Fifth Rule of Cooking Club

Know your coconut milk products.

The On-On Gourmets cooking club met Saturday at the home of Anitra and Manzo Spezzatino for an evening of Thai cooking and consumption. Three new members attended: Pomodoro Calde, an experienced cook with years of experience preparing Thai food for guests at her resort in Fiji, and two mutual friends, Manière d’un Chien and Giacomo “Hercules” Mandriano. Pomodoro, Manière, and Giacomo are members of the Hash House Harriers, as are the rest of us. Also in attendance: Crouton & Ditalini deMenthe, Magret de Canard.


Pomodoro & Manière, center



We invaded Anitra’s kitchen, somewhat to her consternation, to prepare Tome Kha Gai (chicken-coconut soup), Gaeng Kiow Wahn Gai (green chicken curry), Kung Yai Pad Som Makahm Bpiak (shrimp with spicy tamarind sauce), and Tad Mun Pla (fish cakes with chili dip). The only items that had been prepared beforehand were Anitra’s appetizer, fried cauliflower stalks with a peanut dipping sauce, and Ditalini’s dessert flan, not exactly (or even remotely) Thai but somehow just right after all that spicy food.

A few photos:


Pomodoro preparing tamarind sauce, with Manzo & Anitra observing


The finished meal


Fish cakes w/dipping sauce


Ditalini with her flan, Anitra with her camera

About Rule #5: here’s what you need to know about coconut milk products. Our green chicken curry, prepared with cream of coconut instead of coconut cream, was an unexpectedly sweet taste adventure!

Our next cooking club adventure will be at the home of Giacomo “Hercules” Mandriano, and our dinner will be based on recipes from the late chef Paul Prudhomme.


Ditalini’s Oxtail Soup

IMG_1887When I was a kid, living in Germany with my USAF family, one of my favorite dishes was ochsenschwanzsuppe — oxtail soup, a thick and flavorful beefy broth. In later years, married and living in the USA, I’d sometimes pick up a package of Knorr Oxtail Soup Mix, surprisingly good for an instant soup mix, with a rich flavor and smell close to what I remembered of the real thing.

Yesterday Ditalini cooked up a pot of real oxtail soup, adapting a recipe from a German cookbook. She added some root vegetables to make it her own, actually more of a stew, but the broth itself was the oxtail soup I remember, sinfully rich and tasty.


To make a brothier oxtail soup, just leave the stewing vegetables out of the ingredients.

The oxtails you’ll find at the grocery store or butcher shop probably don’t come from actual oxen, but from regular beef cattle. I’m sure they taste the same.

Preparation time: about three hours, but a lot of that is sitting around while the soup simmers.


  • 2-3 tbsp olive oil
  • pot vegetables:
    • 1/4 cup finely-chopped onion
    • 1/4 cup finely-chopped carrot
    • 1/4 cup finely-chopped celery
    • 1 tbsp finely-chopped garlic
  • 2 packages oxtails (6-8 oxtails cut in 2″ lengths)
  • 1 quart water
  • 1 quart beef stock
  • 1 bay leaf
  • pinch of thyme
  • 5 or 6 peppercorns
  • roux:
    • 2 tbsp butter
    • 1 small onion, finely-diced
    • 4 tbsp flour
    • 1 cup of broth from the pot
  • stewing vegetables:
    • 2 medium potatoes, cut in 2″ chunks
    • 2 carrots, ditto
    • 2 stalks celery, ditto
  • pinch of paprika
  • 1/2 cup madeira or sherry
  • salt


Brown the oxtails in a little olive oil and remove from pot. Now sauté the finely-chopped pot vegetables. Return the oxtails to the pot and add the water, beef stock, bay leaf, thyme, and peppercorns. Bring to a boil, then cover and simmer for 2 hours.


Browning the oxtails

Cut up the stewing vegetables and set aside.

Make a roux in a separate frying pan with butter, onion, flour, and a cup of broth from the pot. When the oxtail soup has simmered in the pot long enough, add the roux and stewing vegetables, the paprika, madeira or sherry, and salt to taste. Cook uncovered until the stew vegetables are done.

Ditalini took an additional step: before adding the roux and stewing vegetables to the pot, she fished the oxtails out of the broth with a slotted spoon, let them cool, then picked the meat off the bones and returned the meat to the pot.


Removing meat from the bones before returning to the pot (roux cooking on the side)


Fourth Rule of Cooking Club

Don’t overload electrical circuits.

Members of our cooking club met last night at the home of Magret de Canard for our second attempt at a do-it-yourself dinner, this time to cook our own meats and vegetables on raclette grills. Everyone had a role to play in preparing dinner beforehand: Houskový took charge of the roasted potatoes, Anitra and Ditalini chopped meats and veggies for grilling, while the rest of us — me, Manzo, Gina, and Magret — whipped up dipping sauces. A small amount of wine was consumed during the prep session.


Community prep work: Gina Cannoli, Magret de Canard, Manzo Spezzatino, Crouton deMenthe

Once all was ready we sat down and started cooking veggies and meats on two electric raclette grills. That is when we learned the fourth rule of cooking club: Anitra noticed a distance lack of sizzle on the grill at her end of the table. Fortunately Magret had a long extension cord and we were able to find a working plug on the other side of the room. Before long both grills were sizzling away.

raclette grillRaclette cooking is German, similar to Swiss fondue and Korean tabletop barbecue. You cook your meet and veggies on the grill while you melt cheese in little trays that slide into recesses below the hot grill top. The dipping sauces went very well with our meat (beef, chicken, and shrimp) and veggies (broccoli and quartered mushrooms); as for the melted cheese, some of us put it on our roasted potatoes while some of us dipped bread in it.

I almost forgot — Magret had another project for us, preparing our own desserts. She cut sheets of puff pastry into squares and gave us all chocolate and hazelnut chunks for filling. After we filled our pastries and folded them over into triangles, Magret put them aside on baking trays, then put them in a preheated oven as we finished dinner. Dare I say even more wine was consumed at table? But you already guessed that.


Cooking club: Gina Cannoli, Crouton & Ditalini deMenthe, Anitra Spezzatino, Houskový Knedlík, Magret de Canard

So: two successful community cooking projects in a row now. It really is more fun when everyone has something to do, and we’re thinking about other DIY ideas for future meetings. Next time, though, we’ve agreed to go back to our original scheme: picking a single chef and assigning different courses to members to prepare at home and bring to the hosts’ house. Our July hosts are Anitra and Manzo, our chef is Emeril Lagasse, and we’re cooking Cajun.


Crouton’s Fire-Roasted Tomato Salsa

I hate grocery store and chain restaurant salsa, with its chunks of tomato and green pepper swimming in tomato-flavored water. Here in Tucson a local restaurant called El Charro makes its own salsa, thick, smooth, and … even though the main ingredient is tomato … not tomatoey. I love it and have been attempting to duplicate it at home. This is the closest I’ve come to date. I think it’s very, very close.



  • 2 (14 oz) cans diced fire roasted tomatoes
  • 1 (4oz.) can diced green chiles
  • 1 jalapeño, diced (include seeds for extra heat, remove seeds for less)
  • 2 1/2 tbsp lime juice
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 tbsp vinegar
  • 1 tsp chili powder
  • 1 pinch dried red pepper flakes
  • 1 tsp powdered cumin
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp sugar


Combine all ingredients in a blender or food processor and pulse until the salsa is smooth and thick, as in the photo. Pour into a container, cover, and refrigerate.


I included the liquid from the tomato and chile cans, and the salsa is plenty thick. You can drain the liquid from the cans first if you like it thicker. I seeded the jalapeño in deference to Ditalini’s tastes; you can leave the seeds in for a hotter salsa. The pinch of red pepper flakes is optional (I put them in when Ditalini wasn’t looking). I used regular old McCormack chili powder for this batch, but next time I may try chipotle chili powder instead for a smokier flavor.


Third Rule of Cooking Club

Pull your own weight. We come to cook, not just to eat.

Last night we tried something different. At earlier meetings, members prepared their assigned parts of the meal at home. Once we gathered at the host’s house we sat right down to eat.

Ditalini and I hosted this meeting, and we decided we’d have everyone come empty-handed, then prepare a meal together with ingredients we’d purchased ahead of time, with members chipping in later to cover the cost.

Our community project was paella. We assigned roles: one member prepped and cleaned the seafood, another prepped the veggies, another cut up the chicken, sausage, and pork, another browned the meat, another made the sofrito to mix with the rice, and so on. It took us an hour, plus the 25 minutes the paella baked in the oven. The kitchen was a madhouse. We had a ball.


Anitra & Ditalini browning chicken


Manzo & Houskový assembling the paella

We used a paella recipe from the Spanish food volume of the old Time-Life Cookbooks from the 1970s. It was heavy on seafood (lobster, shrimp, clams, mussels) and meat (chicken, pork, linguica sausage).


Paella in the oven


The finished paella

We welcomed a new member to the cooking club last night, Recto Alpaso, and put him right to work cutting the linguica.


Houskový Knedlík, Manzo Spezzatino, Anitra Spezzatino, Magret de Canard, new member Recto Alpaso, Ditalini deMenthe

Dilalini wanted to make a Spanish dessert, and flan was the obvious choice. She did a fabulous job of it, especially for a first effort: we’ll definitely do this again.


Flan à la Ditalini

Magret de Canard thoughtfully brought along Brazilian finger food (actually a dessert, but we ate them as appetizers), a treat from her younger days in São Paulo. The Portuguese name for these slices of cheese with guava paste on top is goiabada, popularly called Romeos & Juliets. As you can see, we had already made a dent in them by the time I remembered to take a photo.


Magret’s Romeos & Juliets

The idea of getting together in one kitchen to prepare dinner together was a great success, and we’re going to do it again at our next meeting in a couple of months. I’m not sure we’ve settled on exactly what it is we’re going to cook together, but Magret is hosting, so we know it’ll be great!


Spring Cleaning

You may notice blank spots where photos used to be on some of the older recipes here at Crouton’s Kitchen. Over the years we uploaded a lot of cooking and food photos to the server our blog lives on, and we were running out of space. This morning I moved those photos from our server to Flickr, where we have plenty of storage. As I find time, I’ll fill the blanks with Flickr-hosted photos. Dilalini and I are sorry for the inconvenience, but we promise it’s just temporary.

Update (3/1/15): The photos are back, as promised. Who loves ya, baby?


Photoblog: an Italian Family Dinner

Yesterday Ditalini and her Aunt Radicchio made three pounds of gnocchi and a big pot of sauce.


Gnocchi (from Ditalini’s family recipe)

When it comes to rolling and shaping gnocchi, there’s some twist of the wrist thing I never quite mastered, but Aunt Radicchio, now the matriarch of Ditalini’s Italian-American family, passed the secret on to Ditalini, who passed it on to our daughter Escargot, ensuring that proper gnocchi will continue to be prepared and served on these shores for many years to come.


Italian meat sauce (from Ditalini’s family recipe)

Ditalini’s family, the della Fagiolis, makes sauce with two kinds of meat. Here at Château deMenthe we normally use ground beef and Italian sausage. Aunt Radicchio was in charge of yesterday’s sauce, which she prepared with a browned, medium sized chuck roast and hot Italian sausage. In compliance with family tradition we removed the meat from the finished sauce and served it on the side after tossing the gnocchi in sauce and adding some Italian parsley for looks.

Ready to serve, with the roast & sausages on the side

Does that look good? You’d better say yes!


Photoblog: Dinner with Friends

Crouton dusted off his braised beef short ribs recipe for yesterday’s dinner. This is the one where the ribs cook in a 200°F oven for 11 hours, a recipe he originally learned from Poulet en Crote’s son, a professional chef. Appropriately, Poulet was one of Crouton and Ditalini’s guests.

The honored dinner guest was Radicchio della Fagioli, Ditalini’s aunt, the matriarch of the Italian side of the family (and the woman who taught Ditalini how to make gnochhi). Also joining the deMenthes were the Burgoos, Legume and Lambchop, friends who recently moved here from California.

IMG_1118 IMG_1123
IMG_1119 IMG_1126

Crouton prepped the short ribs Saturday afternoon, browning them and preparing the beef stock and wine liquid to braise them in, then refrigerating the lot overnight. At 6:30AM Sunday he poured the liquid over the ribs and put them in the oven. They came out at 5:30PM, while he was preparing the new potatoes and sautéeing the green beans. The actual work? About an hour. The oven did the rest.

A great dinner? Check. A great evening with friends? Check. What else does anyone need?


Ditalini’s Scotch Eggs


Scotch eggs

Ditalini recently learned how to make Scotch eggs, the popular pub appetizer. While we were in Las Vegas with our family for Thanksgiving, she walked daughter-in-law Truffle and grandson Pesce through the process.


  • 6 hard boiled eggs, peeled
  • 1 lb Jimmy Dean’s hot sausage
  • bread crumbs


Cut the sausage in 1″ patties, then flatten each patty on your hand with your other hand. Holding the flattened patty in one hand, place an egg in the middle and wrap the patty around it, pinching the edges together. Roll the covered egg in bread crumbs and set aside on waxed paper.


Truffle wrapping an egg


Finishing the wrapping


Rolling the egg in bread crumbs


Pesce takes a whack at it

Using an electric deep fryer or oil heated in a pot, immerse each egg in hot oil for 3 1/2 minutes, then remove, drain, and place aside on paper towels.

Cut the deep fried eggs in half lengthwise. If the sausage is browned through, they are done. If the sausage is still pink inside, place those eggs in a preheated 350° oven for a few minutes until done.

Serve with hot mustard or honey mustard. Scotch eggs are sometimes served with pickles, pickled onions, and cheese.


It’s a lot easier to buy a six-pack of hard boiled, peeled eggs at the supermarket than it is to do it at home. You may want to experiment with dipping mustards to find one to your own taste.


A Birthday Dinner Photoblog

It’s been an annual tradition for several years now: Osso Bucco, our friend from Las Vegas, comes down to visit during my birthday week (his birthday is a week from now, so we celebrate together) and we all go over to Poulet en Crote’s house for a gala dinner.

This year Ditalini prepared three appetizer platters to go with Poulet’s dinner. Eventually I’ll get around to adding recipes and directions for some of these appetizers, but for now I’ll just torment you by sharing photos:


Ditalini’s Scotch eggs


Ditalini’s cheese tray with prosciutto-wrapped asparagus spears


Ditalini’s buffalo mozzarella with tomatoes and balsamic vinegar dressing, with Kalamata olives

The last photo is Poulet’s dinner buffet. As with all of these photos, you can click on it to view the full sized original on Flickr. The Italian meat sauce, by the way, was from the recipe that appears here on Crouton’s Kitchen.


Poulet en Crote’s dinner buffet: pasta w/Italian meat sauce, baked carrots, garlic bread, Brussels sprouts w/bacon, Romaine lettuce, corn pudding, cheddar biscuits

Since Poulet’s colorful baked carrots were hiding behind the flowers, I took a separate photo.


Poulet’s baked carrots

Oh, and there were two kinds of birthday cake afterward, Poulet’s own chocolate cake and a carrot cake from the local Safeway.

There were six of us at the dinner and we didn’t eat more than a third of the bountiful feast. What was left over went home with us or to Poulet’s grandchildren.