Kitchen Music

Back From the Beach With Some New Music

We were out of town for the holiday weekend, which now seems like six years ago—with the get-the-kids-to-school morning scrambles now well underway, I miss summer more than I thought possible.

We took our vacation in Montauk, a most magical place where the beaches are surrounded by high buffs that the wind has carved into fantastical shapes mirroring the rocks of Cappadocia. The surf was high, the company amazing, and the weather great. Traffic was another story, though, and after a long, long trip back to New York City on a parking-lot-like Route 27, I was relieved to find a bag of Bolognese in our freezer.

This is my tip for the day: always be able to replace a last-minute take-out meal with one from your freezer. It requires a bit of planning (to make the sauce ahead of time), but think of the comfort, pleasure, and happiness of knowing that you are moments away from a good meal whenever you might need one. Even if your stuck in traffic.

I know I've written about Bolognese before, so for those readers who know its joys, I want to leave you with something else--a bit of new music. While we were at the rental house, we listened to Beirut, a little indie-rock group with a Balkan-vibe led by a talented young songwriter named Zach Condon. Here's the title track to their latest album, fittingly enough dubbed "The Rip Tide."



We Interrupt This Blog to Bring You a New Way to Listen to Music

This is is a cooking blog, but what is a kitchen without music? While I can revel in the sound of sizzling onions and crackling bacon, there are others who need a bit more melody. I just discovered, a new social-media way to listen to music on the Internet. I don't fully understand how to use it, but it seems pretty straightforward. And the following video explains all.

One note: It's in its beta form, and you need a Facebook friend to access it. Feel free to send me a friend request, and I'll connect you. Here's the video. Have fun!


James Taylor and a New Cutting Board Make Life Better

I came home a little intoxicated last night and had to do some cooking. It reminded me of my post-college days when I worked one summer as a reporter for the Block Island Times and moonlighted as a short order cook. I pulled the late-night shift at the restaurant, and I once went bar hopping prior to taking my station at the grill.

These days I don’t go bar hopping anymore, but Santa Maria and I had been at the launch party for a captivating new book, “Fire and Rain: The Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel, James Taylor, CSNY, and the Lost Story of 1970,” by David Browne. I downed more than a few of the signature “Fire and Rain” cocktails that were being served, and I was ready to go out for the evening. As we left the party, I was thinking about grabbing dinner somewhere.

But that afternoon Santa Maria had rushed to the endodontist for an emergency root canal, and she wasn’t in the mood for any more festivities. Of course, we were hungry, and as we returned home I knew I would be taking my place at the stove. I wasn’t exactly thrilled to cook, but I wanted to take care of Santa Maria. I was happy that she had managed to make it to the party at all.

The first thing I had to do was finish off the black beans that I had left simmering on the stove before I went out. The babysitter had turned them off after a couple of hours, but I still needed to season them. I chopped the cilantro on our new cutting board, and I was reminded of how pleasurable cooking can be.

My old cutting board had warped, and it needed to be replaced. Wednesday night I was in Bed Bath and Beyond buying air conditioners, and on my way out the store I picked up an OXO Good Grips Bamboo board. Last night was my first chance to use it. Until then, I didn’t realize how bad the curve in the old one was. Bringing the knife blade down on the flat new board was a pure joy.

After taking care of the black beans, I put together a quick dinner of pasta with red sauce and mozzarella, accompanied by a side salad of red-leaf lettuce, avocado, and scallion. It was better than eating out. And that’s not just the liquor talking. Here, to cap things off, is James Taylor performing "Fire and Rain" at the Beacon Theatre:



Raul Malo's "Best Breakfast Sandwich in the World"

Santa Maria was out last night, catching up with old friends at Marcus Samuelsson’s new restaurant, Red Rooster Harlem, and I was at home casting about in the refrigerator for a dinner of my own. I cobbled together a few leftovers and fed myself well enough, but what I came up with was nothing to write home about.

Fortunately, I happened to have the chance to talk with the country singer Raul Malo, who led the Grammy-winning country-rock band The Mavericks to chart success in the nineties, about some of the cooking he does. Malo lives in Nashville and has he has three sons, ages 15, 14, and 10. He shared a story about what happened one time when he found himself in the kitchen with very little to choose from. He came up with what he calls the “The Best Breakfast Sandwich in the World.”

Malo’s latest release, “Sinners & Saints,” carries a powerful, nostalgic punch for me. It’s largely a Tex-Mex album, and when I was growing up my father used to put on Freddy Fender’s 1975 classic, “Before the Next Teardrop Falls,” at dinnertime. As soon as I heard Malo’s peerless crooning on his new one, I was taken back in time.

Malo, who was raised by Cuban parents in Miami, said, "We listened to a lot of music around the dinner table when I was young. If we were having a barbecue, it was a sure bet if that a Herb Alpert record would be playing." He went on:

I do some cooking, typical guy stuff, grilling and pasta. Grilling is art form, certainly, but basically there are two ways to have your meat. Do you like it burned or raw?

My favorite time to cook is breakfast. I have the most fun doing that. I've come up with absolutely the best breakfast sandwich you’ll ever have. I can’t believe that you can’t buy this anywhere. I wish I could get it at a restaurant, but I’ve never seen it, and I’ve been all over the world.

I start with a really good bagel. Personally, I prefer an onion bagel. I toast it. Then I fry an egg in olive oil. Frying an egg in olive oil just tastes better than using regular vegetable oil.

I sauté some spinach and a little onion and garlic in a separate pan, with a little cayenne, to give it a bit of a kick. I put the egg on the toasted bagel and the spinach on top of that. Then I top it with a little Tabasco and salt.

I came up with this combination because it was all I had in the kitchen one morning. I like spinach and I thought spinach is good for you, so why not put a little in my breakfast.

It sure sounds a lot better than what I came up with last night, and I’ll have to try it one of these days. Malo, by the way, will be at City Winery in Manhattan for three nights later this month, February 24-26. In the meantime, here’s the video from the title song of his latest album. Enjoy.


Don't Cry Over Spilled Milk Department


I was too busy yesterday to write a proper post. Instead, I'll share a bit of new music. Lately I've been listening to "100 Lovers," the forthcoming album by the Denver-based group DeVotchKa. Known for fusing Romani, Mariachi, punk, and other musical forms into songs with a cinematic scope and impact, the group recently released a video for the new album, which comes out next month. Enjoy.


Old Dog, New Tricks: A Pork Chop Recipe and New Music

Occasionally, when I arrive home from work and need to get dinner on the table, I feel like I'm trying to defuse a bomb—if I don't work fast enough and carefully enough, someone is going to get burned.

The other night, I cruised into the apartment just in time to kick off my boots, hang up my coat, and chill with Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria for a few minutes before starting the teeth-brushing, face-washing, book-reading bedtime routine.

We had the girls in bed by 8:10, which meant I was free to head to the kitchen and cook. Santa Maria was hungry and tired, and she wasn't quite finished with the sandman dance. As the girls took a second curtain call, each asking for a glass of water, I could see that she was reaching the end of her fuse.

I was ready, though. I had black beans and rice to heat up, spinach to quickly steam, and an avocado to slice. I wanted to serve it all with a nice little pork chop, because no matter how hard I might try, I can't make it through the day without eating some meat.

Pork chops may be one of the oldest things in the book, but they have always vexed me. I would often burn the outside and dry out the interior. This time, I took it slow, and I covered them as I cooked them gently in a cast-iron pan. Once I had one side browned, I flipped them and turned the heat down low. The second side didn't brown right away, but I figured that was okay. As soon as the interior was up to about 140 degress (an instant-read meat thermometer is an inexperienced chef's best friend), I turned up the heat and made sure both sides were brown.

They were delicious, and dinner was on the table in twenty-minutes. No one got burned.

Before I give the recipe, I want to mention the Cowboy Junkies because they are masters of doing old things new ways. Perhaps best known for their irresistible, down-tempo cover of the Velvet Underground's "Sweet Jane," from the late eighties, the Toronto-based group is back with a new album, "Demons," a tribute to the late Georgia singer-songwriter Vic Chesnutt. It's not due out for another two weeks, but here's a chance to listen in advance. Enjoy.



Simple Weeknight Pork Chops
  • Ground cornmeal
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1-3 boneless pork chops, depending on their size (to serve two)
On a plate, combine the cornmeal with salt and pepper, and dredge the meat in the mixture until it is coated on each side.
Heat a cast-iron frying pan and add a bit of olive or other vegetable oil.
Fry the meat on one side, with the pan covered until it is brown, about three or four minutes.
Flip the meat, cover, and turn the heat down low.
Watch the meat and cook until it is 140 degrees inside.
Take the cover off, turn up the heat and brown to your liking.
Let rest a few minutes before serving.

How to Make a Weeknight Meal In Less than Ten Minutes

Want a quick dinner? Cook up some leftovers. I came home the other night and didn’t have anything to eat. Then I remembered that the sage-and-apple pork and the roasted potatoes I had made over the weekend were still around.

If the pork was a bit tired, but oh so welcome, the potatoes were a revelation. I warmed them in a cast-iron pan and they were as crisp and tasty as the day they were made. I sautéed some "Hot Robot" spinach, and suddenly dinner was ready.

Later, I did the dishes listening to an advance copy of Lucinda Williams’ forthcoming album, “Blessed.” I’m an old fan of hers from her “Car Wheels on a Gravel Road” days, back in the late nineties. I was excited to discover that her new album, on first listen, is on par with that classic.

“Blessed” is not available until March, but in the meantime, I’ll leave you with another recent find of mine: The David Wax Museum. They're an up-and-coming indie-folk band out of Boston, and they have a new release, "Everything is Saved," coming out on Feb. 8, and a show at Joe's Pub on Feb. 9. I came across them on The Kitchen Sessions, a music blog with a name I just couldn't resist. Here’s a video of their song “Born With a Broken Heart.”

"Born With A Broken Heart" from Anthem Multimedia on Vimeo.




The Difficulty of Organizing a Family Dinner

When I was a child, we ate as a family every night, no matter what. My father would come home from his office at about 6:30, and we would assemble at the kitchen table by 7 p.m. If he was running late, my mother would start to feed us, and chaos would occasionally reign, until the sound of his footsteps on the back porch announced his arrival, at which point napkins would end up in laps, cutlery would be tidied, and smirks would be wiped off faces. My father often said that he was a voted class clown in high school—and that it was the last time he laughed.

I can’t say that dinner together was always a joy (there were countless times as an adolescent that I would spend the time staring at the clock in disbelief as its hands landed in a fixed position: we ate dinner at 7:20 pm and, twelve hours later, at 7:20 am I would be back at the same table eating breakfast), but it was time together, and we ate well.

Now that I have my own family, I’m amazed whenever Nina, Pinta, Santa Maria and I sit down as one. I love watching them eat and talking with them as they enjoy (mostly) the food I’ve cooked. Still, it’s not easy to get together, and I’m amazed that anyone ever eats as a family. (I don’t think I’m alone—Laurie David recently wrote a whole book, “The Family Dinner,” about how to “connect with your kids one meal at a time.”) Unless I make special arrangements, I’m not home from work before 7 p.m., which is a little late for my young ones.

Last night was no exception. Before I walked in the door, Santa Maria had picked Pinta up from daycare, stopped at Bark for a hotdog with her, collected Nina from a play date, and cooked salmon and green beans for herself and the kids. They were brushing their teeth before I could take my coat off. I read to my daughters (from “The TOON Treasury of Classic Children's Comics,” a really amazing collection that they’ve become fascinated with), saw them off to bed, and then set out to make myself something for dinner.

Perhaps because Elvis Presley’s birthday is coming up on Saturday (he would have been seventy-six), I had peanut butter on my mind. The King famously loved banana, bacon, and peanut-butter sandwiches. I don’t care for this combination, but I like the story of how he came to enjoy it.

Apparently, one night in 1976 he was sitting at his home Graceland in Memphis, Tennessee, with some police officers from Colorado. The talk turned to the Fool's Gold Loaf, a sandwich made by the Colorado Mine Company, in Denver, Colorado, featuring a single warmed, hollowed-out loaf of bread filled with one jar of creamy peanut butter, one jar of grape jelly, and a pound of bacon. Presley liked the sound of this so much that he flew the gang out to Denver that night in his private jet.

I didn’t have to go very far to get my peanut butter, just the refrigerator down the hall. I made myself two PB&Js, steamed the remaining green beans, made a serving of Hot Robot Spinach for Santa Maria, who was still peckish, and called it a night.

In honor of the King's birthday, here’s a video of him singing one of my favorite songs. If you want to try his famous sandwich, Serious Eats has the recipe, and more details about how he came to like it so much.


A Friend Writes In: A Tale about Eating Mussels in Brussels, plus a Recipe

Due to the disastrous turn of events on Saturday, I was not in a position to cook very much. We had planned to go to the greenmarket, to buy fresh flounder from Blue Moon Fish, which is something we love to do. On past weekends we’ve made linguini alle vongole (pasta with white clam sauce) and mejillones a la plancha (skillet roasted mussels). But not this weekend.

Cooking might have been out of the question for me, but it wasn’t for a friend of mine, who has his own tale about eating mussels that he was kind enough to share.

Dan Kaufman is a musician with an excellent avant-rock band called Barbez. It often tours in an old school bus, but this story is from a bit further afield. He has a ten-month old son, who we shall call Primo here, and he is just back from a trip abroad:

Last Mussel in Brussels    

It was our last meal in Brussels, where we had been living for one glorious month, and I hadn’t yet decided what to cook. We were here because my wife had been invited to teach at a modern dance school and I went along to help care for our ten month old son, Primo.

We lived in a sort of hotel room/apartment (there was a kitchen) with a few drawbacks such as an inexplicably angry, bald, desk attendant and the epilepsy-inducing florescent lights in our bedroom that flickered dimly and constantly through the night.  But the kitchen was quite spacious. There was also a low cut window in the living room where we set up a little play area for Primo. He loved to look out at the city and its low-rise skyline of spires and modernist office buildings.
We lived downtown, in the area called Sainte Catherine, near two long pools of water. The area is also a center for fish restaurants, and, according to what I had heard, until the 1970s was a bit like the old Fulton Fish market, with fisherman selling their offerings alongside the quays. There are still some fish stores in the area and there was also a man with a little stand in front of the Sainte Catherine church who sold mussels and oysters (and a glass of muscadet for two euros) that you could eat standing up.
Right nearby was another church, the 17th-century Eglise du Beguinage, situated on a quiet square and in which Primo and I spent hours enjoying its silence, or rather I enjoyed the silence as Primo slept in his Ergo carrier. It was better than walking the streets trying to avoid the trucks and other loud noises, which could jolt him awake quite easily. There was something quietly magical and anonymous about this European capital that suited us. It seemed to be no one’s destination of choice except EU bureaucrats and NATO officials.
The city also had great grocery stores. Coming from Williamsburg, Brooklyn, where one can purchase bacon coated donuts, but not a decent head of lettuce, we were taken with the neighborhood Delhaize, a local chain packed with a vast array of cheeses, ham, bread, yogurt, waffles, wine, water, chocolate, and God knows what else.

Before we left for this trip, l had taken to driving my school bus (long story) to Fairway for groceries. On my last trip there the bus broke down in the parking lot. After several hours pacing the lot and fending off a perturbed security guard, a tow trunk finally arrived and carted us off before quickly stranding me, because the bus was too large. Eventually I jumped in a cab with the perishables. The next day I was able to cajole a nervous but kind Indian tow truck driver to take me on a bumpy journey through Brooklyn (though his boss chewed him out for it) to find a shop that might resuscitate a 1992 eight-cylinder diesel school bus.
But back to the supper. After some Talmudic discussions with my wife, we narrowed down the choices for our last dinner abroad to two Belgian classics: moules or carbonnade flamande. We had gone on a rare date a week earlier, to a festive, unpretentious place called Le Pre Sale and had settled on the moules (mine with white wine, hers, a better choice, with garlic) though the carbonnades were rumored to be the best in the city.

Our narrow culinary choices were reflective, I suppose, of who we are. We’re the kind of people that prefer to put on Led Zeppelin with windows rolled down on a road trip rather than chance screwing up the moment with, say, the new record by Animal Collective. Sometimes the classics suffice, especially when you have limited time.
The night before our last we had our second date in Brussels, and despite both of us fighting off a hacking cough we savored steak frites and an enormous quantity of wine. All that beef made choosing mussels for the last night, much, much easier.
Though we loved our nearby Delhaize, one thing became clear: it is not the place to buy mussels. I had to toss two thirds of them out as they were open. As my wife put Primo to bed, I decided to improvise a Moules a L’ail, inspired by the delicious one she had had on our first night out.

Here is what I came up with, followed by a few reflections on my time away:

Moules a l'ail au basilic (Mussels with garlic and basil)

  • 6 cloves garlic, chopped finely
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 4 lbs. mussels, cleaned and de-bearded
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 3 Tbsp butter
  • 10 basil leaves, chopped finely
  • Salt and Pepper to taste

Heat a saucepan and add butter.
Allow butter to melt and add onion.
After about three minutes add garlic, wine, pepper, salt, and basil and cook for 3-4 minutes.
Add mussels and cover.
When mussels open (4-5 minutes) remove from heat.
Serve with green salad and baguette.

During the meal my thoughts drifted, prompted perhaps by the garlicky liquidI was soaking up with my bread. I remembered many things about our month, especially, in those last mouthfuls. The long walks with Primo in the Parc du Bruxelles and the morning the two of us stood hypnotized by the fountain at the park and the smile on Primo’s face whenever we saw the fountains at Sainte Catherine.

There was another taste too, that I recalled. The taste of social democracy we experienced at Babbo’s, a beautiful state-run children’s center with hand made wood toys, a slide that led into a giant tub of plastic balls, and pots of coffee for parents placed on top of a large table where they can sit and talk. I remembered the sweet Muslim boy named Osama and the effortless intermingling of people speaking Arabic, Flemish, French, Polish, and English. And as I downed my last mussels, my thoughts kept coming somehow, appearing now in a run-on fashion, as though in a Gertrude Stein novel.

The mussels reminded me of that morning. We had gone to Charli, a sweet little bakery, for a last coffee and pain au chocolat. Primo watched the bakers through the glass. A very nice new baker, who had just started there, smiled at Primo, who gave his incredibly warm smile back. Brussels_church Before we had our pastry, we had gone to say goodbye to the Beguine church. Once inside, Primo really looked at it, all the different sides of the building and we were so amazed, both of us, by the light and the high vaulted arches and the stained glass windows.

When we walked outside, everything was magical, especially this unremarkable pole on the corner—I tapped it and he smiled widely when he heard the sound. Then he tapped it himself, and then it became our pole. And then we moved on. Ten minutes later, after we had played along the quay, we passed by it again. Primo yelled out his yearning yelp; he wanted to see it, so we returned to it and said our goodbyes one more time. Somehow that pole had all of Brussels in it. We danced all the way home, and greeted the desk man with joy and euphoria and thought maybe we lifted his spirits a little.

Finishing my meal, I felt a bit sad to leave Brussels, our church, Charli’s, the swings at the Parc du Bruxelles, our pole. But as I took a last drink of wine, suddenly, the voice of Bob Dylan came into my head singing “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues,” an old favorite. “I’m going back to New York City,” Bob sang, “I do believe I’ve had enough.”

The Color of Pomegrantes: A Dialogue

When Santa Maria saw yesterday's item about pomegranates,  she had two things to say.

"If you want something utterly gorgeous upon which to feast your eyes, try Sergei Paradjanov's 'The Color of Pomegranates.' It recreates the inner world of a poet and was considered so subversive by Soviet authorities that he was tossed into the gulag for four years."

To which I replied, "That's why I married you."

The second thing she had to say concerned getting pomegranate seeds out of the shell. She said the task isn't hard, it's a fun puzzle, like a Rubik's Cube. "I never shy away from anything complicated or messy," she said.

To which I replied, "That's why you married me."