool.

For the chocolate icing, while the cake cools, heat the chocolate and the cream together in a small heavy pot over low heat. Stir with a whisk as it melts.

Transfer the cooled gingerbread onto to a plate. Arrange strips of waxed paper under the edges of the cake to keep the plate clean. Smooth the icing on top of the gingerbread, allowing it to drip over the sides. Remove the paper.

 

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  • February 11, 2013

A Week of Chocolate Valentines for
Bon Appétit — Day 1

From Canal House Cooks Every Day (Andrews McMeel, 2012)

GIANDUIA

makes about 2 cups

We slather this creamy chocolate and toasted hazelnut spread—our purer, more flavorful version of Nutella, the commercial brand available throughout the world—on warm toast for breakfast. (We’ve found that it also tastes sinfully good with Oreo cookies, but let’s just keep that our little secret.)

1 generous cup (5 ounces) skinned hazelnuts
Large pinch of sugar
8 ounces semisweet chocolate
½ cup heavy cream
4 tablespoons salted butter, cut into pieces

Preheat the oven to 350°. Spread the hazelnuts out on small baking sheet or in an ovenproof skillet and toast them in the oven until they are a deep toasty brown, about 15 minutes. Remove them from the oven and set aside to cool completely. Grind the hazelnuts with the sugar in batches in a food processor to a fairly smooth, buttery paste.

Melt the chocolate in a heatproof medium bowl set over a pot of simmering water over medium-low heat, stirring often. Remove the bowl from the heat and whisk in the cream and butter. Stir in the ground hazelnuts. The gianduia will thicken and become soft and peanut butter–like as it cools. It will keep at room temperature in a covered container for up to 2 weeks.

 

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  • February 1, 2013

Super Bowl Meatball Madness

From Canal House Cooks Every Day (Andrews McMeel, 2012)

MEATBALL MADNESS

makes 100 little meatballs

Everyone loves good ole meatballs, including us, and this big batch can feed a crowd. We are partial to a delicate diminutive size, so a 1-ounce ice cream scoop works perfectly and keeps everything uniform (a tablespoon works just fine also). We use one of the sauces that follow, depending on our moods.

6 tablespoons olive oil
2 onions, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
Salt and pepper
Freshly grated nutmeg
2 large eggs
1 cup half-and-half
1½ cups fresh bread crumbs
1 pound ground veal
1 pound ground beef
1 pound ground pork

Preheat the oven to 375°. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and garlic, and cook, stirring often, until the onions are soft and translucent, about 15 minutes. Sea­son to taste with salt, pepper, and lots of nutmeg. Remove from heat and let cool.

Put the eggs and half-and-half into a large bowl and beat together until well mixed. Add the bread crumbs and the cooled onions and mix together. Add the veal, beef, and pork and mix well. Roll the meatballs into 1-ounce balls (they will be very soft but they will hold their shape when cooked) and arrange on 4 large baking pans. Bake in the oven until just cooked, about 20 minutes.

 

QUICK TOMATO SAUCE

makes 2–3 cups

Add the hot meatballs to the finished sauce and serve over spaghetti for an old-fashioned Italian–American style dinner. Don’t forget the candle in the Chianti bottle!

1 onion, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
Salt and pepper
Freshly grated nutmeg
1 bay leaf
4 tablespoons salted butter
Leaves from 1 sprig rosemary, minced
2 cups canned whole
Italian tomatoes, crushed
⅓ cup minced fresh parsley leaves

Melt the butter in a heavy large pot over medium heat. Add the onions and garlic and cook until soft and translucent, about 15 minutes. Season to taste with salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Add the bay leaf and rosemary. Add the tomatoes, reduce the heat, and gently simmer for about 20 minutes. Add the parsley and adjust the seasonings. Remove the bay leaf before serving.

 

TETRAZZINI SAUCE

makes 2–3 cups

It seems like no one cooks with sherry anymore—it is a forgotten flavor. Once ladies sipped sherry in tiny stemmed glasses and added a splash of it to sauces to make them taste fancy. This sauce, with its white button mushrooms, is decidedly retro, but we love it spooned over the hot meatballs over creamy mashed potatoes or wide egg noodles.

1 onion, minced
4 ounces white mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
¼ cup dry sherry
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons butter
1½ tablespoons flour
1 cup chicken stock
1 cup whole milk
¼ cup grated parmigiano-reggiano

Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring often,until just soft, about 10 minutes. Add the mushrooms and cook until they are soft, about 10 minutes. Add the sherry and cook until it has evaporated. Season with salt and pepper.

Sprinkle the flour over the mushrooms, stirring until the flour coats them and absorbs any butter left in the pan, 5–10 minutes. (At this point you are cooking the flour to remove that raw floury taste.) Heat the chicken stock along with the milk in a saucepan over medium heat until warm. Add the stock mixture, ½ cup at a time, to the mushrooms, stirring with a wooden spoon until the sauce is smooth and thickened. Stir in the parmigiano.

 

DILL SAUCE

makes about 3 cups

We serve meatballs in this dill sauce on a bed of fluffy white rice. Sometimes we add a spoonful of sour cream on top and lots of chopped fresh dill.

2 tablespoons butter
1 small onion, minced
Salt and pepper
4 tablespoons flour
4 cups chicken stock
½ cup minced fresh dill

 

Melt the butter in a heavy large pot over medium heat. Add the onions and cook until soft and translucent, about 15 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle in the flour, stirring often with a wooden spoon, and cook for about 10 minutes. Meanwhile, heat the chicken stock in a saucepan until warm. Add the stock, 1 cup at a time, to the onions, stir- ring with a wooden spoon until the sauce is smooth and thickened. Stir in the fresh dill.

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  • March 8, 2012

We are taking our lunch al fresco on this unseasonably warm March day. So it is cold braised brisket, thinly sliced and sauced, with céleri rémoulade for our lunch.  We’ll set the picnic table with a mason jar of cut daffodils collected from the banks of the canal. Spring has unofficially sprung!

  • July 26, 2011

Cooler Chronicles

Every summer, my husband and I plan a couple of family camping trips to the Tahoe National Forest, a place we have been returning to for more than 15 years. Our style of camping is the primitive car variety. We like the luxury of packing up our four-wheel-drive truck and pulling right into the campsite but still deep enough into the wilderness to distance us from other campers. I am not one to hike into the wilderness with a full backpack and here’s why: I couldn’t live without my giant cooler. I am a bit of a nut when it comes to camping trip food. I plan exactly what my husband, my young son, and I will eat hour by hour, and I meticulously list every food item, condiment, drink, tool, and utensil we’ll need. A lot of preparation goes into planning these meals and snacks. I wouldn’t think of shoving everything into the cooler with a few of bags of ice. I’m sure it would still be fine and we would eat well, but I am too much invested in the food experience. I enjoy nudging out on little details like putting a paper bag of dry ice in the bottom of the cooler so the regular ice stays frozen all weekend, or save little jars and bottles and filling them with condiments and cooking oil so I don’t have to pack the big bottles, or using my FoodSaver to seal marinated meats so the meat juices don’t leak and ruin the ice for my five o’clock Jack and Coke. I pack my cooler with the focus of a tournament chess player and I am proud of the result. Here’s how I do it:

The cooler: We have two coolers, a 100-quart capacity (17 × 17 × 33 inches), which we use for trips longer than four days, and a 48-quart capacity (15 × 15 × 22 inches), which we use for weekend trips.

Dry ice: I buy a couple pounds of dry ice from an industrial gas supplier because I can buy it by weight, no minimum amount. I found my supplier through this website: www.dryicedirectory.com.  The night before we leave, I go there with my empty cooler and a brown paper shopping bag. After few scoops of dry ice goes into the bag (I’ll get 3-4 pounds for the larger cooler and about 1 pound for the smaller one), I carefully fold up the bag and pop it into the cooler. Dry ice is not safe to handle with your bare hands so it is a good idea to keep it contained in a breathable material like paper. The dry ice will evaporate by the end of the trip.

Cubed ice: If we are bringing the large cooler, I take four bags of ice: two for keeping food cold, one for drinks, and one for backup. For the small cooler, I take two bags of ice: one for food and one for drinks.

FoodSaver: I marinate meat and poultry and seal them separately in the FoodSaver. This gadget vacuum-packs food in hermetically sealed plastic bags that are airtight. There is no chance of cross-contamination, and if the ice happens to melt or something spills in the cooler, the meat will be safe in these bags. Plus the packets are flat, so they don’t take up valuable square footage in the cooler. If you don’t have a FoodSaver, resealable plastic bags work well too. As a safety measure, I would put all the individual packets together in a larger bag.

Little jars: I save glass and plastic jelly and condiment jars, the ones I get from hotels and airplanes. I fill them with ketchup, cooking oil, mustard, mayonnaise, and barbeque sauce. It’s another space-saving trick.

Square plastic containers: I use these stackable containers to hold my jars of condiments, and to organize the produce, cheese, and cold cuts. The containers serve as drawers in the cooler and keep everything in order, dry, and off the ice.

Drinks: I transfer milk and juice to smaller containers. We wouldn’t drink a whole carton of milk or orange juice, so I only take what we need in Mason jars or metal or plastic water jugs.

—Julia Lee

RIB RUB

We can’t go on a family camping trip without these barbecued ribs. Here’s how we make it. A generous coating of the rub goes on both sides of a rack of baby back ribs. Wrap the ribs in a few layers of heavy-duty foil and cook the packet on a low, glowing fire for a few hours, turning now and then, until the ribs are cooked through but not falling off the bone. Take the ribs out of the foil and pour the delicious cooking juices into a bowl and mix with an equal amount of barbecue sauce. Slather the ribs with the mixture and cook over a medium-low fire until the edges begin to crisp up a bit.

For one full rack of baby back ribs, mix together 3 tablespoons brown sugar, 1 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon pimentón (Spanish smoked paprika), 1 teaspoon Hungarian sweet paprika, 1 teaspoon ground New Mexico chile (or other mild chile), ¼ teaspoon granulated garlic and a healthy pinch each of ground black pepper, celery salt, and mustard powder in a small bowl. —Makes about ¼ cup.

 

KOREAN-STYLE MARINADE

You can use this marinade with just about any kind of meat, but I lean toward chicken thighs and legs, and beef short ribs. The longer the meat marinates the better, so we eat this on the last day of the trip.

Combine 1 cup soy sauce, ½ cup water, ¾ cup mirin (sweet rice wine), 2 tablespoons Asian sesame oil, 1 tablespoon brown sugar, 3–4 crushed cloves garlic, 3–4  crushed slices ginger, 1 coarsely chopped scallion, and ground black pepper to taste in a medium bowl, stirring until the sugar dissolves. —Makes about 2 ½ cups or enough for 1–2 pounds of meat.

 

 

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  • June 20, 2011

Pick a country, any country

 

One might think that in a home with two professionally trained cooks, no one would ever utter the question “What do you want for dinner tonight?” with an apathetic shrug. But the opposite can be true. A few years ago, my wife Rachel and I were both working in restaurants, cooking and catering events for a living. By the time we got home at night or on our days off, it was less than exciting to think about what to make. Busy and tired like most people, we wanted to eat, but even we chefs needed inspiration to get dinner on the table.

With many cookbooks on our bookshelf, and the Internet at our fingertips, we started a little game we call “What country do you want to go to tonight?” It always works and we end up with something surprisingly delicious.

It goes something like this:

Me: “How about Vietnam? We could make pho? We have that beef broth in the freezer and I think there’s some cilantro that’s in good shape. We can pick some fresh mint from the little pot on the deck and…”

Rachel: “Hmm, that’s good but I had Asian for lunch and I don’t think there’s really anything to add to pho besides broth and herbs. What about pasta?”

Me: “That might work, we have some parsley too. Should we make a pesto out of the herbs and add some of those walnuts? Are they still any good?”

Rachel: “No, I threw the walnuts out last week. We have chicken thighs!  What about chicken?”

Me: “What country is chicken?”

Rachel: “I don’t know. Could it go in the pasta?”

Me: “I don’t think I want pasta.”

Rachel: “Mexico?”

Me: “Yes! Viva Mexico!”

Rachel: “Great. I’m making yellow rice and…”

Me: “And those black beans…we could add scallions?”

Rachel: “Perfect.”

Me: “I’ll marinate the thighs fast in some chili powder and garlic and cumin. Good?”

Rachel: “Good. There’s some oregano, I think. Want to turn the grill on?”

Me: “I did it already. What about vegetables? We need a vegetable.”

Rachel: “Salad? No, we don’t really have anything. We have beets, is that weird?”

Me: “Oh, what about that beet salad Rick Bayless makes?”

Rachel: “With the red onions and lime?

Me: “Yeah, and the cilantro, and chilies. They’re in a can but I think they might work. I’ll look up the recipe.”*

Rachel: “Yum, I think this is going to be really good. What do you want for dinner tomorrow? Should I thaw something out?”

Me: “Oy!”

Julie Sproesser

 

*(Roasted Beet Salad with Red Onion, Poblano, and Lime from Fiesta at Rick’s, New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2010.)

 

  • June 8, 2011

One cosmic sandwich

As soon as I returned from my photo assignment at Corti Brothers in Sacramento, California (to take Darrell Corti’s photograph for Canal House Cooking Volume N° 6 The Grocery Store), I called Canal House to check in. The first question they asked was, “What did you buy?”  I rattled off the yummy things I found in the store, then said, “But it was the sandwich I ordered for lunch that made the whole trip, the Corti Special.”

The sandwich menuboard describes it as the end cuts and over-cuts of deli meats. You get what you get, and you will never get the same sandwich twice. What you could ask for was the type of bread (I got a sweet roll), the type of cheese (I ordered provolone), and garnishes (I picked shredded lettuce, tomato, mayo, peperoncini, oil and vinegar, and salt and pepper). What a huge sandwich! It was tightly swaddled in white butcher paper and weighed in at well over a pound.

The story doesn’t get very romantic here because I didn’t eat my sandwich sitting at a pretty picnic spot bathing in the California sun. Instead, I ate and enjoyed my sandwich in my car, sunroof open, and Stevie Wonder on the stereo—not a bad second choice. I cannot say exactly which meats were in that sandwich, but if I had to guess I’d say mortadella, ham, and some type of salami. Here’s what made it my cosmic sandwich: I didn’t have to fight with the bread, it was perfectly seasoned, it was cold, it was juicy, and it was copious. Heaven, pure heaven.—Julia Lee

 

  • May 13, 2011

Spring garlic—a gift of the season

 

All too often cooks use garlic with a heavy hand.  When there’s too much, it overwhelms an otherwise lovely dish. When subtle and controlled, it adds incomparable savory flavor.

Tender spring garlic might just be garlic at its best. We found some beautiful stalks at our local farmers’ market the other day, grown by Gravity Hill Farm in nearby Titusville, New Jersey, which grows some of the loveliest vegetables we’ve seen.  When we see spring garlic at the market we know we’ve fully left winter behind.

Also called green garlic or new garlic, spring garlic is the young garlic plant that shoots up before the large bulb full of individual cloves forms in the ground. At this stage it looks like a skinny leek or even a large scallion, with a pink or purple tint near the root. Though these tender plants are pulled up whole in early spring to make more room for the plants that will mature through the summer, they are certainly not second best.

We are crazy for spring garlic’s subtle flavor and seek it out during its very short season, as it is the first in four stages of growth for the garlic plant. Next we’ll await the arrival of garlic scapes—the long, wildly curled flower stalks that come from the same bulb. The scapes typically shoot up in June and July after the garlic bulb has grown larger and are snipped off the top of the plant while the bulb continues to mature. They are beautiful in the garden but a bit strong for our tastes, so we fill vases full of them and catch a whiff of their garlicky scent as we pass by. The third stage is fresh garlic, which is the just-harvested version of the familiar bulb sold in most stores. Fresh garlic is a rarer find as most garlic is cured (hung to dry for a few weeks) during which it develops a papery white skin and a longer shelf life.

Spring garlic is sweeter, gentler, and almost more innocent in this stage than it will be as it matures. It can be used raw or cooked to add mild garlic flavor with less pungent heat (and with less need for hesitation on the part of the cook). At Canal House we mince raw spring garlic into vinaigrette, or add thin slices to a potato-leek soup. It gives a nice background flavor to the delicate spring offerings—fava beans, lettuce, peas, artichokes, and asparagus—that could be overpowered by mature garlic. Look for it at farmers’ markets now through early June.

 

  • April 27, 2011

Ithaca

by Constantine P. Cavafy

When you set out on your journey to Ithaca,
pray that the road is long,
full of adventure, full of knowledge.
The Lestrygonians and the Cyclops,
the angry Poseidon — do not fear them:
You will never find such as these on your path,
if your thoughts remain lofty, if a fine
emotion touches your spirit and your body.
The Lestrygonians and the Cyclops,
the fierce Poseidon you will never encounter,
if you do not carry them within your soul,
if your soul does not set them up before you.

Pray that the road is long.
That the summer mornings are many, when,
with such pleasure, with such joy
you will enter ports seen for the first time;
stop at Phoenician markets,
and purchase fine merchandise,
mother-of-pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
and sensual perfumes of all kinds,
as many sensual perfumes as you can;
visit many Egyptian cities,
to learn and learn from scholars.

Always keep Ithaca in your mind.
To arrive there is your ultimate goal.
But do not hurry the voyage at all.
It is better to let it last for many years;
and to anchor at the island when you are old,
rich with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting that Ithaca will offer you riches.

Ithaca has given you the beautiful voyage.
Without her you would have never set out on the road.
She has nothing more to give you.

And if you find her poor, Ithaca has not deceived you.
Wise as you have become, with so much experience,
you must already have understood what Ithacas mean.

  • April 15, 2011

“Lettuce” make your fried rice delicious…

 

Alice’s is a great little Chinese restaurant around the corner from my house in San Francisco. My family always gets takeout because it makes eating at home with a four-year-old easier. But on a recent school holiday, my son and I decided to go out for a “date lunch”. Because we picked Alice’s I learned that they add iceberg lettuce to their fried rice, but only when you eat in. Shredded blades of iceberg are stirred into the rice just before it’s plated. The beautiful color, crunchy texture, and juiciness turned this side dish into the star of the meal. The Chinese have long been cooking with a variety of lettuce called san choi in Cantonese (luo kui in Mandarin), which looks like romaine but resembles iceberg in texture. The leaves are stirred into soups—like West Lake Fish Soup—for texture and color, stir-fried with soy sauce and sesame oil for a quick and economical side dish, or added to a dish when it needs to feed a few more. No matter what the reason, it’s always good. You can bet that the next time I make Fried Rice (Vol. Nº 6, The Grocery Store, page 63) for dinner, I’ll be sure to add a handful of shredded green goodness to it.—Julia Lee

  • March 21, 2011

Let’s Eat In Tonight

Every evening when my husband Jim comes home from work, he flings open the front door, steps in, and calls out, “Where’s my family?” This is his version of “Honey I’m hooome”. If I’m lucky, I’ll just be getting dinner started when he walks through the door, but on this particular night, dinner was cooked and warming on the stove, and my son, my wine, and I were waiting for him. “Mmmm! Smells like Original Joe’s dinner,” I heard him say as he climbed the stairs. He was right! We were having chicken parmesan, meat ravioli in red sauce, and Caesar salad—exactly what we used to order every time we ate at that beloved San Francisco institution, Original Joe’s, before a fire closed it down in 2007.

My family loves that dinner. It brings back great memories and it’s like eating out, but in the comfort of our own home. It’s quite simple to make—especially the ravioli. I buy the little frozen ones at my supermarket (I prefer the smaller to the larger size). To make them, I bring a pot of salted water to a boil, add the ravioli, and cook them until they just begin to rise to the surface. Into the colander they go to drain, then back into the pot. To the cooked ravioli I add regular canned tomato sauce and a big slab of butter, then let it simmer over medium heat until the butter melts. I add salt and pepper, a big handful of chopped parsley, and lots of grated parmigiano-reggiano. Then we dig in! —Julia Lee

  • March 16, 2011

Happy Healthy Chickens Lay Delicious Eggs

 

I love eggs. Over the years I’ve eaten lots of them. For most of my life, the garden variety, supermarket white variety was good enough for me. But it was when my little son, Henry, started eating eggs that I began to pay attention to all of the different types available—brown, white, organic, free-range, cage-free, and certified-humane. I’ve tried them all, and while I did understand and support the ethics of raising animals humanely, all these eggs tasted the same to me. How could they taste the same when they were raised differently?

Then one day, while shopping at Whole Foods, I came across eggs labeled “pastured eggs”. Turns out pastured eggs, sometimes labeled “pasture-raised eggs” or “pasture-raised chickens”, are laid by chickens allowed to roam freely outside, with lots of sunshine and the wide open sky over their heads. They peck at bugs, worms, and grass and do what chickens do naturally. While free-range birds have access to the outside, conditions are often such that they never venture out the tiny door that leads them there. The important word to look for is “pasture”. I know my local farmers market (and most likely yours, too) carries pastured eggs, but I don’t always have time to get there so it was nice to see these exceptional eggs available at the supermarket.

I picked up a dozen on that day, and when I cracked the first one open, whoa! The yolk was perky and orange (!) and the white was high and tight. On appearance alone it stood out from every egg I ever seen. And the shells were much sturdier than the thin, crumbly supermarket eggs I was used to. I pierced the yolk with the tines of a fork and noticed how thick and sticky it was. I beat the egg, poured it into the puddle of melted butter in my skillet and cooked it just the way my son likes. A little salt and a little pepper, then I slid the egg onto his plate alongside a link of sausage, a shingle of toast, and breakfast was ready. My son came running into the kitchen, climbed up into his seat and looked down. He opened his eyes wide, “This egg is bright!” I smiled, so pleased that he noticed. “Now that’s an egg, huh?” I said. Makes sense that happy healthy chickens lay delicious healthy eggs.—Julia Lee


  • June 19, 2010

The Garden Giveth

I’d been waiting for this moment all spring.

Ever since the days began to grow longer and the ground was warm enough to dig. I’d nailed together the frames for the new raised beds and nestled them into their trenches. I’d tilled the heavy topsoil, turning in small truckloads of rich black compost. I was sure I’d planted everything a little too early—before the hard frosts were over—yet only had to protect the seedlings once by draping the entire garden with long disposable paper tablecloths the one night the temperature dropped below freezing. I’ve been watering and weeding. Giving support to tendrils, staking branches before they brake.

I’d been waiting for this moment all spring.

When I could cut a head of cauliflower from its roots and unfold its broad sturdy leaves I’d snapped over to blanch it, revealing its tight white curd. When the English peas had swollen so fully in their pods they had to be picked. When I could reach way under the huge green thorny leaves of the zucchini plants and carefully cut off tiny pinky-size squash attached to buxom pale orange blossoms. When the turnips finally filled out and were worth pulling from the ground. And when the chard would be standing tall and proud.

I’d been waiting for this moment all spring.

When there would be enough to gather from my garden to make a simple lunch for us at Canal House. That moment arrived this week. Just seventy-five days whence I began. The meal couldn’t have been more simple. Nothing could have been more satisfying.
Melissa Hamilton

 

OUR FIRST SPRING GARDEN-TO-TABLE LUNCH

Tiny Zucchini with their Blossoms Fritto Misto—we started off with a quick fritto misto, dipping the small handful of zucchini-laden blossoms in a thin batter then fried them in pure olive oil. Pure heaven.

English Peas in Irish Butter—we shelled the fat starchy sweet English peas and cooked them in a tiny bit of water and lots of salted Irish butter.

Cauliflower with Brown Butter—we had three fist-size heads. We steamed them until very tender. While that was going on, we made a small skillet-full of brown butter with slivers of garlic, then poured that toasted nutty deliciousness over the heads.

Young Turnips—we trimmed and peeled these then gave them the same luxurious treatment as the cauliflower.

Tender Swiss Chard with Cannellini—we sautéed the chard in olive oil with peperoncini, first the sliced stalks, then the leaves, wilting them in the warm oil just at the end. To flesh out the meal, we added cannellini beans we’d had on hand from a previous meal. They were meant for each other.

Salad of Head and Leaf Lettuces—we finished our meal the way we often do, with tender floppy greens tossed with an anchovy and lemon vinaigrette.

  • June 15, 2010

A Celebration Was Called For

Last week we finished the final phase of production on our forthcoming book, Canal House Cooking–Volume N°4–Farm Markets & Gardens. We’d been glued to our computers for days (and nights) tweaking layouts, syncing images and text files, pouring over the final pages, and inputting corrections. And then, finally, with a push of the button, the final finished files flew off to Wisconsin to be printed and bound. We sat back and breathed a satisfied sigh.

It was a momentous day, one that needed a proper celebration, after all. So we poured tall glasses of bone-cold pink champagne, opened up a nice fresh bag of salty potato chips, and tucked into the “from-scratch” onion dip that our friend and design colleague, Teresa Hopkins, had brought to the studio earlier that day.

As we sipped and crunched we couldn’t agree on what was more delicious, the exquisite champagne, the cool onion-y dip, or the happiness we were all feeling for bringing our newest darling, Volume N°4, into the world.

Canal House Cooking Volume N°4, Farm Markets & Gardens will be available in early July.

ONION DIP

makes a generous 2 cups

1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 medium onions, diced
Kosher salt
1 ½ cups sour cream
¾ cup mayonnaise
¼ teaspoon garlic powder
Pepper

Melt the butter and the olive oil together in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onions, season with a big pinch of salt, and sauté until deep golden brown, 15–20 minutes. Reduce the heat if the onions begin to brown too quickly. Transfer to a bowl and set aside to cool.

Mix the sour cream, mayonnaise, garlic powder, and cooled onions together in a medium bowl. Season with salt and pepper. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve. Garnish with chopped fresh chives, if you like. The dip will keep in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.

  • May 25, 2010

The Best Worst Cocktail
or how whiskey and saccharin keep you young

My grandma has never smoked nor cursed, but she tells a story about when she was a kid, and how she found a mouse in the barn and picked it up by its tail. Scared that it would bite her, she swung it around and around and around until all she had left in her hand was the little tail. She was a farm girl from the middle of Missouri and remembers days before electricity came to the farm. She taught eight grades at one time in the last one-room school house in the state and smacked the student’s hands with a ruler when they wouldn’t settle down.  I think she tells us those stories so we won’t think she’s gone all soft or too fancy.

After the farm days, she moved to Washington, DC, became a secretary at the Treasury and married an older man (my PopPop) who took her on adventures all over the world.  She became the most cosmopolitan farm girl in DC.  She threw the grandest of parties with hand-made lace cocktail napkins, big crystal punch bowls, and plenty of foreign executives.  She still has every issue of Gourmet ever printed in her basement in chronological order. When she and PopPop retired they went on cruises and danced and she wore pearls and drank expensive champagne.

Now, ninety-three years old, she lives in her own home, gets her hair done every week and puts on her best outfit and jewels when someone is coming to visit. She admits to never really liking champagne—whiskey is her drink now and it’s the only booze in the house.  A handle of Jim Beam or Early Times Old Style Kentucky Whiskey sits on the counter in the kitchen and probably lasts her a full year, maybe two.  My sisters and I all know her cocktail recipe by heart: 1 ounce whiskey, 2 big ice cubes, and half a packet of Sweet’N Low, stirred. Not too fancy, but not too hard either, and never served before 6:00 p.m.

I might skip the Sweet’n Low in mine, but if it’ll have me still telling stories at ninety-three, I’ll drink to that.—Julie Sproesser

  • May 21, 2010

Lunch for the creative crew
from Williams–Sonoma


Spring Sorrel Soup

Poached Wild Salmon with a “Sauce” of Peas, Bacon, and Chives

Young Leaves, Fresh Herbs, and Wild Violets with Lemon and Olive Oil

A Very Ripe French Brie and Crunchy Bread

Strong Coffee and Cookies


The other day the creative crew from Williams-Sonoma came for lunch. It was a beautiful sunny spring day with a blue sky full of big puffy clouds. Thank heavens there was still enough of a chill in the air so we could justify building a fire in the wood-burning stove—a fire always seems to cheer and cozy the whole place up. So we had the best of both seasons that day.

We made a special lunch in their honor and had a wonderful time before they had to run off and jump on a plane back to San Francisco. We talked about all kinds of things but they must have really been listening when we spoke of our love of Meyer lemons. They told us of lemon trees laden with fruit right in their backyards—Oh California!  A few days later a big bulging box arrived at the studio. They had picked a pile of Meyer lemons from their trees and sent the mother lode to us as a thank you present for lunch. Now that was the Thank You “Note” of all times in our book.

Here’s how we preserved the lemons and along with them the memory of the day and their lovely gift.

PRESERVED LEMONS

Everyone needs a few culinary tricks up their sleeve—or, better yet, in their refrigerator. If you live in a metropolitan area with lots of ethnic shops, you’ll be able to find these lemons already cured. Living far from those stores, we make our own—big jars of them that last us throughout the year. And it is so well worth it. These golden treasures are money in the bank as their deep salty-sour flavor can brighten up practically any dish. Actually, we have to restrain ourselves from using them in just about everything.

We like to use Meyer lemons, a sweet, thin-skinned variety (most likely a cross between a mandarin orange and a true lemon). You’ll find them in the market from fall through spring. But any variety of lemon will do. In fact, a thicker-skinned lemon is the traditional choice in Morocco, where this pickling method originated.

Preserved lemons are typically rinsed before they are added to stews, tagines, soups, and couscous dishes. Only the rind is used and the pulpy flesh gets discarded. When our own preserved lemons are still new (aged between one month and about six months), we use both rind and flesh, not even bothering to rinse the lemons. The salty brine softens the rind until it is almost translucent and makes the flesh plump and supple. The longer the lemons cure, the saltier they get, so taste them first to decide how you will cook with them. Preserved lemons will last up to 1 year in the fridge.

Lemons, washed
Kosher salt
Sterilized wide-mouth container with a tight-fitting lid

Cut the lemons (almost all the way through) into quarters, keeping them attached at the stem end. Working over a bowl, tamp the inside of each lemon with salt. Tightly pack the salt-filled lemons into the sterilized container. Pour more salt over the lemons as you fill the container. Cover the salt-packed lemons with freshly squeezed lemon juice.

Store in the refrigerator. Turn the container occasionally for the first few weeks to moisten all the lemons with the ever-accumulating salty brine. The lemons should eventually become submerged in this brine. If the brine doesn’t completely cover them after a month, use a metal kitchen spoon to gently press the lemons under the surface.

Recipe from Canal House Cooking, Volume N° 1

 

  • May 19, 2010

Belle Syrah

We’re having a perfect spring.  The mornings are chilly and the afternoons are warm and sunny.  Once a week or so the skies open up and a big shower drenches the earth and swells the canal outside our windows.  They’re having the same weather in the Rhone Valley in France so we’ll pretend we’re there.  While we’re busy tending our young spring gardens, winemakers in the Rhone are tending to vines that are also getting started for the season.

They’re hardly thinking about the rosés they bottled in the fall, but we’re thinking about drinking them.  The best thing to accompany the soft lettuces, sharp radishes, and poached salmon we’re eating is rosé, and Yves Cuilleron makes one of our favorites.  He’s sort of a quiet celebrity in the Rhone, known for his impressively soft Condrieu whites, but it’s the bright, lush, rosé we turn to with its silky texture and coppery pink color.

It’s called Sybel, meaning “belle syrah” and it’s the only rosé Yves Cuilleron makes each year.  From all handpicked syrah grapes this northern Rhone lovely is organically made and delicious.  They’ll be releasing a 2009 vintage in early June, but if you can still find it, 2007 was a special year in the Rhone and this wine is just right, right now.  For around $15 it’s just right for us for any occasion.   The younger brother—the 2008 vintage—has not opened up quite as much, but it’s a stellar steal for $9.99 at 3 Cups.

  • May 17, 2010

Asparagus with Irish Butter

Local asparagus arrived a few weeks ago. Big fat green spears, of course, and a deep reddish purple variety called Viola. The first site of them at a local farm market, standing tall and bending—all wild-looking, loose in their buckets of water—took our breath away. Spring had arrived!

So early this year, as we do each Spring, we’ve begun feasting on these local zaftig beauties and much prefer them to the straight thin asparagus that you find in the supermarket. We take the extra time and trouble and always peel off their skin with a vegetable peeler to just below the tip not only to pretty-up the spears and make them more tender, but especially to rid them of the fine sand lodged in those small flat leaves along the spear that look like fins.  This year, we’ve been eating our asparagus bathed in a luxurious lemony butter sauce, similar to a hollandaise, but better—fresher tasting, not so cloyingly thick.  We first learned how delicious it was at Ballymaloe with Darina Allen—the high priestess of Irish cuisine. It relies on the salted Irish butter we’re so crazy about from Kerrygold—but other brands of European-style high-fat butter will suit. Here’s a preview of the recipe that will be in Canal House Cooking Volume N°4.

It is quite simple and it goes a little something like this:  Whisk 2 egg yolks together with 2 tablespoons of water in a heavy saucepan. Begin warming the beaten yolks over very low heat, whisking all the while. Then gradually add 8 tablespoons of cold salted Irish butter, 1 tablespoon at a time, whisking until each tablespoon of butter has been incorporated into the sauce before you add the next. The sauce will thicken and lighten, becoming almost foamy. Take the pan off the heat and whisk in more or less the juice of half a lemon to your own taste. This sauce isn’t as finicky as most delicate butter sauces. We keep it warm over a pot of hot water.

Maybe you’ll want to honor your asparagus with this deliciousness, too.

  • May 12, 2010

Smell the peaches

Today our first day of all things, we are out of the studio shooting the last images for Canal House Cooking Volume N° 4. We give you this picture to remind you to stop and smell the peaches while you’re moving through your day. Come back and see us tomorrow.

Claire Ptak, chef owner of London's Violet Cakes