Party Dishes

Smoky Three-Bean Beef Chili for Super Bowl Sunday


When the temperature drops, there’s more than one way to turn up the heat. Never mind the oil burner, or more blankets. Forget jetting away to warmer climes. Head to the kitchen and make a batch of this chili. Not hot in the customary way (though it can be made quite spicy), it has a special ingredient that layers in a fireside flavor and warms the heart: Spanish smoked paprika.

Paprika, which made from dried and ground peppers, is most closely associated with Hungry, where it is a key ingredient in that country’s national dish, goulash. But the peppers were native to Mexico, Central America, South America, and the West Indies, and they were brought to Europe by explorers from Spain. On the Iberian Peninsula, they do something magical while they make paprika, which they call Pimentón. In the river valleys of the rugged La Vera region, West of Madrid, they smoke the peppers over oak fires. The result is a rich smokiness that enhances every mouthful of the chili.

I make this chili when I want to warm my belly, and I’m tired of soup recipes, salmon, or even pizza. The fine folks at Kraft asked me to share it for their Tastemakers program. It’s perfect for the big game on Sunday. Cook it early in the day and sit back and enjoy the show. You can find the full recipe for Smoky Three Bean Chili here

Note: If you want to make your own beans from dried ones for this recipe, here’s how to do it. To make the 15 ounces each of cooked black beans, garbanzo beans, and kidney beans that are used in this recipe, start with half a cup of each, dried. Rinse and cook them separately in big pots of water, by bringing them to a boil and reducing to a simmer. Depending on the bean, it might take one to three hours or more to cook them. They are done when they are soft and no longer dry inside. They can be cooked a day ahead, and stored in a plastic container until needed.

Easy Holiday Beef Tenderloin


My old man was a lawyer who worked for himself, and he used to talk about the “hills and valleys” of his office. We are radically different fathers. I don’t know anything about the ups and downs of the law business, but I do know the “hills and valleys” of cooking for a family. Lately, it has felt like we were eating the same things over and over. Roast chicken, black beans, puttanesca, pesto, pizza. Repeat. Repeat again.

But just this weekend, Santa Maria rocked the alla matriciana sauce and I stunned the kids with Bittman’s “oven-grilled” pork spareribs. And tonight I’m making a halibut recipe that I developed for some friends in Alaska (I’ll share it soon), and I’m feeling more optimistic about things around the kitchen.

Speaking of which, I promised to follow up on my Christmas dinner. As I mentioned in my last post, we were visiting Santa Maria’s folks for the holidays, and I wanted to cook something special. They are now at an age when they deserve a good meal in their own home, and I needed something to match my mother-in-law’s talents for setting a spectacular table. Meals in her house are taken in their dining room, and her table is alway carefully laid out, often with cutlery, glasses, or napkin rings from their long-ago trips around the world. 

I went on my own journey, to my local butcher, for a beef tenderloin. I had never made one, but I had heard they were good. Based on the price, I knew it would be impressive. Little did I know it would be so easy, and so delicious. I could see in my mother-in-law’s eye the pleasure she took with each bite. I was relaxed because the meal came together with next-to-no effort, and we all had a wonderful holiday meal.

Easy Holiday Beef Tenderloin 

  • 2 tablespoons. olive oil, plus 1 tablespoon.
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • One 3-lb. center cut beef tenderloin, trimmed and tied

Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 400°F. 

In a small bowl, combine the 2 tablespoons of olive oil, salt, garlic, rosemary, and pepper and rub all over the tenderloin.

Heat the remaining oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Sear the tenderloin on all sides until browned, about 3 minutes per side.

Transfer the skillet to the oven and roast for 30 to 35 minutes or until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the meat reads 125°F, for medium rare.

Remove from the oven and transfer the meat to a cutting board. Cover the roast loosely with foil and let it rest for 20 minutes. 

Serves 6+.

Note: Recipe is adapted from this one by Giada De Laurentiis.

Holiday Pork Tenderloin


I’m just back from spending Christmas with Santa Maria’s parents, in central Pennsylvania. I’ve always felt fortunate to have met Santa Maria, and when I married her my world expanded in ways I couldn’t have imagined. Life with her has been like stepping into a kaleidoscope, and among the many moving and dizzying points of light are her parents. They are remarkable people whose eccentricity is outdone only by their generosity. Whenever I visit, I try to pay them back in what little way I can, mostly by cooking for them.

It was a bit of a lightning fast trip, given school and work schedules, and I had only three meals to prepare. The first was for Christmas Eve, and I wanted to do something easy, tasty, and festive. The pork roast that I usually make, with apples, sage, and white wine, would have been perfect, but I couldn’t get that piece of meat at the coop. I was set on doing something with pork because I planned on serving beef for Christmas Day (I’ll get to that in a subsequent post), and I didn’t want to do turkey or another bird. Fish was out of the question because I was going to be on the road. Running short of time in the coop, I grabbed two pork tenderloins and started thinking about how I might need to alter my recipe to accommodate the different cut of meat.

I love my roast-pork recipe because it creates its own sauce as it cooks. I stack the meat atop apples and sage and add a bit of wine. As the meat roasts, the fat atop the pork dribbles down into the pan, the apples soften, and the wine reduces. It’s as delicious as it is easy.

Pork tenderloin, however, is very lean, and the ones I get at my coop tend to be small, too (though I saw some purported pork tenderloins at a super market in PA that were the size of Norse yule logs, and probably just as savory, so watch where you get your meat). Given their small size and lack of fat, I knew they would need a little help to be proper holiday fare. So I topped them with slices of bacon, which didn’t exactly crisp up like the skin on a fresh ham, but did lend the sauce a smoky essence. Everybody loved it.

Holiday Pork Tenderloin

  • 1-2 apples, the more tart, the better
  • 1 bunch of fresh sage
  • 3 cloves of garlic, sliced
  • 2 pork tenderloins (or one, depending on size; figure about 4-6 ounces per guest)
  • 3 slices of bacon
  • 1 cup of dry white wine

Heat oven to 350 degrees

Slice the apples and lay them in the bottom of a roasting pan.
Layer a few leaves of sage over the apples.
Sprinkle the garlic slices amid the sage and apples.
Place the meat atop the apples, sage, and garlic.
Top with more slices of sage, and tuck some of the garlic in the folds of the meat.
Drape the three slices of bacon over the top of it all.
Pour the wine around the apples and meat.

Roast in the oven for 30-45 minutes, until the internal temperature of the thickest part of the pork is 145 degrees.

Remove meat to cutting board and tent with foil to keep warm.
Reduce sauce on stovetop slightly, mashing the apples into large pieces.*

Serve by slicing the meat and arranging it on a platter, with a bowl of sauce on the side. Diners can dress their meat to their liking.

*Note: in retrospect at this point in the recipe I would consider adding a few tablespoons of butter to th wine and apple mixture and reducing further to create a more traditional French-style sauce, but that’s your call.

Jet-Puffed Marshmallow Gingerbread Cookies

If our lives were the movie “Frozen,” come the holiday season we wouldn’t be living in the Kingdom of Arendelle, but rather the Kingdom of Cookies. And, instead of being able to turn everything into ice, the reigning power, Santa Maria, would have different abilities. As it is, she’s the Sovereign of Sweets, the Monarch of Meringues, the Queen of Quick Breads. This year, with assistance from my fine friends at Kraft, who are sponsoring this post (and you thought it was Disney!), we decided to mix things up. Christmas recipes are never in short supply, and the Christmas cookie shouldn’t be trifled with, but I couldn’t help myself. I just had to try something new.

With Santa Maria’s help, I built on a gingerbread cookie recipe to make marshmallow fluff sandwich men. The cookies are fun to make with kids. Not only do you get to cut out the shapes, but you get to poke holes in the figures, and squish them together. The layer of Jet-puffed marshmallow flows up through the holes and makes decorating easy. Eating them is even more fun. The kids tend to pry them apart and the white topping of the gingerbread men is very festive. The full recipe is here.

Thanksgiving Cranberry Cornbread


In recent years, Thanksgiving has become one of my favorite holidays, and I’m looking forward to celebrating it. As a boy, the importance of the get together never really dawned on me, but just as I’ve outgrown canned cranberry sauce, I’ve come to appreciate the significance of the gathering. My siblings and I have aged, and in doing so have gone off into our own orbits; the chance to join in a meal together is rare. When we do meet, the table is now very large, and that creates challenges of its own. Last year, my youngest brother hosted the entire family, and he could only do that because his house is just a tad bigger than his heart. The year before, I hosted Thanksgiving for the first time, and I could only feed about three-quarters of the family, and at a total of fifteen people, that was enough for me. 

Putting together a Thanksgiving dinner menu requires more than just planning. It takes courage. If you have never hosted before, it's not too late to pick up Sam Sifton’s book, “Thanksgiving: How to Cook it Well.” Lord knows, it helped me that first time around. There are many classic Thanksgiving recipes, and he covers them all. The holiday also offers the chance to start your own traditions. Every since my first Thanksgiving at home, I’ve added cornbread to my offerings. My latest twist on it, inspired by the Kraft Tastemaker’s program, which is funding this post, is to add dried cranberries. They contribute a bit of sweetness and make the holiday all the more rich. One nice thing about this recipe, is that it adapts nicely whether you are the host or a guest. Make it for your home gathering, or take it with you when you go to the house of your uncle, nephew, sister or brother. It will be most welcome. The full recipe for Thanksgiving Cranberry Cornbread is here.

Halloween Special: Burbling Blood Blondies


Every year we make special Halloween treats—candied kale chips with crystallized tofu-and-powdered shiitake puffs. Just kidding! That sounds too scary, even for a natural-food, organically minded home cook like myself. Something like that would give me nightmares.

Halloween food should be fun. When I was a boy, I remember my older sisters having sleep-over parties on the holiday, where they would play games involving cold cooked pasta and blindfolds, making miniature haunted houses. Or so I imagined, because, apparently, I was too frightening a figure to be included in their games. What little I learned came by listening from the top of the stairs after bedtime to their distant squealing. But it’s no longer so hard to get information on Halloween parties. If you want to make a killer Halloween dish, the Internet is full of ideas, from Halloween cupcakes to monster cakes.

I have a contribution to that graveyard of sweet delights—Burbling Blood Blondies. They are Santa Maria’s invention, and they are gooey and delicious. I hope you like them. You can find the recipe here, on the page for Kraft’s Tastemaker program, which sponsored this post.

Wasabi Cream Cheese and Sockeye Salmon Appetizers + A Summertime Giveaway


Summer is nearly over, and I can’t believe it. Before it comes to a close, I want to look back. And I want to spread the love--read on for details about a savory giveaway. We started summer on Memorial Day by meeting friends for a hike in the country. The weather was fine, the trail (after we found it) was scenic, and the company couldn’t have been better. It would have been a perfect day, but for one thing—we were late to the meeting point, and our friends were left waiting for an hour. 

Our tardiness was due to a combination of things. That morning I was working on a blog post for this site (flank steak on the bbq!) and Santa Maria was baking her Divine Biscuits (yum!) for my mother and our little ones, Nina and Pinta. We’d budgeted an hour to get to the hike, but family life being family life, that wasn’t enough. Plus, I made a wrong turn on the way to the park, and we ended up driving about twenty-miles out of our way. 

In the past, I’ve been a bit of a hot head when I’ve made a wrong turn, but I’ve matured somewhat, and I remained calm. This, I’ve discovered, has had the curious effect of making the rest of my life a lot easier. When I mess something up, I no longer panic, but I accept it, and fix it. I was doing my best to keep our detour to myself, but my kids in the back seat could sense that something wasn’t right. Harried inquisitions were jettisoned at the back of my head. In the passenger seat, Santa Maria caught on, and the emotional temperature inside our Chevrolet rose higher than that of the steel-forging blast furnace that built it. By the time we arrived, some of our friends were tense, too. If unspoken irritation could keep away mosquitos, we wouldn’t have needed any bug spray. 

Fresh air and sunshine does wonders for city dwellers, however, and by the time we were a few miles into the woods, everything was back to normal. I could tell because the topic of conversation, as it often does among my friends, turned to food. I mentioned that I was working on developing a recipe for Kraft*, as part of its Tastmakers program, and that I wanted to use cheese in it. One of my friends, Paul Greenberg, rose to the challenge.

Paul is an insightful and talented writer (his first book, “Four Fish,” won a James Beard award) whose latest book, “American Catch: The Fight for Our Local Seafood” details how and why we export our best seafood and import all the dubious things that flood our markets. He’s also a dedicated home cook, and he tossed of ideas for blue-fish pâté (made with cream cheese), a list of avocado delights too numerous to mention, and tips for deconstructing a Feta-fueled Greek salad, to make a mouthwatering appetizer. I countered with ideas combining fresh tomatoes and cheese, variations on bruschetta, but nothing seemed quite right. 

With the afternoon sun speckling our shoulders under the leafy expanse of Tallman State Park, Paul and I landed on an impressive construction of wasabi-cream cheese, cucumber, and smoked Sockeye salmon. I was filled with optimism as the day ended, and not just because I had a good idea for a recipe—spending time with friends is one of the most enjoyable things I can think of doing.

This is where cheese can come in handy. I love cheese because it’s easy to have around the house, and if you ever want to have friends over, you will always have something delicious to serve them. And here is your chance to entertain your friends. If you tell me in a comment below or via Twitter using #ForTheLoveOfCheese at @stayatstovedad what you love about cheese, you could win the following:

  • A nifty guitar-shaped cutting board.
  • A wee Brad Paisley recipe book.
  • A totally awesome mini charcoal grill.

Cheese also has a history that I can relate to—do you think the first person to make cheese didn’t make a mistake when creating it? Just imagine how the ancients discovered how to turn milk into cheese in the first place. In “The Oxford Companion to Food,” Alan Davidson observes: 

“Cheese is one of the oldest of made foods, dating back to the prehistoric beginnings of herding. As with all fermented products, it seems likely that the discovery of cheese was accidental. It could be that the curdling action of rennet was noticed when a herdsman poured milk into a pouch made of an animal’s stomach… Once any kind of cheese had been formed by chance, its owner would have observed not only that the taste was pleasant but that it kept well—always a problem with milk products—and even kept hard and dry.”   

When I was back at home, I started working on the recipe. All the various concepts we had come up with when we were high in the mountains (involving rolling, stuffing, and slicing) failed to work down on the ground, and I was left with a cutting board of failure. Rather than wrestle with the laws of physics (as I mentioned above, I’ve learned long ago not to resist natural forces, and I’m not just talking about Santa Maria), I looked to simplify things—good advice under any circumstance.


I peeled alternating strips off the cucumber to give it a festive look.


Sliced the cucumbers.


Layered salmon on top.


And finished it with wasabi-flavored Kraft Philadelphia Cream Cheese, held together with a toothpick.

The result was a quick, attractive, and delicious appetizer. The crunch of the cucumber is topped by the smoky richness of the salmon, and followed by the spicy smoothness of the wasabi cream cheese. I would serve these at any summer party. Santa Maria, for her part, said she liked them so much that she could eat them for breakfast with a pumpernickel bagel.  As I learned that day of the hike, it’s important not to give up after a small setback. The complete recipe can be found on the Kraft site. Enjoy!


*In case it wasn’t clear, this is a post under the paid Kraft Tastemaker’s program. All ideas and opinions are mine. Also, if you’ve read this far, you deserve a greater reward: If you visit you can not only find more great recipes, but you can also enter for a chance to win a VIP Brad Paisley Concert experience for four and a lifetime supply of cheese (awarded in the form of a check for $8700)! NO PURCHASE NECESSARY.  Begins 5/5/14 and Ends 9/7/14.  To enter and for official rules, click here.

Heuristic Living, Cooking, and Corn Salsa


I recently came across the word “heuristic,” which, according to Merriam-Webster, can mean “an aid to learning, discovery, or problem-solving by experimental and especially trial-and-error methods” or “relating to exploratory problem-solving techniques that utilize self-educating techniques to improve performance.” 

Bingo! To me, that sounds a lot like the process of learning to cook, but more importantly I see see it as a way to approach parenting, and life. We did it as kids—learning to walk by tripping, learning to ride a bike by falling off it, learning to spell by making mistakes. Somewhere between then and now, however, I forgot that way. I became timid with knowledge. I had to know the right way right away. Or else I would give up.

But it’s easy to get that sense of discovery back. I was at a Chipolte Mexican Grill the other day for lunch with my brother, and I employed a heuristic approach. It was only my second time there, and I ordered with care. The first time I ate there—by myself a few week’s previously—I had asked for a burrito saddled with all the sides. I was so stuffed by the end of it that I could barely move. 

Being full is something new for me. Up until just recently, I could eat a burrito and still be hungry ten minutes later. Clearly, a change is upon me. So when I was with my brother, I ordered a taco, and instead of topping it with guacamole, I asked for corn salsa. Their corn salsa was delicious, and thought “I could make that at home.” 

It took some experimentation. I wanted a smoky, charred corn flavor, but I don’t have a grill. I considered using the gas broiler in my oven, but Santa Maria was concerned that I’d start a fire. So I did what any sensible man would do—I Googled it. Turns out, it’s plenty easy to broil corn in one’s kitchen. Not only do you get a sweet and smoky flavor, you get an added benefit—Even not-so-ideal supermarket corn can be redeemed. 

To test my idea, I did it with one ear, which wasn’t winning any awards. It started like this:


And after about doing it under the broiler for about four minutes a side and rotating it three or four times (about fifteen minutes total), it looked like this:



After it cooled a few minutes, I stripped the kernels off. I diced a bit of red pepper, onion, and cilantro and combined it with the corn. After I dressed it with lime juice, salt, and olive oil,  I served it with my fish tacos. An easy lesson in how to live.

Indoor Grilled Corn Salsa

  • 1 to 3 ears of corn, depending on size of your party
  • 1/2 to 1 onion, diced
  • 1/2 to 1 red pepper, diced
  • 1-2 tablespoons chopped cilantro, or to taste
  • The juice of half a lime, or to taste
  • A bit of oilve oil

Shuck the corn and coat it with a bit of olive oil and salt. Just run it through your hands and spread a drop or two of oil around. Then salt it. Then arrange the ears on a hotel pan or other tray that can go in the oven.

Put it under the broiler, about six or so inches away, and roast it, about four minutes a side, until the kernels start to char. Rotate the ears with tongs until chared on all sides, about fifteen to twenty minutes, total.

Let the ears cool while chopping the other ingredients, then strip the kernels off and combine everything. 

How Many People Does it Take to Grill Flank Steak?

The good news for my family is that I'm better at barbecuing than I am at fixing cars. Once, when I was a boy, I tried to check the oil on my mother’s Chevrolet Chevette, the sorriest excuse for a subcompact every invented. I managed to get the dipstick out, but I couldn’t get it back in. My parents had to call a mechanic friend to come over and fix it, and I felt ridiculous. 

The Chevette is long gone but yesterday, I was back where it was once parked, standing in my mother’s driveway, grilling flank steak for her, my family, and my brother’s extended family. It was an afternoon of bike riding, baseball, and conversation. My brother and his wife have a four year old and an almost one year old. I remember those days of exhaustion well (the time of "Fly Sky High Kale Salad), and it was a treat to see them.

Cara Nicoletti's recent post on Food52 inspired my choice of flank steak. Despite the article's suggestions, my butcher had never heard of a Jaccard knife, but it didn’t seem to need any more tenderizing. I even skipped the marinate after reading this Serious Eats article, and just salted it heavily before cooking. 


I let it sit out about a half hour before cooking, to bring it up to room temperature. Note the grain on this photo. It is easy to see on a flank steak, and when you cut to serve it, you want to be certain to cut across the grain. “On the bias,” as my mother said, to which the women at the table replied “That’s a flattering cut.” I had no idea what they were talking about, but I’m used to feeling that way around women.

I lit the charcoals with a chimney starter. If you don’t know how to use one, this YouTube video explains it well. If your dining partners start giving you advice on how to proceed, you can refer them to it.


Once the starter has done its job, I dumped the hot coals out onto the grate and then added more coals to get a super-hot fire. After they ashes over, I grilled the meat.


I did it three minutes on the first side, and then two on the second. Flank steak cooks quickly, and it has to be watched carefully. An overcooked flank steak will taste about as good as a radial tire off an old Chevette. 

Your best friend when cooking meat is an instant-read meat thermometer, and I used one yesterday. I wanted the meat to get to 125 degrees for rare. I did that and then let the meat sit for about five minutes before cutting it up, across the grain. A few of the thicker pieces were too rare, and I had to throw them back on the grill to get them cooked properly, but no professionals had to be called in and the evening was a huge success. 


I served it with chimichurri sauce, and there wasn’t much left at the end of the meal. Here's the recipe for the chimichurri sauce:

Chimichurri Sauce 

  • 1 bunch (about a cup) fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 3-4 garlic cloves
  • 2 Tbsps fresh oregano leaves (or 2 teaspoons dried oregano)
  • ½  cup olive oil
  • 2 Tbsp red or white wine vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • ¼  teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • A shake of red pepper flakes (about a ¼ teaspoon, or to taste)

Chop the parsley as fine as possible.

Dice the garlic.

Combine with the other ingredients, and let sit while you cook the steaks. 


Before Midnight and the Value of a New Pizza Sauce


Over the weekend, we watched "Before Midnight," and if you ever want to see a dastardly accurate account of how a couple with kids is prone to fighting, stick with that movie until its end. The hurt, angry, and helpless self-involvement of the partners is breathtaking, not that I really know anything about anything like that.

Near its conclusion, one line resonated with me, from the man, Jesse, played by Ethan Hawke. Pleading with Celine (Julie Delpy) for her love, he starts talking about himself in the third person. “God knows he has many problems and has struggled his whole life connecting and being present, even with those he loves the most. And for that he is deeply sorry. But you are his only hope,” he says. I won’t ruin the ending by saying anything more than that it looks like there’ll be yet another sequel. I will however, offer you hope, and a solution for connecting with the ones you love: pizza.

Or more accurately, cooking. Put some food on the table and share it with those you care about, and you’ll be one mouthful closer to connecting with them. Besides, I find that when I’m chewing, I’m not liable to say something insulting. It’s a win, win.

Pizza came to my mind today when I was doing my weekly cooking. I was making a tagine (to eat later in the week), and I’ve found that the tomato juice I have leftover from that recipe is perfect for pizza sauce. I put the tomato juice in a bag and freeze it for future use. It’s a way making a better sauce and saving money. Pizza is a very cost-effective meal, and you can, with a little practice, make it at home for a fraction of what it costs to eat out. The key with pizza is the same as it is with love: don’t let the effort show, and give, give, give. This can take some practice. I’ve learned the hard way that it’s better to make pizza in a simple fashion than in a fancy way.

But I encourage yourself to decide what is best. For despite my successes with simple pizzas made from pizza-shop bought dough and sauce out of a jar, I’ve recently decided to play around with making the dough and a sauce from scratch. I’ve been making the pies better with each attempt, and I now have a simple pizza sauce that works very well. In a future post, I’ll write about making the dough from scratch. It’s very easy. For now, I’ll leave you with the recipe for the sauce. Save it away somewhere, and think of it as first step in connecting with those you love.

Simple, Delicious Pizza Sauce

  • 6 oz tomato paste
  • 4 oz tomato juice
  • 2-3 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon of olive oil

Mix the ingredients together and let them sit. Use to make pizza, like this (substitute this sauce for the marinara sauce—you’ll be glad you did.)