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April 2011

What I'm Drinking Now: 2009 Natura Cabernet Sauvignon

I’m always shocked when I think about how my life differs from the life my father led. He never cooked for us, but he was always home for dinner. After eating, he would often have to go out again, and at that hour he had a few expressions that I’ll never forget. He would say  “I feel like a yo-yo,” or “I’m at the end of my string,” and I was always very amused, though even at that age I was certain that he wasn’t trying to be funny.

Natura-cabernet-sauvignon1 I’m rarely home for dinner. My job keeps me at my desk until 6 pm, and by the time I walk in the door, the  kids’ dinnertime is long past. Last night, the trains were delayed, and my commute took longer than usual. I arrived home somewhat late, relieved our fantastic babysitter (Santa Maria was tied up with the same commuting problems as I was), and greeted the girls.

Nina told me she was hungry. Typically, at such an hour, there’s a good chance that this is a ruse to spend time with me and to delay her bedtime. She’s a smart child, and she knows that for me, the Stay at Stove Dad, I can’t bear to send her to bed with an empty stomach.

A sure-fire way for me to find out if she’s really hungry is to offer her a vegetable. She eats her greens well enough at dinnertime, but she’s never eager for seconds of them. Last night I said she could have some green beans. To my surprise she said that she would like some—the poor child really was hungry. I steamed a bunch very quickly, buttered them up, and gave them to her. I'm sure my father never did that for me.

Later, after I had experimented with an Asian sauce to dress up my go-to Salmon fillet for my own dinner with Santa Maria, I sat down with a glass of 2009 Natura 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon, from Chile's Emiliana. It was in the house because it came with a recent four-pack from our former local wine store, Red, White, and Bubbly.

Their four-packs are always full of winners, but this wine made me nervous. It was made with organic grapes. I love organic produce, but wine is wine. As it turned out, there was no need for me to be concerned: Emiliana is Chile's leading organic wine producer, and for good reason. It was delicious, with a hearty bouquet, a substantial body, and delicious floral and fruit notes. As I sipped the wine, I thought again of my father. He stopped drinking in 1973, but even before then, I’m ceratin he never had a glass of organic wine.

Pernil Pretty Near Perfect, But Not Quite


As I mentioned the other day (when I posted about the Jellymongers), I recently served pernil, the famed Puerto Rican roasted pork shoulder. It was earlier this week, and we were having Nina's former pre-K and kindergarten teachers over for a Monday night dinner party.

Pernil has many things to recommend it. It is super delicious, typically inexpensive (unless one opts for free-range pork from the Park Slope Food Coop) and generally so succulent that it's impossible to carve. It falls apart on the plate like pulled pork. I've made it before, and it has been an absolute delight.

On Monday, my pernil didn't quite turn out that way. The cut was less than four pounds, and it was in the oven for four plus hours at about 275. It came out a bit dry. Acccording to this discussion on Chowhound, I either cooked it too long, or too little (any reader with experience in these matters, please weigh in).

Also, I might have used the wrong cut of meat. The Coop label said something like "Pork Shoulder Arm," and as I marinated it the night before that word "Arm" stuck in my head. I've never been too sure about the proper names for cuts of meat (the girls had a good laugh when we were planning the meal and I told them the cut was also known as the butt), and I didn't know what to make of the word "Arm."

In a testament to the recipe, though, the meat was still very tasty. I liked it, despite it being dry. Our guests, one of whom was of Puerto Rican descent and who probably grew up with real pernil, were very polite (the other was a vegan, so it was easy for her).

We had a lot leftover; I salvaged the meat for sandwiches the next day by making some caramelized onions, which worked out just fine.

Pernil for Fools

  • One 3 to 8 pound pork shoulder
  • 5 or more cloves garlic, peeled
  • 1  onion, quartered
  • 2 tablespoons dried oregano
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 lime, juiced
  • 1/4 cup orange juice
  • Olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon wine vinegar
  • Lime wedges

Combine the garlic, onion, oregano, cumin, chili, salt, and pepper together in a food processor and pulverize. Add the olive oil, vinegar, lime juice, and orange juice, and pulse until everything is combined.

Score the outside of the meat with a cross-hatched pattern and marinate the meat in the mixture overnight. (I used a Ziploc bag.)

The next day, take the meat out and allow it to warm to room temperature while you preheat the oven to 300 degrees.

Put the pork in a roasting pan on a rack and add a bit of water to the bottom of the pan, and roast until it is done (a 4 pound shoulder may take as few as three hours). The meat should be cooked until it is tender. 

Let meat rest for ten or so minutes before serving it. Garnish with lime.

The Return of the Jellymongers

When we moved a few months ago, Nina switched schools, and as a part of that process we promised her that we would have her old teachers over for dinner. They came by yesterday, and I served the roast pork called pernil, along with an assortment of other delights. I didn't have time to write about it, though, because I needed to install a new piece of computer software.

I did have time to find this nifty video about two of my favorite food artists, Bompas & Parr, a.k.a. the Jellymongers. I've written about them before, but couldn't resist passing on this new video about their remarkable exploits. Back shortly, with more adventures from my kitchen, and beyond.

Bompas and Parr: Return of the Jelly Knights from Gestalten on Vimeo.






Easter Morning Biscuits Provide Evidence of the Divine


Easter is a day about mysteries and rising, and I saw those things in the kitchen yesterday morning. We were at my mothers, and Santa Maria was making buttermilk biscuits. She's done this many times, but the ones yesterday were the lightest, fluffiest, biscuits I’ve ever had. If anyone was looking for evidence of the divine, all they had to do was taste one of her creations. Nina and Pinta and my mother devoured them for breakfast, topped with cherry jam, raw honey, and lots of butter.


Santa Maria has been making buttermilk biscuits for a few years now, and each time she turns out a batch, she pulls a recipe from the Internet. She’s an accomplished baker, and as it turns out she usually combines two or three recipes. I finally got her to write down how she does it, and to share a few details about what made yesterday's so special.


  • The flour: in this case my mother's cupboard held King Arthur's, not Heckers, her usual and less expensive flour.
  • The sifter: my mother’s was easy for Santa Maria to find and use (sometimes she skips this step).
  • The buttermilk: she doesn’t always have local organic buttermilk, but yesterday she did. It was thicker than usual, so she used extra.
  • The oven: She baked them at a slightly lower temperature than usual.
  • The cuttter: She used a small-diameter jar top; the smaller the biscuit the better chance it will be light and fluffy.



As we smacked our lips and savored the biscuits, we tried to figure out which of these things might have made the difference yesterday morning. Why were the biscuits so fantastic? Could it have been the ingredients and the equipment, or was it just the Holy Day?

 Divine Biscuits

  • 2 c. unbleached, all-purpose flour (King Arthur Flour)
  • 2 ½ t. baking soda
  • ½ t. baking powder
  • ½ t. salt
  • 4 ½ T butter
  • 1 – 1 ¼ c. buttermilk

Preheat oven to 405 degrees.

Sift flour with baking soda, baking powder, and salt into a large bowl, cut in cold butter (you can use a knife, then finish with your fingers) into size of peas.  Quickly mix in buttermilk (depending on thickness of buttermilk – if it’s thin, you can likely get away with the smaller amount).

Turn batter onto a lightly floured counter, knead lightly (you want it to stick together, but lumpy is fine).  Roll dough, cut into circles (you can use a jar, about 1 ½” wide – and stack two rounds). 

For the kids, I form little shapes, like Easter eggs and bunny ears from the remaining scraps of dough.

Bake 10-12 minutes or until golden on top.



Saveur Magazine Loves "Man With a Pan!"

Last night I picked up a copy of the May issue of Saveur to check out its review of "Man with a Pan: Culinary Adventures of Fathers who Cook for their Families." I would link to the review, but it is not yet up on, which is currently full of excellent suggestions for Passover and Easter (if you were hoping for some lamb or brisket tips from me, my apologies; next year, I promise).

The review was written by Matt Gross, of the hip fathers' blog, DadWagon, and he loved the book. I encourage you to go out and buy a copy of the magazine, but not just to read about my book. The latest issue is full of tasty treats, from a short piece about Jamaican Ice Cream that's made with beer, to a longer exploration of succulent food from Zacatecas, Mexico, written by Javier Cabral, of the hip, er, punk L.A. food website TheGlutster.

Other than the review of my book, though, my favorite part of the new issue of Saveur was an essay about the migratory habits of eels. When I was a teenager I used to work at a retail fish market after school, and I learned how to fillet fish, clean soft-shell crabs, and skin eels, just as the essay's author, James Prosek, describes, by "slicing around their heads and pulling the skin back like a sock from a foot."

I happened to have enjoyed cutting fish and skinning eels (What can I say, I was an odd teenager). I was happy to have learned those skills. What I was less happy to learn, from Prosek's essay, is that most of the North American eels we eat are caught here early in life, flown to China and raised, "cleaned, cooked, packaged, and shipped back across the world to New York." Overfishing, hydropower dams, and pollution are contributing to the species decline.

Proslek is also an accomplished artist (that's his painting at the top of this post), as well as a writer (his latest book is "Eels: An Exploration, From New Zealand to the Sargasso, of the World's Most Mysterious Fish"), and he recently made a video about Ray Turner, the last man on the East Coast to catch wild eels. He does it in upstate New York, at the start of the Delaware river, using a stone weir that he "rebuilds himself, stone by stone, every year." Here's Prosek's video about Turner and his vanishing way of life.



Slow Cooker Follow Up: It's all in the Art

The friend of mine who first introduced me to the slow cooker saw my post about "Slow Cooker Revolution," and suggested another book, one that she swears by. I've eaten many meals at her house that have come from her slow cooker, including osso bucco, duck with red wine and wild mushrooms, boneless pork ribs braised with fennel and olives, Thai short ribs, and banana bread pudding. I would be remiss in not passing on her advice.

Bookcover_artofslowcooker Her favorite book is "The Art of the Slow Cooker," by Andrew Schloss. She said it is "THE book. Shorter list of ingredients, less prep time, no weird nuking of veggies and no weird adding of thickeners. He usually has you do a little sauteeing and browning in the beginning so that's where you can feel like you're cooking, if that's a concern."

And she went on to say, "What I love is that I've forgotten all the prep by the time I eat, so it feels like someone else cooked for me--tastes better that way, but I still have a little inkling of mysterious pride that somehow I had something to do with the meal. Feels good. Tastes really good." Now that is an endorsement.

Slow Cooker Revolution, a Winner: Slow Cooker itself, Hung Jury

After carrying “Slow Cooker Revolution” to Santa Maria’s parents' house with much anticipation, I made my first dish with it, a “Spicy Thai-Style Chicken Stew.”

Santa Maria picked the recipe because her folks love Thai food (at least the Chicken Cashew take-out they can get in Brooklyn), and our girls have a reasonable chance of eating anything with chicken and rice. For reasons that I’ll go into shortly, this not a recipe I would have chosen to make, but one looks askance at the contributions of one’s spouse at one’s peril. In other words, Santa Maria did the shopping—while I was sleeping, nonetheless—so I wasn’t going to take time from the family to go the store just so I could cook something else.

In my mind, the slow-cooker seems to be a device best suited for cheap and tough cuts of meat. The longer they are cooked, the better they taste. As Mike of Dad Cooks Dinner pointed out yesterday, “only to use it for food that should be cooked for a very long time. Chicken breasts? Overcooked. Pork shoulder? Perfect!” Thank you to all the readers who sent me comments yesterday.

The slow cooker may suggest a set it, and forget it approach, but the reality is a little different. Any big stew will require copious amounts of chopping, and that’s what I ended up doing. Santa Maria’s father might like new technologies, but his kitchen knives seem to be relics of the Paleozoic era. It took me an hour to chop six carrots and two onions.

Because I lacked experience with a slow cooker, and because I put my faith in the folks at America’s Test Kitchen, I tried to follow the recipe exactly. This was hard for me. I like to be involved in the process of cooking. Standing over the stove sauteing is very gratifying for me. Putting things in a bowl and then tossing them in a mysterious ceramic and steel cooker felt strange. I wondered if this is how novice cooks feel the first time they pick up a knife or spatula.

The recipe called for microwaving the vegetables before putting them in the slow cooker, which made no sense to me given that the vegetables were about to cook for four hours. Wouldn’t that be enough time to cook them? The book said something about the microwave making their flavors bloom, so I nuked the carrots, onions, jalepeno pepper, ginger, and garlic, as instructed.

Because of a slight communication snafu with Santa Maria, I started the recipe a bit late in the day, and in the end had to rely on a few tricks to get the dish done in time for dinner with the kids. Santa Maria’s father took note of the clock at 5 p.m., and turned the heat up to high. At 5:30, I opened the top and cut up the chicken into small pieces so it would cook faster. I noticed as I sliced into the breasts that they were moist and plump. It was as if I was poaching them in the cooker. Cutting them to pieces would dry them out a bit, but in the end that didn’t matter. Better to have the kids fed in time, than to make the perfect meal. It’s always that way as the Stay at Stove Dad.

I’m not sure if a slow cooker will be a permanent part of my kitchen equipment anytime soon. The jury is still out. I can’t say that I’ve given the device a fair trial.

The stew was delicious, though. I tweaked the recipe a bit, and would make further changes were I to make the recipe again. I cut down on the spicy peppers, cut out the sugar, and reduced the amount of tapioca. That’s the nice thing about cooking for yourself; you get to make it—more or less—the way you might want it.

Here’s a copy of the recipe from the book, which I think it is a great work of research and writing.


Starting with a Slow Cooker, Slowly

 My father-in-law is an early adopter. He may be a senior citizen, but he had a cell phone, satellite radio, and email access earlier that most younger folks I know. His latest acquisition is a slow cooker.

SLOWCOOKERRev_500 I was recently sent a copy of “Slow Cooker Revolution,” from America’s Test Kitchen, so I brought the book with me. I’m looking forward to diving into it with him. I have a friend in Manhattan who swears by hers, and with good reason. I've had the delicious dishes that have come out of it.

The slow cooker's inherent concept of "set it, and forget it" really appeals to me, and I'm glad this trip gives me a chance to play around with one. Has anyone else had success with a slow cooker?

No Elbows on the Table: Corn and a Lesson About Table Manners

We’re visiting the grandparents, and we arrived Sunday night to a beautiful home-cooked meal prepared, as usual, by Santa Maria’s father. He served roast chicken, stuffing, asparagus, and corn on the cob.

The corn might have been out of season, but it was very popular. Nina and Pinta gobbled it up. Nina sat across from me, and as she struggled to get the buttered kernels off the cob, she had her elbows on the table.

We’ve been teaching the kids manners, and this caught the attention of Pinta, who called out, “No elbows on the table.” I saw Nina struggling and said “Elbows are allowed on the table when eating corn on the cob. It’s a little known rule of etiquette, that when you eat something with your hands, no rules apply.”

I made that up, of course, but it sounded good. Later, I second guessed myself, so I did a bit of research into elbows and table manners.

  • According to a post on The Sydney Morning Herald’s site: “The great houses and castles of England during the middle ages did not have dining tables in the great halls, so tables were made from trestles and covered with a cloth. The diners sat along one side only; if they put their elbows on the table and leant too heavily, the table could collapse.”
  • Something called AllSands (“Over 7000 Grains of Knowledge & Counting…”) concurs that the rule dates back to the Middle Ages, but it suggests that it came about for different reasons: in those days everyone ate cafeteria style, at long tables, side by side, and if you had your elbows on the table it meant that one less person could fit there.
  • And an entry on Amazon’s Askville adds this: “In France, the general rule is, and not just at meal tables, keep your hands in view. I suspect the reason for this so that there can be no suspicion of any type of hankypanky under the table!"

After I looked around a bit, I felt that making something up was the right approach. What do you tell your children about table manners?