Miso Soup

Miso soup has started every sushi meal I have eaten. It's a mild, nourishing, clean and satisfying soup. It's easy to make an acceptable version at home.

It's made in two steps- dashi, or an oceanic broth of dried seaweed or kelp and bonito, which is shaved dried fish- and then the addition of miso and a couple of other ingredients to change it from broth to soup. Other than never boiling miso, there's really nowhere to go wrong.

I purchased the exotic imported ingredients at Lotus Food in Pittsburgh's colorful Strip District. The miso came in a fairly large pack, but apparently keeps indefinitely in the fridge. (I intend to make a "miso-glazed" salmon soon-- similar to Morimoto's miso-glazed black cod.) The bonito came in a "five pack" for $5.

Water dried seaweed bonito
Miso Tofu green onion


Bring six cups water to boil. Add dried seaweed and simmer for 15 minutes; drain.

Add small package (2 oz?) bonito and simmer for 20 minutes; drain.

Add half a cup of hot broth to about 1/4 cup of miso; stir to dissolve, and then mix this back into the broth.

Add half a package of tofu, chopped into 1/2" cubes, into the hot broth and let heat through. Add one finely chopped green onion. Simmer- do not let boil- for a few minutes to blend flavors.

Options: I added a couple of finely chopped shitake mushrooms and some chopped "sushi seaweed"- the kind you use to make rolls.

It tasted like the miso soup you get in restaurants.


Pot Roast or Sunday Gravy?

Ever made a dish intending it to turn out one way and have it turn into something else?

Last Saturday, spring was officially here, but winter decided to remind us that it was not yet dead, so I wanted to eat something warm, filling and comforting. I had retrieved a piece of chuck roast from the freezer the previous day. Half of it made a fine beef stew a month or so before, and I was determined to make a pot roast from the rest of it.

Oddly, I’d never made one before. Plenty of beef stews, the odd beef bourguignon, but never a pot roast. I’d eaten it frequently as a kid, often served with mashed potatoes and green beans. It seemed a perfect remedy to a cold, wet day. It’s the sort of thing that, after 30 minutes’ work, you can walk away from and let time do the rest, while the oven warms the kitchen and the tempting smells fill the house.

I figured I knew the basics—use the correct cooking method (a low, slow braise), and an appropriate cut of meat. Chuck is perfect. It contains a lot of collagen in the connective tissue which, when treated right, slowly melts and tenderizes the tough meat and produces a silken sauce.

I checked three cookbooks for tips—Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything, the new Gourmet magazine cookbook (whose name I forget, though it is very good and comprehensive, and surprisingly innovative), and my large Cooks Illustrated book. Certainly Cooks does the most thorough research, and I noted their cooking temperatures and times. Other than that, I went my own way with the recipe, which essentially involves sweating some chopped aromatic vegetables, browning some meat, adding liquid, and walking away to play guitar or read while the alchemy occurs.

Along the way, I hit upon an interesting technique. As Susan and I were helping a friend move at noon, I made the dish in two stages, and it produced a very flavorful dish. In the morning I sweated the vegetables, browned the meat, and deglazed the pan with a little red wine. All these ingredients sat together for a few hours, producing an intense marinade while we helped Steve move his (thankfully few) possessions. Later, I added some liquid and let the oven do the rest of the work.

Along the way I thought back to my mother’s pot roast. Did it contain tomatoes? I remember a braised dish with beef and tomatoes—was I confusing that with her pot roast, or were they one and the same? While none of the recipes I reviewed contained them, I had half a can of leftover tomatoes and decided to use them, along with some fresh chicken stock, as the braising liquid. A fateful decision. It resulted in a completely different dish.


Chop up a couple strips of bacon and sauté them in a pan large enough to hold your intended roast.

While that’s crisping up and releasing its wonderful fat, chop up a carrot, a medium onion, and a half stalk of celery. (I like to chop the carrot fairly finely, as it cooks more quickly. I cut the carrot into two inch lengths, then in half lengthwise. I cut each half into thirds or even quarters lengthwise (depending on thickness), then line these up and dice them from there. However, this will never be blog on pure technique, trust me. I have none.)

Make sure your piece of beef is dry. Season liberally with salt and pepper and lightly dredge it in flour. I used a piece about one pound in weight.

Remove the crispy bacon from the pan and sauté the carrot pieces. After a minute add the onion and celery and cook for about 5-7 minutes til they give up some of their liquid content and start to smell sweet. Season them with salt and pepper.

Remove the cooked vegetables from the pan. There should be the beginnings of some fond in the pan. This is reduced sugars from the vegetables and juices from the bacon. It’s pure flavor, and you want this. (You don’t get it in non-stick pans.)

Add some oil to the pan and sear the beef on both sides. If the pan is good and hot (but not too hot—the fond could burn) it should take about two minutes per side. Remove beef to plate. There will be even more fond to play with now, as the juices from the beef have carmelized.

The fun part: add a glass of red wine (or water, or stock) to the hot pan and use a spatula to “clean” the pan. With your help, the fond will quickly melt into the bubbling liquid, flavoring it and thickening it. Turn off the heat.

Return the beef, vegetables and bacon to the pan and turn the beef so it is exposed to this marinade. Make sure the dogs can’t get at it, and let it sit for a couple of hours at room temperature, or longer in the fridge.

Go out and do a good deed.

About 4 hours before you want to eat, heat your oven to 300.

Warm the marinated beef/vegetable mixture on the stove, and add enough beef or chicken stock to come about halfway up the side of the meat. Optional: Add your small can of tomatoes, breaking up the tomatoes with your clean fingers. Add some seasonings: I used basil and a bit of thyme and a couple of cloves of chopped garlic. Bring to a simmer. If your stock is homemade, be sure to season it liberally. If using store-bought, cut way back on the salt.

Place in 300 oven for 4 hours. Turn meat every 30-45 minutes.

According to Cooks, it takes 3 hours for the meat’s internal temperature to get to 190 degrees, the point at which the collagen starts to melt. It takes another hour for it to melt completely, resulting in fork tender, flavorful meat. If brought to 190 too quickly, the collagen will seize up and you’ll be left with a tasteless, tough piece of ex cow. So take your time and do it right.

Come dinner time, I wasn’t hungry. In fact, I was feeling decidedly unwell. Knowing most braises taste even better the next day from the additional marinating, I passed on dinner. I’m glad I did, because I had either food poisoning or a stomach virus that lasted for two plus days.

By Monday I was ready to eat. I wanted some pasta, and my pot roast perfectly fit the bill as an accompaniment. The meat was so tender it had split along its natural lines into 3 fat pieces. These easily forked into smaller pieces, and hey presto, Sunday Gravy. The addition of tomatoes had turned it from one dish into another.

It sauced some penne pasta perfectly. It had a deep roasted, intensely meaty, slightly sweet flavor.

It wasn’t that cold outside anymore, but it was a great antidote to a couple of uncomfortable days.

And it definitely didn’t look like pot roast.



It's funny, I can't think of a way to accurately describe the word "hot," as in "spicy hot."

I wrote about my wife's favorite soup, Harirra, in my previous post. I described it as hot, but not spicy hot. I really don't think that there's one singular word in English to describe spicy hot.

Clearly, hot on its own denotes temperature. I could say "Harirra is not hot," but would that then make it a cold soup? I doubt it's ever served cold.

"Spicy" could mean "hot" to some, I suppose, but I equate it with "flavorful."

"Spicy, but not hot," has been uttered to inform someone that a dish is flavorful but lacking in heat. Hmmm.

Perhaps "chile hot," or "pepper hot" (since the heat generally comes from either of these) is an adequate description.

But I'm a little irked that there is no word in English I can think of to describe food that, served cold or hot, makes you want to reach for something to stop the burning. I suppose this is because the old countries produced little food that was naturally "hot."

Susan suggested "piquant," which, while not uncommon, is not English. (I guess the French were always fond of their mustard.) Any other ways anyone can think of? Hello? Anyone? Bueller?



Harirra is Morocco's national dish.

A hearty soup, it's eaten at sunset during the fasting lunar month of Ramadan.

It's delicious, exotically spicey but not hot (like most Moroccan dishes). It is filling and packed with protein.

We ate it in the Djma Al Fna, Marakesh's main square in the old quarter, the entrance to the market. It is filled with food stalls and is a delicious way to eat, wandering from each to each.

I cannot help but feel that all families have their own special recipe for it. My own is rarely the same.

I haven't measured the ingredients because unless you use too much cayenne you really can do no wrong.


Veg base: onion carrot celery garlic ginger

spice mix/rah al hanout ("best in shop"): cumin, tumeric, smoked paprika, sweet paprika, ground cardamom seeds, salt, pepper, and cayenne pepper, in decreasing quantities. Start with a couple of tablespoons of cumin, and end with a scant hint of cayenne.

Proteins: chicken breast, lamb meat, chick peas/garbanzo beans, lentils

Other: homemade chicken stock, some spinach or other leafy green, lemon juice, olive oil, cilantro.

1. Saute a chopped onion, finely diced carrot and chopped celery in olive oil til lightly caramelized, about 10 minutes, over medium heat. Season with S and P and add a couple of cloves of chopped garlic and about a thumb's worth of chopped ginger, and sautee one additional minute.

2. Stir in your spice mixture. I start with tiny black cardamom seeds (not the pods), and grind them in a morter. Then I add the other spices to the morter, and pour it all into the pot. If you have cardamom pods, use them instead, but put them into the soup whole, then retrieve them before serving the soup. Fry the spices with the onion mixture for an extra minute to release the flavors.

3. Add a couple of pints of good chicken stock, bring to a simmer, and season with more S and P.

4. Add some chopped raw or cooked chicken and some chopped raw or cooked lamb. I use either leftover roast chicken or chopped raw chicken breast. I also buy inexpensive lamb shoulder chops and chop them up, seasoning them with S and P before adding it to the soup.

5. Add a can of drained, rinsed, chick peas.

6. Add some cleaned spinach and allow to wilt. I've also added a small can of tomatoes and their juice, breaking them up as they soften in the heat.

7. Add some cooked lentils and/or rice to dish-- you can use uncooked though these will soak up a lot of stock, resulting in a very thick soup.

8. Serve soup garnished with chopped cilantro, a quick pour of olive oil, and a sptritz of fresh lemon.


Skate is a delicious fish. The wings are fibrous and tender and take well to traditional fish seasonings like lemon, capers, butter and parsley.

I was delighted to see it at our local Whole Foods Market when they first opened, though not consistently. The last time I bought it there, it had an amonia flavor-- it was past its prime, so let that be a lesson to sniff first. (I have read that soaking amonia-scented skate in a weak vinegar solution removes the amonia odor.)

I was very happy to find it in Pittsburgh's wonderful Strip District, in the relatively new Penn Avenue Fish Company ( The wings were priced reasonably at about $5/lb. A friendly employee, Henry, I think, made quick work of cutting off the cartilage and peeling off the tough skin, leaving us with two good portions for about $9. I also got our cartilage, and that of the couple in front of us, for fish stock.

To prepare skate, season the wing with salt and pepper and drege it in flour, shaking off the excess.

Have ready a glass of white wine, a couple of tablespoons of chopped shallot, some chopped parsley, a tablespoon of capers, the juice and scraped rind of half a lemon, and a couple tablespoons of butter.

Heat a large pan over medium high heat and melt a couple of tablespoons of butter. When it foams, add the wings and cook until almost cooked through, about 3 minutes per side. They can break, so use a good long spatula, not tongs, to turn the wings. The flour should give the wings a light brown, just crispy coat. Remove the cooked wings to warm dinner plates in a low oven.

Raise the heat under your pan, add the shallots to the pan, then the wine, allowing it to steam up and reduce by a half. Add the parsley, lemon stuff and capers, and cook for another minute. Finally, turn off the burner, and whip some butter into the hot sauce, a small piece at a time.

Skate is good with mashed potatoes and a green vegetable, with the sauce drizzled on and around it.

We had it with a superb wine from Beringer, Alluvium. Here in overpriced, Stalinist Pennsylvania's State Stores, the wine is $18.

Travel and cooking

We travel whenever funds and jobs allow. We recently spent a couple of weeks exploring Vietnam, with a side trip to Siem Reap, Cambodia. We also enjoyed a wonderful half day in Narita, Japan, during a welcome layover on our long flight home to Pittsburgh. I am writing the trip up at

As with a previous trip to Tuscany last year, as well as other journeys, except Ireland, I come home flush with food memories and compelled to explore the recipes of the cultures I've just devoured. Recently two excellent cookbooks have presented themselves. The first is something of an instant classic, the second is a real gem of a Vietnamese cookbook.

Hot, Sour, Salty, Sweet was written and photographed by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid. A recent publication, it is a beautifully bound tome that discusses the cultures of SE Asia in some detail. The book has wonderful, evocative photography of food, landscape, and people, and offers insightful views into the cultures that create the food. The emphasis is very much on common, everyday food. I was particularly impressed with the chapter on street food, but I've also enjoyed the comments on "mostly" vegetable dishes.

(Though Buddhist cultures have a long history of vegetarianism, there is a natural tendency by even non-vegetarians in Asia to eating heaps of vegetables with much less animal protein than we consume in the west. Meat is almost used as a flavoring agent rather than as the focal point of the plate. It is also expensive, while vegetables are less so.)

I've prepared a few dishes from the book, adapting them a little, as I generally do with most non-baking recipes I come across. Sauteed Chinese greens with bacon and ginger was crunchy and delicious. The seared tofu with pork had great textures and flavor too, served next to the greens with a little Indonesian rice.

I was also delighted to find a recipe for lemongrass pork patties to make bahn mi sandwiches, a Vietnames staple. These were a highlight of our trip, and I've written about them in some detail in my travel blog. While not expecting to accurately duplicate our favorite sandwich, I was very happy with the results. I'm going to buy a small hibachi to more accurately grill the tasty pork patties over charcoal as the weather in Pittsburgh eventually warms.

The Simple Art of Vietnamese Cooking by Binh Duong and Marcia Kiesel is a well-written exploration, and though less of a coffee table book than Hot, Sour, Salty, Sweet the recipes are also clear and easy to follow.

As I noted, we enjoyed a brief layover in Narita Japan. I wrote about the delicious unagi, or eel, we had for lunch there on my travel blog. When describing this to a friend he mentioned Consider the Eel, by Richard Schweid. Eel was once consumed widely in America. It is one of the staples that helped save the Mayflower colony; when shown it was available by a sympathetic Indian, these early colonists (the half that survived that first brutal winter) wept tears of joy.
Somehow, eel fell out of favor in the US. Still widely consumed throughout Europe and Asia, it generally appears here at sushi bars and perhaps around Christmas as part of the traditional Italian feast of fishes.
These little fellows are spawned near the Bermuda Triangle and, depending on their species (one of two), traverse the perilous ocean to either America or Europe as tiny little see-through worms. They next find and enter the river where their ancestors came from, changing from salt water to fresh water fish, and spend anywhere from 20 to 40 years living there. At some point their bodies change and they migrate all the way back to the Saragaso Sea, their birthplace, where they lay and fertilize their eggs, and then die.
Knowing this now, I appreciate the delicious eel we shared in Narita just that little bit more.

Cooking with Darly

Darly. Gross. Close enough to my name, Daryl Cross. These typos were assigned to my name by my bank in Saudi Arabia when I taught there in the 1990's. They first translated my name to Arabic script, then translated it back to English for my ATM card. Darly Gross. Not bad. Kind of funny. It stuck.

I like to cook. I like to eat, drink and travel. I read a lot of cookbooks. We eat well.