Roasted Chestnuts

Who doesn’t remember on icy cold days in the city stopping for a small paper sack of chestnuts roasted by a vendor on a charcoal brazier? The roasted chestnuts would be just a little too hot to handle and perfumed with the smoky fire.

At home we prepare roasted chestnuts in the oven. We did have one of those steel chestnut pans with holes in the bottom. It went unused; somehow making a glowing charcoal fire just for a handful of chestnuts always seemed like too much of a to-do.

Howsoever you will be wanting to roast your chestnuts, here are a few tips.

After some research and personal experience, we recommend boiling the chestnuts for 15 to 20 minutes first. Then to roasting; in the oven, over coals in the fireplace, or the trusty Weber or other grill.

You have to score the chestnuts first, but that is a topic by itself. Later.
Fresh chestnuts have a high water content. The operative here is “fresh”. If you have it on faithor from the tree out in the yardthat the chestnuts are fresh then they can go right to the embers. But store bought you don’t really know how long they have been off the tree, so we recommend the preliminary boiling. We have been told that the vendors on the city streets boil their chestnuts first, then finish over the fire. Sounds right.
In the fireplace you will need a box like contraption like the one below or a chestnut pan as pictured. The pans come with short and long handles. Protective gloves with direct heat, please. In the oven, a baking sheet or any suitable pan will do the trick.
Now for the scoring of that infernal nut. First rule, be very careful.

The deal is that the chestnut as it heats releases steam, and you must score the shell to prevent them from exploding.

We have always been full of fear and trepidation around scoring chestnuts.  Some suggest scoring an X on the round side, some say one long score line across the top width. You choose. The problematic thing is making the score(s) without also scoring a point with the knife on a finger. Any knife, small or large is just too precarious on that smooth hard slippery shell.

The additional problematic in scoring the shell is that you don’t want to score the flesh of the chestnut. This will probably happen to some extent, but the goal is to only score the shell and leave the flesh intact.

Our next attempt at scoring chestnuts will be with a box cutter set to the minimal blade exposure. We are tempted to buy a special chestnut knife, but it is a one use kind of tool and we eschew too many speciality tools in our kitchen. And, how many times a year do we really prepare roasted chestnuts to justify a single purpose knife? But, if the box cutter doesn’t do it, we will get the knife. We justify the purchase on grounds that it is that much easier and safer than any conventional knife; chestnuts once or twice a year, notwithstanding.

For those acolytes of one Martha Stewart there is the de rigueur chestnut cross cut tool. But, come on!
If you are preparing chestnuts as ingredients in other recipes (e.g., stuffing, or chestnuts and Brussels sprouts) cut the dern things right in half and boil. A good pair of pinchy pliers will take the shells and skins right off, likity split.

And, speaking of chestnuts for other recipes, we recommend one of our top tier desserts, Coupe aux marrons. Ah, after a delicious lunch of Tête de veau à la vinaigrette brought to table folded under a pure white napkin at Café Des Sport in New York City . . . always on the dessert menu, Coupe aux marrons. Vanilla ice cream topped with candied chestnuts in syrup. This kitty would lick up every bit. Meow!


Rudolf's Nose

Here is a little Holiday shooter that is guaranteed to get 'em off the sofa and around the piano for some spirited caroling.

Caution: one per customer. One at a time, anyway.


Coat the rim of a shot glass or a pony glass with cane sugar crystals.

Cut half way into an maraschino cherry, then coat cherry with sugar.

Combine and chill Eggnog and your choice of "flavoring"* 50/50 

Pour in the chilled Eggnog shooter mixture.

Arrange sugared cherry on edge of glass.

Grate nutmeg on top, and serve.

* Optionals:

* Float the "flavoring" over the Eggnog, but still keep the 50/50 proportion. (It is a shooter after all.)

* Try a fresh cranberry instead of the maraschino cherry.

* Peppermint Schnapps will really seal the deal.

* Bourbon ... if you go for a brown nose.

* Make it a slightly larger drink: In a 4 oz. pony glass pour 2 oz. Eggnog (2 jiggers) and 1/2 oz. "flavoring" (1 jigger).


Drink your Rudolf's Nose "nose first".
Culinary Togetherness

Some things go together like nature just intended it to be that way. Or that classic apple pie and vanilla ice cream, or with a nice slice of sharp cheddar (by “nice” we mean you’re gonna have to spend a few bucks). “Apple pie without a slice of cheese is like a kiss, without a squeeze.” Andand, at the risk of blowing all credibilityVelveeta. Don't knock it. (Also, definitive for the cheese hamberger and the Philly Cheese Sub.)

[Even as this is being written, mama is baking some apple dumplings. Local orchard apples individually wrapped (“cloaked” is her effete term) with a crust made with her own rendered lard. Mama cat is a “scratch” cook. (But don't cross her, she can also scratch.)]

Rice and lentils, Middle Eastern style ("Mujadara") 

This is one of those combinations that on the fork seem to be in the divine order of things. Click this for a recipe for Mujadara, a pilaf of rice and lentils and caramelized onions that is on our short dessert island list.

More go-togethers . . .

Grated beets and horseradish (with ham or hard boiled eggs) 

Asparagus and hollandaise 

Gin and tonic (generous lime wedge, of course) 

Buffalo/bison grass and vodka

(FYI: The Zubrowka brand bison grass vodka can only be produced in Poland at the Bialystok distillery. On our way back from Europe recently we brought back a bottle of Grasovka bison grass vodka. Our bottle is distinctive in that it has a furry “bison hair” wrapper. How cool it that! You've heard the expression, "The Hair of the Dog"? This dog got some hair!)

Vodka and caviar

For the hoi poloi, make that a dill pickle. Take a short break and click this to enjoy some vodka shooters.


Tomatoes and basil 

Strawberries and whipped cream; clotted cream (if you are from Old Jollie)

Bagels and lox

We have an ongoing debate with a certain Sweet Paprika website over what is exactly a good bagel. The considerable culinary (and other) charms of that lady writer notwithstanding, we insist on dense, chewy high crust to crumb ratio bagels. Water boiled first, is there any other kind?

Beer and tomato juice 

Bacon and just about anything

Yes, we know by now that is a cliché.

Pepperoni and pizza

Potato chips and onion dip

Slim Jims and beer

Cretons (gorton) and cornichons

Lobster and butter

Escargot and butter (and lots of parsley, garlic and ground pepper)

Fresh pears with Roquefort and Brie (but, make that a good brie)

Cucumbers and sour cream

You will no doubt have your own personal preferences; we merely list the absolutely 100% everybody-agrees pairings.

Yet, the list is not exhaustive; and, if you would, please leave a recommendation in the comments section.


Where Do You Find the Perfect Omelette?

(Madame Romaine is Spinning in Her Grave)

We are just about to give it up for getting a decent Omelette at a diner. Really! Just who do you have to "you know what to" to get a proper Omelette around town. Make that, any town.

Let's jump the shark on this. If you want a good Omelette ... make it at home. There are doubtless many restaurants which do a great job. But, you'll have to search. Best suggestion: Go to a pricey joint. But, why would you go to a swell spot for an Omelette? Unless, of course, it's Madame Romaine de Lyon. But, you can't, since it's shuttered after 65 years in La Grande Pomme (the Big Apple).

In fact, we assert that a decent Omelette, or even a "good" one, is not nearly enough. Our tastes and expectations have been lowered too far and too long. It is time to expect our Omelette to be nothing short of perfect. Every time.

Despite years of plotting and scheming for new ways to tell all those wait staffers how we like our Omelette — “lightly done”, “under done”, “soft”, “moist”, or the rather crude “wet” — it always comes out overdone, folded like a thin dry Crepe. (Maybe some Wall Street wise guy could come up with some derivative instrument for Omelette futures. If your broker calls, here’s a tip: sell short.)

By “diner” we’re talking about the kind of place that is open almost around the clock, originally set up in that iconic old train passenger car; or looking like that, or like that but on steroids with enough chrome on the outside to be visible from outer space. Of course there are store front operations. Think, two, three, four, even five “Guys” or “Brothers”. Always Greek owned. Father Wronski used to always remark that the Greeks were the best cooks. Omelets, sorry pop.

If it is a “diner”, by default expect a lousy Omelette. No matter how we parse it, the thing always comes out of the diner kitchen looking like a folded napkin. And just about as dry.

We are not content to let the matter rest. The solution for next time will be to order our Omelette “like you would be making soft scrambled eggs.” Maybe that will get it right. And, also, maybe it will inadvertently cause some diner cook to reconsider the Omelette. If we all went out and ordered our diner Omelette that way, maybe there would be a sea change and then all you would have to do from then on is just say as in times of yore, “I'll have an Omelette”. Maybe this is the beginning of our own Occupy the Omelette movement? ARE YOU WITH ME?

THIS JUST IN: We tried a new, so-called up market type restaurant in town for breakfast recently instead of the default in-town diner. Noticing the Omelette ($7.95) on the menu I asked the critical (so I thought) question: are the Omelettes done in a pan or on a flat top grill. I was assured they were done in a pan. Sounds good. 

The problem with most omelets, especially in diners, is that they are prepared on a flat top and spread out all thin. A pan is de regueur. What could go wrong? Additionally, I spotted the "Chorizo Scramble" ($8.95) and asked for that, but cooked as an omelet. Now, an omelet is mainly a fast scramble let to settle a bit (Classic French) or longer (Country French Style) to form a bit of a seal, then folded over a few times with or without a filling. First, the waitress informed me it would be extra for the Chorizo Scramble to be done in an omelet. She pulled out $2.00, from you know where. Really! But I saw her raise, and called. Let's do it. $10.95 for an omelet, you would expect something special. 

Out came a thin crepe-like egg thingy folded over 3-4 times with micro bits of chorizo sausage which were done to a hard dry dense chewiness. It did look like a flat top treatment. [It's probably because of heath safety concerns that most places overcook their eggs.] We called the waitress to protest. But, as she unsmilingly hovered near me, I unwrapped the joint and lo and behold, yes it was done in a pan. But, flat top style. A full ten inch circle of tough-done egg you could unfold and hold up to the light; which I did. Well done, and you could have played Frisby. Never mind that I asked for the thing to be not too well done. The straight faced waitress stressed it was a classic French omelet. Yah, and I'm the Queen of Romania! As my dining partner observed, that was the kind of place you have to adapt to, not the other way around. Even in a search, images of their omelets look exactly like the one I was proffered.  Was assured when I left without taking another bite that everybody liked their food. We kindly assured her that we were content to let everyone continue that way. You can't fight ignorance. To screw with her, we left a 20% tip.

In case you get the idea that we don’t know from Omelets, for some of a certain age and a certain place, let us recall the eponymous Madame Romaine de Lyon restaurant in Manhattan. The menu was something like 6 or more pages offering reportedly 500 omelet variations. The top of the line, with caviar. Also, to mention the nonpareil salad served there in simple thin French clear glass bowls. And, those lovely French waitresses . . . Woof! We could not help but to flirt with them every time.

Alas, Madame Romaine de Lyon has left this world. Adieu, ma chérie. Here's a nice blog article with more coverage.

The other definitive place for a Classic Omelette in our opinion was the Brasserie (since 1959) on 53rd Street and Park Avenue in New York City in the Seagram Building. Our buddy David Wronski when he was arriviste to NYC used to order the Gruyere Omelette, or the Fines Herbes version many a time for his solo bachelor dinners.

The Brasserie was such a great spot. When you arrived and entered you had an unobstructed view of the large high ceiling room. Then, to descend a short flight of wide comfortable stairs. See and be seen. An experience in itself. Back in the day it used to open 24 hours with all sorts of folks from around town and around the world. Très Chic. The food had always been tops; it’s kitchen rubbed shoulders with the Four Seasons’ after all.

( I had always recommended to visitors to Manhattan an early morning walk from Brooklyn across the Brooklyn Bridge, cab up to the Brasserie. Definitely a top tier NYC experience.)

By now you are either calling a taxi to go to the Brasserie [Don't. Alas, it's no more.], or you are thinking of whipping up an Omelette yourself. Don’t hesitate to tackle this seemingly impossible task at home..

Here is Jacques Pepin on the proper (definitive) Omelette, in both the Country and the Classic styles. Truly awesome.

(As you watch the Master at work, notice the glass bowl. It's the French one Madame used for serving her salads.)


Make a Hullaballoo . . . Babka Brulee

The other day we brought home a Polish Babka with sweet poppy seed filling.

Babka is a yeasted sweet bread, with a dough rich with eggs and sugar, then with kneaded-in raisins, cinnamon, nuts, chocolate, or prune lekvar. And, in combinations.

Eat it plain, or with some butter and a nice cup of coffee. You’re set. Babka, like its cousin Challah, is best fresh from the bakery. After a few days it will begin to stale and then you have to figure out something creative in the kitchen. The obvious choice, French toast.

The ultimate French toast is made right at our house by the lovely Michele. Super soaking Babka or Challah in the eggy milk batter with lots of cinnamon. On the road, the go-to place is the B&H Restaurant at 127 Second Avenue, just south of St. Marks Place in Manhattan. They make their own Challah. It is the best.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: Whoever was the one to have that bright idea to put powdered sugar on French toast . . . we want to have a word or two with you! For this fussy pusser, read my whiskered lips: “No powdered sugar!”

So let’s get back on track here. You bought that Babka (if you got a Challah, same deal) some days ago, and what’s left is starting to stale a bit.

Here’s something great to do: Babka Brulee.

Cut as thick a slice as you like. Melt some sweet butter in a shallow pan. When the butter is bubbling add some cane or brown sugar in the spot where you will place the slice (that's "footprint" for the technical, but less elegantly inclined types), let it melt down a bit, then cover with the Babka slice. Take a peek after a few minutes to see if that side is beginning to caramelize, then remove from the pan and repeat the same procedure for the other side.

Nothing more to do. Maybe a nice cup of coffee. Enjoy.

Alternatively, you might want to try this idea under the broiler, turning to the second side when the first is starting to caramelize.

And, this just fresh from the kitchen. Instead of sugar use a fruit jam or jelly.


Julia Child, TV Cooking Shows, Nutmeg

And . . .

Jacques Pepin, Lidia Bastianich, Mario Batali, Daisy Martinez

And . . .


Around here we are getting into the holiday spirit lately with occasional quaffs of eggnog. If you like (as we most certainly do) a little “add in” then, of course, the go-to default would be a good full bodied cane sugar rum. Or, perhaps, brandy (but we don’t advise using the really good stuff for that) or bourbon. More creative, Grand Marnier, Benedictine, or Drambuie. That is definitely not the whole of it; you can put any tasty cordial or liqueur that you please. 

We are quite satisfied with a good store-bought eggnog. Naturally, homemade is superior. The question will no doubt arise over whether using raw eggs in your own eggnog recipe is an egg-not. We will not make a recommendation here, suffice to say that there is enough information about the subject online to help you decide if this is an issue for you. (The evidence seems to suggest that there should be no worry.) Issue or not, if you do use raw eggs, select fresh, healthy eggs.

The last shoe to drop on the eggnog question (if you do drop a shoe in your eggnog [Don’t laugh, some of our parties have gotten a little out of hand and, let’s just say, things have been found in the punch bowl.] do what Dear Julia would do: don’t tell kitchen secrets. What goes on in the kitchen, let it stay in the kitchen. Don’t confess to your guests all the mistakes and missteps that may have occurred. “No one the wiser,” as dear mama used to say.)

The last item is the grating of fresh nutmeg. Please use fresh whole nutmeg. No need to get a special Martha Stewart approved nutmeg grater contraption. Just a scraping with a serrated knife or microplane will do it. But, please make that a good scraping of nutmeg. At least for the Cooky Cat. And, at least for eggnog. Other things, maybe not so much.

Speaking of Julia Child, our favorite memory from her peerless educational television show was her admonition on how much nutmeg to add in the recipe for Quiche Lorraine. That dishwhich in these days even real men can enjoycalls for a grating of fresh nutmeg. Dear Julia advised not to put in so much nutmeg that when your guests take one bite, they exclaim, “Nutmeg!” We don’t grate nutmeg but that every time we remember her succinct instruction.

If you are interested in cooking no doubt you are familiar with the profusion of television shows of all stripes on the subject. Nowadays, we have moved from the pioneering Ms. Child and her peerless educational approach to all manner of entertainments. It seems we like to watch people cooking; maybe to learn something, but mainly for entertainment. So it goes, as Mr. Vonnegut would say. Nevertheless, good culinary instruction is not the staple on the tube.

Julia Child is in our opinion unequalled, the gold standard for how to present the preparation of food. Mr. Jacques Pepin is also up there, in a class by himself. We never prep vegetables without him coming to mind and his scrupulous and adept methods. Also not to be overlooked as top tier presenters, authoritative and maternal Lidia Bastianich, that ubiquitron Mario Batali of the eponymous Molto Maria shows, and the always warm and welcoming Daisy Martinez. Pardon if we left out others, just that that list is our top picks. We do like to gaze at the preternaturally smiley Giada De Laurentiis with her obvious feminine charms, and the equally preternaturally endowed Nigella Lawson. But, that’s another story.

Cheers. Here’s looking at you.

Here's grandma and her eggnog recipe. She's no Julia Child, but she's a contender. 

Finally, Feliz Navidad with the wonderful and spirited Ms. Daisy Martinez and her recipe for "Puerto Rican Eggnog" Coquito . . .


Righteous Ribs!

Our Search is Over: SuzieQue's BBQ & Bar

Thanks to a fellow Montclair, New Jersey resident, Melody Kettle, and her blog, Hot From the Kettle, we have discovered SuzyQue's. It's a really good barbeque joint just down the road from us. It’s in West Orange, New Jersey; and if you live in New Jersey you know that good — really good — slow smoked style barbeque isn’t on every street corner, like the Pizza Pie is in the Garden State. In fact, for really good barbeque in New Jersey it’s not too far-fetched to suggest that you really should go to New York City. That’s before SuzyQue’s, that is. The tectonic plates of the barbeque world have shifted in these parts.

SuzyQue’s is run by a very nice lady, the eponymous Suzy, CEH (Susan Hoffberg, Chief Executive Honcho). She’s the boss, the house mom, the muse, (the whip?). We say, the heart. She came to our table to greet us and we had a very nice chat. A most warm welcome. This joint has a down home soul, and we were made to feel right at home. 

The term “joint” really isn’t quite right. It’s a joint in the sense that it is the kind of place where you feel right at home, comfortable, happy to stay awhile. Lots of life going on. There’s a bar and the place looks like it can seat a big crowd. Our next time will be during the full swing evening dinner time when we expect the place will be rocking with lots of folks, chompin’, chewin’, chattin’, and sippin’ ”. There’s live music many evenings as well. Are you getting what kind of “joint” this place is? Décor-wise, goldilocks*** lighting; i.e., not too bright, not to dark; just right. Get it? Nice woody atmosphere: ample wood tables, solid wood chairs, lot's of dark wood interior trim.  Oh, do you get it? Smoked wood barbeque / woody atmosphere. (Cooky Cat amazes himself sometimes.) That’s what people in the corporate world call “synergy”. And, “maximizing the synergized analogs for exponentially geometric multiples of returns on investments”. (That one is for Suzy Herself and a little reference to past “corporate” days.)

***Goldilocks©, Cooky Cat original and exclusive usage  

But the place doesn’t smell to high heaven of wood smoke; just the parking lot.

The menu has most every type of smoked meat, an arms-length list of sides, lots of appetizers, soups, salads, sandwiches, entrees, burgers and sliders, “bar pies”, and desserts. For our first time we ordered the St. Louis style ribs. For us, it’s the gold standard by which all other smoked barbeque is judged. (Suzy suggested the “large” beef short rib since she got that we were "rib people", rib shack demographically speaking.)

Verdict: Top Shelf. Plenty of deep hickory smoke flavor, and a rub that adds flavor without calling undue attention to itself. Tender with just a little tooth. We like our ribs to bite back a little. (Not like those pussyfied Baby Back Ribs—not that there is anything wrong with that; some of Cooky Cat's best friends are real pussies. Baby Backs are strictly for the suburbanite neophytes. Just kitting. But, a little serious on that preference too.)

Now, it is a great debate among barbeque lovers whether to sauce or not. We like our sauce—if at all—at the table, please. SuzyQue’s is traditional in that respect. Smoker to table. Sauces on the side. 

Also, when it comes to sauces to accompany your barbeque, that is a subject by itself. And a very personal matter of taste. But, the really good ones are not that easy to find. (If there is a good barbeque sauce in a bottle, please enlighten us. Anyone? We thought not.) We like a straight ahead tangy style sauce and at the end of this piece you can look at something else we did on the subject. But the sauces at SuzyQue’s are each terrific. There are four, all house made, brought to your table in generous squeeze bottles. If you ask, you can also have a portion of house made habanero sauce.

Like we said, barbeque sauce is of course a personal taste kind of thing. Even whether ever to add any at all. We are content to enjoy good barbeque as is, sans sauce. But what kitty doesn’t like some sauce with that. And, the sauces at SuzyQue’s are each excellent, and each in its own way.

SuzyQue’s House Made Barbeque Sauces (quoting SuzyQue's menu)

Vinegar Base: Memphis style sauce with vinegar base using molasses as a sweetener.

Orange Habenero: Orange Juice, Vinegar and habanero chili’s combine for a sweet, sour and spicy flavor.

Molasses Base: Robust molasses based sauce with dried fruit, tamarind and a big bold flavor.

Tomato Base: Kansas City style thick tomato based sauce with sugar, vinegar, and spices.

And, if you like it HOT, ask for the habanero sauce. But, you gotta ask.

We found ourselves experimenting with combinations. It’s so personal we won’t venture a recommendation. Just to say they all stand up on their own. (OK, if we had a choice we would go for the Tomato Base; but, with a dash of the Orange Habanero.) And, here’s a tip, just don’t eat that corn bread plain, sauce it! And, the beans. And, . . . 

Oh, SuzyQue’s, see you soon!



When you talk about things in their general or abstract sense that can take a lot of words. Being first and foremost an intellectually lazy pusser, Cooky Cat will now give you the Q & D (quick and dirty) on a key pillar culinary concern, Flavor. Otherwise this could turn into a book-length piece, and the next thing you know he will have to become an expert on grass fed beef and such exotica as finger limes. That’s to name just a few of the thousands of subjects that could fit in the umbrella of flavor. So we’ll be brief.

First let’s get the technical points. Taste—what the tongue does—has five distinct components:  


(We think it is arguable that the American diet is overly salty and sweet. If that is so, then perhaps there needs to be balance with more sour and bitter? And, if you have lived for more than a few generations, you undoubtedly are aware that the taste of things has been falling. Discuss amongst yourselves.)

What’s that umami? If you are not familiar with umami (a Japanese term meaning pleasant savory taste), it refers to savoriness or deliciousness. The fifth taste; recently arrived, and still not fully understood. Evidently the factor for umami in foods is salts of glutamic acid, known as glutamates. In a Japanese store recently we came upon a small bottle labeled “Umami”; whad’ya know, good old MSG. Umami rich foods are things like broths, tomatoes, mushrooms, cheese, concentrated sauces. Mother’s milk is also rich with umami. Oh, mama!

Now, when we talk about flavor, that is the sensory impression based on a combination of taste and smell. It’s the signature flavor that makes something taste like what it is in itself, it’s essential signature; for instance, how the taste of an anchovy fillet is different from that of an apple, to draw a sharp distinction. Closer together, honey versus maple syrup. Still closer, clover honey versus tupelo or orange blossom. 

As you may know Cooky Cat is all about cooking that lets the inherent flavor of the ingredients speak for themselves. For example, broccoli: steam until tender, a little butter and salt . . . serve it. You want it fancy on Delancy? Ok, some velvety lemony hollandaise. Less fancy, sauté with garlic and olive oil. Of course, there is room for interesting combinations of ingredients. That’s where the magic and alchemy comes in. But, by and large, he isn’t too much for culinary extravaganza and bringing in wild pairings. Piled high stunt foods? Cake in the shape of anything other than a cake? NO WAY! (There's a bakery near us that is featured on one of those trendy cake shows. The line of customers can be a block long. Just how good can a muffin be?) No cats with dogs for him. Cats with mice, now you’re talking. He might be tempted by anchovy ice cream, but what cat wouldn’t be tempted by anchovies and cream. But, in combination, certainly not! Cooky Cat would only give it a sniff. 

When we talk about the total impression of a particular dish, what makes it good, the total gestalt is the result of the combination and balance of tastes and flavors and such things as texture/mouth feel, color, shape, size, portion, even temperature. And, then there is personal taste. Our friend as a boy used to like carrot sticks with yellow mustard. He would even sometimes add a dash of prepared mustard to chicken soup. Go figure.

So what makes for a good dish? All you really have to do at least is to follow a decent recipe. The work of choosing which elements and in what proportions is done for you. Now there are countless recipes for any single item. Our suggestion is to compare a few and see how they differ and decide where your preferences lie. Also, if you want to take away or add some elements according to taste. That’s for the cooks. The chefs, the ones who create the recipes, they are the few. 

But here are a few of the secrets to being a good chef. Great is where Cooky Cat resides and you will have to get to that level on your own. He can only do so much. Besides, he likes the room at the top.

If you want to cook like a chef, you just need to look within, Grasshopper. First, you know what you like taste-wise. And, you know what things taste like. Think like a painter. Imagine a culinary palette. You have tastes and flavors, textures, colors, shapes. Start somewhere and just see what comes to mind to add in and pair with it. Let’s say pasta, that’s easy. Or, is it? What kind of pasta shape? A sauce? What would you like? Ok, a cream sauce. Add some cheese in that sauce? Or maybe later, right on top as you serve it. How about a vegetable? What do you like? Broccoli? OK. Like how? Plain or maybe sautéed with olive oil and garlic. Do we serve the broccoli on the side or mixed in? Now, anything to go with that? A salad, of course. What to put in it? The dressing? Hey, that pasta dish is a little starchy/cheesy. Maybe a salad with a dressing with some zing. You know what our friend would say? Mustard! 

So it goes. See what you have on hand and go from there. Cooking to a recipe is fine, but the action in a good creative kitchen is usually based on what is good from the market and at hand in the pantry.

Don’t miss nutrition. Nutritionally, a meal, or the sum of meals for the day, should have variety and pay attention to some generally accepted notion of what food groups to be sure to include on a daily basis. 

Cooky Cat loves food. But, let’s get real here. Food, bottom line, is about nutrition. Certainly it is more; especially in its social and community associations. But, food as entertainment, that has reached excessive levels, and on that Cooky Cat has to say Basta! Perhaps it’s from mama admonishing about all those people starving in other parts of the world to guilt you into liking you food and finishing what’s on your plate, but the idea of people sitting around debating the merits of the terroir characteristics and flavor of something like the flesh of some hapless slaughtered beast versus some other just seems like things have gone too far off from center. Enjoy your food; but, COME ON. Foodies are especially fond of discovering the differences among food stuffs. Some recent culinary deconstructions: coffee, olive oil, chocolate, cheese, sea salt, vinegar. Wine, of course as ever. Now even water! COME ON!

A most recent revelation has been the idea of mixing in fruits in savory dishes. This is certainly not new in culinary history, but Cooky Cat has turned his attention in that direction. Could it presage a trend? Watch and see.

Here is a recipe for Lamb with Quince and Honey. The honey to balance the tartness of the quince. Notice the complexity of spices. Right there is a good example of checking in with your own preferences to see what to eliminate if you want. The dish will work with just the three main ingredients, seasoned with salt and pepper to taste. You will notice that the recipe is for a Moroccan tagine. Use a classical clay tagine if you have one, or if you must have one. But a good braising pot will do the trick. (Not to diss the tagine. The traditional Moroccan cookware is fabled for how it adds flavor to dishes. Just don't let not having one keep you from preparing this dish, or anything else called a "tagine" recipe.)

Fall is quince season. Get going. (We just got some right off the tree at the farmers market and they have the most exquisite perfume.)

And, speaking of pasta in a creamy cheese sauce . . . COME ON!


Polish Dill Pickle Soup!

Polish Dill Pickle Soup
Bumper crop of mom’s recipe homemade dill pickles this summer,
Sitting lonely in the back of the fridge.

What to do?

Carrots, celery, leeks, garlic, pickles — All chopped up fine and nice.
Potatoes, cubed.
Chicken broth and pickle juice 2-3 to 1 ratio (per your taste).
Cook it up.
Thicken will flour/water slurry 
Chop some fresh dill. Some? Lots!
Dollop of sour cream, please.
Like mama said,
Eat your soup!


Cream Cheese
Kimchi Bloody Mary's

Sometimes only a bagel will do. Here are a few ideas for a late Sunday breakfast; let's call it brunch.

"Brunching is munching" and here we see the latest assemblage: Fresh hot bagels sold to us by a real Jew (Does anybody know what a real Jewish bagel is any more?), home made cream cheese spread loaded with what have you, and Bloody Mary's spiked with kimchi juice. Pickles, please.

As far as bagels are concerned, we're not talking about those huge fluffy things that people from the suburbs "think" of as bagels. Case in point, a globe trotting friend Mr. Michael Weinstein by name thinks H&H Bagels once on the Upper West Side of Manhattan defines Bagels. PLEEZE! 

When we talk bagels we're talking smallish crisp shiny crust bagels bursting with yeasty sweetness. 

Crust to crumb ratio is a big item in the bagel connoisseur world, and unless you know what we are talking about, just go and enjoy your afternoon in the suburbs. (The Suburbs: where the only thing you have to worry about is the sun bleaching your outdoor wicker furniture.)

Now nothing is better than a fresh baked bagel just plain right from the oven. In college me and the boys used to send someone for a bagel run and then eat hot bagels buttered with a pitchers of beer at a local pub. Second best, is a bagel with cream cheese. With what they call a schmeer, or for the money. The latter just a whole lot more than a schmeer, hence the "for the money". For you suburbanites, let me amplify: you get so much cream cheese you gotta pay for it. OK?

But, we happen to have a bounty of green freshness situation from the garden these days so into the cream cheese we mixed in some delicious additions: fresh thyme, dill, chives, scallion, red onion, grated carrot, finely chopped arugula, capers, tomato.

Now, if it's bagels and lox or bagels and cream cheese, (or, in our book, any way) you got to have some pickles. Here we see a spread ready to be sent to the table. Those ruby red things next to the radishes are pickled young turnips colored with beet root. And, Mama's style home made dill pickles.

To drink, Bloody Mary's, but this time with a good dose of kimchi juice. Not a bad drink, but not our everyday go-to Bloody Mary. But, watch out when the Korean friends come over. Those cats like their kimchi.

Here is a really good article on the subject of the REAL bagel.


My Stone Soup©

Read what our very good friend David Wronski has to say before we get to the definitive recipe for My Stone Soup© (yes, it’s copyrighted, so you know we’re talking something altogether different than your everyday stone soup like what for example Martha Stewart or that Bittman guy might try to foist off on you.)

Cooky Cat is my very good friend and I am happy to have the task of writing a forward to his
book on stone soup, entitled My Stone Soup©. [Cooky Cat here: David wrote this under the impression that he was writing for a book and we won’t let him be the wiser. He needed the extra motivation, otherwise he might not have written so well and glowingly for just a blog entry.] His recipe from My Stone Soup© is, to use a modifier that one of his loyal fans gushed, “Frightfully” simple.

Yet, yet . . . I would have to say that while the recipe is indeed très simplicato it brings some serious umami to the party. It has even made a culinary dolt such as me to understand the true meaning and sense of the term “terroir”. It makes the Japanese Tea Ceremony look like child’s play. It is imbued with a depth of meaning and philosophical insight such that in comparison Diderot and Foucault look like dithering idiotic blabbermouths. But then, we have come to expect such from Cooky Cat, and once again he delivers. (It would help if you dust off that copy of The Phenomenon of Man by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin SJ. Particularly to brush up on his development of the notion that all in creation is conscious, even the lowly rock; but, of course, in its own rocky way.)

Thank you David. As usual, more than necessary.

Now to My Stone Soup©.

Get yourself a nice stone. Natural, but of course. Now that sounds maybe too simple. But it’s in the getting that the necessary fuss comes in. Try to go to as remote a place as your budget and schedule permit. If you have hired help, then those factors don’t apply and you can send them off for as long as you please. As far as where to trek for that stone, we demure on suggestions. Our experience is that stones from different locals give an essence of the local situation that is each unique. Just like the famous geologist and Nobel Laureate, M. B. Prufnagel von Brunt und Fefferschnikel PhD, JD, DD, DVD, MSNBC has so famously (and definitively stated) “there are stones, and then there are stones.” Enough said. We’ll leave it at that (besides, any more and it would get really silly).

Also, as large a stone as you can. How large? Partly is depends, of course, on the size of your recipe; how many it’s going to serve. And the size and load rating of your truck. But also, in this regard, size does matter. The bigger the stone the bigger the flavor. (The new wave chefs are experimenting with a variant using large numbers of small stones claiming that the admixture of different types brings a whole another flavor layer, even layers, to the end result. We say, as always with all food preparation: HEY, THE INDGREDIENTS EACH HAVE THEIR OWN ESSENTIAL FLAVOR. WHAT’S WRONG WITH THAT. EVERYTHING DOESN’T NEED A SAUCE BASED ON AN ARM'S LENGTH OF HARD TO FIND AND RARE INGREDIENTS. Got that, Frenchy! You know who you are.)

So now you have your big stone and you don’t have a pot to cook it in. Our good friends at Lehman’s can crate you off a nice big 15 gallon cast iron cauldron and you can go Medieval and cook on your front lawn over an open fire. Again, choice of wood for the fire is critical also. Don’t worry about the neighbors, once they discover that you are making stone soup, they will surely approve. Or, run you out of town. Just kitting.

Then the water. Well . . . (Get it? Well. Well water.) A well near a leprechaun’s domicile is best, but who sees those creatures any more. Just to mention, because that is the best. Magical, in fact. Next best is Acqua della Madonna from Italy. Beatific. That may sound overly fussy; but, hey, you’ve already broken your back to get the stone and the pot. Break a leg. Crack open the wallet too.

The other quintessential ingredient for your delicious soup will be Dehydrated Water. Sounds like a joke, no? But, it's traditional and, in our opinion, indispensable.

As far as cooking is concerned, we always prefer good wood fire. And, besides, if you are going large scale, you will probably be outdoors anyway. The soup will be ready as soon as the rock is heated to exactly 212° Fahrenheit. (You should get a tester for that. It’s rather expensive and only good for getting the temperature of rocks. But Martha has one, so stop thinking.)

Last, concerning so called additionals. Those who have never tasted true stone soup will be tempted to toss in some vegetables, meats, noodles, what have you. Go ahead. But the true experience is a good rock cooked to the right temperature in good water. Serve straight away. Salt (if you must); but at the table, please.

As ever, you are welcome to a nice bowl of My Stone Soup©.
Kimchi Soup, or Stew

This is not a recipe for a kimchi based soup or stew. There are plenty to find in a search. This is just to encourage you to prepare some; but, as soon as possible. It’s that good.

If you have been raised in a traditionally observant Korean household, this is probably something that you don’t need no Cooky Cat telling you about. But if you don’t eat kimchi on a daily basis, as is the Korean custom, then stay a while. This is for you. And, you will be glad you did.

You know how you can sometimes stumble on things just by accident or by the arrangement of circumstances. Well it seems a friend of ours makes kimchi occasionally and, after the first flush of enthusiasm over the latest batch, there is invariably a jar with a small portion left in the back of the refrigerator, slowly fermenting away, only getting more better and sour with time. Having seen a show on television on kimchi soup produced by the Kimchi Chronicles wonderfully hosted by Marja Vongerichten (with interesting friends and sometimes assisted by Jean-Georges Vongerichten), that was natural inspiration that the jar in the back of the refrigerator was going to be the basis for a kimchi soup/stew (“Soup” if it’s soupy; “stew” if it’s thicky.) one evening when the call went out for something quick and easy. And, from what was already on hand.

For the record, this is what went into the first attempt: Soup Base—one cup cabbage-daikon kimchi, one cup of the fermentation liquid, one cup water. Add Ins—dried Chinese small cap and tree ear mushrooms. Dried tiger lily flowers. Separately, a stir fry was being whipped together with bits of left over pork spare ribs, bok choy and onion; and flavored with garlic, ginger, scallions, and some sesame oil. In an inspired move, the cook just went ahead and tossed the stir fry into the soup. Voilà, kimchi stew! More scallions for garnish along with chopped fresh coriander leaves.

One of the most delicious What-We-Got-On-Hand dishes. EVER!

If you make kimchi chances are you have some in the fridge right now. If not, we do recommend you give making a batch at home a try. But that’s a whole another kettle of cabbage. Or, you can just go out and get some ready-made at your neighborhood Korean store.

The secret is the very simple soup/stew base: Kimchee cut into bite size pieces, fermentation liquid and water to dilute. After that you can go on your own.

We don’t want to leave you completely without some suggestions. Certainly something pork would be an excellent choice. Barbequed Chinese pork, some browned pork cubes long braised to tenderness, or some tender braised pork belly sliced and browned. Also, tofu; and, maybe some dried tofu skins. Your choice of dried mushrooms. Don’t overlook those densely sweet tiger lily flowers. And, wakame sea vegetable. And a chopped green leaf Oriental type vegetable. And/or, one of the many squash or melon type Oriental vegetables. Flavor to taste with garlic, ginger, and sesame oil plus scallion and fresh chopped coriander to garnish.

That sour, tangy, peppery Kimchi broth seems to flatter just about anything savory. In our mind it does, however, skew the choices toward the Oriental palate. Not a rule, just a nudge. You be the judge. (Never a nudge, though.)

PS Here’s a radical after thought. How about making up a kimchi soup with some firm fruits for a novel experiment. Either as the sole other ingredient, or maybe some cubed apple or melon in with the savory bits. (You heard it here first. Cooky Cat! Another purrrfectly good idea.)