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:


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.


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.


Gazpacho with garnishes

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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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!


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.


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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  • 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


Combine all, refrigerate overnight.


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


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.


Fresh poblano chiles, roasted & peeled

Ditalini's Chiles Rellenos

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


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.


Ditalini’s chiles rellenos

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


Crouton’s Easy Split Pea Soup

Relatively easy, that is!  You can prepare it in the morning or early afternoon, then reheat and serve for dinner.  Actual kitchen prep time is about half an hour; cooking time is less than two hours.


Crouton's Easy Split Pea Soup

  • Servings: 6
  • Time: 2 hrs
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

  • 1 pkg dry split peas
  • 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
  • 3 or 4 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
  • 2 medium carrots, peeled & sliced
  • 1 potato, peeled & cubed
  • 1 ham steak, cut up
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 4 cups chicken stock
  • water (if needed)
  • salt & pepper to taste


Soak the peas overnight, drain & rinse, place in heavy pot, cover with chicken stock. Add onion, garlic, carrots, potato, ham, bay leaf. Bring to a medium boil and let boil for 20-30 minutes, occasionally stirring.  You may need to add a cup or two of water while boiling to keep it from getting too thick.  Reduce heat to simmer, add salt & pepper to taste.  Stir all, cover the pot, let simmer about an hour.

Serve with crusty bread.  Serves six.


Packages of dried split peas sometimes come with a flavor packet. You can choose to use it (I don’t), but if you do, eliminate the chicken stock and use water instead.


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

Crouton's Salad Niçoise

  • Servings: 2-4
  • Time: 30 minutes
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print


  • 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 two large salads. The recipe is enough for four smaller ones.

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!


Remodeling Crouton’s Kitchen, Part II

Progress update: Crouton’s Kitchen is a cooking blog, so in addition to recipes, most posts contain photos and commentary on the meals Ditalini and I prepare. Now there’s an easy way to print just the part of the post you want to use in the kitchen, the actual recipe (ingredients and directions).

Here’s a screenshot. Look for the blue print cue, click it, and voilà, WYSIWYG on a piece of paper. Who loves ya, baby? Crouton deMenthe, that’s who!

Screen Shot 2018-04-20 at 8.48.33 AM

p.s. So far I’ve added this feature to newer posts only. Eventually I’ll get around to the older ones. Please be patient.


U.S. Senate Navy Bean Soup

We’ve experimented with different navy bean soup recipes over the years; this time we’re trying an authentic-seeming Food Network recipe (I compared it to the actual U.S. Senate cafeteria recipe listed on Wikipedia and it’s a match in ingredients and relative proportions, right down to the mashed potatoes). So why not just use the recipe on Wikipedia? Because it’s sized to feed multitudes; this one’s sized for a family. If, like the deMenthes, you’re cooking for two, leftover storage won’t require a second refrigerator.


U.S. Senate navy bean soup & biscuits

U.S. Senate Navy Bean Soup

  • Servings: 8
  • Time: 3 hours
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print


  • 1 lb dried navy beans
  • 1 lb ham w/bone (or one ham hock plus some cut-up leftover ham)
  • 1 large potato, peeled & quartered
  • kosher salt
  • ground pepper
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 stalk celery, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1/4 cup fresh parsley


Cover beans with water and soak overnight. Drain beans, place in large pot or Dutch oven, add ham and 10 cups water. Heat until it begins to roll, then reduce heat to low and cook until beans are tender, about 1 hour and 30 minutes. If you used a ham hock, remove it now, pick off the meat, and return meat to the pot.

Meanwhile, cover potato with water in a saucepan, add salt, and bring to boil. Reduce heat to low or simmer and cook potato until fork-tender, about 20-25 minutes. Drain, put potato in bowl with milk and mash until smooth. Add mashed potato to the beans & ham and stir until smooth.

While potato is cooking, melt butter in skillet over medium heat, add chopped onion, garlic, and celery and cook until translucent, 7-10 minutes. Add vegetables to the pot, reduce heat to low, and simmer another hour. Salt & pepper to taste, garnish with chopped parsley.

This was our dinner tonight. I made the soup and Ditalini made the biscuits. We’re totally sold on this recipe. The other navy bean soup recipes on Crouton’s Kitchen (this one and this one) are good, but this one is great!


Remodeling Crouton’s Kitchen

Over the next few days (weeks?) we’ll be experimenting with a new look for Crouton’s Kitchen. There’s a lot to like about the current design, but it’s time for something different. The kitchen will remain open, but there may be some construction dust … please pardon the inconvenience.


Crouton’s Better Package Cornbread

When Ditalini and I make chili, we make cornbread. When we have the time and the ingredients, we make fancy cornbread (check the recipe index for some recipes). When we don’t, we use the package recipe on the side of the cornmeal box, improved with added ingredients.


Cornbread w/Uncle Art’s Chili con Carne (see recipe index)

This recipe is the basic package one, with added diced Hatch chiles and shredded Cheddar cheese, and is pretty damn good with any kind of chili.

Crouton's Better Package Cornbread

  • Servings: 6-8
  • Time: 30 min
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

  • 1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup corn meal
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 small can diced Hatch chiles
  • 1 cup shredded Cheddar cheese


Heat oven to 400°F. Grease 8-9″ pan. Combine dry ingredients. Stir in milk, oil, egg, chiles, and half the shredded cheese, mixing just until dry ingredients are moistened. Pour batter into prepared pan and sprinkle the rest of the shredded cheese on top. Bake 20 to 25 minutes or until light golden brown and wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Serve warm (butter & honey optional but encouraged). Makes enough for 9 servings.