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February 2011

Getting Ready To Move: A Green-Olive Beef Tagine Recipe


I’m packing to move, which means that in addition to sorting through books and clothes, selling a couple of filing cabinets, and practically giving away my beloved drafting table, I’ve been eating my way through the freezer. This has resulted in my getting reacquainted with an old favorite of mine, a green olive beef tagine.

We used to eat this tagine frequently, but it’s been a long time since I last made it. Nina used to love it, but I don’t think Pinta has ever tasted it. It’s been that long. I had in the freezer two Ziploc bags full of stew beef that I had cut into one-inch cubes expressly for use in this dish. Rather than cart the Ziploc bags with me to the new place, I took them out to make the tagine.

I had enough meat for a double recipe, so I made one version in the traditional tagine, and I made the second version in my Le Creuset Dutch oven. A tagine is basically a braise, so I figured if I increased the liquid in the Dutch oven I’d get the same result as using a tagine itself.

The tagine looks exotic and is very interesting object. Traditionally, the Moroccan cookware was made entirely of clay, and it has a low flat base and a cone-shaped top with a knob on it. The tagine was designed for the dessert. With a very low flame (using only a moderate amount of firewood) and with very little added liquid (the cone-shaped top condenses and collects all the vapors that get cooked out of any vegetable or meat in the dish; it makes its own sauce), a very cheap cut of meat could be made tender and delicious. The only thing absolutely necessary is time—it takes a good two or three hours for the whole effect to come together.

My tagine, which was made by Le Creuset, has a cast-iron base and can be used on the stove top. They are easy to buy on line and fun to have around the house.

I took the meat out of the freezer a few weeks ago on a Sunday, with the foolish idea that I could defrost it and start cooking the next morning. Santa Maria is usually home on Mondays, so it could simmer while I went off to work. Well, one thing led to another, and it wasn’t until Thursday that I got around to marinating the meat. I wasn’t sure that the beef would still be okay to eat, then I remembered that steakhouses will age beef for weeks before cooking it.

Also, I figured, I was going to cook it for three hours, so it certainly be safe to eat. I marinated it for the next two days, then cooked the tagine on Saturday. I let it sit for a night before serving it at an impromptu little dinner party. The double recipe was more than enough for six. Two old friends and their son came over for dinner, and we toasted what we expect to be one of their last meals at our old apartment. The beef was particularly tender.

Green Olive Beef Tagine

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

Trim the beef and cut into 1-inch pieces. Mix together the five spices with the garlic, two tablespoons of olive oil and the tomato puree. Turn the beef in this mixture and leave, covered, in the refrigerator overnight (or longer).

Heat the remaining oil in the tagine base. Fry the shallots, potatoes and carrots until they begin to colour, lift out.

Fry the marinated beef until sealed on all sides. Return the vegetables with the chopped tomatoes any remaining marinade, the parsley and a little salt.

Cover and cook over a low heat for 3-4 hours, or until the beef is tender.

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

Serve with couscous.

Note: The recipe can be doubled. To make it in the Dutch oven, I added some wine. I figured it couldn't hurt things.

Happy Valentine's Day: 5 Recipes for a Special Day

While I was out on Saturday night, babysitting for my brother who went with his wife to check out the New York branch of the famous Las Vegas Thai joint Lotus of Siam, Santa Maria was busy getting ready for Valentine's Day. She made heart-shaped lemon sugar cookies, with pink icing.

I have my own Valentine's Day plans (which, in typical Stay at Stove Dad fashion involve the my kitchen and not a restuarant's staff), but I'll keep them to myself in case Santa Maria is reading this. As a general service to romance everywhere, here are five recipes to make the day special.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Back Still Sore, but Dinner Calls: Puttanesca and Artichokes to the Rescue

My back is slowly healing but like many things in life, the improvement isn’t straightforward. Yesterday morning felt worse than the night before, and last night felt better than the day before that. Confused?  So am I. Still, I know it will mend itself eventually, and I want to thank all the readers who expressed concern and who offered suggestions about books and treatment.

In the meantime, life goes on. Yesterday, I picked up Nina from school, and she helped me get up the stairs to our apartment and get dinner started. Her sister and her mother were on their way home, and Santa Maria called to tell me that Pinta was starving.

I pulled myself off the domestic-work disabled list and headed for the kitchen. I’d rather face back pain than deal with a hungry and fussy three-year old. I decided to make puttanesca and pasta (a good fail-safe fall-back dinner no matter what your physical condition may be) and steamed artichokes.

Recently, I had asked Nina to tell me which vegetables she liked best, and her taxonomy of taste ran as follows: Artichokes, followed by broccoli, green beans, kale, and peas. I’m pleased that she likes such a variety of vegetables, but I wonder about artichokes' nutritional value. According to Ocean Mist Farms, which grew the ones I enjoyed last night, they are high in fiber, vitamin C, potassium, and magnesium, as well as antioxidant phytonutrients. But in my experience, they are only high in butter, and I suspect that’s the reason Nina loves them so much.

While I made dinner, Nina set the table. Knowing that my back was sore, she swapped out my regular wooden, dining-room chair for our Dutailier glider. The well-worn and über-comfortable rocker is the most coveted spot in the house, and she wanted me to have it. I was very glad I had the artichokes to serve her.

Steamed Artichokes with Lemon Butter

  • 1 artichoke (per person)
  • Butter
  • Lemon juice, to taste


Rinse the artichokes under running water and trim end off the stem.

Toss them in a pot of water, bring to a boil, and cook for about 45 minutes, or until a middle leaf can be pulled out without much resistance.

Melt the butter and add the lemon juice

Eat by pulling a leaf off, dipping it in the melted butter, and scraping off with your teeth the soft tasty part at its bottom. At the center of the artichoke is the heart. Remove the inedible choke, and enjoy the heart.

Note: Most methods for preparing artichokes will tell you to cut the top off and to trim the tips of the leaves. You can do this if you want to, but I never bother.

My Back Goes Out, but Guess What? I'm Still Hungry: A Time for Pumpkin Seeds

Upsdie Down Turtle

I have been extremely busy lately, preparing for the publication of my book, “Man with a Pan: Culinary Adventures of Fathers who Cook for their Families,” finding a new place to live, concentrating on renovating the apartment, and contending with old-school Brooklyn landlords whose idea of conflict resolution starts with a baseball bat and ends before a judge. Monday night it all caught up with me: I threw out my back.

I was relaxing with Santa Maria after dinner, and I suddenly felt as if a vise had been tightened around my lower spine. Soon, standing upright was out of the question, and shortly after that, moving at all was nearly impossible.

This was the third time in my life on the lumbar-pain merry-go-round, and fortunately, Santa Maria was there to hand me a hot-water bottle. The last time my back went out, I was alone in the house—just imagine how long it took me to fill a hot-water bottle; it felt like decades.

The first time was the worst. One Sunday evening about four years ago, I was stretched out on the floor, taking it easy after a casual dinner at a friend’s house. Suddenly, I couldn’t move. Seized with pain, I rolled over on my back and I was as stuck as upside-down tortoise on the hot asphalt of a mountain highway in August.

This time, it hasn’t been as bad. I’m fairly mobile and I hope that like the other times, the pain will go away within a few days. It did mean, however, that I wasn’t able to go out last night with Santa Maria as I had planned. I went home instead, and I needed to figure out what to eat for dinner.

Over the weekend, before I hurt my back, I made one of old favorites, a green-olive Moroccan beef tagine (I promise to share the recipe for it shortly), and there was some of it leftover. There was a problem, though. Most of the meat had been picked out of the dish, and all that remained was the sauce of tomatoes, potatoes, shallots, cinnamon, and other spices. It was very tasty, but it lacked protein.

Not being in a position to cook anything, I looked through the cupboards for something easy to eat with the tagine. I found a bag of pumpkin seeds, the perfect supplement for last night’s dinner, and a good snack for anytime. The seeds are high in protein, full of zinc and other minerals, and reportedly contain compounds that take care of the prostate. Keeping that healthy is even more important that protecting my back.

What I’m Drinking Now: 2008 Los Vascos Cabernet Sauvignon

Nina picked up on my enthusiasm for my latest wine purchase, and turned the bottle into a little girl. Here’s why.

I’ve lived long enough and bummed around Bordeaux sufficiently to know the name Château Lafite Rothschild, which produces some of the finest—and most expensive—wines in the world, but my regular drinking tends to skew toward less famous—and cheaper—wines. I believe that many delicious wines can be found for less than $20; much less, if you know where to look.

I favor Spanish wines, which don’t have the acclaim and price of French wines, and I like New Zealand for its Sauvignon Blancs. My one higher priced weakness is for a good Brunello di Montalcino, but even there I’m a minor league player, keeping my rare purchases south of $50 a bottle.

My favorite way to buy table wine these days is to go to one of my neighborhood stores, Red White & Bubbly, and buy their four-pack of the month. Every few weeks they package a nice selection at a price point I’m comfortable with, and I usually find a few good surprises.

Lately, though, I’ve been too harried to make even this nominal effort, and I’ve taken to drinking the cooking wine. I can go without having a glass of wine with dinner, but I cannot abide by a kitchen without big jugs of white and red for deglazing pans, splashing in sauces, and otherwise enlivening most dishes.

To buy cooking wine, I walk to a different store, 7th Ave. Wine & Liquor, and head to the lower shelves in the back and grab the biggest bottle of dry cheap white I can find. On the way out, I’ll often look for a bargain red, too. The other day I picked up a bottle of the 2008 Los Vascos Cabernet Sauvignon, from Colchagua Valley, in Chile. I paid about $10.

I’ve never liked Cabernet Sauvignon—it always seemed too aggressive and rough around the edges (at least the ones I was willing to spring for). But this one was different: complex but balanced, assertive not aggressive, and full of rich flavor. I was really enjoying it. I brought the bottle out to the table to have another glass.

As I looked at the label, I noticed a bit of small print at the top: “Domaines Barons de Rothschild (Lafite).” Wow, I thought, am I really having a Lafite with dinner? Sure enough, I was. The French producer expanded into Chile in 1988, taking over an estate where grapes had been planted since 1750, and has been turning out excellent and affordable wines since then.  I went back a few days later for another bottle, and not one to cook with.

Patience Rewarded: A Spicy Lentil Chicken Stew Recipe

A good roast chicken is one of the great pleasures of life. It is easy to make (I can prepare it in advance and Santa Maria can pop it in the oven—there's very little active labor), extremely delicious (especially that crispy and salty skin), fairly healthy (if you forsake that crispy skin), and the kids love it (which makes everything easy). I roast a bird just about once a week during the winter. This works well, until I tire of eating it, which is what happened last week.

I'm often thinking one day ahead about what to make, and last Sunday I had a chicken in the fridge and I wanted to do something other than roast it for Monday night's dinner. I love coq au vin, and once made it so frequently that Nina, who was just learning to talk, could always get a good laugh out of me by asking for "quauk o van," but it has been a least a year since I last prepared it. I wasn't sure that the kids would still like it (mushrooms are a tough sell around here lately), but it is a dish that can be made the night before and served a day later without much loss of flavor. I decided to review the recipe, and give it a bit more thought.

I picked up my iPod and flipped to the "How to Cook Everything" application. Right next to the "Chicken in Red Wine Sauce (Coq au Vin)" recipe was an entry for "Chicken with Lentils." I was enticed. Chicken and lentils are two things that Nina and Pinta like.

Bittman described the meal as "a simple, spicy North African-style dish made in one pot," and that sounded very good to me. I looked at the calender and realized that the following night I Santa Maria would be with the kids for dinner (I would be at work), and I was completely sold. I could make something new that the kids should like and I could avoid actually having to serve it to them: A perfect situation for me.

On Sunday night, I gleefully cut up the chicken and cooked the recipe (making just a few minor adjustments, which I've incorporated into the recipe below), planning to coast to an easy after-work dinner the following night. Then fate intervened.

Pinta got sick, and was up much of the night. Santa Maria ended up taking care of her. I volunteered to come home early from work to give her a break, which meant that I would be the one serving dinner to the girls. Yikes.

As it turned out, I took a bit of my own advice about serving a new dish to them. I asked Nina how she would like her meal--with the chicken, rice, and lentils separated, or with them all together. She wanted them separated and I plated it that way for her. She ate the chicken, which was coated in the sauce, downed her rice, and then tried the lentils. The verdict--she didn't like them. But she had a good dinner, and there was no drama. Whew.

Pinta, for her part, didn't have much of an appetite and had just a bit of applesauce. I can't help thinking it was easier just having to think about feeding one of them. As for the stew, I really enjoyed it, and I'll make it again. I had it for lunch the following day. It just kept getting better and better the longer it sat around.

North African Chicken and Lentil Stew

  • Olive Oil
  • 1 whole chicken, 3 to 4 pounds, cut into  8 pieces with the skin removed (taking the skin off is optional, some would say, even, undesirable, but I like to cook as healthy a dish as I can)
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 2 three-inch cinnamon sticks
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon chopped ginger
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)
  • 1 28 ounce can of peeled plum tomatoes, chopped
  • 1+ teaspoon chopped cilantro
  • 1 cup brown lentils, washed and picked over


Put 3 cups of water in a kettle or pan and heat to a near boil.

Heat about a tablespoon of oil in a large casserole or Dutch oven on a high flame until it is shimmering.

Add the chicken pieces in one layer and cook until the pieces brown. Turn as necessary.

After the chicken is browned, remove it from the pan and set aside in a bowl.

Reduce the heat to medium-high and pour off any excess oil.

Add the onion and cinnamon sticks and saute until the onion is softened.

Add the garlic and ginger and saute a bit more, until fragrant.

Add the coriander and stir for about 30 seconds.

Add the tomatoes and their juices along with the 3 cups of water, the cilantro, and the lentils.

Turn the heat down to a simmer and cover.

Cook for about 30 minutes, or until the lentils are nearly tender.

Take out the cinnamon sticks and add the chicken.

Cover and continue to cook for about another 10-20 minutes, or until the chicken is 165 degrees in the thigh.

Salt and pepper to taste and serve with rice of crusty bread.






Don't Cry Over Spilled Milk Department


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


The Daily Grain: How to Cook and Freeze Rice

I'm extremely thrilled about the upcoming publication of my book, "Man with a Pan: Culinary Adventures of Fathers who Cook for their Families," the cover of which I displayed here yesterday, but life as the Stay at Stove Dad isn't just about such enjoyable accomplishments. More often, it's about basic things, like cooking rice.

I've written before about the virtues of putting a pot of water on to boil the minute one comes home from work in the evening. But lately, I've been waking and boiling water for rice. The ancient staple is useful for so many dishes, from black beans and dhal to chicken tikka masala and the new, African-spiced chicken and lentil stew I made the other night.

Shortly, I'll share the recipe for the stew. Like the dish itself, anything I have to say about it will benefit from a day or two of sitting. In the meantime, I'll talk about how I cook rice, and how to freeze it.

Cooking rice is as simple or complicated as you make it. The way I do it probably won't win any awards, but it satisfies me: One part rice to two parts water; cover and bring to a boil, then turn down to a simmer. If I feel like it, I throw a bay leaf or two in the boiling water. If it's my usual brown basmati, it will take about forty-five minutes total. White rice can be done in as little as fifteen minutes.

The rice will last in the refrigerator for a few days. When I want to use it, I warm it, either in the microwave for a few seconds, or, covered, in a cast-iron frying pan. When I use a frying pan, I put the heat on high for a few minutes, then give it a stir, and turn out the flame. The residual energy in the pan is usually sufficient to warm it perfectly.

If the leftovers linger for more than a few days (double check with a quick smell, and err on the side of caution when it comes to using old rice), I pack up small portions of it in sandwich or quart-sized Ziploc bags. I squeeze all the air out of the bags, seal the top, and then spread the rice out in the bag so it is thin and flat. These stack nicely for freezing, and can be defrosted much the same way as the fresh rice.

Give the frozen layer of rice a good whack with a spatula or other implement. It will crumble and defrost faster, giving you more time for other things, such as reading (or writing) a book.

Big News: My Book Has a Cover


For the past two or three years (it's been so long that I lost track), I've been working on "Man with a Pan: Culinary Adventures of Fathers who Cook for their Families." The book is a recipe and essay collection featuring contributions from the likes of Mario Batali, Mark Bittman, Mark Kurlansky, Stephen King, and Jim Harrison, as well as interviews with a fireman, a high-school guidance counselor, an economist, a bond trader, a carpenter, and other working dads who tend the stove. It has cartoons, too.

Creating the book has been one of the most challenging and gratifying things I've ever done. I'm hoping that it will inspire many more fathers to pick up the spatula and start enjoying time in the kitchen. The collection will be available on May 17, and just the other day I received my galley proofs. I was so excited to see its cover that I had to share it. Click here to learn more about the book on Amazon; they're discounting pre-orders.