Category Archives: Core

Sausage Kale and Lentil Soup

All it took was one nip of cold air and now all I want to do is make soup. This crowd pleaser is super simple and can be prepared several days in advance. 

6-8 servings, 90 minutes

  • 3 links or 1lb Italian sausage meat, spiced to preference
  • 1 cup of dry lentils (or one can prepared)
  • 1 medium to large onion
  • 2-4 cloves of garlic 
  • 1 large can of peeled whole tomatoes (splurge for San Marzano)
  • 4 cups (1 large box) chicken stock
  • Big handful of Italian parsley
  • 4 handfuls of kale (or chard, or spinach)
  • Loaf of crusty bread
  • Sharp Italian cheese like Parmesan (splurge for pecorino Romano)
  • Salt and cracked black pepper 
  • Red chili pepper flakes


Remove the sausage from its casing and toss in a large pot or Dutch oven over medium high heat with a little oil. 

Dice the onion and add after the sausage has browned. Sweat the onions and stir a few times, then add chopped garlic. 

After a few minutes, pour in the tomatoes and season with salt and pepper. Pour in the chicken stock and stir. 

Turn the heat to high until the soup is boiling, then reduce to medium high and add the lentils. Season with more salt and pepper and let simmer for up to an hour, stirring occasionally. 

Remove the biggest ribs and tear the greens into smaller chunks. Chop the parsley. 

You want the liquid to reduce until it’s barely above the ingredients. Turn off the heat, add the greens in batches (it should feel like you’re adding way too much, greens reduce substantially after they’ve heated) and stir until absorbed. Taste and season until the flavors pop. Make sure the lentils are soft. Add chili pepper for a little more heat. 

Warm and butter the bread. Grate the hard cheese and serve. 

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How to Make a Burger Like a Man

Slightly misogynist title. Sorry. This is Mancookgood after all. Do I get extra credit for knowing what misogyny meant before the election?

This burger is inspired by a legend from Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra. Apparently Dean was known for his burgers to the point of being asked to share his recipe. Frank, the old scamp, had to reply with his own recipe and hilarity ensued. 


So, I present an alternate to my mildly offensive title. 

“My Modern Take on Dean Martin’s Famous Burger”

Doesn’t roll off the tongue quite as well, does it? 

Well for most of the country grilling season is over. It’s time to heat up your cast iron skillet and make yourself a proper cheese burger. 


Makes: 4 burgers

Prep time: 15-20 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 1 cast iron or heavy skillet
  • 3/4 lb of 85% ground beef
  • 1/4 pound ground pork
  • Extra sharp cheddar cheese 
  • Salt
  • Black pepper
  • 4 hamburger buns ranging anywhere from cheap to brioche. Do not use something too bready or dense. 

Optional

  • Tomato
  • Lettuce
  • Mayo, ketchup and mustard
  • 1 bottle of hoppy IPA, preferably one made locally and not recently purchased by InBev

Method:

First, open the beer and take a sip. 

Mix the meat just enough to combine the beef and pork. Do not over mix, it will make the meat tougher. 

Turn the stovetop to medium high. Let the pan heat up while you make patties, make them relatively thin and slightly larger than your bun. 

Assertively salt and pepper the patties on the up side. Place that side down into a sizzling hot skillet. Salt and pepper the up side of the patty. 

Take a sip of your beer. Clean up some of your mess. (3-4 minutes)

When the down side is charred, flip the patty, place an aggressive amount of extra sharp cheddar on top of each burger and turn off the heat. Cover the pan loosely in some aluminum foil and let the cheese melt. (4-5 minutes)

Place on a bun with your favorite condiments. 

If you use sliced tomato, please salt and pepper that tomato before eating.  

Eat your burger. Listen to Frank and Dean while drinking your beer. 

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Eggs Baked In Avocado

Eggs Baked in Avocado

Some beautiful genius deserves credit for this. If I had the time I would bravely sift through years of Instagram and peel back layers of Pinterest until just one picture remained.

Maybe what I’m searching for goes beyond the internet… I picture a dusty crawlspace with shoe boxes of family photos.  An elderly woman pushing out words loud enough to hear through the floor, “Florence used to do that I swear! The kids loved it!”

When that day comes I will give credit where credit is due. Until then, that hero will remain unnamed, safe in the knowledge that they made the world a better place.

Breakfast is easily the best meal. First of all there’s coffee, that’s awesome. That’s a blog post alone. Shoot, making the perfect cup of coffee is an entire industry. I’ll leave it be. For now.

Then, amongst the cacophony of choices, there is the humble chicken’s egg. It rises like the phoenix above all matters of parfaits and home made muesli bars. A perfectly prepared egg is easily the third most photographed thing on the internet. Check out #eggporn for a good time.

One of the things I love about this dish is that the potatoes are used to keep the avocados from tipping over during the cook. Practical engineering in the kitchen. I think. I’m not an engineer.

This all  leads us to a remarkably simple and elevated way to serve a pair of eggs. Perfect these and your lady friend might stick around for all of Sunday Funday.

Avocado Egg Ingredients

Serves 2 Takes 35 minutes

  • 4 chicken eggs
  • 2 large ripe Avocados
  • 2 medium sized red potatoes
  • 1 ripe tomato
  • hot sauce, preferably Tapatio or Cholula (or minced onion, or a dash of cheese, or all of the above)
  • Salt and Pepper

Preheat to 400f / 205c

Start by dicing your potatoes and tossing in olive oil, salt and pepper. Lay them in a single layer on a baking sheet and get them in the oven. Set a timer for 20 minutes.

Get to work on the avocado. Slice in half and remove the seed.

Using a spoon, scoop out enough avocado to fit the volume of the egg inside. Might be more than you think, at least two spoonfuls.

Scooped Avocado

Splash a pinch of salt and pepper on the avocado and wait out the timer on the potatoes.

Once those are half done, using a good potholder, take the sheet pan out of the oven and push the potatoes around so you can set the avocados on the sheet without them tipping and rolling around. Crack one egg into each half an avocado. Have a small bowl standing by in case you start to overflow and panic. Just pour the egg into the bowl and scoop a little more avo out.

Into the oven

Once the avocados are filled and propped up, dash some hot sauce on them and put them back in the oven. Set a timer for 15 minutes.

Slice up that tomato and drizzle with some olive oil and salt and pepper. Set that up with the excess avocado on your serving plates.

When the 15 minutes are up pull out the pan and take a look. The whites should be set and the yolks still soft. The air bubbles in the yolk cook translucent, don’t be fooled by the clear. I usually poke the white with a fork.

Finished!

Remove from oven, dash of salt and pepper on each. Serve with the fresh tomatoes and roasted potatoes.

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Minty Mango Salsa

mango salsa

Homemade salsa is one of those things that may seem intimidating but is really quite simple. I made this salsa to accompany a Spicy Shrimp Pretzel Roll sandwich but you can use it for almost anything. The base principles behind it can be adapted in countless ways and is a great example of one of my core philosophies of home cooking. Mango is in season right now so it’s cheap and extra delicious. The sweetness adds a nice contrast to spice and heat.

Minty Mango Salsa

4-6 servings. Takes 10-20 minutes

  • 1 Mango
  • 1/2 cucumber
  • 1 bunch green onions
  • 1 handful of fresh mint leaves
  • 1 fresh jalapeno
  • 2 limes
  • salt
  • pepper
  • olive oil

Start by breaking down your ripe mango. Here’s a great video tutorial if you don’t get a lot of practice. They can be kind of tricky, especially if you don’t get your first cut right.

Chop up your cucumber into similar sized chunks as your mango. Ribbon the green onions, about half of the bunch. Do the same with the mint leaves. 

minty fresh

Use as much jalapeno as you desire. The fresh ones can vary in heat and everyone has a different tolerance. The more seeds you put in the more spice there will be.

Combine everything in a large bowl. Squeeze the juice of both limes over the mix and add a dash of oil. Two big pinches of sea salt and a few cranks on a pepper mill. 

mango salsa pre mix

Stir it up. If you want to get fancy you can toss it in a blender and pulse it a few times.

Before you serve, have a taste or two. You’re trying to balance the water content of the cucumber with lime and salt, so if it’s a little bland or watery add a little of each until you can taste mango, acid and salt equally.

Refrigerate until service.

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Dutch Oven Short Ribs Braised in Red Wine

Bone In Short Ribs Braised in Red Wine

There is no greater link to my past than preparing festive food on a budget. This kind of cooking is in my bones. Generations of Lithuanians and French Canadians speak through me as I stir and chop and taste. I connect with the ghosts of family past in my kitchen with flavors and scents. I can feel my grandfather in the room, his colloquialisms echoing in my brain. If not just for one day our holiday feasts cut through the extra noise of this modern life. We return to a time when food was our only form of entertainment at home. Sure we steal glances at our phones, but only occasionally and then feel bad about it afterwards. Instead we talk to each other, we listen to one another… and most importantly, we eat.

I was struck by inspiration for this years Easter dinner by one wayward glance at the butcher counter more than two weeks ago. The sight of short ribs got my gears turning. What a perfect holiday meal to serve our guests… It hits all the marks… Easy, delicious, cheap. Once you get it in the oven your work is basically finished… Short ribs it had to be.

Let’s get to it.

Beef Short ribs

Serves 4-6 Approximately 3 hours

  • 3 pounds of bone in short rib (boneless is fine too. Costs more but just as good)
  • 3 carrots
  • 3 celery stalks
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • 1 large onion
  • 4 cups of beef broth (usually one large box)
  • 1 bunch of scallions or chives
  • 1 bottle of red wine
  • 1 small bundle of fresh thyme
  • 1 sprig of fresh rosemary
  • 2 bay leaves
  • all purpose flour
  • salt and pepper
  • A dutch oven or oven safe pot

Pep Talk

Something to remember before you start. This is going to seem like a lot of steps for a fancy meal. Don’t get nervous about it. This is easy. It is really hard to screw up. Even if you skip all these steps and just throw everything in the pot in the oven you will end up with a delicious meal. Remember, this is essentially European peasant food. Cheap cuts of meat, a pot full of vegetables and a bottle of local red wine cooked over fires or baked until it falls off the bone. This entire dish can be done a day ahead, some say it’s even better that way. It’s an ideal meal for entertaining.

Preparation

First step, salt and pepper the short ribs. Then toss them in a large bag with flour and shake them up until they all have a nice even coating.

Set them aside and chop up your onion, celery, carrots and garlic. Turn your oven on 350 (175c).

Pour some oil in your dutch oven and put the heat on medium. You want enough oil to coat the bottom of the pot. Let the oil heat up and place the ribs in one at a time until you have single layer. With 3 pounds this will likely take two batches. Sear the ribs until they’re browned up nicely. 4 minutes or so on each side. Set them aside for later and spoon out most of the oil. Scrape the crusty bits with a wooden spoon and add your onions to the pot. Once they are starting to brown and melt down add your carrots and celery. Stir them up and salt and pepper everything. Add two of the chopped garlic cloves now.

Starting to smell good huh?

Let the mixture cook for 5-10 minutes, stirring often.

Place the seared short ribs on top of the veggies. At this point it doesn’t matter if they’re all arranged perfectly or not, just get them in the pot.

Open that bottle of red. Buy a wine that’s drinkable but don’t spend too much money on it. A table red or a cabernet works great here. Pour yourself a half a glass and dump the rest of the bottle in the pot. Turn the heat up to medium high and make a note of how high up on the pot the liquid is. Keep the lid off of the pot.

Wait for a boil. You’ve got about 20 minutes here and only need to stir a few times. Wash up the cutting board and dishes, get your counters clean.

You want to boil it until the amount of red wine has reduced by half. I tied up a bundle of the thyme and a sprig of rosemary with cooking string and tossed it in with two bay leafs and the third chopped garlic clove. Toss in a couple pinches of flour and pour in the (4 cups) entire box of beef broth.

Short Ribs in Red Wine, pre boil

Cover. Place in oven.

“Siri, set a timer for 2 hours please

Plenty to do for that time. Set out your appetizers, greet your guests, work on your side dish for the short ribs. (mashed potatoes, polenta, roasted vegetables, risotto, pasta come to mind) I made a parmesan risotto to accompany mine. It came out pretty good but not good enough for me to tell you how to make it. Maybe next time.

When the two hours is up take a look at your masterpiece.

Voila!

I pulled out the bones with a pair of tongs and tossed them. Using the tongs, break up the meat until it’s shredded. If the bones don’t come out easily and the meat doesn’t shred  with a light touch give it some more time. Stir up the mixture and have a spoonful. Add salt and fresh cracked black pepper to taste and put back in the oven for 30 minutes. This is when I made my (decent) risotto.

When finished, serve your amazing short ribs over your amazing side dish. Top with chopped green onion or chives. Pray for leftovers.

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Grilled Carne Asada

 

IMG_1279My mother is an exceptional cook. She grew up in a time and a city where families of European immigrants lived clustered together in neighborhoods named after their homelands. It became my stomach’s good fortune that “French Hill” happened to border “Italian Hill”. While the children were off to school and the men off to work, generations of women would cook their family recipes throughout the day in anticipation of their families return. It was the smells of the neighborhood that got my mother most hooked on food. She spent days with other peoples’ grandmothers learning the foods they had learned from generations past.

I didn’t spend much time in the kitchen with my mother growing up, I was too busy taking the fresh and delicious food we ate for granted to do that. It wasn’t until I had grown and moved out that my enthusiasm for food began to take shape. I did, however, learn through osmosis what amounts to a master class in food and family theory that continues to this day. Her excitement about other culture’s foods really stuck with me. I can’t eat or smell something for long without dissecting the flavors and learning to make some version of it. Like many staples in my family’s home, my inspiration for yesterday’s meal began in my neighbor’s kitchen. One whiff of their grill on my way out the door and I knew Mexican would be on the menu. While I won’t pretend to know an Abuela’s version of carne asada I’d like to think she’d enjoy it if she had some. You’re always welcome Abuela!

I’m almost to the point.

So yesterday we had the conference championship games for American football. These days have become informal holidays in the States, the bigger the game, the bigger the group. Friends and casual fans come out of the woodwork while we light our fires, cook our meats and yell at men dressed in stripes. Depending on your rooting interests, they can be the best and the worst days but there is always food to keep us busy.

Yesterday while the Green Bay Packers cruelly teased their fans with early dominance, I was buzzing around a friend’s kitchen preparing some Carne Asada.

What’s that? Don’t live 100 miles from the Mexican border?

Carne Asada is seasoned flap meat, cooked nearly well done and usually served in tacos or burritos. It is best grilled. Serve it with your favorite Mexican condiments. I prepared fresh salsa, chopped avocado and a cheese called queso fresco. Sour cream, shredded cheese and jarred salsa would do just fine. Tortillas too, of course. I now owe you a post on salsas and condiments. Soon. For today we’ll focus on the meat.

Ah yes, the meat. But what is flap meat? So many questions. Flap meat is a cut found in the bottom sirloin. It’s cheap, well marbled (fatty) and very thin. Buy it in hispanic grocers by the pound. The French call it “bavette”, some South Americans call it “vacio”. I call it delicious.  If you can’t find it, use skirt steak or anything you can find that is thin and flat.

Serves 6-8. Takes between 30-60 minutes.

  • 3 pounds flap meat
  • 10 limes
  • Your favorite chili powder (I used a ground New Mexico Chile with medium heat)
  • kosher or sea salt
  • oil

See? Easy as pie. Not that pie is easy. Especially if you’re preparing your own crust.

sprinkle sprinkle

sprinkle sprinkle

Flap meat is often sold in a bag. Keep it in there for a moment and splash some olive oil on it, enough to cover most of the meat with a light layer. Shake it up, then lay it out flat on a platter or a sheet pan if available. I used foil to keep the amount of dishes down. Sprinkle a layer of salt on both sides of the meat and a layer of chili powder on one side. Repeat this on all the steaks.

Set aside. 5 minutes? Half hour? Overnight? Your call. The salt tenderizes the meat while making it delicious so you do have some incentive to wait. If you’re in a hurry, say you want to stop cooking and watch football, rush this part. No biggie.

burn fire burn

burn fire burn

Get your fires hot. Medium high / high on a gas grill, if you’re using charcoal you’re obviously not in a hurry. Get a nice pile of coals going and have a beer. Enjoy your task. Just before you put the steaks on the grill dress with lime juice. Give them a minute. Place the steaks on the grill, add more lime juice and let them cook. You do not want your flap meat cooked to medium rare. You need to cook it so the fat and proteins start to break down. Char that side, flip, add more lime juice.

Chop up your limes into quarters and halves and heat some tortillas wrapped in foil on a less hot part of the grill. It helps to flip the tortillas like pages in a book before you heat them. You don’t want them to heat up and fuse together.

When the steaks are well done and have some burnt edges, pull them off the grill and dice them up good.

Serve with tortillas and bowls of Mexican condiments. Grab a plate. Go sit down and watch the game.

Pay no attention to the carnitas on the right

Pay no attention to the carnitas on the right

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Homemade Tortilla Chips

Home Made Corn Tortilla Chips

The first time I had an authentic Mexican taco I’ll admit I was a little skeptical. I had recently transplanted from Massachusetts to Southern California and until that moment I had only eaten tacos sitting down, in crunchy shells and loaded with cheese. Massachusetts has a lot of great food, but Mexican cuisine is not it’s strong suit.

I stood in a line of Mexican men at a truck in a parking lot in Bakersfield, CA, using my fractured high school Spanish to navigate the menu while my friend Renee tried her hardest to convince me that these were “real tacos” and that eating from a truck in a parking lot wasn’t going to make me sick. This was 2002 mind you. Gourmet food trucks were nearly a decade from being fashionable.

 

So I ordered an A-Sa-da taco for $1. I looked at this mini disk of corn tortilla with steak, onion, cilantro and salsa on it and furrowed my brow a little. I took a bite.

 

I ordered 3 more when I was finished. By the end of the week I had returned to the truck twice more.

So yea. Mexican food is my buddy now. I eat it constantly in the spring and summer.

Here’s my take on healthy tortilla chips. A simple snack that tastes great and isn’t loaded with calories and fried oil.

 

 

  • Buy Corn Tortillas
  • Cut them into triangles.

Corn Tortilla Chips Prepped

  • Toss them in oil, sea salt and lime juice. 
  • Toast in the toaster oven. You can broil them or bake on high heat in a conventional oven too.

Homemade chips in the oven

  • Keep an eye (nose) on them, they turn quick. Maybe 3-5 minutes depending on temperature.
  • Homemade chips.

Yum

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Perfectly Roasted Cauliflower

Cauliflower is such a versatile vegetable. You can grill it, steam it, roast it, purée it, sautte it, make steaks with it, soups, stocks, steaks, oh my.

Sorry. Little bit of Bubba Gump there.

Outside of the emerging vegetable movement in some innovative restaurants these days, cauliflower has been relegated to icky status. Over steamed, farty smelling cauliflower mixed in with some sorry ass carrots and onions.

No wonder so many people think they don’t like it.

Try this on for size.

  • One head cauliflower. (Does your store have Purple?!)
  • One lemon
  • One half handful of almonds
  • Sea salt
  • Cracked black pepper
  • Olive oil

Turn the oven on 425.

Break down the cauliflower into small sized pieces and toss them in a large bowl. The more uniform the chunks the better. The florets are where the money is at so focus your efforts on them. When that’s finished either set aside the stalks for vegetable stock or (sorry grandpa) throw them away. (But you can make soup with that!) I know Pepe I know. Sorry.

IMG_0672


Roughly chop up the almonds so that they are in halves and quarters. When that’s finished skin the lemon and chop into chunks. Swirl the olive oil over the mixture a couple times and give it a layer of salt and pepper. Mix it good, get it on a baking sheet and place it in the oven. The more single layer the pile the more yummy caramelization you’ll get.

Ready for the oven!

Ready for the oven!

I set a timer for 20 minutes and mix it up. Set another timer for 15 minutes and keep your eye on it. More accurately your nose. It will smell done when it’s done.

Poke a fork in a thick floret and see if it falls off. Ideally many of the tips have begun to caramelize and the stalks are just a hair al dente.

Serve and eat. Rejoice at cauliflower’s comeback.

I'm a bad blogger. All I have is this cropped photo from the main plate.

I’m a bad blogger. All I have is this cropped photo from the main plate.

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Bright and Light Tabbouleh

One of the benefits of  growing up in Worcester, Massachusetts was daily exposure to food from all over the world. My Dad and I would often be tasked with running to the various ethnic markets in the neighborhood to pick up their specialties for us at home. There was (still is) a Lebanese bakery across the street from my grade school that pumped out Middle Eastern delicacies all day and half the night.  The smell of lamb and cinnamon would permeate the classrooms and more often than not I would end up standing at their counter on my tip toes looking for a bite to spend my pocket change on.

Tabbouleh has stayed with me from those days. It’s often served as a side dish or salad. These days, with a beautiful and vegetarian wife at home my quest for delicious and well rounded meatless entrees has led me to a more robust version of the classic.

This is everything you need to make my entree ready version of tabbouleh.

 

Ingredients:

  • 1 bunch of fresh parsley (I chose italian flat leaf this time)
  • 1 handful of fresh mint leaves
  • 2 lemons
  • 1/2 red onion
  • 1/2 bunch of scallions
  • 1 red bell pepper
  • 4 persian cucumbers (or one medium size cucumber)
  • 2 medium tomatoes
  • 1 cup of quinoa
  • 1 can garbanzo beans
  • olive oil
  • sea salt
  • pepper

 

 

 

Start the quinoa on the stove. One cup grain, two cups liquid. Class it up with chicken or vegetable stock or just put in a pat of butter and a big pinch of salt. Turn it up high until it’s boiling, then simmer on low with the cover on until the liquid absorbs in and the grain is starting to separate a little.

 

Meanwhile at the cutting board, break down the parsley and mint. I rip the leaves off of the stems by hand, tossing the stems in a waste bowl and the leaves in a large mixing bowl. If you have a choice use a non metallic bowl because of all the lemon juice going in later.

 

Chop those herbs up nice and fine. There are a lot of ways to do this efficiently, I like to roll it all up tight and start there. After the initial chop it gets a little less structured. Have fun with it and keep your finger tips out of the way. Add a pinch of salt and pepper and a swirl of olive oil and mix it up.

Use a grater to zest one of the lemons into the herbs. A cheese grater works fine, just use the smaller holes. Rub down until the outer yellow is peeled and rub the excess off of the grater and into the bowl. I like to juice the lemons into a separate dish so I can scoop out the seeds easier.  Squeeze out both the lemons and mix it all in with the herbs. Rinse the beans and toss them in.

Mix the rinsed beans in with the lemon, parsley and mint.

Mix the rinsed beans in with the lemon, parsley and mint.

Break down the rest of the veggies, chopped to your preference.

A couple tips

  • Scoop the seeds and pulp out of the tomatoes to keep the amount of extra liquid down.
  • Rinse the diced onion in a colander under cold water or soak it in a bowl of water. It will take some of the edge off of the raw onion.
  • Toss a pinch of salt and pepper on each ingredient as you go. You want to layer the flavors and treat each ingredient like and individual component.
  • Rinse the beans well. You don’t want any of the liquid from the can in your dish. It’s starchy and smooth and tastes like metal.

Add the beans (salt and pepper) and the quinoa to the mixture and mix well. You can eat this for lunch or dinner, as a side or as a main. I don’t worry too much about the quinoa going into the mix warm, it adds a nice dimension to the first meals.

 

You’ll get 6-8 portions out of this recipe. Yum!

 

Good for a meal or just a side, this tabbouleh will keep for a week in the fridge.

Good for a meal or just a side, this tabbouleh will keep for a week in the fridge.

Jazz it up?

  • Crumbled feta cheese
  • Substitute quinoa for cooked farro or soaked bulgur wheat
  • Make your own hummus!
  • Chop a jalapeno up and toss it in
  • Serve it in a wrap with hummus

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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