Guest Posts

"A Fatal Debt" Novel Giveaway!
I think I’ve established that I like throwing dinner parties, but I also like going to them, too, in part because you never know whom you’ll be seated next to at one. At a recent gathering, I met a financial journalist named John Gapper, and he mentioned that he had his first novel—a thriller set on Wall Street—coming out soon.

A few weeks after that, at my office, I came across an advance copy of something called “A Fatal Debt,” which the publicity material described as, “A swift and convincing thriller about a fallen Wall Street titan driven to violence and the young psychiatrist who must unravel the mystery of his broken psyche.” I was intrigued. I like thrillers and genre fiction—having recently torn through books by Alan Furst, Alan Glynn, George Pelecanos, and Robert Harris—and I also like books about money, from straightforward advice books like Carl Richard’s “The Behavior Gap” to more bizarre fare like “Street Freak,” a Lehman Brother’s trader’s account of the end of his firm and his mental breakdown (which, oddly enough, weren’t directly related).

I thought I might like “A Fatal Debt,” and then I looked again at the author—it was the same financial journalist who I had met a few days before. Fantastic, I thought. So I read “A Fatal Debt,” and I really enjoyed it—it reminded me in an atmospheric way of Kenneth Fearing’s noir classic “The Big Clock.” I liked it so much, I'm going to give a copy away.

A passage late in the novel got me to thinking about cooking. The protagonist, Ben, whips up an impromptu dinner of tomato sauce and past a for Anna, one of the female characters. He sets the table with candles and they have a romantic dinner. From the quick but precise description of the food and cooking, I could tell that Gapper knew his way around the kitchen.

So, having had the good fortune of having met him at a party, I decided to drop him a line, and ask him about the cooking he does. He wrote back with the following guest post, and I’m so keen on “A Fatal Debt,” that I want you to have a copy. Leave a comment or write to me and tell me the most seductive meal you’ve ever cooked. I’ll send "A Fatal Debt' to the author of the one I think is most intriguing.

Here’s his guest post, and a recipe for this pasta:


The first time I persuaded my now-wife to visit my apartment, I offered her tea and cake. As evening loomed, I was trying to think of a way to persuade her to stay longer, so I suggested cooking her dinner. I made a kind of improvised pasta with a tomato and bacon, which she seemed to enjoy at the time but wasn’t as good as she pretended.

That probably influenced the scene in “A Fatal Debt” where Ben cooks Anna spaghetti alla puttanesca. There’s a touch of author’s wish fulfilment in that because I’ve made him a better cook than I am. Still, the general point that cooking is a good way to please an attractive woman clearly stuck in my mind.

Later, she introduced me to an innovation: buy a cookbook and follow the instructions.  For some reason, I hadn’t really gone with that before but I soon found that it works well. She does more of the cooking for us and our two daughters these days but I try to cook a few meals a week.

Lately, she’s encouraged me not to revert to the same old favorites but to mix it up a bit. As a result, I was looking through an old Jamie Oliver book (Jamie’s Kitchen) that we’ve had for a decade and found this recipe for pasta with prosciutto, garbanzo beans, leeks and sage. I’ve cooked it a few times and it’s highly appreciated.

I like it because it’s quick and easy but it tastes both great but sophisticated, as if you really know what you’re doing. The ingredients are a little expensive – bacon, prosciutto, fresh sage, heavy cream etc – but worth it.

The original recipe calls for dried beans soaked overnight and boiled with tomato and potato for flavor, but I just use a 15oz tin, which works fine. You can use cannellini beans but I think garbanzo come out better. You do need fresh sage leaves, which are easy enough to find.

This recipe serves four:


15 oz tin of garbanzo beans

8 slices of prosciutto, torn into pieces

4 rashers of smoked bacon, sliced

1 handful of fresh sage leaves

3 ½ oz butter

2 leeks, trimmed, washed and finely sliced

1 clove of garlic, finely chopped

½ pint of chicken stock

3 ½ fl oz double cream

14 oz of lasagnetti (I usually use tagliatelle instead)

1 handful of grated Parmigiana cheese

Extra virgin olive oil


Put two lugs of olive oil in a casserole-type pan and fry the prosciutto  and bacon pieces until lightly golden. Add sage leaves and stir until lightly crisp. Add the butter, leeks and garlic and fry until leeks are softened. Add the chickpeas to the pan, mushing up about a quarter of them to give a smooth consistency to the sauce. Stir around a bit. Pour over the chicken stock and add the cream. Bring to the boil and simmer slowly for 15 minutes. Add salt and pepper as required.

Cook the pasta, drain and throw it into the pan with the sauce. Add most of the Parmigiano and stir it all together. Loosen up with some water if you need to. Serve with a drizzle of olive oil and the remaining cheese. 


Father's Day Feast: A Guest Post

Paul Kidwell, a working father, home cook, and devoted reader of this blog (who has also contributed to it previously—see here for his holiday creamy mushroom bruschetta story) wrote me recently with a Father’s Day story. Here it is:

I think every father wants his child – particularly his son - to take on some of his characteristics, interests or personality traits. And while I think I am a decent role model for my son, and it wouldn’t be a bad thing if he took after some parts of me; I definitely want mostly that he become his own person. There is; however, a particular area of influence where I have made my mark in his life and I am grateful that he has followed me into the kitchen where I prepare meals for my family.

I cannot recall when I first interested him in cooking, but I remember he was a little boy, barely able to reach the kitchen counter without the aid of a stepstool. As a self-professed “man-with-a-pan,” I have been cooking at home for 30 years, so I figured it was inevitable that at some point he learn to share kitchen utensils with his Legos, Power Rangers, and a myriad of sports equipment; and take his rightful place beside me as we made our way through countless meals and recipes. Over the years he has graduated from benign whisking and mixing together ingredients, to more serious cooking tasks such as handling the sauté pan, hand mixer, and my all-time favorite kitchen gadget, the immersion blender. Perhaps his greatest maturation as a home cook came about two years ago when he was 18 years old and took over the summer grilling chores from me.

Honestly, I’ve never been enamored with the whole barbecue/grilling phenomenon and, as a man, I know that statement calls into question my Y chromosome, and is nothing short of espousing sacrilege or blasphemy. I am not a fan of warm weather and anytime the temperature rises above 60° Fahrenheit, I begin to wilt quicker than Scarlett O’Hara in front of Rhett Butler. Happy to pass along those skills to my son, who on this Father’s Day* will be putting them to good use.

For this year’s Father’s Day I have eschewed tradition that can include a gift I don’t need or a restaurant meal I don’t want, and asked my son to prepare a Father’s Day meal for me, my wife and his grandmother. I think he is up to the challenge; however, to ensure that he not walk alone on the high wire without a safety net below, I have volunteered to be sous chef to his chef de cuisine and have already helped with the menu. My plan is watch in the wings as he prepares not just a meal, but a memory that – whether it’s edible or not – will be everlasting, and one that I will forever savor.

*Father’s Day comes on June 17 this year around the nation, but in my home it was celebrated last week and in some other homes the date is flexible, too.

Here’s what he’ll be preparing:

Grilled seafood kabobs
Grilled asparagus wrapped in prosciutto
Key lime pie


And here are the recipes.

Grilled Shrimp-Scallop Kabobs

  • 1/4 c. lite soy sauce
  • 1/4 c. vegetable oil
  • 1/4 c. white wine
  • 1 tsp. sugar
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 2 dashes hot pepper sauce
  • 1 dash of black pepper
  • 1 (2 inch) strip fresh orange, lemon, or tangerine peel
  • 1-1.5 lbs. sea scallops
  • 1-1.5 jumbo shrimp
  • 1 lb. baby bella mushrooms
  • 2 large onions chopped in “kabob-able” chunks
  • 2 red/yellow peppers chopped in “kabob-able” strips

Combine first seven ingredients in small bowl. Pour over seafood and veggies, and let marinate 1 to 8 hours. Thread marinated seafood and veggies on skewers. Grill until seafood is done.

Grilled Prosciutto Wrapped Asparagus

  • 2 pounds asparagus spears
  • 14-16 slices of prosciutto
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • black pepper

Preheat grill for medium-high heat. Trim ends off of asparagus. Cut prosciutto slices into strips. Place half of one slice onto each asparagus spear. Add minced garlic to olive oil and brush each spear with oil. Season with black pepper and place onto grill and cook for 4 minutes, turning occasionally. Remove from heat and serve.

Coconut Rice

  • 2 cups Thai jasmine-scented white rice
  • 2 cups good-quality coconut milk
  • 1 3/4 cups water
  • 2 heaping Tbsp. dry shredded unsweetened coconut (baking type)
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. coconut oil, or vegetable oil

You can easily prepare this dish in a medium-sized pot, but save yourself a bunch of trouble and invest in a rice-maker. They are not expensive and you will have it forever.

Place rice, coconut milk, water, shredded coconut, and salt in the pot and set over medium-high to high heat. Stir occasionally to keep rice from sticking to the bottom of the pot and burning.

In about 10-15 minutes the red light indicator will pop off and revert to the start position. Thjis means the rice is done. A few final stirs to fluff up the rice and top with a half-cup of shredded coconut and quarter cup of chopped scallions.

Key Lime Pie


  • 2 (14-ounce) cans condensed milk
  • 1 cup key lime or regular lime juice
  • 2 whole eggs
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 2 tablespoons powdered sugar
  • 1 tablespoon lime zest

I’ve made this pie myself and sometimes I make the crust and other times I buy a pre-made graham cracker crust. Not sure if I can tell the difference and will not expect my son (or you) to make the crust from scratch.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

In a bowl, mix the graham cracker crumbs, sugar, and butter with your hands. Press the mixture firmly into a 9-inch pie pan, and bake until brown, about 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool to room temperature before filling.

Lower the oven temperature to 325 degrees F. (My brother who is a trained chef told me to do this. Not sure I understand why, but have followed his instructions in savant-like fashion.)

In a separate bowl, combine the condensed milk, lime juice, and eggs. Whisk until well blended and place the filling in the cooled pie shell. Bake in the oven for 15 minutes and allow to chill in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours.

Once chilled, combine the sour cream and powdered sugar and spread over the top of the pie using a spatula. Sprinkle the lime zest as a garnish on top of the sour cream and serve chilled. 

White Bread and a Guest Post


As I mentioned on Monday, I’m not much of a baker. Cakes, breads, and other starchy delights interest me mightily, but my interest, until recently, has stopped at eating them. I never learned how to make anything in an oven that didn’t at some point in its life move on its own.

But that is changing. After eating Santa Maria’s homemade birthday cake, how could it not? And recently, I was sent a copy of a fascinating new book, “White Bread: A Social History of the Store-Bought Loaf,” by Aaron Bobrow-Strain, a dad and an associate professor of politics at Whitman College in Washington.

In the introduction to the book, Bobrow-Strain tells of being twenty-five, in the mid nineties, and offering to bake twenty loaves of bread for a friend’s wedding, though he had nothing but “one cheap oven and no electric mixer.”

“The bride and groom were devout Christians and bread radiated spiritual connection for them. For me, it evoked community and sharing. The word “companion” itself came into English from the Latin from com and pan—“with bread.” To share bread, I thought, was to tap some ancient chord of togetherness.”

I loved learning the etymology of companion, and someday I’ll learn how to bake bread, too. A good place to start, I would think, would be with my friend Elisha Cooper’s “Bread for Simpletons” recipe, which he shared with me a few years ago. Cooper’s recipe is below, following a few thoughts on baking bread with kids from Bobrow-Strain, who clearly knows what he is doing. He wrote a book on the stuff, after all. 

I recently came across a 1974 New York Times column by the great Craig Claiborne (definitely not a dad).  In it, he offers readers the following instructions for generating steam in their home ovens (steam during the initial phase of bread baking puts the crisp crust on European artisan loaves):

Take two iron ingots, about 6-10 pounds in total, and heat them on a stove burner until “fiery hot.”  Then, “using extreme caution and wearing padded asbestos gloves” transfer the glowing ingots to a baking pan at the bottom of your oven.  Next, place your loaves in the oven and pour boiling water over the ingots.  This will immediately produce billows of scalding steam so “shut the oven as hurriedly as possible.” 

I was hooked after “fiery hot” and “asbestos gloves”—what a great project to try with kids!

“Or maybe not,” my wife commented from the other room, reading my mind. 

I’m a slightly obsessive amateur baker and author of a new book on the history of fluffy white bread (America’s ultimate icon of industrial eating), but I have to confess something here.  My kids don’t really like to bake bread—they like to eat bread.  And they like to putter around the edges while I bake.  But they don’t yet have the patience to see a loaf of European artisanal bread through its 8-15 hours of waiting.  Or even through its short bursts of mixing, shaping, and baking.

Instead of fighting this, I weave my kids into the baking process with quick, fun activities.  Since I’m a food historian, they usually derive from an oddity of the past.

Here are two favorites:

Instant Bread

In 1939, scientists at the Wallace and Tiernan Laboratories in Newark hooked a ball of dough to two electrodes, cooking it perfectly evenly with no crust formation.  This demonstrated something that most bakers already knew: bread’s rich, nutty flavor comes primarily from browning reactions in the crust.  No crust, no flavor.

When I asked another dad, who is an experimental physicist when not brewing beer, how to reproduce this experiment, he offered an easy option: microwave the dough.

It was an immediate hit, and a great source of instant gratification at precisely the stage in baking when my kids start to lose interest in the slow, slow sugar magic of yeasty fermentation.

Here’s how it works:  have your kids shape a small lump of rising dough into a ball (about the size of a golf ball).  Then microwave it on low for about a minute, or until the dough has doubled in size (and just before it bursts into flames).  The result—as predicted by science—is a doughy, flavorless gumball.  But my kids love it more than anything.  Hands down it’s their favorite thing to do on baking day.

Finish with a Pizza

European artisan breads need to cool for at least an hour, if not more, after baking.  Tearing into a loaf too soon interrupts key chemical processes of flavor and texture development—but try telling that to your kids. 

Instead, I distract them with an old Italian bakery tradition: set aside a hunk of raw dough (it can sit on the counter or in a bowl under a damp towel while you proof and bake your loaves).  Then, as soon as you take your bread out to cool, take advantage of the hot oven and baking stone by making a pizza out of your leftover dough. 

There’s a lot of talk these days about how to make “the perfect” pizza crust.  All kinds of complicated formulas and mystical thinking circulate on this topic.  But, really, any well-fermented Italian or French bread dough will make a delicious pie. 

Let your kids stretch out the crust. It will get dropped on the floor and torn full of holes, but they’ll love it (and it’ll distract them from the cooling loaves).  Top the crust with whatever you have around.  A simple pizza bianca (topped with olive oil, salt, and rosemary) is easy.

And here is Cooper’s recipe for bread for simpletons. Cooper’s baking technique might be modest but he’s quite accomplished outside the kitchen. He’s a talented artist and the author of a number of lovely children’s books, the latest of which, “Homer,” is due out shortly. 

Bread For Simpletons  
  • 3.5 cups flour,
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1.5  teaspoon yeast
  • 1.5 cups hot water
  • cornmeal
Mix the flour, salt, yeast, and water in a bowl in the morning. 
Let it sit all day with saran wrap across top of bowl (think about other things, go on about your business).   

When ready to bake the bread:
Heat oven to 425 degrees.
Throw the dough in whatever shape on cornmeal-sprinkled pan and wait fifteen minutes.
After the quarter-hour passes, fold the dough over on itself.  
Place in oven and bake for 22  minutes (or however long), until it browns and it sounds hollow when you whack its belly.

Creamy Mushroom Bruschetta: A Guest Post

I was recently interviewed by Paul Kidwell, a public relations consultant and freelance writer, for an article about men and cooking on the Good Men Project website. It was a pleasure to hear from Kidwell, who lives in Boston with his wife and son, a nineteen-year-old sophomore at Boston College. Kidwell told me that “he thinks about food – its preparation and consumption – about every two seconds, and is happiest when in the kitchen making a meal for his family.”

Naturally, I wanted to hear more, and he was kind enough to send me a beautiful guest post. I like it for two reasons. One, I love mushrooms; and two, my kids are still very young, and I can only imagine what it will be like when they are in college. It kind of makes me misty-eyed, frankly, but I’ll stop. Here’s his guest post.

Christmas Help

The emails started coming in early December; finding my In Box at the oddest hours of the morning. 2:17, 3:47, 4:12 was when my son, Songwen, who is a Boston College sophomore, decided to take a break from one of his many all-night study excursions in preparation for final exams and end-of-term papers to send me notes requesting that I make certain dishes during his semester break. The subject lines read like a menu from a restaurant specializing in warm, cozy comfort food asking for dishes such as lobster paella, beef stew, mushroom cassoulet, Tuscan white bean soup, and veal marsala.  I had to laugh when I thought of his classmates who were probably also sharing the same pre-dawn hours dreading upcoming tests of their own academic mettle, while my boy has visions of shimmering garlic, bubbling  stews, and simmering soups dance in his head. He is nothing if not my child when it comes to sharing my passion for cooking and eating good food; something I schooled him on at an early age. 

And this Christmas he will not only enjoy eating the meals, but also join me in the kitchen in their preparation; a greater gift I cannot imagine.

For his first meal I am planning on making Pasta Alla Carbonara, Tuscan white bean soup, roasted asparagus and creamy mushroom bruschetta. The first three are classic dishes and everyone has their own recipe. The bruschetta is a recent find from a feature in the Wall Street Journal. It comes from April Bloomfield, chef/owner of New York’s Spotted Pig.

Creamy Mushroom Bruschetta

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil, plus extra as needed
  • 1 pound mushrooms (chanterelle, maitake or king trumpet), sliced into ½-inch pieces
  • Salt
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped (about 1 tablespoon)
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 3 tablespoons roughly chopped flat leaf parsley
  • 1/4 cup crème fraîche
  • 2 tablespoons finely sliced chives
  • 4 (¾-inch) slices rye bread

1. Set a large, heavy pan over medium heat. Add 3 tablespoons oil. Once very hot, add mushrooms and a pinch of salt. Sauté them, stirring from time to time, until browned and tender, about 6 minutes. Once mushrooms cook down, traces of their juices should streak the pan. If too dry, deglaze with splashes of water.

2. Stir in garlic, butter and parsley. Cook until garlic is golden, 3-4 minutes. Season to taste with salt. Remove pan from heat. Stir in crème fraîche and chives until evenly distributed.

3. Set another pan over medium-high heat. Once hot, add a slick of oil and lay in bread. Toast both sides until crisp and golden, 1-2 minutes per side.

4. Whisk together 2 tablespoons oil and lemon juice. Place arugula in large bowl and toss to lightly coat with dressing. Season with salt.

5. Spoon mushroom topping over toasts. Serve bruschetta with salad.

Late Autumn Sangria Recipe

In my item about Progressive Dinners, a month or so ago, I mentioned that I would post some of the great recipes for the food and drink that was served that night. In the holiday spirit, I present a recipe for Sangria, served by a dad who used to be a professional chef, so he knows what he is talking about. It's an autumnal recipe, and even though the temperature is dropping, trees are lighting, and carolers are out, it is still autumn. He does mentions glüwein, or mulled wine, in his intro, though, so I'll have to see if he has a recipe for that. It might be more appropriate for the coming months (and if you have a good glüwein recipe, be sure to let me know).

Autumn Sangria

Sangria is a great way to use bottles of wine that have been opened but not finished. A wise restaurant will use all of the opened by-the-glass bottles from the previous day to make a house sangria or similar punch e.g. glüwein, resulting in consistently fresh wines by-the glass (I hate it when I get served a glass of wine in a restaurant that was clearly opened days ago.) This is an autumn adaptation of the Spanish classic.

Many sangria recipes specify wine varietals, but due to the amount of sweeteners and adjuncts, I feel that this is irrelevant. The only exception is over-oaked wines, which I feel are inappropriate for all occasions.

The purpose of making sangria is to use the ingredients at ones disposal; including, but not limited to, the season and one's preferences. The following recipe is only a framework from which to work. The crucial ingredients after the wine are the sugar, orange juice, and citrus to provide a balance of acidity and sweetness.



  •       Approximately one 750 ml bottle of red wine (mixing in some white wine is fine too)
  •       1 cup spiced simple syrup (see below)
  •       1/2 cup orange juice
  •       1/2 cup brandy
  •       1/4 cup Triple Sec
  •       2 juice oranges, cut into thin half slices
  •       1 lemon, cut into thin half slices
  •       1 red apple, halved, cored and cut into large dice
  •       1 red pear, halved, cored and cut into large dice
  •       1 cup sparkling apple cider (can substitute Sprite)

Combine all the ingredients, best if allowed to macerate overnight. Add the sparkling apple cider just before serving. Serve over ice.

Spiced Simple Syrup

  •       2 cups water
  •       1 cup sugar
  •       1 cinnamon stick
  •       ½ teaspoon whole cloves
  •       1 teaspoon whole allspice
  •       5 whole star anise
  •       2 slices fresh ginger
  •       Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg

To make the spiced simple syrup

Place all of the ingredients in a saucepan. Bring to a boil and simmer until reduced by half. Allow to cool and strain.

Who Does the Shopping?

I was contacted recently by a Chicago-based marketing agency named Upshot that has been studying the food-buying habits of men and women. They prepared this fascinating infographic, and I thought I'd share it with you (I'm not an Internet expert, so if the image isn't showing at a legible size, you can also download it here), and I'm interested to hear how it compares to your experiences. Who does the shopping in your house? The man or the woman?


The Return of the Cioppino

Once, a little over a decade ago, at a time when the Fulton Fish Market was planning its move from its long-term home in lower Manhattan to its current location in the Bronx, I was approached by a literary agent with a book idea: write a history of the market, with the help of a fishmonger who worked there. He put me in touch with a fishmonger, and we expanded the concept to include recipes from his fellow purveyors. We were going to make it a cookbook.

We had a few meetings, and I started to work on the book. Many sleepless nights ensued, when I would get out of bed at 3 a.m. to catch the tail end of the market, which runs while the rest of the world is in bed (or dance clubs, depending on your idea of fun).

Soon, though, it became apparent that the idea of making a cookbook with recipes from fishmongers was fatally flawed. Fishmongers, for the most part, don’t cook. There were plenty of suggestions to put Old Bay on things, but that hardly made a cookbook. I dropped the project.

The fishmonger did leave me with one of his recipes, though. Well it wasn’t really a recipe, but a suggestion for one. He liked to make a cioppino, or fish stew, that he declared got its name because it was a catch of the day kind of thing, made with what ever you could “chop up” and throw in it.

I’ve since learned that the Times (and Wikipedia) beg to differ. It’s some kind of San Francisco thing, according to them, in spite of its Italian-sounding name (it has roots in that country, apparently).

The cioppino came back into my life the other day, when I was visiting a friend, Paul Greenberg, and he made it for dinner. Greenberg, the author of “Four Fish: The Future of the Last Wild Food,” knows his way around the kitchen and the fruits of the sea. Here’s how he prepared it:

"Four Fish" Cioppino


For the base:

  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 onions chopped
  • herb bouquet in cheese cloth consisting of parsley, thyme, oregano, bay, white peppercorns
  • 5 cloves garlic
  • 1 cup chopped leaks (but I used scallions)
  • 2 celery ribs (but I used cauliflower ribs)
  • 3/4 lb mushrooms sliced (but I used 2 small potatoes cubed)
  • 1 cup white wine
  • 1 cup chopped tomatoes
  • 4 cups Fumet (fish stock)

You fry all this up and douse it with wine, let the wine boil off and add the fumet.  Boil for about 15 mins then let sit for 30-60 mins (the longer the better)

For the seafood

The recipe I was working from calls for clams, scallops, mussels, shrimp and crabmeat.  All I had on hand was shrimp and striped bass.  I shelled the shrimp and boiled the shells in a metal strainer in the base to give it a little more flavor.  I poached the seafood in the base for abou5 3-5 minutes until a little underdone assuming it would cook more on the stove.

Notes: This is adapted from adapted from Rick Moonen's "Fish without a Doubt." Details are on page 317 of the book, and I have to say if a fish expert like Greenberg has Moonen's volume on his shelf, you should too. And if I was going to mess with Moonen's recipe as much as Greenberg did, I'd have no qualms about substituting chicken stock for the fumet. Here's how the final dish looked:



Grandma's Applesauce: A Guest Post

Once, when I was a boy, I wrote a report for school about the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge, and I’ve been fascinated by the span ever since. Now that I live in the borough, I’ve had many chances to cross it, and I still marvel at it. Just the other day, I had an opportunity to talk with Clifford W. Zink, an historian whose latest book, “The Roebling Legacy,” traces the history of the family that built the bridge.

 “The Roebling Legacy” is a marvelous book, full of details about the family’s technological innovations and many pictures of their various accomplishments beyond the Borough of Kings. Clifford will be at the PowerHouse Arena, a bookstore near the bridge, on next Tuesday, November 29, at 7 p.m. to talk about his book.

In the meantime,  Clifford, who lives in New Jersey and who cooks for his wife and two teenage children, was kind enough to share his grandmother’s recipe for applesauce. It seems like just the kind of thing to make and serve for Thanksgiving, though it might be a bit late in the week to whip up a batch. In that case, it’s the kind of thing to occupy the weekend following the holiday, when everyone is still around and looking for something to do.

Grandma's Applesauce

Grandma thoroughly spoiled my bother and I while we were growing up.  She had emigrated from Germany to Manhattan in 1906 at the age of 18, and went shopping every day for fresh foods.  Her soups, chicken paprikas, and wiener schnitzel were delicious all year round, but summers were special when she made her crepes with berries and her open-topped peach cake with a soft crust.  In the fall she woke us up for school with the aroma of her apple fritters frying on the stove, and after school her thin crust apple pies were beautiful to behold and scrumptious to eat.  When Mom asked her years later for her recipes, Grandma replied, "What recipes?  You just put in a little of this and a little of that, and you taste it and you know when it's right." 

My kids love applesauce I make based on Grandma's, and the here's the first go at writing it down:

Start with a dozen or more fresh, uncoated apples, about 3/4s of them golden delicious and the rest slightly tart macintosh or winesap.  You can mix in other varieties but try to keep the 3-1 sweet-to-tart ratio.  

Peel, core and cube the apples, and place them in a deep pot.  Add about 3/4 of an inch of fresh apple cider (a little more if you're using more apples), cover the pot and cook on low to medium heat.  Check every few minutes to make sure that the cider is lightly bubbling without boiling away.  If the cider gets too low, add just enough to keep about 3/4 of an inch in the bottom of the pot, and keep the pot covered.  After about 30 minutes or so, depending on the amount and mix of apples, crush the apple cubes repeatedly with a potato masher or similar instrument.  If the mix is a bit dry, you can add just a little cider.  Keep crushing until you get to a consistency you like, and then it's ready to eat, warm, plain, on ice cream or yogurt.  And eating it cold later on brings out other delicious flavors.  

No sugar or honey, please, just taste the natural sweetness of the apples and cider.  I used to add some raisins, and a touch of cinnamon, and you can, too, but now I like to taste just the serendipitous sweetness of mixing different types of apples.  As Grandma said, "You know when it's right."

Progressive Dinner Report: 1 Story, Many Mouthfuls

I've received some great responses to my call for stories about progressive dinners. My favorite thus far comes from Rebecca Christiansen, who shared the following tale. I like it best because it is full of mouthwatering food, and it addresses my idea of Progressive Dinners for Progress. Here's Rebecca's story:

My friends and I hosted a four-course progressive dinner last December. They handled the main courses because each and every one of them fancies themselves a "Top Chef." But I know my limits, so I did dessert. 

We had chopped liver and pumpernickel rounds, the fresh kind and if you don't understand chopped liver as an appetizer I will just assure you it’s a Jewish thing. When it’s freshly made, it’s so insanely delicious. The woman also made her own pretzel sticks and cheese sticks and a really good Fontina cheese fondue with some gruyere overtones. The bread we dipped was homemade challah that had been lightly toasted because she (the appetizer queen) had a phobia about mushy bread and when you use egg bread in fondue you come dangerously close, know what I mean? 

The main course was at my brother's house, and he fancies himself the maker of the world's finest pot roast. This time he did a variation where everyone was given a ramekin and the pot roast was topped with piped rows of garlic mashed potatoes and feta cheese (mixed together) and broiled. When you broke through the potato crust the scent was breathtaking. My husband took mine and finished it. The ramekins were filled with fresh roasted parsnip, onion, carrots, and really good brisket that was so tender it was melt in your mouth time. The side dish with the pot roast was a squash gratin, and it was so good. 

Then we went to my best friend's house for a seafood course of fish stew full of cod, halibut, and scallops, as well as onions, potatoes, and carrots and some yellow corn from my friend’s stash...she gets it from a farm and fast-freezes it so we can eat it all winter long. (Yellow corn is real corn and not the weird hybrid white corn that tastes just like sugar!!) 

The stew was served in a freshly made sourdough bowl (13 different sourdough bowls!!). It might have been very cliché, but it easy to chew on. The broth had some saffron in it, so it was golden, and made a very pretty contrast with the bread. 

The dessert was at my house and it included three-decker brownies. That is a brownie base, a caramel layer, and then a sugar coated pecan crust.  I served this with a Philadelphia Cream Cheese ice cream. Yes, you read that right—it’s creamy but has more of a tang than just regular vanilla bean ice cream, and hence is less boring.  On top of everything, I offered a Callebaut chocolate fudge sauce. It was on the side, and my friends started putting spoonfuls of the fudge sauce in their coffee.

After all this food I didn't eat for a week!!  Well except for the macaroons I sent everyone home with --- I ate about ten of those the next morning because nothing is as good as a homemade macaroon.

Oh, and with reference to your political spectrum idea: I am the only conservative in my group - including my brother. They are all dyed-in-the-wool liberals and we talk about issues, never get name-callish and we love each other dearly.  My husband - he died in July - was the complete liberal hippie. He served in Vietnam for two tours, and then denounced any act of war from then on.  He loved me regardless of my political beliefs. Thanks for the opportunity to recall this evening. It went six hours and I was sooo full!!!.

A Dastardly Halloween Guest Post

My friend Michael McKinley is a father, a cook, and a crime novelist (check out his latest, “The Penalty Killing”), and, in honor of today's holiday, he sent me the following meditation on food and its various uses.

Dining with the Dead: A Ragout of Thoughts on Murder and Food

As we’re now in a week that celebrates the dead through Hallowe’en and All Souls and Saints Days, I got to thinking about food and the dead. I’m not talking about eating your way into the grave or a fatal attack of anaphylaxis, but rather the deliberate use of food as an instrument of killing. It’s a question that interests me, because I write crime novels.

I have not yet fictionally killed anyone with food, but I suspect that I will, one day, because killing with food is much more diabolical than other murders for one reason: food is the first thing that mom gives you, after giving you life. You could say that food is a motherhood issue, and as such, sacred. Of course, women have long used food to dispatch enemies—the Victorians made a cultural industry out of the female poisoner – but the idea of using food to kill, or to set up a killing, is one that plays on the bred-in-the-womb trust we have toward those who feed us.

Eating is primal, and we have an equally primal sense that mealtime should be safe, a place where the person feeding you has only your well-being at heart. Which, of course, is exactly why using food, or the idea of it, to commit murder is so bloody sinister.

One of most gruesome foodie murders in fiction actually uses food to take revenge against mom. In Titus Andronicus, William Shakespeare’s dramatic anticipation of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, the title character is a Roman general whose pride and honor leads to a stage littered with dismembered bodies. When Titus kills the two surviving sons of Tamora, Queen of the Goths, in revenge for their rape of his daughter (he has already killed her other son), he holds a banquet. When a character inquires why the two lads aren’t at the feast, Titus, dressed as a chef, exclaims:

Why, there they are both, baked in that pie;
Whereof their mother daintily hath fed,
Eating the flesh that she herself hath bred.
'Tis true, 'tis true; witness my knife's sharp point.

Then he kills Tamora. Some host.

Michael has promised to write up a longer list of the use of food as a weapon in literature, and you can check that out here. In the meantime, here’s his recipe for Dead Easy Fried Chicken. According to him, “It’s sublime, and idiot proof. And so simple you think I'm missing stuff. It is also an aphrodisiac.”

Dead Easy Fried Chicken

Take your favourite pieces of chicken-- bone in or boneless, doesn't matter --and lay them out on a sheet of wax paper.

Roll them in seasoned salt and pepper-- liberally, but not so much that their skins are totally covered or you'll die of salt poisoning!

Roll them in flour so that their skins are totally covered!

Fry them in 2 cups of vegetable oil (Canola works very well) until they turn golden brown (a bit longer for bone-in).

Place on paper towel and pat dry, then serve with potato salad, coleslaw, and cold lager. If making for a beloved, expect to be most gratefully rewarded.