Previous month:
December 2009
Next month:
February 2010

January 2010

How to Cook an Egg

I've found it hard to cook these days for a couple of reasons. The first is that finding a new place to live is a massive task. Instead of chopping onions, I'm talking on the phone with friends about real-estate lawyers and the ins-and-outs of other neighborhoods. We need to move someplace with decent subway access to Manhattan, proximity to a great grocery store (nothing we find will land us as close to the Park Slope Food Coop as we currently are, alas), and good public schools. The first two points are not as much of an issue as the latter one. A good school will most likely determine where we end up next. Figuring out what makes a school good, is another question. Answering that will require more time on the phone and in front of the computer.

The other reason is a bit more ironic. It's really quite a shame that our over-sensitive ex-neighbors moved out when they did. One of the things that drove them crazy was the sound of the kids in the early morning. When they came to complain about it, I told them that I sympathized completely--the sound of the kids in the early morning drove me crazy.

The kids slept until 8:30 this morning. The later they sleep, the less time I have to cook before going to work. Back when Pinta used to wake at 5 a. m., I would make soups and stews with her beside me on the floor of the kitchen. I think I dirtied every non-lethal utensil daily during those days. I would toss her pots, pans, spoons, empty plastic containers, and anything I could get my hands on to keep her busy. I got a lot of cooking done back then.

But this morning the house was silent until 8:30 a.m. I was shocked when I woke. We had a mad dash to get out to school and work. I didn't have time to do any prep work in the kitchen for tonight's dinner. When I got home from work, I was tired and hungry. Fortunately, I had made chicken soup over the weekend, and I ate some of that for dinner. We have a freezer full of old bread, and I used three pieces to make grilled cheese. Still, I wasn't satisfied. I needed more protein. The best thing I could find in the fridge to eat were eggs.

When I was a child, my mother made eggs a special way for me. She called it a "Chopped Up Egg." It caused great confusion whenever I slept over at a friend's house. "Eggs for breakfast? Over easy, sunny side up, or scrambled?," the parent would ask me. "Chopped up, please," I would reply, not knowing anything else to ask for. "What?" was usually the response.

It is a poached egg in a dish, chopped and served with some butter and salt and pepper. My mother usually served it in a tea cup. I loved it. I don't make it very often anymore, but it still tastes good in my memory. I was too lazy to make chopped up eggs this evening. I just boiled and peeled the eggs and ate them. I'm not proud, but I am well rested.

Chopped Up Egg
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon butter
  • salt and pepper

Bring a pot of water to a boil and then reduce the flame until the water is barely simmering.

Crack the egg and slip it into the water gently.

Poach it for three or four minutes, depending on how well done you like your eggs. I like the yolk bright yellow and solid, but you may not.

Put the butter into the bottom of a teacup, along with some salt and pepper.

When the egg is ready, remove it from the water and pat it dry with a paper towel.

Transfer it to the teacup and chop the egg up with a spoon, mixing the butter and the salt and pepper together.


Note: This is also delicious with a bit of toast crumbled into the cup.

The End of an Era, and a Zucchini and Mint Pasta Recipe

The ability to handle change is a skill that I want to instill in my children. The best way to teach something, of course, is by example. Unfortunately, I'm about as good at being adaptable as an elephant might be at riding a bicycle. Change is not something that comes easily to me. It took me decades to get into therapy (representing more of a cause than a symptom, perhaps), and I've lived in the same apartment for fifteen years. That is about to end.

I like my apartment, despite its four flights of stairs, its crazy lack of heat in the middle of the night, and its ugly-as-sin kitchen cabinets. All of its flaws have always been redeemed by two key facts--its price, which has been below market for years, and its location, which in real-estate parlance is all that matters, matters, matters.

The cracked bathroom tiles and the odd placement of the refrigerator (it's actually in the hall) are not driving me from my nest. My landlords are. I've never had a lease, and on Friday I received a notice of termination. We've been given thirty days to get out. The low-rent bohemian dream is over. It is time to wake up to the realities of the current real-estate market. 

I'm confident that we'll manage the transition to a new place just fine. For the past few days, though, it's been rough going. I'm shocked, of course, to be served a notice from a lawyer. During those fifteen years, I was never once late with the rent, and I kept an eye on the building when the landlords, who live on the second floor, weren't around. How many times have I shoveled the snow from the sidewalk in front of the building while the owners were off in Florida? Who made sure that the building's garbage cans didn't blow down the street on a windy day? Who didn't chop vegetables on the kitchen counter, lest the knife mar the Formica? I treated this place like it was my own.

I'll get around to telling the story of how we ended up getting thrown out. It has its funny parts, but as the maxim goes, comedy equals tragedy plus time. I need a little more time to deal with it. The short story: our new downstairs neighbors, who have since moved out, could not tolerate the pitter-patter of little feet. The day they arrived, before even saying hello, they ran upstairs at 6pm to complain about the sound of our kids running around the apartment.  They acted as if we were raising pachyderms, not children. They were implacable. We did our best to keep them--and by extension our landlord--happy. It didn't work. Neville Chamberlain never had it so bad.

Now I have a grand opportunity to demonstrate my own adaptability. Fortunately, there's one arena where I often get to practice the skill: cooking. Take the other night, for example. I had been planning to make a zucchini-pasta recipe from Mark Bittman. The recipe calls for basil. I had purchased the fragrant herb earlier in the week. I washed it right away, which helps it last longer in the refrigerator. Life intervened, though, and I never got around to using it. The leaves turned black and soggy and I had to throw the bunch out.

I never made the dish. The zucchini, on the other hand, held up just fine. So, a week later, when I wanted to cook the dish I had almost all the ingredients. I was out of basil, but I did have mint. Santa Maria had purchased a bunch a few days earlier for a leg of lamb I was making for an erudite friend, and my former roommate, in town from London. We ate the lamb, but not the mint. So, there it was. Would the mint taste as good as the basil in the recipe? I was pretty sure it would. In the end, I think, it was better. Hopefully our housing situation will turn out the same way.

Pasta with Zucchini, Ricotta, and Mint
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 or 4 small zucchini, rinsed and diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 cup ricotta cheese
  • 1/2 to 1 cup fresh mint leaves, washed, dried, and chopped
  • Penne or other pasta
  • Grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, optional

Bring a large pot of water to a boil and salt it.

Heat a large frying pan and add the oil.

Sauté the zucchini, stirring occasionally, until it browns and gets tender. Do this in batches if necessary. The important thing for browning is insuring that there's sufficient surface area on the pan for the zucchini.

Start to cook the pasta.

Stir the garlic in with the zucchini.

Warm a serving bowl and put in the ricotta. When the pasta is ready, drain it and reserve the cooking liquid. Use this, a little at a time, to thin the ricotta until it is the consistency of a sauce.

Toss the pasta, zucchini, and mint into the bowl. Add the Parmesan, salt and pepper.


How to Tell You When You are Over Tired plus A Recipe for Roast Chicken Breasts with Lemon, Tomatoes, and Olives

Working all day and much of the night and cooking for a family of four can be tiring. After years of enduring extreme sleep deprivation thanks to the erratic nocturnal habits of my youngest child, I know the signs of exhaustion well.

Take yesterday, for example. After eating some leftover aloo gobi for lunch, I was washing my fork in my office's communal kitchen. I dried it with a paper towel, opened the garbage can, and then held on to the wrinkled paper towel and thew the fork in with the refuse. Whoops.

Then I went home to eat a delicious 'in the hills of Provence' dinner of roast chicken breasts, olives, tomatoes, potatoes, and lemon. It's a simple dish that I learned from the "Gourmet Everyday" book I'm so fond of. I chopped the potatoes and sliced the lemons in the morning and laid out the chicken in the pan, so all Santa Maria had to do was put the dish in the oven and roast it. No real work on her part, and a fine dinner for her, the kids, and me. A perfect combination.

There was one catch, though. While I was cleaning up after dinner, Santa Maria opened the garbage can in our kitchen and pulled out a big white clump of who knows what. She said, "you cooked one of the pads." I didn't know what she was talking about. She said, "from the package of chicken." Apparently, when I mixed the chicken breasts with the lemon and garlic in the morning, I included one of the absorbent pads from the chicken's packaging. Double whoops. So much for eating organic chicken. Fortunately, Santa Maria found the errant pad about midway through the roasting session and pulled it out. I don't think it had much of an effect on the flavor, but then again, I was tired.

Chicken Roasted with Potatoes, Tomatoes, Lemon, and Olives
  • 7 garlic cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large lemon, sliced
  • 1 chicken breast, bone in, halved (two pieces)
  • 6 to 8 small red potatoes, quartered
  • 4 plum tomatoes, halved lengthwise
  • 12 black olives, pitted
  • 1 tablespoon rosemary, dried or fresh
  • juice from half a lemon

Preheat oven to 350 degrees*.

Dice two of the garlic cloves, salt the pieces, and dice some more.

Mix the garlic with the lemon juice and 2 tablespoons of the oil and whisk.

Coat the chicken breasts with the garlic-lemon mixture.

Make a bed of the lemon slices in the bottom of a roasting pan.

Put the breasts on the lemons, skin side up.

Combine the remaining garlic cloves, the potatoes, and the tomatoes with the remaining oil in a bowl and mix until coated well.

Arrange the vegetables around the chicken in the roasting pan.

Toss in the olives and sprinkle with rosemary.

Roast in the oven for about an hour, or until the interior of the chicken breasts registers 175 on an instant-read thermometer.

Note: The amount of chicken in the recipe can be doubled, but that may reduce the room in the pan for the vegetables. If doubling the chicken, plan on spreading some of the vegetables out in a second roasting pan.

*I have made this recipe at 350 degrees, but the original from "Gourmet Everyday" calls for heating the oven to 450 degrees. My old oven must have run hot, so I used a lower temperature. A reader notified me that 350 wasn't hot enough to get his dinner done in time. he ended up ordering Thai-food take out. I hope that doesn't happen to you. Know your oven, and if it's the first time you are making this, my advice is to start at 450 degrees.

Harried Dad's Aloo Gobi

I believe cooking is all about planning--get the things you need and then get dinner on the table. I'm not one of those people who has to run out in the middle of making a dish to get an ingredient. I keep my larder stocked with everything from anchovies (for the quick puttanesca) to zucchini (at least during the summer).

I draw up the week's menu before going shopping. I do my prep work in the morning so dinner is easy to make in the evening. I keep bolognese and chicken soup and dhal in the freezer. 

Sometimes, though, my plans go awry. I was set to make aloo gobi, a traditional Indian dish mixing potatoes (aloo) and cauliflower (gobi) for dinner this evening. We had a birthday party to go to this afternoon, and if I could get it done before we went out, it would be ready for dinner when we returned.

My plan fell apart when I decided to nap instead of cook. What can I say? It's impossibly hard for me to resist a little siesta on a Sunday afternoon. Or a Saturday afternoon, for that matter. (I swear, if I had a private office, I would nap during the workweek, too; Churchill, Edison, and Da Vinci were reportedly ardent nappers, so I would be in good company).

When we returned from the party, I was hungry and the mad dash was on to get dinner ready. I was pairing the dish with salmon because I need protein with every meal. The kids had gorged themselves on brownies and ice cream at the party, so I wasn't concerned about them needing more calories (nutrients are another story). I cooked salmon filets, which they both like, and didn't expect them to eat the aloo gobi, even though they like potatoes, cauliflower, and Indian spices (they gobbled up leftover take-out chicken tikka asala for lunch).

I discovered another hole in my plan: I was missing a key ingredient. We were out of ground cumin. I couldn't believe it. My vaunted spice rack was letting me down. Where was my full larder when I needed it? Fortunately, I had cumin seeds on hand, so I ground them up, but not after a frantic search for the spice grinder, which I hadn't used in a year or so.

Eventually, I got my ingredients assembled and made the dish. Though it's only the second time I've made it, I found it very fast and easy. It is very delicious, too.

Santa Maria, who has spent time in Benares, Calcutta, Poona, and Rajastan, loves my aloo gobi. It's not really mine, of course. I wouldn't have thought this up in a thousand years. The recipe comes from my friend Paul, a master chef and father who is always amazing me with the multi-dish feasts he serves up. I first had the aloo gobi at his house. He got the recipe from one of Julie Sahni's cookbooks.

The best thing about the recipe is its simplicity. Indian food is not known for being easy to make. Santa Maria always says that it's a cuisine built on having a house staffed with servants. This version is quite within the reach of the single-handed man, and quiet rewarding.

In the end, the kids didn't eat it, but Nina picked out the whole cumin seeds and crushed them between her front teeth. That's a start, I guess.

Quick and easy Aloo Gobi
  • 1 head cauliflower, cut into 1 inch florets
  • 3 potatoes, cut into small cubes
  • 1 twenty-eight ounce can of peeled tomatoes, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 cup frozen peas
  • 1 tsp. whole cumin seeds
  • 1 tsp. cumin powder
  • 1 tsp. turmeric
  • 2 tsp. coriander
  • 1 dash cayenne pepper
  • 1 cup boiling water
  • salt and pepper to taste

Heat the oil in a large pan.

When it is smoking, add the cumin seeds and cook for about twenty seconds.

Add the remaining spices and then the potatoes and cauliflower.

Stir to coat the vegetables with the spices.

Add the tomatoes and the water and simmer until the potatoes are soft, about twenty minutes.

Add the peas and cook until they are defrosted.

Serve and garnish with chopped cilantro.

Love Doesn't Always Mean Love Handles

On Tuesdays, Santa Maria always reads the Science section of the New York Times. Today's edition prompted her to write a guest post. Here it is:

Stay at Stove Dad is a pretty fantastic husband and father.  Sometimes he goes overboard (see last weekend's cookfest of chicken soup, coq au vin, shrimp fennel risotto, quinoa salad, etc. etc. etc.), but this is a fairly benign form of excess.

Like Stay at Stove Dad, I love to eat. Unlike Stay at Stove Dad, who is Irish and has a lean and lanky physique thanks to a ultra-high speed metabolism, I'm from German stock and I have Valkyrie proportions.  I am unhappy when I can't fit into my pants, and was even unhappier when I was still wearing my pregnancy sackcloth, a full year after I'd given birth to our second child.

Apparently, this is a common outcome.  According to an article in today's New York Times, "Study Says Women With Mate Get Heavier," over a decade, married women with a baby gain twenty pounds; married women with no kids gain fifteen pounds; and childless women with no partner gain eleven pounds.

These women are suffering because their mates can't or won't cook.  We women still are doing so much more around the house and with the kids, how can we take on shrimp fennel risotto too?

Here's how I reversed this unhappy flabbiness: Weight Watchers (I know it's not for everyone, but I love it! I liked Girl Scouts and Candy Stripers, and WW is another up-by-your-bootstraps diverse group of women). Eating healthily is made easier and more fun by Stay at Stove Dad's cooking. His awesome delicacies are shorn of much of their fat yet still have plenty of protein and flavor.  I especially like his two versions of quinoa salad (extremely yummy and filling), one summer, one winter version; and also his chicken soup (a lemony fantasia and excellent cure for the common cold). The day he baked his first cake, a buttery carmelized pear upside down cake, it is true that he had to barricade the kitchen and call all of our friends and neighbors to "rescue" the cake from me (or was it me from the cake?), but that's another story.

According to the same article, there's an increase in obesity in men who father children as well. This news may not be worthy of a headline, but it's worth noting. It's not just moms whose health is in jeopardy as we pair off and reproduce.  Men, pick up your spatulas and save yourselves and your families!

A Marathon Cooking Session with a Shrimp and Fennel Risotto Recipe

I cook an extreme amount of food. When I'm standing in the kitchen and my feet are aching, I wonder why I get involved in making so many dishes. On the day after, looking at a steaming bowl of leftovers for lunch, I have a an inkling why. I love to eat, and I'd rather not face a night of take-out or an afternoon of Midtown lunch specials. I want fresh and delicious food, and I can only afford it by making it for myself.

I find cooking for my family extremely hectic. I'm usually rushing through a recipe hoping to stave off a melt-down, either on the part of Santa Maria or on the part of one of the kids. It's rarely relaxing. Yesterday was different. Santa Maria took the kids to the Brooklyn Museum and I had a couple of hours to myself in the kitchen.

We were on a good roll when it came to taking care of domestic tasks yesterday. Santa Maria and I knocked off the weekly shop, did some laundry, and made chicken soup, all before noon. We were feeling good when we were shopping, and in those cases, the shopping list tends to grow. Waiting to pay, Santa Maria came up with all kinds of things she'd like to have for dinner--fresh salsa and guacamole, included. She ran off to get cilantro and a ripe avocado.

We settled on having an old favorite for dinner: shrimp-and-fennel risotto. The recipe is adapted from "Gourmet Everyday," a great cookbook the sadly closed magazine published a few years ago. All the recipes in it are fast, and most are delicious. This risotto is a perfect example.

When we got home, I realized that I had planned a different dinner for that evening, coq au vin. I had a chicken in the back of the refrigerator that needed to be cooked. Its sell-by date was Monday, and I could tell just from opening the refrigerator that it would barely make it that long.

We were having the chicken soup for lunch, though, and that was enough chicken for one day for me. The old chicken would have to wait.

When Santa Maria went out with the children in the afternoon, I got to work in the kitchen. I started chopping onions and fennel for the risotto. I started to prep the items for the coq au vin, which I would make the following morning before taking Nina to school and going to work. Time is short in the morning these days, and I would have to have all the prep work done in order to finish the dish and get Nina out the door on time.

Also, I wanted to make my weekly quinoa salad, so that meant more and more chopping and roasting. And I wanted to serve roasted cauliflower to the kids upon their return from the museum. And I wanted to chop the onion and the tomato and to wash and chop the cilantro for the fresh salsa and guacamole. In the midst of this frenzy, I suddenly wondered what other men do with their free time on a Sunday. Isn't there something called the NFL? Aren't there college bowl games at this time of year? Who knows? You can't eat them, can you?

Santa Maria and the kids came back from the museum (where, in the photo exhibition of rock and roll stars, Nina saw a singer mooning the camera and has since learned this vital and sophomoric skill herself), and we started eating. We all downed the cauliflower. Santa Maria whipped up the guacamole and homemade salsa, and melted the cheddar cheese on the organic corn chips.  I defrosted a bit of black beans for the children, who I figured would not eat the risotto. Nina tried it, but she didn't like it.

I can't imagine why she didn't like the risotto. It's a marvelous dish, and quite beautiful. The shrimp is pink and the fennel fronds are green. The rice is white and creamy. The fennel lends it a distinctive licorice flavor and the shrimp, when cut up my special way, are curly and tender and filling. The dish itself is low in fat, if you make it my way with just olive oil. The trick to the shrimp is to slice each one down its back into two long pieces. I usually don't have time to do this when the kids are around, but yesterday, I had the opportunity. When the shrimp are cooked at the end of the dish, they wind themselves up into little corkscrews. They are delightful. I thought so this afternoon when eating the leftovers for lunch. The nice thing about the way I cook, upping the proportions substantially, is that I have leftovers from my leftovers. I'll be eating some of it tomorrow for lunch again. I don't mind. It's that good.

Shrimp and Fennel Risotto
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 or more heads fennel, cored and diced, fronds reserved.
  • 1 T. Olive Oil
  • 1 cup Arborio or other short-grained rice
  • 1/2 cup or more white wine
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 4 or more cups of hot water
  • 1 lb. medium shrimp, peeled, deveined, and sliced lengthwise into two long pieces

Salt the shrimp by layering them in a bowl and putting 1/2 t. salt on them. Put another layer of shrimp on top of that and salt them as well. Continue until all the shrimp are salted. This step can be done as the shrimp are sliced into two pieces.

Heat the chicken stock and the water until boiling and then turn down to a low simmer.

Sauté the onion in the oil until soft.

Add the fennel and continue to cook until soft.

Add the rice and stir to coat each grain with oil.

Add the wine and cook and stir until the wine is absorbed.

Add a ladle of stock to the rice and stir.

Stir (on and off) until the stock is absorbed.

Repeat the last two steps until the rice is almost cooked. If you need more liquid, just add hot water to the stock mixture. The rice should be tender but still firm in the center.

Stir in fennel fronds and the shrimp and cook a few minutes until they are opaque and pink. Add salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.

Serve immediately.

Note: you can make this with butter if you prefer a richer taste.