Then Dinner

What I Learned Today: A Beef Tagine Recipe


I’m working from home these days, concentrating on making art. Because of the delicate interplay between domestic bliss and domestic solvency, this also means I've taken on more of the tasks around the house. It's my job now to clean it.

The thing is, cooking comes much more naturally to me. Maybe it's my Irish genes, but I have a yearning to be hospitable. I can't help it. I want to feed and entertain and take care of others. I'm working on finding the joy in scrubbing the counters. It's a slow process, all of it. The making of art, the cleaning of the house, and the exploration of one's talents. I'm starting with Steven Pressfield's shrewd book "The War of Art," and I'm learning as I go along.

The lesson for today is that it’s not only difficult to clean a kitchen while cooking dinner, it’s downright impossible. Here's the recipe for my beloved Beef Tagine.

Green-Olive Beef Tagine

  • 1½ lbs braising beef
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne (or much less; to taste)
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon ground ginger
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons tomato puree
  • 4 shallots (or more), quartered
  • 1 large potato cut into small cubes
  • 2 large carrots, cut into small cubes
  • 1 28oz. can peeled plum tomatoes, drained and chopped
  • 2 tablespoons fresh chopped parsley
  • A pinch of salt
  • ½ cup pitted green olives, sliced in half (or more; to taste)

Trim the beef and cut into 1-inch pieces.

Mix together the five spices with the garlic, two tablespoons of olive oil and the tomato puree.

Turn the beef in this mixture and leave, covered, in the refrigerator overnight (or longer or shorter—it works either way, trust me).

Heat the remaining oil in the tagine base.

Fry the shallots, potatoes and carrots until they begin to color, lift out.

Fry the marinated beef until sealed on all sides.

Salt the beef as it cooks.

Return the vegetables with the chopped tomatoes any remaining marinade and the parsley.

Cover and cook over a low heat for 3-4 hours, or until the beef is tender (I’ve done this over two days, and about five hours).

Stir the olives into the dish and allow 15 minutes to heat through.

Serve with couscous.

Serves six.

How to Make Pizza at Home When Things Aren’t Working


Everything they say about making pizza at home is true. It’s easy (here’s my sauce recipe). It’s delicious (here’s my dough recipe). And it’s fun (here’s how to put it all together, using store-bought ingredients, but the method still holds).

If you still need more proof, check out this handy guide in The New York Times, from Sam Sifton, one of my food-writing idols (anyone can who can reference Ludwig Bemelmans “Madeline” in a charitable review of Nello—see the last graph about a row of Saudi women in two straight lines at a table not covered in wines—will forever be a hero of mine). I believe every single word of the Times’ guide. Really, I do.

But just as every story has three sides—your side, my side, and the truth—sometimes you you have to make a “calzone.” For no matter how long you may have been making pizza, something will, eventually, go wrong. And when that happens you will face a choice. If say, for example, you are struggling with a recalcitrant bit of dough that won’t slide off the peel and into the oven, you can strangle yourself with frustration as you feel 475-degrees of heat on your forehead. Or you can step back and improvise, which is what I did the other day. I rolled up the mess of dough and cheese and sauce and pushed it into the oven. A few minutes later (just enough time to put together another pie, with sufficient flour on the peel to prevent any stickiness), I pulled a “calzone” out of the oven.

I was happy to be done with mutant mass of misery, but you know what happened?  The gaggle of hungry and waiting kids (some some friends, some family, some of whom are famous in these parts for spurning the Sifton-esque pizzas of the past) nibbled and gnawed and enjoyed the scalawag “calzone.” I keep putting the word “calzone” in quotes, because whatever I made was far from the Italian classic, but the kids were sold on it and everyone was happy. So no matter what happens when you’re making pizza, don’t give up on it. Just keep going.

What's the One Thing to Do to Get Better at Cooking for Kids?


If you want to get better at cooking for kids, you don’t need to pick up another book. You don’t need to scroll through another blog. You definitely don’t need to take any classes. To get better at cooking for kids, you only need to do one thing: listen to them.

Yes, listen to them. I’m not really talking about infants and toddlers, but rather about slightly older kids. If you give them a chance, they will tell you what they want. Heck, even if you don’t give them a chance you’ll hear all about what they want. I’m not saying you have to give them everything they want, but if you listen to them you might just be surprised at the results.

As anyone who has ever been married knows, listening does not necessarily come naturally. Sometimes, it has to be learned. I can’t claim to be an expert at listening, but I am an expert at studying how to do it. I’ve discovered it’s a three-step process. The first and the last steps are to stop talking. This also happens to be the second step.

While you’re at it, if you’re going to stop talking, you might as well stop blaming, too. And judging. And minimizing. And otherwise invalidating the child’s experience. Listening is key to acceptance. And acceptance is key to everything. I don’t have the vocabulary, experience, or expertise to explain this, and I don’t expect you to take my word for it. Instead, read a bit about the life experience of Marsha M. Linehan, the creator of Dialectical Behavior Therapy. She started out as a disturbed child intent on harming herself and who found freedom and salvation through self-acceptance. For some practical advice, check out this piece on Psychology Today’s website by Dr. Karyn Hall.

It’s not an exaggeration to say that everyday I learn the lesson of how important it is to listen. Just the other day I made Puttanesca sauce for Nina and Pinta. The elder one had been longing for it for a while, and I was pleased to break out of a recent cooking drought (have you noticed a lack of posts???) by stirring up the old favorite.

But that dinner didn’t go quite as planned. I had chopped the tomatoes and both of my children were put off by the chunkiness of the sauce. They didn’t want to eat it, and I heard them. I often make the pasta and sauce as a side for frozen Alaskan salmon (which is so good it needs no recipe), and it mattered little to me if they ate the pasta with a sauce or plain.

Last night, I made the sauce again, but this time around I hit the canned tomatoes with my Braun immersion blender, and the sauce was as smooth as the night was fun. From the second when Nina came home from school and smelled that familiar aroma in the air and wondered what it was, to the moment that Pinta shouted out “Puttanesca,” from her piano bench where she was practicing, it was a peaceful and joyful evening. Listening, it turns out, is good for everyone.

Puttanesca Sauce


  • One 28 oz. can peeled plum tomatoes, crushed (or hit with an immersion blender)
  • 4 or more cloves of garlic, peeled and smashed
  • 3 anchovy fillets
  • 1 chili pepper (or a quick shake of red-pepper flakes)
  • 1 T capers
  •  12 or so black olives, pitted and sliced
  • herbs such as basil or oregano to taste (completely optional)


Heat some olive oil in a heavy-bottomed pan. Add the garlic and anchovies and chili pepper (or red pepper flakes).

Sauté until the garlic is soft, then add the tomatoes and reduce.

When the sauce thickens (in about fifteen minutes), add capers and olives and any herbs.

Serve over the pasta of your choice.

Niman Ranch Spicy Sausage Broccoli Pasta, the Staff of Modern Life


Last Sunday night, we returned late to the city after a stay at the Mohonk Mountain House. It was an unprecedented vacation for the Stay at Stove Dad family, and it was most welcome. The Mohonk House is a Victorian monument of long hallways, crenelated cornices, and plush duvets situated on a skinny lake in the Shawagunk Mountains of upstate New York. It’s an all-inclusive resort, with an ice skating rink, a swimming pool, game room, miles of hiking trails, and—most importantly—a dining room where the amount of work you do is in inverse proportion to the quantity of food they serve. It's like a cruise ship that's been marooned at the edge of the Catskill Mountains, or a high-end Las Vegas all-you-can-eat buffet lodged in the wilderness.

After three days of nothing but leisure, we found ourselves back home at dinnertime, with bags to unpack and school and work to prepare for. It was time for me get my toque back on. And so I did. I made a variation of a classic pasta standby, that one with broccoli that's always easy to make. I added a bit of kick by chopping up some Niman Ranch Spicy Italian sausage, and between the rich flavor of the sausage and the healthy base of the broccoli, it was the perfect way to reenter life after such a fine time away.

Niman Ranch Spicy Sausage Broccoli Pasta

  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 1 head broccoli, washed and cut into florets
  • 1-2 links of Niman Ranch Spicy Italian Uncured Sausage sausage, diced into small pieces
  • 3 garlic cloves, diced
  • 1/2 cup or more of freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • Spaghetti or past of choice

Put water on to boil for the pasta.
Cook the pasta to within about a minute of being finished (a little white inside is perfect) reserving the cooking liquid.
Steam the broccoli until it is tender but firm; set aside.
In a bit of olive oil in a large pan sauté the onions until they are translucent, at least ten minutes. Remove and set aside when they are done.
In the same pan, saute the sausage pieces until crisp.
Once the sausage is crisp, add the garlic and the onions to the same pan.
Once the garlic is soft, add the broccoli, and a bit of the pasta water.
Add the pasta and continue to cook until the pasta is finished, about a minute longer (add more water if it starts to stick).
Turn the heat off and finish with the cheese. There should only be a bit of liquid, and the strands of pasta and the broccoli and the sausage should all be coated with it nicely.

Family Paella: A Guest Post by Thomas Rayfiel


I have been fortunate to get to know, slightly, the writer Thomas Rayfiel, who, as it turns out, has long been the chief cook in his household. My good fortune was recently multiplied when he agreed to share a bit of his culinary experience—and a recipe—with me for this blog. Before I get to that, though, let me more properly introduce him. Or rather, I’ll leave the honor to The New Yorker’s Mark Singer, who wrote a charming Talk of the Town story about him three years ago, when his novel “In Pinelight” came out: 

Thomas Rayfiel [is] a quietly industrious Park Sloper who describes his imaginative methodology as ”getting as far away from what I know as possible.” The narrator of “Colony Girl,” Rayfiel’s second and best-known book, is a fifteen-year-old aching to escape from a religious cult in rural Iowa. “In Pinelight” presents the monologue of an elderly retired deliveryman in upstate New York, a soul-shriving stream of consciousness that flows the length of a book punctuated by periods, question marks, and line breaks but not a single comma.

Rayfiel is a singular talent. I encourage you to read his books. He’s currently at work on his seventh novel, “Genius,” which he says is “the story of a philosophy prodigy whose studies at Columbia are derailed when she is diagnosed with cancer and must return to live with her mother and brother in the small town of Witch's Falls, Arkansas.” It’s due in the spring of 2016. 

In the meantime, he had the following bit of wisdom to share about cooking for his family. I like it because it reinforces my thinking that every hungry family is alike—and all well-fed families are well-fed in their own way. Enjoy:

Your blog made me reflect on my own experiences cooking for the family, though I more often felt like Man Who Got Panned, as I zigged and zagged my way through the minefield of two children's evolving, often irrational preferences. I finally realized that a dish from which they themselves could make choices, a medley of main courses, sides, and rice, all heaped together on one central platter, would give them the illusion of free will, allowing them to craft individual helpings and transform the usual chorus of complaint to, "This is great, Dad!" 

After much trial and error, I came up with what we now call Family Paella, though people who have actually been to Spain (everyone but myself, apparently) assure me it bears only a distant relation to the real thing. It is more a sort of pilaf, I suppose. But it does the trick, and now that we are all older comes with an additional flavor, that most haunting of all spices: culinary nostalgia. 

Rayfiel Family Paella

  • 4 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 lb. Italian or chorizo sausage
  • 4 cups fish stock or clam juice
  • 1 dozen Little Neck clams
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 1 ½ cups onion, chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 colored pepper (I like orange) sliced
  • 2 cups arborio rice
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 ½ tsp. smoked paprika
  • ¾ tsp. saffron
  • ¼ tsp. dried crushed red pepper
  • 2 Tbsp. capers
  • handful of fresh or frozen peas
  • ¼ cup Manzanilla olives
  • ½ lb. shrimp (peeled)
  • 3 hard boiled eggs, cut in half (crinkle cut, if you're feeling artistic)

In a heavy pot or Dutch oven, heat half of the olive oil (2T) over medium heat. Prick sausage and brown on all sides (about five minutes).

Remove sausage, let cool, slice.

Warm fish stock.

Rinse clams (soak first, if you like) and put in a smaller pot along with ¼ cup white wine.

Heat remaining olive oil (2T) in the large pot used for the sausage, over medium-high heat.

Add onions, garlic, pepper, and sausage, sauté about seven minutes.

Add rice and spices, stir two minutes more.

Pour in the remaining white wine. Boil until wine evaporates.

Add the capers, olives, and peas, followed by the stock or clam juice, bring to boil, cover, and let cook until rice is almost tender, about 20 minutes.

Towards the end of the cooking time, turn heat under clams and wine to high and cover.

After a few minutes, wine will boil and clams will begin to open.

(By now the rice should be done.)

As each clam opens, remove it with slotted spoon and put in with the rice mixture. (Removing the clams immediately prevents overcooking.) Cover the clam pot each time to maintain pressure.

When all the clams have opened, pour remaining clam juice and wine over the rice mixture. Add shrimp and stir. The heat of the paella should turn them pink and cook them in a minute or so.

Turn paella out onto a large platter.

Spread evenly and stud the surface with hard boiled egg halves.

Put in the center of the table with large serving spoons and have each family member create his or her own portion.

Pour yourself a drink. You've earned it.

A Tricolor Salad for St. Patrick’s Day


I'm pretty low-key about St. Patrick’s Day, though I'm Irish-American. My observation of the holiday doesn’t involve bagpipes, crowds, or parades. I just stop and watch the revelers (I work in Manhattan, so it’s not hard to see them) and take note of all their green hats and scarves and sweaters, and think to myself what a poignantly joyful recognition of the great Irish diaspora the moment has become: these disparate masses of pale-faced people who sought a new home in a country that took them in (and should continue to take in all who need a new beginning) gathering for a few hours like a lost tribe, before returning to their jobs, and the rest of their lives. I stop for a beat, say a prayer of thanks, and then I go on with my day.

March straddles winter and spring, and (with help from the fine folks at Kraft, who are sponsoring this post), I’m honoring the expansive month with a raw salad that combines a wintery vegetable (daikon radish) with a perennial one (carrot) and a seasonal one (asparagus). I also tossed in a bit of raw sunflower, which adds a layer of texture and a note of earthy flavor, along with a promise of summer. 

The salad is a refreshing first course, with citrusy hints, courtesy of fresh lemon-thyme, and a sharp edge, provided by a touch of Grey Poupon mustard. It’s also a perfect dish for St. Patrick’s Day, as it has all the colors of the Irish flag: orange, green, and white. Enjoy it in good health! 

The full recipe for the St. Patrick’s Day tricolor salad can be found here

The Secret to the Perfect Steak


I can cook fish like it’s nobody’s business, thanks to spending much of my youth working in a fish market, but cooking steak at home, either on the stovetop or on a barbecue, has long bedeviled me. I never really knew what I was doing, and the results proved it. Sometimes my steak would come out raw. Other times, like shoe leather. It was guesswork, and I wasn’t guessing well.

But no more. After years of trial and error, I’ve finally found a method that I believe is foolproof. It has worked for me twice in the last couple of weeks. Of course, it can be foolhardy to come to strong conclusions after scant experimentation, but I am confident: the system is simple and it is data driven. All you need to do is get yourself an instant-read thermometer. 

I can’t claim that I created this method on my own. I’m sure if I Googled it, I’d find others before me who have figured this out, and I probably read about it somewhere. But truly original ideas are few and far between, and it’s not so much the idea that matters, but rather its execution (ask a copyright lawyer about that). All you have to do is this (indoor method):

  • Heat a cast-iron pan until it is smoking.
  • Then salt the pan heavily.
  • Toss the steak in the pan.
  • Cook it on high heat for two minutes.
  • Flip it.
  • Cook for two minutes more.
  • Then continuously cook it for one minute at a time on each side, until the internal temperature is 125 degrees. How long this takes will depend on how think the cut is. It could take less than ten minutes total, or maybe more than fifteen. Start checking after about six or eight minutes. 
  • Once the meat hits 125 degrees, take it off the heat and place it on a plate or cutting board, and tent it loosely with foil and let it sit for at least five minutes (or up to ten). You will then have perfectly medium rare meat with a hearty char on the exterior.

It helps to start with a good-quality steak (and that’s another reason this method is so good—you won’t risk ruining a pricey piece of meat). If your cut of meat has a thick edge of fat, salt your steaks and then sear that edge in the pan first (by moving it around on the hot metal like you are wiping the pan with it), which will properly grease the pan. If you like your meat more well done, just take it to a higher temperature. Be advised that this will make copious amounts of smoke, if you do it indoors. Outdoors, that's not a concern.

Finally, be sure to pick the right instant-read thermometer. Some of them are too small to read, and others don’t go as low as 125 degrees. Find one that works for you. Now if only they made instant-read thermometers for emotions. That could lead to all sorts of useful ways to get along with one’s spouse, one’s kids, and one's self.  

Twist that Dish: Every Day’s Valentine’s Day Special


In Eric Carlyle’s classic children’s book, “The Very Hungry Caterpillar,” the insatiable insect devours pages and pages of food. (Check out an awesome video of Carlyle reading the book here.) I always thought of the caterpillar going “crunch, crunch, crunch” as it fed itself, but maybe I have “crunches” on my mind—time crunches. All working parents face them. There’s never enough time to get to work, to get the groceries, to get the meal on the table, to have dinner, to get to bed.

And speaking of appetites, what about romance? What time is there for romance? Valentine’s Day is here, and the fine folks at Kraft, who are sponsoring this post, asked me to “Twist that Dish,” and come up with a clever new way to make a recipe easier and better. I know a twist that would improve the lives of working parents: the time-shift twist.

This year, Valentine’s Day is on a weekend, so there isn’t as much time pressure (theoretically, that is, for kid activities on the weekends sometimes take up more time than work itself), and things like strawberry cake and chocolate fondue can be considered. This recipe, though will save you time any day of the week, so there’s no need to wait for Valentine’s Day to make loving dinner for two. With the time-shift twist, you can do it whenever you feel like it.

Here’s what you do: When you are making breakfast, of say, bacon and eggs, cook a two extra slices of bacon and set them aside. Take one or two large beets, and put them in a pot of water, and bring them to a boil. The beets will cook while you are eating breakfast and getting out the door. Later, when you come home from work, you can sprinkle the bacon on a beet, arugula, and goat-cheese salad, and you have an easy, almost instantaneous, romantic dinner. The full recipe is here.

Smoky Three-Bean Beef Chili for Super Bowl Sunday


When the temperature drops, there’s more than one way to turn up the heat. Never mind the oil burner, or more blankets. Forget jetting away to warmer climes. Head to the kitchen and make a batch of this chili. Not hot in the customary way (though it can be made quite spicy), it has a special ingredient that layers in a fireside flavor and warms the heart: Spanish smoked paprika.

Paprika, which made from dried and ground peppers, is most closely associated with Hungry, where it is a key ingredient in that country’s national dish, goulash. But the peppers were native to Mexico, Central America, South America, and the West Indies, and they were brought to Europe by explorers from Spain. On the Iberian Peninsula, they do something magical while they make paprika, which they call Pimentón. In the river valleys of the rugged La Vera region, West of Madrid, they smoke the peppers over oak fires. The result is a rich smokiness that enhances every mouthful of the chili.

I make this chili when I want to warm my belly, and I’m tired of soup recipes, salmon, or even pizza. The fine folks at Kraft asked me to share it for their Tastemakers program. It’s perfect for the big game on Sunday. Cook it early in the day and sit back and enjoy the show. You can find the full recipe for Smoky Three Bean Chili here

Note: If you want to make your own beans from dried ones for this recipe, here’s how to do it. To make the 15 ounces each of cooked black beans, garbanzo beans, and kidney beans that are used in this recipe, start with half a cup of each, dried. Rinse and cook them separately in big pots of water, by bringing them to a boil and reducing to a simmer. Depending on the bean, it might take one to three hours or more to cook them. They are done when they are soft and no longer dry inside. They can be cooked a day ahead, and stored in a plastic container until needed.

Easy Holiday Beef Tenderloin


My old man was a lawyer who worked for himself, and he used to talk about the “hills and valleys” of his office. We are radically different fathers. I don’t know anything about the ups and downs of the law business, but I do know the “hills and valleys” of cooking for a family. Lately, it has felt like we were eating the same things over and over. Roast chicken, black beans, puttanesca, pesto, pizza. Repeat. Repeat again.

But just this weekend, Santa Maria rocked the alla matriciana sauce and I stunned the kids with Bittman’s “oven-grilled” pork spareribs. And tonight I’m making a halibut recipe that I developed for some friends in Alaska (I’ll share it soon), and I’m feeling more optimistic about things around the kitchen.

Speaking of which, I promised to follow up on my Christmas dinner. As I mentioned in my last post, we were visiting Santa Maria’s folks for the holidays, and I wanted to cook something special. They are now at an age when they deserve a good meal in their own home, and I needed something to match my mother-in-law’s talents for setting a spectacular table. Meals in her house are taken in their dining room, and her table is alway carefully laid out, often with cutlery, glasses, or napkin rings from their long-ago trips around the world. 

I went on my own journey, to my local butcher, for a beef tenderloin. I had never made one, but I had heard they were good. Based on the price, I knew it would be impressive. Little did I know it would be so easy, and so delicious. I could see in my mother-in-law’s eye the pleasure she took with each bite. I was relaxed because the meal came together with next-to-no effort, and we all had a wonderful holiday meal.

Easy Holiday Beef Tenderloin 

  • 2 tablespoons. olive oil, plus 1 tablespoon.
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • One 3-lb. center cut beef tenderloin, trimmed and tied

Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 400°F. 

In a small bowl, combine the 2 tablespoons of olive oil, salt, garlic, rosemary, and pepper and rub all over the tenderloin.

Heat the remaining oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Sear the tenderloin on all sides until browned, about 3 minutes per side.

Transfer the skillet to the oven and roast for 30 to 35 minutes or until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the meat reads 125°F, for medium rare.

Remove from the oven and transfer the meat to a cutting board. Cover the roast loosely with foil and let it rest for 20 minutes. 

Serves 6+.

Note: Recipe is adapted from this one by Giada De Laurentiis.