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When you’re sick, CostCo can help!

Chicken Soup for the Hungry Belly

Chicken Soup for the Hungry Belly

I was sick last week. Cranky, achy, runny nose sick. And man, how I did not want to be sick!

Like many people, I have healing rituals around being sick. For example, wearing my socks to bed to keep my feet warm is a thing. There, now you know.

I also have a powerful, unshakeable belief in the curative powers of chicken soup. Really, it can make you better in so many ways. What!? You don’t believe me?? I’m shocked. OK, here – read all about it on the Internet, the finest source of Truth known to man.

But to make chicken soup, you’ve got to cut up a chicken, poach it a little, drain it, then simmer it for a long time. Or you could use a chicken carcass from a roast chicken that you’ve prepared.

In either case, it’s a bit of work. I would quickly add “Totally Worth It!” but, work.

Not any more, thanks to CostCo. If there’s a CostCo anywhere near you, you’re probably familiar with their lovely rotisserie chickens. At US$4.99, they are a total bargain, and are delicious!

I suspect one of the reasons that CostCo rotisserie chickens are so good is that people eat a lot of them. That means they are constantly cooking up new batches to feed the ravening hordes (and seriously, have you ever been in CostCo when they are having a heavy sampling day??). So their rotisserie chickens are generally fresh and hot, right out of the ovens.

Concerns about “what’s in a CostCo chicken”? You’re totally right to have them. Here’s an interesting recent article from the defiantly counter-culture and often unusual Natural News about that subject. Apparently, responding to consumer demand, CostCo is phasing out chicken with shared-use antibiotics (which makes up perhaps 75-80% of the commercially produced chicken in the US!), so you’ll be getting just fresh clean chicken that is also damn tasty and a serious bargain.

One CostCo chicken makes us, for example:

  • 4 large deli-style chicken sandwiches, just using slices of the breast meat. Oh they are so good. I like them on rye bread, Bonney likes them on multi-grain (heresy!!), but we both like a lil dab of mayonnaise or homemade Salsa Golf.
  • Chicken stir fry for 4 using another 8-10 oz. meat.
  • About 20 oz. of excellent (I know!! I made it myself!) chicken salad, with no preservatives or additives, unless you consider mayonnaise an additive.
chicken soup with herbs and kale

chicken soup with herbs and kale

I made about 3 quarts of chicken soup – so much that I had to freeze some of it. And it was succulent! Light and fresh tasting, with just a hint of tangy umami from the roasted chicken. It was a lot easier to make because the chicken had already been cooked and was ready to pop in the pot!

Here’s how:

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Super hot, super easy, super delicious – quick pickled peppers

Hot peppers with lemon

Hot peppers with lemon

Are you a hot pepper fanatic or can you do without? Me, I love hot foods. Hot peppers? Bring ’em!! The hotter the better.

While I love hot peppers, I am not fond of concentrated hot pepper resins. Sure, they are searingly hot, but there is *so* much more to hot peppers than simple pucker-your-lips-up-and-weep-like-a-baby heat.

Although, as you can see from this video, for some folks, it’s the heat. And – just maybe – the teeniest hint of masochism, or possibly, exhibitionism. . .

But there’s more than pain to hot peppers. Much more. There’s flavor, rich, deep and intense. And, even better, there’s aroma, smoky, fruity, and complex.

Me, I prefer to get my heat the old fashioned way – from a real hot pepper, not from a laboratory attempting to cash in on the current hot pepper craze by weaponizing our condiments.

In August, I packed fresh, ultra-hot, beautiful Naga Jolokia peppers (Ghost Peppers) with a fragrant blend of fresh bay, peppercorn, juniper berry, lemon zest, whole coriander, allspice berry, yellow mustard seed and whole cinnamon. Sea salt and cider vinegar finished off the mix.

Last night, with our son, daughter in law and grandson in attendance, I opened one of the jars of hot peppers and found – these (see bottom of post!). Read the rest of this entry »

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A Way of Thinking about Cooking – Stories, Ideas, and Recipes

I don’t recommend a lot of cookbooks on my site, but I feel you must know about this one – it’s a beautiful gem by Tamar Adler, journalist, Slow Food person, personal chef, and a real successor – in my view – to the mantle of the late MFK Fisher.

Her book is subtitled “Cooking with Economy and Grace”. I’ve learned more from it than any 10 other cookbooks. I recommend you check it out – here’s a link to the hardback edition, there are other editions and e-book versions available.

Here’s the link: – check it out!


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Boiling Water in the Ghentish Fashion – Alsatian Waterzooi

Waterzooi - served with parsley, herbs and julienne of lemon zest garnish

Waterzooi – served with parsley, herbs and julienne of lemon zest garnish

Waterzooi – Alsatian Cream of Chicken Soup

I’m not typically a joiner. I don’t buy lottery tickets – they’re taxation for the math impaired. I don’t often join clubs or organizations. But all things in life change and since we moved, I’ve been joining up right and left – it’s helped me build connections with our new community here on the island.

One organization I’ve enjoyed connecting with has been the local Culinary Art Society. There are a bunch of talented cooks in this group. Once a month, we get together around a particular food genre or theme, have judged dishes, desserts, unjudged dishes – and wine! Mainly we eat and drink and socialize a bit.

Recently, the monthly meeting theme was “Alsatian food”. Alsatian food?? Now, OK, I like to think I have at least some grasp of many major national and regional cuisines – after all, everything we truly know and love about food is derived from our great national and regional cuisines – cuisines that have evolved to a point of perfection over many years, often centuries!!

But I had no clue whatsoever – no insight at all into this particular flavor. I knew that quiche was kinda Alsatian and I knew they used a lot of charcuterie and and there was some kind of pizza-like dish, the tarte flamande, that was popular. But that was it.

So I began researching and prowling through my cookbooks and virtual sources. You know – it’s hard to find a really good recipe. I’m working on delivering recipes that are actually useful guides to preparing food – that strike that balance between offering enough information to really make the dish sing and offering too much information and losing you as a reader!!

Because I’d hate that – the “losing you as a reader” part – I work hard to make Calorie Factory recipes clear, interesting, and structured to make relatively easy reading, because the last thing you need when you’re working from a new recipe is to have to ask yourself – whilst perhaps elbow deep in julienned root vegetables – Wait!! Wait! What. . .???

Anyhow, here’s the recipe I came up with – it’s a synthesis of several recipes that I liked. Many Alsatian recipes call for beer or cream. I discovered that you can actually use both and it’s very good – they play nicely with each other in this particular soup, especially when you add them as described below in the recipe.

Oh and the name of the soup is technically Gentse Waterzooi Van Kip but really it’s cream of chicken soup – and it’s awfully good.

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Factory Pot Roast and Roasted Root Vegetables

Pot roast gets a bad rap in some circles. “Diner Food”, “Boring”, “Old Fashioned”, “Gramma’s Dinner Choice”, and other, equally vile epithets. I’m here to tell you that properly done, a good pot roast is a sublime thing of joy. The aroma alone makes the house sing “Dinner is cooking and you’re gonna Love It!” and the simplicity and accessibility of the dish means most eaters will dive right in with no qualms.

I’ve made pot roast perhaps two dozen times in the past decade – about twice a year is my average. Last night my audience of critical eaters was kind enough to let me know that this pot roast was the best to date. Doncha love that “to date” thing – you could probably do better, improvement is always possible, but so far, this is the one!” But I digress. . .point being, they really really liked it.

And I know why.

I’ve tried searing the meat, not searing the meat, cutting the roast into pieces, leaving it whole, using flour to dredge the meat, leaving the meat undredged, using no seasoning other than salt and pepper, using a variety of different seasonings, using boiling water, using boiling beef broth, adding tomato, not adding tomato, cooking in the oven, cooking on the stovetop, cooking with X-ray lasers. OK, I’m lying about the X-ray lasers, but wouldn’t it be cool?? Read the rest of this entry »

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Who Knew? It’s National Grilled Cheese Month

Grilled cheese sandwich by Thomas Keller - yours may not end up looking quite like this - read on

I suspect that the few people on our planet who don’t like grilled cheese sandwiches are:

  • Vegans
  • Aliens from Another World – (see?? They’re not really from our planet at all)
  • People Who Believe Fried Food will kill you. Handy tip: *Everything* will kill you. Proof: You live, you eat – whatever – eventually you shuffle off this mortal coil. So, by this impeccable logic, food is just plain dangerous.
  • Lactose Intolerant Folks
  • Gluten Intolerant Folks

Much like chili or spaghetti sauce, *everybody* knows how to make The Best Grilled Cheese Sandwich in The World. This makes me think of Lake Woebegone, where all the Grilled Cheese Sandwiches are eaten by above-average children. I don’t believe that there is any such thing as the Best of Any Food. Is there a “Best Watercolor in the World,” or a “Best Short Story in the World,” or a “Best Joke in the World”. Hmmm. . .I didn’t think so either.

Food is art, or as my niece Sarah, the Executive Pastry Chef, and a far wiser foodie than I, is wont to say, it’s “Sex on a Plate”. Is there a “Best Kind of Sex”? Hmmm. . .again, I didn’t think so either. I say potato, you say The Kama Sutra Passion Propeller. No, I am *not* linking to that, so stop asking – this is a food blog, dammit.

Art is just like that.

I was gratified to see (via the very fine blog YumSugar) that Thomas Keller, one of the true deities in the world of food, likes a “simple” GCS. His recipe is here. And yet still, despite the fact that Keller is the Caravaggio of the food world, I feel he’s missed an important element. His recipe uses brioche. Good stuff, browns up nicely, suitably complex. For a bread. I have no objection to his choice of two cheeses, although me, I like to pick a single cheese and stick with it, and I love Love LOVE the fact that he pops a few Lays chips in between the layers of cheese, because. . .well, *I* do that too.

Tom?? Call me, we’ve got a lot to talk about.

It’s the Bread

People spend a lot of time – I know, I’m one of them – refining and perfecting sauce recipes for pasta. But really, in the classic sense, it’s all about the pasta. The sauce is a garnish. Sure, here in the States, we like to put a kilo or so of sauce on our pasta, in the spirit of “More is Better” that we’ve all seen work so well for Goldman, Sachs and Bank of America, but truly, just a dollop or two of good sauce on perfect, fresh, well-made pasta of just the right shape – well, you’ve gotta try it. sometime.

Mario Batali offers a simple recipe for fresh pasta that I’ve tried and liked. I’d only suggest adding another egg yolk or two, but that’s just me. Eggs are variable. It’s dead easy and makes a gorgeous fresh pasta. Bonus – fresh pasta cooks in mere moments, and not very many of them.

So – just as the pasta’s the thing, in a grilled cheese sandwich, the bread’s the thing. And it’s like art. My bread might not be yours, Thomas Keller’s brioche might not be my Passion Propeller.

What’s mine, you ask? OK, it’s one of those childhood memory things. When I was a kid, living in Lowell, Massachusetts, grilled cheese was on the menu. It was fast and easy to make, and occasioned no crying “I don’t like grilled cheese” because – well – we loved it and could eat it every day. The bread came from a small bakery in Cupples Square and I regret to say that the passage of time has eroded my memory of that wonderful place’s name. Suffice it to say that it was Corn Rye.

If you don’t know what Corn Rye is, or you’ve tried big-manufacturer rye and said Blecch, you owe it to yourself to find a place where you can good a real loaf. Or you can make some – but if you use this recipe (which is excellent), where they say “more caraway seeds for inside if desired”, I can only add “DESIRE”!

Once you’ve got your Corn Rye, the rest of the sandwich is up to you. I won’t prescribe cheese, but along with Mr. Keller, I would strongly urge placing a few thin potato chips in the sandwich – your choice of brands. You will not regret it. Me, I love a nice sour pickle, or a handful or cornichons on the side with my grilled cheese – I think they’re the perfect foil for its unctuous goodness.

Enjoy Grilled Cheese Month – And, if you belong to one of the non-medical groups who don’t like grilled cheese sandwiches – expand your horizons – try one. Heck, you don’t even have to find a good Corn Rye – you can use a brioche, as the estimable and brilliant Mr. Keller recommends. Just keep it simple. As my mother used to say “How do you know you don’t like it if you won’t try it??” People also say this about bungee jumping and BASE jumping, but I suggest that is a crazy horse of a different color.

All right – fine!! You want to know what I think is the World’s Greatest Grilled Cheese Sandwich. Fine. Remember, as they say, YMMV, and this is just what I personally happen to like.

Ingredients for The Best Damn Cheese Sandwich in My Personal World

  • Good quality corn rye bread
  • A heavy fry pan. This is one of the very few recipes where I’m perfectly OK with the non-stick variety, if that’s what you’ve got, by all means, use it!
  • A nice mild cheese – I happen to like, in no particular order: Tillamook Medium Chedder, Jarlsburg Swiss, and Dofino Havarti. These are not Magic Cheeses, but remember, it’s not so much about the cheese. . .You can use a combination, but again – one cheese is less distracting than two in this dish.
  • A few thin potato chips. If you open the bag of  Kettle cooked chips and find slices of potato that appear to be a quarter of an inch thick, give ’em a miss. Lays’ are good for this purpose. Sorry, they just are. In my locale, Kettle Chips “Lightly Salted” are also very good, but they’re way more expensive and Lays’ makes the grade, so – your call
  • Butter. You do want the butter to be nice and soft. And, if you want a little extra flavor, get some actual cultured butter. In this particular dish, it’s just better.
  • Best Mayonnaise. I can hook you up with a back alley cardiologist for a scrip. Or make your own mayonnaise, the food police have yet to ban this activity.
  • About 3-4 slices of the cheese you want. The cheese should be mild, not overly assertive, and melt well. Swiss, mild or medium Cheddar, OK, I’m about say this, and do not flame me, because it’s good – Velveeta. We’re not talkin’ about the ecology of Velveeta, just its suitability for a grilled cheese sandwich.

Make Your Sandwich

The key is to fry at a medium high temperature and watch carefully so you brown darkly but do not burn the bread. So:

  • Butter the outside of both slices of bread. Be liberal in your use of butter. Go ahead, you’re not going to eat this every day. Are you?
  • Spread a teaspoon or so of the mayo on the inside of both slides
  • Lay a couple of your Chosen Cheese slices on the bread. Tip: Try to keep the boundaries of the cheese about a quarter inch or so inside the bread. You can do this by breaking off extraneous pieces and eating them. It’s what I do.
  • Place your Chosen Chips onto the cheese
  • Add the rest of the cheese on top of the chips
  • Put the second piece of bread (butter side out) on top and smoosh it down gently with your hand until you can hear a faint crackling as the chips crumble a bit. This lets you eat your sandwich without finding a large gooey chip hanging out of your mouth at some point. If you like that sort of thing – and food is art – then omit the smooshing, but do make sure the sandwich sits solidly together.
  • Heat the pan until it’s medium hot and place the sandwich in the pan. You should almost immediately hear a little crackling and hissing – nothing too fierce, but it’s obvious the butter is melting and the bread is starting to brown. Tip: Please do not press down on the sandwich to compress it or hasten its cooking. OK, this isn’t actually a tip, it’s just a plea. Doing this compacts the bread unacceptably. And yes, it’s unacceptable to me. I’m just that way. You may like compacted bread, in which case, you can crush the sandwich until it’s the thinness of a cracker. It will still be good, because that’s what you like! 🙂
  • When the bread on the first side is nicely browned (at this point the cheese should also be well on the way to softening and melting), flip the sandwich over (you may need to turn the heat down just a bit at this point. Smell the pan. Is it starting to smell a little burned? Turn the heat down. Look at the pan – are there very dark bits of butter hither and yon? Turn the heat down a bit.
  • Cook in the same way for another 2-3-4 minutes. It really shouldn’t take long, the key is you want the cheese to be at that stage just beyond softening, where’s it’s melted but not quite flowing.
  • Take the sandwich out of the pan, slice it in some fashion that appeals to you and serve it. To yourself!! BWHAHAhahahah. Or, to a loved one. Nothing says true love more than making a beautiful grilled cheese sandwich for your SO.
  • Don’t forget the pickles or something just a little sour / vinegary to serve as a counterpoint to the perfect unctuous goodness of the sandwich.
  • Lager beer is good. If you drink wine with this sandwich, I will hunt you down and chastise you. OH, OK, fine, truly it is a choice – Prosecco is actually not terrible with grilled cheese, I think it’s the tartness and bubbliciousness  that makes it work.

I think it was Joni Mitchell who, when asked about the difference between painting and music said (and I’m probably paraphrasing) “Nobody ever said to Van Gogh, “Hey, man – paint A Starry Night again.” So, I guess in that sense food is a little more like music, because once somebody has tasted your GCS, they will very likely say, “Hey man, would you mind making me another one of those.”



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Tweaking the Classics – Cream of Asparagus Soup

Respect for Your Ingredients

When you’re cooking soup with lots and lots of beautifully fresh asparagus, you’ve got to remember that the asparagus is the superstar. But  – even as sometimes happens in the movies – the supporting characters can make the star shine even brighter. My goal was to make cream of asparagus soup that my my mother in law would love, but that had a few small twists to help pop out the flavor of the fresh organic asparagus we’d picked up at Schuh Farms, our neighborhood farmstand. OK, it was from California, but it was *very* fresh, it was organic (just try and find inorganic asparagus – I dare you!), and we don’t have any local asparagus of note here in Seattle quite yet.

The First Rule: Use a LOT of Asparagus

It’s always startling when I say this, but roughly a pound of asparagus per serving is about right. The recipe doesn’t scale linearly, so you can get away with using, say 8 pounds of asparagus for 10 people. But really, 10 lbs. will not hurt. I promise. You’re just gonna need a really big pot.

The Second Rule: Buy from People You Trust – The Central Market Story

I buy produce at Schuh’s, but when I’m picking up a bunch of stuff and need to shop at a supermarket, there is only one place I go – Central Market. Central is a small locally-owned chain (I think they have 5 or 6 stores), and here’s why you shop there:

So I’m wandering about in my usual contemplative daze through the produce department. I want citrus. Many interesting recipes for C of A soup call for a bit of lemon, but I want something with a gentler, friendlier nature. Ah! Cara Cara oranges sound right. Where are they? So – I ask one of the produce peeps where they are, and he takes me to them. I sort through a dozen and find two perfect oranges. Yes! The guy is watching me, and asks, “Do you mind if I ask what you’re going to do with those?”

“Sure – I’m going to use the juice and zest in cream of asparagus soup.”

“Cool idea. You know, for the same price, though, you might want to consider the Heirloom navels. Their flavor – and probably the zest – should stand up better to cooking than the Cara Cara and they’re not as sweet, so you won’t have as much competition with the asparagus.”

LOVE. Thank you.

Off to the deli counter, which looks a little bit like this:

This is about 1/16th of the deli section. . .

Hmmmm. . .I love asparagus wrapped in San Daniele prosciutto. I think I’ll get some to crisp up for the garnish. One of the folks behind the deli counter asks me what I need, and I vaguely say “a little San Daniele prosciutto,”  Nothing daunted, he asks “How much – two – three pounds,” Haha. OK, I need about 8 slices. “Do you mind if I ask what you’re going to be using it for,” (are you sensing a pattern forming here?)

“Sure – I’m going to slice it into shreds, crisp it up and use it as a garnish for cream of asparagus soup.”

“Sounds awesome. You might want to consider either the Speck or the Jamon Serrano instead, though – they’ll crisp easier and they have a beautiful crackling texture when you cook them. Would you like to try a slice of each?”

Ummm. . .sure. . .this was clearly not a trick question. I tried ’em both and I loved the Jamon Serrano, which was about six bucks a pound less than the San Daniele.

Both these suggestions worked out really well – I love love love markets where the staff actually:

  • Knows what the hell they’re talking about
  • Is excited about sharing their knowledge
  • Doesn’t try to constantly up sell.  Sure, sometimes the costly product is the right product, but you know – sometimes it’s really not.

Who wouldn’t want to shop at a place like that? There must be someplace like that where you live. What’s it’s name? Why do you like it?

Getting Ready to Make the Soup

I get home, offload supplies, clean up the asparagus, snip off a few choice tips with my gorgeous new ceramic knife. A dear friend and frighteningly smart social marketing consultant just gave me a set of them – I normally don’t get excited about ceramic, but these are so light, and easy to use, with a well-shaped handle.  They’re so sharp, you can feel them cutting the air in half as you move them towards the food. Thank you, Kathryn Courtney Wachs, you’re one of the best eggs I know.

OK, I cut up and prep what real chefs call the mise, but I think of as “all the sh*t I need to make the soup”, as shown below:

Oops sorry – but this *is* an important ingredient after you’ve finished using the very very sharp ceramic knife
















I’m sorry, these darned blogs, what I meant was (waving hands in the air) “Pay no attention to the little martini on the counter, this is what you really want.” Chopped onion, sliced leek, little bit of minced garlic, orange zest from heirloom navels, juice from one orange. We ate the other one. Hey, we were hungry!! Yes, that is a Meyer Lemon, thank you, but I decided against using it.

Ready to start preparing the soup!












By the way, might I add that the leeks were guys that had wintered over in our garden and were awfully good.

Sweet overwintered leeks from our garden












So, OK, you’re telling a nice story, but how do I make this soup already??

Thanks for asking! Here’s how I ended up putting it together:

Cream of Asparagus Soup with Crisp Prosciutto, Melted Orange Zest and Asparagus Tip Garnish

I have *got* to come up with a snappier name for this dish – any ideas??

Ingredients for about six to eight servings:

  • Six pounds of the freshest asparagus you can find
  • About two quarts good quality chicken broth
  • A pint or a pint++ of half and half (I’m a chicken, but next time I swear I’m using heavy cream, it’s not like we’ll be eating this every day)
  • About the equivalent of a stick of butter. Tip: This is one of those times when using good quality cultured butter makes a real difference in the taste.
  • Nutmeg – I used about a half teaspoon or so – this is really a matter of taste, so add it a bit at a time. The idea is you do *not* really want to taste the nutmeg, you just want to know that something’s going on that makes the asparagus flavor more pronounced.
  • Four or five leeks, rinsed, white part and light green part sliced. Or, half a medium sized white onion, chopped, and the two nice overwintered leeks from your garden. Next time, I’m going with the all-leek motif, we loved the flavor and wanted more!
  • Two or three garlic cloves, finely minced.
  • A few slices of prosciutto. Using a sharp knife, you’ll slice the prosciutto into approximately 1/2″ wide slices, which you’ll slowly crisp up in a tiny bit of butter or olive oil. It’s a garnish! But – there’s something about asparagus and prosciutto that is just irresistible. Let your conscience be your guide. I generally err on the side of “use a little more”. Your mileage may vary.
  • An heirloom navel orange. Or a navel orange. Or some kind of orange that’s not too sweet. You’ll want to slice off as many long strips of zest (the orange colored skin, with as little of the white part (sometimes called “pith”, probably because that’s what it tastes like) as possible. Then juice the orange into a container, ready for action.
  • Freshly ground black pepper and salt to taste. Tip: When you’re making most any dish, it’s a good idea to not add much salt at all (unless it’s necessary for some element of the cooking) until you’re close to the finish line. Yeah, your friends will ask for a taste about three seconds after you’ve started cooking something and say, “this needs salt”. Duh. It will have salt when the time is right, OK? Now sod off. Alternatively, offer them a large glass of wine or a martini – that usually distracts most people from trying to taste what you’re making before it’s ready to be tasted.
  • A large pot for the soup
  • An immersion blender (best), a blender-blender (not bad), a food processor (works, but really not the best tool for the job)


Once you’ve cut everything up, make a large martini. I like olives. Many olives. But I also like a nice strip of orange zest. Oh, wait, sorry. . .here goes:

Rinse and prep the asparagus. Snap off the stem ends and reserve for another purpose. Compost is an excellent option. Slice off 15 or 20 of the tips (make the slices about 1-1/2″ or so. Put the tips in a microwave-safe bowl, add a scant teaspoon of water, and nuke ’em for about a minute, then remove. You’re really just trying to blanch them, not cook them.

Slice the rest of the asparagus into chunks about an inch or two long. You’ll end up with a good sized bowl full of asparagus pieces.

Melt a tiny bit of butter in a fry pan over medium heat, then add the strips of prosciutto. Toss around to coat, and make sure they’re separated from each other. Cook on low heat, stirring and turning gently now and then.

Melt the rest of the butter in the bottom of your stock pot over medium heat. When it’s stopped frothing, add the onion / leeks / whatever you chopped up and stir about to coat. Cook for about six or seven minutes, stirring frequently, you do not want the onion to burn or really even to sear, so turn the heat down if this appears to be happening.

Add the garlic and stir it in for a minute or two until you can really smell it.

OK, toss in the sliced asparagus, and toss, stir until it’s well coated with the melted butter. Cook over medium-low heat for about ten minutes, stirring regularly until it’s softened.

Add about half the nutmeg, the strips of orange zest and gently stir them in (try not to break up the zest, you’ll be removing it before you serve the dish). This is a nifty trick I learned from the brilliant Kathy Gori, proprieter of The Colors of Indian Cooking, which I recommend visiting. Great food and wonderful writing!

The idea is that you add aromatics to the pot before you put the liquids in, and fry them up just a bit. It can be little tricky, since you don’t want to burn them, but putting them in at the very end mixes them with all the other stuff you’re frying up and makes burning them far less likely. Be careful and I think you’ll love the result. You’ll totally love the remarkable aroma of the nutmeg and orange as they (gently) fry up.

Add the juice from your orange and cook until it’s very gently simmering. Simmer for just a bit. I like to add the juice first so I can simmer it down a little for. . .ummm. . .”flavor intensification purposes”.

Add about two quarts of good quality chicken broth, and stir gently to mix it with the fried ingredients. Then add the half and half. OR GO WILD – USE HEAVY CREAM. I know a disreputable cardiologist who will happily write you a prescription for this allegedly deadly substance. 🙂

Bring to a gentle simmer – you don’t want the broth to boil. Stir occasionally. Simmer for about ten minutes or so. Now it’s time for serious pulverization to happen.

Kitchen Equipment – The Immersion Blender

You may have seen the industrial quality immersion blenders used on food porn shows like Top Chef, Iron Chef, Tungsten Chef, Aluminum Chef and that cute chef who everybody seems to dislike, but I kinda like her. Let’s call her Perky Chef.

You don’t need one of these. But you’d be smart to nip out and pick up a home version – you can get a very good quality immersion blender for 50-75 bucks or so, and it’s worth its weight in Perky when you need it, which is actually fairly often.

In a fit of parental adoration, I just gave ours to our daughter (“oh honey, I’m glad you liked it. Why don’t you just go ahead and keep it, I can get another one.” Yes, I am A SAP, but I loves me my girl).

So, I had to use our food processor (with the chopping blade) to pulverize the soup. DANGER! Food processors can be quite dangerous to use for processing batches of hot liquid. Note: before processing – use tongs or fingers or whatever you like to remove the pieces of orange zest. Do not toss them – they will have a wonderful use in a moment. Taste a bit of the zest. Just a wee nibble. Amazing how a little time in the hot soup tones down the zesty-ness and turns it into something lush and lovely. If you miss a small piece or two, it is not a big deal, but do try to remove all the larger pieces.

Federally mandated Safety Instructions follow: Here are the things you really want to do to 1) Get a good result 2) Avoid scalding yourself or enjoying a food processor mini-explosion from the buildup of steam inside the container, or the worst danger of all 3) Splash boiling soup into your martini, rendering it unfit for further consumption.

  • Process in batches – unless you have a totally enormous food processer. In any case, do not fill the food processor more than half full with each batch. Takes time? Yes. Is a pain? Yes. Can leak a bit of liquid even in the best of circumstances? Sure. Remind me why I gave my only immersion blender to my daughter. Oh yeah. . .finger. wrapped. I am a SAP.
  • To process, do not put the  feed tube plug in tightly at first – leave a little opening for the very hot vapors to depart the vicinity of the bowl in a non-explosive fashion.
  • Before you turn the processor on to continuous pulverization, give it a few short jabs. Trust me on this.
  • Did I mention not filling the processor more than half full?
  • You shouldn’t have to process each batch more than 10-15 seconds or so.

After you’ve finished each batch, pour it into a large bowl. When you’re done, pour the now-creamed soup back into the stock pot. Or, use the immersion blender, which means putting the blender into the stockpot and moving it around. You should have a bit of height between the top of the soup and the top of the stock pot, but that’s about it.

Taste the soup. Smell the soup. Bond with the soup. Correct for seasonings – yup, now you can add the salt and pepper you think it needs. You can also add another pinch of nutmeg if you think you need it. I always go light on salt and pepper, because it’s so easy to put a salt shaker and pepper mill on the table. You should be able to cleanly taste the asparagus and the leeks. Bring the soup back to a gentle simmer. Hot soup is the best!

The Good News

My optimistic heart says that since I’ve given away my old immersion blender to my daughter, at least I can now get my heart’s desire – the KitchenAid 300W hand blender.

Oh, and the other good news – this soup is so good that – as my Executive Pastry Chef niece Sarah likes to say, “It will make you want to grab a chair and throw it through a window.” See Sarah’s earlier post about why you might do this here.

You’ve blended your soup. Now what?

Good going. You now have a large stockpot full of simmering deliciousness, with seasonings “corrected”. Time to serve. Here are a few tips to make your bowls of soup pretty and even more delicious.

  • Heat your bowls. You can put a stack of soup bowls in a microwave (check for microwave safety first) and run the microwave for about a minute and a half. Ta da! A nice warm stack of soup bowls.
  • Remember the little crispy strips of prosciutto you made? Now’s the time to use them.
  • Those big chunks of delectable orange zest that you removed from the soup before blending? Take a very sharp knife and slice them into a fine julienne.
  • Get your blanch’ed asparagus tips ready.
  • Plate by ladling the soup into the bowl, adding a few artful strips of prosciutto, an asparagus tip or two, and drift a few of the julienned orange zest bits on top of the other garnishes. This is the part that I’m working hard on. I’m OK, but making your food look beautiful means you’ll hit every sense but sound – it will taste gorgeous, smell remarkable, and look beautiful. The trifecta. The sound comes when your guests say, “OMG that is *so* good!”

Serve With: We like to serve this with a simple green salad and some nice warm slices of baguette. It doesn’t need much else. Unless you’re in a major feast mode, a bowl or so of this soup + salad + bread + a Perky white wine = a really good meal.

Editors Note: We are not thrilled with the picture below, the prosciutto looks like sun dried tomato and we forgot to wipe down the edge of the bowl. As we noted, we’re working on the whole “plating” thing. Click the image twice and it will look a little bit nicer.

Finally -the asparagus soup in its bowl, soon to be eaten - see the wee little bits of orange zest?






















The resul

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Sustenence is more than a word

There are dishes that I’ve cooked for my family since the kids were small. Oh, I’ve tarted them up a bit over time, but there are just some dishes that you don’t mess with. Possibly because they work, possibly because you remember the smiles on the faces of your friends and family when they eat, possibly because you’re lazy! 🙂 Nonetheless, there it is – you serve this dish and everybody sits down to table smiling, knowing they will be. . .sustained, and not just by eating tasty calories.

So everybody, and I do mean everybody – every “recipe” blog and food site on the Web (at last count, over sixteen trillion of the things, so thanks to those of you who visit mine – it’s a needle in a haystack. Or a pin bone in a very very large salmon fillet) – everybody, as I was saying, has a recipe for meat sauce. Ragu Bolognese. Spaghetti sauce. Gravy. Call it what you will.

I’ve been making this dish for my family for decades, and although I’ve learned a few tricks, the essence of the dish remains the same, as do the smiles on the faces of family – and on the faces of those friends who we know well enough to feed ’em “family food”. That’s one thing that sustains me. Watching people chasing after the last little bits of sauce on their plate with a scrap of bread is a beautiful, nourishing thing. The look on their faces is one usually reserved for when you’re trying to figure out how to get a little extra edge on your tax return, or reading a really great novel – so concentrated, so intent, so focused. Only without the worried part – just happy concentration. It’s beautiful.

What?? I Can’t Smell You

Here’s a little trick – smell is one of your most important tools, but there’s a small problem with smell. If you’re in the kitchen, working away, humming a merry tune, chopping, slicing, frying, dreaming, you might notice that. You. Can. No. Longer. Actually. Smell. What. You’re Cooking. Your brain has a self-defense mechanism – really, it’s just doing it for your own good. It’s a mechanism that works for most senses – after you’ve smelled something for a while, or listened to something, or seen something long enough, the sensation just fades into the background. You can still smell, hear, or see something, but it’s a pale shadow of what’s really going on.

Since this isn’t a philosophy blog, that’s as far as I’m going to take that notion. However. . .when you’re cooking, there’s a workaround. Step back from the stove. If you can, step outside. Look at the flowers (or the cars or whatever you see outside your home), breathe deeply. In through the nose, out through the mouth. Try and stay outside at least a minute or two. When you step back in, the true aroma of what you’re cooking will smack you on the side of the head and you’ll say “Marjoram!! I *knew* there was something missing.”

How About You?

What do you cook that you may have cooked for years and still just totally love? By the way, it doesn’t have to be a family dish. If you’re a single person, what do you cook when you just want to be happy and eat something good, and don’t want to go to a restaurant, but want badly to be in the comfort of your home, eating something you love.

The Recipe“Spaghetti Sauce”

You’ll need the following for 4-6 good servings. Cut in half and you’ve got a meal for one, with awesome leftovers. I urge you to consider making this the night before or even two nights before. It is so much better the day or two after it’s first made.

  • A large fry pan. Saute pan. Some kind of pan
  • A large bowl that can handle having hot vegetables and oil poured into it.
  • One medium-sized white onion, cut into a medium dice
  • One good-sized carrot, finely diced. Old carrots are good!!
  • One stalk of celery, sliced thin
  • A handful of minced parsley

    Fresh ripe tomatoes add brightness to your sauce!




  • 4 cloves of garlic, minced (I actually use more like 8-10 cloves, finely minced, but that’s just how I roll. Find the amount of garlic that makes you smile.)
  • About an ounce of tomato paste (TIP: Get tomato paste in the squeeze tubes. That way you can use just what you need – which is always less than what most recipes call for – and the rest will keep indefinitely in the refer)
  • Two pieces of Parmesan rind. These are the rinds that are left over at the market when they cut up the Parmesan. They are goodness, and they are cheap! Most good supermarkets will have them, sometimes you have to ask.
  • 3-4 firm ripe tomatoes, your choice. You don’t need to remove the skin – but it’s a good idea to quarter them and scoop out all the seeds and pulp. Medium dice.
  • Extra virgin olive oil (I always thought you were either a virgin or you weren’t, but I guess it applies differently to olive oil.)
  • One large tin of good quality crushed tomatoes (they vary by region, Muir Glen are quite reliably good – here’s a link to a nifty Chowhound forum discussion on just this very topic!)
  • Red wine. Doesn’t have to be an awesome vintage – these days, I buy the “two-buck chuck” at Trader Joe’s and find it quite acceptable.
  • Brandy or cognac or bourbon. You’ll only need a tablespoon of this potent flavor additive. Note: In cooking, you’ll vaporize all (or almost all) the alcohol – this is a dish you can serve to anybody.
  • About 3/4 lb. of the cheap ground beef. It has more fat. You’ll drain away most of the fat, but the flavor you’ll get is far better than the ultra-lean ground beef that costs so much. Everything has a purpose!
  • Oregano. Dried is fine, truly.
  • Thyme. See the note about dried oregano.
  • Basil. Dried is not a good idea. Get a handful of fresh, rinsed and patted dry basil leaves and tear them with your hands into tiny bits.





    Fresh basil, please!

  • A pinch or two of nutmeg
  • Optional – a teaspoon of dried marjoram. It’s dry, dusty and, with the cocoa powder and maple syrup (or sugar), adds depth to the sauce.
  • A tablespoon of cocoa powder – the real stuff, just plain cocoa. This is optional, but so so good. You won’t even taste the chocolate – you’ll just feel a dark, rich “undertone” to the sauce.
  • Maple syrup – about 2-3 TB to taste. Or sugar. If you’ve got maple syrup, it’s a huge plus!
  • Lemon juice. These days, I favor Meyer lemons, they’ve started to come down in price, but any fresh lemon juice is just fine)
  • Salt, pepper
  • Shredded Reggiano Parmesan for serving

Cook it up

Put a large fry pan on the stove and get it hot. This is important. Heat the pan over medium hot (you’ ll need to figure out what that means for your range-top, for me, it’s about 3/4 of the way to totally on), then add about two turns of oil (Note: that means pour the oil from your container around the pan twice – the dispensers on the containers are generally pretty standardized, this should give you about 2 oz. of oil or so.

When the oil is shimmering, but not smoking, add the onions and carrots. Turn the heat down a bit, and toss the onion carrot mixture about a bit, playfully, to coat everything with hot oil. Cook for about 4-6 minutes, stirring now and then, until the onion has turned translucent, and the carrot is softened. Add the celery and stir until the celery is softened – about 2 minutes or less. Add the garlic and stir until you can really smell it – should be a minute or so. Add a pinch of salt and a couple of twists of freshly ground pepper. Stir one last time and move all the veggies into that big bowl we talked about. Sprinkle a pinch or two of nutmeg on the veggies as they rest in the bowl.

Put the pan back on the heat, wait until it gets hot again – this won’t take long – and add the meat. With a large fork, press, smoosh, stir, and generally break up the meat. There will be a lot of steam at first, then, the steam will go away. Steam’s like that. Once you’ve heated most of the water out of the meat, it will start really cooking. Continue to stir, smoosh and scrape the bottom of the pan with the side of the fork tines. The meat will form small crumbles of goodness. There should be a healthy sheen of fat. Once the meat has just started to brown, drain the majority of the fat. I just tip the pan and use a large serving spoon to scoop up the fatty liquid. Leave a little fat in the pan, you can discard the rest.

Add the veggies back into the pan, and about an ounce or so of tomato paste. Again, using the fork, stir everything up, “cooking” the tomato paste and mixing it thoroughly with the other ingredients. At this point, you’ll have  nice lot of browned stuff on the bottom of the pan. This is goodness. Fancy folk call it the “fond”, in Asian cooking it’s known, more beautifully, as “the precious” (also applies to rice!). Now it’s time for the wine. Take about 1 cup of wine (to start) and pour it into the pan. Sizzling and steam will happen. Technically, this is known as “deglazing”, though it has nothing to do with glass.

With the side of your fork, scrape up as much of the good brown stuff as possible into the boiling winey mix. Add more wine if you like. I do. Cook the wine down by about half.

Add the crushed tomatoes, stirring to mix. Add the pieces of parmesan rind. Add about a TB of oregano (crush the dried herb between your palms to break it up even further. This gives it more surface area and – more flavor! Add about two tsp. thyme in the same fashion. Stir them in. Add the parsley. Taste the sauce, and add a little salt and freshly gr ound pepper. Just a little, because the sauce will be cooking down. You’ll fix the salt and pepper balance right at the end.

Turn the heat down to simmer and let simmer for an hour or two. Or three. Three is good. Four is better. If you can let it simmer all day, that’s awesome!! Just add a little water whenever it looks like the sauce is getting dry. Stir occasionally, being sure to scrape the bottom of the pan for any stray bits. Continue to simmer.

Tip: If you have one of those little pan screens – this is exactly what they were born to do. The sauce, even at a simmer, will tend to splatter and give you some extra cleaning work to do in the general neighborhood of the pan. Or you can use a pan screen.

By the time you’re done, the sauce should be moderately thick (for example, if you put a spoon into it, the spoon will come out with its back coated with sauce). Add the brandy and lemon juice (juice of about a half a Meyer or other lemon) and stir. Add the diced fresh tomatoes – they’ll brighten everything up beautifully. Add the torn shreds of fresh basil.

Stir everything into the mix and continue simmering for another 15 minutes or so. Remove the Parmesan rinds. Or don’t, just advise your happy eaters that the large knobby chunk of gooey goodness in the middle of their sauce is a piece of cheese. Taste and correct for seasonings. In other words, see if you’ve got the salt and pepper right. Err on the side of caution with these two key seasonings, as everybody has a different tolerance and it’s easy enough to put a salt cellar and pepper mill on the table.

If you’ve prudently made this sauce a day or two in advance, pop it into a large, sealable container and put it in the refer. Bring it out when the time is right, put it into a pan – probably the same pan – and heat it gently until it’s nice and hot. Have a large pot filled with boiling salted water (about 2 TB. salt per gallon of water – no worries, virtually all the salt will wash away when you drain the pasta).

Serve with – hmmm, my favorite pasta for this dish is fettuccine, but really you can use any pasta you like. Long noodles are generally preferable, and more fun! Boil the pasta in salted water until al dente, then drain the water, add a little bit of sauce to keep it from sticking, and fish out the individual servings with tongs, and add more sauce. Or just drain in a colander and put back in the pot, again adding a little sauce to keep it from sticking.

Fresh green salad. A bit of toasted, buttered baguette. A red wine that you like. A nice bowl of freshly shredded Reggiano Parmesan cheese for people to use as they will. Salt and pepper at the table. Happy people, which is really the best part.

I just can’t prescribe specific wines. I don’t like abstract expressionism. You love abstract expressionism. I don’t like almost any zinfandel, you adore zin of all kinds. I say potato. Wine is a personal matter. If you don’t think so, try doing a completely blind (brown paper bag) tasting with some of your wine-loving friends. 🙂

I’ve been making this sauce for almost three decades, with minor variations here and there as I feel the urge to experiment. And I’ve been watching family and friends smile as they sit down to eat a little bit of love on a plate. My wonderful niece Sarah, the executive pastry chef, calls great food “sex on a plate”. I’m older and think of love. Come to think of it, I’ve always thought of love.

A brief note – although I’ve made this sauce a million times, I. Have. Never. Taken. A. Picture. What’s wrong with me. So, after a good bit of research using Bing Image Search, I’m prevailing on the kindness of my blogging friends and using this lovely shot – which looks a great deal like what your own finished labor of love will look like. It’s from the nice peeps at What’s For Eats. Their recipe, which is also a good’un, is here.

Are you hungry yet?



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How Do We Know it’s Spring – Farmstands and Farmers Markets and Festivals, Oh My!!

It’s pretty easy to tell when Spring starts – everybody has their own way of determining their personal Spring start-date. For some people, it’s the beginning of baseball season – and we’re not averse to that – but for some, it’s the opening of Schue’s Farmer’s Stand in Stanwood, WA. Oh – if you’d like to see *why* this says Spring to me, here’s a picture I took of the inside of the farmstand on their opening day of last year (2012). Click the picture to see the whole thing. Right now, their Stanwood location is closed for the Winter, but they’ll be opening soon!

Schuh’s Farmstand, Stanwood, WA., April 1, 2011 – Spring!

Schue’s is a family stand that’s been around for generations in our neck of the woods. Jennifer, the proprieter, is a sweet, funny woman who demonstrates a classic Newtonian law – A Body at Rest Tends to Remain at Rest – a Body in Motion Tends to Remain in Motion. As it happens, Jennifer is rarely at rest.

These are folks who’ve been in the business of growing (and raising) food for generations. They’re hard-working, generous and funny.

Please support them, and our other local farmers. Try a Farmer’s Market break from the usual harried run of supermarket shopping. Visit a nearby Farmer’s Market. We think ours is pretty great!

Have a cup of coffee. Visit with the producers. You might even meet a friend, or engage in lively discussion with a neighbor over which tomato really does taste best or the virtues of root vegetables.

And of course here in the Skagit Valley, we are fortunate enough to have some of the world’s largest growers of tulips. One way of saying “It’s Spring” in the Valley is “It’s time for the Tulip Festival!!”.

Let us know how you mark the entrance of Spring.  Is there a special food or drink or ritual that says Spring to you?

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Manners Around the World – With Thanks to the Family Education Network

Whether you eat umeboshi or White Castle, whether your idea of a feast is a noma choba or a barbeque, whether you use a fork or chopsticks, there’s one thing we can all agree on – manners at the dinner table are consistent – after all, good manners are good manners, aren’t they?

Hmmmm. . .well, maybe that’s just a bit provincial. As the raconteur, chef and bon vivant Anthony Bourdain might say, “Suum Cuique”. Mr. Bourdain is not only a great chef and entertainer, he’s a bit of a classicist – what he’s telling you (in Latin, of course) is “To Each Their Own”.

Every culture in the world has its own standards for dining manners. If you think you’re an international Emily Post of the dinner table, then take a whirl at this simple test and see how your International Culinary IQ measures up.

With thanks to the nice people at The Family Education Network (

Click here to start: Start the Test!

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