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August 2011

What I'm Drinking Now: 2010 Frenzy Sauvignon Blanc

Part of our hurricane preparations involved buying a bottle of wine. It was the day before the big storm, and already the rain was starting to come down. I was in a hurry to grab a bottle, so I dashed into Big Nose Full Body and  picked up one of their New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs, a 2010 bottle of Frenzy, from Marlborough, for $12.

I was in too much of a hurry to read the store notes, but the clerk told me it had a good and solid New Zealand-ish citrus side to it. I couldn't wait to try it. At home, I took a look at the back label, and what was written there struck a note with me. "Frenzy is a name inspired by the myriad, uncontrollable forces of nature that must fall into place in order to make great wine," it declared. The same could be said, I thought, about raising a kid.

My girls are forever fascinated with whatever I'm drinking. "Beer" they tend to call "beard," having trouble the word, and no matter what is in my glass they want a taste of it. I always let them try it. They put their finger in the glass, and I wonder if they'll ever be able to tell the difference between one wine and another. Maybe someday. For now, I take solace in Pinta's developing senses. I gave her a whiff of Frenzy, and asked her what fruit it smelled like. "Grapefruit," she said, and she was right. Talk about a signature New Zealand wine. I wholeheartedly recommend it.

I'm headed to the beach for the next few days, and will try to post if I can, though I'm not sure how good the Internet access will be. Rest assured, I'll still be cooking. Enjoy the remainder of your summer.



Hurricane Watch Oatmeal Cookies

Hurricane Irene might have been hyped to the high-heavens, but it just rattled the windows and downed a few trees in the park nearby. While the storm didn't have much of an impact on the streets around me, it did cause a change in the kitchen. It inspired Santa Maria to do a little tinkering with her oatmeal cookie recipe. The storm may not have been one for the books, but this recipe is.

Hurricane Watch Oatmeal Cookies

  • 1 c. good butter, softened (not melted)
  • 1 c. brown sugar
  • 1 c. flour
  • ¾ t baking soda
  • ½ t salt
  • 2 t cinnamon
  • 1 egg
  • ¾ t vanilla
  • 2 c. rolled oats

Cream butter and sugar; add egg and vanilla;  mix or sift together flour, cinnamon, soda, salt; stir the flour mixture into the butter mixture. Then add the oats. Bake about 10 minutes in a 350 degree pre-heated oven.

Makes at least 4 dozen – enough for you and the neighbors and even enough to freeze a log for a future playdate.

What I'm Drinking Now: Tortoise Creek Sauvignon Blanc “Cuveé Jeanne”


Tuesday, we had an earthquake, and its effects were felt last night. A shelf of dishes came crashing down in the kitchen—the little pin holding the wood must have been loosened by the earth’s recent rumbling. The crockery shattered right around my mother, who was in the kitchen getting reading for a dinner with Santa Maria’s folks. They’re visiting, and Santa Maria cooked her famed Rose Revived Flounder for them.

I had been charged with shopping and getting the wine. I meant to get the fish from Blue Moon, at the Greenmarket in Union Square, but I didn’t get out of the house in time that morning to do so and to get to work at a reasonable hour, so I opted to go to the market in Grand Central Station, near my office. There’s lots of fresh food there now, but boy is it pricey: note to self, always, always buy from Blue Moon.

I thought about getting the wine in Grand Central, too, but after paying through the nose for the fish, I wasn’t in the mood to shell out anything extra for the convenience of getting it there. There are many good wine stores in Brooklyn, and the one nearest to our place, Big Nose Full Body, is small but exceptionally well run. Here’s how I know: they sell good cheap wine. It’s one thing to stock your shelves with expensive bottles of great wine. It’s another to find the ones people can afford on a weeknight that will make them feel like they are at a fine restaurant.

Last night I picked a $12 bottle of 2010 Tortoise Creek Sauvignon Blanc “Cuveé Jeanne” from their shelf. The store notes described as something like “everything you might want in a Sauvignon Blanc.” They were right. It was crisp and citrusy, but well rounded and full. I hear there’s a hurricane coming our way, and I might have to get myself a case before the winds and rains arrive. Who knows what Mother Nature will throw at us next.

Santa Maria Wants Lobster

Cooking and eating lobster is much like becoming a parent: simple to initiate, yet challenging to finish. Let’s start with the cooking. Sometimes in life, the things that look the hardest are the easiest to pull off. Bring a little water to boil in a big pot on a high heat, salt the water, drop the lobsters in, cover, wait a few minutes (fifteen-minutes for a pound-and-a-half one) and you’re done. There’s really nothing to it.

I’m a little blasé about cooking lobsters for two reasons. The first is that when I was much younger I worked at a retail seafood market and I cooked hundreds of them during my tenure there. The second is that when I was much younger, I worked in a retail fish market, and I picked and cleaned a countless number of the crustaceans. I got a bit sick of them.

Santa Maria, on the other hand, loves lobster, and all summer long she’s been pining away for one. Last August, we took a day trip to the Mohonk Mountain House, and she ate three of them (two belonged to Nina and Pinta, who have inherited my tastes in this department; we had to buy four dinners to get access to the resort’s grounds). A couple of times this year we’ve made plans to get and cook lobsters, but we’ve been foiled for various reasons (on vacation, they were $16 a pound!).

This past weekend, though, I returned to my old stomping grounds, the great Mt. Kisco Seafood, where I caught up with old friends and picked up a few lobsters. My friends there made sure the lobsters had hard shells, and that’s important. A newly molted, soft-shell lobster will have much less meat in it.

These were hardy, pound-and-a-half animals, and when I showed the live ones to my girls, Pinta reacted with a frightened look that made me think of the scene in “Annie Hall” where Woody Allen and Diane Keaton struggle with runaway lobsters. But I showed her how they’re not scary. They’re easy to hold behind the head, where their claws can’t reach you, and they’re very slow moving out of the water (nothing like live blue-claw crabs, which will make you pay very quickly if you let one get away).


We had our lobsters in the back yard. The breeze was cool and the light was soft. Santa Maria dipped her lobster in lemon butter, and we all enjoyed a late-summer treat. If you want a good, illustrated set of instructions on how to eat a lobster, the Gulf of Maine Research Institute has created one, here.


French Toast Trick: What Do You See?

I thought I knew all there was to know about French toast (namely that I really like it), but recently, while on vacation,  I discovered two new things: The cheaper the bread, the better the French Toast, and the thinner the slice, the more delicious it is. This weekend, I made it again, and discovered a third thing: it can be a brain teaser.


I thought this looked like a rabbit at rest, but when I showed it to Nina, she said it looked like a whale. Santa Maria pointed out that it looks like both. What do you see in it?


French Toast


  • 4-5 eggs
  • about a cup of milk
  • 8-12 slices or so of bread of your choice (cut super thinly).
  • butter
  • Maple syrup


Beat the eggs and add in the milk.

Slice the bread thinly and dunk pieces into the mixture.

Brown the slices on a well-buttered frying pan.

Serve with warm maple syrup, cinnamon, powdered sugar, and/or whatever you would like.

Time Saving Trick: Cook the Green Beans in the Pasta Water

I like to think that when it comes to running the kitchen in my house, I know everything. This despite the fact that I am humbly reminded almost daily of ways in which I don't (I'm thinking about Santa Maria's banana bread, homemade biscuits, kale chips, and apple pies).

Recently, she put on water for spaghetti while I unpacked after our trip to my mother's house. On a stroll through the kitchen, I noticed green beans floating in a pot and thought that she had stopped making the pasta. "What are you doing?," I said. "I always do that," she replied. "It saves time, and nutrients."

Après le Déluge: Mushroom Risotto

It has been raining so much these days in NYC that I think we’ll soon have mushrooms growing on the sidewalks and in the subways, and this idea reminded me of a guest post that my friend Michael Dorf, a father of two boys and one girl and the owner of the fantastic club City Winery, sent me last year about his risotto. I was too busy with “Man with a Pan” to run it, but things are quieter now.

Mushroom risotto is one of my favorite foods, though I don’t often have the chance to make it these days. Nina, my eldest, has become deathly afraid of mushrooms, and her younger sister has not been immune to Nina’s fears. This, despite the fact that one of the earliest things Nina ever said was “Quak o Van" (a.k.a Coq au Vin), but that’s another story. Here’s Michael’s take on mushroom risotto.

What I like about mushroom risotto, and frankly risotto in general with a million variations, is that it is a meal that requires total focus for a period of time and really requires tuning out the rest of the world.  And since there is constant stirring with one hand and chopping with the other, it appears as you are really busy, which means at dinner parties, it is fair game to not be that involved in conversation and it allows for some personal time which is rare.  Those 60 minutes or so of time I value highly, for I live a frenetic life, busy, always feeling like a worker ant in my life, back in the day at the Knitting Factory or currently at City Winery building something, dealing with artists, staff, investors, what have you and not having time to myself.  So, I relish the hour of focused stirring and spacing out, sipping wine, while it appears I am slaving over the stove.

The actual cooking is really simple.  I start with a good chicken stock, which can be a standalone meal if you’re sick. I use a whole chicken, so I have lots of fat in the liquid, along with carrots, celery, bay leaf, tons of salt and pepper.  It is best to start this a few hours before, so that the chicken has fully disintegrated in the pot.  This should be the kind of soup your mom would make when you were sick.  Then strain it to get the bones and big chunks out and you have an amazing broth to use.

Then I take my biggest pan and fill it with olive oil and finely chopped Garlic.  I get that nice and hot and pour in a lot of Arborio rice. This is measured by eye, as the amount of liquid (the chicken soup) is some ratio of the rice, which I would say is either small, medium, big, and really big.  

Quickly, I get all the rice covered in the olive oil and in several seconds it is cooking hard, turn it all over and within a minute, before it would turn brown, pour in about a glass or little more of a white acidic wine--dry chardonnay is the best.  I really try and use a white burgundy and depending on how wealthy I am feeling, I gravitate towards a Montrachet.  However, you don’t want to use much for cooking, rather save it for drinking during the cooking. Just pour enough in the pan to cover all the rice. Then, you have the rest the bottle to consume during the next 45 minutes of cooking.  

The wine makes a great sound when poured in the hot pan and if there is an audience, it is impressive, and it cooks off very quickly.  This adds a subtle flavor, as is really the first liquid getting into the dry rice.  Very quickly, ten seconds or so later, take a cup of the broth and pour over the rice and using a large wooden spoon to mix and make sure to scrape every rice piece into the overall mixture.  I use a big coffee cup with handle to get a lot of liquid quickly, but a proper large soup ladle could work. 

Constant stirring is the key for the next 25 to 35 minutes, where you wait for the liquid to absorb into the rice and just as it looks like the rice will start to burn, you pour in another cup or two of broth.  You keep doing this maybe 10 times or so, depending on how absorbed the rice is. You can make this for 4 to 25 people pretty easy, and the constant stirring and focus on this is key.  30 seconds spent talking to someone about their kids and you’re screwed; it will cause the rice and stick to the bottom, start to burn, and put a burnt flavor into the entire dish, a real bummer if you used a grand cru Montrachet...  When the rice has absorbed all the liquid it can, it is ready, with a slightly silky texture.  Taste to confirm it is cooked a much as you like.

In another pan, about midway through the cooking of the rice, you start to sauté the vegetables. I use lots of garlic, salt and pepper, as this will add a nice flavor into the big starch pile next door.  I love putting a lot of veggies in as it can serve as your vegetable dish. Mushrooms are my favorite based on what looked freshest at the market, followed by yellow and red peppers, just because they look nice.  But zucchini, peas, spinach, all work well; there are a million directions to take this. 

The sautéed veggies are started while the risotto is cooking, so that it stays hot when the time comes to mix it all together.  When cooking purely for adults, you can use fewer veggies to make it more elegant, but that is not my reputation.  When cooking for the family, I take the chance to sneak the veggies in, and usually use fewer mushroom and more corn, peas, and zucchini.

The plating and delivery is key for both the presentation and flavoring.  The rice is easily scooped into a nice round pile in the middle of plate.  Then I sprinkle Parmesan cheese over the pile, allowing some to fall on the plate which looks like a light sprinkle and something that a restaurant would do.  Then I dust chopped parsley on top.  I think it is a critical flavor to add to the mix, but usually the kids don't like the "green leafy thing,” so I leave it off theirs. 

For years, we sang the "Rice Aroni, the San Francisco treat" song when giving it to the kids, and they loved it from the time they could eat solids.  As they turned six, they got a little more picky, but would eat it depending on the veggies, and then after nine or ten, they got back into eating all versions of the theme.  Another nice thing is that this lasts for a few days in the fridge and can be heated and eaten later; thus, I always cook too much. 

What Cooking Means to Me: Back to Black Beans

This past weekend Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria and I were at my mother's house. Sunday morning I woke before everyone and slipped downstairs to the kitchen of my childhood. The clock on the wall that told me when to leave for the school bus is gone, but little else has changed. My mother still has an electric stove, and the wooden cabinets, flower-print wallpaper, and three-globe chandelier are all the same.

On our recent vacation together, I cooked up a huge pot of my black beans, and they lasted all week. One of the people who seemed to be enjoying them the most was my mother. On this visit to her house I wanted to leave her with a batch of the beans, so she could eat them after we were gone.

The house was quiet, and I had the kitchen all to myself as I started chopping the onion and garlic. When my heart wasn't in my throat, it was full of joy. Standing at the stove, I couldn't help but think of one thing--how many times did my mom slave away at this stove for me and my siblings?

Simple Black Beans

  • 1 onion diced finely
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 cups dried black beans, rinsed but not soaked
  • 6 cups water
  • 1-2 tablespoons chopped cilantro (about half a bunch; more is better than less)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • the juice of two limes


           Saute the onion in a large stock pot, using a little oil, until translucent.

           Add the garlic, saute for a minute or two more.

           Add the beans and the water, and bring to a boil.

           Turn down the heat and simmer for an hour or two, or three or longer, until the beans are tender.

           Add the cilantro, salt, and lime juice.

           Note: the recipe can easily be doubled, and the beans freeze very well.

Toad in a Hole? Almost Impossible to Screw Up. Almost.

The other day I was looking for something new to make Nina and Pinta for breakfast. Toad in a Hole, the trick of putting an egg in a slice of bread and cooking it in a skillet, appealed to me. I don't know how I first heard of it, but if one spends as much time as I do in the food blogosphere as I do, it's a bit impossible to miss.

Toad in the Hole is a perfect dish for making with kids, or so I learned from Googling the term. There are recipes everywhere, and gorgeous pictures to boot. I found one site, the name of which I can't remember and can't find at this point (alas) that suggested I use cookie cutters to make fun shapes out of the bread. The photos were breath taking; the recipe so simple. Mix the egg, pour it into the bread. Flip, and voila! A magic shape would appear. I was hooked. We got started.

Nina and Pinta and I dug out our cookie cutters. Nina selected heart shaped ones, and Pinta opted for a butterfly. I decided to make a star for myself. Toadhole2

 I mixed up the eggs, cut the holes in the bread, and started cooking. And that's where I got tripped up. I wanted to feed Nina and Pinta an egg each, so I poured all the egg into the bread.

That was a mistake. It's not how you do it if you want a picture perfect Toad in the Hole. What you end up with is a mangled bit of almost-French toast.

But all's well that ends well. Nina put Maple syrup on hers, and gobbled it up. She even asked for another one, that morning, and the next day.

Stock Market Jitters = Scallop, Mint, Pea, and Couscous Salad

I went food shopping on Monday evening, the day the DJIA dropped more than 600 points. I don’t have any more than your average Joe tied up in my 401k (and in fact I can’t even tell you how much it is worth, because I never look), but last I checked it was fully invested in the stock market.

I’m long equities, as they say on the Street, because I figure I have a long (ish) time to retire, and at which point things will be looking up. And, according to Nate Silver, in the New York Times, I should be okay: stocks revert to the mean over time (something they seemed to be doing in a hurry today, with their 430 point gain, but that came long after I was home with my groceries, and who knows where they will be by the time you read this.)

But watching 1 trillion dollars vanish from the stock market had a sobering effect. So I picked up the New York State Cheddar, but didn’t buy any Gruyere. I loaded up on vegetables, but didn’t pause at the case of grass-fed meat. I thought for a moment about what I had in the freezer, and I decided to eat those things up, instead of spending any large sums on protein.

A box of Henry and Lisa’s wild bay scallops has been kicking around our freezer for far too long, so I decided I would eat it that night. I texted Santa Maria, who was at home, and asked her to take it out to thaw. Then I tried to remember all the ingredients in a perfect summer dish I once made from the "Gourmet Every Day" cookbook: scallops with mint, peas, and couscous.

That wasn’t hard. Three ingredients. I knew I had peas in the freezer too, so all I needed to do was buy the mint. I finished up my shop, took the bus home with my bags of groceries (no spending cash on cab fare that night!) and started dinner the minute I got in the door. It was done twenty minutes later.

Nina and Pinta had eaten black beans and rice earlier that evening, so they were content to eat dessert while their mother and I enjoyed the our dinner. It was a quick, light, and delicious way to end the day.

Super Quick Scallop Salad with Mint, Peas, and Couscous

  • 1/2 cup couscous
  • 8-16 ounces of scallops (bay work fine, as do sea scallops; see note below)
  • 1 quarter cup frozen peas
  • 1-3 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
  • Lemon juice, to taste
  • Olive Oil
  • Salt

Make the couscous by bringing 1/2 cup water to boil in a small pot with a tight cover. Once the water boils, toss in the couscous, stir, and cover. Let sit about fifteen minutes, and then fluff.

Dry the scallops with paper towel.

Heat a cast-iron skillet until it is very hot, and then add a bit of oil.

Toss the scallops into the pan, but don't crowd the pan. If you are making more, use a two pans.

Let the scallops sit undisturbed as the pan continues to heat until the edge is caramelized.

Shake the scallops around with a spatula, and turn off the heat to let them finish cooking. If you are using sea scallops and they happen to be thick, flip them and heat the other side for a couple of minutes.

While the scallops cook, heat a bit of water in another pot and toss in the peas. Boil until they are a bright green and remove from heat.

Combine the couscous, peas, mint, and scallops in a bowl, and dress with the lemon, oil, and salt.

Note: The "Gourmet Every Day" recipe calls for sea scallops and suggests dressing them with sesame seeds. I've never made it their way, but I'm sure it is equally, if not more, delicious. And as a further note, that cook book has never failed me.

Serves two.