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International Cooking in the Knucklehole

In slow cooking on March 9, 2015 at 10:18 am

So, welcome to another episode of Slow Cooking in the Knucklehole. Today we are preparing for a dinner party with a Korean theme. The guests will be arriving; so it is time to get started cooking. Earlier I went shopping at a Viet grocery store that had a number of Korean specialties as well as Chinese imports. I bought multiple bags of groceries: tofu, scallions, toasted sesame seed oil, garlic (lots of garlic), ginger—all the basics. The meal…well I haven’t really decided on the recipe; there’s a number to choose from. But they all include a fermented black bean sauce. So today’s recipe will be vegetables, tofu or seitan, over rice/noodles, with kim chi on the side, maybe some dumplings, with Korean spicy fermented black bean sauce.

Slow cooking didn’t start with the internet. I have a friend, Dave, who once said that the history of civilization was the history of controlling rot. The very origins of cities can be traced to the fermentation of beer in the Fertile Crescent between the Indus and Euphrates rivers. Fermented black soybeans is the oldest known food made from soy. Crocks of fermented black beans have been found at burial sites dating to 165 B.C., though they are thought to go back much earlier. In Chinese it is called douchi. So when I saw a crock imported from China at the Viet grocery store, I knew then what was for dinner.

I have prepared the vegetables. Well, the scallions. Nice. Crisp. A nice pile of crisp scallions. And here we have the crock of fermented black beans: the douchi. The container is ceramic, and looks like one of the old-time crocks you would bake beans in. It is tied handsomely with a red ribbon, and around the top, yes, that is packing tape. The ribbon is cut. Easy enough. But the tape…just have to get the tip of the Sabatier knife…here it comes… bits of the tape seem to be stuck on the side of the crock…have to saw with the edge of the blade…now, there we go. I can already smell the black beans. It has an aromatic, earthy, fermented smell. Not unlike Tutankhamen’s tomb. Just open the top…HOLY mother of Geraldo! Something has escaped from the crock, perhaps once played by Lon Chaney. Wow. Ok. Guests will be arriving, so I have to move this along. Inside there is a plastic bag. It is still tied with string, so I know it is fresh. We can remove the bag. It is dripping onto the counter. During Thanksgiving a friend brought over a turkey, and stuffed into the backside of the turkey was a bloody dripping bag. Of course in China they would not have had turkeys. So maybe a duck. Dripping Tutankhamen duck giblets.

Easy enough to wipe up the counter, place it here on a plate. Can’t seem to get the string open…scissors, there we go. Again, wow! Before I serve this to my guests, it is important that I have a taste. A good friend, Benedict, an Icelander, once told me of a local delicacy. The story began, “There are no flies in Iceland…” Evidently they would take fresh shark meat and leave it out several weeks until it had, let’s say, fermented.   Then they would eat small squares along with shots of aquavit. Don’t have any aquavit, but there is some Russian vodka. Got the Italian Multipulciano wine, got the vodka all lined up: fusion cuisine in the Knucklehole. So here we go, just a taste on the tip of my finger. I remember a party hosted by some hockey friends. At the party I had taken a shot of whiskey that one of the players brought back from Thailand. The whiskey had been infused with whole red peppers, a scorpion, and a cobra (I always felt bad for the cobra). The black beans create a similar sensation in my mouth.

Mouth burning. Eyes watering. That’s it. I can’t feel my thung. A little dizzy, but I’m ok. I’m…I’m not ok. The plastic bag has just lost containment. It is oozing across the counter. Ghost of Lon Chaney attacks! Retreat. Into the bathement. Here I am. In the basement. Safe for the moment. Might need something to barricade the door. Ack! Guests will be arriving any minute. Trapped. What would a prepper do? There is a towel down here. And my son left some Febreze…. No. No, no, no. No….Yes. Yes, we can do this. Wrap the towel around my face. Like Roosevelt up San Juan Hill. Charge! Take that fermented Tutankhamen scum! Into the garbage bag. Got it on my sleeve. No problem. Taking off the shirt. That as well into the garbage bag. Down the wine. Shot of vodka.

…the doorbell.

That about does it for this episode of slow cooking in the Knucklehole. Tune in next…well, anyway, got to go.


Memento Mori Crepes

In slow cooking on February 11, 2015 at 11:36 am

The crepes themselves are quite easy. You take 1 egg per person you wish to serve. Add ¼ cup flour per egg (e.g. four eggs; one cup flour), and an equal amount of milk to flour. Whisk until there are no lumps. If it is too thick, add a bit more milk. Toss in some sugar and salt and you are ready to cook.

Ideally you will have a crepe pan, but any non-stick pan with a handle will do nicely. Heat the pan, toss in some butter, pour in enough batter to cover the bottom of the pan, and wait until the sides begin to brown. When you are ready to flip, shake the pan a couple of times to loosen the batter. If the pan is hot and you have used enough butter, the crepe will not stick. To flip, toss the crepe in the air and catch it in the pan. This might seem intimidating, but I recall seeing a documentary of a French kindergarten teacher teaching five-year-olds how to do it. After a few crumpled crepes you will have it.

The recipe is simple. The trick is to take what is simple and from it make art. For example, a French baguette consists of flour, salt, and water. But somehow it manages to create one of the cornerstones of civilization itself. You find it in the Lord’s Prayer, Roman bread and circuses, a central metaphor for wealth or the home. An analogy might be the blues. The blues at its core is three chords, built on the first, fourthpomeii mementomori, and fifth note of a major scale. But this simple formula creates the foundation for all blues, rock, country, pop, jazz, and rap. This is the same cyclical pattern that defines baroque music or Bach. In architecture, you can build pretty much any classical-style building from circles, squares, and triangles. Much of the physical universe comprises a limited number of simple patterns repeated in infinite variation. My own approach to art–or for that matter teaching, personal relationships, philosophy—is to simplify something, then make it more complex. Find a thread and pull on it. Pull long enough and hard enough and the world unravels. Follow something to its simplest form, then back to its most complex form and you will understand it.  It is the metaphor of life.  You are born.  You eat crepes.  You die.  The trick is to take that simple formula and from it make art.

Magic Cashew Goodness Spread

In slow cooking on December 16, 2013 at 2:10 pm

This dish assumes you have read the previous post on Magic  Broth.bunny shield (December, 2008; and yes, there have only been four recipes since then; they don’t call it ‘lickedy-split’ cooking in the Knucklehole; and if you have a problem with that you can go watch Paula Deen reruns).  It also assumes…well, just, read the blog.

The great thing about slow cooking is that it takes so long to make you can have the main dish and leftovers, for the same meal!  As with any slow cooked meal, it is important that you have other things you ought to be doing.  For example, the other day I had a credit card expense report due.  Now opportunities like this are rare, so you have to jump on them.  bunny decapitationIn avoiding filing the report I finished two lectures, a review sheet (including a timeline decorated with bunny drawings taken from Medieval manuscripts), undertook a detailed review of John Dewey’s understanding of the relationship of liberty, community, and the liberal arts, and read the first book of Aristotle’s Topica (in the original Greek).  Consider slow cooking as just another quarrel in your arbalest (think bow and arrow, but slow cooked) to put that report off another day.

So imagine that it is six o’clock; you have been cooking the magic broth for the main dish (risotto, white bean soup, gnocchi, paella, gravy–whatever) for, like, four hours.  The wine is gone (guests always bring wine, so no worries).  bunny dogGuests are due to arrive any minute.  In a perfect world you would have a large project due, like a paper for a conference that weekend, and you would have accumulated appetizers across the whole week (a cheese plate, tapenade, balsamic candied almonds, fig and black tea confit [so I bought that one from Apple and Quince, sue me], caramelized shallots with current jam,  fruit platters, fried zucchini and aioli, rosemary roasted potatoes and aioli, aioli and aioli, edamame and gomasio, stuffed mushrooms cooked in magic broth, popovers, white beans with blue cheese and lemon, empanadillas with shallots mushrooms and manchego [my auto-correct just tried to change this to ‘ranchero’, philistine], stuffed fried zucchini blossoms,  tomato bread salad, roasted vegetables in puff pastry, fingerling potatoes with blue cheese and hickory nuts, scallops in browned butter and reduced magic broth, fondue, borsht, gravy—whatever). But on this particular night you have, well, broth.  And, like, some bread.  Have no fear!

It is time for action.  First, grab the phone and call guests or Significant Other to make sure someone is bringing more wine.  Next, check the refrigerator.  There are always crusts of cheese from earlier meals you can lay out artfully on the cheese board, and the balsamic caramelized almonds take about three minutes.  Certainly if you have a jar of the fig and tea confit, given to you for, you know, a present or something…

That brings us to the Magic Cashew Goodness Spread.  In your desperate, semi-inebriated state you have probably forgotten the big steaming pile of goodness left over from the broth you just strained.  Proceed as follows:

Magic Cashew Goodness Spread

1)      Place big steaming pile of goodness in blender.

2)      Add 1 ½ cup of salted cashews.

3)      Add a couple tablespoons of olive oil and salt to taste.

4)      Blend.

If it is too thick, thin with magic broth until it becomes spread consistency.  This should produce upwards of a quart of spread.  Put out a bowl of spread alongside the cheese, bread, and any other last minute brainstorms.

The remainder can always be put over pasta for breakfast the next morning.  Or you can blend in a couple eggs (more or less, depending on how much spread is bunnys attackleft; one egg per cup of spread works), pour the mixture into ramekins, and bake at 350 degrees.  When the custard has hardened remove from oven.  Work around the edges of the ramekins with a knife, and flip over onto a plate.  For a sauce (and what slow cooked dish doesn’t have a sauce) reduce some magic broth from two cups to one, add a half stick of high fat Norwegian butter and a quarter cup of cream.  Top with some course grated parmesan or asiago cheese and garnish with sprigs of thyme.  I call it Sweet Potato Flan with Magic Broth Reduction Sauce.   Aka, breakfast.

Sweet Potato and Polenta Gnocchi with a Sauternes Reduction Sauce (and a side of string beans almandine)

In slow cooking on January 21, 2012 at 11:26 am

Cooking time: 2 hours (it’s called slow cooking for a reason; you want convenience go to Arby’s)

Shopping List

¼ cup olive oil, (plus more for frying almonds and string beans)

Three medium onions

3-4 sprigs fresh thyme

1 carrot

2 large sweet potatoes

String beans (enough for a side dish)

½ teaspoon tamarind paste

Six cloves garlic

Six whole mushrooms

Two Roma tomatoes

Salt (rock salt opt.)

Pepper (fresh ground, copious)

1 cup white grits

2 cups raw almonds

Balsamic Vinegar

2 cups of bread crumbs (I often substitute Matzo meal)

¼ cup white flour

1 egg

½ stick Butter

½ cup cream


1 c. gruyere cheese

French cheeses for appetizers and dessert

French white wine (from the Bordeaux or Loire; I am partial to a Vouvray)

Red wine (something French)

(at least) ½ bottle Sauternes (not served chilled)

1)      Begin with the Magic Broth.

Magic Broth:  Brown three onions in ¼ cup olive oil.  Must brown onions.  Add garlic and cook until brown.  Add 3-4 sprigs fresh thyme, 1 carrot, 2 sweet potatoes , ½ teaspoon tamarind paste, six cloves garlic, six whole mushrooms, two Roma tomatoes, ½ t. salt (no more at this point), fresh ground pepper (copious).   Cook for 2 min. and add 1 c. French white wine.  Simmer for 5 min. or until wine reduces.  Add two quarts of water and simmer until magic happens (45 min. to an hour).

2)      While the broth is simmering prep. the string beans and cook the almonds.

Almonds:  Fry the almonds in a large skillet for about 2 min.  When the almonds begin to make popping sounds, deglaze with 2 T. of balsamic vinegar.  Fry until the vinegar disappears.  Transfer into a bowl and add salt to taste.  Reserve ½ cup for the string beans, slice in halves.  Serve the remainder along with cheese and 1 baguette as an appetizer.

3)      Prepare the sweet potato gnocchi.

Sweet Potato Gnocchi:  Continue to simmer the broth until the sweet potatoes have fully softened.  Strain the broth into a sauce pan, and continue to simmer on medium heat.  Retain the vegetables.  Remove the thyme and the mushrooms from the vegetables.  Blend the vegetables with a hand blender or food processor and place in a medium bowl.  Add back about ½ cup of the broth.  Add 1 egg, ½ cup of bread crumbs, and ½ cup of flour.  The dough should form a paste-like consistency.  If it is too loose, add more flour.  Set aside.

4)      Make the polenta.

Polenta:  Boil 2 cups of water along with ½ t. of salt.  Add 1 cup of the simmering broth.  When the water is at a full boil add the grits and stir in with whisk.  Let boil for 1 min. then lightly whisk.  When the polenta becomes hard to stir add more broth in ¼ cup increments (keep in mind you will need at least 2 cups of the broth for the sauce; if you run short of broth for the polenta just use boiling water).  Traditional polenta recipes call for 45 min. to an hour of whisking.  I find that after about 15 min., I begin to curse in Italian.  At that point I also pour myself a glass of wine.  Continue to whisk.  Unsuspecting guests who have by now, no doubt, arrived and helped themselves to the appetizers and white wine will often ask, “Can I do anything to help?”  Hand guest the whisk.  Recommend they pace themselves.  When you (or your unsuspecting guest) come to the conclusion that, “It’s a side dish, for God’s sake.  It doesn’t look any different than it did 20 min. ago.  And why am I using an Italian polenta recipe for a French dish, anyway?”, or in short, when you have earned the right to stop whisking, turn off the heat.  Add the gruyere cheese and whisk until the cheese is fully melted.  Immediately transfer the polenta to a lasagna pan or other wide, flat pan (even a cookie tray will work).  Spread the polenta evenly around the pan to 1” thickness.  Set aside.

5)      Make the reduction sauce

Reduction Sauce:  You can begin the reduction sauce while the polenta is still cooking.  I find I need short breaks from whisking, for example just after I have added more broth, or better yet when you have handed off the task to the unsuspecting guest.  Begin with about two cups of the reduced broth and simmer on medium heat.  Add ½ cup of the Sauternes and continue simmering for about 15 min. or until it has begun to thicken slightly.  Taste the broth, and add salt if needed (add the salt only when the sauce is done reducing, or you risk the sauce becoming too salty as it reduces).  Turn off heat and set aside on a burner.

6)      Make the sweet potato gnocchi

Place the remainder of the bread crumbs into a pasta bowl.  Add ½ t. of salt (I like to use rock salt) and loads of freshly ground pepper.   Take spoonfuls of the sweet potato dough and roll them in the bread crumbs into 1” thick, 2” long tubes.  Set them aside on a large plate.  When a suitable number for your now very hungry guests have been prepared, set aside

7)      The Iron Chef moment.

I would take a moment to say hi to the guests and pour another glass of wine.   I don’t mind the polenta gnocchi being cool, given that it makes a nice contrast to the sweet potato gnocchi, which are served hot.  If you want the polenta gnocchi warm, or if they are too soft (which should happen if you stirred them long enough), you can place them in the oven at 250 degrees.  When the table is set and everything ready to go, turn on the reduction sauce to medium heat.  Melt some butter in a broad frying pan, such as a pancake skillet.  Add the sweet potato gnocchi to the butter and fry on medium heat.  Meanwhile place the string beans in a frying pan with some olive oil, stirring when you have a free second or two.  While the two dishes are frying cut the polenta into 3” gnocchi (I like to make rounds using a drinking glass or cookie cutter.  This makes the leftovers uglier, but the round gnocchi look nice next to the sweet potato gnocchi).  Place two of the polenta gnocchi onto each of the plates.  Turn the sweet potato gnocchi, add the almonds to the string beans and turn off the heat to the string beans.   Add ½ cup of cream to the simmering reduction sauce and immediately turn off the heat.  Arrange the now finished sweet potato gnocchi, three to a plate, next to the polenta gnocchi.  Place some string beans and almonds to the side of the plate.  Ladle some of the reduction sauce on to the top of the two gnocchi.  Grind some black pepper over the top and serve along with the baguette and red wine.

Once you have enjoyed the meal, I would recommend breaking out the rest of the Sauternes to drink with dessert.  Perhaps with some French chocolates and some more cheese.


In slow cooking on November 22, 2011 at 6:39 pm



Preheat oven to 300


1 c. hot water

1 package of yeast

1 T. sugar

¼ c. olive oil

½ t. salt

3 c. flour (more as needed)



¼ c. olive oil

1 onion

1 t. oregano

2 c. mushrooms

2 c. eggplant

½ c. white wine

Salt to taste

Fake sausage

1/2 c. roasted red pepper

3 c. penne pasta

½ c. aged provolone

6 hard cooked eggs

2 c. tomato sauce

½ c. grated parmesan cheese


Put on water to boil, add pasta when boiling.  Cook until al dente and set aside.


Mix up the bread, set aside.


Filling:  Fry the onions in olive oil.  Add the oregano, mushrooms, eggplant.  Cook for a few minutes and add the wine.   Oil a Dutch oven and line it with the bread with the dough hanging over the edges.  Layer the pan with ingredients.  Fold over the dough.  Bake at 300 degrees for 45 minutes to an hour.


In slow cooking on September 25, 2011 at 9:50 am

Filling Ingredients

2 c. green cabbage

½ c. grated carrot

8 oz. block of tofu

½ c. ground peanuts

1 T. fresh grated ginger

3 cloves garlic

1 T. fresh cilantro

1 T. curry paste

1 T. tamarind sauce (or ½ t. tamarind paste)

1 T black sesame seeds

¼ c. butter or ghee

Salt to taste



2 lb. fresh tomatoes

1 T. grated ginger

3 cloves garlic

¼ c. butter or ghee

1 T. Curry paste

½ t. crushed red pepper

Salt to taste



3 c. flour (extra for rolling out dough)

½ t. salt

1 ½ c. boiling water



Fresh cilantro for topping

Flat bread or folding pita

Brown rice

Sauce:  Begin the sauce first.  Brown onions in the butter.  Add ginger, minced garlic, and curry paste.  Stir for  of minutes then add the tomatoes.  They will need to cook uncovered on medium heat for 45 min. to an hour.  If the sauce boils down too much, add water as needed.  Salt to taste.  When about done, blend with a hand blender.

Filling: Cut the cabbage thinly, crumble the tofu, mince, the onions and garlic.  Brown the onions in the butter on medium heat.  Add the ginger, minced garlic, curry paste, and cilantro.  Stir for a couple of minutes, and then add remaining ingredients except peanuts and sesame seeds.  Cook for 3-4 minutes so that the flavors mix, but the cabbage does not get soggy.  Turn off heat and stir in the ground peanuts  and sesame seeds.

Dough: Place flour and salt in a bowl, and pour boiling water over the mixture.  Stir, and add flour as needed to make a pliable dough.

Making the Dumpling:  Place a teaspoon of filling in the center of each circle of dough.  Fold up the sides until it makes a “santa bag.”  Holding the top of the santa bag, rotate the bottom until the dumpling is sealed.  Set aside on a floured cookie tray.

Cooking the Dumpling:  Heat ca. 3 T. of canola oil in a frying pan.  Place dumplings into oil and let cook for about a minute.  While covering the pan, carefully pour a bit under ¼ c. of water into the pan.  Let cook until the water is gone and the bottoms are crispy brown.

Serve with Brown rice and Indian flat bread (you can substitute Greek style folding pita).

Basic Plate

In slow cooking on April 3, 2011 at 11:33 am

This dish brings together a number of our favorite dishes.  It was inspired by a standard from the famed, now defunct Savory Thymes.


1 ½ cup of long grained brown rice

2 packages of firm tofu

Canola oil

¼ cup soy sauce

1 T. brewer’s (nutritional) yeast

1 bunch of red or swiss chard

1 can great northern or white beans

Olive oil

1 small onion

3 cloves garlic

Fresh thyme

1/cup tahini

2 T. each of red and white miso

2 T. rice wine vinegar

Salt and pepper

Step 1  Prep the greens and begin to cook the brown rice. When the brown rice is cooked, set aside.

Step 2  Prepare the miso-tahini sauce: In a blender combine ¼ cup tahini, 2 T. each of red and white miso, 1 T. of olive oil or toasted sesame seed oil, 3 T. of tamari or soy sauce a splash of rice wine vinegar, and ¼ cup water.  Set aside.

Step 3 Cook the tofu: Fry the tofu in 2 T. of canola oil.  When the tofu begins to brown on each side, add 1 T. of soy sauce and stir vigorously.  When the soy sauce has been absorbed, turn off heat.  Add 1 T. of brewer’s yeast and stir.  Leave the tofu in the pan and set aside.

Step 4  Cook the beans: Fry the onion in 2 T. of olive oil.  When the onions start to brown add the garlic and 2-3 sprigs of fresh Thyme.  When the garlic begins to brown add 1 can of white or great northern beans.  Simmer for 3-5 min.  Add salt to taste and lots of black pepper.

Step 5 Cook the greens: As you leave the beans to simmer, heat 1 T. of olive oil and immediately add the chard.  Place a lid on the pan and let steam.  Meanwhile reheat the tofu and occasionally stir the white beans.  The goal is to have the beans, greens, and tofu all hot when served.  When the greens have wilted, splash with rice wine vinegar and serve.


Instead of tofu, substitute Pepper and Sesame Encrusted Mahi.  Wash mahi (you could substitute tuna, salmon, or even catfish) and cut into thick strips.  Combine on a plate 1-2 T. of coarsely ground fresh black pepper, 1-2 T. of raw sesame seeds, and salt to taste.  Coat the fish in the mixture and fry in 1-2 T. olive oil until the sesame seeds begin to brown on each side.  If you prefer the mahi more or less rare, adjust the thickness of the slices.

“Slow cooking is something that should be done with passion, between good friends, and use lots of olive oil.”

–The Knucklehole

Pound Cake with Calvados Poached Pears Topped with Blue Cheese and Pecans

In slow cooking on March 13, 2011 at 7:53 am

POUND CAKE: Make pound cake.  We used the pound cake recipe from the Joy of Cooking.


a.       Peel and slice four pears in quarters.  Remove cores.

b.      On medium heat poach pears in:

¼ cup butter

¼ cup calvados or apple jack

¼ cup Vermont maple syrup

Pinch of cardamom

½ teaspoon vanilla

Salt to taste

c.       Reduce the liquid to a syrup consistency, stirring constantly so that it does not burn.

d.      If you want a hard sauce (I cooked out the alcohol so I would feel better feeding it to the kids), you can add additional calvados to taste as you turn off the heat.


a.       Danish buttermilk blue cheese, crumbled

b.      Pecan topping

Briefly fry unsalted roasted pecan in 2 T. butter, 1 T. brown sugar, ½ t.   cinnamon, salt to taste.

4.   ASSEMBLY:  Arrange slices of pound cake on plates.  Place a pear on each.  Spoon some of the syrup from the pan onto each.  Add crumbled Blue Cheese and pecans.

Walmart Offers Healthy Entrees Initiative

In slow cooking on January 22, 2011 at 4:38 pm

Just last week Walmart announced its new Healthy Entrees Initiative.  Among its featured new products are:

–Tuna-net select porpoise fillets

–Organic spinach hand picked and packaged by children in Myanmar.

–USDA grade A recycled hamburger

–Soylent Green

Slow Cooking in the Knucklehole

In Quote of the Week, slow cooking on February 4, 2009 at 2:45 pm

My readers ask me, “what makes slow cooking?”  I answer, ” It is something that should be done with passion, between good friends, and use lots of olive oil.”

–The Knucklehole