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June 2011

I'll be on Leonard Lopate on Monday at 1, with Guest Host Andy Borowitz

On Monday I will be talking about "Man with a Pan: Culinary Adventures of Fathers who Cook for Their Families" on "The Leonard Lopate Show." The show airs on 93.9 fm and 820 am. I'm scheduled to be on the air at 1 p.m.

There's a guest host that day, the humor writer Andy Borowitz, and I'm looking forward to hearing what he has to say about cooking for a family. He is way ahead of me. In a 2003 article from Food & Wine, he recounted his 14-years of manning the stove for his wife and children. A great comedy writer, he turned out to be more than a mere wizard of words. He achieved the ultimate domestic alchemy: "I was enjoying my new virtuosity and finding the process of preparing dinner shockingly relaxing. .... Suddenly, I had gobs of free time, exactly the opposite of what is supposed to happen when you have kids."

Read the whole story to find out how he did that, and why "upon seeing a Cornish hen defrosting on the counter, my then 3-year-old daughter asked, 'Are we having that owl?'"

Weekend Pancake Tip: How to Get Everybody to the Table

The recent heat wave in New York City has taken more of a toll on me than I expected. My trip to Bed, Bath, and Beyond a few days ago to buy air conditioners turned out to be fruitless. They delivered two units, but I couldn't install them the night of my tipsy cooking spree because there were rusty and recalcitrant child guards in the windows. That was sleepless night number one.

The next day, a friend helped us get those old child guards out of the window and put up the new air conditioners. But the one in the bedroom blew nothing but hot air (kind of like me). That was sleepless night number two.

  • Lesson one: Don't buy air conditioners from a store that sells towels. They had great service, but that doesn't make up for the bum unit.
  • Lesson two: I should stick to doing things in the kitchen (the cutting board is working out just fine, thank you very much).

The kitchen is my place of strength, and I'm happy to share what I've learned there. The weekend is almost here, and that typically means pancakes around our house. Recently, I discovered a way to make a bunch of pancakes at once and keep them from getting soggy. There's nothing worse than flabby pancakes (I like them with a crisp and buttery edge).

Well, maybe there is one thing worse than flabby pancakes: having to get up from the table to cook a new batch every two minutes as the kids scarf theirs down. Breakfast is an unfortunately complicated meal, and I’m always looking for ways to make it less stressful.  

An easy way to get everyone to the table (and that includes the chef) is to make them all before you sit down. Keep them in a warm oven (about 200 degrees) on a rack, and they'll be almost as good as the ones that come fresh off the pan.

James Taylor and a New Cutting Board Make Life Better

I came home a little intoxicated last night and had to do some cooking. It reminded me of my post-college days when I worked one summer as a reporter for the Block Island Times and moonlighted as a short order cook. I pulled the late-night shift at the restaurant, and I once went bar hopping prior to taking my station at the grill.

These days I don’t go bar hopping anymore, but Santa Maria and I had been at the launch party for a captivating new book, “Fire and Rain: The Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel, James Taylor, CSNY, and the Lost Story of 1970,” by David Browne. I downed more than a few of the signature “Fire and Rain” cocktails that were being served, and I was ready to go out for the evening. As we left the party, I was thinking about grabbing dinner somewhere.

But that afternoon Santa Maria had rushed to the endodontist for an emergency root canal, and she wasn’t in the mood for any more festivities. Of course, we were hungry, and as we returned home I knew I would be taking my place at the stove. I wasn’t exactly thrilled to cook, but I wanted to take care of Santa Maria. I was happy that she had managed to make it to the party at all.

The first thing I had to do was finish off the black beans that I had left simmering on the stove before I went out. The babysitter had turned them off after a couple of hours, but I still needed to season them. I chopped the cilantro on our new cutting board, and I was reminded of how pleasurable cooking can be.

My old cutting board had warped, and it needed to be replaced. Wednesday night I was in Bed Bath and Beyond buying air conditioners, and on my way out the store I picked up an OXO Good Grips Bamboo board. Last night was my first chance to use it. Until then, I didn’t realize how bad the curve in the old one was. Bringing the knife blade down on the flat new board was a pure joy.

After taking care of the black beans, I put together a quick dinner of pasta with red sauce and mozzarella, accompanied by a side salad of red-leaf lettuce, avocado, and scallion. It was better than eating out. And that’s not just the liquor talking. Here, to cap things off, is James Taylor performing "Fire and Rain" at the Beacon Theatre:



How to Roast a Pig: The Rest of the Story

I started this website and put together “Man with a Pan: Culinary Adventures of Fathers Who Cook for Their Families” to breakdown gender stereotypes, and show the world there’s a new way for men and women to relate, especially around food.

But I recently proved the old adage that behind every successful man there’s a woman: Saturday’s New Farmer’s Charity Pig Roast couldn’t have happened without Santa Maria. She stepped in at the last minute to work the phones, send the emails, and make sure everything happened the way it was supposed to happen.

I’m much more of an idea man than a detail man, and her production skills made the event a success. Her efforts freed me to concentrate on the cooking, which began with assembling La Caja China.

It arrived last week in two boxes, and I opened them in the basement of my building the night before the pig roast. It wasn’t hard to put together, but it took a little bit of time and a whole lot of concentration. Aside from chopping onions and peeling garlic, I don’t really work with my hands. It felt good to build something that I knew was going to make so many people happy.

After I put the box together, I ran over to Fairway Market, in Red Hook, to pick up plates, tortillas, ingredients for fresh salsa, and charcoal. In other words, everything but the pig itself. Fairway is an amazing market, and the folks there are very helpful. It was only my second time in the store (I’m a Park Slope Food Coop partisan), and I kept getting lost. The staff at Fairway kept pointing me in the right direction, and I found everything I needed. Their donation to the barbecue was instrumental in its success.

I left Fairway at about 10:00 and headed home to get some rest. I was up the next day at 5:30 a.m. to get the pig started. La Caja China cooks the pig fast, but it still takes at least four hours. If we wanted to eat midday, I would have to get that thing cooking first thing in the morning.

On La Caja China’s website there are recipes for marinades, brines, and other ways to prepare the pig for roasting (the unit ships with a giant hypodermic needle for injecting the marinade right into the flesh), but I was too tired to make anything.  A friend who had used La Caja China before and written about it at length had told me that if I had a small Greenmarket pig, and not a huge supermarket one, I would be fine with just some salt and pepper. So I skipped the marinade.

The pig was donated by Roaming Acres Farms, and it was small, a mere 50 lbs live (which worked out to about 35 lbs dressed), and we just salted it up the morning we wanted to cook it, and it was just fine.  If you start with good ingredients, you don’t have to do much to them to make a good meal.

When Santa Maria took over the production a day before the event, the first thing she did was get on the phone with Robert Guerra, the maker of La Caja China. She discovered that the pig needed to be 65 degrees before cooking, otherwise the four hours would turn into eight hours. The pig was being delivered that morning, and it’s probably against the law to travel with a pig at room temperature, but Lou the delivery man did a great job of getting there early and we left the pig out for the hour or so it took us to get things set up, and the temperature wasn’t an issue.

Here's how the rest of the morning, and the day, went:

After Manny salted the pig up, we set it in the rack for La Caja China.

Then Josh and Manny lit the grill.  Lighting_Caja

And Josh and I loaded the pig into the box.

After that, we just kicked back and added charcoal ever hour per the instructions on the box, and waited. Three hours later we flipped the pig in the box, roasted it about a half hour more, and took it out.

We didn’t time that final roasting period exactly, and we almost paid a dear price. When I opened it up, the pig was burned. Its skin was a black as chimney sweeper’s hat. Disaster had struck!

We were momentarily stunned, but we came to our senses, flipped the pig over and put its sweetly browned side face up on the table. The crowd gathered and we furiously hacked at the pig with knives and pulled the succulent meat apart with our fingers. There was so much deliciously crispy skin, no one knew a thing. With the right pig and La Caja China, you pretty much can’t fail.

How to Roast a Pig, Part One: La Caja China a.k.a. the Magic Box

Put a roasted pig on a table, and you’ll learn a thing or two about human nature. People will gather as soon as they smell the scent of the roasted meat. They’ll start salivating. They’ll start stamping their feet. And once they taste that crispy, salty skin, they’ll be hard pressed to contain themselves.

I discovered this on Saturday at the Smorgasburg, the new weekly Williamsburg food market, which so kindly donated space for the writer Manny Howard, the firefighter Josh Lomask, and myself to roast a pig to help support local farmers. Thanks to the generosity of Fairway Market and Roaming Acres Farm, we raised money for the Greenmarket’s New Farmer Development Project.

Before Saturday, I had never roasted a pig in my life. But thanks to Roberto Guerra, who sent a La Caja China to New York for the barbecue, I did it without breaking a sweat. If you think you can't roast a pig, you are mistaken. La Caja China is magical.

It's an aluminum-lined wooden box that holds the pig as the coals burn above it. Somehow it allows you to roast a whole pig in a mere four hours. And it’s pretty darn foolproof. In my next post I'll go into more detail, but for now take a look at this short video by Bobby Flay. It captures much of the experience very well, and gives a little history of the box. A link is here, and the video is below:


"Man with a Pan" Firefighters' Charity Pig Roast to Benefit Local Farmers

This has been a whirlwind week. The New York Times gave "Man with a Pan" a rave review yesterday. Click through to see why their critic Dwight Garner considers it a "a rangy, toothsome, timely and occasionally wince-inducing collection."

I spent yesterday at the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs, a bustling agency on lower Broadway with an amazingly helpful staff (one employee gave me a cooking tip!), getting a permit for a charity pig roast I'm organizing for Saturday, June 4, in Brooklyn, at Smorgasburg, the new food-centric Saturday market in Williamsburg, on the waterfront between North 6th and North 7th Streets.

I'll be there at 7:30 in the morning, roasting a 50-pound pig to support the Greenmarket's New Farmer Development Project. The writer Manny Howard, the firefighter Josh Lomask, and other members of New York City's Bravest. We'll be reading from the book, and, between noon and 2 serving succulent pork. Come and join us if you can!