The First Rule of Cooking Club

… is tell everyone about it on your cooking blog.

Ditalini and I are Hash House Harriers, members of a notoriously disorganized hare & hounds trail club with chapters all over the world. After a recent trail, while eight of us were cooling off at a local pub, our friend Magret de Canard told us about the weekend she spent escorting a cookbook author who’d been a speaker at Tucson’s annual book fair. The author was Hugo Ortega, and he’d given Magret a copy of his new cookbook, Backstreet Kitchen. She had the book with her and we passed it around. Somehow the idea of starting a cooking club popped into our heads.

We’re calling ourselves the On-On Gourmet Hash House Harriers, even though the only trails we’ll follow will be culinary ones. We’re going to cook and consume dinners together, once every other month. Our idea is to pick a chef with an online or print cookbook, then draw lots for who’ll prepare an appetizer, salad or soup course, main course, and dessert — all from that chef’s repertoire. Whoever draws the main course will host; everyone else will prepare their assigned courses at home and bring them to the host’s house for dinner. After dinner, we’ll pick a new chef and draw lots for who’ll prepare what for our next meeting, two months down the road.

Our inaugural cooking club meeting was two nights ago, and we started with — who else — Hugo Ortega and his Backstreet Kitchen cookbook. Ditalini and I drew the main course (Slow Braised Short Ribs, pg 164), so we hosted. We were joined by the Spezzatinos, Manzo & Anitra, who prepared the dessert (Pear Tarte Tatin, pg 184); the Ceviches, Tiburón & Camarón, who prepared the appetizer (Mushroom Escargot with Pesto, pg 119), the aforementioned Magret de Canard, who prepared a side dish (Garlic Mashed Potatoes, pg 152), and another single member, Houskový Knedlík, who can’t cook for squat but that’s okay because we named him our resident provisioner of wines & spirits.

All hail Hugo Ortega! The On-On Gourmets Hash House Harriers is off to a great start. Here we are, setting off on our inaugural gastronomical trail (which, I admit, looks very much like sitting down to dinner):

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Magret de Canard, Houskový Knedlík, Anitra Spezzatino

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Manzo Spezzatino, Camarón (standing) & Tiburón Ceviche, Ditalini deMenthe

I don’t remember who’s preparing what for our next meeting (Ditalini wrote it all down, thank goodness), but our next chef is Mario Batali.

And now that I’ve talked up Hugo Ortega and his great cookbook, you’ll be pleased to learn that I’ve posted his Slow Braised Short Ribs recipe, along with some photos of its preparation, directly below this entry.


Slow Braised Short Ribs

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Slow braised short ribs with garlic mashed potatoes, Brussels sprouts, and asparagus

This dish is from Hugo Ortega’s Backstreet Kitchen cookbook. I prepared it for a cooking club dinner the other night, and it was a hit. Although it may appear complicated, it’s actually easy to prepare (if you don’t count peeling the cipollini onions). The only modification I made to Hugo Ortega’s recipe was to double it, since I was cooking for eight. If you’re cooking for a smaller group, cut the ingredients in half.

Ingredients (serves 8)

  • 6 lbs short ribs, cut in 2″ lengths
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • lots of coarsely ground black pepper
  • kosher salt
  • olive oil
  • 2 large carrots, peeled & chopped
  • 1 large white onion, chopped
  • 12 large cipollini onions, peeled & intact
  • 2 large celery ribs, chopped
  • 2 cups red wine
  • 2 cups water


Pat the short ribs dry with a paper towel. Dip them in beaten eggs, then roll on a plate covered with ground pepper and salt. Set aside.

Heat about 3 tbsps of olive oil over medium heat in a large Dutch oven, then brown the ribs on all sides. Set aside.

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Browning the short ribs

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Browned short ribs with other ingredients

Leave the oil and scrapings from browning the ribs in the Dutch oven and add the chopped white onion, celery, carrots, and cipollini onions. Cook the vegetables for three minutes, gently turning them with a wooden spoon and being careful not to damage the cipollini onions. Add the wine and water to deglaze the vegetables.

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Cooking the vegetables

With tongs, layer the short ribs in the Dutch oven with the vegetables and liquid (which should cover the short ribs about 3/4 of the way). Spoon some of the liquid over the short ribs that are on top of the liquid. Cover the Dutch oven and place it in a preheated 375° oven. Braise until fork tender (3 to 3/12 hours). Check occasionally and add water if necessary (I didn’t need to).

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Short ribs back in the pot, ready to braise in the oven

When cooked, gently remove the short ribs and cipollini onions from the pot with tongs or a slotted spoon. Leave the rest of the cooked vegetables in the pot and throw away, or save for something else (see the notes below). Arrange the ribs and cipollinis on a platter and spoon a little of the cooking liquid over them. Serve with garlic mashed potatoes.

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Ready to serve, buffet style


You don’t normally see beef short ribs at the corner grocery store. I ordered mine from a local butcher, who cut them into 2″ lengths for me.

The best way to peel cipollini onions is to carefully slice off the root ends, drop a few at a time into boiling water for 30 seconds, then take them out with a strainer and plunge them into a bowl of iced water (to stop them from cooking). When you’re ready for them, pat them dry, snip off the pointy ends of the peels with kitchen scissors, and gently pull off the papery skins.

Ditalini asked me to save the leftover cooking liquid, chopped white onion, celery, and carrots included. She’s going to add some leftover steak and potatoes and make a beef stew with it. Should be heavenly.


Green Chile Beef Stew

I tasted this green chile beef stew at my friend Gusti Come Pollo’s house. It was so good I chained myself to the front porch and refused to leave until she shared the recipe. Yesterday I finally got around to making it at home. Not only is it as good as I remembered, it’s simple to make.

By the way, is it chile or chili? Most dictionaries say chile is preferred but that either word is okay. The convention I adopted for Crouton’s Kitchen is to use chile when it I’m referring to chile peppers or dishes made with chile peppers, chili when I’m referring to Tex-Mex chili beans or chili con carne. The Tex-Mex chilis generally don’t include chile peppers but are prepared with chile powder instead.

This stew uses green chile peppers, a lot of them, but not a bit of chile powder.


Green chile beef stew


  • 2 lb top sirloin, cubed
  • 1/4 cup flour, seasoned w/salt & pepper
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 yellow onion, chopped
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 large can (27 oz) Hatch green chiles, chopped
  • 4 cans beef broth
  • 1 can diced tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup red wine


Dredge cubed sirloin in seasoned flour, shake off excess, brown in a heavy Dutch oven in a little olive oil. As the meat browns, add the onion. After the meat is browned and the onion has become translucent, add the garlic and chopped green chiles. Add the broth, tomatoes, and wine.

Bring the stew to a low boil while scraping the pot to work loose the flour that stuck to the pot when browning the beef. As soon as the stew reaches a low boil reduce the heat to simmer and go find something else to do for 2-3 hours. Allowing the stew to simmer that long will make the beef melt-in-your-mouth tender.

Serve with crusty bread or your favorite corn bread recipe.


Yes, you can and probably should use fresh Hatch green chiles if they’re available, but you’ll want to skin and seed them first. The nice thing about canned green chiles is that they’re already skinned and seeded, and all you have to do is chop them up. Don’t use the liquid that comes in the can of chiles; just throw that out. Do, however, use the juice that’s in the can of diced tomatoes. Gusti Come Pollo added a bit of dark baking chocolate to her stew so I did the same, but it’s optional and that’s why I didn’t list it in the ingredients. They say chocolate deepens the flavor somehow, but I can never taste it in the finished dish and am not convinced it really adds anything.


Sausage & Spinach with Fettuccini Alfredo

We went to one of our favorite Italian restaurants a few weeks ago. We were with a crowd, so we ordered appetizers. On the appetizer menu was a dish labeled Sausage & Spinach. Sounded good, so we tried it, and it was a hit with everyone. Naturally, I had to try making it myself at home, and, rather than serving it as an appetizer, serving it with pasta as a main dish.

Here’s our dinner in mid-preparation: sausage and spinach on the front burners; fettuccini and alfredo sauce on the back burners:


Click here for my fettuccini alfredo recipe. Here’s how I prepared the sausage & spinach:


  • 2 links sweet or hot Italian sausage, sliced
  • 1/4 red onion, thinly sliced
  • 5-6 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • olive oil
  • large bag of fresh spinach
  • salt & pepper to taste


Sauté the onion, garlic, and sausage in a little olive oil. When the sausage is nearly done, begin sautéing the spinach in a little olive oil in another pan. When the spinach has cooked down, toss it with the sausage and serve.


Raw Italian sausage produces a lot of oil during cooking and will have to be drained and patted dry on paper towels before tossing with the spinach. I recommend parboiling your sausage ahead of time so it’ll slice nicely and cook without generating oil.

The ingredients listed will make a nice dinner for four.

Here’s the complete dinner, ready to eat:



Crouton’s Salade Niçoise

Our State of the Union speech night dinner was a nice Niçoise, which is a really awful pun, since Niçoise basically means “Nice-style,” after the city on the French Riviera. I promise not to do it again.

Ditalini and I wanted a salad, and after Caesar and his sidekick Cobb, Niçoise is probably the best-known salad around, but one we couldn’t remember ever having before. I found an easy and not-too-Americanized recipe online and based my own Niçoise on that, with a few modifications. Apart from the vinaigrette dressing (true believers insist on olive oil alone, possibly with a little salt & pepper), I think Salade Niçoise purists would find my version acceptable, or at least not to be scorned. After all, I didn’t add corn. Or bacon. And don’t think I wasn’t tempted.


Crouton’s Salad Niçoise


  • For the vinaigrette:
    • 1/2 cup lemon juice
    • 3/4 cup olive oil
    • 1 medium shallot, minced
    • 1 tsp thyme
    • 1 tsp basil
    • 1 tsp oregano
    • 1 tsp Dijon mustard
    • salt, pepper
  • For the salad:
    • 2 small tuna steaks (about 4 oz each), or 2 cans tuna
    • 3-4 hard boiled eggs, peeled and quartered
    • 6-8 small potatoes, scrubbed and quartered
    • 1 head of Boston or butter lettuce
    • 2 small Roma tomatoes, quartered lengthwise
    • half a small red onion, sliced thin
    • a handful of green beans
    • 1/4 cup pitted Greek olives
    • 1 can flat anchovy filets
    • salt & pepper


Whisk vinaigrette ingredients in a small bowl, season with salt & pepper, set aside.

Boil the potatoes in salted water for 5-8 minutes until just done. Save the water, set the potatoes aside. Boil the green beans 3-5 minutes, then transfer them to a bowl of iced water to stop them from cooking any more.

Tuna: if using fresh, sear in a hot pan with a little olive oil, then cook until just done. Alternately you can use canned tuna, which doesn’t require cooking.

Pull the lettuce into bite-sized pieces, toss with vinaigrette until coated, arrange on a platter or individual dishes. Cut the potatoes in quarters, toss them in vinaigrette, arrange to one side of the lettuce. Toss the green beans in vinaigrette, arrange alongside the lettuce. Toss the tomatoes and onions in vinaigrette and arrange on top of the lettuce. Lay the flat anchovy strips on top of that. Toss the cooked tuna with vinaigrette and arrange the tuna on top (if using canned tuna, just drizzle a little vinaigrette over the tuna after putting it on top). Arrange the quartered eggs and olives along the sides of the platter or plates.

Serve with good crusty bread.


I was making salad for two. I had enough left over for a third serving.

I cooked the potatoes and green beans early. I think the potatoes are prettier if you leave the skin on. When I started assembling the salad, I had everything else cut up and ready to go.

It’s very easy to overcook tuna, so don’t get distracted. Some say it’s better to just use canned tuna. Some of my friends use fresh tuna but only sear the outside, preferring it raw. Your call.

The anchovy averse (you poor sad things, you) may use capers instead of anchovies.

You can hard-boil and peel your own eggs if you prefer, but I get them at Safeway, where they come in 2-packs and 6-packs.

Seriously, don’t use mayonnaise, or bacon, or corn. I’ll sic the Gendarmerie Nicois on you if you do!


Gusti’s Spoon Cornbread

Our friend Gusti C. Pollo introduced us to this cornbread at a party last month, and I begged for the recipe. She graciously shared it with me, and yesterday I made a batch to see if it was as good as I remembered. Oh yeah.


Ready for the oven


  • 1 cup cornmeal
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • 3 tsp baking powder
  • ½ cup melted butter
  • 1 egg
  • 1 can creamed corn
  • 1 tbsp finely chopped jalapeño peppers (or to taste)
  • ¾ cup milk
  • 1 can green chiles, chopped
  • grated cheese (sharp cheddar or your choice)


Mix the first ten ingredients to make a batter. Pour half the batter into a flat baking pan or oven-proof casserole and spread it with a spatula until flat. Top with half the grated cheese and chiles. Pour a second layer of batter on top, spread it, and top with the remaining cheese and chiles. Bake at 400° for 45 minutes to 1 hour.


Perfect with chili!


A purist would use fresh Hatch chiles, but I’m coming around to the canned ones. They taste great and are always perfectly skinned, with no black flakes from the scorching process. Your choice, though. When Gusti says one can of green chiles, she means a normal sized can. The one we had in our cupboard was a large one, which you can see in the top photo. I used five to six peppers from that can and saved the rest.

If you’re using a smaller baking pan or casserole you can split the batter into three layers. Gusti said not to grease the pan, but I sprayed ours lightly with Pam and was happy with the results. The cornbread was done in 40 minutes, so maybe cooking time is oven-dependent … at any rate, I’d give it a toothpick check at 40 minutes and adjust from there.

This cornbread goes perfectly with Crouton’s chili con carne!


Crouton’s Bouillabaisse

The deMenthes always have seafood on Christmas Eve. Since we were visiting our son Baguette and his family in Las Vegas this year, and since our son had announced he was going to make clam chowder on Christmas Day, I decided to try my hand at bouillabaisse for Christmas Eve. This recipe is my version of one I found on the Food Network website.

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  • Bouillabaisse
    • olive oil
    • 2 carrots, julienned
    • 1 bulb fresh fennel, julienned
    • 1 leek, julienned
    • 1 rib celery, julienned
    • 1 sprig thyme
    • 1 sprig rosemary
    • 1 bay leaf
    • 10 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
    • 1 strip dried orange peel
    • 2 cups dry white wine
    • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
    • 1 quart clam juice
    • 6 pinches saffron
    • 1 lb clams
    • 1 lb Chilean sea bass, cut into 1-inch cubes
    • 1 lb large shrimp, peeled and veined
    • 1 lb mussels
    • small lobster tails
    • 1 can tomatoes, seeded and chopped
  • Rouille
    • 2 egg yolks
    • 2 tsp tomato paste
    • 1 tsp fennel, chopped
    • 4 cloves garlic, chopped
    • 1 small dried chile pepper
    • 1 pinch saffron
    • 2 tsp olive oil



Heat a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in a large stockpot. Cook the carrots, fennel, leek, celery, thyme, rosemary, bay leaf, garlic, and orange peel for about 5 minutes, stirring. Add wine, tomato paste, fish stock, and saffron. Bring to a simmer and cook for 8 minutes.

Add the seafood in the following order: clams (cook for 1 minute), then the sea bass (cook another minute), then shrimp, mussels, and lobster tails. Add chopped tomatoes. Simmer for 8 minutes. When the clam shells are open and the shrimp is done, it’s ready.

Serve with garlic toast and rouille.


Put all ingredients (except olive oil) in a blender and whip at low speed until smooth. Slowly add the olive oil in a steady stream so that it comes out like mayonnaise. Serve in a small bowl.

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More is not always better. When I went shopping for seafood I bought too many clams and too much shrimp. The broth was so full of seafood it was hard to get the ladle into it in order to dip, and we wound up crushing some of the chunks of sea bass. It would have been better, I now think, to have used just half a pound each of clams and shrimp.

We weren’t able to find mussels in the shell, but we did find shelled mussels, and they worked out fine.

The Food Network recipe calls for a bit of anise-flavored liqueur in both the bouillabaisse and rouille, but I left that out. The fennel has a strong anise flavor, and I figured that would be sufficient. It seemed to be.


Making Peanut Brittle, Take #1

We made peanut brittle from a Food Network recipe. The idea was for Ditalini to bring some to work, and to make small gift packages of what’s left. We’re not totally happy with the results of the recipe, though, so most if it will stay at home and get gradually consumed here. Too thick, not transparent, kind of crumbly, and way too sweet. But then again a lot of people like peanut brittle that way, so I’ll share three photos of its preparation:

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They say much of cooking is chemistry, and you really begin to appreciate that when you’re making candy. At a certain temperature, the mixture of corn syrup and sugar changes, and you have to pay close attention to that candy thermometer.

When you pour the hot mixture into the buttered baking pan, it’s like working with molten lead. You have to be careful … and quick, because it cools and thickens rapidly. Just saying, in case you’ve a mind to try the linked recipe.

As I mentioned, I think we can do better. My sister sent a recipe my father adapted, and I’ll try that next. If it works, I’ll add it to the blog: Making Peanut Brittle, Take # 2.

Shoot, I just realized I need to add a Candy section to the recipe index. For now I’ll file this under Appetizers, and get around to that later.


Moroccan Meatball Soup


Moroccan meatball soup

A friend posted a photo of this soup on Facebook. It looked good, so I asked her to post the recipe and last night cooked up a pot for Ditalini and me. It didn’t take long to make, maybe half an hour to get the meatballs ready, maybe 20 minutes for the rest. It was delicious. The cinnamon and sweet potato give it a flavor I hadn’t encountered before … different in a delightful way. This recipe will definitely become a regular on the deMenthe menu!


  • 4 tsp vegetable oil
  • 1 medium white onion, diced
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 lb lean ground beef
  • 2 medium sweet potatoes, cut into thin half-moons
  • 4 medium carrots, thinly sliced
  • 3 tbsp tomato paste
  • 7 cups chicken broth
  • cilantro, chopped


Heat 2 tsp oil over medium in a pot. Cook onions until they become soft, season with salt & pepper. Add garlic, cumin, and cinnamon and mix well with a spatula. Transfer all to a mixing bowl and add beef. Using your hands, gently mix and shape into balls. Put meatballs on waxed paper until later.


I may have made my meatballs a little large

Add another 2 tsp oil to the pot and heat over medium-high. Add sweet potatoes and carrots and cook a few minutes, turning the potatoes and carrots over a few times. Add tomato paste and stir until the vegetables are coated, then add broth. Bring to a simmer and cook until the sweet potatoes start to become tender. Add meatballs and simmer until the meatballs are cooked through. Sprinkle with cilantro just before serving.


Cooking the sweet potatoes and carrots


This is a stand-alone soup, a one-dish meal. Some recipes for Moroccan meatball soup call for it to be served over couscous, and probably have less broth than this version. I love soup but am kind of meh when it comes to couscous, so I like it this way, with crusty bread on the side.


deMenthe Thanksgiving 2013

We were all here for Thanksgiving: Crouton & Ditalini, our son Baguette, daughter-in-law Truffle, and grandson Pesce, along with our daughter Escargot and her boyfriend. Underfoot, of course, were Mortadella & Ubriaco, along with Baguette’s dog. Our poor old cat spent the day hiding in a closet.

What a great feast we had! Relishes, turkey with stuffing, home-made cranberry dressing, gravy, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, green beans with those crunchy French onions on top, and sliced smoked pork shoulder. For desert our dear friends at Costco baked us a pumpkin pie, but Ditalini felt challenged and matched it with a home-made cherry pie of her own.

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DeMenthes & guests, Thanksgiving 2013

I put the pork shoulder on the smoker at 7:30 AM; it reached 170°F at 2:30 PM, 7 hours total. Most pork shoulder smoker recipes call for an internal temperature of 190°F, but that’s only if you want to pull the pork: it’s well cooked at 170°F, and I had planned to serve it sliced anyway. Other than waiting for it to reach 190°F, which would have taken another couple of hours on the smoker, I used this recipe from a Weber Smoker site. If you use a Weber Bullet smoker, try this charcoal/wood technique: it’s what I used yesterday and it worked perfectly. By perfectly, I mean that I didn’t have to add charcoal once; every three hours I’d open the door and put in two or three fresh chunks of mesquite. Super easy. The lightly smoked pork, by the way, was an excellent accompaniment to the turkey.

Oh, before I forget, I did modify the mop I used while smoking the pork shoulder. The recipe I linked to above calls for equal measures of apple juice, vinegar, and vegetable oil; I used half and half cranberry juice and vinegar, leaving out the oil altogether. Pork shoulder is fat enough as it is! I was very happy with the result, too.

I can’t say much about Ditalini’s turkey, other than that she brined it this year, something we haven’t done before. She used a brining kit she bought at the same supermarket where she found the turkey. Very nice flavor, and the meat was moist.

There has to be one kitchen disaster in order for it to count as a home-cooked Thanksgiving meal. Fortunately our disaster was minor. As Ditalini and Truffle were putting everything on the serving table, Escargot discovered the stuffing sitting on the kitchen counter — prepared but somehow forgotten and thus uncooked. Everything went back in the lower oven to stay warm while Ditalini fired up the convection oven on top. The stuffing was done in 30 minutes and we were able to sit down and eat.

Here are a few food photos to make your mouth water. Click on the thumbnails to see ‘em bigger on Flickr.

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Escargot doing KP

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Mopping the pork shoulder

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The groaning board