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November 2011

The Return of the Cioppino

Once, a little over a decade ago, at a time when the Fulton Fish Market was planning its move from its long-term home in lower Manhattan to its current location in the Bronx, I was approached by a literary agent with a book idea: write a history of the market, with the help of a fishmonger who worked there. He put me in touch with a fishmonger, and we expanded the concept to include recipes from his fellow purveyors. We were going to make it a cookbook.

We had a few meetings, and I started to work on the book. Many sleepless nights ensued, when I would get out of bed at 3 a.m. to catch the tail end of the market, which runs while the rest of the world is in bed (or dance clubs, depending on your idea of fun).

Soon, though, it became apparent that the idea of making a cookbook with recipes from fishmongers was fatally flawed. Fishmongers, for the most part, don’t cook. There were plenty of suggestions to put Old Bay on things, but that hardly made a cookbook. I dropped the project.

The fishmonger did leave me with one of his recipes, though. Well it wasn’t really a recipe, but a suggestion for one. He liked to make a cioppino, or fish stew, that he declared got its name because it was a catch of the day kind of thing, made with what ever you could “chop up” and throw in it.

I’ve since learned that the Times (and Wikipedia) beg to differ. It’s some kind of San Francisco thing, according to them, in spite of its Italian-sounding name (it has roots in that country, apparently).

The cioppino came back into my life the other day, when I was visiting a friend, Paul Greenberg, and he made it for dinner. Greenberg, the author of “Four Fish: The Future of the Last Wild Food,” knows his way around the kitchen and the fruits of the sea. Here’s how he prepared it:

"Four Fish" Cioppino


For the base:

  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 onions chopped
  • herb bouquet in cheese cloth consisting of parsley, thyme, oregano, bay, white peppercorns
  • 5 cloves garlic
  • 1 cup chopped leaks (but I used scallions)
  • 2 celery ribs (but I used cauliflower ribs)
  • 3/4 lb mushrooms sliced (but I used 2 small potatoes cubed)
  • 1 cup white wine
  • 1 cup chopped tomatoes
  • 4 cups Fumet (fish stock)

You fry all this up and douse it with wine, let the wine boil off and add the fumet.  Boil for about 15 mins then let sit for 30-60 mins (the longer the better)

For the seafood

The recipe I was working from calls for clams, scallops, mussels, shrimp and crabmeat.  All I had on hand was shrimp and striped bass.  I shelled the shrimp and boiled the shells in a metal strainer in the base to give it a little more flavor.  I poached the seafood in the base for abou5 3-5 minutes until a little underdone assuming it would cook more on the stove.

Notes: This is adapted from adapted from Rick Moonen's "Fish without a Doubt." Details are on page 317 of the book, and I have to say if a fish expert like Greenberg has Moonen's volume on his shelf, you should too. And if I was going to mess with Moonen's recipe as much as Greenberg did, I'd have no qualms about substituting chicken stock for the fumet. Here's how the final dish looked:



Thanksgiving Fallout: A Tasty Oatcake Recipe

Our plan for Thanksgiving was to spend it out of town with Santa Maria's folks, but everything was thrown for a spin last Wednesday when Pinta came down with strep throat, and we couldn't get on the road in time to visit them. The doctor said that twenty-four hours of antibiotics and no fever meant that she wasn't contagious, though, so I called my sister, who was hosting a big gathering in Connecticut with my extended family, to see if she had room at her table. "Of course," she said, and that's where we went.

My sister did have one request, though. She wanted us to bring a side dish. She suggested Santa Maria's biscuits, but they don't travel well (and actually suffer in the time it takes them to get from the oven to the table), so that wasn't a good choice. Because we were planning on being out of town, our pantry was nearly empty (our refrigerator looked like one from the quintessential Manhattan apartment, with plenty of empty shelves for leftover take-out containers), but we did have oats in the cupboard. Oatmeal is a staple of our winter breakfasts, and Santa Maria also knows how to make them into delicious, if crumbly, oatcakes. They're great for breakfast, as a side for a big dinner, or as a dessert treat. Here's her recipe:

Santa Maria's Mom's Scottish Oatcakes


  • 2 1/2 cups of organic rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup of organic flour
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar or organic maple syrup
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/4 cup melted organic butter
  • 1/2 cup milk

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Combine the dry ingredients; mixing them well.

Stir in the melted butter and then the milk (you can then crush the oats a bit with your hands, which is especially fun for the wee ones).

Press the mixture into a buttered 11 x 6" pan and bake in oven until
golden brown (about 20 to 25 minutes).

Slice into any shapes you like and serve warm with more butter and
some honey, or just plain with a glass of cold milk.

Notes: This is a great recipe to cook with kids, and it can also be made gluten-free by substituting quinoa flour in place of the wheat flour.

Happy Thanksgiving: A How To Guide

As you gather today to break bread, it seems like a good time to reflect on the purpose of the holiday. We have many things to be grateful for in this country, but it's not always easy to express and experience the feeling of thankfulness. John Tierney's article in Tuesday's Science Times offered some tips:

Start with “gratitude lite.” That’s the term used by Robert A. Emmons, of the University of California, Davis, for the technique used in his pioneering experiments he conducted along with Michael E. McCullough of the University of Miami. They instructed people to keep a journal listing five things for which they felt grateful, like a friend’s generosity, something they’d learned, a sunset they’d enjoyed.

The gratitude journal was brief — just one sentence for each of the five things — and done only once a week, but after two months there were significant effects. Compared with a control group, the people keeping the gratitude journal were more optimistic and felt happier. They reported fewer physical problems and spent more time working out.

Further benefits were observed in a study of polio survivors and other people with neuromuscular problems. The ones who kept a gratitude journal reported feeling happier and more optimistic than those in a control group, and these reports were corroborated by observations from their spouses. These grateful people also fell asleep more quickly at night, slept longer and woke up feeling more refreshed.

“If you want to sleep more soundly, count blessings, not sheep,” Dr. Emmons advises in “Thanks!” his book on gratitude research.... Once you’ve learned to count your blessings, Dr. Emmons says, you can think bigger.

“As a culture, we have lost a deep sense of gratefulness about the freedoms we enjoy, a lack of gratitude toward those who lost their lives in the fight for freedom, a lack of gratitude for all the material advantages we have,” he says. “The focus of Thanksgiving should be a reflection of how our lives have been made so much more comfortable by the sacrifices of those who have come before us.”

 The full article can be found here. Enjoy your turkey, and let me know what you feel grateful for.


Grandma's Applesauce: A Guest Post

Once, when I was a boy, I wrote a report for school about the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge, and I’ve been fascinated by the span ever since. Now that I live in the borough, I’ve had many chances to cross it, and I still marvel at it. Just the other day, I had an opportunity to talk with Clifford W. Zink, an historian whose latest book, “The Roebling Legacy,” traces the history of the family that built the bridge.

 “The Roebling Legacy” is a marvelous book, full of details about the family’s technological innovations and many pictures of their various accomplishments beyond the Borough of Kings. Clifford will be at the PowerHouse Arena, a bookstore near the bridge, on next Tuesday, November 29, at 7 p.m. to talk about his book.

In the meantime,  Clifford, who lives in New Jersey and who cooks for his wife and two teenage children, was kind enough to share his grandmother’s recipe for applesauce. It seems like just the kind of thing to make and serve for Thanksgiving, though it might be a bit late in the week to whip up a batch. In that case, it’s the kind of thing to occupy the weekend following the holiday, when everyone is still around and looking for something to do.

Grandma's Applesauce

Grandma thoroughly spoiled my bother and I while we were growing up.  She had emigrated from Germany to Manhattan in 1906 at the age of 18, and went shopping every day for fresh foods.  Her soups, chicken paprikas, and wiener schnitzel were delicious all year round, but summers were special when she made her crepes with berries and her open-topped peach cake with a soft crust.  In the fall she woke us up for school with the aroma of her apple fritters frying on the stove, and after school her thin crust apple pies were beautiful to behold and scrumptious to eat.  When Mom asked her years later for her recipes, Grandma replied, "What recipes?  You just put in a little of this and a little of that, and you taste it and you know when it's right." 

My kids love applesauce I make based on Grandma's, and the here's the first go at writing it down:

Start with a dozen or more fresh, uncoated apples, about 3/4s of them golden delicious and the rest slightly tart macintosh or winesap.  You can mix in other varieties but try to keep the 3-1 sweet-to-tart ratio.  

Peel, core and cube the apples, and place them in a deep pot.  Add about 3/4 of an inch of fresh apple cider (a little more if you're using more apples), cover the pot and cook on low to medium heat.  Check every few minutes to make sure that the cider is lightly bubbling without boiling away.  If the cider gets too low, add just enough to keep about 3/4 of an inch in the bottom of the pot, and keep the pot covered.  After about 30 minutes or so, depending on the amount and mix of apples, crush the apple cubes repeatedly with a potato masher or similar instrument.  If the mix is a bit dry, you can add just a little cider.  Keep crushing until you get to a consistency you like, and then it's ready to eat, warm, plain, on ice cream or yogurt.  And eating it cold later on brings out other delicious flavors.  

No sugar or honey, please, just taste the natural sweetness of the apples and cider.  I used to add some raisins, and a touch of cinnamon, and you can, too, but now I like to taste just the serendipitous sweetness of mixing different types of apples.  As Grandma said, "You know when it's right."

Thanksgiving Planning Tips

I have never hosted a Thanksgiving, but I hope to do so someday. In preparation for that big day, I'm starting to take notes. When I looked back at the Thanksgivings of my youth to draw the comic strip for Saveur's website that included the Spinach Madeleine recipe, the research yielded something that might help me going forward.

My mother not only found her original spinach recipe, but she also found a set of instructions about how to pull off such a big party. I always wondered how she did it, and now I have an inkling. Some of the advice is a bit dated, but much of it is very practical, just like my mother.

How do you plan for the holiday, and how did you learn to do so?

Here are the instructions:



Pork Roast Recipe

This morning, I jostled past my fellow commuters and climbed the subway stairs in Midtown. Coming up to the bright street, I caught sight of the sunlight on an office building’s marbled facade, and I was reminded of why I live in New York City.  I need to have people around. I love their energy and creativity. To me, the buildings of Manhattan are a physical manifestation of the human imagination.

On a smaller scale, I see cooking the same way. The meal is a creation of the imagination, and it brings people together. The other day, Santa Maria ran into an old friend in the neighborhood. She was having her kitchen renovated, so we made plans to have her over for dinner.

The night we got together, our friend, who is a literary agent, was coming from a meeting with one of her writers from out of town. That meeting ran late, and as happens with writers, there were some complications. The writer lives on a farm, and he had spent the day harvesting apples. He hadn’t eaten since that morning.  We took him in, and served him dinner.

I had planned on serving a pork roast, and it was large enough for an extra guest, even one who was hungry from laboring in the field all day. This pork roast is a great party dish, because it doesn’t require much active work. Once you put in the oven, all you need to do is keep an eye on it, and make sure the pan doesn’t dry out.

Pork chops are often served with applesauce, and this roast is based on that idea. I put the meat on top of slices of apples and pieces of sage, and as it roasts, the apples cook up nicely with the pan drippings and the herbs. The result is  not exactly applesauce, but it’s delicious. Just ask the apple farmer. He loved it.

Pork Roast Recipe

  • 1 apple, washed, cored, and sliced
  • 1 bunch sage, washed
  • 4-6 cloves of garlic, to taste
  • One 2-3 lb boneless pork roast
  • Salt, to taste


Preheat the oven to 425 degrees

Slice the garlic into thick pieces, and with a pointy knife, stab a bunch of holes in the top and sides of the pork roast. Put the garlic slices along with bits of sage into the holes

Salt the meat

Lay the apple slices on the bottom of a roasting pan (for a piece of meat this size, I use a small ceramic pan) in roughly the same area as the size of the pork roast

Lay a few sage leaves over and under the slices

Perch the pork roast on top of the apples. The apples should be under the meat. They can be stacked a few layers high. Just don't leave them in the pan uncovered by the meat.

Pour a bit of water in the pan so the bottom of it isn't dry.

Put the meat into the oven and roast for about 30-45 mintues. Make sure the pan doesn't dry out. You don't want anything to burn in the pan. Add more water as you go along, if necessary.

After about 30 to 45 minutes, turn the heat down to 350, and continue to roast until the meat is 150 degrees internal, about an hour to an hour-and-a-half total.

Let the meat sit for ten minutes before slicing and serving.

Gather the apples and sage in a bowl and serve on the side.


Progressive Dinner Wrap Up: A Meeting of the Macaroons

Turrell3 reduced size copy
Friday was Veterans Day. I had to work, but the children had the day off from school, and Santa Maria took them to MoMA PS1, the contemporary-art museum in Long Island City. When they were there, they had a chance to see one of my favorite pieces of art, James Turrell’s Meeting (1986).

That’s a picture of it, above, and according to the museum, “Meeting is composed of a square room with a rectangular opening cut directly into the ceiling. Carefully calculated artificial lights produce an orange glow on the white walls of the room, permitting the viewer to appreciate the intensity of the sky’s color. As Turrell described it: ‘There’s this four-square seating that’s inside, seating toward each other, having a space that created some silence, allowing something to develop slowly over time, particularly at sunset. Also, this Meeting has to do with the meeting of space that you’re in with the meeting of the space of the sky.’”

“Meeting” is usually only open, weather permitting, in the afternoon, but because it’s a part of the museum’s “September 11” exhibition, it has extended hours. Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria were able to visit it when they first arrived. Afterwards, they had lunch at the museum’s café, where they picked up some macaroons. Later, they brought the cookies home to me.

Now it’s my turn to bring some macaroons home to you. To follow up on my progressive dinner experience, I’m sharing Rebecca Christiansen’s macaroon recipe, from her amazing progressive dinner. The recipe is her grandmother’s, and it sounds delicious:

R.C.’s Bubbe’s Almond Macaroons


  •     1 cup whole almonds
  •     1 cup of granulated sugar
  •     one Large egg white
  •     1/2 t of almond extract
  •     confectioner's sugar
  •     about 16 whole almonds

Preheat oven to 350°F. and lightly butter a baking sheet, put parchment over the butter and then butter the parchment - goofy but it makes the bottoms of the cookies nice and crispy but not crunchy. .

In a food processor you can pulse the almonds with granulated sugar until its a powder.  Add egg white, almond extract, and a pinch salt and pulse until combined. Roll mixture into 16 balls, about 1 inch in diameter, and arrange about 2 inches apart on the baking sheet you prepared.  Take a drinking glass and flatten the balls and dust lightly with confectioners' sugar. Gently press 1 almond into each cookie.

Bake macaroons in middle of oven 10 minutes, or until pale golden. 

*You can also color these with a couple squeezes of a gel food color - I made them pale red (not pink but not full on red because I find red baked goods alarming) for our Illini party.  You can also frost them and sandwich them together.  But its best you eat them in three to four days.

**Frost - I mean chocolate ganache but there is an almond extract frosting that would work nicely with all the other almond flavors.

***Okay so my bubbe substitutes amaretto for the extract with great results, I only say that because sometimes you can't put alcohol in the mix you know?

Progressive Dinner Report: 1 Story, Many Mouthfuls

I've received some great responses to my call for stories about progressive dinners. My favorite thus far comes from Rebecca Christiansen, who shared the following tale. I like it best because it is full of mouthwatering food, and it addresses my idea of Progressive Dinners for Progress. Here's Rebecca's story:

My friends and I hosted a four-course progressive dinner last December. They handled the main courses because each and every one of them fancies themselves a "Top Chef." But I know my limits, so I did dessert. 

We had chopped liver and pumpernickel rounds, the fresh kind and if you don't understand chopped liver as an appetizer I will just assure you it’s a Jewish thing. When it’s freshly made, it’s so insanely delicious. The woman also made her own pretzel sticks and cheese sticks and a really good Fontina cheese fondue with some gruyere overtones. The bread we dipped was homemade challah that had been lightly toasted because she (the appetizer queen) had a phobia about mushy bread and when you use egg bread in fondue you come dangerously close, know what I mean? 

The main course was at my brother's house, and he fancies himself the maker of the world's finest pot roast. This time he did a variation where everyone was given a ramekin and the pot roast was topped with piped rows of garlic mashed potatoes and feta cheese (mixed together) and broiled. When you broke through the potato crust the scent was breathtaking. My husband took mine and finished it. The ramekins were filled with fresh roasted parsnip, onion, carrots, and really good brisket that was so tender it was melt in your mouth time. The side dish with the pot roast was a squash gratin, and it was so good. 

Then we went to my best friend's house for a seafood course of fish stew full of cod, halibut, and scallops, as well as onions, potatoes, and carrots and some yellow corn from my friend’s stash...she gets it from a farm and fast-freezes it so we can eat it all winter long. (Yellow corn is real corn and not the weird hybrid white corn that tastes just like sugar!!) 

The stew was served in a freshly made sourdough bowl (13 different sourdough bowls!!). It might have been very cliché, but it easy to chew on. The broth had some saffron in it, so it was golden, and made a very pretty contrast with the bread. 

The dessert was at my house and it included three-decker brownies. That is a brownie base, a caramel layer, and then a sugar coated pecan crust.  I served this with a Philadelphia Cream Cheese ice cream. Yes, you read that right—it’s creamy but has more of a tang than just regular vanilla bean ice cream, and hence is less boring.  On top of everything, I offered a Callebaut chocolate fudge sauce. It was on the side, and my friends started putting spoonfuls of the fudge sauce in their coffee.

After all this food I didn't eat for a week!!  Well except for the macaroons I sent everyone home with --- I ate about ten of those the next morning because nothing is as good as a homemade macaroon.

Oh, and with reference to your political spectrum idea: I am the only conservative in my group - including my brother. They are all dyed-in-the-wool liberals and we talk about issues, never get name-callish and we love each other dearly.  My husband - he died in July - was the complete liberal hippie. He served in Vietnam for two tours, and then denounced any act of war from then on.  He loved me regardless of my political beliefs. Thanks for the opportunity to recall this evening. It went six hours and I was sooo full!!!.

Progressive Dinners for Progress?

I’m busy with a freelance drawing project, and work on it has cut into my time to blog. Nonetheless, I continue to think about the Progressive Dinner I went to on Saturday, and as I wait for recipes for the sangria, gruyere fondue, and Thai chicken soup that I so enjoyed, I want to share another aspect of the meal that I found appealing.

The night gave me a chance to meet many interesting people. There was a couple, who when they were in their twenties, left NYC to open a Thai restaurant in a nightclub in Mexico City; a guy who made his own wine and built the very house he was hosting in; a handyman who worked from home; a teacher of special needs children; and many others.

I liked spending time with folks who I might not have ordinarily had dinner with. We are at a very challenging time in our country right now, and a recent Niall Ferguson article in Newsweek, "America's 'Oh Sh*t!' Moment," points to one of the causes—people on the right don’t talk to people on the left. In order to fix things in our country, though, both sides will have to start listening to each other.

Do you think a progressive dinner pulling together people from across the political spectrum would be of any benefit? I tend to think it might—we all have to eat, after all.

And don't forget about the "Man with a Pan" giveaway. Write me with your Progressive Dinner stories, and if you haven't yet eaten at a Progressive Dinner, write me with a story about talking to someone with a different point of view over dinner. If I hear a good one, I'll throw that into the running for the giveaway at the end of the week.