Carbonade Flamande (Belgian Beef Stew)

carbonade flamande

Carbonade Flamande is one of those wonderful dishes that’s traditional to a country or place, and for which you can find a ton of recipes floating around the internet. Nearly all of the recipes have made some tweaks to ingredients and procedures. Most of the changes were clearly made to modernize or streamline the recipes, so I went in search of someone who could help me sort it all out and at least give me a sense of what the “traditional” version might look like.

Through a mutual friend, I connected up with a native of Beveran, a small town near Antwerp, who was generous enough to pass along (and translate) a recipe he found that closely resembles the way his family prepares carbonade flamande, and make a few notes to note where it differed from what he remembered. So at the end of the day, I have no idea whether this recipe is either traditional or even authentic — or even if any version can be authentic. It is something you might well find in a home or maybe a cafĂ© in the region around Antwerp. And it’s delicious.

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Sous Vide Fried Chicken

Sous Vide Fried Chicken

Sous Vide Fried Chicken is simply the best fried chicken I’ve ever made or tasted. I say that without reservation. It’s a bit complicated to make, but honestly, it is worth every bit of the work. The key is to brine the chicken and then cook it sous vide. The frying part is the last, quick part and it’s mainly to give the breaded cooked chicken it’s golden brown, crispy finish. Go away KFC and Popeye’s and Chic Fil A. I got this.

In a nutshell, the process is this: soak the chicken pieces overnight in a lightly seasoned brine made with salt, sugar, garlic powder and onion powder. Next day, rinse the chicken, dry it as much as you can, seal it in plastic (I used my Foodsaver but a ziplock bag will work if you get the air out of it), and cook with an immersion circulator for 2 hours at 65C/150F. When the chicken is done, allow it to cool then remove from the plastic bag, and soak for 30 minutes or so in buttermilk. When it’s time to fry, shake off excess buttermilk, roll the chicken in a flour-based breading mix and cook in hot oil until the breading is crisp and golden, and the chicken is heated through. Bingo.

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Hearty Ham And Bean Soup

Ham and Bean Soup

Ham and bean soup is a classic, and perfect for a cold and dreary late winter lunch. It’s also substantial enough for an evening meal, especially when accompanied by a slice of bread warm from the oven. This is some real comfort food. It’s also a great way to make use of leftover ham on the bone.

Whenever possible, I like to use dried beans for this and other soups with beans in them. It takes some forethought, since you have to soak the beans overnight in salted water, but the flavor and texture of the beans are worth the effort. You can also use some short cuts, including precooking the beans in a pressure cooker, but I’ve not tried those, so I can’t vouch for them.

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Bourbon Chicken — Quick, Easy and Tasty

bourbon chicken

A while back, I watched a documentary film called Searching for General Tso. I couldn’t imagine someone making a film about one dish and so I was curious. Of course the movie was about much more than General Tso’s Chicken. In fact it really was about the Chinese immigrant experience in the US and the role played by Chinese restaurants in that experience. Sometime later, I stumbled on references to bourbon chicken, and right away, it clicked into place with something I remembered from the film and so I set out to make my own version, using what I learned about Chinese cooking in my travels.

The background: The earliest Chinese immigrants to the US settled mainly in northern California but the backlash and discrimination against them eventually forced them to spread out across the country, especially through the Midwest and South. These families (many times the only Chinese in the community) found that opening a restaurant was a way to make a living without appearing to compete for jobs with the locals, and so Chinese restaurants sprung up throughout the country. These restaurateurs quickly figured out that to survive, they had to adapt their traditional recipes to local ingredients and most importantly, local tastes. In the process, they created a new Chinese American cuisine. If you can, watch the film. It’s fascinating.

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Salmon with Roasted Garlic Sabayon

Salmon with Roasted Garlic Sabayon

Sabayon, which seems to have started out as zabaglione, a sweet frothy Italian custard dessert beverage, is usually a dessert sauce made from eggs, sugar and wine. At least that was the case until someone figured out that the custard base could transformed into a savory accompaniment that’s especially good with seafood. It’s versatile and has a creamy texture that really sets off a  otherwise simple dish.

I’ve been making sabayon, both savory and sweet, for years, but recently stumbled on several dishes that used a roasted garlic sabayon, and that coincided with the arrival of some fresh, wild-caught Alaskan salmon at the local fish market. The mild flavor of the roasted garlic, tarragon and chives compliments the salmon beautifully and since the sabayon so resembled a creamy salad dressing, it seemed perfect to plate it as a salad.

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Pasta e Fagioli (Italian Soup with Beans and Pasta)

Pasta e Fagioli

It’s fun to stumble across a dish that reminds me of something long forgotten and at the same time, opens up a lot of possibilities for exploring another culture through its food. That happened when I came across Pasta e Fagioli on the menu of a favorite Italian restaurant. The name literally means pasta and beans and it is a specialty of southern Italy that like many wonderful recipes from that region, began as a peasant dish and grew into something iconic. It even has at least three different names: Pasta e Fagioli in the south, Pasta Fasule in the region around Naples and here in the US, Pasta Vazool (apparently a phonetic misspelling of the Neapolitan name). Oh, and it’s mentioned in the lyrics of That’s Amore.

The only rule for this dish that I’ve been able to discern is that, of course, it has to have pasta and beans. After that, anything goes, within reason. My first encounter with this rich and hearty soup, not surprisingly, came in my childhood in Eastern Ohio, and while I liked it as a kid, that version was really just a hamburger soup with macaroni. I’d guess it was something my mother found in a magazine or the newspaper and in that part of the country at that time (the 60s) would have been made with what was available. That was when I first encountered the name pasta vazool. 

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Pineapple Chicken

pineapple chicken

In the summer, one of my favorite quick and easy meals involves marinating some chicken breast cubes and threading them onto skewers with onions, bell peppers and chunks of fresh pineapple to make pineapple chicken kabobs for the grill. I was craving that simple, flavorful dish recently, but alas, it’s February and we’ve been enduring the coldest days of the winter so far. Undeterred, I set out to do a winter version. The result was a pineapple chicken braise that brings together essentially the same flavors but in a warming, slow-cooked recipe ideal for a frigid evening.

The adaptation required rethinking the recipe a little. Chicken breasts were out. Slow cooking them in liquid would ruin them. So the first change was to use good ol’ chicken thighs, which love a braise. I also figured out pretty early on that just adding the pineapple to the braise would remove that charred, caramelized flavor that I love about pineapple on the grill. Caramelizing them in a separate step over fairly high heat did the trick — minus the grill marks. The ginger garlic and white wine I like to use for my marinade became a part of the cooking liquid.

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