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30+ years pro experience; master chef, abundant references

jus de beouf

originally published 11 february 2009, as "On Making Beef Broth," at
[used by permission]

skip to the recipe

As I sit down to write this, I'm poised to make my son a couple of crêpes au chocolat for breakfast, as soon as he emerges from the shower. It's standard bill-of-fare; the kitchen is the early productive one, at my house. That and the cat, who's already been outside patrolling in the dark, twice.

I've been pondering beef broth. I just made a batch, and as always, was reminded of an early food mentor, Jeff Smith, who was the well-known and notorious Frugal Gourmet on television in the 1990s. I hooked up with him early in what became my long-and-checkered culinary career; his influence guides me often, still.

I had left home at eighteen, and was living near my old school in North Tacoma. I had plenty of money saved from my work as a restaurant cook (I had begun cooking in restaurants when I was seventeen), but my parents were still apparently concerned about my financial state, so although I didn't need to work, they thought I should get a job.

I assured them that I had excellent prospects. In fact, I told them, "It looks like Jeff Smith wants to hire me," but I hadn't even been in to talk to him. I just wanted to give them something they'd want to hear to get them off my back.

Jeff had a cooking show at the time, but only on KTPS 62, the Tacoma Public Schools channel. He also had a kitchen shop and café right across the street from the high school, where I was finishing my senior year: "The Chaplain's Pantry."

The next day, I thought I should at least give some truth to my white lie, and went into Jeff's shop to ask about work. He hired me on the spot, and set me to work as the evening cook at his restaurant in downtown Tacoma (just at the onset of its renaissance), "The Judicial Annex." It was a huge dining room and little kitchen next to the University of Puget Sound Law School, hence the name, and hence the extreme lunch business. Jeff made good food, and they thronged to it.
The downtown core was dead at night, so the place would have rare customers, but he needed prep work to support the lunch business, like bakers working in the middle of the night. This was to be my job.

On my first day there, in the spring of 1981, he asked me, "Do you know how to make beef stock?"

I did, theoretically: roast bones, simmer, strain, reduce - but had never done so, and told him.

"Okay, Cole," - he always called me that, like he was my junior-high buddy -

"I'm going to show you how to make beef stock. This is the only way to make it; you're always going to make it this way, you're never going to make it any other way."

Rather emphatic, but - as if I had knelt in the mud and the rain, while the lightning flashed, I swore a solemn vow: I never did make it any other way.

This was the first of many of the foundational skills I learned from Mr. Smith. A cook must know their way around a knife, and have a sound culinary background, familiarity with the fundamental principles and patterns - from making the stock all the way to improvised preparation of pastries.

From the beef broth that day, we made soupe a l'oignon, French onion soup, with the classic Gruyére crouton broiled on top. Cut a lot of onions for that one.

He served potato salad with the sandwiches, as an optional side, so that meant cutting up fifty pounds of potatoes every couple of days. I didn't yet have my own chef's knife, but spent a lot of time using one, cutting vegetables and occasionally myself. I recall now that I bought it then, on his counsel, at Sur La Table, the culinary supply in Seattle - a Henckel's professional-S 10" - high-carbon stainless steel; holds an amazing edge.

It's still my primary knife, about thirty years later - along with a pair of gorgeous Sabatier paring knives, carbon steel, walnut handles, three brass rivets...

I went on to have a career in restaurant kitchens, and relied upon the culinary lessons from my years with Jeff throughout. Years later, I maintained a friendship wth him, and would visit his condominium above Tom Douglas's restaurant, Etta's, in the Pike Place Market. We'd sit and have wine, or a martini, and talk about food. I saw his last television episode there; it had been shot and edited a year or so before his final broadcast, so I had a sneak preview.

I had some experience with his cooking show, early on, before he got picked up by PBS and was not only broadcast nationwide, but acquired an international reputation. When he was still doing the KTPS gig, I would occasionally be the one to assemble the dish that would emerge from the oven, in that time-compression of the TV cooking show: "In the oven it goes, and [forty-five minutes later,] when it comes out it looks like this."

But I would drop in to visit him at the market; he kept a low profile, being a national celebrity, but was a notorious resident of the public market - exactly where a guy like him should be found, deep in the middle of the culinary scene, right at the sources of the food for the table.

Once, my colleagues and I, from out on our island, went into America for a field trip, which included spending the day at the Public Market, followed by lunch at a fish restaurant. The market is a popular destination with tourists - including the gruesome public spectacle of Pike Place Fish, where the fishmongrels throw the customer's fish up to a guy who wraps it (I boycott the f**king place, and won't even look - it's gruesome and disrespectful - go to Pure Food Fish, just down the way, where they know how to handle these noble, lovely, and delicious creatures). People flock to see this ghastly spectacle, just like filling medieval squares to watch an execution.

Having run a kitchen a few blocks away, though, and having spent three or four days there a week, I had seen what I needed to see of the market, so wasn't as enthusiastic about the prospects of spending my day there.
No problem - I called Jeff and made arrangements to spend the day with him.

He took me to lunch, too, at the fish restaurant underneath his place. A patron bought us a nice bottle of wine (celebrity has perks, it would seem), and after lunch, he said, "Let's go visit the kitchen," just like he was on TV. He got up, beckoned me to follow, and into the kitchen we went.
I thought it was quite a liberty; I don't think he had made arrangements. I've been in kitchens that were slammed, and it's not generally a nice environment for visitors. And yet, I have been visited in the kitchen by celebrities, and busy or not, it's nice.

But there, behind the hot line, was a guy I had worked with, briefly, some fifteen years before. He came through as a cook for a time in a kitchen I worked in, and here he was, fifteen years later - you could see this pass through his mind as his eyes fell and his shoulders slumped - still just a lunch cook - and there I was, visiting his kitchen, the guest and companion of this famous guy.
Later, I met up with my chums and had lunch at this fish restaurant, but I was sated and had eaten a great meal, so I got by with fresh ale.

One time, a friend invited me and my former wife to dinner at Campagne, a nice, if too tiley and loud, French restaurant at the market. We'd have a long drive to get there, and would be travel-rumpled, but I thought maybe we could stop by Jeff's for a cocktail and change into our nice, dinner clothes.
He thought it was a great idea, too, so we made the plan.
The evening arrived, and it was a nice one. We dropped in on Jeff.
While we were having our martini, we were talking of food (of course), and I told him of that first day working for him, making the beef broth. I told him I had, as promised, never deviated from his procedure, and had, in fact, gone on to teach it the very same way to countless other young cooks, some of whom have gone on to run kitchens of their own, and are teaching it to other young cooks, and here I am: one, in a long chain of cooks, passing down the foundational secret.

Jeff responded by getting choked up (as he was fabulously prone to do) and said, "Let me tell you about the guy who taught me how to make beef stock," and told me of the fellow who ran Tacoma's LH Bates Vocational College's Culinary Arts program, which was highly-regarded then, and still is.

A long chain of cooks.

jus de beouf, the way I make it:

My former wife was advised by an acupuncturist to have beef broth for her pulmonary complaint. "It's easy," she said, "You just get a beef bone and boil it in some water."

When I was through cringing, I told her I had a different approach.

You'll need a large kettle - at least four gallons - for this procedure. If you have nothing that size, use the largest you have and scale the recipe accordingly. Start out with about two gallons of good water in the pot - I use filtered water; it's worth it, even if you have to buy jugs of water, to use the best water you can, since you'll be boiling it down. You'll need about three gallons of water to make a gallon of broth.

Start with about ten pounds of beef bones - just buy the sliced leg bones, usually labled as being for dogs. Meaty neck bones are also nice, but the leg bones contribute more to the body, so make sure and have some, at least half. If the bones are really chunky, ask the butcher to cut them with the saw (beef bones are tricky to put through the saw once they've been sawn, so your guy may be wary of it; best if the bones are nice, long, shin or shank bones, sliced into discs). Ideally, the bones are splintered into chunks, but don't get carried away. Whatever you have is fine, as long as you have enough.

You'll also need mirepoix, which is a standard component in the French kitchen: celery, onions, and carrots. If they are to appear in a sauce, they are diced, but in this case, they can be cut as coarse or as fine as you like. I slice everything small, usually using about four large carrots, five or six stalks of celery, and two or three onions (reserve the peels).

If you've been prudent and frugal, you'll have been saving scraps of these vegetables, as well as herb stems, in a bag in the freezer, in anticipation of this day. Not much I like better than being able to pull green leek parts out of the freezer for the beef broth pot.

Arrange the bones in a roasting pan, or in two or more 9x13 cake pans; you'll need the high sides later. Put them in a 400° oven for a couple of hours, turning them once or twice to brown them evenly. Be careful when you slide the pan out to turn the bones - lots of fat will have been rendered off, and that day when I was making it with Jeff, some of the hot fat sloshed over the lip of the pan and onto my palm and burnt the crap out of it. Take a step back when you open the oven, too, to let the steam escape - it can burn you, too.

After the bones are nicely browned, add the mirepoix, stirring it among the fat that's been rendered, and spreading it out over all the bones, and roast that, too, for an hour or more, until the vegetables are also well-browned. Check in on them once or twice and turn them, too. If anything gets a bit burnt, that's fine. Contributes to the flavor and color.

picture of roasted bones and mirepoix

When everything is nice and roasted, take the bones out and set them in the pot, into which you've placed the two gallons of good water, and under which you've got a nice, hot flame, to bring it close to boiling as the roasting comes to an end.

Use a utensil to transfer the bones, taking your time. I prefer tongs, but a large spoon would do, or even a pancake-turner. But you don't want to dump them in the water, as it's messy, and there's all that hot fat in the pan. So set them in, and now that the pan is empty, it's your chance to pour off the fat. If you're unable to safely remove it at this stage, though, don't worry: you'll have a number of other opportunities.

Don't set the roasting pans in the sink - you want to extract that flavor from the bits that are roasted on, so put about half an inch of water in each pan and return them to the oven for about ten minutes. This is deglazing, an important step.

Meanwhile, you'll have the bones and mirepoix coming to a boil; this is the best time to skim the broth to remove the scum that it will throw. You'll want a nice, clarified stock, so it's best to work at that from the beginning.

After the pans have roasted with water, pull them out and scrape off the bits with a spoon - when I finish deglazing a pan, it barely needs more than a wipe to get clean; all the roasted-on bits have been dislodged, helped along by the hot water. It all goes into the pot.

When the pot comes to a boil, lower the heat so you have merely a simmer - if you remove the fat at this stage with a ladle or a baster, you'll see barely more than a ten centimeter disc of clear broth at the top, when bits are thrown clear of it by the gentle simmering action - an indication of the appropriate fire (reserve the fat, if you can - I make suet blocks with grains for the birds; keeps it out of the drains and the trash).

And keep that fire on it for hours - from six or eight (not enough, in my opinion) to twenty-four or even thirty-six hours. I usually run mine for at least twenty-four hours, not a lot longer than that. You'll need to top it up, and keep the fire on it at night - but if you can't, just let it sit, cooled, on the stovetop overnight. You can resume the simmering in the morning, and you'll be safe.

During the boil, throw in the onion skins, and several cloves of garlic, unpeeled but gently smashed (the onion and garlic peels contribute to a dark color). Toss in a bayleaf or two - I like to use them freshly-dried (not too fresh; the flavor is too coarse until they've been dried), so I snag sprigs when I see a nice shrub, I don't care whose shrub it is. Add some peppercorns, whole, a dozen or so.

You can add a bit of salt, but go easy - you might be concentrating the stock by boiling it down, and you don't want it to be too salty - a little salt enables better clarity, though, so add half a teaspoon or so - Celtic salt, if you have it, in which half the periodic table is represented.

Add some sprigs of thyme, but avoid sage or rosemary - too strong, and they'll limit what you can do with your broth - you want it on the baseline side.

And of course, parsley - you can never throw in too much parsley.

Keep that gentle simmer going, stir it now and then.

Once the simmering is done, it's time for the tricky part of straining it.

If you're well-prepared, you have a large strainer or two (I have one with mesh so fine it appears merely translucent to my aged eyes, called a chinois, or "Chinese hat.") - if so, set that over a pot or bowl large enough to handle the two gallons of broth you'll have, and gently pour the broth through, watching that the bones don't tumble out in a messy pile. If you like, you can remove them as carefully as you set them in the first place, and then strain the broth.

If you don't have another large pot or bowl to strain into, then carefully remove the bones and mushy vegetables, and strain into the largest bowls you have, filling as many as it takes. You can also do this if your strainer is on the small side. However you do it, don't fuss over it. DO try to eliminate any solids, but you'll still have a chance to catch any that slip through.
Now, you can either bottle it up and store it in the fridge, or you can reduce it by boiling and then store it - better to do the latter.

Reducing the broth

Put the pot on the stove and bring it to a boil - if you like, start the boil out slow, and keep the pot off to the side of the flame, so any impurities that made it through can be skimmed off to the side and removed.

Once you've done that, bring it to a boil and boil away. It's a good idea to keep the largest whisk you have close by, and even set in cold water - if the pot begins to boil over, you can just plunge the whisk in it, which cools it below the boiling point rapidly, giving you time to turn the burner down and not freak out.

I boil it down by half, ending up with four quarts of broth from my original two gallons of water and ten pounds of bones.

Storing the broth

I pour it, when it's all done, through a fine strainer, fresh off the boil so still piping hot (200°, at least) into clean, quart mason jars, and screw the lids on right away (be careful to wipe the rim if you mess it up, but be clean about it).

I label the lid with the date on masking tape and stick it in the refrigerator right away; although you won't find this recommended in a USDA pamphlet, and should hold me blameless if you use my method, I have never had broth spoil if bottled this way and kept in the refrigerator. I have held broth chilled for over a year this way; no spoilage.

However, as soon as you open that bottle to use some broth, which should be nice and congealed, too, if you had favorable bones, it will begin to spoil. Once I open a bottle of it, I either use it within three days, or bring it to a boil and put it in a clean, smaller jar and put it away promptly. Keeps indefinitely, again.

You can open the bottles after they've chilled to take off the layer of fat - this is how stocks are routinely defatted, by chilling them and lifting off the congealed fat from the surface - but it contributes to the air seal, so don't worry about it until you're ready to use it.

I have seen many references that suggest the easiest way to store broth is to freeze it in ice-cube trays, and keep them in a bag, but the freezer is the worst place to store stock, as it's a harsh-flavor environment - nothing emerges from the freezer with its flavor intact, and in the case of this rather robust, but really demure and gentle beef broth, you don't want to treat it that way. Keep it in jars, fresh, in the refrigerator, and be sure to pasteurize it if you open it (160°F /72°C for thirty seconds to pasteurize; boil it if you like).

Don't assume you can do chicken stock the same way; it's completely different, and fish stock is different from that. All are critical foundations, and I have procedures for them all. I'll get to them…

chicken broth

originally published 14 february 2009, as "On Chicken Broth," at
[used by permission]

skip to the recipe

Chicken broth is another of the fundamentals in a French kitchen -- in any kitchen - but rather than being called, "jus de poule," it's known as fond blanc.

"The white foundation."

Chicken stock, fond blanc, is the basis for a family of sauces, just as jus de beouf is the parent of families of sauce.

From chicken broth, one can deviate into veloutes (basically, gravy), not to mention a host of soups, sauces, and other perfect contributions to a wide variety of dishes.
Cooking rice in chicken broth.
Chicken broth in a pan of fresh, sautéed spinach, with a beaten egg swirled in it, and a slice or two of radish, to make a simple spring soup…

Chicken broth, in that archetypal kitchen, is the staple. One must always have it on hand.

By my own reckoning, I believe I have an unending string of chicken broth stretching back to 1993; I have not run out in all that time. I've come close, but always make a bit in time, and add the old stuff to it, and always have, so there are always a few molecules of that vintage chicken broth in everything I prepare.

Once, I lived up the road from a store that had, I discovered, chicken backs-and-necks for nineteen cents a pound. This beat the price I was currently paying wholesale, forty-nine cents a pound for a fifty pound box, which was what we were using to make chicken broth in the restaurant.

So I would get off the bus on the way home from work, and clean them out and buy all the backs and necks they had; usually, I went home with about twenty pounds a week.

Sacré bleu! That's a lot of chicken broth!

You're not kidding, but on top of that, this store also sold oxtails (beef) for forty-nine cents a pound, and they make the best broth you can imagine, so I was cleaning them out of those, too.
I constantly had broth on the stove (this was in the days when I was a bachelor and had a tap room with a refrigerator full of home-made ale on tap), much more than I was able to use.

What to do?

Well, I make a couple of gallons of broth at a time, so I reduce it until it's thick and down to about two quarts. Then, when using it, I likely will have to "reconstitute" it.

But in the case of way too many gallons of broth, I kept going - I boiled it until it was reduced and thick - about two gallons reduced to a quart - which was like deep miners drilling to the edge of the rocky mantle - and kept going.

I had the heat on low, as low as possible, since the stuff was so thick and syrupy that it would easily boil over. When it was so thick it was in peril of being scorched, I poured it into a pie plate, where it made a layer about 1/8" thick. It rapidly set up, gelatinous, and within a day, was a solid, barely pliable sheet which I could peel up from the plate. I cut this into strips and packed them in jars of kosher salt, where they became like dark, brittle toothpicks of broth.

I've used them for boiling up a batch of soup when hiking in the mountains - my goal, being, always, to eat better on my old Optimus stove in the mountains that the rest of the folks are eating down on the shore. I've added them to terrine de viande (you might think it's like meatloaf). All-purpose, and a way to satisfy my broth-junkie behavior.

My former wife claims that I pray over the broth pot, and that calls up a nice image, and one that's close, I suppose, to how I feel about broth, and my role in conjuring it.

However, she's misquoting me, having heard me say,

"Making broth is how I pray."

That's exactly true. It's a devotional activity, and connects me to the lifeline of the kitchen, and to the lineage of what I intend to do when I'm there.

Beef broth makes much of roasting everything to get a deep flavor, and a deep, brown color, but chicken broth goes the other way - fond blanc. So the emphasis is on flavor without saturating the color.

Chicken broth, the way I make it

I generally make a batch of chicken broth when the freezer is at its limit of how many chicken carcasses it will hold. I always buy chickens whole, and take them apart, using the hindquarters for this, the breasts for that, and saving the back, the neck, and often the wings, wrapped up in plastic in the freezer.

When I have three or four of these, it's time to make broth.

Out comes the pot, filled with water, about three gallons. In go the carcasses - nothing cycles through the oven at all. The emphasis is on flavor without color, so I won't even save bones from a roasted chicken for the broth pot (I'll send them, ad hoc, into some other soup application).

I bring the pot to the boil and turn it to a gentle simmer - now is the time to being clarifying the broth. Much scum gets thrown off at first - in fact, it's also customary to bring it to a boil and discard that first pot of water, taking all the scum with it - but I don't want to lose that flavor, so I skim, and run a little, fine sieve across the top, scooping scum along the way.

After I've taken out as many of the impurities as I can, I begin adding the vegetables.

I'm quite specific about what goes in, nearly as if sorting clothes into different piles to wash them.

I'll add onions, but not the peel, and celery, but no carrots. Too much color; makes the broth look like it has jaundice - for that matter, no onion skins, either, under any circumstances - even if someone has a gun to your head.

No broccoli stems, or any other vegetable scraps - not even turnips, which some misguided afficionados suggest. This is liturgy, as much as a sacred text.

Get some garlic in there; crush it with the flat of your knife. Scallions are great, and leek greens, but go easy - you'll make your broth green. The onion flavor hides nicely in the background. A lovage leaf maybe, but go easy. That stuff's potent.

And of course, parsley.

So get the bones simmering and skimmed, and get the vegetables (the onions and celery) in there simmering, too.
Add a bay leaf, and a boquet garni isn't a bad idea - this is a little bundle of thyme and chervil and parsley in a short cylinder of celery stalks, tied in a bundle. A few peppercorns, and as with beef broth, add a bit of salt, but use a gentle hand; you might want to severely reduce the broth, and don't want it to end up too salty.

You need to let this simmer for six to eight hours, but I'll often let it go about twelve, letting it simmer overnight; stir it every hour or so. You can skim off the fat, since there will be a lot, but it's also handy to save it, pulling it off the cooled broth later.

I don't bother to top the pot up as it simmers, but let the level go down, since it won't be on the stove that long, and I want it thick and concentrated.

In the morning, not long before pulling it off the stove, I'll throw in a leaf or two of sage, and stir it up.

When it's all done, put it through the finest strainer you have.

Here's the same procedure as described in my piece on making beef broth:
"And I pour it, when it's all done, through a fine strainer, fresh off the boil, into clean, quart mason jars, and screw the lids on right away (be careful to wipe the rim if you mess it up, but be clean about it). I label the lid with the date on masking tape and stick it in the refrigerator right away; although you won't find this recommended in a USDA pamphlet, and should hold me blameless if you use my method, I have never had broth rot if bottled this way and kept in the refrigerator. I have kept broth for over a year this way, and no spoilage. However, as soon as you open that bottle to use some broth, which should be nice and congealed, too, if you had favorable bones, it will begin to spoil. Once I open a bottle of it, I either use it within three days, or bring it to a boil and put it in a clean, smaller jar and put it away promptly. Keeps indefinitely, again. You can open the bottles after they've chilled to take off the layer of fat - this is how broths are routinely defatted, by chilling them and lifting off the congealed fat from the surface - but it contributes to the air seal, so don't worry about it until you're ready to use it. I have seen many references that suggest the easiest way to store broth is to freeze it in ice-cube trays, and keep them in a bag, but the freezer is the worst place to store broth, as it's a harsh-flavor environment - nothing emerges from the freezer with its flavor intact, and in the case of this rather robust, but really demure and gentle beef broth, you don't want to treat it that way. Keep it in jars, fresh, in the refrigerator, and be sure to pasteurize it if you open it."

I didn't mention what I do with the discards; in the case of the beef broth, I took a few of the shin bones over to a dog friend, and absolutely made his day. The rest went out to the crows.

I routinely dump everything from the chicken broth pot out for the crows; they take everything away. I'm not patient enough to pick through the meaty stuff and fish it out for use in soup; besides, the goal was to extract the flavor from it, so it's not much worth saving. Give it to the crows.

If you don't have crows, maybe you keep pigs? I'm sure they would love the stuff. Failing that option, I don't know what you'd do.

When I make a new batch of broth, I add the old stuff to it, during the reducing stage.

And I always have it; of course, everyone knows about how well chicken broth works as a medicinal, and here's how you do it: Add a spoonful of concentrated broth to a cup of good water, and simmer it with a hearty amount of salt - up to a half teaspoon - and a couple of cloves of minced garlic. Simmer for about ten minutes, and then off the stove and into a jar, or into a mug for the invalid.


...the best waffles we've ever served, and not only that, they're gluten free.
And so light, Heyerdahl himself could get across the ocean on a raft built of these.

This recipe dropped in my lap right from the pages of the old Joy of Cooking.
All I did was subsitute rice flour for the wheat flour.
A friend who bakes gluten-free by necessity has told me of rice flour's enhanced water-retention powers in dough and batter, so I merely used less than called for in Joy.
This makes about six waffles.

You'll need:
  • 1½ C whole brown rice flour
  • 2 t baking powder
  • 1 t salt
  • ¼ C sugar, divided
  • 3 eggs, separated
  • ¼ C melted butter or oil
  • 1½ C milk
  • 1 t vanilla extract
  1. Heat your waffle iron and brush it with oil or butter (preferably clarified butter).
  2. In a large bowl, mix the flour, baking powder, salt, and 2 T of the sugar.
  3. In another bowl, beat the egg yolks well, and beat in the butter or oil, the milk, and the vanilla.
  4. Stir the wet ingredients into the dry with a few swift strokes; don't overbeat it.
    - while engaged in the next procedure, the rice flour has a chance to absorb its extra liquid...
  5. Finally, in yet another bowl (this recipe's fun for the dishwasher), gently beat the egg whites until slightly foamy, then beat more vigorously, until beginning to peak.
  6. Sprinkle in the remaining 2 T of sugar while beating to peaks; stiff, but not dry.
  7. Fold one cup of the wet mixture into the beaten whites; then fold that back into the wet mixture, carefully mixing well without making it exhale that lovely air you've just beaten in.
  8. Fill the waffle iron appropriately; mine takes about a ¼ cup of batter.
  9. When the puffing steam from the gap in the iron subsides, after about five minutes, they're done.
  10. For best results, stand them on edge after removing them from the iron - I lean them against an inverted water tumbler on a plate. Otherwise, they'll lose their amazing, crunchy texture to sogginess from the moisture that couldn't escape the iron.
  11. Let them stand a minute, then serve (you may be surprised, but this step is essential -- they're still steaming, and if one doesn't let that clear out, they'll get soggy on the plate so fast you might as well have just tossed them to a dog you don't really like. A moment in the green room before they go onstage, though, and they're sublime).
  12. Serve the way you prefer, or reserve for other uses. The astute cook will know what to do with them.

Bomb Squad™ Tapioca Pudding

Tapioca is derived from the rhizomes of the Cassava plant, Manihot esculenta, native to South and Central America.
The rhizomes are washed and treated to remove toxins (common to plants in the Euphorbiacae family), then dried, ground, and processed into granules of various sizes, generally known as pearls.
As a starch, tapioca is useful for thickening sauces, among other things.
You'll need large tapioca pearls for this, and have to plan a day ahead. This sort of Tapioca pudding, like rye bread, is culturally Scandinavian, so needs gentle coaxing and persistence to come out, just like Finns and Swedes.

You'll need:
variations below
  • ½ C large tapioca pearls
  • 2 ½ C milk
  • ¼ t salt
  • ½ C sugar, divided
  • 3 eggs, separated
  • 1 t vanilla extract
  1. Soak the tapioca in a bowl with 2 C of fresh water overnight.
  2. The following afternoon, heat milk to room temperature in double boiler.
  3. Drain tapioca and add to milk with salt.
  4. Stir gently and continue heating until bubbles appear at the edges, as milk does when scalded.
  5. Cover, turn heat as low as possible, and cook for one hour, stirring gently once or twice.
  6. Be sure water remains in double boiler, so milk and tapioca mixture does not boil.
  7. Separate eggs; beat yolks with half of the sugar until satiny.
  8. Stir a bit of the hot tapioca mixture into the yolks and mix thoroughly, then add back to the hot mixture, stirring vigorously, lest the yolks cook and shrink.
  9. Over medium heat in the double boiler, cook the tapioca until thick, stirring constantly and dredging the bottom with a rubber scraper - about fifteen minutes.
  10. Beat the egg whites until stiff, but not dry, and beat into soft peaks, adding the reserved sugar a tablespoon at a time.
  11. Fold the whites into the hot pudding mixture, stir in the vanilla, and serve hot or cold.
  • add 1/2 cup of chocolate, grated or chips, before folding in the whites.
  • substitute coconut milk for most or all of the milk; fruit juice may be used in moderate proportions.
  • Excellent served chilled, topped with rose hip jelly, or any jam.
  • Particularly traditional served with "fruit soup," a Scandinavian compote made from dried fruits simmered with spices. If served this way, include a side dish of rye bread, butter, onion, and herring.

Bomb Squad™ Crêpes

Once upon a time, I used to make my young son toast or cereal for breakfast before school, just like what most other kids were eating.
On Saturday, though, breakfast was special: "Hey, pal, guess what's for breakfast! French Toast!" We would both, my son and I, look forward to that special, weekly treat.

I began to formulate what has become a core philosophy, though: "You can't have a great day if you don't start with a great breakfast."
Toast and cold cereal might be nourishing to the body, but what about tantalizing the eyes, the taste buds... I had spent nearly twenty years working in commercial kitchens (yes, I ended up as an Executive Chef, but — no false modesty here — refer to my career as having been a "mercenary cook"), so those principles were familiar and essential to me; caught up in the utilitarian environment of early rising and preparing my son to go off to school, though, I never considered deploying them for a rudimentary breakfast.

But how long does French Toast take to make? A few minutes. So I began making it during the school week.
I was so proud of myself. And, ambitiously, I would, for variety, make pancakes some mornings, just so French Toast would never be tedious and ordinary. A few weeks of that, though, and my son (who was enjoying this exploration of a diverse breakfast menu) informed me that he didn't really care for pancakes. I can understand that, since I'm not all that fond of them myself.

I cast around for options, and rapidly hit upon pancakes without the leavening, flat pancakes... crêpes.
I looked into lots of recipes, but, being the kitchen experimenter (having made a career of playing with food, once upon a time), I developed my own.

  • 1 C milk
  • 1 C water
  • 2 T sugar
  • 1 t salt
  • A slightly-heaping cup of flour
  • 4 eggs

Here's the fool-proof blender method; if you prefer to do it by hand, use a large bowl, and follow the same steps but with a whisk. An electric mixer will do, too - you don't have to worry about knocking the wind out of it, as you would with pancake batter.

Note: the precious air bubbles in pancake batter come from an H2 + OH reaction; two chemicals in baking powder that, when combined with water, produce CO2, just as vinegar and baking soda do.

  1. Put the milk, water, sugar and salt in a blender.
  2. Turn the motor on and add the flour – not all at once, but not too slowly, either (you don’t want it to become foamy); run just until the flour is incorporated.
  3. CRITICAL NOTE: Keep the lid on the blender when you turn it on; don't remove it until the goods within are safely spinning — THEN you can gently dump in the flour.
  4. With the motor off, crack in the four eggs, and turn the motor on only long enough to incorporate the eggs nearly all the way (again, not too foamy).
the cooking procedure:
  1. Pour the batter into a jar and heat up a pan (crêpe pan or 10” iron skillet) until it is very hot.
  2. Swirl in a small piece of butter, about the size of a shelled filbert – I’ll use the spatula to coat the pan with butter, as if spackling holes in a wall.
  3. Immediately add a scant 1/4 C of batter (actually a fifth of a cup – 50 ml) and tilt the pan to coat the bottom.
  4. When the crêpe appears nearly dry on top, carefully flip it over and cook it for about ten seconds on the other side.
  5. Remove it to a plate and start another crêpe.
  6. Keep going until you have made as many crêpes as you need (the recipe will make nine or ten).

I frequently fill crêpes with Ganache du Chocolat, which is easily made.
Ganache (guh-nosh) is the traditional chocolate glaze for a French cake, but I make it a bit softer for using in crêpes.

how to make ganache:
  • 3/4 lb. Chocolate chips (12 oz.; 340g; I try to use organic chips, which I get in bulk, but routinely use Ghirardelli 60% cocoa, because they're so damned tasty - Callebaut is also highly preferred, and really ought to show up any time a recipe says, "au chocolat")
  • 1 pint cream
  1. Slowly heat the cream, but not to boiling.
  2. While it’s warming, add the chips and stir frequently.
  3. When the chips are melted, raise the heat so the ganache nearly boils (but don’t let it), and then pour it into clean jars, screw lids on them right away, and put them in the refrigerator.

The recipe makes about thirty ounces, so I use three 12 oz. jars (when you open the jar, it will begin to spoil, so it’s best if your stash is divided among a few jars, refrigerated).
To use the ganache in a crêpe, just put a forkful of it in the crêpe as soon as it comes out of the pan. Fold the crêpe over the ganache-filled fork (to help it melt).
While you’re making the next crêpe, spread the ganache on half of the one on the plate, fold it over, and roll it into a cone.
I make a plate of three of these, drizzle a bit of maple syrup over, sprinkle on some cinnamon, and serve them.

Sometimes, depending on what sort of jam is around, I might prepare a combination plate: chocolate, strawberry, raspberry, honey/cinnamon, chopped almonds, et cetera.
You can even put cheese (use Gruyère!) in the crêpes – the sugar is only in the batter to help them get that classic, dark brown. Here's a tip for that: throw some grated cheese in the cooked crêpe on the plate and then fold it over, keeping it in a handy stack until you finish making as many as you need.
When it's time to serve them, throw some butter in the pan and sauté them for about twenty seconds on each side, to melt the cheese and give them a bit more of a brown.

Other options include displacing some of the milk and water with plain yogurt – say, a third of a cup or so, but still using two cups liquid in all (simply done – put the yogurt in the cup first, and add milk and water to make two cups).

Biscuits manìe

pronounce it "bis-kwee mon-yay"
which means "biscuits by hand," as you'll see.

I learned this recipe from my old culinary colleague, Brian Nelson, who had such a marvelous sense and skillset and instincts with food, my regard compelled me to append his name to my son, as one of his middle names.
Light and airy, yet moist and buttery, they sit perfectly under a heavy gravy, or sliced like an uptown scone with butter and preserves.
The dough also makes a profound berry cobbler topping.
They've always been a huge hit at home.
I asked Brian for his recipe, and he said he'd trade it for my cornbread recipe - later, I confessed that my cornbread recipe was Paul Prudhomme's, but with a certain modification, and Brian then confessed that his biscuit recipe was also Paul Prudhomme's, and with the same modification.
Holy cripes; get it together, Mr. Prudhomme.

  • 4½ C all-purpose white wheat flour
  • 3 T baking powder
  • 2 t salt
  • 1/3 C granulated cane sugar
  • ½ pound butter, chilled - that's right; two american sticks of butter - use unsalted
  • 2 C buttermilk (substitute with ¼ C yogurt, the remainder plain milk)
Getting started
  1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.
  2. Prepare two baking sheets by greasing them - when making these, I smear about a tablespoon of butter on each sheet with my fingers, just before "cutting-in" the flour with my fingers.
  3. Otherwise, when greasing baking sheets, I pour a tablespoon of sunflower oil on each one and spread it around with a little piece of plastic wrap.
Making the dough
  1. Blend the dry ingredients: flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar - I stir them in a stainless bowl with a whisk.
  2. Cut the butter into centimeter cubes, and stir into the flour.
  3. Then, with your fingers, blend the butter into the flour until well-mixed - it will resemble coarse corn meal. This takes some time.
  4. With a wooden spoon, stir in the buttermilk; don't over-blend.
  5. The dough is mixed.
Baking the biscuits
  1. The dough is "goopy," but again, with your hands, put dollops the size of hefty lemons on the sheet, divided by two inches [about five centimeters]
  2. You should have fifteen to eighteen biscuits with this recipe.
  3. Bake for twenty or so minutes, rotating the pans by turning them around front-to-back and top rack to bottom after ten minutes.
  4. Check the biscuits at twenty minutes; they should be bristly with brown dimples when done, and the bottoms should be deep, golden brown, but nowhere near burnt - either top or bottom. Sometimes it takes nearly twenty-five minutes to achieve this.
The Gravy Challenge

As soon as I pop the biscuits in the oven, I get going on the gravy.

And you can have your Red-Eye Gravy; it's vulgar, unsophisticated... disgusting -- just because some dope spilled coffee in his bacon grease doesn't mean it should become a culinary legacy to suppress light and fluffy biscuits.

To make a quick gravy to top a dozen biscuits, I'll use:

  • An onion, diced somewhat finely
  • Two cloves garlic, pressed or minced
  • 3 or 4 T flour
  • 3 or 4 T oil; to be somewhat hardcore, and for laborers in the field, use bacon or chicken fat
  • 2+ cups cream or milk
  • Handy, good water, or a bit of broth
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Tabasco is customary
  1. Heat a heavy saucepan, and add the oil.
  2. Sauté the onions, reserving the garlic, until fragrant, stirring occasionally - a bit of brown is nice, but keep an eye on it.
  3. When the onion is nearly done, sprinkle the flour over it in the pan, stirring with the other hand so no clumps form, and add some salt.
  4. Mix the flour in over the heat until it smells somewhat nutty; it won't be brown at all, but will no longer smell raw - check the fragrance when you stir it into the pan so you can add this test to your culinary skill-set.
  5. Add the garlic, stir it in, and immediately add ½ C water or broth - one mustn't scorch the garlic, which is easily done - the sugar content is higher than any of the other alliums [or properly, "allia"]
  6. With a fork or a small whisk, stir briskly and reduce the heat slightly; at this point, especially if you used broth rather than water, you'll have a "panade," which is useful for making croquettes and other divergences. Recipes to follow? We'll see...
  7. Stir in the milk or cream; if using milk, whisk it as the heat rises and don't let it boil.
  8. While heating to nearly a boil, stir thoroughly, paying attention to the deep corners of the pan -- a wooden spoon is good for this, or a heat-resistant plastic scraper/li>
  9. Remove from heat, stir in the herbs, let stand a few minutes while you get the biscuits out of the oven and off the pans, and ladle it over them, nice and hot.


A classic, beloved from my youth.
Yorkshire pudding - like a Pfannkuchen, or German Pancake - a batter made with eggs, milk, and flour - poured into hot fat and baked; in this case, with embedded pork sausages.
Completely British - nearly more so than The Wh♂.
I can imagine Will Shakespeare and cast wolfing down this steaming stuff in Southwark, across the Thames from London, near the Rose and Globe Theaters... and it might even have been prepared by one of my forebears; some of my people came from there and then.
Rumors that an ancestor was the one who actually wrote works attributed to Shakespeare are merely that.

My step-mother, Myrna Cole, the amazing, brilliant, and profound cook- she turned all of us into Food People - made this for us to great acclaim.

This recipe, adapted from hers, serves four ordinary folks, or two valiant trenchermen, such as my son and I have always been, gobbling a panful of it without much regard for others, let alone leftovers.

You might consider doubling it, as I often do. Use a 9"x13" baking pan [23x33cm], or comparable - Le Creuset cookware is ideal - you want something heavy; a 12" [30cm] iron pan is about the same area, but I prefer my massive 16" [40cm] iron pan, so have to watch the cooking time.

Yorkshire pudding is traditionally baked below the meat, roasting on the rack above, so it catches the "drippings."
This is almost morbidly challenging to pull off, to end up with a proper roast and a puffy pudding; I think it's best to bake it with the meat inside - and if you're a carnivore, you can't go wrong with pork sausages.
If you're one of those "ovo-lacto" vegetarians, just leave out the meat, but use a roughly-chopped onion, well-sautéed in clarified butter or ghee, to make up for the missing flavor, and stir in a minced sage leaf and some chopped parsley into that onion and the butter, right before you pour the batter over it. Bake as otherwise.

The Ingredients
  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 2 eggs (must be good & fresh)
  • 1 cup milk
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 pound small, fresh pork sausages

Making the Batter
  1. Beat the eggs & salt until frothy, by any method -- egg-beater is best for this step; a balloon whisk serves best for the rest.
  2. Slowly add half the flour, beating constantly, then apply a liberal bit of pepper.
  3. Beat in half of the milk in a thin stream, then beat in the rest of the flour.
  4. Beat in the rest of the milk, until the mix is smooth & creamy.
  5. Refrigerate for at least one hour, or overnight.
Preparing the Sausages
  1. Preheat the oven to 425 F.
  2. Place the sausages in a 10" to 12" skillet, and prick each once or twice with a fork.
  3. Sprinkle them with two tablespoons of water.
  4. Cover the skillet tightly & cook over medium heat for a few minutes.
  5. Then, remove the cover, increase the heat to moderate & cook until the water has evaporated, while turning the sausages, as they brown in their own fat.
Baking the Toad-in-the-Hole
  1. With a fork or other appropriate utensil, scrape the browned bits from the bottom of the pan, while stirring up the lightly-browned sausages.
  2. Separate them by an inch, and pour the batter over them.
  3. Place the pan in the middle of the oven and bake for 30 minutes or until the batter is crisp & brown.
  4. Serve promptly.

squash/ginger/coconut pie

It's the onset of the holiday feast season where I am; in two days, it's the last Thursday of November, which is designated as "Thanksgiving" in my part of the world.

"Pumpkin Pie" is an american classic - and boy, do I have an ironic experience with it - or with the cannned pumpkin, which is the conventional ingredient. But pumpkin pie is always served on this american feast day... although not at my house.

For baking, I greatly prefer the Butternut Squash, and have made my holiday seasonal pie from that, routinely.

Conventional seasonings for a squash pie tend toward cinnamon, nutmeg, and mace, but I think squash sings best when accompanied by ginger.

Over the years, my squash pie, made like a conventional pumpkin pie in a conventional crust, has evolved into the current version, featuring coconut and specially-handled ginger.

It's slow-food at its slowest - the crust alone - which is gluten-free, per interesting recent developments - takes three days to make, under conventional conditions.

Among other developments with the pie, coconut milk has superseded my beloved cream; the pie has become "dairy-free," although that was not the initial goal; I was looking for a way to maximize the coconut.

It's an extremely slow process, though, and I'm in the midst of it, so perhaps I'll post more another time… and be assured I'll also be careful to not give away too much of this gem for free.
If you want the whole recipe, we'll have to figure out what to trade, whether gold or…?

BC's cooking tips

I'd like this to be a pretty long list; if I keep bumping content on here, it will be. You might as well have what I've put down so far, and check in for more, later?

recipe conventions

recipes, unless included in a narrative, will adhere to these conventions:

weight measure
# or lb.pound16 oz.
g, kg, etc.metric as customary
volume measure
oz.ounce6t; 2T
Ccup48t; 16T; 8oz.
ml, l, etc.metric as customary
just remember this easy, conversion mnemonic:


for a diverting and interesting primer on the chemistry of starches and sugars, see my essay on barley - particularly its utility for making alcohol, but it applies to spuds and others - at

What about green-skinned potatoes?
Avoid them; at the very least, be sure to peel away all traces of green, and remove the eyes, too. Potatoes turn green on over-exposure to light, which enhances levels of the toxin, "solanine," the same deadly stuff in nightshade berries.
How should I store my potatoes?
They want to be kept cool, dry, and dark. Don't put them in the refrigerator; the chill alerts them that they are now in the ground, and it's time to convert all that starch into sugar to feed plant growth.
Any tips for boiling potatoes?
Start them out in cool, salted water, rather than bringing a pot to the boil and dropping them in. The higher heat will rupture the cell walls in the outer parts, releasing gummy starch, which makes for gooey mashed potatoes.
Any tips for baking potatoes?
Use a mature potato, which is starchier than a new one. Be sure to pierce it deeply at least once, to release excess moisture, and prevent the potato from exloding in the oven.
How should I prepare potatoes for dumplings, such as gnocchi? Boil or bake?
You want a starchy potato (a mature russet) for those; best to bake them, too, as any moisture in the potatoes needs to be offset with flour in the dumplings, which can lead to a gummy dumpling, and prevents angels from dancing. I'll drop in a recipe for gnocchi sometime.


What's the best way to cook onions?
Sauté them in butter; the fat traps flavors that might be released to the air if the onions are boiled in water, instead.
When I die, I'll know if I was worthy of a nirvana afterlife right away: the first thing I'll smell will be onions sautéing in butter.
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