Chef Icculus
Balsamic Brussels Sprouts

Serves four or more. You’ll need:

  • Brussels sprouts.
  • Butter.
  • Olive oil.
  • Salt.
  • Pepper.
  • Brown sugar.
  • Balsamic vinegar.
  • Cayenne pepper.

I’m sick to death of people telling me they hate Brussels sprouts.

OF COURSE you hate them, you were probably force fed really badly cooked side dishes as a kid, and had to sit at the dinner table until you ate them all. Coincidentally, this is what Donald Rumsfeld recommended for interrogations at Gitmo.

So, okay, let’s fix that nonsense. If you’ve ever had to choke down a chewy, flavorless Brussels sprout, then you’ll be happy to know that those little green buggers can be made into a savory delight.

This recipe makes a great Thanksgiving dish, but you can eat it everyday, for as easy as this is to make.

First, you need some sprouts. You can get these in small bags from the grocery store, or around the holidays, Trader Joe’s sells them right on the stalk.

Kneel before Zod.

The stalk is awesome, but provides a ton of sprouts. You probably don’t need this many, but you can definitely cook this much for a large gathering. The bag you get at the grocery store is probably a third of this:

Get them off the stalk, trim down the ends (you’ll want to do that even if you get them from a bag, as the ends tend to look pretty dirty). If the leaves look crappy, peel off the top layer. Slice them in half lengthwise.

 

Throw them in a big pan, and pour in some water. Get about an inch of water in there. Put it on the stove on high heat and mostly cover the pan. You want the water to start boiling, and then let it steam the sprouts for about 10-15 minutes. Give the pan a good shake every few minutes. You want the steaming to really soften the sprouts; this fixes about half of what people hate about them. They’ll be tender enough that a fork will go through them without a fight when you’re done.

After you’re done steaming, pour out any excess water (just take off the lid and let it evaporate if you’re already low), and throw in about 2 tablespoons of butter and 2 tablespoons of olive oil (more or less, depending on how many sprouts you’ve got in there).

Turn the stove down to medium-high heat, and stir everything with some frequency for the next few minutes. You want the sprouts to start browning. Pay attention: once they start browning, they can progress to burning pretty quickly. Keep stirring.

Once they seem pretty evenly cooked, add brown sugar.

There is not a real measurement. Expect to use several handfuls of sugar here. Try to generously cover the sprouts, kind of like this:

More tends to be better than less. Now, pour basalmic vinegar over it. You want to have enough to have a little runoff in the pan. Less tends to be better than more.

Stir this up now…at a distance! When that vinegar turns to steam, expect your lungs to burn if you inhale it. Seriously: it hurts like hell for a few seconds. Throw in a little salt and pepper, and then, the magic ingredient: cayenne pepper.

You need VERY VERY LITTLE of this. A dash or two. It will ruin the dish if you use too much, so err on the side of caution here.

Stir everything up, let all these spices mix in, and get this off the heat right away. You’re done!

A disclaimer: you’ll get this wrong at least once. It’s hard to get the sugar/vinegar/cayenne mix right. In a perfect world, when you bite into one of these sprouts, you should get a burst of balsamic intensity that quickly mellows out to a sweetness from the sugar, and then slowly introduces a warmth from the cayenne pepper. It’s less good but also acceptable if you end up with something that’s mostly sweet from too much sugar, with a little savory from the vinegar. It you get a bad mix, you can usually save the dish by adding more sugar after the fact.

I have served this dish to many, many people, who have told me they hate Brussels sprouts while shoveling them into their mouths as fast as possible. Happy Thanksgiving!

Variations:

  • You can toss in some onions and/or garlic, but really, that’s true of anything. Saute it up when you throw in the butter and olive oil.
  • If you’re not brave, skip the cayenne pepper, but if you do, I’ll judge you.
Mac and Cheese

Serves six (and maybe more). You’ll need:

  • Penne noodles.
  • Heavy cream.
  • Whole milk.
  • A block of white American cheese.
  • A block of Monterey Jack.
  • Ground parmesan cheese.
  • Ground nutmeg.
  • Ground mustard.
  • Salt.
  • Pepper.
  • Panko bread crumbs.
  • Parsley.
  • Butter.

My wife is a mac and cheese fanatic. If she were trapped on a desert island, the only thing she would take with her is mac and cheese. She is not shy about it. I’m pretty sure she stops people on the street to tell them how awesome a bowl of cheesy noodly goodness would be right about now.

So it didn’t take too long before this cookbook was gifted to us…

…and experimentation began.

The one we like best at the moment is the “City Hall Mac and Cheese,” named for Henry Archer Meer’s restaurant in New York City, which serves their version of this recipe.

They do one thing a little differently than us: they use cayenne pepper. Half a teaspoon of it! A dash is enough to feel the heat, and that much actually makes the dish more spicy than pleasant, so we settled on a more mild, but still zesty, mustard flavor. You can actually get away with mixing in the squirt-bottle mustard you put on a hotdog, but we use ground mustard.

You’re also going to need cheese. Generally we do this with half a pound of white American cheese and half a pound of Monterey Jack. You’ll want to get these as blocks, so you can grate them. The first time you do this at the deli counter of your supermarket, expect to cause confusion. You don’t have to be exact about the measurements, which is good, because you’re likely to come back with way more than half a pound. Most places aren’t used to doing anything but slicing cheese. When you get home, grate up all the cheese into a big bowl and mix it up.

Now we’re really ready to get started! First things first: the noodles.

We use Penne for this instead of macaroni. I can’t imagine using anything else. They have a good size and texture, and they tend to fill up with cheese, making every bite amazing. We just take a whole 1-pound box and boil it according to directions (12 minutes in this case). If the noodles are ready before you need them, that’s okay; they don’t need to be steaming hot. Drain them when they’re al dente and put them aside.

You’re going to need to get some cream on the stove.

Put 2 cups of heavy cream and 2 cups of whole milk in a big saucepan, and get that on medium-high heat. Mix in 1/4 teaspoon of ground nutmeg, and a lot of ground mustard. We probably dump about half that little container in there. Don’t be shy with it. Throw in a little salt and pepper.

Keep stirring this while the sauce reduces down by half. It’ll take about 15 minutes. Don’t leave this alone for too long, as it’ll boil if you don’t keep a close eye on it, and that’s bad. Stir it a lot.

Once it’s reduced, turn the heat down to medium-low and dump in your cheese. You’ll want to keep stirring as you drop it in, so it dissolves into the sauce. Your sauce should be getting thicker now. Take a moment to taste it and adjust your spices if it’s too bland. Then dump the Penne into the sauce and stir it around.

You want to stir this really well, not just to mix it, but to try and get some of the noodle’s starch into the sauce to thicken it more. Don’t beat the noodles up too much, though.

Take this off the heat now and make your topping. This is a good time to preheat the oven to 350, too.

You’re going to want to use panko for this. Panko is just chunky bread crumbs. It’s either right next to the normal bread crumbs in the grocery store, or it’s hidden it in the “ethnic foods” section as some bizarre Japanese thing.

You could probably get away with normal bread crumbs, but trust me, this makes all the difference in the world.

Take a half cup of panko, 2 teaspoons of chopped parsley, and a generous amount of grated parmesan and toss it together.

Now go get a 9x13 baking dish and grease it with some butter. Empty the saucepan of noodles into it.

Stir a little bit of the topping into it now; I find it adds a little more texture to the final dish, but you need to show restraint. Most of that topping should be spread evenly across the top and not mixed in.

Into the oven it goes, 15 minutes.

When it comes out, the top is crispy, but underneath, it’s gooey and creamy and cheesy and irresistable.

You can put this on a plate, if you don’t find yourself eating right out of the dish with a fork.

This pairs really well with a good rotisserie chicken.

This serves a lot of people, especially if it’s a side item and not the main entree. But I should warn you: it doesn’t reheat well, so plan to eat as much as you can as soon as it comes out of the oven.

Experience has shown that most dinner guests fully support such a plan.

Variations:

  • Use the squirt bottle mustard. Less seems to go further than the ground mustard, so add it slowly until you get the flavor you want.
  • Use different cheeses! There’s a whole world out there, people.
Blogging is hard, let’s go shopping.

Apparently this blog has fallen into the same trap as so many others: a flurry of posts followed by dead silence.

It turns out blogging is easy (hence the success of Twitter), but blogging well is really hard. Knocking out a recipe that consists of “blend up some frozen bananas and then put them in your mouth” turns out to take over an hour to write.

Adding genuine wit (or failing that, a decent set of fart jokes) takes exponentially longer.

So I’ve got a bank of photos for 12 recipes at the moment, and no real time to do a proper writeup for any of them. It’s so demotivating to realize that this small thing I did for giggles turned out to be actual work; it makes me not bother photographing new things for future posts I won’t write, and eventually, it makes me not bother trying new things. It’s the polar opposite of why I started this.

So I’m going to try to set a schedule and not get overwhelmed by the sheer backlog of it. If it takes me 15 hours to write 12 more entries over time, then so be it; I’ll just pick them off one at a time, maybe once a week, until I’m searching for new things to write about.

I’m well aware that this is a long-winded version of the post every blogger burps up before completely abandoning an account. I don’t know why we feel the need to apologize to an audience that doesn’t exist, full of people we never met, demanding we perform for free.

This might be a bust. It might go down like that. But until then, let’s see if I can get a few more meals pinned up on the internet machine.

Roast veggies

Serves four. You’ll need:

  • Veggies! (Red Onion, carrots, brussels sprouts, mushrooms, red potatoes, green beans, etc).
  • A lemon.
  • Olive oil.
  • Salt.
  • Pepper.
  • Italian seasoning.

Quick one for you today.

This recipe made more sense when I took the pictures; this is good hearty food for a wintery night and there was a cold front coming through. But, with the weather we’re having this year, maybe you’ll enjoy this on a snowy day in July.

Roasting vegetables is easy, and deeply satisfying.

So go get yourself some veggies!

Not all vegetables are created equally. Some will burn or dry out. These work pretty well, though: mushrooms, green beans, baby carrots (or peeled, chopped up regular carrots), red potatoes, red onions, brussels sprouts. You can feel free to experiment, though.

Chop them up, and put them on a cookie sheet.

Potatoes and onions should be halved/quartered/eigthed depending on how big they are. I chop the ends off the green beans and split the brussels sprouts in half lengthwise. The baby carrots and mushrooms go in there whole. Try to mix everything evenly over the sheet, and try to not pile them on top of each other too much (a little bit is okay).

Now you want to brush them with a little olive oil. Use a brush or your freshly-washed fingers. You just want a light layer over top of everything.

Once you’re oiled, squeeze half a lemon over the veggies. The juice will give this a little kick.

Toss a little salt, pepper and Italian seasoning (which is just prepackaged oregano, etc) over everything.

And into the oven it goes. 400 degrees for 30 minutes.

Now, this is the real art: you have to watch these: some times it’ll take up to 10 minutes longer, but some times it takes less. One thing is certain, though: you will think you’re about to turn these things into charcoal long before they’re done. The trick is to decide when they’re actually burning and should be pulled out. Some of the things on the sheet (most notably: the brussels sprouts) will look like they’re burning way sooner than everything will be cooked through. Don’t panic too soon. You want things to get brown. You also want those potatoes to bake all the way through.

When they’re done, they’ll look like this:

Get a spatula and move everything to a (very large) bowl. Give it a few minutes to cool, because biting into one of these potatoes right out of the oven brings swift death to your tongue.

Almost always, we pair this with wide egg noodles (“No Yolks” dumplings, specifically), and have a tendency to sprinkle parmasan cheese over the whole thing. Because that’s how we roll.

You should find that the potatoes got fantastically tender, the green beans and carrots still have a little snap, the mushrooms are juicy, and everything has a sort of heartiness to it. You’ll leave the table feeling very full. Roasting tends to bring out a good sweetness in some of these things, and it playfully interacts with the lemon juice.

Variations:

  • Use any veggie you want.
Mushroom Parmesan Sandwiches

Serves two. You’ll need:

  • Portabella mushrooms.
  • Lots of oil for deep frying.
  • Hoagie/Hero/Sub rolls.
  • Pasta sauce (my recipe is good, a jar from the store will work, too).
  • Mozarella cheese.
  • Eggs.
  • Bread crumbs.
  • Grated Parmesan cheese.
  • Garlic powder.
  • Oregano.
  • Parsley.

My mother has been frequenting the same Italian restaurant for almost 20 years now, and whenever she calls for take-out, she orders the same thing. Chicken parmesan sandwich. Two decades worth of them.

And then one day, she snaps. One can only eat so much chicken parm. Right in mid-order, she reevaluates her whole life. She decides it’s time for a change.

So this night, she calls in an order for anything parm.

The conversation, I am told, goes something like this.

"Hey, I usually order the chicken parm, but I’m looking for something a little different tonight. Do you have anything else?"

"You want the chicken parm?"

"No, I’m looking for something else parmesan. You have anything else?"

"You no want the chicken parm?"

"Is there anything else back there you can parm up? Just parm me up, I don’t know, a mushroom."

"What?"

"You know, a mushroom. Mushroom parm."

"What?"

MUSHROOM PARMESAN. Do you understand me?!

"You no want the chicken parm?"

This really happened. I don’t know what the end result was, beyond Mom not actually getting her fantasy sandwich. I imagine her walking around in a daze, trying to order shoelace parm and mailbox parm. Before blacking out in a delirium brought about by parmesan withdrawal, she stuffs an end of the phone handset in her mouth, thinking she’s found some oasis of telephone parm, much to the confusion of the restaurant on the other end of the line.

As she’s telling me this story, though, all I can think is, “mushroom parmesan sounds friggin’ good.” So I made it!

There’s not a lot of variation in whatever parm sandwiches. Regardless of the base ingredient, you generally cook it the same way, so you can substitute anything here if you’re willing to stand next to it while it’s submerged in boiling oil. It’s not a hard requirement, but this will work better with things that can be cut thin and cover a decent surface area…which makes Portabella mushrooms pretty much ideal for our purposes.

You know, the big ones.

You’re going to want to slice these into discs. Try to make them maybe half an inch thick, and expect to throw away more of the mushroom than you keep; once you’re hitting the gills, you’re probably slicing too much. Get more mushrooms than you think you’ll need; each sandwich will probably take 2 or 3 caps. If a slice breaks in half, keep it, it’ll still work out.

For perspective, this is the trash pile:

Now we bread them.

You’re going to need two bowls: a wet bowl and a dry bowl. In the wet bowl, beat 2-3 eggs. You can add a little milk if you need to stretch it out, but you probably won’t for a few sandwiches.

In the dry bowl, pour in some bread crumbs. You can make your own if you like, but I usually end up just getting one of those cardboard tubes from the store and dumping the whole thing in the bowl. On top of that, dump a bunch of garlic powder, grated parmesan cheese, oregano and parsley (dried spices will be fine here). Mix it up. I don’t have quantities for this, you have to play it by ear with what you like. TASTE IT AND ADJUST. You will almost certainly want way more garlic powder than you thought when you started. This should not be bland! You should be able to taste bold flavor in the dry bowl before you get down to business.

Okay, we’re ready to do the breading. Here’s how the assembly line works.

You go left to right: your left hand is your wet hand. It never touches anything but the wet bowl. Your right hand is your dry hand. It never touches anything but the dry bowl. If you get confused, you will end up with a breadcrumb exoskeleton on your hands, and then you’ll have no options left in life but to audition for the villain in the next Spider-Man movie.

Or, to use another movie metaphor: don’t cross the streams!

Anyhow. Mushroom goes into egg wash, then mushroom goes into breading. Repeat once if you like for the controversial double breading, but use it sparingly; it makes your guests think they got a bigger portion, but really they’re just getting a mouthful of bread on a roll. Double breading works better if you’re serving meat that doesn’t shrivel when fried as a meal and not a sandwich. File that protip away for another time.

Once breaded, stack the mushrooms on a plate until you’re ready to cook them.

You’ll need a pan full of vegetable (or whatever) oil now. A real deep fryer works nicely here, too, and might be a good if you’ve never reviewed the lesson on how to put out a fire in a burning pan full of hot oil (hint: DO NOT THROW WATER ON IT).

I don’t fear death, so I went with the cast iron skillet, with the burner set to 5-6 out of 10. This takes awhile to heat up. Once it does, start dropping in mushrooms.

You want to cook these until they turn darkish brown (the ones pictured above are just getting started), flipping them over so both sides cook. Note that the first batch will probably cook more slowly, as the oil is still heating up.

Once they’re brown enough, move them to a plate with a paper towel on it to drain excess oil, and pop more mushrooms in the skillet.

While those are cooking, prep your bread.

This might just involve slicing rolls open, or maybe you want to crisp the outsides in the oven a little bit. The time has already passed for the most important decision: what bread should I use?

This is all preference, but anyone can tell you that the bread is the most important part of a sandwich, so go big. I got these beauties at The Fresh Market…

…and regret nothing.

You’ll also need some mozzarella. Don’t cheap out on this. If you didn’t have to slice it yourself, you probably got the wrong stuff. If you can identify the shape of the thing you’re slicing as “square,” then that’s better, but still not perfect.

Okay, let’s assemble the final product.

Mushrooms go onto the sliced bread:

Pasta sauce goes on the mushrooms, cheese goes on top of the sauce.

At this point, you get extra credit for putting this in a toaster over to melt the cheese. More sauce goes on top of the cheese, and—if you need more—sprinkle some grated parmesan on top of that.

Fold it over, slice it in half. Then feast your eyes on this bad boy:

Pure heaven.

Variations:

  • For a lighter meal, you can bake the breaded mushrooms instead of frying them, but you’re going to miss out on a lot of flavor. You could also skip the cheese. You could probably even skip the breading, in which case this isn’t at all the same meal anymore, but it would probably qualify as health food (and, likely, still taste pretty good).
  • Parm anything! If you can bread it, deep fry it, stuff it in a roll and cover it in sauce, you’re doing okay. We tried chicken parm, eggplant parm, meatball parm, veal parm, tofu parm, hell, we even did leftovers-from-the-Thanksgiving-turkey parm one day. AND IT WAS ALL DELICIOUS.
Pasta sauce

Serves lots and lots. You’ll need:

  • Mushrooms.
  • Onions.
  • Olive oil.
  • Two cans of crushed tomatoes.
  • Garlic.
  • Fresh tomatoes.
  • Burgundy wine.
  • Basil.
  • Parsley.
  • Garlic salt.
  • Salt.
  • Sugar.
  • Pepper.
  • Oregano.

Cooking like your little old Italian grandmom isn’t as hard as you’d think. This one is based, very loosely, on my grandmother’s recipe. Her recipe takes hours and has meat in it. As I am both lazy and vegetarian, I do it differently.

Once you make this, you’ll never want to crack open a jar from the store again. This makes a pretty big pot, which you can freeze for later use if you like.

You’re going to need a pile of mushrooms and a big onion.

I tend to like cremini (“baby bella”) mushrooms for this, but any mushroom will do. It’s the texture, I guess. You want to use about one package of these. A plain yellow onion will do. Slice the mushrooms, dice the onion.

Now go get yourself a big pot.

Put a little olive oil in there, enough to coat the bottom: a tablespoon or two will do. Put it on the stove at medium heat, let it warm up a little, and toss in the mushrooms and onions. You’ll want to let these cook down for 10-15 minutes, stirring them every minute or so. Eventually the onions will get soft and transparent and the mushrooms will get darker. You might notice they’re taking up half the space that they were when you first put them in the pot, too.

Once those are cooked up, it’s time for tomatoes, round one. You’ll want two 28oz cans of crushed tomatoes. Make sure you get plain, boring tomatoes, too. There are lots of options for various spices and seasonings, but you don’t want those; you’re adding your own flavors and you don’t want some prepackaged nonsense to compete.

If you can’t get crushed tomatoes, you can get whole tomatoes and put the entire contents of the can, liquid and all, into a blender for a few seconds to get the same results.

Pour these into the pot, over your onions and mushrooms, and stir it up. Leave the heat on. It’s time to prep some garlic!

You want five cloves. Five. This is, to some people, a ton of garlic, but whatever. More garlic means more flavor. You could add more…

…but let’s not get too crazy here on our first time out, okay? Five of those boogers: chop off the ends, remove the papery skin, and mince them up. Extra credit if you crush them first with the flat of the blade.

Into the pot they go.

I should take a moment here to warn you: at each step of this recipe, this sauce is disgusting. Don’t taste it as you go, or you’re going to think you ruined it. Once it’s all together, you can taste and adjust the flavor if you want, but don’t micromanage before then.

Now it’s time to throw a bunch of stuff in the pot. Go get a burgundy wine. Any one will do.

Put a 1/4 cup of that in the pot.

Follow it up with:

  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 teaspoon oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon of garlic salt
  • 2 teaspoons parsley flakes
  • 2 teaspoons basil

These are good guidelines, but you can throw however much you want in there. After everything is in, you might want to add more of one thing or another. You can used dried spices, or fresh oregano, parsley and basil.

Stir the pot and turn up the heat until the sauce boils. Once it is boiling, drop the heat down to medium/low and let everything simmer for 20 minutes, stirring it every few minutes. While that’s simmering, you’ll want to prep some fresh tomatoes.

You can use around eight Roma or Hothouse tomatoes here. In a pinch, a few normal slicing tomatoes will work fine. Chop those into quarters (or eighths, for bigger ones), and put them aside until the sauce has been simmering for about 20 minutes.

At the 20 minute mark, toss them in the pot. Let everything keep simmering for another 25-30 minutes, stirring forcefully every few minutes. You want to abuse those tomatoes a little when stirring.

Those fresh tomatoes will break down some, but not completely, giving you some robustness. You’ll get some hearty chunks in the sauce from this. It’s good stuff.

After all this simmering, you’re done. You can ladle this over pasta right now. You’ll find the flavor enhances if you put this in the fridge overnight, too, as the garlic has time to diffuse through the sauce.

This recipe makes a pretty thick sauce, and as it cools down it gets thicker. You might have to add some water as it simmers to loosen it up. If you’re looking for a very thin maranara-style sauce, though: this ain’t it.

You can boil some pasta now and chow down within a few minutes. I’ll be exploring another intriguing possibility for this sauce in the next post, though.

Variations:

  • Make it looser: add more water.
  • Make it thicker: add tomato paste and/or simmer longer.
  • Add meat! Simmer it with meatballs, or your favorite (pre-cooked!) protein. This will dramatically enhance the flavor, if that’s your thing.
  • Play with the spices; customize the salt, sugar, pepper, basil, etc, to taste.
Frozen ‘nanners

Serves two. You’ll need:

  • Bananas.
  • Peanut butter.
  • Honey.

It has come to my attention that the vast majority of my posts so far demand a tolerance for dairy, and this will not stand.

My wife was flipping through the channels and saw this on Five Ingredient Fix, and hit record on the Tivo with a quickness for my later perusal. She hates bananas with all her soul—even the smell repulses her—which goes to show how much she loves me.

Much like the Snow Cream, this is more fake-o ice cream, but it’s a great idea for those that are lactose intolerant, as it has no dairy at all. And it’s dirt-simple to make, so it’s great to make with little lactose intolerant children, if you trust your children to handle the whirling death blades of a food processor.

Let’s do this thing.

You’ll need two bananas. You want them to have a few brown spots on the rind. That doesn’t mean they’re rotten, that means they’re ripe. Trust me, if they’re actually rotten, you’ll know.

Peel two, and slice them up into chunks. Get them on a tray, and pop them into the freezer. They’ll probably need to go in there for at least two hours, but you can just leave them in there overnight unless you’re in a hurry.

Once they’re good and frozen, into the food processor they go. A blender can work here, too, if all you have is a blender and lots of patience.

Grind them down into goo. The substance will look like ice cream when you’re done. If it looks more like Dippin’ Dots

…then it’s too frozen; let it thaw for a minute or two in the food processor and try again until it works out.

At this point, you can eat this. If you feed it to unsuspecting victims, they’ll probably think it’s actually banana ice cream (I would actually describe it as banana gelato, though). Science can not explain this. Bananas are just magical like that.

Let’s add some flavor now. Go get some peanut butter (creamy, not chunky! If you use chunky, you’re going to find out just how chunky it is when you’re chewing peanut gravel!) and some honey. Put about a tablespoon of each in there, and fire up the food processor again. Once that blends in, taste it to make sure the peanut butter/honey/banana feng shui is in balance, and then spoon it into a bowl. And eat!

Even with peanut butter and honey, two fairly high-calorie sources of flavor, you’re probably looking at 250-300 calories for what would about fill out a pint. It’s probably half that if you just chow the bananas alone. A pint of Ben and Jerry’s Chunky Monkey? 1200 calories. Booyah!

And good news: unlike the Snow Cream, this actually refreezes really well, so you can stash the leftovers in the freezer for a midnight snack.

Variations:

  • Use different mix-ins and flavors. I’m curious to see how vanilla extract and cinnamon would work out. After blending, throw in some chocolate chips, or crush in some Oreos.
Caramelizing onions, round #2

I stumbled into some people that have a ton of science and a bunch of quick and easy solutions to get you browner, tastier onions, cooked faster and more evenly.

Read all about it, along with a good Super Bowl dip recipe, over here.

I’m dying to try this with the French Onion Soup some day.

Hash browns

Serves one. You’ll need:

  • A potato.
  • Olive oil.
  • Salt, pepper.
  • (optional) an onion.
  • (optional) a tomato.
  • (optional) some shredded cheese of some sort.

Cavatelli? Torte? Clafoutis?! Let’s stop being all frou-frou for a moment here. This is a simple, tasty breakfast for a lazy Sunday morning.

I used to live off these things at Waffle Houses across the country.

The key to good hash browns is patience. I couldn’t ever get these to cook worth a damn because, it turns out, I was touching them way too much. Eventually I went to a Waffle House and just stared at the stove for a few hours to see what they were doing differently.

You would think watching the cook like a hawk for hours would be considered strange behavior, but you know, it’s Waffle House. Strange behavior starts in the parking lot.

Anyhow: don’t treat hash browns like a stir-fry; you have to leave them on the heat until they cook, crisp, and brown.

We’ll be making hash browns with onions, tomatoes and cheese (“scattered, smothered, covered, and diced” in Waffle House terminology).

You can use any pan for this, but I find this critter works best:

The electric griddle is awesome for this: a big, non-stick surface to work on where you can control the temperature with decent precision. Instead of having to mush these into a small pan on “medium” heat, you can spread them out and cook at 350 degrees.

Alrighty, we’re ready to start.

Peel a potato. It doesn’t matter what kind: red, yellow, russett, whatever. If it’s big, one will be more than enough. If it’s tiny, you might want to peel two.

Then run that thing through a cheese grater.

This is a good time to plug in the griddle and get it hot. 350 degrees. Put some olive oil in there and coat the bottom of the griddle. This will start smoking pretty quickly, probably before the thing is fully preheated. That will be a sign that you need to start cooking.

Dump the potatoes in there, stir them around so they get a decent coating of oil, and then spread them out the best you can. Do this quickly. You want to get the potatoes spread as thinly as possible, so you have as much surface area touching heat as you can. Sprinkle some salt and pepper on the potatoes and don’t touch them again for a few minutes.


While that’s cooking, prep some onions and tomatoes.

A little goes a long way here. A few small slices/chunks of each will be all you need. It’s easy to put way too much in the pan, so show some restraint.



(That’s probably too much up there. You’ve been warned.)

After the potatoes have been cooking a few minutes, you’ll see they’re starting to get crispy and brown on the bottom. Spread the onions and tomotoes on top now, and then flip the whole thing with a spatula. You’ll probably have to flip it in several pieces. The onions and tomatoes won’t necessarily be covered by potatoes; they’ll cook fine either way.

Once you flip, add cheese.



Anything will do here, but a good mix of shredded cheddar-like things works best.

It’s easy to go overboard on cheese too. You don’t want a cheese mountain on here, or you’re basically eating a potato pizza.

Now leave the griddle alone for a few more minutes. You’re done when the cheese melts. That’s about how long it takes for the bottom to cook well. It’s okay if the tomatoes and onions get a little burn on them.



Flip them onto a plate, and eat them steaming hot. Serve them with some bacon, scrambled eggs, or, uh, a waffle.

Frequently, though, we just inhale these, standalone. This is a fantastic comfort food: crispy and satisfying.

By the way: it was about a year after I started getting these right that I found myself at a Waffle House, in the middle of the night, ordering hash browns. They were just as I remembered them—and with my eyes opened, I realized they were fucking disgusting. I think they freeze the shredded potatoes.

Variations:

  • Use whatever mix-ins you want. Mushrooms, chili, ham, peppers, etc.
  • If you want authentic Waffle House style, you need to use slices of prewrapped, single-serve fake-o cheese. Some times, that’s comforting.
Raspberry Clafoutis

Serves four. You’ll need:

  • Caster sugar (white sugar works, too).
  • Fresh raspberries.
  • Philadelphia cream cheese spread.
  • Flour.
  • Vanilla extract.
  • Eggs.
  • Milk.
  • Powdered sugar.

Clafouwhat?!

It’s pronounced clah-foo-tee. The true foodie snob is pointing out that you can’t actually have a raspberry clafoutis, because clafoutis is supposed to have cherries.

Well, excuuuuuuuse me, Princess.

I’m a rebel. This is actually a "flaugnarde," but let’s not get hung up on labels.

Anyhow, my mom got me a cookbook, published by the people that make Philadelphia cream cheese, with a bunch of recipes that use their product.

These sort of books always run the risk of having some nasty food in them, but this one had a funny-named recipe that looked tasty and simple.

Then I watched Alton Brown cook the same thing, in a dutch oven, over a fireplace. He’s hardcore as hell, but it inspired me to make the simple cream cheese version.

The original recipe calls for caster sugar, which is a little finer than granulated white sugar and a little courser than powdered sugar. You can put regular white sugar in a food processor, but I’m not confident the finer texture is really important.

Go preheat your oven to 400 degrees.

You’ll need a dish. The original recipe used four shallow, oven-safe dishes that would hold a little more than a cup of liquid, but no one owns that. We used a shallow dish that holds more than four cups and then cut it into pieces when it came out of the oven. The goal is to have something that will fill to the right height and that’s all.

Take your dish, grease it with a little butter, and then dust that with a layer of sugar. Now, cover the bottom of it with raspberries.

That’s about 2 cups of berries in that photo, for reference.

Now make your batter.

In a bowl, you want 1/2 cup of Philadelphia Cream Cheese Spread (that’s half of an 8 oz. tub…make sure you don’t get a flavored version, I almost picked up some onion and chive thing!), 1/2 cup of caster (or whatever) sugar, 1/4 cup of flour, 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract, and an egg. Beat those together. This will be like a dough at this point.

Now beat in two more eggs and 1/2 cup of milk. Now the dough will be almost liquid, more like a batter. This is what you want.

Pour that batter over the berries. It won’t entirely cover them, assuming you have a decently-sized dish. That’s how it should be.

Pop that in the oven: 400 degrees for 25 minutes. The top won’t brown much, if at all, but you might see the edges brown and maybe pull away from the dish a little.

Let that cool for a few minutes, but not long. It’ll shrink a little. Sprinkle the top with powdered sugar, and eat it while it’s still warm.

You’ll find this thing is not a cake. The consistency is more like flan, or pudding.

The berries will be so soft, you won’t even notice you’re cutting through them with a butter knife. Even a very sweet berry is going to pop with tartness and roll around your tongue, tangling with the sweetness of the cake. Flan. Pudding. Whatever.

Variations:

  • Use cherries, if you’re a purist.
  • Use a low-fat cream cheese, if you forget you’re eating dessert.