Rock Soup & Humble Pie

Sarah…. When I was your age, all we had was ROCK SOUP & HUMBLE PIE

How to cook and eat well, quickly and on the cheap!

Rock Soup & Humble Pie[1]

Cooking and Eating Well On The Cheap

This cookbook is intended to give you ideas on what to cook with what you have. Rather than give recipes based on seasons, holidays or types of cooking, this book gives you a list of what you might have on hand. You click (or go to the page, if you are old school) on the ingredient and you will find a way to cook what you have.

Everything here can either be ready in 45 minutes from when you start, or be ready when you get home after cooking in a slow cooker.

These eats are cheap. Two people can eat very well  (not counting those essentials – wine and beer) for $100 a week (in 2014) Four people can get along on $100 per week – if you really economize.

Buy what is good – and cheap – and cook it. 

Expensive Steak. Great! But not cheap! Bone-in ribeye from Elberta Grocery, Elberta, Ala.

A non-cook can prepare an expensive steak in an iron skillet and make rice in the rice cooker. A lot of what people call cooking is heating expensive ingredients on a gas grill, or mixing up canned things. This little booklet shows you how to cook to eat cheaply and well, with what you have on hand.


It is amazing how many people are timid in the kitchen. Don’t be. If it does not turn out, eat it anyway. If it is not fit to eat, feed it to your dog. If you don’t have a dog -- or if your dog won’t eat it -- throw it in the trash. Don’t worry about cooking well; instead, learn good techniques and apply them every day. It is not hard, and you’ll thank yourself.


If you want a little confidence builder, and a way to show all your pals that you are an ass-kicking cook, learn to make a French omelet. It won’t turn out well at first, but eggs are cheap and the results of an imperfect omelet are perfectly edible. If you want to see a professional cook an omelet, Google Jacques Pepin French Omelet. He is the master, but with confidence we amateurs can still cook well!


Nothing is more important. No matter how good or cheaply or quickly you can prepare food –  it is all for nothing if you make someone sick! Good food-safety practices are very simple to learn and very effective.

Temperature control –  

Prepared food must be held below 41 degrees or above 140 degrees. “Keep hot food hot, keep cold food cold” is more than a punch line. Prepared food must not stay at a temperature between 41 and 140 for a cumulative time of more than 4 hours.  You must be especially mindful of thawing food. Do it very quickly – or do it under refrigeration.

Cook by temperature, not by time. There are safe minimum temperatures for cooked food listed below – respect them! Different rules apply for ground meat. Why? Because grinding meat distributes any surface bacteria throughout the meat. That’s why rare steak won’t hurt you, but rare ground meat might!

Bacteria Control – Keep things clean! More than that, learn how to sanitize. This is very simple and will keep your kitchen safe. Take a  pint-size container and put a capful of bleach in the container. Then, fill it with water. You have just made a “mild hypochlorite solution.” This is an excellent germ killer. Keep one cloth in this container. When you finish with a cutting board, the counter or your knife, wipe it down with the solution, rinse and let air-dry. There! Just like a pro—you have sanitized!  

Cross Contamination – Would you take a big bite of raw chicken? Me, neither. So, make sure that you sanitize after you cut that chicken on your cutting board, let liquid from that bird drip on the counter or ice box, or handle that raw chicken. Be especially mindful when you handle food that will be eaten raw (salads, etc.). Good habits here are important.


These are things that you really must have. Never, ever, get hung up on fancy cookware. Buy restaurant ware and use it. It lasts forever. The most important thing is a good stove – but that may be beyond your control. Always have gas over electric – electric stoves are good for submarines, but otherwise are nothing but a gadget sold by the power company to an unwary public. Don’t buy fancy, but buy good stuff.


There are spices, oils, and other essentials that you need to cook day in and day out. These are things that must be in your kitchen all the time. Don’t fret; you’ll use them right up.


This is just a list of what you might have in the pantry or ice box. Yes, the list is made up of things that are readily available and cheap. There are no recipes in this book to show you how to cook veal chops or how best to heat up canned soup. That’s not cooking.  No handmade pasta and pigs feet stuffed with tripe; both of these are great, but I assume that you look elsewhere for exotic dishes



So, what are we going to cook? Good food.

I’ll wager if you Google “Quick and Easy Meals” you’ll come up with thousands of hits. (3,820,000  to be exact) Lots of meals are quick, and easy. Landing a jet airplane is quick and easy, too, if you have training, technique, practice and concentration.  I cook for my wife most weeknights. It takes about 20 to 30 minutes to put a meal together from scratch. Meals like that are quick and easy and good, because the ingredients are good, the technique simple. (She works harder than I do, and if she is not home at the appointed time, I eat mine, put her supper in the icebox and turn out all the lights in the kitchen. She is a very tolerant woman.) The meals I cook for her are quick, and they are easy—and good.

Good. That’s what you should bring to your cooking.

You should also do this because you love to cook. Most of us are not really great cooks, and never will be. I met Paul Prudhomme once in a business setting some years ago. His mind was so creative, and he very simply came up with great ideas. It was just incredible how he thought about food. We aren’t Paul Prudhommes. Folks like us should cook because it is fun and because we do so in a spirit of giving.

It is not, and should never be, a competition or occasion for showing off.

When I was a young man, my wife and I went to a party where a downright beautiful young woman was talking about cooking. She was all about what dish could be on the menu with what other dish, and how the skin of the perfect red ripe tomato should look. The French names of dishes rolled from her perfect mouth like a gustatory road map of La Belle France.

I felt lucky to understand that Sauce Chaud Froid just means “hot cold sauce.”

Someone said, “Jimbo likes to cook.” She replied that maybe we should have dueling whisks at 100 paces.

I declined, looked into her eyes and said that cooking should be like making love, not like mortal combat.

Her pale complexion colored to the hue of that talked-about tomato.

I was a lot younger then, and could make comments like that without security being summoned.

The point is still the same. Cook because you love to cook. And just try to make it taste and look good.

There are some things that I believe make any other dish good: Ingredients, technique and concentration.

1)        A dish made with second-rate ingredients that tastes really good is the mark of a good cook, though making garbage taste good is a sorry way to approach cooking. The mark of a really good cook is that same dish made with dedication to the best ingredients available. Let the quality of your ingredients drive your choice of menu!  True, enough butter and plenty of salt can mend everything but a broken heart. But nothing replaces quality ingredients. Use what’s best.

2)        You’ve got to build flavor into what you cook. With respect to that genius of cooking Paul Prudhomme, seasoning is not magic. Study his cookbooks; he uses lot of technique to build those flavors, and of course he is a genius with spices. Still, it takes those good ingredients, and technique. Jacques Pepin’s book, La Technique, is a must have. It is by far the most dog-eared cookbook I have (and repaired with some manly-man duct tape along the spine).  I think the technique of putting vegetables into the hot roux (like Chef Paul does) builds more flavor than plopping pre-made and cooled “peanut butter” roux into the pot.  Right or wrong, technique is the missing link in turning a recipe into good food. A recipe is a blueprint — and that’s all it is. It takes technique to turn the plan into something good to eat! Little things mean a lot. Technique — how you do a thing — is the key.

3)        Attention to detail. I earlier mentioned a few childhood kitchen fires in my distant past. I was an avid reader as a child. I also wanted to cook. It did not take long — or many repairs to the kitchen — to teach me that you can do both, but not at the same time. If you are going to cook --  cook! Except for those low and slow beauties of the food world (and there are lots of them), you can’t cook and watch television, read a book or talk on the telephone. Inattention leads to burned food — or worse! You have got to be dedicated to what you are doing. Do the very best you can every time you cook. Plate an egg you cook for yourself as carefully as you would plate a dish for your new mother-in-law. Garnish, serve and prepare dishes with verve, concentration and elegance because that’s the way you do things. Every time.  Work at cooking because you love it.

Be organized, be focused, gather those ingredients and use that technique!

I tell a student that the most important class you can take is technique. A great chef is first a great technician. ‘If you are a jeweler, or a surgeon or a cook, you have to know the trade in your hand. You have to learn the process. You learn it through endless repetition until it belongs to you.’  --Jacques Pepin


James Parrish Coleman is a lawyer, cook and father of Sarah Frances Coleman, the woman to whom this publication is directed and dedicated.


Your Essential Tools

You must have an 8-inch cook’s knife and a paring knife. You really can get by with just these two. If you want to round out your collection, buy a boning knife and a carving knife. Your best bet is to buy from a restaurant supply. The blades will be stainless and the handles white or blue. They will have “NSF” on the blade. DON’T buy a cheap knife out of the grocery store unless they have a food service section – and DON’T waste money on high dollar knives, unless you take up cooking as a profession or hobby. DO keep your knives sharp. YouTube can show you how. Don’t toss them in a drawer. Use a block or other device to hold them.

Pots & Pans

Buy a sauté pan with rounded sides, an iron skillet, a saucepan with lid, a stainless mixing bowl and a small stockpot. Restaurant ware is the way to go. DON’T buy thin, cheap pots. If you can only afford one “pot,” buy a steel wok from the restaurant supply or an Asian grocery.

Spoons, Tongs and Forks

You need a metal spoon, a wooden spoon, a ladle, a set of tongs, a silicone spatula (for scraping bowls), a fish spatula (Google it) and a whisk. All should be restaurant quality. They will last forever and are cheaper than what’s in high dollar cooking stores. Get a grater and a meat tenderizer, too.

One Essential & Little Extras

Get a Thermopen Kitchen Thermometer. You really need this.

Put kosher salt in a custard cup a wide-mouth jar or something you can work from. Get a pepper grinder. Quickly use up all of the pre-ground pepper you have and NEVER buy it again. Buy “bar mop” dish towels and use them to wipe, as pot holders and everything else. (Maybe not headwear, but everything else). Cotton kitchen twine is nice – but you can do without it. Use squirt bottles for oils, vinegar etc. They won’t break when you drop them, and look pretty damn cool!

Oils, Vinegars & Spices

 Always have olive oil (buy the cheap stuff if money is tight – the high-dollar stuff is a come-on), vegetable oil, white vinegar, a little balsamic vinegar and white wine. You need peppercorns, kosher salt, nutmeg (whole), Tabasco sauce and several heads of garlic – at all times.

In The Ice Box

Butter, and lots of it. Milk, eggs.

Canned Stuff

Don’t cook canned food unless you are at sea or lost in the woods. That said, always have canned tomatoes and tomato paste. Canned tomatoes are a great product.


Keep pasta, flour, sugar, lentils, lard (yep, lard), yeast packets, and baking powder on hand.  You should also have rice and beans on hand.

Your Pantry – Have These On Hand!

What’s In The Ice Box?[2] (Click on the red triangle to go to the recipe)

Meat & Fish

Chicken, whole  


Split and Roasted Chicken

Bean Cassoulet

Chicken Thighs &/or Legs

Chicken Thighs & Legs

Quick! Leftovers (chicken, fish, meat)

Bean Cassoulet


Chicken Liver

Chicken Livers & Pasta

Chicken Breasts

Cutlets 0 0

Green  Things

Pasta and Sauce

Fish in a Sack (Fish in Foil, Pompano en Papillote)

Quick! Leftovers (chicken, fish, meat)

Chicken Wings

Quick! Leftovers (chicken, fish, meat)


Bean Cassoulet

Chicken Leftovers

London Broil 0

Chuck Steak/Roast 0

Top Round 0

Beef Cheeks 0

Short Ribs 0

Bottom Round 0

Beef Shanks 0

Ox Tail 0

Pork Chops 0 0

Pork Loin 0 0

Pork Tenderloin 0 0

Pork Shoulder 0

Pork Ribs 0

Pork Neck Bones 0

Sausage (Italian, sweet or hot) 0


Ground Beef or Pork

Shucked Oysters

Shrimp 0

Fish – Fresh or Frozen



Cabbage 0

Zucchini 0

Yellow Squash 0

Tomatoes (Which are actually fruit, by the way)

Eggplant 0  

Fennel 0


Carrots 0

Greens (Turnip, Collard or Mustard)

Potatoes 0

Onions 0

Green Beans

Brussels Sprouts



Sweet Potatoes 0












Romano or Parmesan Pasta and Sauce 

Goofs Cooks Make

Mistakes with Equipment

Dull knives, pans that are too thin, too many gadgets.

Mistakes with Ingredients

Prepared stuff (too expensive and unnecessary). Precut meat (you pay for that labor). Vegetables out of season.

Mistakes in Organization

Failure to do all prep work first. You should chop, open and prepare everything you need first. Then, you can cook and then clean as you cook. Lay stuff out on a sheet pan in the order you need it.  THINK  PPCCR: Plan, Prep, Cook & Clean, Reset and prepare to do it again!

Mistakes in Technique

Failure to TASTE. Taste as you cook. Failure to use a knife properly. Learn good technique and don’t hurry.

Failure to use heat properly. Don’t cook everything on high heat, but don’t be afraid to turn it up and cook.

Failure to be attentive. You have to pay attention. Listen, smell and watch what you are doing.

Good Information – Neat Things to Know

About Tools

Learn how to work from a sheet pan (cookie sheet) it will keep you organized. Get a timer. Set it to remind yourself to check things. COOK by temperature, not time.

Keep a tasting spoon in your pocket or close by. When you taste, fill the tasting spoon from the dish you are cooking using the utensil you are cooking with. Don’t do this over the cooking dish and don’t let the ladle or big spoon touch your tasting spoon.  Then taste from your tasting spoon. That way, what you put into your mouth never touches what you are cooking.

About Food

Vegetables - Don’t refrigerate tomatoes; it robs them of flavor. (Cook with canned, a rare exception!) Don’t leave stuff in plastic bags in the icebox. The vegetables will get wet and nasty, and spoil.

Fish. I love fish. They are the scariest ingredient you may face. They can also be the best and cheapest!  Go to the fish market and look around. Some mighty thrifty folks are buying good stuff because they know what to do with it!!

There is a common problem with food fish everywhere. The names change for the same fish from place to place. Cobia, ling and lemon-fish are all the same fish. What is served in every restaurant as “Mahi-mahi” (As in, “Chef’s special is lemon pepper grilled Mahi-mahi, served on a bed of wild rice with kiwi fruit and shaved horseradish”) was and is known on the Gulf Coast as dolphin (no, not Flipper).

RULE ONE – So what. Learn how to choose fish based on various types, rather than a specific specie.

RULE TWO - See rule one. Cook what’s good and fresh, make the dish fit the ingredient. And, use what’s fresh!

The Law Of Fresh – The Golden Fish Rule (GFR)

GFR (1) Buy a whole fish. That way you can see what you are getting!

GFR (2) Look into his eyes. If they are clear, he is fresh; if they are cloudy, not so fresh.

GFR (3) Gills — yes, the red things. If they are bright red, that’s good. If they are a dull reddish brown color, that’s not good. If they have been removed, you can bet they were not bright red when taken out.

GFR (4) Skin—Distract the person at the fish market (point and shout, “Look at that!!”). When she turns away, gently poke the skin with your finger; if the dent does not spring back—not so fresh.

                      (a) If you must buy fillets, buy them with the skin on, so you have a fighting chance at figuring out what kind of fish this is.

                       (b) If you buy fillets, and there are “gaps” between the muscular striations in the fish, the fish is not fresh.

GFR (5) Smell. This is the most important of the five. Fish should smell like nothing, except maybe cold water. It should not smell like “fish.” What we associate with “fish” smell is usually spoiled fish.

Pork Loin vs. Pork Tenderloin -- Pork Tenderloin and Pork Loin are not the same cut of meat. The names are almost the same, and they both come from the same basic part of the animal, so this is confusing. Here is the difference: The Pork Loin is a big tubular shaped muscle that is found on either side of the pig’s backbone. This muscle powers the animal’s back – so gets some real work. The Pork Tenderloin is a much smaller tubular shaped muscle on the other side – the inside – of the pig’s ribs. This muscle does not do much. If you have ever seen a porterhouse steak, you are looking at the same muscles on a cow. One is much more tender than the other. Both are good! You’ve eaten lots of pork loin (every time you eat a pork chop) and maybe a little tenderloin!

More ingredient stuff to come here

Use Your ThermoPen. Cook to Temperature – Times are just estimates!

ThermoWorks-Approved Table of Chef-Recommended Temperatures


Medium Rare


Medium Well

Well Done

Beef, Veal & Lamb

Roasts, Steaks & Chops

125°F (52°C)*

130°F (54°C)*

140°F (6∆°C)*

150°F (65°C)*

160°F (71°C)*


Roasts, Steaks & Chops

145°F (63°C)*

160°F (71°C)*

Minimum Done Temperatures for Food Safety

Ground Meat: Beef, Veal & Lamb*

160°F (71°C)

Pork Ribs, Shoulders & Sausage (raw)

160°F (71°C)

Ham (raw)

160°F (71°C)

Ham (pre-cooked)

140°F (6∆°C)

Egg Dishes

160°F (71°C)

Chicken, Turkey & Duck (whole or pieces)*

165°F (74°C)

Stuffing (in the bird)

165°F (74°C)


140°F (6∆°C)

Tuna, Swordfish & Marlin

125°F (52°C)

Casseroles & Leftovers

165°F (74°C)

Water temperatures (at sea level, click here to calculate the boiling point where you are)


160-180°F (71-82°C)

Low Simmer

180°F (82°C)


185°F (85°C)

Slow Boil

205°F (96°C)

Rolling Boil

212°F (100°C)

Other Recommended Food Temperatures

Bread: Rich Dough

170°F (77°C)

Bread: Lean Dough

190-200°F (88-93°C)

Water temp to add yeast…

105-115°F (41-46°C)

Butter: Chilled

35°F (2°C)

Butter: Softened

65-67°F (18-19°C)

Butter: Melted & Cooled

85-90°F (29-32°C)

Candy or Sugar Syrup Temperatures


230-234°F (110-112°C)


Soft Ball

234-240°F (112-116°C)

Fondant, Fudge & Pralines

Firm Ball

244-248°F (118-120°C)


Hard Ball

250-266°F (121-130°C)

Divinity & Nougat

Soft Crack

270-290°F (132-143°C)


Hard Crack

300-310°F (149-154°C)

Brittles, Lollipops & Hardtack


320-350°F (160-177°C)

Flan & Caramel Cages

Split and Roasted Chicken

Prep: 10 Minutes

Cook 30Minutes

This works well with little, cheap fryers. Open the package of chicken over the sink. Raw chicken juice is nasty and will keep you locked in the bathroom for days if you eat it.

Rinse the chicken with cold water, dry it, and put it on a clean cutting board. Take your cook’s knife and cut along the back of the chicken right along the backbone. It is easiest to do this with the chicken tail end up. You just cut right down along the backbone. Your knife has to be sharp before this will work.

Ask your brother, dad or boy-friend what Spatchcock means.

If you want to be really thrifty, put the backbone in a pot of simmering water on the stove (you are making chicken stock here). Cut off the wing tips and lay the chicken down on your cutting board and flatten it with your hand. Dry the chicken with paper towels. IF you use a dishcloth, DON’T use that dishcloth for anything else until you launder it.

Heat oil in your iron skillet on the top of the stove. Use enough oil to cover the entire bottom of the skillet with oil that is a deep as a nickel is thick.

Turn the oven on to 350.

Salt and pepper the chicken on both sides. If you have some other powdered spice that you like, use it.

Put the chicken in the skillet, skin side down. It will pop a little (a lot if you did not dry it). Don’t worry about that.

Cut up an onion into big chunks and put them next to the chicken on the edge of the skillet. Do the same with the garlic and lemons – olives are good, too!

Let the chicken cook for a minute, skin side down. Take your tongs and turn it over so it is now skin side up. Let it cook like that for another minute or two.

Put the whole thing, skillet, chicken and all, in the oven. Set your timer for 20 minutes.

Check the temperature after 20 minutes. You will probably need to cook it for another 10 minutes. It is done when your temperature is 165 degrees F.

I think many cooks are afraid of undercooked meats. A good thermometer is a cook’s best friend.—Emeril Lagasse

Cutlets (Schnitzel, chicken-fried steak)

This is a recipe that is really much more about technique than anything else. You are going to cook a very thin piece of meat in a skillet after dredging it in flour, egg and bread crumbs.


Take a piece of chicken breast, pork or steak and lay it down on your cutting board. With a tenderizing mallet, pound the meat until it is thin – about twice as thick as a piece of regular bacon. It will help if you pound and push a little bit as you pound. Cover the meat with Saran wrap – spray a little water on the wrap from a spray bottle — and pound through that. This is an Alton Brown trick that really works!

After all the meat is pounded thin, pat the meat dry with a paper towel. This is critical.

Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Lots.

Then, set up your breading station. Take three plates, bowls or shallow baking dishes (they work best). Put flour in the first one, egg in the middle one and bread crumbs in the last one. It is better if you make your own bread crumbs, and all that. However, this is not that kind of cookbook. Use the store-bought.

After you have this set up, have a large tray ready to hold the prepared meat.

Then – using the famous and well respected “wet hand/dry hand” technique (see -- with your dry hand drag the meat through the flour, shake off all that will shake off, then dip in the egg, then drag through the bread crumbs.

Put the meat on a large tray. The best thing is a sheet pan (cookie sheet) covered with parchment paper. If you don’t have that, but the meat on a real big plate and put it in the ice box – yes, the ice box. Let it stay in there for 20 minutes or so.

Meanwhile, heat oil in your skillet. It needs to be hot – 360 F. Check it with your Thermopen.

Then, place one cutlet in the hot oil. Wait two minutes, turn over, take out after about a minute and a half.

Keep warm in the oven if you need to.


Boned chicken breasts are a foolish extravagance. The

meat dries out and is very expensive. But, if someone gives you a package of chicken breasts, cook with them!

Nobody cooks anymore. To me, to watch your parents cook, and to have a house that smells warm and delicious, is a very vital memory that I think kids don’t really have anymore.—Tyler Florence

Chicken Thighs & Legs

Prep 5 minutes

Cook 20 Minutes


Take thawed chicken legs and thighs from the ice box and dry them well with paper towels. Salt and pepper them. You can leave the legs and thighs in once piece, or divide them. (See above on how to do that) They will cook a little faster if cut into two pieces. Heat oil in the bottom of a big sauté pan or skillet. The oil should just cover the bottom of the pan.

You can season the chicken with what ever you like. Be creative here – try a little curry or seasoning mix if you like. I have set out a version with a cream sauce and a tomato sauce. Season either as you like.

Place the chicken skin side down in the bottom of the pan. If it is dry it will not pop and sizzle too much. Let the pieces brown. Turn them over and brown on the other side. Take them out of the pan with your tongs and set aside on a plate or tray. They are still raw, and we’re going to finish them in a minute.

Put the onions first, then the garlic and then the tomatoes in the hot pan. Stir them around and let them cook for a couple of minutes. Then, pour in a little white wine. Stir to get the tiny pieces of left behind chicken into the mix. The liquid should be about as deep in the pan as your thumb is wide.

Cream Sauce Version

Start the dish the same was as above, but don’t let the chicken get hot enough to really brown. Then, after you take the chicken out, melt a chunk of butter half as big as an egg in the bottom of the skillet. Turn the heat way down! Put in chopped garlic and onion. You will want to cut the onion into smaller pieces for the cream sauce version. Stir around until the onion and garlic are limp, but don’t brown. Pour in a little white wine and stir to get the little left behind pieces of chicken into the mix. Turn the heat back up. Pour in a little cream and stir. You want the liquid about as deep as your little finger is wide.


Put the chicken back in the pan, put the heat on low and cover the pan with a tight fitting lid.

Let this simmer for about 20 minutes, then check with your Thermopen. When the chicken reaches 165 F, it is done. If it’s not done in 20 minutes, check every 5 minutes until it reaches that temp. 

Roasted Egg Plant/Squash/Onions or other Vegetables

Eggplant or Squash winter or summer (Hard or Soft) Zucchini, Onions, Sweet (Bell) Peppers.

You can cook potatoes this way by cutting them into cubes or sweet potatoes by cutting them into slices.

This is a great way to cook vegetables. Don’t be shy with the salt or the olive oil. This is great with chicken; add rice and you’ve got a nice meal.

Cut the vegetables lengthwise. Arrange them on a sheet pan. You can also do this in an oven-proof skillet.

Sprinkle with plenty of kosher salt, and then squirt down with plenty of olive oil.

Preheat the oven to 350 or so and put the vegetables in the oven.

Check in 15 minutes. They should be done in 20 minutes. Serve when tender.

These are good hot or at room temperature.

You can also scatter mint leaves or some other fresh herb on them right before serving.

Vegetables -- What’s In Season When?






Onions and Leeks




Sweet Potatoes and Yams


Winter Squash






Green Beans

Honeydew Melon




Onions and Leeks










Bell Peppers











Green Beans

Honeydew Melon


Lima Beans








Summer Squash and Zucchini








Brussels Sprouts












Sweet Potatoes

Winter Squash

Roast Chicken


This is one of the best things to cook --- ever. If you roast a chicken well, you’ll always have a party meal, or just something good for yourself. You can use those little fryers that are so cheap at the store, or a larger roasting hen. Don’t make a mistake and buy a stewing hen and try to roast it – it will be so tough an alligator couldn’t eat it.  (If this does happen to you, however, toss the roasted bird into a big pot of seasoned water and cook slowly for a couple of hours – but that’s another story).

Preheat the over to 450 F.

Dry the chicken with paper towels, then salt and pepper the bird inside and out.

Truss the bird by tucking the wing tips under the bird (you can also chop them off). Then, with the legs of the bird facing you, tie the legs together. Then pass the string along each side of the bird and tie at the top of the chicken’s neck, which is sticking out of the other side of the bird. Tie it tightly with a good seaman like square knot. The video will show that this is all a lot easier than it sounds.

Rub room-temperature butter all over the chicken. You can also stuff the chicken under the skin with butter – either by itself or butter mixed with chopped sage or oregano or other herbs.

Chop an onion and scatter the pieces in the bottom of a roasting pan or skillet. This will give the chicken something to sit on top of so it really roasts and does not steam. If you have a roasting pan with a rack, so much the better.

Squirt a little oil on the chicken after placing it on its side.  After making sure the oven is hot, put the chicken in the oven and set a timer for 5 minutes. When the timer goes off, baste the chicken with oil and butter. After it has roasted a while, you’ll have plenty of this on the bottom of the pan. At first, just use oil or melted butter. Then, turn the chicken on its other side. Set the timer and repeat. Then, turn the chicken breast up for five minutes.

You have now browned the chicken. Turn the heat down to 350F and place it on its side again. Set the timer for 15 minutes and baste about half way through that time. Then, turn on the other side and repeat the process, finally turn breast up. This time, after you baste, check your temp.  When it passes 162F it will be done after it finishes resting. (Chicken must be 165F to be done. Juices should be clear. The French cook chicken “pink” but I don’t. However, don’t over-cook!! Take it out at 162F!

Put the chicken on a cutting board and cover it with a dish towel or foil. This aids in letting the residual heat finish cooking the chicken. Let it rest for 10 to 20 minutes. movie::file://localhost/Users/francescoleman/Movies/iMovie%20Events.localized/New%20Event%204-7-14/

Then carve (see above).  I use an 8-inch cook’s knife here, because that’s the one knife everyone should have. If you have a carving knife – use it!

Great dish, very versatile and actually easy to do pretty well!  

Chicken Livers & Pasta

This is an easy dish that is cheap and good, provided you like liver.

Slice an onion.

Take a pound of chicken livers and wash them in the sink, drain them well, and lay them on paper towels to dry them a little.

Salt and pepper them aggressively.

Heat a layer of oil as thick two nickels in your sauté pan.  When the oil is hot, place the sliced onion in the pan. The onions should not burn or brown (if they do, turn the heat down – or take the pan off the heat) Salt the onions as soon as you put them in the pan. After the onions have softened a little, put the livers in the pan. Lay them in the pan one at a time until you are out of liver, or until there is about as much liver as onion in the pan. Don’t dump them in all at once. Let them brown for 5 minutes.

Now put your dried pasta (fettuccini, spaghetti – whatever long pasta you have) in boiling salted water.

Then, put in about 1/3 cup of red wine in the livers. Let this simmer for about 10 minutes. You can mash the livers up a little here – but I don’t do that because it makes the dish so ugly.

After the pasta has cooked about 6 minutes, put it in the pan with the liver.

Toss in a handful of parsley and mix the dish up with your tongs. Squirt a little olive oil on this, sprinkle with cheese and serve in pasta bowls.

You can also put some frozen peas in this dish and simmer with white wine (rather than red; keeps the peas from being purple), if you want to stretch things a bit.

Roast Pork Loin

Score! You’ve got in your hungry little hands the very best cut of pork meat, (Pork Tenderloin) or a darn good cut (Pork Loin). If you missed the difference – see the stuff on ingredients. Pork Loin if often on sale for a great price. If the one in the store is too big for what you need fresh. Buy it and cut it into thirds. Freeze what you don’t eat that week.

Lay the pork loin on your cutting board, make sure it will fit into a pot for which you have a cover. Trim the tough silver skin from the roast. See the picture here, or Google “trim silverskin” and you’ll see how.

Then, smear mustard all over the tenderloin. The best way to do this is with the back of a spoon. Then, lay the bacon lengthwise on the roast and tie it on with cotton kitchen twine.

Dry the roast with a kitchen towel and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Heat a little oil in the bottom of a pan. Brown the whole roast. Let it brown on all sides. Turn it with tongs. Don’t poke holes in your roast!!

Put in the oven with onions, garlic cloves, and half a cup of white wine or water. Put the cover on the pot and check on it every 30 minutes or so. It should be done in about 1-1/2 hours. Check with a meat thermometer. When the internal temp is 160 degrees F, take it out!! Let it sit in the pan out of the over for at least 10 minutes.

Take the roast out of the pan. Put the pan on the stovetop and turn the heat on high.  Add a little hot water and pepper and scrape the good little tasty bits from the bottom of the pan.  When this thickens up, put it aside as a sauce.  (If you have a little white wine around, you can pour it in the pan when you start roasting the meat. If you don’t have wine, use water.

Slice the roast and serve with the gravy.

How To Cook Rice

There are lots of ways to cook rice, and a lot of them are good ways. The “right” way to cook rice in our world is as follows:

Put two cups rice and three cups water in the saucepan with two big (three finger) pinches of salt. Put in a chunk of butter half as big as an egg.

Turn the heat on high. When you see steam coming from under the lid, turn the heat down between medium and low (depending on your stove). In about 17 minutes the water will be evaporated and the rice will be perfect. Keep any “lid lifting” to an absolute minimum.

Cooking perfect rice like this is all about finding the perfect combination of pan, heat and volume of ingredients. Once you get the hang of cooking rice with a certain pan on a certain stove at certain heat settings, it will be easy and predictable.

You can skip all of this by getting a good rice cooker. The place to buy them is in an Asian store. There are some no-good ones out there – but the Asian stores seem to carry ones that really work well. It is a noble investment.

How to Cook Beans

This is how to cook beans – other than lentils -- which don’t require any soaking.

Beans are dried so they will keep. When you want to cook them you have to replace the water that they lost when dried. You can do this the thrifty way, by soaking them overnight. To do this, put them in a pot and cover them with a couple of inches of water. Keep them in the icebox if you want. If you want to shorten the process, put water and beans on the eye of the stove and bring them to a boil, then turn off the heat and let the soak. This will cut to soak time in half. If you try to cook dried beans in the dish itself – it will “work” but the cooking time will be three times what it would be with pre-soaked beans. Soaking beans overnight was always an economy measure.[3] It took no fuel to heat the water. You can always cook dried beans in water without presoaking. However, it takes forever and you’ll have to keep adding water.

Last thing: Don’t cook them in the water you soaked them in. Pour it out and start with fresh. Your diners will smile more and fart less if you pour out the soak water.

Cook beans till tender. Presoaked take about 2 hours. If you boil and soak a little less time. Still, don’t rush it! If you get the heat up too high, the beans on the top part of the pot will insulate the beans on the bottom – and they will surely burn and stick!

Green  Things

When I first met my wife, I would do anything to get her into my dingy little apartment. Here is the dish that I cooked for her. She later said she really liked those “Green Things.” She has turned into to a better eater as the years have passed, but she still likes Green Things.

Cut the meat into little strips. If you put the meat in the freezer for about 2 hours this will be really easy.

Cut the onions into eights (cut in half, half that, then half again. Math lesson.)

Quarter the tomatoes. Use fresh not canned here.

Cut the peppers into strips

Slice the ginger

Put a tablespoon of cornstarch into the bottom of a glass. Put in just a little water and stir. Put in a little more water and stir some more. Pour in about an inch of soy sauce, and twice that much wine, beer or sherry.

Put your wok over the heat. You can do this in a skillet, but a wok works much better. Squirt a little oil in the bottom of the wok. Put a small handful of meat in the center of the pan, and stir it around, as it browns, push it up the side of the wok and put more meat in the center and cook. Then do the same with the onions, then ginger, then peppers, then tomatoes. Finally, stir up the mixture in the glass and pour it over everything. Stir the mixture well so that it comes into contact with all the other ingredients.

Turn the heat down to low. Cover and simmer for 10 minutes. Eat with rice.

Slow-Cooked Cow (Sheep, Pig, Goat, Deer, Water Buffalo, etc.)

This can be beef, or any tough cut of meat. This is a universal recipe that you can use to cook pork shoulder, beef cheeks, rump roast or any other “economy” cut. Just remember, dry the meat before you brown it. Brown the meat well, and season aggressively. The cheaper the cut – the better this dish usually is. Don’t be afraid to change up the cooking liquid. You can use wine, beer, water, stock, pasta water or what ever else you can drink.

Cut the meat in to pieces about the size of an egg. Cut the vegetables into chunks just small enough to fit onto a spoon. Finely chop the garlic. Open those cans (tomatoes and tomato paste) and start cooking.

Dry the pieces of meat with a dish towel. This is critical!

Salt and pepper the meat. Use lots!

Roll the meat around in flour. You need to dust the meat with flour, but that’s all.

Heat the oil in the bottom of the heaviest deep pan you have. This is where you really need a Dutch oven. (You can use a wok.)

Put the meat into the hot oil a handful at a time.  If you want, you can cook bacon in the bottom of the pan and brown in the bacon fat. This adds flavor to your dish.

Let it brown. Don’t rush this process. You don’t have to stir it around all the time.  You have to get the oil got enough to brown the meat. If it smokes, turn it down.

As the meat browns, take it from the pan and set it aside. You can put it in the lid of the Dutch oven, or on a sheet pan.

When all of the meat is browned, put the onions and hard vegetables in the pot. Let them cook until the onions look clear and not white.

Put the tomato paste in the bottom of the pan. Frying that sweet tomato paste in the pan will give a lot of flavor.

Dump in the tomatoes, juice and all.

Put the meat back in, and then pour in the liquid until it nearly covers the meat.

Put in the herbs.

Place the whole thing – covered—in the oven at 350 for two hours. Check every 30 minutes. You don’t want the pot to dry out, and you don’t want the meat to cook to mush. Take a little out and taste it.

Check and make sure the meat is tender. If the sauce is too thin, take the meat out and boil the sauce until it gets thicker. You’ll have to stir some as you do this to keep the sauce from burning on the bottom of the pan.

Cabbage & Sausage

This is a great, cheap, easy dish. The only real caution is – don’t burn it.

Cut the sausage into serving size pieces, about as long as your finger. Cut the onion into chunks. Cut the cabbage in quarters, and cut out the stem. Put your cast iron skillet on medium heat. Put sausages (and bacon if you have it) on medium heat. Put enough water in the skillet to come halfway up the sausages. You may want to prick a few holes in the sausage. The water will evaporate from the pan, leaving behind the fat from the sausage. You’ll cook the vegetables in that. If you need more fat in the pan, add oil.

Put the onions and garlic in the pan first, then the cabbage, then salt and season. Turn the heat on low, stir and cover. Check on this at least every 10 minutes. When the cabbage is done, eat.

Pasta and Sauce

This is what you cook when you are broke, tired and hungry. Use pretty much what ever is in the ice box in this.

The key point: Don’t overcook the pasta. Mix the pasta and sauce together in the sauté pan.

Season aggressively.

Bring water to a boil in the biggest pot you have. Salt it with a small handful of salt (yes, it should be as salty as sea water, and this will be the main salting of the whole dish.)

As the water heats on the back burner, put your sauté pan on the front burner and let the pan heat up for one minute. Then squirt about two tablespoons of olive oil in the pan.  Put the sausage in the pan and brown it.  Keep the sausage moving so it does not burn.

Put the onions in the pan.

Turn the heat down to medium.

Put the garlic in the pan. If you burn the garlic, you have to start over!

After a minute the onions will look soft and translucent. Put in the tomato paste. You want it to brown in the oil.

Then, put in the tomatoes only – no juice. If you need to put in juice to thin the sauce, you can do that later.

You can add a little splash of red wine.

Season this with oregano if you have it, thyme, or just about any savory seasoning.

Now, reduce the heat, cover the sauce, and let it cook for about 10 to 15 minutes.

Add the pasta to the water. You’ll have about 8 minutes before the whole dish is ready.

Cook the dried pasta in the water for about four minutes. Then, fish a little piece of pasta out with your tongs. Let it cook and taste it. When it is just barely crunchy (just a little resistance) take the pasta out with your tongs and put it right into the hot sauce. The idea is to let the pasta finish cooking in the sauce. Turn the heat up full blast. This will evaporate the pasta water that will get into the sauté pan with the pasta.

Combine the two with your tongs, put on plates and grate hard cheese over the top, and eat. Drink red wine.

Pasta Carbonara

Pasta With Cheese and Eggs

There are lots of theories about how this dish got its name. All revolve around the little black specks of pepper that look like coal dust or bits of ash. I suppose it sounds better than “Pasta With Specks of Dirt.” Anyway, this is a very simple, and good, dish which is all technique! One thing, no matter what the other recipes say: no cream. On second thought, use cream if you want to – but understand that it is a crutch to keep the sauce “creamy.”

Do the following carefully!

Drain the pasta, put it in the hot oil and stir it with your tongs to coat the pasta with oil.

Then, turn the heat off – or take off the heat – and pour the eggs and cheese mixture in the pan and stir for two or three minutes. If you don’t turn the heat off, you will get scrambled eggs! If the egg and cheese mixture is not turning into a sauce (staying a little too liquid) put a lid on the pan for a minute and stir again.

Put in as much ground pepper as you like. (At least a teaspoon, Carlo!)

Garnish with green onions, or add whatever you like in pasta – make sure it is not something cold. Salt to taste.


Eggs! Cheap, good, available, quick – and a most mistreated ingredient!

Ask yourself, “Have I ever seen”:

Sure you have!! These are all the product of bad technique in egg cookery!

Let’s slay these dragons one at a time, and then tell how to avoid having them ever sneak onto a plate again.

A hard-cooked (never hard-boiled) egg gets green around the yellow and tough whites because it is overcooked!

A pan-fried egg gets that nasty crispy bit because it is cooked over high heat. Heat turns egg protein into a hard, nasty bits.

Scrambled eggs that have liquid oozing out after they are served were cooked or held on high heat. They will also look dry and grainy when they are overcooked.

Here is the right way.

Hard-Cooked Eggs

This is how Jacques Pepin cooks eggs:

1. Add water to a pot that will just cover the eggs and heat to boiling.

2. While water is warming up, take a thumb- tack and pierce a small hole in the round end of each egg. (Optional, but it works)

3. When the water is boiling add the eggs.

4. Set timer for exactly 10 minutes.

5. Chill in cold water and ice, peel under running water.

A production method, if you’ve got a lot of eggs to cook:

Bring enough water to cover the number of eggs you have to a boil.

Lower the eggs into the water. (Use a strainer or basket). Turn down to simmer and cook for 12 minutes for a medium egg and 15 for a large egg. Take out of the water, put in ice and water, and peel.

This is how you cook eggs when you have lots of them to do. While you are peeling, the other eggs are cooking. You don’t re-heat the water from stone cold for every batch.

Poached Eggs

This is how to poach an egg without a silly “egg poacher.”  Put about three fingers of water into a skillet or other shallow large pan. (The water needs to be deep enough so your eggs don’t touch the bottom of the pan when you poach them). Put in tablespoon of vinegar and two big pinches of salt.

Heat the water to 180 degrees F.

Crack the eggs onto a saucer and slip them into the water. They will sink, and then rise to the top. Don’t fret over the little strings of egg white that stream away from the egg. The fresher the eggs are, the less of this you’ll have.

Take them out after about 3-1/2 minutes. Lay them gently onto a dishtowel and trim off the “streamers.” Drain and refrigerate for use later. You can reheat them by dunking in hot water for 30 seconds to a minute. Serve hot!

Poached eggs are great on a biscuit, over corned beef hash, over a hamburger, or just on a plate!

Monkey Cup -- In the days when egg quality was not a sure as it is today, eggs were always broken into a cup – and never right into the dish being cooked. This avoided spoiling the whole dish with one “bad egg.” The cup is called a “monkey cup.”

Fried Eggs

First, last, always – LOW HEAT WHEN THE EGGS ARE COOKING. That crackling sound you hear when an egg hit the pan is the sound of a poorly cooked egg!

Heat the oil in the pan until it is hot, but not smoking. If cooking with butter, it should not even foam.  

Crack an egg into a saucer. Then, turn the heat to the lowest setting and slide the egg into the pan.  

For “sunny side up,” tilt the pan so that the fat collects in one side. Then, use a tablespoon to baste the egg with fat.

When the whites are “white” (that is, they have turned white and are not liquid) Turn them over with a spatula or flip them in the pan. Finish 30 seconds for over easy, a minute for over medium and two minutes for over well. You can also cut these times a little by putting a plate over the pan. This will warm the plate and speed the process. Be careful! That plate will be hot when you take it off!

Season with salt and pepper by pouring the other pan of hot butter that has been seasoned over the eggs, and serve.

Here is a recipe from a master.


Fernand Point judged the merit of a cook by the way he made fried eggs. This is way, despite his kindness and understanding, he would thunder out, “Stop, you wretch, that’s a farce!” whenever one of his apprentices did not fry eggs according to the method indicated below.

Melt some butter in a small skillet but do not let it sizzle. Break fresh eggs onto a plate and slip them into the skillet. Cook over very low heat so that the whites of the eggs become creamy and the yolks are hot. In another pan melt some unsalted butter very gently. Salt and pepper it lightly and pour it over the eggs at the last moment.

Fernand Point  -- from Ma Gastronomie

Omelet (French)

There is so much written about omelets, and how hard they are to do well. They are really pretty easy to do pretty well – and hard to do perfectly.

You need: A small omelet pan (Non stick is a wonderful thing). If you want to tough it out and not use a nonstick pan – this will be much harder up to impossible depending on your pan. Google “omelet pans” if you want to go nuts on this subject, or use a small non-stick omelet pan like you see here.

Three large eggs. The bigger the pan, the more eggs you use! If you have really fresh eggs (from a friend who raises chickens) this is the place to use them!

Here is how to do it. Concentrate and have confidence in yourself! You will be making great omelets by the 16th try! (This one is not perfect; it shows a little brown on the outside!)

Here (if you are watching the video on the computer version of this book) we discover how strong my Southern accent really is. Also, Notice the Great Dane ambling past. He’s looking for a handout – not a

I have known some noble Great Danes: The affable and friendly Sampson, the fiercely loyal (and a little psycho) Atticus, the sweetest dog, Steele; Fletcher, who proves spotted dogs have more fun; the wily and confident Schofield; and of course Beauregard, the undisputed King Of Dogs.

Scrambled Eggs

Mix the eggs and seasonings in a bowl. You can add a little water or milk to stretch things if you like.

Heat a pan over medium heat and add butter. You should have enough to cover the bottom of the pan. TURN THE HEAT DOWN LOW.

Pour the eggs into the pan and stir constantly with a wooden spoon or heatproof spatula. The key is to keep the heat low, and stir constantly. If you can’t get the heat low enough, do this in a double boiler. When the eggs are done, but still moist. Remove from the heat and serve.

Eggs Jeanette

This is a dish Jacques Pepin describes in several of his books. He named it after his mother. It is simply the old method of hard cooking eggs (or using eggs you have cooked and left in the ice box) with any kind of leftover you have that is fine enough and taste good enough to stuff into an egg.

Split the hard cooked eggs in half lengthwise and take the yellow out and put the yellow in a bowl.

Smash up the yolks and leftover into a paste. Don’t overdo it, just smush up enough to combine.  If the mixture if too wet, add some breadcrumbs or cooked rice or whatever you have.  If you have parsley or some other green stuff, chop that up and add to the mix.

Stuff the mixture into the eggs. You will have enough to mound the stuffing over the top of the eggs.

Heat oil or butter in a skillet. Place the eggs stuffing down in the skillet. Cook over low heat to warm everything through.

Put on a plate and pour the hot oil or butter over the eggs.

Quiche Lorraine (a/k/a Egg Pie)

This is a long recipe – but really easy to do. It is not difficult and is a real money saver.

A specially made quiche dish[4], a plain metal pie pan or anything you can put in the oven that is a deep as your trusty skillet – which will work too.

This dish was all the rage when I was a young man. It was sold with visions of winsome French lasses sipping cool white wine and looking over the table – with something more than dessert in mind.

In fact, it is a farm house staple for using leftovers.

Pastry – Optional!!

Oh, no! Pastry!! Here is the key: “3-2-1.”

 To make a simple pastry combine three parts dry ingredients by weight. (salt, flour, sugar (if sweet), with two parts shortening by weight (butter, lard, vegetable shortening – if you use lard, try cutting back just a little) and one part liquid by weight.

Mix up the dry stuff, put the shortening in. Make sure it is cold! Rub it into the flour with your fingertips. Until it is all combined.

Add liquid in one shot and mix with your hands to combine.  Mix this up with your hands only enough to get it into a big soft ball.

Wrap it up in plastic and put in the ice box for 30 minutes. You have to do this.

Take out and roll out, so a pie pan will lay upside down over the dough with about three finger-widths hanging out under the pan.

Grease the pan. Flour the inside. (Roll flour around the inside to coat the pan. Toss out what does not stick to the buttered surface. Put the dough into the pan. It is easier to roll it onto a rolling pin to do this, but not necessary.

Using a fork, poke holes in the dough on the bottom of the pie pan. This is fun: it’s called “docking” and helps keep the dough from rising up.  Put paper or foil over the pan. Place another pan inside the one with the pastry and on top of the paper or foil. (You are “blind baking” the shell, just like a pro.) Granny [not mine – neither of mine could cook at all] poured dried beans or what she called “pie weights” into the pan and put the pan in the oven.  You’ll have to do this too, unless you have two pie pans that nest together.

Put the dough into a 350-degree F oven for about 12 minutes. Take it out when it is dry, but before it gets brown.

What happens if you skip the whole pie-crust thing?

Then, grease the pan thoroughly, don’t put in any flour, and start at “FILLING.” You will not make a Quiche, but will have a noble dish called a Frittata.

FILLINGMacintosh HD:Users:francescoleman:Pictures:iPhoto Library.photolibrary:Previews:2015:04:04:20150404-074807:WEJl5guZQOa1RAHhfLFLZA:IMG_1235.jpg

Gather up leftover vegetables, cooked meat, leftover bacon, roasted vegetables and whatever else you can imagine would taste good cooked in eggs.

Place all of these ingredients onto the blind baked pie crust – or onto the pan.

Beat the eggs in a bowl.  Season with salt, pepper or whatever you like.

Pour this into the dish and put in a 350-degree F oven for 40 minutes. It is done when a knife stuck into it comes out clean.

If you don’t use a crust.

Set the skillet or other dish into a shallow pan of water placed in the oven. Bake the same amount of time. This is called a “bain-marie” or water bath, and will keep the eggs from overcooking on the bottom. Easy to do, but important!Macintosh HD:Users:francescoleman:Pictures:iPhoto Library.photolibrary:Masters:2015:04:04:20150404-074819:IMG_1239.JPG

Egg Gratain

Get all your stuff ready! Have a sauce pan of simmering water. Put a pin hole in the large end of each egg with a thumb-tack. Yeah! Stick a hole in the egg!!!

Put the eggs in the water and simmer for 6 minutes. While that is going, put a tablespoon of butter in a small saucepan and whisk about the same amount of flour in. Cook for two minutes, then pour in about ½ a cup of milk. If the sauce gets too thick, add a little more milk. It is important that you use whole milk for this. Then cook and stir. This will cook the raw flour taste out of the béchamel you have created.[5] Set it aside. After the 6 minutes are done on the eggs (these are soft-cooked) take them out of the water, and put them in a bowl with water and ice. Then, peel the eggs. A very fresh egg is harder to peel, so use some that are older if you can. Set the eggs aside

Put an oven proof pan on the stove. Your skillet will work well if you don’t have a sexy little pan like this. If you are using a nice soft green like spinach, the water you used to wash the green is all the water you need. If you have old nasty collards or something, you will need to add a little water. Cook them until they are just wilted or tender – just a minute for spinach, longer for the collards.

To put this together, place the eggs on top of the greens. Spoon the sauce over the eggs. If you broke an egg a little – cover it up! Sprinkle plenty of cheese over the whole thing. Run it under to broiler to melt the cheese – but don’t burn it! Toast some bread. Plate it up and eat!!

Fish in a Sack (Fish in Foil, Pompano en Papillote)

This is a dish that is so easy, and so good, you should cook it all the time. (Try this method with chicken breasts too. They take a little longer to cook) You can use any fish here that is not really oily. Never get hung up on what particular fish you use, think instead about what type of fish. (Oily or not). This works well with fillets or with a small whole fish. Don’t listen to people who say “Croakers aren’t good to eat” or so forth. If it’s in the fish market, it is probably OK.

Start with a fillet of fish or a small whole fish. Fish should have:

Preheat the oven to 350.

Season the fish with salt and pepper. Chop vegetables into small dice. Use what you have. Onions, squash, peppers, eggplant, tomatoes, what ever. Salt the vegetables aggressively.  


Tear a square of foil (parchment paper if you’re fancy). Fold it into a triangle. Unfold the square and place the vegetables in the middle of the “seam” where you folded the foil. Put the fish on top of the vegetables. Splash on a little oil, along with some water or wine. Fold the foil back into a triangle and crimp up the edges into a nice little triangular package. If you are using foil, you can also make a little rectangular package.

Put the package on a sheet pan and place in the preheated oven. Check in 12 minutes. The internal temp of the fish should be 125F.

It cooks pretty quickly! If you are using parchment paper, put the whole thing on a platter or plate. You then open it right before eating. Because tinfoil looks a little like snarky, you can also just slide the fish and vegetables onto a plate. Open and enjoy.

Fish, Roman Style

Here is a quick and easy way to cook a whole fish. It works well with any non-oily fish (Snapper, Mullet, Croaker, etc.)

Take the whole fish – head on is fine – and cut slashes in the fish about an inch apart.  Dray the fish with a dish towel. Salt and pepper the fish all over inside and out.  If you are using fillets, season them.

Put your skillet on top of the stove and pour in a little oil – just enough to cover the bottom of the skillet. Let it get hot.  

Put the fish in the skillet. It will snap and pop a little, but that’s ok. After a minute, take your tongs and turn the fish over. After another minute take the fish out of the skillet. (I know, it is not done yet!)

Then, put a small handful of chopped onions in the bottom of the skillet. Then add the garlic. When the onions have changed from white to almost clear (translucent), put in the frozen peas (or other small cut frozen veg).

Add a little water, only enough to cover the bottom of the skillet. (You are doing this only to not let the dry heat of the oven burn the peas!)

Put the fish on top of the peas, and put skillet and all in the oven. Set your timer for 20 minutes.  If you are cooking fillets, set the timer for 8 minutes.

When the internal temp is 125, the fish is done! 

Salt Cod

Codfish is a pretty wonderful specie. It was badly overfished, and the foundation of a huge worldwide fishing industry that goes back 500 years. You can see the book “Cod” for more information. (This book, along with the story of the pencil, the paperclip, salt and the screwdriver, is one of my favorites).

You can buy salted cod, or baccalau, in any high-dollar grocery store. It is sold in a bag or sometime a cool little wooden box. If you have the opportunity to go to Massachusetts or some other place where there are a lot of Portuguese or Spanish folks, they will have salted fillets in bins that you can dig through.

The fish is a fillet that is heavily salted. To use it, put the fillets in cold water in the ice box in a plastic container.[6] Use one fillet after it soaks only a day or so. It will be extra salty! So, use it in the first dish.

Use the other three or four fillets over the five or so days of your Codfish feast. They will keep perfectly well for that length of time as they soak. Change the water every day.


Heat butter in your cast iron skillet over low heat. While the butter is melting, cut the fillet into pieces small enough to fit on a fork. Slice the potatoes very thinly (you want them to cook quickly). Slice the onion thinly too. Slice a clove or two of garlic too. Put the onions in the skillet first. Let them cook gently until they are sort of clear and limp. Then put in the potatoes and garlic. Keep the heat on medium or low. Then, put the fish in the skillet. It will be pretty wet, but don’t worry about that. If you had some greens, spinach, collards, etc., you could put them on top of the whole thing. Then, cover this and cook for about 8 minutes. After that, take the cover off and turn the heat up a bit. You want to evaporate some of the water in the skillet. As soon as that’s done, serve and eat!

Bean Cassoulet  

Cass-you-lay – make it with whatever you have. Poor people invented most of the world’s great dishes. Here is one of them:

If using uncooked beans, soak them overnight. Then put them in a big pot with enough water to cover them by about an inch. Salt the water with about a tablespoon of salt. Turn the heat on high. Then reduce to a simmer and cook until done, about 1-1/2 hours. If you are making this in your crock-pot, assemble the dish into the crock-pot. If using cooked beans you have already done all the stuff above. You could use canned beans – which are cooked – but you’ll be better off using dried.

While the beans are cooking, season and brown the meat in a separate skillet on top of the stove. You can use chicken quarters, chunks of pork, pork neck, beef shank or whatever you have.  It is traditional and thrifty to fry bacon or pork belly in the skillet and cook in the rendered fat.

When the meat is browned, brown the onions and garlic in the drippings. Deglaze the pan (that means pour liquid in the hot pan from which you have poured most of the fat) and add the layer the cooked beans and meat and vegetables (always onions and garlic) to the pot. Ladle enough bean cooking water to have an inch of water on top of the beans.

At this point, you can put it in the icebox for the next day – or even the next.

To finish—put the crock-pot on and let it cook. The appropriate time will depend on your crock-pot. About 6 hours on low or 4 on high is a good estimate. You will check with temperature and tenderness. (Take a bite!)

If you cook this on the stove top, heat the dish gently until bubbling (if you have refrigerated  it after assembly). Then, put the dish in the oven at 350. You will need to cook this until the meat is tender. Watch it carefully. You must not let the water boil out. Remember, it is very easy to burn beans because the thick beans insulate the mixture and let the bottom get hot enough to burn. The thicker the beans get, the more likely this is.

Top with bread crumbs, and cook uncovered for about 20 additional minutes, then serve.

Refried Beans

I have been a salesman. I was pretty good. I am nothing compared to the guy who can sell cans of refried beans. This is such a cheap and easy dish, I can’t imagine why anybody buys this in a can.

When you have a cup or two of leftover red beans in the ice box, you have an opportunity to make a simple good meal.

Heat the “lipid of choice” in the bottom of your iron skillet. Place the beans in the skillet and mash them down into an even layer. Cook them slowly and only enough to get them plenty hot! You must be careful! Beans are a great insulator. That means they get hot enough to burn on the bottom, before the heat can escape from the top. Stir, stir, stir. When they are hot – and when any excess liquid has evaporated -- they are ready. If you want some seasoning, add smoked paprika  and cumin. A Mexican joint will toss in a glop or two of sour cream and a teaspoon of hot sauce. You can too, Chui. Garlic, onions are also good.

Lay out a tortilla. Spoon some of the hot bean on the middle of the tortilla. If you want to add any other leftover you have, put it in there!! Make a water buffalo tortilla if that’s what you have on hand. Roll the tortilla up. Put it in an oven-proof dish. Sprinkle a big handful of cheese on top. Repeat to make two for each person you are feeding. Put this in the oven for about 10 minutes. You can brown the cheese under the broiler if you like.

Quick! Leftovers (chicken, fish, meat)

Don’t waste food. Use leftovers by cooking them into another dish no more than 48 hours after they become “left over”

This is going to make many of your quick suppers! Cooking leftovers is critical – and certainly not an afterthought.  Plan to use leftover food when you cook a dish in the first place.

The basic idea is this: Combine left over cooked chicken, pork, beef or fish with a starch and some vegetables. Season it up and you are ready to eat!

If you have leftover cooked vegetables, with or without meat:

Make a sauce with the vegetables.  Let a sauté pan (skillet) get warm on the stove. Put in a shot of oil. If you have an onion or some garlic, slice those up and put in the pan over medium heat. If they start to get brown, turn the heat down – or take the pan off the heat. Put in the leftover cooked vegetables. If there is no liquid in the pan (“wet” vegetables like tomatoes will have some liquid), put in a little water. Stock or wine would be better – but we’re cooking on a budget here!)

Cover and turn the heat down to low. (If you have cooked meat to add in, put it in now).

While you are doing all of this, boil water in a big pot. Put a small handful of salt in the pot before you start. When the water is really boiling, put in pasta. One serving of spaghetti is about what you can hold between your thumb and forefinger (Think the “OK” gesture). Let it cook for 6 minutes. When it is a little underdone, take it out of the water with tongs and put it in the sauté pan. If the mixture is really dry, add a little of the water in which you cooked the pasta.

The idea is to dress the pasta with the vegetables, not smother the pasta. Stir around, season with lots of ground pepper and serve on plates or in shallow bowls.

If you feel more like a pasian ( part Asian) than a paesano, you can do the same think by tossing the vegetables in oil – then adding cooked rice – stir like crazy to warm everything up. If you want to add more protein, crack a raw egg in the rice and keep stirring.

Neck Bones – It’s An Art!!

This is the best and cheapest thing in the store. Pork neck bones are little irregularly shaped cuts of meat with fat and meat clinging to them. They are usually sold on a foam tray for less than any other meat product. Here’s how to make a great dish – that is so cheap!

Chop an onion roughly and scatter it in the bottom of a shallow roasting pan. (This not only adds flavor, it keeps the neck bones off the bottom of the pan – kind of.)

Place the neck bones in the pan. Season them with lots of salt and pepper.

Pour in about three tablespoons of vinegar into the pan.

Add about a quarter cup of water or enough to cover the entire bottom of the pan so the water is about as deep as your pinky is wide.

Cover the pan with tinfoil and put in a 300-degree oven for two hours.

Take the foil off the pan. You should be able to pull the meat from the bones with a fork. Taste the meat (cool it off a little first!) to make sure it is tender.

Put the pan back in the oven to brown.

Pick the meat off the bones and serve – or let each person pick the meat off himself.

Back Bone Stew

This may be one of the best simple things you’ll ever eat!

When the meat is cool, pick it off the bones. Put the bones in a big pot as you pick the meat off of them. Turn the heat under the water on high.

Pile the meat up on a plate.

Heat oil about half as deep as that pinky is wide in your skillet. When the oil is hot – not smoking, but hot -- put in a handful of flour. You can call it half a cup if you want. You want a thick pasty mix at the bottom of the skillet. (Kids, you are making a roux here. You need to know how to do this, chere’.)

Stir and stir and stir. Keep the heat on medium. When the mixture is light brown (darker is ok too!), carefully put the meat in the roux. Right away, put about a half cup or more of the water that has been boiling with the bones in.  Turn the heat to low. Stir, stir, stir. Watch this carefully. It will burn on the bottom very easily. When it gets thick, serve over rice. This is a simple “backbone stew,” which is one of the best South Louisiana dishes you’ll ever eat.  There, they call it rice and gravy.  For an authentic Cajun blessing over this dish, say – as fast as you can – blessusohlordandesedygifswhichweareabouttoreceivetrudybounitruCrisourlorrd—amen.

"My Aunt Nacine, man, she could suck a neckbone like it was a work of art!" – Richard Pryor


At the risk of incurring the ire of the black ladies across the South, who are without doubt the one best group of cooks anywhere, I will say that greens need not be cooked for hours on end.

Greens are healthy, good and, for you gardeners – easy to grow.

The first job is to wash your greens. This is a much misunderstood process!

Fill the sink up with cold water. Leave a space at the top about the width of your hand.

If you have greens (like turnips) which have big, thick stalks, tear the tender leaves away from the stalk. The idea is – avoid cooking the good part to death just to make sure the tough and fibrous stalk is done.

Put the greens in the water and swish them around on the surface of the water. (For you non-Southerners who don’t know what “swish” means – that is “agitate the greens with your hand in a vigorous back and fourth motion, taking care to keep them in a layer near the surface of the water.”)

This lets the dirt that may have clung to the greens to fall to the bottom of the sink. If you grew them yourself, you may want to salt the water to encourage any insects that have clung to the greens to give up and go away.

Old-Fashioned Method

Put the greens into a pot two thirds full of boiling water in which salt pork or other seasoning meat (neckbones, hambones etc.) have been boiling. Salt heavily.

Then, cook the greens for a long, long time – at least until they have no flavor and have taken on the texture of wet green cardboard. Serve these to your Yankee friends who you don’t want to have over to eat – ever again.

Better Method

Start cold water on the stove in a large high- sided pot. Put salt pork or other meat seasonings in the water. Salt heavily. When the water is boiling, add the washed greens. If you want to cook them completely, test them at 12 minutes. Pull out a leaf with the biggest stalk you left on the greens and see if it is tender. If so, take the greens out of the water and serve at once.

If you want to use for some other dish, take the greens from the water and put them in an ice and water bath.

Later, you can toss them in a wok with bacon, rice and other stuff.

If you have left-over greens, toss them with oil in a wok or skillet until heated through.

They are from the government – and here to help. Here is what the USDA suggests you do with greens:

Make a salad: Keep salads interesting by varying their colors, textures and varieties. Perk them up with small tender leafy greens such as romaine lettuce, spinach and arugula mixed with different kinds of tomatoes, cucumbers and carrots.

Wrap it up: Make a wrap with tuna, chicken or turkey and add romaine lettuce, spinach, arugula, and other veggies for some extra flavor.

Add to soup: Add greens with larger, tougher leaves such as collard greens, kale or mustard greens into your favorite soup.

Stir-fry: Add chopped spinach, bok choy or broccoli to chicken or tofu stir-fried with olive or canola oil with some garlic, onion or ginger.

Steamed: Steam collard greens, mustard greens, kale or spinach until they are slightly soft.

In an omelet: Add steamed broccoli and/or spinach to an egg-white omelet for a vitamin and iron rich meal.

Macaroni & Cheese

This is not the dish you think it is!

Cook the pasta in lots of salted water for no more than 7 minutes. Drain, but do not rinse with water. Let them stay hot.

Rub the bottom of a baking dish, first with a cut clove of garlic, and then with butter.

Heat the milk in another pan. Season with a big pinch of salt and a pinch of pepper.

Add all but a handful of the cheese, cream (if you have it), cooked macaroni.

Pour this into the baking dish. Sprinkle the rest of the cheese on top and put 4 or five pieces of butter on top.

Bake at 350 for one hour.

Mac ‘N Cheese is not only a Soul Food thing. It has been around for centuries! Wikipedia says: Pasta and cheese casseroles have been recorded in cookbooks as early as the 14th century's Liber de Coquina, one of the oldest medieval cookbooks. It is an Italian dish of parmesian and pasta and was brought to England in the 14th century. A cheese and pasta casserole known as makerouns was recorded in the famous medieval English cookbook, the Forme of Cury, which was written in the 14th century. It was made with fresh, hand-cut pasta which was sandwiched between a mixture of melted butter and cheese. Super-chef Paul Bocuse included Mac & Cheese in his cookbook for home cooks four decades ago.

Welsh Rabbit

This is a great cheap dish that has the added attraction of having a name that is a culinary joke. The Welsh, who were -- and probably still are -- looked down upon by the English were great lovers of roasted cheese. The dish, a concoction made of cheese by the poor Welshman who could not afford a rabbit, is cheap and good. This recipe is just a starting point -- experiment a little!!

Grate the cheese. Put the bread on a sheet pan and toast it in the broiler just to crisp it up. Take it out of the oven. In a saucepan, melt a chunk of butter about the size of a big pecan. Add a tablespoon of flour. Cook over low heat. You want to cook the flour, but not brown it. After about two minutes, pour in a half a cup of beer. Keep stirring and add cream if you have it (milk if you don’t). Keep stirring. Add about a teaspoon of dry mustard and a big pinch of Cayenne pepper. Add the cheese a little at a time, let it melt and then add a little more. Take the mixture off the heat. Rub the garlic clove on the toasted bread. Spoon the hot cheese mixture over the toasted bread. Put back under the broiler for about 30 seconds or so. WATCH IT CAREFULLY. You want the cheese to brown just a little. You can top this with a cut-up tomato, sliced-up green onion or whatever you have. Put on a hot plate and enjoy a cheap meal.Macintosh HD:Users:francescoleman:Pictures:iPhoto Library.photolibrary:Masters:2015:04:04:20150404-074712:IMG_1251.JPG


[1] The fable of the “rock soup” where many were convinced to contribute to the community “pot” to feed everyone surely has application in our lives. If we will just put some rocks in the water, others will contribute, too.  You’ve just got to start doing something!!

Humble pie comes from French  “nomble”, offal, which was cooked into pies – and not just for poor folks, either! Still, humility is a great virtue – cooked in a pie or not.

[2] Colemans refer to the refrigerator as the “ice box” and aluminum foil as “tin foil.” There is no reason for this; we just do.

[3] Like a lot of cooking lore, the fact that soaking the beans was a way to hydrate them without cooking with heat took on a life of its own. Cooking is full of false wisdom, from “sealing in the juices” to the idea that premade dinners are time savers.

[4] Everyone has one of these, right?

[5] Béchamel is a kick-ass thing. You can make it, thin it with milk or stock and vegetables and call it soup, use it for chowder – you’ll see it again here in Welsh Rabbit.

[6] Restaurant style clear hard plastic food containers are a great thing to have. They last forever and are easy to clean. You can get them with covers, but be aware real “cheffie types” cover them with shrink film. 

[7] Only Mario Batalli would come up with this phrase.