Eleventh Rule of Cooking Club

It’s Paul Ryan’s fault.

The On On Gourmet Hash House Harriers met last night at one of Magret de Canard’s many casas to prepare and consume Portuguese food. Magret prepped and cooked the main dish, Bacalhau a Gomes de Sa, salt cod with onions and potatoes. Crouton deMenthe chopped cabbage, kale, and spinach for the caldo verde (green soup with linguica). Ditalini deMenthe and Anitra Spezzatino made an apple crisp desert. Assisting throughout preparation with slicing, dicing, and chopping were Hermana Gazpacho, Manzo Spezzatino, and Giacomo “Hercules” Mandriano.

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Bacalhau a Gomes de Sa

Bread, cheese, olives, and lots of wine kept us happy during preparation and cooking, along with plenty of conversation and catching up (the last On On Gourmet cooking hash was way back in August, and some of us hadn’t seen each other since).

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L to R: Anitra, Magret, Giacomo, Manzo

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L to R: Hermana, Ditalini, Magret, Anitra


The Portuguese theme was the inspiration of Magret, who grew up with that nation’s cuisine, and everyone enjoyed the dinner. During preparation, Magret wound up throwing most of the recipes into the air and using her memories instead, and the consensus is she pulled it off.

The eleventh rule of cooking club is the result of a brief but heated discussion on the topic of why Donald Trump didn’t ask Congress for the money to build his wall during the two years he had Republican majorities in both the House and Senate, and was laid down in a most vehement manner by Giacomo, who provided additional persuasion via a threat to turn the entire pot of hot Bacalhau a Gomes de Sa over our heads). It is a fine rule indeed: it’s Paul Ryan’s fault, that vaguely Portuguese ass looking bastard.

Our next cooking hash will be at Hermana Gazpacho’s. Fancying a nice poutine, Crouton pushed for a Canadian theme, but was wisely overruled by literally everyone else, so we’ll be making something Italian (and gluten-free, gah) instead.

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Venison Chili à la David Rainier

This, over the past year, has become my go-to chili recipe. It’s not the kind of chili that’ll win a Texas-style cookoff, but it’s rich in flavor, homey, and satisfying.
—Crouton

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The Cannolis, Ditalini’s sister Gina and her husband Lengua, visited over Christmas, bringing with them venison from deer hunter country, upstate Michigan. The other day I pulled out a package of ground venison out of the freezer and decided to do something with it. Chili sounded about right, and I quickly found an interesting recipe on the net, attributed to an Alabama man named David Rainier.

His recipe called for four pounds of ground venison and the other ingredients were scaled accordingly, making a big batch of chili to serve 10-12. I had about a pound and a half, so I scaled everything back. His version called for liquid crab boil … that’s what caught my eye, by the way, and I’m glad it did … but all I had was a can of powdered Old Bay seasoning, so I substituted. What follows is my version of Mr. Rainier’s recipe, tailored to the ingredients I had on hand, which makes enough to serve 4-6.

Venison Chili à la David Rainier

  • Servings: 6-8
  • Time: 3 hours
  • Difficulty: easy
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Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 lb ground venison (ground beef or cut-up pot roast works too)
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 green bell pepper, diced (optional)
  • 1 can diced tomatoes
  • 1 can tomato sauce
  • 2 cans kidney beans
  • 3-4 tbsp chili powder
  • 1 dash cayenne pepper
  • 1 tsp Old Bay seasoning
  • salt to taste
  • 1/2 tsp garlic salt
  • 2 bay leaves

Directions

Heat olive oil in a heavy cooking pot and sauté garlic, onions and pepper until tender. Add venison and brown for 10 minutes over medium heat. Add tomatoes, tomato sauce, kidney beans, chili powder, cayenne pepper, Old Bay, salt, garlic salt. Mix together and add bay leaves. Bring to a boil and simmer uncovered for 2-3 hours.

Notes

I’ve made this chili at least a dozen times now and have never added green bell pepper: I don’t think it needs it.

This chili is surprisingly rich. Not sure if it’s the Old Bay or what, but it was great, even if far from traditional. We served it with cornbread made from the standard recipe that comes on the cornmeal box, improved upon with diced Hatch chilis and shredded cheddar added to the mix just before baking.

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Clam Chowder

This is a second-generation DeMenthe family recipe, passed down by my father, Chateaubriand deMenthe.  He made clam chowder every Christmas Eve and we carry on the tradition. Merry Christmas to you, dear readers, from Crouton and Ditalini!

clam chowder

Clam Chowder

  • Servings: 6
  • Time: 2 hrs
  • Difficulty: medium
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Ingredients

Ingredients

  • 1/2 lb bacon
  • 4 carrots
  • 1 med onion
  • 3 or 4 potatoes
  • 1 cup celery
  • 12 oz frozen shrimp (51/60 or 41/50 count, peeled & deveined, no tail)
  • 1 can evaporated milk
  • 1 can white cream of mushroom soup
  • 1 1/2 cups whole milk
  • 1 can minced clams, w/juice
  • 1 can sliced mushrooms
  • 2 tsp salt
  • pepper to taste
  • 1 tsp thyme

Directions

Fry bacon and crumble; set aside.  Chop carrots and onion and puree in a blender, adding a small amount of water.  Cube potatoes, dice celery, and sauté in the bottom of a large pot with the pureed carrots and onions, adding a little bacon grease, until potatoes and celery are cooked but still firm.  Add other ingredients, except the bacon and thyme.  Simmer (don’t allow to boil) for at least 10 minutes.  Add thyme.  Add bacon just before serving, and serve the chowder with good crusty bread or freshly made biscuits.

Notes

We doubled the recipe to prepare the pot of chowder in the photo.  To double or triple, double or triple all ingredients except salt, which you should add to taste.

Looking for a good pre-chowder appetizer?  Try boiling large shelled shrimp in beer, water, and Old Bay Seasoning, serving with sliced lemon and cocktail sauce for dipping.

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Crouton’s Beef & Guinness Stew

We had the richest, beefiest stew at a friend’s home last winter. She told me it was beef & Guinness stew and that I’d find the recipe on line. I pulled a big chuck roast out of the freezer the other day and decided to make it myself. Perhaps I chose the wrong recipe, because I wound up modifying it to make it taste as good as my friend’s stew. Since I modified the recipe I started with, I’m calling this one my own … trial and error, baby!

What trial? What error? When I looked up recipes I found three, each one slightly different. All three called for beef, onion, carrots, and Guinness, but then one added some beef stock while another added chicken stock. I chose the “pure” one, the one that called for Guinness alone. When the stew had simmered a couple of hours I tasted it and found it decidedly non-beefy. I added a can of beef stock, and while I was at it, three small cut-up red potatoes and one sliced parsnip. The result was, as I’d hoped, rich and beefy tasting, one of the best stews I’ve made.

Crouton's Beef & Guinness Stew

  • Servings: 4
  • Time: 3 hrs
  • Difficulty: medium
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Ingredients

Ingredients, beef & Guinness stew (Phone photo: Paul Woodford)

Ingredients (less beef broth, potato, and parsnip, which I added later)

  • 2 lb rump or chuck roast
  • 3 tbsp oil
  • 2 tbsp flour
  • salt & pepper
  • pinch of cayenne
  • 2 large onions, coarsely chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed
  • 2 tbsp tomato puree or paste, dissolved in 4 tablespoons water
  • 1 1/4 cups Guinness
  • 1 1/4 cups beef broth
  • 4 large carrots, sliced
  • 3 small red potatoes, cut into 1″ squares
  • 1 parsnip, sliced
  • sprig of fresh thyme
  • chopped parsley, for garnish

Directions

Trim beef of fat and gristle, cut into large pieces. Mix flour, salt, pepper, and cayenne in a bowl and dredge the beef so it is lightly coated. Heat a couple of tbsp olive oil in a skillet and brown the beef on all sides, about ten pieces at a time. Remove the already-browned beef as you brown fresh batches.

Beef & Guinness stew

The stew, before I added beef broth, potato, and parsnip

Reduce the heat in the skillet, add the onions, garlic, tomato puree, and browned beef to the skillet, cover, and cook gently for five minutes. Transfer the contents of the skillet to a casserole and pour half the Guinness into the skillet. Bring Guinness to a boil and stir to dissolve the caramelized meat juices in the skillet. Pour over the meat, along with the remaining Guinness and beef stock. Add the vegetables and thyme. Stir and adjust seasonings. Cover the casserole and simmer over low heat, or in a 300°F oven until the meat is tender, 2 to 3 hours. Garnish the beef with parsley and serve.

Beef & Guinness stew

Beef & Guinness stew


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Crouton’s Pasta alla Puttanesca

This is my interpretation of spaghetti alla puttanesca (whore’s spaghetti), a simple yet robust pasta dish that’s easy to make with around-the-house ingredients (well, our house anyway). Don’t be squeamish about the anchovies … they add flavor to the dish, but without the strong salty taste people associate with anchovies on pizza. You can make the sauce with or without tomatoes. If you want to make a fancier meal, serve it with salad on the side.

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Crouton's Pasta alla Puttanesca

  • Servings: 4
  • Time: 30 min
  • Difficulty: easy
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Ingredients

  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 4-5 garlic cloves, sliced thin
  • 2 cans rolled anchovies w/capers, drained (or flat anchovies and capers
  • 1 can diced tomatoes
  • red pepper flakes to taste
  • pinch of dried basil (or 1 tbsp chopped fresh)
  • pinch of dried oregano (or 1 tbsp chopped fresh)
  • pasta (your choice)
  • Parmesan cheese (optional)

Directions

Drain the anchovies. In medium frying pan, heat butter and olive oil. Add garlic and anchovies, sauté lightly. Break up and mash anchovies as they cook. When garlic and anchovies are ready, add tomatoes (with juice from can) and spices. Let sauce simmer for about 20 minutes. Boil pasta in separate pot, drain. Return pasta to pot. Add the sauce and toss until the pasta is coated. Serve with crusty French or sourdough bread and freshly-grated Parmesan.

Notes

Donna and I have prepared this dish with all kinds of pasta. If you don’t like tomatoes, just leave them out.

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Ditalini’s Gazpacho

Ditalini’s adaptation of a recipe from a New York Times cookbook:

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Ditalini’s gazpacho w/garnishes

Ditalini's Gazpacho

  • Servings: 6
  • Time: 1 hr, plus refrigeration
  • Difficulty: medium
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Ingredients

  • 2 small cucumbers (1 1/2 cups when peeled & chopped)
  • 4 ripe tomatoes (3 cups when peeled & chopped)
  • 1 red onion (1 cup when peeled & chopped)
  • 2 tsp finely chopped garlic
  • 1 1/2 cups finely diced red & green peppers
  • 2 tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 egg yolk
  • salt to taste
  • 1 tsp ground white pepper
  • 1/4 tsp Tabasco sauce
  • 1/2 cup tomato juice (can substitute Bloody Mary mix for a slightly spicier taste)

Garnishes

  • small toasted croutons
  • chopped red & green peppers
  • chopped onion
  • chopped, peeled tomatoes
  • chopped cucumber
  • chopped avacado
  • chopped bacon
  • small cooked & peeled shrimp

Directions

Peel cucumbers and cut in small cubes. Peel, core, and seed tomatoes, cut in small cubes. Peel and chop onion.

Place cucumbers, tomatoes, and onion in a food processor. Add garlic, peppers, vinegar, lemon juice, olive oil, egg yolk, salt, pepper, Tabasco, tomato juice or Bloody Mary mix. Blend well. Pour mixture into a bowl or pitcher and refrigerate until chilled.

Serve in chilled bowls with garnishes on the side.

Note: peeling & seeding tomatoes is big, messy work, and there are probably canned alternatives. Some people (Philistines, no doubt) may be tempted to substitute tomato juice.

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Tenth Rule of Cooking Club

Less is more.

When we planned our August culinary trail, we decided on salad Niçoise and cold soups, appropriate to a hot summer in the Southwest (gazpacho, Vichyssoise, cold ramen, and so on). The menu evolved as the date approached, but in the end we stayed pretty close to trail: our dinner last night started with French onion soup (hot, of course), gazpacho, and a light dessert of grilled pineapple slices topped with Mascarpone cheese and drizzled with port wine. And it was all fabulous. Here’s the photographic evidence:

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Preparing the French onion soup: Giacomo “Hercules” Mandriano, Magret de Canard, Anitra Spezzatino

Anitra took charge of preparing the French onion soup with the assistance of Magret and Hercules. Since she didn’t want to cook all day beforehand, she brought along an Instant Pot, which, once the onions were sliced, made quick work of the soup.

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Onions in the Instant Pot

Ditalini prepared the gazpacho at home beforehand, with the able assistance of daughter Escargot. There are two pitchers of gazpacho in the photo, one slightly spicier than the other. It was a draw which one everyone liked more.

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Gazpacho with garnishes

Magret’s contribution was dessert. Manzo, Hercules, and Crouton attended to the grilling.

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Grilling the pineapple slices

Trail began with the French onion soup, and thanks to Magret here’s a photo of us about to head on-out.

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On On: Manzo & Anitra Spezzatino, Hercules, Crouton & Ditalini deMenthe.

We took our time with each course, with much talking and sharing of stories, and halfway through the gazpacho we all realized we were getting full. Good thing we skipped the salad Niçoise … no way we’d have even made it to the gazpacho course. Fortunately, Magret’s grilled pineapple dessert was light, and we managed to finish trail by 10 PM.

Thus, Rule #10: less is more (or in other words: a light repast, in the right company, is as filling as a heavy one).

The next On-On Gourmet hash will be in October, with trail starting and ending at Magret’s house. Since she’ll have just returned from vacation in Lisbon, we’re marking trail in accordance with Portuguese hash tradition.

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Ninth Rule of Cooking Club

There are no rules.

Actually, that’s the first (and only) rule of the Hash House Harriers, and it probably should have been the first rule of cooking club. It’s very similar to the second rule of cooking club, which is “If it looks wrong, go with your gut.” As we learned then, and re-learned last night, recipes aren’t regulations, they’re guidelines. If the instructions don’t look right, don’t blindly follow them.

After a long beer check (nearly two years!), the On On Gourmet Hash House Harriers are back on the culinary trail. We met last night at Casa de Crouton: present were Magret de Canard, Giacomo “Hercules” Mandriano, Manzo & Anitra Spezzatino, and of course Crouton & Ditalini deMenthe. Hermana Gazpacho was to have joined us but at the last minute couldn’t come, so we ate her share of the bounty.

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L to R: Anitra, Manzo, Giacomo, Magret, Ditalini

And what a bounty. Our inspiration was a now-defunct but fondly remembered Northern California family restaurant called Reuben’s Dinnerhouse, and two of its signature dishes: shrimp scampi and sautéed artichoke hearts. We added some recipes of our own to round out the dinner: rice pilaf, a watermelon & cucumber salad, strawberry shortcake for desert.

Ditilini rounded up the ingredients beforehand and prepared envelopes containing recipes for the individual dishes; when the hashers arrived she handed them out. There were actually two artichoke heart recipes: Anitra made one while Magret made the other. Giacomo was in charge of preparing the strawberries for desert; Ditalini made the pilaf and provided overall supervision; Wankers & Crouton divvied up preparation of the shrimp scampi.

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L to R: Magret, Manzo, Ditalini, Anitra, Giacomo

Well, now we know why Californians loved them some Reuben’s, and why they set up websites and online forums dedicated to reconstructing its recipes. Everything was delicious!

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Clockwise from 7 o’clock: pilaf, artichoke hearts #1, watermelon salad, shrimp scampi (center), artichoke hearts #2

But back to Rule #9. The scampi recipe told us to arrange the deveined and peeled shrimp in a pan, drizzle the garlic butter and lemon sauce over them, then cover the pan and bake in a 350° oven. Shrimp cook quickly, so imagine our surprise when we took the pan out of the oven five minutes later to find they were still raw. Back in they went … another five minutes, and they were still raw. In fact the inside of the pan was barely warm! The recipe instructions were misguided at best, intentionally misleading at worst, so Wankers and I made a command decision to take the cover off. Five minutes later the shrimp were cooked through, and we sat down to dinner. If it don’t look right, use some common sense, which is another way of saying: There Are No Rules!

On On to the next meeting of the On On Gourmet Hash House Harriers, Saturday, August the 18th, at Giacomo’s place. We’re going to try hot weather dishes: cold soups and a salad Niçoise.

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Not Gazpacho

Antipasto & Not Gazpacho

Not Gazpacho (with antipasto platter)

. . . but close!

Not Gazpacho

  • Servings: 6-8
  • Time: 20 min, plus refrigeration
  • Difficulty: easy
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Ingredients

  • 46-ounce can or bottle of Clamato
  • hot sauce (Texas Pete or similar), to taste
  • 2 lemons, chopped, w/peel
  • 12-14 large shrimp, peeled
  • 1 red onion, chopped
  • jalapeños, chopped, to taste
  • 1 avacado, peeled & chopped
  • cilantro, chopped, to taste
  • 2-4 stalks celery, chopped

Directions

Combine all, refrigerate overnight.

Notes

The basic recipe can be doubled or tripled for a crowd.

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Ditalini’s Chiles Rellenos

Ditalini and I recently joined a produce co-op.  Every Saturday we pick up two good-sized baskets of seasonal vegetables and fruit.  This Saturday we found eight big green chiles mixed in with our haul, and Ditalini decided to make chiles rellenos from scratch.  We used to make chiles rellenos using Ortega canned green chiles, but these turned out firmer and tastier than the canned kind, so we’re staying with fresh chiles from now on.  It’s a little harder using fresh peppers, because you have to get rid of the skin first (canned ones come prepared) … but the extra effort is worth it.

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Fresh poblano chiles, roasted & peeled

Ditalini's Chiles Rellenos

  • Servings: 3-6
  • Time: 2 hrs
  • Difficulty: medium
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Ingredients

  • 4-8 fresh green chiles (you can used canned green chiles if you can’t get fresh)
  • Monterey Jack or mozzarella cheese, sliced
  • flour
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 white or yellow onion, chopped
  • 2 small whole tomatoes
  • chicken broth
  • oil for cooking

Directions

Roast the chiles until the skin is blistered (you can do this over a fire or in the broiler, turning the chiles to blister the skin all around), then peel off the skin.  Slice each chili lengthwise and scrape out the seeds.  Place a couple of slices of cheese inside each chili, then roll the chiles in flour.

Separate the yolks and whites of the eggs.  Beat the egg whites until they peak, then beat in the yolks.  Dip each chili in the batter and fry in hot oil until golden brown.  Place on a paper towel on a warm platter and keep in a warm oven.

For the sauce, fry the onion in butter or oil until soft.  Crush tomatoes with a mortar and pestle, add to onions.  Add chicken broth to desired liquid consistency (we use about half a can), season with salt and pepper, let cook about five minutes.

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Ditalini’s chiles rellenos

Serve with Spanish rice, refried beans, and warm tortillas.

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