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October 2009

Can You Eat Meat and Still Be Green?

Over the past few years, Al Gore, the king the climate-change issue, has been called on the carpet by environmentalists for his consumption of beef, the argument being that industrial agriculture contributes to global warming. And now the Times of London has declare that we need to give up meat to save the planet. 

Today's New York Times has another take on the issue. Around this house, we rely on public transportation and we don't eat much red meat, so I'm not worried about my carbon footprint. Still, it was an interesting read. 

Bread Recipe for Simpletons

An old friend, Elisha Cooper, has recently developed an obsession with baking bread. Late last week, he paid me a surprise visit at work. He biked from his home to my office with a fresh, warm loaf on his back. I took it to my desk and my colleagues and I buttered the soft, salty, and cornmeal-encrusted slices and devoured them. The loaf was delicious.

We’re always running out of bread around the house, so I asked Elisha how long his loaf keeps. He doesn’t know. He always eats it fresh. It's so easy to make, he makes it all the time. After the dough is ready, it only takes about a half hour to finish the bread, so he’ll throw some dough in the oven while preparing the rest of his dinner. By the time his meal is ready, his bread is too.

Tonight, I left my office thinking about his bread. I was headed home to eat my Bolognese, which I was very relieved to find in the freezer this morning. I wasn’t in the mood to do any cooking when I woke. We’ve all been a little sick around the Stay at Stove Dad house. Given the limited amount of sleep we get (six hours is a wicked luxury, which makes me think of a sleep-related expression my mother-in-law introduced me to: “six hours for a man, seven for a woman, eight for a fool”), getting the necessary rest to get well seems like something reserved for the future, like say next May.

A loaf of warm fresh bread would have gone nicely with the Bolognese. I didn't have any intention of making it though. After my recent pizza debacle I’m a little gun shy. In time, I’m sure that will change. Meanwhile, here’s his recipe, which he got from his brother-in-law.

Bread For Simpletons 

  • 3.5 cups flour,
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1.5  teaspoon yeast
  • 1.5 cups hot water
  • cornmeal
Mix the flour, salt, yeast, and water in a bowl in the morning.
Let it sit all day with saran wrap across top of bowl (think about other things, go on about your business).  

When ready to bake the bread:
Heat oven to 425 degrees.
Throw the dough in whatever shape on cornmeal-sprinkled pan and wait fifteen minutes.
After the quarter-hour passes, fold the dough over on itself. 
Place in oven and bake for 22  minutes (or however long), until it browns and it sounds hollow when you whack its belly.

Why Pay for Pizza?


Pizza is perhaps the perfect food. It makes for cheap night out with next to nothing to clean up (other than the kids). It is fairly nutritious (lycopene, anyone?), and children almost universally love it. There’s just one catch, as I discovered today—for all of its appeal to be evident, it must be made by a professional.


This afternoon, a friend from Manhattan and her young son stopped by before dinnertime for a quick visit. They had spent the day at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. We had spent the day getting ready for dinner, which Nina announced as they were leaving. “We’re making plain pizza for dinner,” she said.


I overheard her and was torn. Should we have invited the boy and his mom to stay for dinner? Maybe. I would have liked their company, but I hadn’t planned on their coming over and I didn’t think I had enough food to offer. So I didn’t say anything, and it turned out to be the best decision. Not because there was a shortage of food, but because the pizza was terrible.


For father’s day earlier this year, Santa Maria gave me a pizza stone. I had asked her for one after reading in the Sunday New York Times Magazine an enticing account   by Sam Sifton about making pizza.


The stone has sat at the bottom of our oven since June, but this morning, Nina asked me “When are you going to make pizza?” I’ve been looking for dishes to cook with the children, and it occurred to me that pizza, with the messy dough and the drippy tomatoes and the bits of herbs, was a perfect thing.


This conversation took place at about seven in the morning. Santa Maria was asleep. I went to the computer and looked up Sifton’s article on the Internet and found his recipe for pizza dough. I read it closely to see what I would need to buy.


A few things posed a problem. Bread flour, was one. I had no idea what that is. Santa Maria, though, has done her share of baking, and would be able to help decode that mystery. Sifton said the dough needed to be made the night before, but that the morning was okay. It was early enough in the day, so we were still in business. A larger challenge loomed, though. His recipe called for a standing mixer. I didn’t have one of those.


I was sitting with Nina and Pinta on a bench in our kitchen, with the computer on my lap. What to do now? The online version of his article comes with a charming video tutorial. Kids love videos. So we watched it together. It tells you what to do if you don’t have a standing mixer: You can knead the dough. Problem solved.


When Santa Maria got up, I told her about my plan to make pizza from scratch. This idea made her want to go back to bed. After a cup of tea, and a walk through the park, though, Santa Maria came around to the notion of making the pizza. We made the dough before the children’s naps, to give it time to rise. Nina and Pinta enthusiastically measured the flour, salt, oil, and other ingredients. Everything was fine until the yeast and the water went into the mixture. Then, I started to panic.


Santa Maria proved her commitment to the project (and to me) by fending off my shouts to review the recipe and the video. She calmly dusted the countertop with flour and gave a quick tutorial to Nina, Pinta, and myself on the finer art of kneading.


Our fingers were sticky with dough and flour covered the floor, the girls’ dresses, and somehow, the chair in the next room, but eventually we had a nice ball of dough. It smelled remarkably fresh and delicious. I started to think about buying a standing mixer. Wouldn’t it be nice to make this all the time? We napped and the dough rose. Later, I started to actually make the pizza.


In college, I worked in a pizzeria and I know how to toss the dough in the air. With my children beside me, I relived my undergraduate days. It was a great show, but soon I had stretched the dough until it was much larger than my little pizza stone and wooden peel. I folded the dough over itself and fit it on the wooden surface. Mistake number one.


Together we spread the tomatoes and cheese on the dough. I slid the pizza into the oven without incident and felt a happy tingle of anticipation. I had been anxious about the pizza sticking to the peel, so I had covered it with extra flour. Mistake number two.


As the pizza cooked, the kitchen started to fill with smoke (that extra flour started to burn the minute the pie went into the oven). Before I could deal with the smoke, I realized that I didn’t have any way to get the cooked pizza out of the oven. My pizza stone came with a wooden peel, but not with the thin metal thing necessary to slide under the cooked pie and pull it from the heat. Mistake number three.


According to the recipe, we had seven minutes to come up with a solution. I wielded a spatula. Santa Maria stood by with a baking sheet and a ceramic plate (as small as the pie was, it was still wider than the largest baking sheet we had). Eventually, we pulled a delicious-looking pie from the oven.


We sprinkled it with fresh basil and grated Parmesan, and brought it to the table. The girls were waiting with their little knives and forks. We sliced up two pieces each for them, and that’s when the futile nature of the whole enterprise became evident.


Pinta didn’t like the tomatoes. Neither did her older sister, who kept calling them “the orange stuff.” Soon neither one of them was eating anything.


Santa Maria was suspiciously silent at her end of the table. There’s a silence when people are eating that’s good. It means they are so interested in their food that they have forgotten to talk. There are usually a couple of periods like this during every dinner party. This was not one of those silences. This was more like a “I don’t know how to find the words to tell you, dear husband who spent nearly the whole day involving the family in this lark, that the pizza tasted like something I can’t say in front of the children.”


I went back into the smoke-filled kitchen to redeem myself with another pie. I told Santa Maria that she would like the next one I made better. “That wouldn’t be hard,” she replied.


The first pie had been plain and the crust too thick and floury. I halved the amount of dough, doubled the tomatoes, added fresh mushrooms and garlic. I was going to make a thin-crusted masterpiece. Into the oven it went. When I tried to take it out, I pulled a hole in the center and was left with what could charitably be called a donut.


The kitchen was a flour-covered mess. The sink was full of dirty dishes. No one had been fed. I told the kids that next time we have pizza we'll go out for it. And I told myself, that at least I won’t have to spend any money on a standing mixer anytime soon.





No Worry Chicken Tikka Masala Recipe

My friend Michael, a father of two who works for Slate, recently wrapped up an interesting online series called “Freaky Fortnight,” in which he swapped roles with his stay-at-home wife, Susan, who is also a writer.  Michael’s final post was a poignant entry calling upon himself and other young parents not to worry so much. It’s good, albeit hard, advice to follow.


I was thinking about his column the other night. We have new neighbors in our building, and they moved in one floor below us on Saturday. I’m sure they’re nice people, but my mind raced—what if they smoke? What if they’re noisy? What if they can’t tolerate the pounding of little footsteps up and down the floor-through hallway? I thought of Michael’s column and put those ideas out of my head.


On Sunday, I had other things to worry about, anyway, such as whether or not my kids would eat my chicken tikka masala. One of my recent triumphs around the dinner table was the successful introduction of the dish. I’d made a giant batch of it the weekend before when I cooked dinner for twenty people to celebrate Santa Maria’s birthday (I also made a roast leg of lamb, dhal, rice, and a cauliflower-and-potato dish). The party was great fun, but the best thing about it, from my perspective as the family chef, was that we were left, after the guests departed, with about four days of food.


Imagine then, my joy on Sunday night a week ago when both Nina and Pinta spurned the dhal they usually eat and in a fussy bit of madness succumbed to the enticing flavors of the chicken tikka masala. Never, in a thousand years, would I have been able to get them to even try the chicken were it not for their strenuous disdain for the dhal. The kids loved the chicken tikka masla, even though it was almost too spicy for my lips.


Chicken tikka masala has a most fascinating back story. I know the dish through eating Indian food at restaurants with my wife, who back in her student days spent a fair amount of time in the country itself. As a recent article in Saveur points out, chicken tikka masala may actually have a point of origin not in the subcontinent, but in the U.K. A Scottish parliament minister maintains that the dish comes from Glasgow, where, according to him, in the nineteen-seventies, a customer complained about the dryness of his chicken tikka at a local restaurant, and the chef responded by whipping up the now-popular sauce.


After my success a week ago with the chicken tikka masala, I wanted to make the dish again, lest the kids forget their enthusiasm for the dish. So I put together a batch on Sunday, and as I did so I started to worry that they might not eat it. Could what had happened a week earlier been a fluke? Would they torture me and reject it now?


That afternoon, Santa Maria had a conference call she needed to take, so I was left in charge of the children. I enlisted them in making the dinner, partly to keep them busy and partly to give them a vested interest in the dish itself. Nina and Pinta (especially Pinta these days) love opening and smelling the kitchen spices (ground clove is a particular favorite). Cooking with the kids takes longer than usual, but the tax in time would be well worth it to me if it meant that they would continue to eat the dish. Anytime I have a chance to add a dish to our collective menu, I leap at the opportunity.


I’ve adapted a recipe from Food and Wine’s 2001 Cookbook. It’s a little different than restaurant chicken tikka masala, in that it doesn’t have any cream, but it is, to me and Santa Maria (and now our kids), just as delicious.


After measuring the spices with the kids and having them stir the pot, I slipped them bits of the cooked chicken coated with the sauce. I wanted to prime their mouths with the flavor and get them interested in eating the dinner. They gobbled up the slices of savory and spicy chicken. They were hungry. Nina and Pinta snatched little handfuls of cooked rice. I was pleased they wanted such and adult meal.


Come dinnertime, though, they quite naturally reasserted their rights to be four and two years old. “No like that” said Pinta, when I gave her a bowl of chicken, sauce, and rice. She insisted on eating just the chicken. And not cut-up pieces. Nina, too. It wasn’t the sauce the set them off, it was the little grains of rice. Aren’t children wonderful? Just when you think you’re worrying about the right thing, they’ll come along and show you how you should be worrying about something else entirely.


 No Worry Chicken Tikka Masala

  • 8 large garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
  • One 2-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and coarsely chopped
  • 1/4 cup water
  • one can (28 oz) peeled tomatoes, hit with an immersion blender or chopped by hand
  • 1/4 cup, plus 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large onion, minced
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons ground coriander
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon garam masala
  • a touch of cayene pepper, to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1 to 2 pounds skinless, boneless chicken thighs (or breasts) cut into 1 1/2 inch pieces
  • 2 teaspoons salt, or to taste
  • 1/2 cup coarsely chopped cilantro (optional)

        In a blender, puree the garlic and the ginger with the water until smooth.

        Heat the oil in a thick-bottomed pot and cook the minced onions over high heat until softened and golden.

        Add the garlic and ginger puree and cook stirring until golden and fragrant, about two minutes.

        Add the remaining oil and the spices, cook stirring constantly until lightly toasted, about one minute.

        Add the tomatoes and cook until thickened, about ten minutes.

        Add the chicken and season with salt. Reduce the heat and cook through. Add the cilantro. Serve over rice.

Pork Tenderloin Recipe for the Working Man

I have a wife and two children but I occasionally eat like a widower. Last night Santa Maria had dinner in Manhattan before coming home from work. The children had been fed canned lentil soup by our babysitter, and were in bed. I found myself staring down steamed broccoli, a couple of slices of roasted pork, and a side of pasta with puttenesca.

I’m not sure if what I’ve been doing lately qualifies as cooking, but it has been making my life easier, especially when I need only to think of myself. It’s part cooking ahead, part eating leftovers.

At the start of the week I cook up a slab or two of protein. This week I broiled a pork tenderloin while eating breakfast on Tuesday. Some weeks I’ve poached chicken breasts or pan-fried chicken thighs. Any of these meet my need for a serving of protein with a meal.

For a quick dinner after a long working day, I take some of the meat, combine it with a vegetable and a starch. I know it’s not rocket science and it’s not even a new idea, but it is very gratifying to have dinner ready in about fifteen minutes.

Last night, to go with the pork, I steamed some broccoli and grated Parmigiano-Reggiano over it to accompany capellini, the super thin pasta that cooks in minutes, topped by the puttanesca I made the other day for Pinta. She spurned it. I enjoyed it.

My broiled pork recipe is a variation on one I got from Mark Bittman's "How to Cook Everything." It’s a very useful thing to know how to make.

Roast Pork Tenderloin

  • Olive Oil
  • A bit of Garam Masala, about a teaspoon
  • A bit of mustard, to taste
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1 pork tenderloin, about 1 lb

Turn on the oven’s broiler.
Mix the olive oil and the spices and the mustard in a bowl.
Lay the pork on a roasting sheet and coat with the mixture.
Put the meat under the broiler for about ten minutes a side, until it browns.
Cook it to an internal temperature of about 150 degrees, which will leave a little pink but be safe to eat.

Note: This makes great, low-fat sandwiches when put on bread with caramelized onions.

Win Some, Lose Some Puttanesca Recipe

Anchovies As much as I would like to run the family kitchen like dictator and decide for everyone what they should eat, I don't. I run it more like a very small restaurant, with a very limited  menu. The menu is not on a chalkboard (although that might help once the kids learn to read), and it is not printed up on paper. It is a verbal menu. I tell the kids what I can make for them on a given day, and give them a choice or two.

As simple as this is, it can be confusing for a young child, mostly because I'm giving them the choice of lunch and dinner before I've given them breakfast. At 7:45 a.m., I'll say, "Do you want puttanesca for dinner?" and Pinta will reply in that plaintive way known only to two-year olds and mega-rich rock stars, "I want it now!"

I have to explain to her that I don't have it made yet, never mind that it's not something one eats for breakfast, and that the oatmeal that she was demanding moments ago is already boiling on the stove. She gets it, eventually.

So it went the other morning, when Pinta was tossing her head back and crying out for puttanesca. No problem, I told her, I'll make it for your dinner. Lately, it's been one of her favorites.

The beautiful thing about puttanesca, besides its rich and salty taste, is that it is one of the easiest things in the kitchen to make. And all of its ingredients are things that don't spoil and can, and should, be kept on hand at all times. I put the sauce together in the brief moment it took Santa Maria to get the milk and cereal from our kitchen to the dining-room table. 

The sauce gives off a slightly odd smell for eight in the morning, but knowing that it would be ready for their baby sitter to give to them for dinner was very comforting.

Puttanesca sauce is perhaps one of the oldest recipes in the world. It is a storied sauce, and no matter the hour. it's a tale worth contemplating. Its origins are often traced to Naples and to the prostitutes of that seaside city. Puttanesca derives from the Italian for prostitute, puttana, and for some, its pungent and enticing aroma calls to mind what Courbert captured so gamely in l'Origine du Monde. The story I favor is that puttanesca sauce came into being because the prostitutes needed something to make between customers, and they didn't want to waste time. I know what it feels like to be rushed.

I finished the sauce by throwing in the olives and capers while doing the breakfast dishes. As delicious as the sauce turned out, I learned later that Pinta spurned it that evening. Win some, lose some. And that means more sauce for me.

Puttanesca Sauce

  • 1 28 oz. can peeled plum tomatoes, crushed (or hit with an immersion blender, which is very fast)
  • 4 or more cloves of garlic, peeled and smashed
  • 3 anchovy fillets
  • 1 chili pepper
  • 1T capers
  • 12 or so black olives, 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. Saute until garlic is soft, add 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.

The Many Ways to Make a Bolognese Recipe

My brother Tom and his wife, Liza, recently brought into this world their first child, a beautiful little boy, Luca. Last week, I took one look at him swaddled on their Brooklyn couch and said to myself, “Yes, I’m ready to be a grandparent.” Then I thought about what advice I might give my brother.

When I first became a parent, I learned that there are at dozens of different ways to do any child-related task, from breast-versus-bottle feeding, to plastic-versus-glass bottles, to milk-versus-soy-based formula to co-sleeping, attachment parenting, and Ferberizing. What I took away from the surfeit of opinions was that there was no right way to do anything. No right way, therefore, no wrong way. I was in business as a father.

I considered how I could sum this up to him. I concluded that the easiest thing to tell him is that there are as many ways to make a Bolognese as there are to parent.

In his book about learning how to cook Italian food, “Heat,” Bill Buford enumerates a few of the variations: “A Bolognese is made with a medieval kitchen’s quirky sense of ostentation and flavorings. There are at least two meats (beef and pork, although local variations can insist on veal instead of beef, prosciutto instead of pork, and sometimes prosciutto, pancetta, sausage, and pork, not to mention capon, turkey, or chicken livers) and three liquids (milk, wine, and broth), and either tomatoes (if your family is modern) or no tomatoes (if the family recipe is older than Columbus), plus nutmeg, sometimes cinnamon, and whatever else your great-great-great-grandmother said was essential”

Most Americans I know have little knowledge of what their great-great-great grandmothers might have cooked (or what she might have thought was essential when it came to child rearing). My brother and I are no exception. In a great-grandparent’s place, we have authorities like Marcella Hazan and Mark Bittman.

Hazan’s “Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking” outlines her requirements for a good Bolognese:
  •     The meat should not be from too lean a cut; the more marbled it is, the sweeter the ragù will be. The most desirable cut of beef is the neck portion of the chuck.
  •     Add salt immediately when sautéing the meat to extract its juices for the subsequent benefit of the sauce.
  •     Cook the meat in milk before adding wine and tomatoes to protect it from the acidic bite of the latter.

She goes on, but I won’t. I adapted my recipe from Mark Bittman’s “How to Cook Everything,” and I’ve never cooked it with milk. Someday I may try it, but for now I don’t want to mess with something that works.

A friend of mine, who cooks for his family all the time, describes serving Bolognese to his children as “an easy ground ball.” There’s no problem getting them to field it. Around our house, an evening of Bolognese has often been accompanied by dancing on the part of Nina, who likes it so much she celebrates.Potato_masher

    Recently, however, she has cut back on her consumption of the sauce. It could be that her tastes have changed, or might just be the fickleness of a four-year-old. Either way, I wanted to get her eating it again, so I made a slight adjustment to my method.  I realized that my meat was clumping (perhaps a consequence of skipping the milk step?), and I remedied that by crushing the cooked ground beef with a potato masher. I wasn’t sure if the more finely pulverized beef made a bigger difference than fact that I told her that I’d made it special for her, but Nina loved my latest version of it.

One note on the sauce: It may take hours to cook (during which period your house will smell heavenly), but it freezes extremely well and, if packed in quart or smaller container, defrosts on a low heat in the brief amount of time it takes to boil water and make pasta, making it a perfect alternative to a weeknight take-out dinner. Plus, it will taste much better than anything that comes out of a steaming cardboard box.

Bolognese Meat Sauce (the Park Slope Way)

  •  1 onion, chopped
  • 2-3 carrots, chopped
  • 1 stalk of celery, chopped
  • 2 slices of bacon, chopped
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 1/2 cup white (or red) wine
  • 11/2 lb ground beef
  • 3 cans of peeled plum tomatoes, diced to bits with an immersion blender
  • Cinnamon and nutmeg to taste

        Saute the onion, carrot, celery, and bacon until the vegetables are soft and the bacon fat rendered. 

        Add the beef and cook it until it is brown.

        Add the wine and cook it off.

        Add  the stock.

        Add the tomatoes and the spices and simmer until thick (about three hours).

Quinoa and Sweet Potato Salad Recipe

I’m a writer and an editor by trade, and as a consequence, I spend a lot of time in my head. It’s my job to trade in ideas and concepts. It can be hard to know, though, how those thoughts match what is going on in real life.

Lately, it feels like I’m always working in the kitchen. Time at home has become a much more scarce commodity ever since Nina started school, so in fact I’m probably not always working in the kitchen. One truth is that I’ve been going to work earlier.

However, to get roughly the same amount of cooking done, I’ve shifted my prep work and other tasks to the night before. So, even if I’m literally spending less time in the kitchen, I’m doing it more often, which makes me feel like I never leave the sink, counter, and stove.

I come home from work, eat dinner, and, even though I’m full and it would make more sense to flip on the television or open a book, I start cooking again. The shift in how I make my quinoa salad is a good example. While I’m doing the dishes, I’m simmering the grain. By the time I’m done with the clean up, it’s finished. That saves me about ten-to-twenty minutes the next day. All that’s left to do is to chop some vegetables, which is something I can do in my children’s company.

I’m so in love with quinoa that I’ve started to use it in a new salad. Like many of my recipes, this one comes from Mark Bittman (Today’s New York Times report on the closing of Gourmet magazine had a great lede, “It’s Rachael Ray’s world now — we’re all just cooking in it.”; I don’t know about Rachael Ray, but I do feel like I live in Bittman’s world).

I’ve been making this sweet potato and quinoa salad for a few weeks now. I’ve varied Bittman’s recipe slightly. He calls for boiling the sweet potatoes. I roast them, to concentrate their flavor. I chop and roast them at night to use the next morning, just like the way I now prepare the quinoa itself. I don’t bother to peel the sweet potato and I prefer the salad with a white-wine vinegar, but that might just be me.

In my head, I think about my cooking in very grandiose terms. I’m not just making meals for my family, I’m running a small, exclusive restaurant. Its clientele is very special and very dear to me, and one of the terrible ironies of my opening this restaurant is that their very patronage makes it harder and harder for to keep it up and running.

When my children were infants, cooking was a guilt-free way to avoid dealing with their physical and emotional demands. I discharged my domestic responsibilities with a creative flair that kept me satisfied and fed me and my family. I would even get a pat on the back for being the dad who cooks.

Now that they’re a bit older and aging at what feels like an exponential rate, standing in the kitchen leaves me feeling like I’m missing out on their growing up. It’s an exaggeration, of course, (we spend time together in the kitchen and eat meals together), but I am feeling the pressure to manage my time more carefully.

I don’t plan on shutting down the restaurant in my mind, but I might have to expand my staff. I have an idea that I know just the young folks to hire.


Quinoa and Sweet Potato Salad


  • 1 cup quinoa, rinsed well
  • 2 sweet potatoes, scrubbed
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced
  • ¼ of a red onion, minced
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
  • olive oil
  • white wine vinegar
  • salt and pepper, to taste

        Preheat the oven to 350 degrees

        Cook the quinoa in 2 cups of water as you would cook rice, about twenty minutes

        Chop the sweet potatoes into small squares, about a half inch each. Coat with a tiny bit of olive oil, salt  and pepper, and spread out on a baking sheet or in a large frying pan and roast in the oven until the           potatoes are soft on the inside and slightly crispy on the outside

        Toss all the ingredients and dress with the oil and vinegar.

        Note: dress only as much of the salad as you would like to eat in a given sitting. The remainder of the salad will keep  for days, so long as it is not dressed before consuming.

"Saving" Money with a Wasabi and Garlic Steak Recipe

Calvin Trillin’s 1978 collection of essays, “Alice, Let’s Eat,” which is the second volume in the New Yorker writer’s entertaining “Tummy Trilogy” about eating and America, includes a discussion of “Alice’s Law of Compensatory Cashflow,” a theory Trillin credits to his wife, who died eight years ago last month. The law “holds that any money not spent on a luxury one considered even briefly is the equivalent of windfall income, and should be spent accordingly.”


The law works this way: “If you decide, for instance, that buying a five-hundred-dollar color television set would be, all things considered, and an act of lunacy and the final step toward complete financial collapse, you have an extra five hundred dollars that you ‘saved’ on the television set available to spend on something else.”


Trillin mentions that it took him years to grasp the finer points of Alice’s Law of Compensatory Cashflow, but that he finally came to understand it through food (he “saved” seventy dollars by not flying first class one time—this was the seventies, remember—and he spent the seventy dollars to bring a fancy picnic aboard so he didn’t have to eat airline food).


I’ve been engaging in a little Alice-like thinking with my own money lately.

Yesterday morning, I washed the household laundry in the coin-operated machines up the block from my house, instead of sending it out to be picked up, washed, dried, folded, and delivered, which is how we how we had our laundry done until recently.


Sending it out costs about thirty to forty dollars a week; doing it ourselves is just fifteen to twenty dollars. And it’s not that much effort. I throw the clothes in the machines and head out for a jog. By the time I get back, they’re done, and I toss them in the dryer. No big deal.


The fifteen to twenty bucks that I save every outing, though, has been weighing on my mind. A week ago, I contemplated picking up a half decent bottle of Sancerre. I didn’t. Yesterday, I was hit by a mighty hunger. I was looking for something fatty and satisfying. I was craving steak. I bought a grass-fed, seventeen-dollar-a-pound, rib eye from the Park Slope Food Coop and cooked my favorite way.

I came across this recipe in Mark Bittman’s New York Times column in 2001. I don't often make it, though, as it is too much of a luxury. Washing my clothes in a coin-operated storefront has changed my thinking on that.


Bittman suggested putting wasabi and garlic on the rib eye, calling the preparation “The Steak Awakened.” He was right about the title. The sharpness of the wasabi and the garlic brighten the rib eye and all of its somnolent fat. My mouth is watering just thinking about it as I write. It’s enough to make me want to go and do the laundry again.

Wasabi-Garlic Rib Eye

  • 1 Rib Eye steak
  • 1 tablespoon wasabi powder
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • olive oil
  • salt

        Combine the wasabi powder with a little water to form a paste.

        Mince the garlic.

        Combine the wasabi, garlic, and some oil until you have a thick, spreadable potion.

        Heat a cast-iron skillet until it is smoking (or use a grill).

        Salt the skillet heavily.

        Place the steak in the pan and cook a few minutes on one side, until browned.

        Salt and flip the steak and coat the browned side that's now up with the wasabi-garlic combination.

        Cook until the meat is finished to your taste

        Note: One caveat. I can never seem to get the meat cooked properly on the first try. I'm always afraid of over cooking it and end up taking it off the heat far too soon. Last night, the meat had to sit on the warm pan for about twenty minutes (the flame was off) after I'd flipped and coated it. It still was too rare. In these cases, I either slice the meat and sear it, or cook it covered for a few minutes longer. I hope other readers have more skill with this. I welcome any pointers.