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January 2011

Perfect Weekend Roast Pork Recipe

Sage_and_apple_for_pork_roast
After finishing the weekly shop on Sunday and recycling a boatload of obsolete computers, stereo equipment, and old cell phones, we spent much of the day in the park sledding. The sky was blue, the wind was mellow, and the snow was hard and fast. It didn't seem like the day could get much better, but it did.

When we returned to the house, Nina reclined on a couch, Pinta took her nap, and Santa Maria wrote in her journal and dozed off. I collapsed in my street clothes on top of my bed and slept for an hour and a half. When I woke, I started dinner, and turned on the New York Jets  game.

Last week, I made wild boar and lentil stew because the Park Slope Food Coop, where I do my weekly shopping, was out of the cut of pork that I wanted. I had better luck this weekend.

I dressed the meat with fresh sage and garlic, and, because pork is often served with applesauce, I roasted it on a bed of sliced apples. When the roast cooked, the apples baked in the dripping fat, and they made a delicious accompaniment to the meat. They were almost as as rich as the Jets' victory over the Patriots yesterday evening. Almost.

 

Pork Roast with Sage and Apples (a.k.a. the Rex Ryan Special)

 

  • 2-3 Granny Smith apples, washed, cored, and sliced
  • 1 bunch fresh sage, washed
  • 2-3 gloves garlic, sliced
  • 1-2 lb. boneless pork roast

 

Preheat oven to 425 degrees

In the center of a shallow baking dish, lay the apple slices in a close layer to form a bed for the meat.

With a sharp-pointed knife, make a narrow slit in the exterior of the pork. With the knife blade, poke a sage leaf and/or a slice of garlic into the flesh. Repeat, as often as you feel like, as across the top, sides, and bottom of the roast.

Lay the remaining sage leaves on top of the bed of apples.

Place the roast on the apples, with the side with the most fat on the top.

Sprinkle it with a little salt and pepper.

Roast in the oven for about a half hour.

Turn the heat down to 350 degrees and continue to roast until the internal temperature of the meat is about 150 degrees; about an hour or two, depending on the size of the roast.

Serve by slicing the meat and accompanying it with a few of the baked apple bits.

 


The Only Thing We Have to Fear Is Fear Itself: A Wild Boar and Lentil Stew Recipe

Wild_boar
I was thinking of Julia Child recently, and a quote of hers came to mind after my weekly shopping trip last Saturday. I had set out to buy a cut of pork to roast (I like to make it with sage and slices of apple), but the Park Slope Food Coop didn’t have any meat in stock that would work. The closest thing I could find was a D'Artagnan “Wild Boar Mini Roast.”

The label said “Meat from Feral Swine,” which gave me pause, but the cut looked and felt like something I could roast my favorite way. When I got home and opened the package, I discovered that I was mistaken. I was faced with a sinewy mass of dark flesh that made me think of the quote by Child, “The only real stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking you've got to have a 'What the hell?' attitude.”

I dashed to the computer to learn more about what I had purchased. Santa Maria was in the other room, completely unaware that my plans for dinner had just fallen off a cliff. I had no idea what to do with the hunk of meat, and I didn’t want her to know. The eye-roll she gave me in the coop when I put in our cart was more than enough for me.

The first place I looked was the D’Artagnan website. It should have been able to tell me how to cook it, but the website was down. Server error is all it said. I continued to Google “wild boar” and “recipe” at a furious pace, but the more I read, the more concerned I became. “Tough,” “dry,” and “failure” were words that kept coming up.

I took a break from the computer and looked in Marcella Hazan’s “Essentials of  Classic Italian Cooking.” It had a recipe for pork braised in wine, which sounded intriguing. Braising the meat was a good idea. Cook anything long enough, and it will become tender.

But braising the meat in wine sounded boring, so I returned to the wilds of the Internet. Somewhere during my panicked searching I picked up the idea that I could cook it like a lamb shank. I found a promising recipe, “Molly Stevens' Lamb Shanks Braised with Lentils & Curry,” and decided to improvise.

I came up with a mouthwatering and delicious meal. The meat was so tender it melted in my mouth. The rich taste of the boar was balanced by the earthy flavor of the lentils. Santa Maria improved it vastly by suggesting a bit of lemon zest at the end.

My girls didn’t enjoy it as much as we did. In fact they didn’t eat it at all. Only the promise of dessert—an organic-vanilla-bean flan that they had made with their mother earlier in the day—induced Nina to try it. More on what happened with them at the table, and how that flan turned out next week. In the meantime, here’s my experimental recipe. Don’t be afraid.

Wild Boar and Lentil Stew

  • 1 cup lentils
  • 1 cup brown rice
  • 1-2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 piece of wild boar, about 1.5 lbs.
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 carrot, diced
  • 1 stalk celery, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, diced
  • 2 tablespoons garam masala
  • 1-2 teaspoons thyme
  • One 28 ounce can peeled plum tomatoes, chopped
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • ¼ to ½ cup of red wine
  • A bit, about a teaspoon, lemon zest

Rinse the lentils and cook them in 2 cups or so of water, until they are tender; about twenty minutes.

Cook the rice.

In a Le Creuset or other heavy-bottomed casserole, using one tablespoon or so of the olive oil, brown the boar (which I sliced into three large chunks; consider that you want the meat to eventually be entirely submerged in the braising liquid, and that the more surface area you have for browning, the richer the flavor will be).

Once the meat is browned, remove it and set it aside in a bowl. Pour off all but a bit of the boar fat (there may be nothing to pour off; my cut was very lean), and use the rest of the olive oil to sauté the onions, carrots, and celery until the onions are soft; at least 15 minutes.

Add the garlic and cook for another minute or so.

Add the garam masala and cook one more minute.

Add the tomatoes, stock, thyme, and bay leaf and bring to a boil. Scrape the bottom of the pot, to make sure nothing is sticking.

Return the meat to the pot, add the wine, reduce to the barest of simmers, cover the pan with foil and its lid, and simmer for at least two hours. Check it occasionally and turn the meat over.

If you would like, reduce the sauce at the end.

Add the lemon zest to finish.

Salt to taste.

Serve in a bowl with a bit of lentils and rice, some of the meat, and a huge helping of the sauce.

Note: Even after the meat is gone, the leftover lentils and rice and sauce make a great lunch.

 


Oatmeal: A Good Winter Breakfast

Brooklyn-snow-morning
Nine-plus inches of snow fell in here Tuesday into Wednesday, and suddenly, with Santa Maria out of town, taking care of my little ones became a lot more complicated. Snow pants, mittens, and hats were required in the morning, but some things were hard to find. There wasn’t sufficient time to bundle everyone up and wash the frying pan, tea cups, and plates from our morning meal. They would have to wait. We had to get out the door—Nina needed to be in school by 8:40, and I needed to get Pinta to daycare, and myself to work.

Coming home at the end of the day, I found myself revising my dinner menu. The other evening, I shook off laziness and lethargy by cooking asparagus. By last night, though, I was singing a different tune. I had planned to serve some Bolognese that I had in the freezer, but it was 6 p.m. by the time I picked up Nina.

A half-an-hour to defrost the sauce, boil the water, and cook the pasta seemed risky—the kids melt down when they're hungry. And besides, it’s hard to make dinner when the breakfast dishes are still in the sink. I punted and suggested that we all go out for pizza. Nina and Pinta loved that idea.

Walking to the pizzeria Pinta looked at the wintry sidewalk and said “The snow looks like oatmeal.”

“How,” I said.

 “It’s lumpy,” she replied, adding, “Will you make me oatmeal for breakfast tomorrow?”

 “Of course,” I said. “How do you like it?”

 “With butter, and brown sugar, and cinnamon,” she declared.

Personally, I prefer it with milk, almonds, raisins, and cinnamon, but with oatmeal you really can't go wrong.

Oatmeal: A Good Winter Breakfast

  • 2 cups rolled oats
  • 4 cups water
  • a pinch of salt

Combine the ingredients in a sauce pan, cover, and bring to a boil on a high heat.

Reduce heat and simmer until soft and creamy (can also be made with milk); about twenty minutes.

This amount serves four. Keep the leftovers in the refrigerator and heat the next day in the microwave or on the stove top with a little water in the pan. Serve the ceral with milk or butter. Cinnamon, walnuts, almons apples, and raisins are nice additions.


Easy Weeknight Dinner and a Recipe for Asparagus and Parmesan

Asparagus_pan
Santa Maria is out of town on a business trip, and Nina and Pinta and I are on our own for a couple of days. Louis Pasteur said "Chance favors the prepared mind," to which I would add "Dinner favors the prepared cook." With a little forethought, a fresh homemade dinner can be on the table in minutes.

Last night I came home from work late, had a snack with the kids, read to them, put them in bed, and turned around to see that the clock said 8:30. I hadn't had dinner yet. The urge to be lazy and order out hung on my arms like a wet sweater—I had a hard time shaking it off.

I knew things might end up this way, so before Santa Maria departed, I had prepared a few things. Part of that mad cooking spree on Sunday involved roasting two chickens; the second bird was for this week. Also, on that Sunday night I made a pot of rice, to eat over the same period. And I always keep some of my black beans in the freezer, so the kids dinner was easy—rice and beans, which their babysitter served them before I got home, along with a couple of quesadillas, and a few stalks of asparagus with a vinaigrette.

After they were in bed, I had a very similar meal ready in no time at all. I substituted roast chicken for the quesidillas, and I topped my asparagus with a few slices of Parmigiano-Reggiano. I wasn't going to take any chances. I wanted a tasty dinner. 

 Asparagus and Parmesan

  • As many stalks of asparagus as one might like, washed with the thick end broken off.
  • Slices of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.

There are two ways to cook the asparagus. If you are in a hurry, they can be steamed on the stove top in a frying pan with a little water. This will take about ten minutes. Just keep an eye on them, and cook them as much as you like.

Roasting is a slightly more tasty way to cook the vegetable. It is a bit more time consuming than steaming them on the stove top, but it is not more work. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Lay the stalks out on a roasting pan and dribble a tiny bit of olive oil on them. Roll them around and salt them a bit. Roast in the oven for about twenty minutes, or until as tender and crispy as you might like.

Slice the Parmesan thinly, and plate the cooked stalks with the slices on top. Enjoy.


What I'm Drinking Now: Campo Viejo Reserva 2005 Rioja

100195l Over this past weekend, I spent a lot of time in the kitchen. Cooking is very relaxing for me, for the most part, but I can get carried away.

On Sunday, I made pancakes for breakfast, followed by two roasted chickens (and that stunning kale salad) for dinner. On Saturday, I cooked up an old favorite, my red-lentil dhal, for lunch, and then improvised a wild boar and lentil stew for dinner.

Later in the week, I’ll tell the story of the boar stew, which was tasty but fraught; it brought Nina to tears. For now, I’ll share what unites almost all those meals: a Campo Viejo Reserva 2005 Rioja.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m partial to Spanish wines. I picked up this bottle in Pennsylvania over the holiday break, but my in-laws are such relative teetotalers that we never opened it on Christmas night (a blessing, as it turned out, given that I unexpectedly had to drive back to New York City after dinner).

The wine was gentle on the tongue, well balanced, and quite flavorful. It lacked a strong finish, but I found it very delicious. It was also cheap—I think I paid about $12 for it—and I’m recommending it as a perfect everyday red wine. If I didn’t happen to be so tired out from cooking, I’d consider stocking up on a case.


Cooking Dinner for Julia Child: A Steak Diane Recipe

Fire_extinguisher_2
On Friday, the veteran journalist Steven Flax shared the first part his tale about how he came to cook, in 1976, at Harvest, the groundbreaking Cambridge restaurant. Here’s the conclusion of his story, in which a surprise guest during a pre-opening shakedown dinner shakes him up.

Over the next few weeks the head chef Henri gave me a crash course in French cuisine, and we developed the menu. It was summer so we had a lot of seasonal fruits and vegetables to feature. Then came a week or so of cooking for the owner and architect Ben Thompson, his wife, and a number of their friends. Finally, around two weeks before opening, Ben told us that we were going to host two or three dinner parties with notables from the Boston-Cambridge area. Such guests, we assumed, would include Harvard professors such as Henry Kissinger and John Kenneth Galbraith, along with the actress Faye Dunaway, who lived then in Cambridge and who was dating Peter Wolf, the lead vocalist of the J. Geils Band.

These dinners to generate buzz were like catering a wedding or bar mitzvah: everybody was going to be served the same meal. No ordering from the menu. That made it easier to plan and prepare, but also easier to cook with complacency and have the food sit around too long while the small crew of waiters and waitresses were running back and forth.

The menu we settled on was tasty but pretty traditional. We were going to serve Steak Diane, cauliflower polonaise, and oven-roasted new potatoes with rosemary. There were other courses, but those were the dishes that Henri and I were responsible for. Because I was the sous chef, and was working the sauté station, I was going to cook the steaks.

At posh restaurants, Steak Diane gets flambéed it tableside, but I was going to do the honors in the kitchen, because we were cooking so many steaks at one time. As we were involved in the flurry of preparations leading up to dinner, Henri, who had seen my pretty amateurish flambé technique, not so subtly put a fire extinguisher right next to the stove where I was working.

Soon the guests started arriving, and Ben and his wife went into full-court schmooze. The kitchen started cranking with commendable coordination, which was pretty surprising considering that this was the biggest meal we had served as a team and some of us (including—and especially—me) had little professional culinary experience.

Thankfully, the fixed menu enabled us to get things going on an assembly line. The waiters and the pretty waitresses started carrying their trays out to the dining room with a fairly convincing imitation of professional aplomb. However, the smoothly confident atmosphere didn’t last.

Around ten minutes into serving the main course, when about half of the tables had their entrees, one of the waitresses burst into the kitchen saying, “Holy shit, you’ll never guess who’s at my next table.”

“Who,” I asked? I was expecting her to say some big shot from Harvard.

“Julia Child,” she said.

At this point, we were standing side-by-side, peeking through the little diamond-shaped window in the door to the dining room.

“Where,” I asked her. I was hoping that she was mistaken.

I had envisioned the evening as a sort of trial run, a little stressful, maybe, but pretty much a shakedown cruise. Mistakes would be made. We’d learn from them. And, when opening day arrived, we’d feel like seasoned veterans and handle whatever they threw at us. Suddenly Child’s presence turned it into a whole other sort of debut, one I felt completely unprepared for.

 “There,” she said, pointing to the far wall, “sitting next to that little short guy. Is their dinner almost ready?”

“Oh fuck,” I said. “Yeah, just give me a second.”

With as much stealth as I could muster, I slid through the door and walked in a bent-down, crab-like way over to the bar, which was pretty close to the door to the kitchen. I got the attention of the bartender, and said in a whisper, “What’s the best cognac you have?”

He pointed.

“Give it to me,” I said.

He hesitated, giving me a look that said, what the hell are you doing, this is expensive stuff.

“That’s not to cook with,” he said.

I responded with one of those menacing looks and two-hand gestures you see in Italian movies, when the gangster is demonstrating what he is going to do to his intended victim, the one who deflowered his daughter who, he thought, was a virgin.

He gave me the cognac, and I sneaked it back into the kitchen.

When I was making the steaks for Julia Child’s table, I got a little carried away with the cognac. As I tilted the sauté pan to ignite the sauce, the flame went up above my head. It scorched my eyebrows, cheeks, and eyelashes. Finally I got it to simmer down, and shoved the skillet into the oven for a moment to finish cooking.

It was only then that I realized that everybody in the kitchen was staring at me. I looked over at Henri, who was standing nearby with a Maurice Chevalier-sort of smirk, cigarette dangling from his lower lip.

“Stevie,” he said, “you just want to give them a taste, not get them drunk.”

At that point I took the steaks out of the oven and put them on the plates Henri had gotten ready with the side dishes. After I added a heaping tablespoonful of sizzling sauce from the sauté pan on each steak, they were ready to go.

“They look perfect,” the waitress said, putting them on her tray, and, just as she was walking out the door, she looked back and added, “Almost thought we lost you there.”

I was ferociously hot, although I don’t know whether it was because I had gotten a bit scorched, or I if I was just frightened and nervous.

The rest of the dinner went ahead without any mishaps. Later, when things calmed down, Henri and I were having a beer, recapping the meal, and reviewing what I could learn from the experience. He did not seem too disappointed in me. Then, just as I was allowing myself to relax, into the kitchen came Julia Child.

She was basketball-player tall, maybe six-two or six-four. And she was accompanied by the short man the waitress had pointed out—her husband Paul. Julia towered over me. I’m only around five-eight, but Paul was even shorter, maybe five-five or five-six. When Paul and Julia were standing side by side, it made this sweetly comic effect, like Mutt and Jeff.

Before Henri or I could say anything, she burst out in that warbly, fluty voice that I knew from TV. “I just wanted to tell you what a delicious dinner we had tonight chez Harvest,” she said. “Everything was just perfect. Who made the steaks?”

Henri pointed at me.

I nodded my head. I saw that she was looking at my eyebrows. I glanced down to the fire extinguisher. I looked up at her. She looked down at the fire extinguisher, then back at me.

Here was my one and only chance to get acquainted with this world-famous chef and TV personality, and all I could say was, “This is my first cooking job. When it comes to flambéing, I am sort of a loose cannon.”

“Oh, me too,” she said. “I am always setting off the sprinklers in the TV studio. But the food was great, delicious bistro cooking. I hope Harvest is very successful.”

We thanked her, and I grabbed four crystal old-fashioned glasses and poured her, Paul, Henri, and myself a hearty slug of the good cognac, which was still by the stove. As we drank a toast, Ben Thompson and his wife came in. I gave each of them a cognac, which Thompson took with a look that said, “What the hell are you doing with this bottle?” He then regaled the Childs with a speech about how Henri was such a brilliant chef and mentor, and that Steve was such a promising prodigy, blah, blah, blah.

I left that night knowing I had a job to come to the next day.

And, more important, that Julia Child had liked what I cooked for her.

Steven Flax’s Steak Diane Recipe

I learned this recipe, which is different from many other versions of Steak Diane (I once saw one in Gourmet that used pureed black bean soup), from the French chef I trained with at Harvest. He called it Steak Diane, so I do too. I don’t claim that it is in any sense authentic. It has three components: the steaks, the sauce, and what I call the "moosh."

 

Preparation:

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

The Sauce

Mince some fresh shallots, enough so they would make a little mound in the palm of your hand. Mince 2-3 cloves of garlic.

In a small sauté pan heat a small ladle-full of clarified butter. When it is nice and hot add the shallots and cook them for a while. Don’t let them get too brown. Add the garlic and cook for a while. Don’t let it get too brown. (When it gets too brown, it gets bitter.) When the shallots and garlic are cooked through add a couple of tablespoons (or a ladle-full) of rich beef stock. If you don’t have beef stock or demi-glace, you can add a few tablespoons of Worcestershire sauce and maybe some sweet vermouth or sweet Madeira. Cook that for a few minutes so it cooks down and gets a bit thicker. It doesn’t have to get too thick; you want loose gravy consistency. Stop cooking the sauce, but keep it warm on the side.

 The Moosh

 Take 3-4 fillets of anchovies and rinse them in 3-4 changes of water, just to get some of the salt out of them. Drain the anchovy fillets. Mince 2-3 cloves of garlic. Mince some shallots, enough to make a little mound in the palm of your hand. Put the anchovies, garlic, and shallots into a mixing bowl and add a little bit of olive oil. Mix all ingredients together thoroughly, frequently mashing with the underside of a tablespoon, in order to create a moosh. That is, sort of a loose paste. Add enough oil just so you get a thick but spreadable consistency. When it’s done, the moosh should have about the same consistency as tapenade, the black olive relish from Provence. Set aside.

 The Steaks

 The better the steaks, the better the Steak Diane. I would get four aged boneless prime rib steaks, trimmed of all fat and around ¾ inch thick. Lots of Steak Diane recipes call for pounding the steaks flat, but I don’t recommend it. You want something thick enough that you can really sink your teeth into, right? I would guess that such steaks would probably weigh 10-12 ounces each. Pat the steaks dry with a paper towel; you don’t want them to have any water on their surface.

 Cooking Instructions

Use a sauté pan or heavy, sloping-sided skillet. Heat a small ladle-full of clarified butter in the skillet until it’s nice and hot. The entire bottom surface of the pan should be coated with the butter, but not too thick a layer. If it looks like a puddle, pour a bit off. Don’t salt and pepper the meat. There is enough salt in the anchovy moosh.

When the butter is hot add the four steaks and pan sear them over medium heat. If the steaks make a hissing, sizzling sound when you put them into the butter, then the butter is hot enough. Sear the steak for only around 2-3 minutes. As they are sautéing, cover the top surface of the steaks with the moosh.

Turn the steaks over so that they are sautéing moosh side down. (Don’t worry if some of the moosh falls off.) Sear them for only another 2 minutes or so. Feel the meat by poking it with your finger. It should feel like the flesh between your thumb and first finger. Not too firm. If so, then the steaks are probably rare. Turn them over again.

Now add about a jigger (1½ ounce) of brandy, cognac, or even bourbon or Jameson’s Irish whiskey, if that’s what you like or all that you have. Let the booze heat up for just a moment and then, very gently, tilt the pan slightly (away from you) but towards the flame, so that the booze gets on fire. Voila. If you haven’t added too much booze (as I did), then the alcohol in it should burn off pretty quickly.  

Take the sizzling skillet off the burner and add a generous small ladle of sauce over each steak. Then pop the skillet into a 400-degree oven for just a couple of minutes to heat everything up. When you take the steaks out, they should be firmer to the touch but not too stiff. That would be about medium rare to medium. Put on warm plates and serve immediately.

Serves four.

 

 

 

 


Learning to Cook Dinner for Julia Child

Julia
One of the pleasures of writing this blog is meeting other fathers who cook. Recently, I had the great fortune of being put in touch with Steven Flax, an award-winning journalist* who has raised and cooked for two wonderful and extremely discriminating daughters. He has a fantastic story to share. This is part one. The conclusion will run on Monday.

I once had a chance to cook dinner for Julia Child, and it was pretty nerve-wracking, but not only for the reasons you’d expect. At the time, I was trying to get my first job in a professional kitchen.

In 1975, I left graduate school to become a writer. Because I wrote like an academic, though, my writing career began failing spectacularly almost as soon as it started. There followed jobs as a crewman on a commercial fishing boat (a line trawler out of Marblehead), as a surgical attendant in a pediatric hospital, as a night desk clerk at the Harvard Club of Boston (where I was fired for sleeping on the job), and as a security guard at Boston’s Logan Airport, babysitting at night for Boeing 747 freighters that had gold, platinum, or other kinds of valuable cargo aboard.

By about 1976, I was getting published, but my writing income was very precarious. I was still in the “don’t-quit-your-day-job” category. And I needed a day job.

At that time, I had a pretty good reputation (among classmates, and roommates) as a cook. It was a hobby that enabled me to produce better-than-expected meals for friends. We saved money by not eating out in restaurants and I was able to avoid doing dishes after dinner, which I loathe.

Because I felt like I knew what I was doing in the kitchen, I applied for a job as a sous chef at a new restaurant called Harvest that was opening soon in Cambridge. The restaurant was a venture of a renowned architect in Boston named Ben Thompson, who had designed the renovation of Fanueil Hall Marketplace on the Boston waterfront. He had also designed two all-glass, side-by-side, office buildings with retail spaces on Brattle Street, a couple of blocks from Harvard Square. Harvest was on the ground floor of one of these buildings. One entire wall of the kitchen was glass.

Harvest emphasized using only the ripest natural ingredients. The menu was to change repeatedly in order to make the most of what foods were in season. Nowadays this approach is pretty common. Then it was forward-thinking. Thompson and his wife had hired a French chef who was not celebrated but was something of a virtuoso. At least he sure seemed so to me. His name was an evidently French name such as Jean-Luc or Henri.

I had been taught to cook by my father’s mother, whom I called “Bubbie.”  She was a fantastic cook, and a very indulgent teacher. Cooking together became one of the most wonderful experiences of my childhood. But I don’t think she ever taught me a single recipe. I just emulated what she did, developing a feel for what proportions of ingredients should go together. In effect what I got from her was a big storehouse of tips: how to slice and dice; what to watch out for when you’re making a cream sauce; how to make sure, when making a hollandaise sauce, that the warmed beaten eggs don’t overcook. Best of all, she showed me how to make latkes out of mashed saltine crackers.

Bubbie was Russian, and when I would come to visit for breakfast, she and I would make the cracker batter and fry the latkes in a cast-iron skillet with about two inches of bubbling salted butter. Then we would eat the latkes smeared with her homemade strawberry preserves. She served the meal with tea, which she would sip through a sugar cube she would place between her teeth. This was a very exotic experience in my “Leave-It-To-Beaver” childhood in Michigan.

When Henri interviewed me, I told him that I had no experience cooking professionally. I didn’t know what clarified butter was, I admitted. He asked me why I thought I could do the job, so I told him about what a great teacher my grandmother had been. “Ah,” he said, “la cuisine grand-mère, eh?” “Yeah,” I replied, not knowing exactly what he was driving at.

Instead of spending a lot of time discussing my qualifications, in his lousy English and my lousy French, Henri put me to the test. He told me to cook lunch for the staff, and then he left me alone in the beautiful, brand-new kitchen. Rather than hang around looking over my shoulder, he went into the dining room, to drink some wine, smoke a Gauloise, and chat up the pretty waitresses, most of whom were in college in the Boston area, and had as little experience in the restaurant business as I did.

Being left alone helped. I went rummaging through the walk-in refrigerator and found four big leftover roast prime ribs. If Henri had been watching me, he would have killed me for using meat like this for the staff’s lunch. To conceal my profligacy with such ingredients, I chopped it all up in big chunks, along with onions, cooked cold potatoes, and green and red peppers. I fried this in a big sauté pan with some bacon fat and clarified butter. This became some really wonderful roast beef hash, which I served with poached eggs on top and some frisé salad with warm bacon dressing.

Meanwhile, Henri was on his fourth glass of wine. One by one, the waiters and waitresses walked into the dining room after lunch and said to him, “Hey, this Steve can really cook.” Henri told me to come in to work again the next day. I owed it all to using such great leftovers rather than to any special skill as a chef. The sautéing was pretty straightforward.

Before I could consider myself hired, though, Henri pointed out that the restaurant first had to open. Harvest was due to serve its first meals to the public in a few weeks, and I had a lot to learn. My final test would come just a few days before opening, when Julia Child unexpectedly showed up with her husband.

That story, and more, will follow on Monday. In the meantime, here’s Flax's recipe for hash, a meal that’s received considerable attention this week thanks to the article in Wednesday’s New York Times.

Steven Flax's Recipe for Hash

I'm one of those cooks who is not too attentive to the strictures of recipes. The key to the hash was that I was using medium-rare, absolutely prime, prime ribs from a roast. I used a lot of meat. That alone distinguishes this hash from almost all other hash, which looks and tastes like dog food. I cut the prime rib meat in big chunks, along with big chunks of onion, cold cooked potatoes, and red and green pepper pieces. What made it different was that I heated a big skillet with a copious covering of clarified butter, augmented by a heaping tablespoonful of congealed bacon fat. When that was sizzling hot I sautéed the onions and peppers for a while, until the onions were a bit beyond golden, but not too brown. Then added the potatoes. I cooked it on not too high a heat. When the potatoes were getting sort of crusty, I added the meat and cooked it for a while so that everything was heated through and the top of the stuff in the skillet had a crust on it. It looked sort of how good hashed-brown potatoes look when cooked by a good short-order cook. When the contents of the skillet were sizzling hot and crusty it was done. I didn’t add salt or pepper until the very end, and if you want to try this at home, that’s what you should do, too.

 

*Steven Flax has been a writer, supervisory editor, or contributor to the New York Times, Forbes, Fortune, GQ, the Harvard Business Review, and The Economist, among other publications. He has received two national journalism awards for feature writing. An Editor-in-Chief four times, he has also ghostwritten four books and numerous articles and speeches for senior corporate executives. He lives in New York City.


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.

 


Turn On, Tune Out, Drop Pounds

Anyone who has ever held a job (or held a child, or both) knows how hard it can be to balance work and cooking. I find 02bittman-grfk-popup-v2it manageable when I plan ahead (last night, Santa Maria warmed up a pot of Bolognese for me that I had made over the previous weekend), but I have some experience with these matters.

What if you don’t know where to start? What if it seems too challenging, too complicated, and too foreboding?

Recently, Mark Bittman wrote an editorial in the New York Times that is a good primer. He gives three basic recipes, suggestions on what basic equipment you should have, and, most importantly, discredits a common excuse for not cooking, the shortage of time:

“Americans watch 35 hours of television a week, according to a Nielsen survey. (Increasing amounts of that time are spent watching other people cook). And although there certainly are urban and rural pockets where people have little access to fresh food, about 90 percent of American households own cars, and anyone who can drive to McDonald’s can drive to a supermarket."

He also details why cooking at home is healthier. As for next steps, I have two suggestions. If bringing a pot of water to a boil is a foreign concept, start with Bob Sloan’s “Dad's Own Cookbook.” After that, just get Bittman’s “How to Cook Everything.” It’s true to its name. Soon you’ll be making up your own recipes, but you have to start somewhere. 


How to Cook Collard Greens: A Heretical Recipe

Collard_greens
I have never liked collard greens, but I felt like I needed to serve them on New Year’s Day. I’m superstitious, and I didn’t want to do anything to risk the good luck that a meal of black-eyed peas and collard greens allegedly brings.

I cooked my Hoppin’ John early in the day, but I procrastinated on the greens. Shortly before the party, I did a quick Google search to learn how to cook them, and I panicked. Paula Deen’s recipe was one of the first hits—it called for cooking them two hours. So did a bunch of other recipes. I didn’t have that kind of time, and besides, what were these people thinking? Two hours? How can any vegetable cooked that long taste good?

As you may know, my Fly Sky High Kale Salad has been a huge hit lately, and I’m sure that part of the success of that recipe comes from cutting the green into a chiffonade. The leaf of the collard green appeared similar to that of the kale, so I figured that long thin strips would be a good place to start. Also, I was sure it would help them cook faster.

I’ve found that with the kale, the less it is cooked, the better it tastes, and I suspected this might be true of the collards, too. But I had never previously prepared collards, and I became concerned that there might be a reason they needed to be cooked two hours. Maybe there was a naturally occurring chemical compound that had to be sweated out (the way manioc must be soaked then cooked to make a delicious farofa to garnish feijoada). Maybe they were indigestible unless stewed for an ungodly amount of time. Maybe they were poisonous unless prepared properly, like blowfish, I thought. So I Googled “raw collard green salad,” saw a bunch of recipes, and concluded that I didn’t need to worry. A quick sauté was the answer.

In a nod to the South, though, I cooked the greens in bacon. And it was just my luck that they turned out delicious. Santa Maria called them “a revelation.”

Heretical Collard Greens

  • 1 strip of smoked bacon, diced
  • 1 head collard greens, washed and cut into a chiffonade

Heat a large frying pan and render the bacon until it is crispy.

Toss in the greens and stir around a bit on high heat until they taste good. Not long, just a few minutes.