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March 2011

Snap Peas and Snapshots: A New Food Photo Exhibit

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Taking a good photograph of food is far more difficult than cooking a good meal. As someone who often struggles with a point-and-shoot camera to capture the delights I produce in my kitchen, I know what I'm talking about. One person whose blog does it right is Michael Ruhlman, but that's only because he's married to a wonderful photographer, Donna Turner Ruhlman (that's her amazing purple photo above, from a series of color images she's working on).

Today, "Food for Thought" opens at the Robert Mann Gallery, in Manhattan. A survey of the last eighty years of food photography, the group show features works by the likes of Irving Penn, Paul Outerbridge, and Ansel Adams. I'll have to check it out. Maybe I'll learn a few things. If you're interested in going, the show is up through May 14.


Tuesday Guest Post: Cookie Monster Time!

Cookies-1
As I mentioned yesterday, my mother came to visit over the weekend. She was feted by her granddaughters, and I sent her home with a gift. That Saturday, Nina had been on a playdate with a friend, and the father made cookies. He gave us some, and I made sure that my mother took one with her before she left.

These were not just any cookies, they were chocolate-and-molasses cookies with a hint of chili pepper, and the father was not just any old Joe, he was John, a friend who has been contributing to this site with such frequency that he has now earned himself an entry on the dramatis personae page.

A few hours after my mother left my apartment, I called her to make sure she had gotten home safely. She had, and I asked her how she was doing. She said she was great. She had just finished a glass of milk and the cookie. "It was so good," she said, "I'll have to get the recipe."

Here, without any further to do, is John's recipe for his cookies, and his latest guest post:

I’ve been messing about with cookies over the last month or so. What started as a treat for Frigga, Buk, and Atete is now turning into a mild obsession, as I’ve gone back to the mixer several weekends in a row to get the recipe right. Not that Buk and Atete have been complaining.

I have very clear preferences with cookies: soft, a little chewy, and the flavor needs to give me a little more than just cookie plus chocolate. I want some complexity. At the risk of getting all misty-eyed and mystic…I want a little mystery in my cookie.

Okay, so apart from teetering on “new agey” abyss there for a second, cookies are actually pretty simple. From inspiration to dunking can take an hour, and a good chunk of that is spent waiting for them to bake. The one proviso is having a mixer on hand. Creaming the sugar and the butter is easy enough without one: soften the butter, add the sugar, and just go at it with a spoon until the mixture is creamy and a pale yellow, but your arm is going to get a work out.

The other great thing about this recipe is that you can use it as a basis for many others. The basic idea is the same for many cookies…cream the butter and sugar, mix in eggs and flour, and then add your other flavorings. Next time, I think I’m going to explore ginger, molasses, and allspice.

The Brooklyn Cookie

  • 3 cups flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder 
  • 2 1/2 cups sugar
  • 2 sticks of unsalted butter cut into small chunks
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 tablespoon molasses
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 2 cups semisweet chocolate chips

Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 375°F.

Line 2 large baking trays with parchment paper (the paper isn’t totally necessary, but it does make clean up very simple and the cookies come off the paper very easily – if your baking tray is old and well used, you may have problems getting them off the metal cleanly).

Mix the flour, baking soda, salt, and chili powder in a bowl.

Cream the butter and sugar until it is pale yellow and starts to look a little like whipped cream. (If you have a mixer, put it on high for a few minutes. Keep an eye on it. You’ve got a bit of margin, but you don’t want to overbeat the butter.)

Turn down the mixer to its lowest speed. Add the eggs, one at a time to the butter and sugar until all is combined

Add vanilla and molasses, stir just enough to combine.

Mix in dry mixture in three batches again until blended (you may have to scrape down the bowl and mixer blade). Then stir in chips.

Scoop batter for each cookie, arranging the balls about 3 inches apart, on 2 baking sheets. (I use an ice cream scoop to get a consistent amount for each cookie. I get a good scoop and then clean excess by pressing the scoop against the mixing bowl. I then lever the dough out of the scoop with a tablespoon measure held in the other hand. )

Wet your hand and flatten the dough into rounds using the palm.

Bake 1 sheet at a time about 15 minutes (perhaps a few minutes longer if you like your cookie a little less soft – the final length of time will depend on your oven).

Remove from the oven and let sit on tray for five minutes or so, and then transfer cookies to a rack to cool

Repeat till done.

 

Makes about 24 largish cookies


Service with A Wink and A Smile: Nina as the Hostess

Pasta_dinner
My mother visited us on Friday, and I made dinner for her and the girls before leaving to meet Santa Maria for an evening out.

Nina and Pinta were very excited to see their grandmother. Nina made a little centerpiece for the table using aluminum foil, parchment paper, a marker, and various ribbons and bows. She got crackers from the cupboard and a hunk of Parmesan from the fridge. She drew up signs announcing when the party would start, and made tickets for entry. She blocked off access to the dining room with a row of folding chairs.

Our new apartment has a pass through from the kitchen to the dining room, and while I made dinner for the evening (roast chicken, baked potato, broccoli), I could see and talk to Pinta and her sister. She was throwing a party, she explained, just for grandma, Pinta, and herself. I was not invited, and neither was her mother, even though she wasn't even there.

I was not permitted to join them, not even for a snack. I feigned dismay, and Nina came around into the kitchen, took my hands, looked me in the eye, and very seriously and kindly explained to me that though this party was not for me, there would be other parties that I could come to.

Early Sunday morning, Nina told me that there was going to be a special dinner that day. As the chief cook around the house, I was very interested to learn this. "What," I asked, "was going to be on the menu?" She said "pasta, Bolognese, cauliflower, and bread." Whew, I thought; all things I had, more or less, on hand.

That evening, the girls pulled chairs up to the kitchen counter so they could stand beside me to help defrost the sauce, salt the water for the pasta, and to wash and chop the cauliflower. I was very relaxed. This meal is one of the easiest in my repertoire.

Then Nina explained to me how to present the meal. She insisted that we line up the pasta, sauce, bread, and cauliflower on the kitchen counter, and serve ourselves. Despite a little squabble about the bread (I didn’t want to use up what I might need for sandwiches later in the week; I relented), we loaded our plates and headed for the dining room.

When we sat down, I saw that Nina had made yet another centerpiece—this one involving little dishes of pine nuts and bran cereal—as well as come up with inventive new way of arranging the flatware (she put it all in Mason jar). Nina looked at me and Santa Maria, and said with a smile "this party is for you and mom."


Comfort Food Friday: Steamed Cauliflower with Melted Cheddar

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I took some flack from readers and friends for missing the “Modernist Cuisine” event the other night. And of course, they were right. I should have gone (see the video at the end of this post).

But family life can at times be a bit overwhelming. I didn’t have the energy to go, and there was nothing I could do about that. I have a theory about parenting that I developed from my elementary-school understanding of photosynthesis.

Just as we breathe out carbon that the trees turn into branches and leaves, so do our children absorb our energy and grow. I swear I can see my daughters gaining in height as I exhale each day. I know, it’s a bit crazy, but it is how I feel. Of course, just as the trees give us back the oxygen we need to live, children return to us love that we didn’t know we had.

I may have missed out on seeing Nathan Myhrvold in action, but I did get to read John Lanchester’s review of the book in The New Yorker. I found his take on it very interesting, for a number of reasons, but the one that mattered last night involved a point he made about comfort food.

… the acquisition of tastes is a kind of dance between the person at the stove and the person at the table. The dance between the cook and the eater goes on longest at home, which is why we grow up loving a food from our first and most sustained encounter with it: nothing will ever beat your mom’s chicken, or meat loaf, or whatever it was. No food can ever mean as much to you as that food once did. That is why most of all the cooking in the world is comfort food. It is food designed to remind us of familiar things, to connect us with our personal histories and our communities and our families.

Last night Santa Maria was out of town on a business trip, and I was feeling a bit melancholy. Putting the girls to bed and enjoying all their fantastic affection was a bit of a balm, but I was in need of something else.

The house was very quiet and I was hungry. I needed to make myself dinner. I poked about a bit in the kitchen, to see what was on hand. I had a hard time making up my mind, but I soothed myself with the sound of the refrigerator door opening and closing. Eventually, I decided to a sauté a chicken breast, make a bit of fried rice with some leftovers, and steam some cauliflower and smother it with cheese.

The cauliflower was what made me happy. When I was a child, I loved eating it with melted cheddar. These days, I’m more apt to roast it (because it is delicious that way, and, more importantly, that’s the way Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria go for it). But because I was on my own last night, I could step back in time.

Steamed Cauliflower with Melted Cheddar

  • Cauliflower
  • Slices of cheddar

Rinse and cut the head of cauliflower into small florets.

Put a little less than an inch of water in a pot, cover it, and bring it to a boil.

Drop the florets in and put the cover back on.

Steam for about five minutes, or until the cauliflower is tender, yet still firm.

Drain the cauliflower and place in a small bowl.

Drape the cheese slices over the top of the vegetable, and then cover the bowl with a plate.

The heat from the cauliflower will melt the cheese by the time you have assembled any other ingredients for your meal.

Enjoy.

Here's an interview with Myhrvold and a taste of the action from the "Modernist Cuisine" event:

 

View more videos at: http://www.thefeast.com.


I Rest Up to Learn how Pleasure Works (Hint, it involves Chocolate)

Copy_of_compassof Last night, I was planning to attend an event celebrating the publication of "Modernist Cuisine," the 600-plus dollar, multi-volume collection encompasing the past and future of cooking. Alas, I was too worn out to go.

I was sad to have missed a chance to meet Nathan Myhrvold and his merry pranksters, but I consoled myself with the thought that I was resting up for a scientific evening of a slightly different sort.

On April 17, the Rubin Museum of Art will present the Johns Hopkins neuroscientist David Linden, who will explore how pleasure is processed in the brain by working with the master chocolatier Jacques Torres. Champagne truffles, malt balls and other delights will be served. Now that sounds like fun.


I'm Nominated for the Circle of Moms' Top 25 Dad Blogs: WWJBD?

A few days ago, Wesley Stace, a superbly talented musician and novelist, lent me his copy of "The Pedant in the Kitchen" by Julian Barnes. I've been enjoying Barnes' wry and amusing account of becoming "a late-onset cook" all week.

Barnes came to the kitchen as an adult ("And as with sex, politics, and religion, so with cooking; by the time I began finding out about it for myself, it was too late to ask my parents"), and he's staunchly opinionated about everything from how to read a recipe (carefully) to the number of cookbooks one should own (the answer, according to him, is both "not enough" and "too many").

I was interested to hear his take on how recipes are handed down from one generation to another. "In the old days the transmission would have been oral and matrilineal. Then it became written and increasingly patriarchal. Nowadays we can be taught by either sex and the method may be oral (the TV chef), written (the cookbook) or both at the same time (the TV tie-in cookbook)." He goes on to say, "I remain a text-based cook and am broadly suspicious of those persuaded to inflate their personalities in front of the camera."

Barnes doesn't make any mention of cooks who like to blog, so there's no way to know what he would say about this: I've been "nominated to the Top 25 Daddy Blogs list on Circle of Moms." You can vote for me here. And as in the Chicago of legend, you can vote early and often, apparently once a day. Just don't tell Julian Barnes.


Created by Man: Leftovers

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The refrigerator in our new apartment has a surprising feature—it beeps when the door is left ajar. We hear its high-pitched call every now and again, and, since we've lately been watching old episodes of "Battlestar Galactica" on Netflix, Santa Maria has taken to saying "Is that a Cylon?

The refrigerator also beeps when you stand in front of it with the door open for a while. If I had a teenage son, who might be inclined to stand there and drink milk from the spout of a gallon jug, the beeping might come in handy. As it is now, it just beeps at us when we're doing more mundane tasks, such as going through it to see what's on each shelf a week after shopping.

Last night, Santa Maria and I were doing just that, reviewing what was left in there, what needed to be thrown out, what could be frozen, and what could be eaten later. Shopping for a family is a tricky thing. Buy too little, and you'll find yourself short of a key ingredient on a cold weeknight. Buy too much, and you're wasting food and money.

I couldn't have foreseen the strep throat last week, and I neglected to consider what it would mean to be out of town shooting a video. Long story, short: I was left with a half-eaten roast chicken, two whole chickens, two pork loins, and a batch of Puttanesca. Clearly I had too much food on hand. What to do?

One of the chickens had a sell-by date of the 19th. I'll make soup with that. One of the tastiest chicken soups I ever made was with a stinky old bird, and I wouldn't mind replicating that experience. The other bird has a sell-by day of the 23rd, so I have time to cook that up later in the week. I froze the Puttanesca.

I picked the half-eaten roast chicken, and made a salad using a bit of celery, onion, fresh ginger, and lime. I plan on eating that for lunch today, and I'll let you know how it tastes. As for the beeping fridge, I think it would be most useful if it beeped when I was buying too much food. I hate to see anything go to waste. How do you all handle the big shop, leftovers, and having too much food on hand?

 

 

 


Monday Guest Post: An Ode to the Pot Roast

Pot Roast
I was away for the past few days, with Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria, at the Mohonk Moutain House, a sprawling and enchanting nineteenth-century resort perched atop the Shawangunk ridge, in upstate New York. We were enjoying a long-deferred weekend with my mother, and we spent the time skating, swimming, hiking, and eating insane amounts of food (their all-inclusive plan includes two appetizers, per person, with dinner!).

Last week, my friend John, a working dad from Brooklyn who happily cooks for his two rambunctious five-year-old girls and wife, and who has contributed to this site before (earlier this month, he wrote about simplifying his shopping list with an iPhone app), sent me his appreciation of the pot roast. I'm delighted to present it to you—My body is just too worn out from eating the Mohonk way.

I’m an Australian, but like much of the world, I grew up with American TV and one of the things that I remember from shows like “The Brady Bunch” were the jokes about pot roast. It was clear that pot roast was something to be avoided. Well, the cracks were wrong. It may take a little planning, but the pot roast is a tasty, tender, economical and just all-round awesome weekend meal that just keeps on giving.

Once you realize that pot roast is another form of braising, it all starts to come into focus. Get a cheap cut, such as a chuck roast or a shoulder roast. Something with a good amount of fat is perfect. Get a pot, the heavier the better (I use a Dutch oven, which I love but that’s the subject of another post). Heat some oil and brown the meat well on all sides. Add your braising liquid (the basic choice is stock but you’ve got plenty of options), and some celery, onions, and carrots if you want. Bring it to a gentle boil, turn down the heat, put the lid on, and let it be for three hours or so. Just check it once in a while to make sure you’ve got a nice simmer going and to turn the joint over.

The great thing about braising is that there’s plenty of margin and plenty of options. The only thing you really have to be careful about it to not let it boil for an extended period (the high temperature will toughen the meat up). Otherwise, you are free to play mad chef. You want to use some beer in the braise? Go ahead. Do you think red wine is more your speed? No problems! Don’t want onions in there? No sweat! And it also provides the perfect pretext for some serious sports watching. After all, you have to be in the house for three hours or so anyway, don’t you?

The classic pot roast calls for potatoes (mashed, boiled, scalloped—they’re all good), some vegetables (I’ve been obsessing about Brussels sprouts for the past few months). And of course gravy, which the pot roast makes super easy, thanks to the braising liquid. Gravy, of course, makes even the dreaded sprouts palatable for our twin girls Buk and Atete.

As an added bonus, if you’ve cooked up a decent sized joint of meat, you’ll probably have leftovers. These aren’t just your regular run of the mill leftovers either. These can be the basis of sandwiches or quick-as-a-flash dinners that make evening meals almost completely stress free.


Dessert Week Comes to a Close, With a Look Back

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We're still living out of boxes at home, and between that, the recent bout of strep throat, and the work I've been doing on "Man with a Pan: Culinary Adventures of Fathers who Cook for their Families," I have not been spending much time in the kitchen. I miss it.

Back before the book, before the move, before the torture of facing eviction, in the sweet and simple period of the fall of 2009, I had the time to make my first attempt at baking. Reveling in the nostalgia I have for pineapple upside down cake, which I loved as a child, I made a pear upside-down cake. Santa Maria, an expert when it comes to desserts, helped me with the recipe. Here it is again:

 Santa Maria’s Pear Upside-Down Cake

  • 11 Tablespoons butter
  • ¼ Cup packed brown sugar
  • 3 pears, peeled, cored, and thinly sliced
  • 2/3 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 ½ cups flour
  • 1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup milk
  • optional: 1/3 cup (2 oz.) semi-sweet chocolate pieces (broken from a bar into whatever size you prefer)

Heat oven to 350 degrees.

Melt three tablespoons butter in a small pan over medium heat.

Add brown sugar and cook, stirring, until sugar dissolves.

Bring to a boil and cook for two minutes.

Remove from heat and pour the mixture into a 9 ½ -inch baking pan.

Arrange the pear slices in the sugar mixture as you see fit.

In a mixing bowl, beat the remaining butter (one stick) and the sugar with a mixer until it is light and fluffy.

Add the vanilla and eggs and mix until smooth.

 

In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, and salt.

Combine the wet (butter) and dry (flour) mixtures in three batches with the milk. And mix until barely combined. Do not over mix. Lumps are okay.

Carefully spread the cake batter on top of the pears using a spatula.

Bake in oven about 45 minutes, until top is golden. A thin sharp knife stuck in the cake should come out clean.

Let the cake sit for five minutes.

Run a knife around the edge of the cake pan.

Put a plate on top of the cake and carefully flip it so the plate is on the bottom and the pan is on top.

Serve warm or at room temperature.

 

Note: Fold chocolate pieces into the batter before baking for a slightly richer cake.