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June 2012

More Thoughts on Tamar Adler’s An Everlasting Meal

As I mentioned earlier in the week, when my oven broke, I feel like I’m living in Tamar Adler’s world. I recently finished her amazing book “An Everlasting Meal,” and I had a chance to sit down and talk with her about it, for an item on The New Yorker’s website. In it, I highlight my favorite part of the book, which considers what to do when you don't feel like cooking, or if you're one of those people who don't know the joys and rewards of making a meal:

"The heart of the book is a chapter called “How to Build a Ship,” in which she addresses the question about cooking, “How do you fall in love with it again, or if it has never made you truly happy, fall in love with it for the first time?” In her typical fashion, she starts the chapter with a quote, in this case from Antoine de Saint-Exupéry: “If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood, and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.”

Her whole book creates an immense longing for good food in clever and immediate ways. “Let smells in,” she writes. “Let the smell of salt remind you of a paper basket of fried clams you ate once, squeezing them with lemons as you walked on a boardwalk. Let it reach your deeper interest. When you smell the sea, and remember the basket of hot fried clams, and the sound of skee-balls knocking against each other, let it help you love what food can do, which is to tie this moment to that one.”

Adler’s going to be talking about the book this evening at Bubby’s, in Tribeca. It’s short notice, but if you’re in NYC, you might want to jump in a cab. If you can't get to the event, check out the rest of the interview, on The New Yorker’s website. There’s a special video, too. 


A Broken Oven, An Everlasting Meal, and Some Killer French Fries

Stove_top_fries
I recently finished an amazing book called “An Everlasting Meal,” by Tamar Adler. Modeled on M.F.K. Fisher’s “How to Cook a Wolf, “ it lives up to its subtitle, “Cooking with Economy and Grace.” Adler is a former magazine editor (she used to work at Harper’s) who went on to cook for Gabrielle Hamilton, at Prune, open her own restaurant in Georgia, and also then work for Alice Waters. She knows what she’s doing in the kitchen.

Her book is very captivating and inspiring, because she takes her rich professional background and gears her writing towards regular home cooks. She starts with completely wacky suggestions about boiling meats and cooking the bejesus out vegetables, and salting everything in sight high heaven, but her writing is so clear, so—for lack of a better description—perfectly seasoned, that it’s impossible not to start thinking that she’s right about everything.

Reading her book is like going on a trip to a foreign land, not in that it is like a travelogue (though she’s been all over the world), but in that spending time with its pages is like spending time overseas. There are very different customs in the mental and emotional place where she lives, and I’m not just talking about the boiled meats. The world in which she seems to inhabit is full of delicious things, from a simple egg to a salad of parsely, to homemade pickles and head-to-tail eating. Basically, she makes you feel like everything can taste great, if you just know how to look at things.

I have the feeling I’ll have more to say about Adler and her book soon—it has changed my perspective on cooking, and if I can just get out of my own way, I, too, can live in the beautiful place where there’s always sliced radish available for an impromptu guest.

In the meantime, I’ll share the very important message I got from the book. I don’t know if this is what she meant to say, but I heard it telling me, “don’t give up; keep going.” At least those are the thoughts that sprung into my head on Friday evening when my oven broke.

We were having an old friend of Santa Maria’s who was visiting from Dublin over for dinner—a simple dinner with the kids of hot dogs, homemade hamburgers, a green salad, and my oven-roasted French fries. I prepped everything in the morning before going to work. I washed the lettuce, I made the hamburgers, I sliced the potatoes, and I left things for Santa Maria to put together that evening. I knew I’d be coming home from work just in time to eat, but not in time to do any cooking.

When I arrived home, the fries were in the oven, but the oven was only at 265 degrees. They looked sad and pale, and eventually, we had to give up on them. The oven wouldn’t heat. I’m not sure what’s wrong with it, but I’m going to have to pay to find out.  That night, we ate what was ready, which was fine, if a bit Atkins-y: Hamburgers, salad, hot dogs, buns, and some extra bread for the kids instead of the French Fries.

Later, when I was cleaning up and doing the dishes, I took those cold and depressive potatoes out of the oven. My first thought was to throw them out, but I thought it would be wrong to waste so much food, and I heard the voice of Alder’s “An Everlasting Meal” whispering in my ear. She wouldn’t throw them out. She poaches eggs in olive oil, and I thought, what the hell, I could cook these dead-on-arrival fries in some olive oil and see what might happen.

I poured a bunch of oil into a large frying pan, and I dumped the potatoes in. I cooked them on a medium to low heat with the cover on while I did the dishes. Every so often, I lifted the cover and moved them around with a spatula. I noticed a curious thing—they were turning golden brown and getting crispy. By the time the kids were in bed and the dishes done, I had a batch of crispy, oily, salty fries, that you would pay good money for on the streets of Dublin at two A. M. We ate them with relish, and I think Adler would have been proud.


"A Fatal Debt" Novel Giveaway!

Www.randomhouse.com
I think I’ve established that I like throwing dinner parties, but I also like going to them, too, in part because you never know whom you’ll be seated next to at one. At a recent gathering, I met a financial journalist named John Gapper, and he mentioned that he had his first novel—a thriller set on Wall Street—coming out soon.

A few weeks after that, at my office, I came across an advance copy of something called “A Fatal Debt,” which the publicity material described as, “A swift and convincing thriller about a fallen Wall Street titan driven to violence and the young psychiatrist who must unravel the mystery of his broken psyche.” I was intrigued. I like thrillers and genre fiction—having recently torn through books by Alan Furst, Alan Glynn, George Pelecanos, and Robert Harris—and I also like books about money, from straightforward advice books like Carl Richard’s “The Behavior Gap” to more bizarre fare like “Street Freak,” a Lehman Brother’s trader’s account of the end of his firm and his mental breakdown (which, oddly enough, weren’t directly related).

I thought I might like “A Fatal Debt,” and then I looked again at the author—it was the same financial journalist who I had met a few days before. Fantastic, I thought. So I read “A Fatal Debt,” and I really enjoyed it—it reminded me in an atmospheric way of Kenneth Fearing’s noir classic “The Big Clock.” I liked it so much, I'm going to give a copy away.

A passage late in the novel got me to thinking about cooking. The protagonist, Ben, whips up an impromptu dinner of tomato sauce and past a for Anna, one of the female characters. He sets the table with candles and they have a romantic dinner. From the quick but precise description of the food and cooking, I could tell that Gapper knew his way around the kitchen.

So, having had the good fortune of having met him at a party, I decided to drop him a line, and ask him about the cooking he does. He wrote back with the following guest post, and I’m so keen on “A Fatal Debt,” that I want you to have a copy. Leave a comment or write to me and tell me the most seductive meal you’ve ever cooked. I’ll send "A Fatal Debt' to the author of the one I think is most intriguing.

Here’s his guest post, and a recipe for this pasta:

GapperPasta

The first time I persuaded my now-wife to visit my apartment, I offered her tea and cake. As evening loomed, I was trying to think of a way to persuade her to stay longer, so I suggested cooking her dinner. I made a kind of improvised pasta with a tomato and bacon, which she seemed to enjoy at the time but wasn’t as good as she pretended.

That probably influenced the scene in “A Fatal Debt” where Ben cooks Anna spaghetti alla puttanesca. There’s a touch of author’s wish fulfilment in that because I’ve made him a better cook than I am. Still, the general point that cooking is a good way to please an attractive woman clearly stuck in my mind.

Later, she introduced me to an innovation: buy a cookbook and follow the instructions.  For some reason, I hadn’t really gone with that before but I soon found that it works well. She does more of the cooking for us and our two daughters these days but I try to cook a few meals a week.

Lately, she’s encouraged me not to revert to the same old favorites but to mix it up a bit. As a result, I was looking through an old Jamie Oliver book (Jamie’s Kitchen) that we’ve had for a decade and found this recipe for pasta with prosciutto, garbanzo beans, leeks and sage. I’ve cooked it a few times and it’s highly appreciated.

I like it because it’s quick and easy but it tastes both great but sophisticated, as if you really know what you’re doing. The ingredients are a little expensive – bacon, prosciutto, fresh sage, heavy cream etc – but worth it.

The original recipe calls for dried beans soaked overnight and boiled with tomato and potato for flavor, but I just use a 15oz tin, which works fine. You can use cannellini beans but I think garbanzo come out better. You do need fresh sage leaves, which are easy enough to find.

This recipe serves four:

 

15 oz tin of garbanzo beans

8 slices of prosciutto, torn into pieces

4 rashers of smoked bacon, sliced

1 handful of fresh sage leaves

3 ½ oz butter

2 leeks, trimmed, washed and finely sliced

1 clove of garlic, finely chopped

½ pint of chicken stock

3 ½ fl oz double cream

14 oz of lasagnetti (I usually use tagliatelle instead)

1 handful of grated Parmigiana cheese

Extra virgin olive oil

 

Put two lugs of olive oil in a casserole-type pan and fry the prosciutto  and bacon pieces until lightly golden. Add sage leaves and stir until lightly crisp. Add the butter, leeks and garlic and fry until leeks are softened. Add the chickpeas to the pan, mushing up about a quarter of them to give a smooth consistency to the sauce. Stir around a bit. Pour over the chicken stock and add the cream. Bring to the boil and simmer slowly for 15 minutes. Add salt and pepper as required.

Cook the pasta, drain and throw it into the pan with the sauce. Add most of the Parmigiano and stir it all together. Loosen up with some water if you need to. Serve with a drizzle of olive oil and the remaining cheese. 

 


Father’s Day Recap: Dutch Baby in the House

Dutch_Baby_Top

As I mentioned previously, I celebrated Father’s Day a week early, and we did it in high style. Santa Maria made many offers to cook, some of which (such as the Butterscotch Brownies) I wasn’t consulted about, and some of which (Rib eye steak) were far too generous for me to accept. I had one request, though. Actually I had two requests. I wanted a Dutch Baby, and I wanted two of them—one to share with my girls, and one for myself.

The Dutch Baby is a wild breakfast treat that's so rich it’s almost a dessert. Santa Maria grew up eating them that way, and her mother called it a Hawaiian Pancake, and that name is not much of a stretch.

 

It starts with a lot of butter:

Dutch_Baby_Butter

Then some eggs and some other ingredients (the full recipe is below) are mixed together, and it is put in the oven.

Dutch_Baby_Eggs

About fifteen or so minutes later, the pan starts bursting with flavor and excitement:

Dutch_Baby_Oven

They look like this, fresh out of the oven:

Dutch_Baby_Counter

But then it gets better. They are topped with powdered sugar and lemon juice, and then served with cherry jam.

Dutch_Baby_Sugar

It’s hard to keep your fingers off them!

  Dutch_Baby_Hands

 

 

Dutch Baby!!

 

Batter:

                        3 large eggs at room temperature 30 minutes

                        2/3 cup 1 % milk at room temperature

                        2/3 cup all-purpose flour

                        1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg (preferably freshly grated)

                        1/8 teaspoon salt

                        1/2 stick unsalted butter

 

Topping:

 

                        ¼ c powdered sugar

                        ½ lemon, juiced

 

 

Put a 10-inch cast-iron skillet on middle rack of oven and preheat oven to 450°F.

 

Beat eggs with a whisk until pale and frothy, then beat in milk, flour, nutmeg, and salt and continue to beat until smooth, about 1 minute more (batter will be thin).

Add butter to hot skillet and melt, swirling to coat. Add batter and immediately return skillet to oven. Bake until puffed and golden-brown, 18 to 25 minutes.

Serve immediately, topped with powdered sugar and lemon juice.

 

Serve with cherry jam. Mmmmmmmmm.

 

 


Father's Day Feast: A Guest Post

Paul Kidwell, a working father, home cook, and devoted reader of this blog (who has also contributed to it previously—see here for his holiday creamy mushroom bruschetta story) wrote me recently with a Father’s Day story. Here it is:

I think every father wants his child – particularly his son - to take on some of his characteristics, interests or personality traits. And while I think I am a decent role model for my son, and it wouldn’t be a bad thing if he took after some parts of me; I definitely want mostly that he become his own person. There is; however, a particular area of influence where I have made my mark in his life and I am grateful that he has followed me into the kitchen where I prepare meals for my family.

I cannot recall when I first interested him in cooking, but I remember he was a little boy, barely able to reach the kitchen counter without the aid of a stepstool. As a self-professed “man-with-a-pan,” I have been cooking at home for 30 years, so I figured it was inevitable that at some point he learn to share kitchen utensils with his Legos, Power Rangers, and a myriad of sports equipment; and take his rightful place beside me as we made our way through countless meals and recipes. Over the years he has graduated from benign whisking and mixing together ingredients, to more serious cooking tasks such as handling the sauté pan, hand mixer, and my all-time favorite kitchen gadget, the immersion blender. Perhaps his greatest maturation as a home cook came about two years ago when he was 18 years old and took over the summer grilling chores from me.

Honestly, I’ve never been enamored with the whole barbecue/grilling phenomenon and, as a man, I know that statement calls into question my Y chromosome, and is nothing short of espousing sacrilege or blasphemy. I am not a fan of warm weather and anytime the temperature rises above 60° Fahrenheit, I begin to wilt quicker than Scarlett O’Hara in front of Rhett Butler. Happy to pass along those skills to my son, who on this Father’s Day* will be putting them to good use.

For this year’s Father’s Day I have eschewed tradition that can include a gift I don’t need or a restaurant meal I don’t want, and asked my son to prepare a Father’s Day meal for me, my wife and his grandmother. I think he is up to the challenge; however, to ensure that he not walk alone on the high wire without a safety net below, I have volunteered to be sous chef to his chef de cuisine and have already helped with the menu. My plan is watch in the wings as he prepares not just a meal, but a memory that – whether it’s edible or not – will be everlasting, and one that I will forever savor.

*Father’s Day comes on June 17 this year around the nation, but in my home it was celebrated last week and in some other homes the date is flexible, too.

Here’s what he’ll be preparing:

Grilled seafood kabobs
Grilled asparagus wrapped in prosciutto
Rice
Key lime pie

 

And here are the recipes.


Grilled Shrimp-Scallop Kabobs

  • 1/4 c. lite soy sauce
  • 1/4 c. vegetable oil
  • 1/4 c. white wine
  • 1 tsp. sugar
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 2 dashes hot pepper sauce
  • 1 dash of black pepper
  • 1 (2 inch) strip fresh orange, lemon, or tangerine peel
  • 1-1.5 lbs. sea scallops
  • 1-1.5 jumbo shrimp
  • 1 lb. baby bella mushrooms
  • 2 large onions chopped in “kabob-able” chunks
  • 2 red/yellow peppers chopped in “kabob-able” strips

Combine first seven ingredients in small bowl. Pour over seafood and veggies, and let marinate 1 to 8 hours. Thread marinated seafood and veggies on skewers. Grill until seafood is done.

Grilled Prosciutto Wrapped Asparagus

  • 2 pounds asparagus spears
  • 14-16 slices of prosciutto
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • black pepper

Preheat grill for medium-high heat. Trim ends off of asparagus. Cut prosciutto slices into strips. Place half of one slice onto each asparagus spear. Add minced garlic to olive oil and brush each spear with oil. Season with black pepper and place onto grill and cook for 4 minutes, turning occasionally. Remove from heat and serve.

Coconut Rice

  • 2 cups Thai jasmine-scented white rice
  • 2 cups good-quality coconut milk
  • 1 3/4 cups water
  • 2 heaping Tbsp. dry shredded unsweetened coconut (baking type)
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. coconut oil, or vegetable oil


You can easily prepare this dish in a medium-sized pot, but save yourself a bunch of trouble and invest in a rice-maker. They are not expensive and you will have it forever.

Place rice, coconut milk, water, shredded coconut, and salt in the pot and set over medium-high to high heat. Stir occasionally to keep rice from sticking to the bottom of the pot and burning.

In about 10-15 minutes the red light indicator will pop off and revert to the start position. Thjis means the rice is done. A few final stirs to fluff up the rice and top with a half-cup of shredded coconut and quarter cup of chopped scallions.

Key Lime Pie

 

  • 2 (14-ounce) cans condensed milk
  • 1 cup key lime or regular lime juice
  • 2 whole eggs
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 2 tablespoons powdered sugar
  • 1 tablespoon lime zest

I’ve made this pie myself and sometimes I make the crust and other times I buy a pre-made graham cracker crust. Not sure if I can tell the difference and will not expect my son (or you) to make the crust from scratch.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

In a bowl, mix the graham cracker crumbs, sugar, and butter with your hands. Press the mixture firmly into a 9-inch pie pan, and bake until brown, about 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool to room temperature before filling.

Lower the oven temperature to 325 degrees F. (My brother who is a trained chef told me to do this. Not sure I understand why, but have followed his instructions in savant-like fashion.)

In a separate bowl, combine the condensed milk, lime juice, and eggs. Whisk until well blended and place the filling in the cooled pie shell. Bake in the oven for 15 minutes and allow to chill in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours.

Once chilled, combine the sour cream and powdered sugar and spread over the top of the pie using a spatula. Sprinkle the lime zest as a garnish on top of the sour cream and serve chilled. 


Father's Day Gets Started Early: Butterscotch Brownies Recipe

Butterscotch_brownies1
Father’s Day came a bit early for me this year. Santa Maria is headed out of town next weekend, so she started the celebration on Saturday. We were just back from a high-school graduation party for the daughter of our babysitter, and in less time than it too me to get Nina and Pinta ready for bed, she whipped up a batch of butterscotch brownies.

This dessert is an old favorite of mine. When I was growing up, one of my sisters was an inveterate baker, and I’ll never forget the ones she used to make. I can still see her as she would break open a bag of Nestle Butterscotch morsels, and I think I can still hear the crinkle of the plastic, and smell their sweet aroma.

Sometimes, when we grow up, though, we grow up with a mistaken view of the world. Until I met Santa Maria, I didn’t think you could make butterscotch brownies without a bag of those morsels. She’s shown me I was wrong, and it wasn’t the last time she’s done that. Here’s how to make them from scratch. Keep in mind that the batter can be prepared in the time it takes for the oven to preheat.

Butterscotch Brownies

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Melt in a saucepan:

            ¼ cup butter

Stir into it until dissolved:

            1 cup brown sugar

Cool these ingredients slightly, then beat in well:

            1 egg

            1 teaspoon vanilla

Sift, then measure:

            ½ cup all-purpose flour

Resift it with:

            1 teaspoon double-acting baking powder

            ¼  teaspoon salt

Stir these ingredients into the butter mixture. Pour the batter into a greased 9 x 9-inch pan. Bake about 20-25 minutes. Cut into bars when cool.

 

Notes: This recipe is adapted from the “Joy of Cooking.,” which is right on the money when it calls it “An all-time favorite, easily made.” Santa Maria uses organic flour, with germ. She also pressed a few chocolate chips in the top, at one end, and she used a larger pan. 

Butterscotchbrownies2


Family Dinner? What's It All About?

Recently, I was invited to do a post for the Blog for Family Dinner Project, a site “dedicated to creating a community of people who care about food, family, health and the environment and who believe that family dinner is a powerful force for good.” 

I believe in what they are doing, and, yet, I also know that the benefit of eating together as a family depends on many things, including the family itself—as someone greater than myself once said, “Man does not live on bread alone.” My post went live on their site this morning. You can check it out here. And if you have a family dinner memory or story, I'd love to hear it, too.


The Joke is On Me

Balancing-act-0013
Matching the needs of kids with the needs of the parents is always a very tricky thing, especially because kids are, well, kids, and they are prone to changing their minds. Do you make half-a-dozen different dishes for your family in a night? Or do you make everyone eat the same thing? Growing up, I didn't have any choice, and I turned out fine (though my therapist might think otherwise, he shouldn't complain; he's made enough off of me to buy a new BMW, so far). I deal with this ever-vexing question by making meals that I can take apart for the kids, and put together for myself and Santa Maria. Here are two examples:

This isn't much work, and it makes life around the table a lot easier. But things are always in flux. The other day I was looking through my notes on my iPod, and I came across an entry from about a year ago. Nina had tasted the potatoes from that arugula salad, and was delighted by them. I told her they had thyme on them. "Time," she said. “You mean you put clocks on the potatoes?”

Thing is, Nina hasn’t eaten those potatoes in a year, and when I told her the story, she couldn’t believe it. “I was younger then,” she said. How do you manage your the changing tastes of your kids?