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July 2011

Real Men Cook and Garden: A Guest Post

Tomato zucchini sauce-1
I'm off for a bit of a vacation (and I'm not sure about Internet access when I get there), but before I go I want to talk gardening. My new apartment has Eastern and Southern exposure, and friend of mine recently told me that I could grow anything there. He suggested taking out the dining-room table and putting in raised beds, but he's such an avid gardener that he once commandeered a shared patio in his Manhattan building and put in enough plants to start a small farm, if not a hip new restaurant devoted to greens.

I opted to start small. I bought a little spearmint plant the other day, and it's been doing okay, though the leaves are going black on the plant. Is that supposed to happen? Isn't it practically a weed? Shouldn't it survive on its own?

When I was a child, we had a little garden in the back corner of our quarter-acre suburban lot. One summer my mother tried growing zucchini, and she suceeded—in a big way. That thing grew like a weed! We had zuchini bread, zucchini sides, zucchini tea, zucchini-everything for about six weeks.

I don't know if I'll ever get that proficient, but gardening can lead to a great way of life, as this guest post by Jamie Robertson shows. He's the main cook in his household. He lives with his wife and daughter in the beautiful interior of British Columbia Canada. He was fortunate to have been taught how to cook in his teens and is now passing on that knowledge to his daughter Hannah. He is thrilled to be able to work with his wife Kia in their two companies as the vice-president of Today I Ate A Rainbow (healthy eating tools for kids) and president of their web design firm Cutting Edge Concepts. Here is his story:

I think one of my favorite things about cooking is the ability to take raw produce and make it into something delicious. Not to say that raw produce isn't delicious in its own right, but taking fresh items and cooking them until they all blend into a delicious sauce or dish is a beautiful thing. I'm glad that my parents taught me how to cook when I was a teenager as it has served me well.  I am now teaching my daughter all the things I've learned and I'm sure one day she will be grateful that she learned how to prepare healthy meals for herself!  Equal to my love of cooking is my interest in organic gardening.

Last year we did some container gardening on our deck it got us hooked.  This year we've built three organic raised bed gardens.  We're growing tomatoes, zucchini, onions, lettuce, kale, cucumbers and strawberries. Once the garden is in full swing, I'll be able to go into the back yard with my 8 year old daughter and pick the veggies that we need for the evening meal. I think it's very important to teach our kids where their food comes from! It's sad that there are kids that believe that produce just comes from a supermarket. This illusion creates a huge disconnect between the earth and our mouths. By growing a garden as a family, we are able to keep our fingers connected to the earth and be proud of the food we have grown.

One of our favorite meals is pasta with a homemade tomato and zucchini sauce. We were able to get a couple of small, yellow and green zucchinis from our own garden as well as some sweet basil and oregano, we bought the rest of the ingredients at our local farmers market. While at the farmer's market we picked out a sweet white onion, some tasty garlic, roma tomatoes, and another zucchini.

This is the recipe that I have created for our homemade pasta sauce. The sauce is extremely simple and carries a ton of flavor. There's no need to add any extra sweeteners because the zucchini gets so sweet when it's cooked! I like to use a stainless steel pan with a thick bottom for nice even cooking. Here's the recipe - I hope you enjoy it!

Tomato-and-Zucchini Pasta Sauce

  • 1/2 large white onion - finely diced
  • 3 or 4 cloves garlic - finely chopped
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 or 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 leaves of sweet basil - finely chopped
  • 1/2 tablespoon oregano - finely chopped
  • sprig of parsley - finely copped
  • 6 large roma tomatos - diced
  • 2 medium zucchini (green or yellow or both!)
  • 1 cup of organic chicken stock (or organic chicken bouillon)
  1. Heat up a 12 inch sauce pan on medium heat on the stovetop and then add the olive oil.
  2. Once the oil gets hot, drop in the diced onions. Cook until translucent or lightly browned and then add the garlic.
  3. Stir in the basil, oregano and parsley as well as a pinch of salt to start to draw out the liquid from the onions
  4. Stir in the zucchini and lightly cook them for 2 minutes
  5. Add the roma tomatoes and stir well
  6. Reduce the heat to medium low and cover stirring occasionally
  7. Let the tomatoes and zucchini reduce until the tomatoes are no longer in chunks
  8. Add the chicken stock
  9. Add salt and pepper to taste
  10. Reduce the heat to simmer and leave uncovered to thicken the sauce for about 20 to 30 minutes

We put ours on a bed of Kamut pasta with a side of fresh Romaine lettuce in a tasty Caesar salad.

 


Ma Bell! Kids Pick up Red Peppers

Red-pepper-slices1
The conventional wisdom about getting kids to eat new things says that you should cook with them, and they will try what you are making. I've had mixed success (read, next to none) with this, but last night I was blown away.

Santa Maria was working late, and I was home after work with Nina and Pinta on my own. As usual, I was hungry and I wanted to rush dinner into the oven, so it would cook while I did the get-the-kids-into-bed Kabuki dance. My plan was to make my favorite Summer Chicken and Arugula Salad; by the time the chicken, potatoes, onions, and peppers were done roasting in the oven, the kids would be asleep and my dinner would be ready.

The girls wanted to help me in the kitchen, so I grabbed two chairs from the dining room, and they stood beside me as I chopped the vegetables. I started with the red pepper, which, according to The Worlds Healthiest Foods, is a remarkably beneficial vegetable, extremely high in vitamins A and C, and not-so-shabby with B-6, K, and other desirable nutrients. Also, red peppers then to be more healthy in their natural state; according to once study cited on The Worlds Healthiest Foods, the raw ones have higher levels of phytonutrients than cooked ones.

When Pinta saw the peppers on the cutting board, she said, "What's that?" I told her, and offered her some. She smelled it, smiled, and took a bite. She liked it. I gave some to her sister, who was a bit more skeptical, but who also tried it. They both liked it. I gave the girls more pieces, and Pinta put her her curved slice of pepper to her ear and said, "It looks like a phone!"


Review of "El Bulli: Cooking in Progress"

EL BULLI 10lorez

"El Bulli: Cooking in Progress," a documentary about the famed Spanish restaurant, has its United States theatrical premier tomorrow, at the Film Forum. Steven Flax, a dad, writer, and contributor to this site who once learned to cook by making a meal for Julia Child, had a chance to check it out. Here's his review.

For someone with a passion for doing gourmet cooking, or who has fantasized about being the chef of a fine restaurant, the new movie about Chef Ferran Adria and his renowned restaurant, “El Bulli: Cooking in Progress,“ is sure to stir a wishful hunger. However, the documentary, a slow-paced, behind-the-scenes study directed by Gereon Wetzel, is more thought provoking than mouth watering.

El Bulli has been voted the world’s best restaurant five times by Restaurant Magazine’s international jury of chefs and food critics. It will close on July 30th, three days after the film debuts. So Wetzel’s film records for posterity the experimental exploits of Adria and his team of high priests in their quest to develop avant-garde novelty cuisine.

We see them taste testing a cocktail of water that has been drizzled with hazelnut oil and salt. They put four miniature orange segments into a little puddle of olive oil and then add a few tiny nuggets of ice. Freeze-dried peppermint powder is dusted over a thin skin of ice covering a small shallow bowl. When cracked with a spoon it turns into an haute snowcone. A single tiny raviolo served with only a cup of water was the most puzzling (that's a picture of it, above). When dunked in the water, the envelope of pasta disappears. If diners don’t quickly get the morsel to their mouths, the filling plops phlegm-like into the water. All these experiments made it onto El Bulli’s menu.

The scenes shot at Adria’s laboratory kitchen in Barcelona, where new dishes are developed, are like being in a microbiology lab at the NIH. At times Adria’s chefs appear more to autopsy the food than cook it.

The camera’s stare follows the action like a mute, fixated apprentice. From the determination and effort shown, you know Adria and his top chefs are driven to excel, to create what’s new and different, and to confound expectations. But that’s not dramatic. It’s intriguing, but there’s something about it that’s tough to digest. Unfortunately the film does not present much of the protagonists talking about themselves and their aspirations.

To Adria and his staff, food is not what it is to us. It’s some sort of protean silly putty. What does he make for himself for breakfast at home? A scrambled-egg snowcone? The food he invents may be exquisite, but you wouldn’t want it in your lifeboat.

It’s no depreciation of this studious film that I came away from it without regret that I never ate at El Bulli. Instead, it made me appreciate the less-exalted, less-avant-garde cooking of chefs whose food I've enjoyed.

Adria’s motivations seem so divorced from what we home cooks feel about cooking. When I cooked for our daughters, we shared this loving, comforting ritual of relaxation, chatter, and replenishment. It made me so happy to see them take second helpings, even if what I made was mac and cheese, the furthest extreme from Adria’s ambrosia. Such an experience is so fulfilling, and I was struck by its absence from Adria’s temple of the sublime.      


Summer Recipe Doldrums? How One Dad Got Underway Again

Musandam-doldrums
Brian Gresko, a writer, stay-at-home dad, kung-fu-film devotee, and follower of this blog, emailed me recently about his trouble putting together early summer meals. He was uninspired, and looking for suggestions. But I couldn’t help him. I was coming off the promotion of “Man with a Pan,” and I was barely able to feed myself, never mind come up with new recipes.

It’s an irony of publishing a book about dads who cook, that producing it took me a way from the kitchen for various stretches. Not long periods, mind you, but intense ones (what moment isn’t intense, with two working parents and two hungry kids?) that gave Santa Maria pause. She had to pick up the slack more nights than she might have liked to. Worse, for me, it meant having insufficient mental energy to conjure fresh ideas.

When Brian contacted me, I drew a blank. I confessed this, and asked him to tell me if he ever got out of his cooking doldrums. He just did, and here’s his story:

At the start of every summer I fall into a cooking rut.

Long before the first vine-ripened tomatoes arrived at the farmer's market with their ruby skins still warm from the sun's rays, the heat bore down on New York City. The sweltering nights of late May and early June found me at the stove preparing a pasta better suited for a snowstorm, over-salting the dish with my sweat. I was lost in transition, the necessary ingredients for the pestos and salads of easy summer cooking not yet available, but standbys like risotto, stir-fry, and pasta laying too heavy.

This year, the kitchen doldrums came hand-in-hand with my son graduating from his docile baby days to the terrors of toddlerhood. My wife and I tried brainstorming new menu ideas over breakfast, our voices raised against the tot clamoring to sit in mommy's lap. We lacked the peace of mind to rally our creativity and surmount the seasonal impasse.

I felt especially responsible for our lack of mealtime mojo. As the stay-at-home dad, the shopping and majority of the cooking fall to me. Usually, I attack these tasks with relish. But cooking seemed just another chore – exactly what I didn't need.

Searching for inspiration, I thought of the producer and musician Brian Eno, who has helped guide bands like Talking Heads, U2, and Coldplay. When Eno works with performers, he shakes up their artistic process using cards called Oblique Strategies. The performer pulls a random card from the deck, which impart an obtuse, curious instruction. “Use an old idea.” “Try faking it!” “Ask your body what to do.” Whatever the artist's interpretation, the cards are meant to jolt them into a new relationship with the material, to engender surprise and encourage improvisation.

Sounds obscure, but thinking about this technique led me to throw out the menu plan. Instead of going to the Park Slope Food Coop with a long list of ingredients and meals in mind, I let the shelves be my muse. Often, because I shop with the tot, speed was of the essence too. I ran on pure appetite: if it looked good, I bought it, trusting I'd figure out ways of whipping it into a meal later.

Baby potatoes, Japanese eggplant, young turnips, and fresh beets yielded a delicious potato salad, a Middle Eastern style saute with tahini sauce (recipe below), roast turnips with pork medallions, and beet salad with fresh mint.

I also sought out new recipe ideas. Friends recommended goodies I'd never tried – like yellow corn tortillas from Hot Bread Kitchen, which became the basis for cumin black beans with quesadillas. Blogs like this one introduced me to new preparations, such as the delicious and simple Roast Pork Tenderloin, which I paired with garden-grown collard greens braised with balsamic vinegar.

Within a couple of weeks of shaking my process up, I had rekindled my passion for cooking. Just in time! As here come the tomatoes, peaches, and corn that mark the start of easy summer cooking. Even my toddler, unable to make demands with a mouth full of peach, can appreciate that.

 

Brian Gresko's Eggplant Stir-Fry with Tahini and Mint

 

  • Red pepper flakes (to taste)
  • Cumin seed, to taste
  • ½ Spring onion, diced
  • 2 Cloves garlic, chopped
  • ½ Green pepper, chopped
  • Small bunch of chard or beet greens, chopped
  • 2 Small Japanese Eggplants, chopped
  • 2 Cups pre-cooked or canned chickpeas
  • ¼ Cup chopped mint
  • 2-3 Tablespoons tahini
  • Squeeze of lemon juice
  • Lots of olive oil

 

Toast the cumin seed.

Add a few tablespoons of olive oil, along with the red pepper flakes and onion.

When the onion is softened, add the garlic and pepper. Cook a few minutes, till the garlic begins to get golden and the onions brown.

Add the greens and cook a few minutes with a cover on. Add water if necessary.

Once the greens begin to cook down, add the eggplant. Drizzle with lots of oil, as it soaks up the liquid.

When the eggplant has softened, add the chickpeas and mint.

After a few minutes, turn off the heat. Drizzle with tahini and lemon juice.

Serve with more fresh mint. Goes great with couscous or quinoa.

Note: The beautiful thing about this dish is that it all cooks in one pan. Ideally, it should have a lot of texture. Soft greens, spongy eggplant, and slightly toothy chickpeas, all bound together with the oil and tahini.


Squeeze the Heat: A Fresh Lemonade Recipe

Lemonade
Once upon a time, people used to declare, “It’s so hot the chickens are laying hard-boiled eggs.” These days, you’re more likely to hear, “It’s so hot you could fry an egg on the sidewalk.”

Could you? Good Question: the Library of Congress has looked into it, and their answer is, not really, citing Robert L. Wolke’s book, “What Einstein Told His Cook: Kitchen Science Explained.” Wolke spent time in Austin, Texas, a few years ago during a heat wave, and he carefully measured the surface temperature of various sidewalks, none of which rose high enough to handle an egg.

He did make an amusing observation, though: “But wait! The roof of one sun-baked, dark blue 1994 Ford Taurus station wagon measured 178 degrees Fahrenheit, more than hot enough to coagulate both white an yolk. And because steel is a good conductor of heat, that temperature could be maintained by heat feeding into the egg from other parts of the roof. Maybe cars, rather than streets and sidewalks, were the way to go.”

With the thermometer pushing 100, however, the last thing I want is a fried egg. What I want is an ice-cold pitcher of lemonade. Santa Maria, the girls, and I made a batch the other day, and it was crisp and refreshing. It’s a timeless remedy for the hot weather. Make yourself some this weekend, and stay cool.

 

Fresh Lemonade

  • 2 lemons
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup water

        Boil the water, and stir it into the sugar to make a simple syrup.
        Juice the lemons.
        Mix the lemon juice with the simple syrup and 3 cups water.
        Garnish with slivers of lemon peel.
        Serve over ice.

Notes: The mix is strong so that when it is poured (room temp) over ice, it doesn't get too diluted. Also, Santa Maria juices the lemons by hand, mashing her fingers deeply into the interior, and squeezing out every last bit so that the lemons yield more than if they were done with a juicer (electric or traditional).

Also, she suggests cutting up the juiced lemons (well scrubbed first please!) into slivers to float on top as a garnish and a fun chewy treat for kids who like tart tastes (again, this is a reason to buy organic, ie if you're kid is going to chew it).


Dinnertime Tricks: Getting Everyone to Eat Together with a Summer Chicken and Arugula Salad Recipe

Many_clocks
I’m not sure what’s more vexing—coming to an agreement on our national budget, or getting kids and parents to enjoy the same thing for dinner. But meals don’t have to be big battles, provided everyone can work together (that’s a hint, Congress).

Say you want to eat a delicious summer salad of roast chicken, caramelized onions, charred red peppers, and crispy potatoes, seasoned with thyme and assembled over bed of fresh arugula. But your kids turn their noses up at new things, especially green things.

Be brave. Make the dinner you want to eat, but be smart: Serve it family style with the parts of the meal separated. Put the chicken on one platter, and the potatoes, onions, and peppers in a different bowl. Bring the arugula to the table by itself. This way, the kids can serve themselves the things they like, and the adults can have an elegant, tasty, semi-sophisticated dinner, too. 

I did this the other night, and it was a great success. I admit I hedged a bit. Nina and Pinta may gobble up raw sage, mint, basil, and other green herbs, but the arugula was too bitter for them. So I made a little broccoli for them to eat, on the side.

The kids ate what they wanted, and went off to play. Santa Maria and I enjoyed lingering at the table on a summer evening. Then, Nina came back to the table for more potatoes. She loved them. I said, “Do you know what herb is on them? Thyme.” She screwed up her face and cracked a sly smile. "Time?” she said. “You mean you put clocks on the potatoes?"

Arugula, Chicken, and Roasted Red Pepper Salad

 

  • 1 Chicken, cut into parts
  • 3 or 4 red potatoes, diced
  • One Onion, sliced
  • One Red Pepper, sliced
  • Olive Oil, a drizzle
  • Thyme, to taste
  • Salt and Pepper
  • White wine
  • Arugula

 

Pre-heat oven to 450 degrees

Combine the chicken, the onion, the pepper, the potatoes, the thyme, and the olive oil in a roasting pan (use two pans if necessary; don't crowd).
Arrange the chicken so it is skin side up.
Salt and Pepper to taste.
Roast the chicken and the vegetables until the onion and pepper are soft and the chicken is crispy and cooked through, about a half hour.
Remove the chicken and vegetables and deglaze the pan with white wine.
Put the chicken and vegetables over the arugula and dress with the sauce from the roasting pan.

Notes:

All of this can be made in advance. In that case, skip the deglazing step and dress the salad with white wine vinegar. You won’t need oil because of the chicken fat on the vegetables. Serve with fresh bread.

This recipe is adapted from “Gourmet Everyday.”


"Man with a Pan" Puts the Heat on a Friend of Mine

StoveDiagram
Recently, I gave a copy of my book, “Man with a Pan,” to Kevin Burget, an old friend of mine and of Santa Maria’s. Apparently, the way I signed it had far-reaching consequences: As it is said, "When a butterfly flaps its wings in the Sahara, a hurricane is born in the Atlantic," and in this case, my few words put Kevin behind the stove for the first time in a long while. Here’s what happened:

JD's inscription in this lovely book proved to be a double-edged butter knife. In jaunty book-signing crabbed marker, he had written the words "You make all the other cooking dads look good." This was ostensibly a thanks for my having filmed countless videos of John creating extravagant meals in his home, (well, I had filmed one) and thanks were duly appreciated--that is until my daughter got a hold of the book.

To her the inscription's meaning was plain. In my efforts to cook I made ALL the other cooking dads look good. It took a 10-year old to discern the author's intent. That night, as I had not in recent memory, I reacquainted myself with the knobs for the burners, always challenged to discover which corresponded to which. The schematic showed a simple grid of four beside each knob. But by what consensus was it reached that the top left meant the BACK of the stove, not the front. It depended on whether you looked at the stove from above or below.

This had always troubled me, almost as much as it had my wife, and it usually marked the point at which the oven mitts were taken from me and put beyond my reach. At any rate, this time, the gauntlet having been thrown by a best-selling author, I retrieved it. And my family was not sorry. In fact it marked what I expect the future will recount to be the moment of my redemption.

As more and more meals created by me hit the table redolent of my self-confidence, our impaired family has been made whole again. The pants are again mine to wear. Which suits others just fine when I cook. The meal of my redeeming? Pasta, with fresh basil, diced fresh mozzarella, diced fresh tomatoes, and salt to taste drizzled and tossed with olive oil.

The trick is to let the pasta--cappellini or spaghetti work best, but any of the screwy cousins to these will do--to let the pasta cool somewhat, but not entirely so that as you toss with the ingredients it gently spreads the fresh mozzarella in a stringy way throughout without letting it clump like a nerve ganglion in the pot.

This is a meal my kids actually crave, and is one of the few meals that also happens to bridge current family life with the newlywed devil-may-care cooking days. So it's a brilliant synthesis of time and taste. To which I owe John Donohue everlasting thanks, and a meal some day! In the meantime I savor each page of this wonderful book while my spouse does the dishes.

 

Summer Tomato-Mozzarella Pasta Extravaganza

 

  • 1 lb pasta of choice
  • 1 cup fresh basil leaves, chopped
  • Two small cloves garlic, pressed
  • 1/2 lb or so, fresh mozzarella, chopped
  • 3 medium-sized ripe tomatoes, diced
  • 1/4 cup or so olive oil
  • Salt to taste

Cook pasta in pot of water.

Combine all other ingredients in serving bowl.

Drain pasta in colander. Put trace amount of olive oil in pot. Return pasta to pot and swish around to get noodles unsticky with eachother. Let noodles cool for about 2 minutes.

Turn pasta into the serving bowl and toss thoroughly with the mixed ingredients. Mozzarella should string about nicely if done right; comes with practice.

Serve.

Receive compliments with an air surprise and humility.

Use the lure of preparing this meal again within a week as negotiating tool with children.

 

Take a Trip the South of France: A Quick Salad Niçoise Recipe

Tuna_nicoise
I’m a big believer in having certain staples around the house, such as the ingredients for puttanesca, so there’s always a way to make a meal, even if you forget to shop or otherwise get distracted.

The heat of summer, though, makes this a bit of a challenge. Who wants puttanesca when the thermometer is pushing 95? I just discovered a dish that nearly solves the problem—salad niçoise. Of course it is old as the fabled profession behind puttanesca, but it is new to me.

I made it for the first time last night, having been inspired by a tweet by David Leite, of the great food blog Leite’s Culinaria. Over the weekend, before I headed to the Greemarket for fish, I was aimlessly looking at Twitter, and I came across his mention of a blog post by Kathleen Flinn.

Kathleen Flinn, the author of "The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry" (a memoir with recipes about her time at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris), knows her salad niçoise. Her blog post was lovingly photographed, full of history, and capped by an inviting recipe. I started to salivate just looking at it on my iPod, and I dispatched Santa Maria, who was then headed to the Food  Coop, for the few things we didn’t have in the pantry (green beans and tomatoes).

I thought I would eat it that weekend, but then life intervened. We got busy. A  birthday party became an afternoon play date. We were out of the house, and salad niçoise with a glass of wine was off the menu.

But I couldn't forget that niçoise. I was infatuated, and in the back of my mind I knew that it could be a great weeknight dish. Yesterday morning I boiled the eggs and cooked the potatoes and green beans. Santa Maria and I assembled in no time last night, and we reveled in its simple elegance. She loved it so much that she couldn’t get it of her mind. She told all he co-workers about it today, and she smiled this evening as she thought of it. I think I’ve found a new summer staple.

Weeknight Salad Nicoise (inspired by Kathleen Flinn’s delightful recipe)

  • 2 red potatoes, boiled and cut into cubes
  • A fistful of green beans, steamed
  • ½ head Romaine Lettuce, washed and torn into bit sized pieces
  • 2 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and chopped
  • ¼ cup pitted nicoise olives
  • ½ cup halved cherry tomatoes
  • 1 can tuna in oil
  • 4-6 anchovies

For the dressing:

  • Olive oil
  • Mustard
  • White-wine vinegar
  • Thyme, to taste
  • 1 tablespoon minced shallots
  • Salt and Pepper

 

Combine the potatoes, beans, lettuce, olives, tomatoes, and eggs in a bowl.

Mix the ingredients for the dressing, to taste.

Dress the salad, and top with tuna and anchovies

Nicoise


Greek Island Whole Roast Fish: No Passport Required

Good cooking, like good parenting, is all about serendipity. No one told me that. I discovered it by accident. On Saturday I wanted to go to the Greenmarket for seafood from Blue Moon Fish. They have the freshest offerings in the five boroughs, and I'm not the only one who knows that. They are very popular, so it wasn’t any surprise to me that by the time I got there, late in the day, they were sold out of most everything.

They had a few things I wanted, such as clams and mussels, but the key fillet of fluke was nowhere to be found. That’s the only thing Pinta will eat. Clams are too salty for her, and mussels too far off the charts.

I was waited on by my friend Sally Sturman, an illustrator who slings fish for Blue Moon on the side. She showed me a whole flounder, only ten dollars, and I decided to buy it. Even though I worked around fish for a decade, starting at the tender age of thirteen, I can count on one hand the number of whole fish I’ve roasted in my life. It’s something I feel like should know how to do, but haven’t done yet.

The whole flounder freaked me out a bit but Sally’s coworkers assured me that it was easy to cook. They were right. Twenty minutes in an oven at 450 degrees was all it took.

First though, I had to find a roasting pan big enough for it. The fish was fairly small, only about two and a half pounds or so, but it was bigger than all my roasting pans, save the one I use for chickens.

Flounder_pan

The fishmongers told me to put salt on it, but they didn’t say anything about a rack. I decided to put it on the rack I use for chicken. And I coated the back side of the fish with oil so it wouldn’t stick. I seasoned it with a bit of ginger, stuck in where it's guts were. (Oh, yes, I had to clean it, but that took about five minutes; see the note below).

Then it was into the oven for twenty minutes, and it was done. Not only was it easy to cook, it was disproportionally delicious. Santa Maria told me it was the best-tasting fish she’s ever had. It made her think, she said, of the fish she would be served on the beach of a Greek Island, fresh off the grill.

Flounder_first_cut

And I enjoyed showing the girls the bones.

Flounder_bones

 Whole Roasted Flounder

  • One, whole flounder, about two-to-three pounds, gills removed and gutted
  • Olive oil
  • A couple of slices of fresh ginger
  • A lot of salt

Pre-heat oven to 450 degrees.

Rub the white side of the fish with olive oil, and place it white-side down on a rack in a roasting pan.

Stick the ginger slices in the belly.

Salt the top skin heavily.

Place in oven and roast for about twenty minutes, or until the flesh is opaque (check with a thin knife).

Remove and let sit on a platter for about ten minutes.

To serve, slice skin lengthwise and peel it back. Lift the fillet on one side of the back bone off, then the other. Then lift the backbone out and do the same with the flesh on the bottom. Don't neglect the bits of meat in the head and along the fins. They are delicious.

Note: To clean the fish, make a small cut below the base of the head, and reach in and rip out the guts. Then pull the rich red gills from the head. Rinse well.

Serves 2 to 4, depending on appetite and side dishes.

 

Matzo Brei, My Matzo Brei, by Barry Strugatz

On my weekly trip to the Food Coop the other morning, I ran into an old friend and neighbor, Barry Strugatz*, who mentioned that the filmmaker and web-cooking-show host Tamra Davis had recently posted a matzo brei recipe on her site.

Barry and I have a special bond over matzo brei. Months and months ago, he wrote a guest post for me about it, and I never got around to running it. Every so often he would remind me, and I would promptly forget. He reminded me again when I saw him. Here it is:

Matzo  Brei is about as simple as a recipe gets.  Very elemental.  Ingredients:

matzo, egg, water.  And some butter for the pan.

Matzo Brei is an Ashkenazi (European) Jewish dish combining eggs and matzo, cracker-like unlevened bread.  It can be made scrambled or in a pancake.  It’s usually a breakfast dish.

While theologians and historians date matzo back to the Exodus almost 3,000 years ago, the origins of matzo brei are much more mysterious.  Theories abound.  More research needs to be done.

My grandparents immigrated to New York from the Russian countryside in the early 1900’s.  This recipe was passed down but I don’t know from who.

I can’t remember who taught this to me, my mother or father.  My mother was an amazing chef.  She could cook any cuisine with painstaking perfection.  My father only occasionally cooked a few dishes: steak, salami&eggs, knockwurst and matzo brei.  I guess matzo brei was the healthiest food in his repetoire.

Culinarily speaking there are two kinds of Jews.  Sweet or salty. The sweet people like their foods – noodle puddings, knishes, matzo brei -- laced with sugar, cinnamon, raisins, fruit or jelly.

The others have a taste for salt.  My family is in this group.  We even dispensed with syrup on our french toast.  We ate it just with salt.  But sometimes after salting up a matzo brei we ate it with applesauce.

One unorthodox practice I sometimes engage in is a side of bacon.

My kids like matzo brei but they’ve never made it.

Maybe after reading this they’ll give it a try, and pass it down through future ages.

Barry Strugatz's Matzo Brei (one serving)

  • 1 egg
  • 2 sheets of matzo. Any type matzo will do.  Streit’s Moonstrips (onion and poppy) are a favorite.
  • 1 tbsp butter.
  • salt

In a bowl scramble one egg.  Salt and pepper optional.

Take two sheets of matzo and briefly moisten under running cold water.

Shake off or blot excess water.

Crumble matzo into pieces, not too big, not too small.

Mix in bowl with the eggs, till all the matzo is coated.

Put into hot buttered frying pan.

If you choose to scramble, do so, until it’s done to your taste.

Or if you prefer, with a spatula tamp the matzo down into  a pancake. When the edges start to brown flip it over.  I like a crunchy crust on the outside, moist on the inside.

Salt lightly and serve.

When I saw him, Barry mentioned that Tamra had made a video. He sent me the link. The video features her children (as well as  a cameo from her husband, the Beastie Boys’ Mike D), and I think it’s charming:

 

But Barry, had a few things to say about her recipe: “She's welcome to her version and God bless her bubby (grandma) but I think it's a little farkakt (screwed up). Her ratio of 1 egg to 1 matzo is way too eggy. This is more like scrambled eggs with some matzo pieces thrown in. Also the printed recipe is even more meshuge (crazy): 2 eggs to 1 matzo!!! All my grandparents were Russian peasants, maybe eggs were more scarce in their parts, but I think 1 egg to 2 matzos tastes much better"

My mother’s Irish, and I don’t know a thing about matzo brei. How do you prefer yours?

 

*Barry Stugatz is a writer and a director. His credits include “Married to the Mob,” and “She-Devil and From Other Worlds.” He has two daughters, Emma and Molly, ages 21 and 14. He cooks for them maybe once a week, but offers to more often. He is still waiting for them to make him breakfast in bed.