Guest Posts

Empyt-Nest Soup: A Guest Post

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As I mentioned last week, things have been a bit crazed around the house. Just when we thought it couldn’t get worse, it did. Do you know what it’s like trying to find a pediatric dentist in Brooklyn the night before Rosh Hashanah? Don’t even ask why we needed a pediatric dentist at midnight—just know that everything is more or less fine.

 

And they improved markedly yesterday, when I received this guest post from a remarkable writer, scientist, father, and cook, Saverio Monachino, the cousin of my brother-in-law, John Rando. I met Saverio last Thanksgiving, and we’ve stayed in touch since then. Here, he reflects on what it means to have your children go off to college, something that’s very far from my mind at the moment. 

 

 

Recently, there has been so much going on in the world—the Arab Spring, the U.S. bond rating downgrade, debt crisis here there and abroad—but the most important issue for my wife, Rachel, and I struck much closer to home: both of our children would out of the house and be off to college this fall.

 

Our eldest daughter is entering her third year at university, and our empty-nest disease really began its insidious encroachment when our son was accepted at the college of his choice, earlier this year. The syndrome made its presence felt whenever Rachel and I were alone together.  At those times we would look at each other and, without needing to share a single word, know exactly what was on each others’ mind—Why do parents only get their children for 18 years when the rest of the whole world gets them for so much longer?  

 

It is said that the stronger the bond between parent and child become… well we were bracing for the worst.  Our daughter had been out of the house two years and so we thought it would help ease us into the situation, but as the days grew closer to our son’s departure, the storm clouds became more menacing.

 

What most people don’t realize is this; the English language has issues too.  ‘Empty nest’ does not mean the place one calls home is empty.  All you have to do is look up from your dinner plate to see a person across the table.  The trick is to reengage all those processes by which you lived before the storks flew by.  It is easier said than done.  Apparently our children must have taken an on-line course or something because they both had a good handle on the developing situation.  On our last meal together, before we had to drive them off (three hours from home… in opposite directions), they gave us a care package. 

 

Where did the care package come from?  Well, all summer long I was interrogated by one or the other of my children. 

 

“What are you guys going to do together when we’re gone?”  One or the other would ask.

“Together… well let’s see.  Oh I know; she can help cut the grass.”

“No, dad I mean fun stuff.  You and mom have to find some fun activities to share.”

“Well football season is almost here and...”

 

The package they put together contained flip flops, because, they said, “we want you to go to the beach together, just the two of you.” It also had a movie for us to use on a ‘date night’ and there was a deck of cards with a caveat thrown in: “NO Solitaire!” There was also a home spa treatment, which I do hope was just for the wife. 

 

Most importantly, it included a homemade cookbook that my daughter, a vegetarian, had put together from recipes on the Internet. She called it, “Food From Around the World… For Every Day of the Week,” because, “You need to spend time together.  Explore new things you both like and rediscover old.”

 

We love to travel and embrace regional idiosyncrasies (we have lived in Houston Texas and Montreal Quebec and it doesn’t get more diverse than that) and, we have relatives who live throughout Europe and Australia as well as friends in various parts of the globe, so this gift was perfect.

 

Saverio wanted to share the recipe for Mediterranean Monday, a Greek Lentil Soup. After tasting the soup, it immediately brought back memories of his mother’s lentil soup, and since she was from Sicily he gave it a new name.

 

Mediterranean Lentil soup

 

  • 1 cup red lentils (any lentils will work in a pinch)
  • 2 tablespoons salt
  • 1 pinch safflower spice (or Saffron if you cannot find safflower)
  • ½ cup chopped white onion (though a Vidalia onion will work too, if it is a true Vidalia gown in Vidalia Georgia)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon cumin (of course more can be added to taste)
  • ½ cup of very thin noodles (angel hair works)
  • 1 lemon, juiced

 

 

In a 4-quart pot add 5 cups of water.  Add the salt, olive oil, safflower, chopped onion and the lentils.

 

Keep the pot under high heat until the water boils then reduce to medium heat. 

 

After 15 to 20 minutes the lentils should start to get soft (mushy?).  How will you know when they change from hard to ‘ready for the next ingredient’?   Good question.   I remember my mother cooking in the kitchen and she would monitor the progress of the dish by tasting it. 

 

Once the lentils are no longer hard, add the cumin and the noodles.

 

This next part is very, very difficult.  Cook for five minutes, or until the noodles are done.  You will know they are ready if you taste it… again.  (When I was young I was always amazed at how my mother and grandmother would spend so much time in the kitchen and yet when dinner was served they were never hungry.)*

Add the lemon juice for a little extra zest, again… to your own taste. 

 

 

*One qualification, the word ‘done’ can take on slightly different meanings so perhaps ‘done to taste’ should be used instead.

 

Note: Because this recipe came from our care package, it calls for two cooks.  The cooks are labeled e.g. cook 1 and cook 2. Using this method, Cook #1 begins to share events from his day… the more details the better the results, while water boils for the lentils. Then, at the end, once the table is set and the food served, Cook #2 talks about her day while Cook #1 eats.  Believe me, it works best this way.

 


Après le Déluge: Mushroom Risotto

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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. 


Real Men Cook and Garden: A Guest Post

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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.

 


Review of "El Bulli: Cooking in Progress"

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"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

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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.


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

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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.

 

Dad’s Secret Weapon: The Delicious, Hot Dessert! A Bread Pudding Recipe

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I don’t have much of a sweet tooth, and I’ve never been big on making desserts. It’s a bit of an Achilles' Heel for me, so I was excited last week to connect with a new reader of the site, Jim van Bergen. He found Stay at Stove Dad while after looking online for wines for an upcoming party and coming across my post about the 2008 Los Vascos Cabernet Sauvignon. Jim is a committed oenophile, and I hope to talk more with him about wine, but in the meantime he was wiling to tell me about his secret weapon as a dad who cooks: The Delicious Hot Dessert.

I watched Michael DeVidts,from New Orleans School of Cooking, make his N.O.S.C. Bread Pudding at a demonstration. I was fascinated, and went home made it successfully, and was then fully fueled to adapt it to be my own: healthier, and family friendly. I replaced canned fruit and dry coconut with fresh apples (a family favorite), and the flavor-packed, highly nutritious blueberry. I reduced the sugars, cholesterol, calories and fat content, introduced raw and natural ingredients (it's great with almond milk, brown sugar and honey in place of cane sugar!) and radically changed his sauce directives.

The sauce to me is about decadence: great rich flavor, and not the alcohol. So I flame the sauce every time and burn off much of the alcohol, and caramelize some of the loose sugar left in the sauce, which is a nice touch. The version here is more public-friendly, as few people want a recipe with organic brown sugar, almond milk and agave. They want what is comfortable to them, and in their cupboards.

Bead pudding is a crowd-pleaser. It’s dense, full of great fruit flavor, and tastes wonderful either by itself, a la mode, and with or without the hard sauce. My neighbors adore the sauce on this bread pudding (even the non-drinkers) and I expect you will too.

It’s a lot of fun to make with your kids- they can tear the bread up, chop apples while supervised, mix the various elements, and stir the mixture using bare hands- just remember to wash hands with soap and warm water before and after cooking, ok dads? And don’t let the kids taste the hard sauce. They can have chocolate sauce or ice cream instead.

Bread pudding was originally a simple way to use up the old bread and aging fruit instead of throwing them out, so it’s easy to substitute other fruit. It works great with pineapple, banana, papaya, or raspberries. Experiment, or use what is at hand.

One of the great things about this recipe is the ease and flexibility it has while retaining the great qualities of a luxurious baked dessert. My younger daughter saw me combining the wet portion with the dry in the kitchen, and said, "Daddy, I like your bread pudding, but I'm not in much of a blueberry mood tonight. Can you maybe make it half and half?" Knowing she'd eat one portion of the 12 this would make, I did a half-and half on the fly, splitting the mix into two bowls to split the fruit up. It worked like a charm.

Jim van Bergen is a New York based sound designer, audio engineer, and production manager working in the entertainment industry, currently mixing "RAIN" on Broadway.  He lives and cooks in Queens with his wife and two "tweenage" daughters.

 

JvB’s Apple Blueberry Bread Pudding with Macallan 15 Sauce

        Suggested Cookware:

  • 2 large mixing bowls
  • 9x12 (large) deep baking dish
  • 1 small sauce pan

 

        Dry ingredients:

  • 1 Loaf Day-Old French/Italian Bread, crumbled (or 6-8 Cups any type of bread broken in to 1” chunks)
  • 1  cup cane/white sugar
  • 1/2 Cup brown sugar + approx 2 tsp (separately) to top pudding
  • 2 tbsp. Cinnamon + 1 tsp (separately) to top pudding
  • 1 tsp nutmeg

 

        Wet ingredients:

  • 3 cups milk or vanilla soy
  • 4 tbsp butter, softened
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 tsp vanilla

 

        Fruit:

  • 2 cups (or handfuls) of blueberries
  • 2 Macintosh apples, peeled, cored, & chopped into small pieces

 

Rip/tear/crumble bread into medium (approximately 1”) chunks.

Combine all dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Set aside.

Grease sides and bottom of baking dish by using the paper that the butter comes in. (Just rub it on the side and bottom of the pan.) Set baking dish aside.

Melt butter in sauce pan. Mix melted butter, eggs, vanilla and milk in 2nd bowl.

Slowly pour in wet mix over dry mix and mix well by hand. Add berries and chopped apple. Mixture should be very moist but not soupy. (If soupy, add/mix in more chunks of any other bread until consistency is correct and not soupy.)

Transfer mixture evenly into buttered 9 X 12 baking/casserole dish or larger.

Sprinkle brown sugar sparsely on top to help achieve golden crust.

Place into non-preheated oven. Bake at 350 deg. for approx. 1 hour and 15 minutes, until top is golden brown. Serve warm with sauce drizzled on top.

Macallan 15 (Hard) Sauce

  • 8 tbsp. butter (1 stick)
  • 1& 1/2 cups blends of powdered sugar, (or substitute brown sugar, honey, or agave nectar)
  • 1 cup Macallan 15 year-old Single Malt Scotch Whiskey (or hard liquor of your choice)

Cream butter and sweeteners over medium heat until all butter is absorbed.

Pour in liquor gradually to your own taste, stirring constantly. Remove when well blended. The sauce will thicken as it cools. Spoon warm liquid over bread pudding as served. Some of my friends have told me they use a lot more liquor. I suggest you start with a tablespoon per serving, for flavor. You can also flame the mixture to burn off alcohol if you are comfortable with large open flame.

 

Two notes on the sauce:

1) Many recipes suggest you use whatever liquor is cheap and at hand, I disagree completely. Use what is delicious, smells enticing, and is flavorful. People prefer this with high end whisky: I’ve used Macallan 10 and 15, Oban, Glenmorangie Nectar D’Or, Woodford Reserve, and Maker’s 46.

2) When the pudding is in the oven, first clean up the kitchen, and then make the sauce. 

 


Father’s Day Guest Post: An Appreciation

CrabRawBarR
Sometimes, I wonder what Nina and Pinta, who are still very young, will remember of my cooking after they have grown up. I hope they have something of the perspective of my friend Anne, who wrote to me recently about the cooking her dad did (and does for her).

My dad is a doctor (pulmonary), and has been putting in twenty-hour shifts at the hospital with some regularity for most of my life.  He’s nonetheless managed to devote a good bit of time to kitchen life with my mother and sister and me and, now that we’re grown, my husband and my sister’s partner. He’s always thought of cooking as a pleasure, and likes to have company with him while he works, chatting and listening to music and sous-cheffing.

My sister and I were given easy jobs as children – setting the table, stirring risottos, making the biscuits and salad dressings – while he and my mother put dinner together. He liked to insist that Beth and I had the best palates in the household, and took our opinions on whether a sauce required more oregano or a pinch of sugar very, very seriously. We got to have sips of the good wines, too, and tell him what we could taste in them.

Among the most memorable dinners were hushpuppies and fried mullet, which we caught by wading out in Pensacola Bay with my dad, him tossing a cast net, my sister and I following with pillowcases to keep the fish alive and underwater until we got them home.

Another favorite was mounds of boiled shrimp and crabs, with several kinds of sauce, eaten on a table covered in newspapers, with ice-cold beers and cokes all around. On cold days, there was lentil soup cut with balsamic vinegar. For a crowd of my and my sister’s friends (who quickly became my parents’ friends, too), he’d make vats of plain tomato and puttanesca sauce, a skillet full of fennelly sausage, spaghetti and garlic bread and a salad so big it had to go in a plastic tub.

In the summer there’d be pan-fried trout with never-refrigerated sliced farmstand tomatoes and corn cooked in its husks on the grill. I particularly loved linguini with crab and a sherry-cream sauce; my sister adored eggplant and tomato and parmesan layered in a pyrex dish and baked, with baguette from the French bakery downtown.

Things rarely went far awry, though I do recall the flaming rum babas (coconut macaroons sautéed in butter, plus hot rum and a match) that scorched the ceiling, and the chicken cooked in a salt crust that did not fall open with the tap of a butter knife like Jacques Pepin had said it would. Daddy eventually went down to the basement to retrieve a hammer and chisel; somehow salt ended up on the ceiling of our dining room, and it stayed there for years after.

What else?  He eats the worst lunches possible (hot dogs and crackers when he’s at the hospital, cans of Vienna sausages and packets of saltines when he’s hiking or fishing, sometimes a pickled egg), and skips breakfast more often than not.  It’s like he’s saving his taste buds up for one meal. When we’re all together, the topic of conversation is always What Are We Going to Eat Tonight/Tomorrow/Every Night This Week. You’d think it’d get boring, but it never does.

The following is a family favorite of my dad’s recipes, something he put together after conversations with a couple of Greek patients. It’s not too hard to assemble and get in the oven (particularly if you parcel out the job of peeling and cleaning the shrimp), giving everyone a nice, unhurried cocktail hour. Serve with good crusty bread for soaking up the juices, and maybe a salad.

Jim’s Shrimp-Tomato-Feta Dish

Preheat the oven to 400. Put some olive oil in the bottom of a baking dish, and add a layer (about an inch, maybe an inch-and-a-half) of coarsely-chopped tomatoes. Cook this in the oven for ten or twelve minutes, until it starts to get a bit sludgy, then take it out and smooth out the tomato layer with the back of a spoon. Add a layer of medium-size peeled shrimp, grind some black pepper over them, then crumble feta cheese over the top.  Put back in the oven and cook for about ten minutes more, until the shrimp are pink.

You can dress it up with garlic, basil, thyme, parsley, oregano, an extra drizzle of olive oil at the end – but it’s plenty delicious plain.


No Mistake: I Get Grilling Advice from John Rando

John_Lights_BBQ
I’m completely comfortable in the kitchen, but give me a steak and put me behind a grill, and as our Borough President might put it, “fuhgeddaboudit.” I can do a few things well—such as a boneless-leg of lamb, a pork shoulder, or soft-shell crabs—but when it comes to steak, I’m lost.

Over the weekend, my sister and her husband threw a BBQ at my mom’s house to celebrate Mother’s Day, and I had a chance to talk to my brother-in-law John Rando about grilling.

Rando is a theatre director and man of many accomplishments—he won a Tony Award for “Urinetown” a few years ago—but the thing about him that impresses me the most is that he’s from the Lone Star State. When he was lighting the fire, I asked him about barbecuing. “This ain’t Texas BBQ, this is just throwing some steaks on the grill,” he said.

Porterhouse
“One of my youngest memories,” Rando added, “is of my Dad throwing a party for his 40th birthday. He threw a luau. He dug a three-foot pit in our back yard, and roasted a pig with palms and everything. He created quite a stir. It was very good.”

Rando’s memory made me think of Manny Howard's essay in my forthcoming book, “Man with a Pan: Culinary Adventures of Fathers who Cook for their Families,” in which he attempted much the same thing, on a beach at the end of Long Island, with a slightly different result:

“We unearthed the pig. It was hot and fully cooked, but, to my horror, it looked like an East River floater. The beast wasn’t roasted. I had steamed it in the sand. At best you could call it poached. Whatever it was called, dinner was a wrinkly abomination; not the least bit appetizing.”

How Howard saves the day, and woos the love of his life (future wife and mother of his children) makes for a good read, and it’s in the book. Check it out and see.

Rando’s father never had this sort of problem, though, and grilling was a big part of John’s life as a kid. “I grew up near Galveston Bay, and we used to eat jumbo shrimp. They had to have their heads on to be good. My dad would marinate them for a few hours in olive oil, lemon, and lots of garlic. Then he would grill them directly. They would boil in their little shells. We’d take them to the table, pop their little heads off, and start eating.”

Steaks_on_grill
Over the weekend, Rando gave me some instructions on how to grill a nice steak. He was cooking Porterhouses. “I like them with a lot of salt. Rock salt is best,” he said. “One inch equals 3.5 minutes a side. That’s from Mark Bittman.”

Steak_platter
These ended up running just a bit past the 16 minute mark, and they were mouthwatering. How do you like to grill your steaks?


Tuesday Guest Post: Cookie Monster Time!

Cookies-1
As I mentioned yesterday, my mother came to visit over the weekend. She was feted by her granddaughters, and I sent her home with a gift. That Saturday, Nina had been on a playdate with a friend, and the father made cookies. He gave us some, and I made sure that my mother took one with her before she left.

These were not just any cookies, they were chocolate-and-molasses cookies with a hint of chili pepper, and the father was not just any old Joe, he was John, a friend who has been contributing to this site with such frequency that he has now earned himself an entry on the dramatis personae page.

A few hours after my mother left my apartment, I called her to make sure she had gotten home safely. She had, and I asked her how she was doing. She said she was great. She had just finished a glass of milk and the cookie. "It was so good," she said, "I'll have to get the recipe."

Here, without any further to do, is John's recipe for his cookies, and his latest guest post:

I’ve been messing about with cookies over the last month or so. What started as a treat for Frigga, Buk, and Atete is now turning into a mild obsession, as I’ve gone back to the mixer several weekends in a row to get the recipe right. Not that Buk and Atete have been complaining.

I have very clear preferences with cookies: soft, a little chewy, and the flavor needs to give me a little more than just cookie plus chocolate. I want some complexity. At the risk of getting all misty-eyed and mystic…I want a little mystery in my cookie.

Okay, so apart from teetering on “new agey” abyss there for a second, cookies are actually pretty simple. From inspiration to dunking can take an hour, and a good chunk of that is spent waiting for them to bake. The one proviso is having a mixer on hand. Creaming the sugar and the butter is easy enough without one: soften the butter, add the sugar, and just go at it with a spoon until the mixture is creamy and a pale yellow, but your arm is going to get a work out.

The other great thing about this recipe is that you can use it as a basis for many others. The basic idea is the same for many cookies…cream the butter and sugar, mix in eggs and flour, and then add your other flavorings. Next time, I think I’m going to explore ginger, molasses, and allspice.

The Brooklyn Cookie

  • 3 cups flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder 
  • 2 1/2 cups sugar
  • 2 sticks of unsalted butter cut into small chunks
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 tablespoon molasses
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 2 cups semisweet chocolate chips

Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 375°F.

Line 2 large baking trays with parchment paper (the paper isn’t totally necessary, but it does make clean up very simple and the cookies come off the paper very easily – if your baking tray is old and well used, you may have problems getting them off the metal cleanly).

Mix the flour, baking soda, salt, and chili powder in a bowl.

Cream the butter and sugar until it is pale yellow and starts to look a little like whipped cream. (If you have a mixer, put it on high for a few minutes. Keep an eye on it. You’ve got a bit of margin, but you don’t want to overbeat the butter.)

Turn down the mixer to its lowest speed. Add the eggs, one at a time to the butter and sugar until all is combined

Add vanilla and molasses, stir just enough to combine.

Mix in dry mixture in three batches again until blended (you may have to scrape down the bowl and mixer blade). Then stir in chips.

Scoop batter for each cookie, arranging the balls about 3 inches apart, on 2 baking sheets. (I use an ice cream scoop to get a consistent amount for each cookie. I get a good scoop and then clean excess by pressing the scoop against the mixing bowl. I then lever the dough out of the scoop with a tablespoon measure held in the other hand. )

Wet your hand and flatten the dough into rounds using the palm.

Bake 1 sheet at a time about 15 minutes (perhaps a few minutes longer if you like your cookie a little less soft – the final length of time will depend on your oven).

Remove from the oven and let sit on tray for five minutes or so, and then transfer cookies to a rack to cool

Repeat till done.

 

Makes about 24 largish cookies