Visiting Dads

Monday Guest Post: An Ode to the Pot Roast

Pot Roast
I was away for the past few days, with Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria, at the Mohonk Moutain House, a sprawling and enchanting nineteenth-century resort perched atop the Shawangunk ridge, in upstate New York. We were enjoying a long-deferred weekend with my mother, and we spent the time skating, swimming, hiking, and eating insane amounts of food (their all-inclusive plan includes two appetizers, per person, with dinner!).

Last week, my friend John, a working dad from Brooklyn who happily cooks for his two rambunctious five-year-old girls and wife, and who has contributed to this site before (earlier this month, he wrote about simplifying his shopping list with an iPhone app), sent me his appreciation of the pot roast. I'm delighted to present it to you—My body is just too worn out from eating the Mohonk way.

I’m an Australian, but like much of the world, I grew up with American TV and one of the things that I remember from shows like “The Brady Bunch” were the jokes about pot roast. It was clear that pot roast was something to be avoided. Well, the cracks were wrong. It may take a little planning, but the pot roast is a tasty, tender, economical and just all-round awesome weekend meal that just keeps on giving.

Once you realize that pot roast is another form of braising, it all starts to come into focus. Get a cheap cut, such as a chuck roast or a shoulder roast. Something with a good amount of fat is perfect. Get a pot, the heavier the better (I use a Dutch oven, which I love but that’s the subject of another post). Heat some oil and brown the meat well on all sides. Add your braising liquid (the basic choice is stock but you’ve got plenty of options), and some celery, onions, and carrots if you want. Bring it to a gentle boil, turn down the heat, put the lid on, and let it be for three hours or so. Just check it once in a while to make sure you’ve got a nice simmer going and to turn the joint over.

The great thing about braising is that there’s plenty of margin and plenty of options. The only thing you really have to be careful about it to not let it boil for an extended period (the high temperature will toughen the meat up). Otherwise, you are free to play mad chef. You want to use some beer in the braise? Go ahead. Do you think red wine is more your speed? No problems! Don’t want onions in there? No sweat! And it also provides the perfect pretext for some serious sports watching. After all, you have to be in the house for three hours or so anyway, don’t you?

The classic pot roast calls for potatoes (mashed, boiled, scalloped—they’re all good), some vegetables (I’ve been obsessing about Brussels sprouts for the past few months). And of course gravy, which the pot roast makes super easy, thanks to the braising liquid. Gravy, of course, makes even the dreaded sprouts palatable for our twin girls Buk and Atete.

As an added bonus, if you’ve cooked up a decent sized joint of meat, you’ll probably have leftovers. These aren’t just your regular run of the mill leftovers either. These can be the basis of sandwiches or quick-as-a-flash dinners that make evening meals almost completely stress free.

Sweet Guest Post: Reader Shares His Fantastic Pear Dessert Recipe

One of the great pleasures of maintaining this blog is that I get to connect with some very amazing people, mostly other fathers who cook for their families. One of my goals for the site is to encourage men to enter the kitchen and feel comfortable making dinner. I find the stories of these other fathers very inspiring, and I hope that you do, too.

My latest guest post is from a reader named Pat. He's the father of a two-year-old and a medical student who lives with his wife in Salt Lake City, Utah, and he helped me with one of my culinary shortcomings: dessert. I've never thought to make it (except for once). Pat, on the other hand, has mastered a very tasty treat, a roasted pear with ice cream and caramel sauce. From the sounds of how he came up with it, we could all learn a thing or two from him. Here is his story.

People often ask me how I got into cooking.  Though I played sports all growing up, I never really got into watching them.  In junior high school, I started watching a lot of food network.  While my buddies were watching football, I was learning about chipotles from Bobby Flay and steak from Alton Brown.  I was definitely the odd man out. 

About the same time, my parents instituted a new rule:  each kid had to do the dishes two nights a week.  I hated doing the dishes.  I talked my mom into a swapping me dish duty for cooking duty.  In spite of my dad’s protests, I made whatever struck my fancy.  My mom always encouraged my cooking.  The first real, from scratch meal was a Bobby Flay dish—grilled flank steak with home made barbeque sauce, blue cheese and a mushroom relish.  It didn’t look like Bobby’s, but it was the start of a beautiful relationship.

Some years later, while navigating the first few years of my marriage, I started cooking more.  My wife didn’t believe in seasonings (gasp), and instead of tackling that issue head on, I grabbed the pan.  Thankfully she has come around, and we enjoy culinary capers together on nightly basis.  We have a two year old son, and he’s awesome.  He helps me cook whenever I’m in the kitchen.  From pasta dough to chocolate persimmon muffins, he’s my sous chef extraordinaire. 

I’m in the middle of my second year of medical school, and as such I’m pretty busy.  Thankfully my wife and son are fine with cooking (and eating of course) being one of the main things we do together.  Enough about me.

John asked me to write about the evolution of a dessert I did for a dinner recently.  The dinner was part of a dinner club a classmate and I dreamed up.  We do dinner about once a month and alternate who hosts.  She is way more creative than I am, and makes amazing food.  She makes dark chocolate dipped sea salt caramels that are incredible; and those caramels are the start of the dessert.  The first caramel I had made me want to dabble in the dark arts of candy making.

After four failed batches of caramels, I decided to get serious.  I looked at a bunch of recipes, all with different techniques and combinations of ingredients.  I finally came up with a method that worked for me, and made my own version of dipped caramels for Christmas gifts.  About the same time, I decided I wanted to try a rosemary caramel.  I did a few variations of the rosemary caramel and it was a success.

I started thinking about how I could incorporate the rosemary caramel into a dessert for the dinner club.  I settled on a roasted pear with mascarpone ice cream and caramel sauce.  It was incredible.


Roasted Pear with Ice Cream and Rosemary Caramel Sauce

For the Rosemary Caramel sauce (enough for eight generous servings, plus left overs)

  • 1 cube stick (8T) butter
  • 1.5 cups cream
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 sprigs rosemary
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 cup corn syrup
  • 2 cups sugar

Combine cream, half of the cube of the butter (chopped into pieces), the vanilla, rosemary and salt in a saucepan over medium heat, stirring periodically, just until it is beginning to boil.  Remove from heat before allowing mixture to boil, cover with lid and allow to steep for 30+min (the longer you steep it, the more intense the rosemary flavor).  Strain the mixture and set aside.

Combine sugar, corn syrup in your biggest stock pot, equipped with your candy thermometer. Put on some oven mitts and a long sleeve shirt.  Bring the sugar mixture up to 302°F.  Add warm cream mixture and stir vigorously.  Bring mixture back up to about 220°F, remove from heat immediately and add remaining ½ cube of butter, stir until incorporated.  Let cool slightly, and serve.


For the Pears

  • 4 slightly under-ripe D’anjou pears
  • 4 T butter
  • Sugar
  • Nutmeg

Peel pears, slice in half, and remove seeds/core (I used a paring knife and melon baller).  Place in a baking dish and spread butter on pears.  Sprinkle with sugar and a dash of nutmeg.  Bake pears at 375F for about 20 minutes.  Turn pears over and cook for another 20min (or until desired doneness is achieved). 

I topped the pears with a scoop of mascarpone ice cream and the sauce.  The mascarpone recipe isn’t mine to give, but a good quality vanilla would do nicely in its place.  If you’re worried about it tasting like a pine tree, don’t. The rosemary is subtle, but awesome.





Super Bowl Special: Mark Bittman's Old Oven-Grilled Rib Recipe

Long before I had kids, I was looking for a good football-watching party dish, so tried my hand at Mark Bittman’s “oven-grilled” ribs. I was going to take them to my brother’s apartment for some big playoff game (I don’t remember which one) but I came down with a wicked case of pink eye and stayed home.

Santa Maria and I had a whole tray of ribs to ourselves, and we went wild over them. They’re easy to love—simple to prepare and more tasty than you have any right to expect. I haven’t made them since, though. I thought my life was too complicated with a job and two kids, but I recently learned that’s not a good excuse.

My friend Jon Michaud, the head librarian at The New Yorker and a regular contributor to, makes them repeatedly. He lives in Maplewood, New Jersey, with his wife and two children. The son of a pastry chef, he cooks most of the meals his family eats. Jon is also a novelist, and his first book, “When Tito Loved Clara,” will be published by Algonquin Books in March. Here is his story about making the ribs.

This February will mark the tenth year in a row that I'll make spareribs for the Super Bowl. I first made them for a party at my sister's house in Bethesda Maryland. My wife, Z, and I--newlyweds--had just moved to the D.C. area after our September wedding. (Yes, that's September, 2001.)

We lived in a small two-bedroom apartment in Alexandria, Virginia, and my wife was in the earliest stages of pregnancy with our first son—so early that we weren't telling anyone about it. Not having lived with a pregnant woman before, I didn't realize how heightened her sense of smell could be. If I had known, I might have chosen to make something less odiferous than ribs—perhaps untoasted bread with butter.

At Christmas that year, I'd received the original edition of Mark Bittman's “How to Cook Everything” (the one with the yellow cover), and I intended to put it to use. Not having access to a barbecue grill, I opted for Bittman's “oven-grilled ribs” made two ways: a slab of dry ribs with “Chris's great rub”* and a slab of wet ribs using Bittman's home-made barbecue sauce.

Before I'd even finished cooking the sauce, my wife fled the living room that adjoined our kitchen and took refuge in our bedroom. “What the hell is that smell?” she said, slamming the door behind her. For the next three hours, as the ribs cooked, our apartment filled with the thick, saliva-inducing scent of barbecue sauce, pork fat, paprika, cumin, and chili powder.

It was too cold to open the windows and my wife buried her head under a pillow. She hadn't had morning sickness yet, but it seemed likely to arrive at any moment. “God, how much longer is this going to take?” she asked. When I told her there was two hours still to go, she said, “I'm going out for a walk,” and disappeared. Meanwhile, I didn't want to go anywhere. If those ribs tasted half as good as they smelled, they were going to be a treat.

When they were done, we loaded the two trays into the trunk of our car for the half-hour drive to Bethesda. No sooner were we on the George Washington Parkway than Z looked at me, like the heroine of a horror movie, and said, “I can smell them! It's coming in through the trunk!” I pushed down on the accelerator and hoped the cops were all busy watching the pre-game show.

The ribs were a huge hit, and even as my family members were eating them they were asking me, “You're going to make these again, right? Maybe next week?” I nodded, because that's what every cook wants to hear—when can I have more of this? I decided that a tradition had been born. Even my wife tried them and admitted they weren't bad.

Over the years, I've made those Bittman ribs in any number of ways—on a gas grill; on a charcoal grill; with cayenne or cinnamon added to the rub; with baby back ribs, and even with beef ribs. Some years they've come out crispier and some year they've come out wetter. It doesn't matter: there are never any leftovers.

Last February, I got a call from my sister in Bethesda, who was hosting a party for the Saints/Colts Super Bowl. She wanted to make the ribs. I had given her the revised edition of “How To Cook Everything” (the one with the red cover) for Christmas that year, and I directed her to the index. “It's not there!” she said. “That's not possible,” I said. “That's my favorite recipe in that book.” I told her to look again, in the chapter on meat. She did: no oven grilled ribs. No rub. (There's the rub!)

I took down my copy and transcribed the recipe into an email and sent it to her. At the bottom of the e-mail, I wrote: DO NOT COOK IN THE PRESENCE OF PREGNANT WOMEN.


Mark Bittman's Oven “Grilled” Ribs with Chris's Great Rub


  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • ½ tablespoon ground cumin
  • ½ tablespoon freshly ground pepper
  • ½ tablesppon chili powder
  • 1 tablesppon paprika
  • About four pounds spareribs


Pre-heat the oven to 300 degrees F. Mix the salt and all the spices together and rub them well into the ribs and pace in a roasting pan in one layer. Bake, pouring off accumulated fat every thirty minutes or so, for about two hours, or until the ribs are cooked. (If you're in a hurry, cover the roasting pan with aluminum foil. When you're ready to eat, roast the ribs at 500 degrees F for about ten minutes, or run them under the broiler, watching carefully, until nicely browned.


*Chris Schlesinger, co-author, with John Willoughby, of “The Thrill of the Grill.”

Cooking Dinner for Julia Child: A Steak Diane Recipe

On Friday, the veteran journalist Steven Flax shared the first part his tale about how he came to cook, in 1976, at Harvest, the groundbreaking Cambridge restaurant. Here’s the conclusion of his story, in which a surprise guest during a pre-opening shakedown dinner shakes him up.

Over the next few weeks the head chef Henri gave me a crash course in French cuisine, and we developed the menu. It was summer so we had a lot of seasonal fruits and vegetables to feature. Then came a week or so of cooking for the owner and architect Ben Thompson, his wife, and a number of their friends. Finally, around two weeks before opening, Ben told us that we were going to host two or three dinner parties with notables from the Boston-Cambridge area. Such guests, we assumed, would include Harvard professors such as Henry Kissinger and John Kenneth Galbraith, along with the actress Faye Dunaway, who lived then in Cambridge and who was dating Peter Wolf, the lead vocalist of the J. Geils Band.

These dinners to generate buzz were like catering a wedding or bar mitzvah: everybody was going to be served the same meal. No ordering from the menu. That made it easier to plan and prepare, but also easier to cook with complacency and have the food sit around too long while the small crew of waiters and waitresses were running back and forth.

The menu we settled on was tasty but pretty traditional. We were going to serve Steak Diane, cauliflower polonaise, and oven-roasted new potatoes with rosemary. There were other courses, but those were the dishes that Henri and I were responsible for. Because I was the sous chef, and was working the sauté station, I was going to cook the steaks.

At posh restaurants, Steak Diane gets flambéed it tableside, but I was going to do the honors in the kitchen, because we were cooking so many steaks at one time. As we were involved in the flurry of preparations leading up to dinner, Henri, who had seen my pretty amateurish flambé technique, not so subtly put a fire extinguisher right next to the stove where I was working.

Soon the guests started arriving, and Ben and his wife went into full-court schmooze. The kitchen started cranking with commendable coordination, which was pretty surprising considering that this was the biggest meal we had served as a team and some of us (including—and especially—me) had little professional culinary experience.

Thankfully, the fixed menu enabled us to get things going on an assembly line. The waiters and the pretty waitresses started carrying their trays out to the dining room with a fairly convincing imitation of professional aplomb. However, the smoothly confident atmosphere didn’t last.

Around ten minutes into serving the main course, when about half of the tables had their entrees, one of the waitresses burst into the kitchen saying, “Holy shit, you’ll never guess who’s at my next table.”

“Who,” I asked? I was expecting her to say some big shot from Harvard.

“Julia Child,” she said.

At this point, we were standing side-by-side, peeking through the little diamond-shaped window in the door to the dining room.

“Where,” I asked her. I was hoping that she was mistaken.

I had envisioned the evening as a sort of trial run, a little stressful, maybe, but pretty much a shakedown cruise. Mistakes would be made. We’d learn from them. And, when opening day arrived, we’d feel like seasoned veterans and handle whatever they threw at us. Suddenly Child’s presence turned it into a whole other sort of debut, one I felt completely unprepared for.

 “There,” she said, pointing to the far wall, “sitting next to that little short guy. Is their dinner almost ready?”

“Oh fuck,” I said. “Yeah, just give me a second.”

With as much stealth as I could muster, I slid through the door and walked in a bent-down, crab-like way over to the bar, which was pretty close to the door to the kitchen. I got the attention of the bartender, and said in a whisper, “What’s the best cognac you have?”

He pointed.

“Give it to me,” I said.

He hesitated, giving me a look that said, what the hell are you doing, this is expensive stuff.

“That’s not to cook with,” he said.

I responded with one of those menacing looks and two-hand gestures you see in Italian movies, when the gangster is demonstrating what he is going to do to his intended victim, the one who deflowered his daughter who, he thought, was a virgin.

He gave me the cognac, and I sneaked it back into the kitchen.

When I was making the steaks for Julia Child’s table, I got a little carried away with the cognac. As I tilted the sauté pan to ignite the sauce, the flame went up above my head. It scorched my eyebrows, cheeks, and eyelashes. Finally I got it to simmer down, and shoved the skillet into the oven for a moment to finish cooking.

It was only then that I realized that everybody in the kitchen was staring at me. I looked over at Henri, who was standing nearby with a Maurice Chevalier-sort of smirk, cigarette dangling from his lower lip.

“Stevie,” he said, “you just want to give them a taste, not get them drunk.”

At that point I took the steaks out of the oven and put them on the plates Henri had gotten ready with the side dishes. After I added a heaping tablespoonful of sizzling sauce from the sauté pan on each steak, they were ready to go.

“They look perfect,” the waitress said, putting them on her tray, and, just as she was walking out the door, she looked back and added, “Almost thought we lost you there.”

I was ferociously hot, although I don’t know whether it was because I had gotten a bit scorched, or I if I was just frightened and nervous.

The rest of the dinner went ahead without any mishaps. Later, when things calmed down, Henri and I were having a beer, recapping the meal, and reviewing what I could learn from the experience. He did not seem too disappointed in me. Then, just as I was allowing myself to relax, into the kitchen came Julia Child.

She was basketball-player tall, maybe six-two or six-four. And she was accompanied by the short man the waitress had pointed out—her husband Paul. Julia towered over me. I’m only around five-eight, but Paul was even shorter, maybe five-five or five-six. When Paul and Julia were standing side by side, it made this sweetly comic effect, like Mutt and Jeff.

Before Henri or I could say anything, she burst out in that warbly, fluty voice that I knew from TV. “I just wanted to tell you what a delicious dinner we had tonight chez Harvest,” she said. “Everything was just perfect. Who made the steaks?”

Henri pointed at me.

I nodded my head. I saw that she was looking at my eyebrows. I glanced down to the fire extinguisher. I looked up at her. She looked down at the fire extinguisher, then back at me.

Here was my one and only chance to get acquainted with this world-famous chef and TV personality, and all I could say was, “This is my first cooking job. When it comes to flambéing, I am sort of a loose cannon.”

“Oh, me too,” she said. “I am always setting off the sprinklers in the TV studio. But the food was great, delicious bistro cooking. I hope Harvest is very successful.”

We thanked her, and I grabbed four crystal old-fashioned glasses and poured her, Paul, Henri, and myself a hearty slug of the good cognac, which was still by the stove. As we drank a toast, Ben Thompson and his wife came in. I gave each of them a cognac, which Thompson took with a look that said, “What the hell are you doing with this bottle?” He then regaled the Childs with a speech about how Henri was such a brilliant chef and mentor, and that Steve was such a promising prodigy, blah, blah, blah.

I left that night knowing I had a job to come to the next day.

And, more important, that Julia Child had liked what I cooked for her.

Steven Flax’s Steak Diane Recipe

I learned this recipe, which is different from many other versions of Steak Diane (I once saw one in Gourmet that used pureed black bean soup), from the French chef I trained with at Harvest. He called it Steak Diane, so I do too. I don’t claim that it is in any sense authentic. It has three components: the steaks, the sauce, and what I call the "moosh."



Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

The Sauce

Mince some fresh shallots, enough so they would make a little mound in the palm of your hand. Mince 2-3 cloves of garlic.

In a small sauté pan heat a small ladle-full of clarified butter. When it is nice and hot add the shallots and cook them for a while. Don’t let them get too brown. Add the garlic and cook for a while. Don’t let it get too brown. (When it gets too brown, it gets bitter.) When the shallots and garlic are cooked through add a couple of tablespoons (or a ladle-full) of rich beef stock. If you don’t have beef stock or demi-glace, you can add a few tablespoons of Worcestershire sauce and maybe some sweet vermouth or sweet Madeira. Cook that for a few minutes so it cooks down and gets a bit thicker. It doesn’t have to get too thick; you want loose gravy consistency. Stop cooking the sauce, but keep it warm on the side.

 The Moosh

 Take 3-4 fillets of anchovies and rinse them in 3-4 changes of water, just to get some of the salt out of them. Drain the anchovy fillets. Mince 2-3 cloves of garlic. Mince some shallots, enough to make a little mound in the palm of your hand. Put the anchovies, garlic, and shallots into a mixing bowl and add a little bit of olive oil. Mix all ingredients together thoroughly, frequently mashing with the underside of a tablespoon, in order to create a moosh. That is, sort of a loose paste. Add enough oil just so you get a thick but spreadable consistency. When it’s done, the moosh should have about the same consistency as tapenade, the black olive relish from Provence. Set aside.

 The Steaks

 The better the steaks, the better the Steak Diane. I would get four aged boneless prime rib steaks, trimmed of all fat and around ¾ inch thick. Lots of Steak Diane recipes call for pounding the steaks flat, but I don’t recommend it. You want something thick enough that you can really sink your teeth into, right? I would guess that such steaks would probably weigh 10-12 ounces each. Pat the steaks dry with a paper towel; you don’t want them to have any water on their surface.

 Cooking Instructions

Use a sauté pan or heavy, sloping-sided skillet. Heat a small ladle-full of clarified butter in the skillet until it’s nice and hot. The entire bottom surface of the pan should be coated with the butter, but not too thick a layer. If it looks like a puddle, pour a bit off. Don’t salt and pepper the meat. There is enough salt in the anchovy moosh.

When the butter is hot add the four steaks and pan sear them over medium heat. If the steaks make a hissing, sizzling sound when you put them into the butter, then the butter is hot enough. Sear the steak for only around 2-3 minutes. As they are sautéing, cover the top surface of the steaks with the moosh.

Turn the steaks over so that they are sautéing moosh side down. (Don’t worry if some of the moosh falls off.) Sear them for only another 2 minutes or so. Feel the meat by poking it with your finger. It should feel like the flesh between your thumb and first finger. Not too firm. If so, then the steaks are probably rare. Turn them over again.

Now add about a jigger (1½ ounce) of brandy, cognac, or even bourbon or Jameson’s Irish whiskey, if that’s what you like or all that you have. Let the booze heat up for just a moment and then, very gently, tilt the pan slightly (away from you) but towards the flame, so that the booze gets on fire. Voila. If you haven’t added too much booze (as I did), then the alcohol in it should burn off pretty quickly.  

Take the sizzling skillet off the burner and add a generous small ladle of sauce over each steak. Then pop the skillet into a 400-degree oven for just a couple of minutes to heat everything up. When you take the steaks out, they should be firmer to the touch but not too stiff. That would be about medium rare to medium. Put on warm plates and serve immediately.

Serves four.





Learning to Cook Dinner for Julia Child

One of the pleasures of writing this blog is meeting other fathers who cook. Recently, I had the great fortune of being put in touch with Steven Flax, an award-winning journalist* who has raised and cooked for two wonderful and extremely discriminating daughters. He has a fantastic story to share. This is part one. The conclusion will run on Monday.

I once had a chance to cook dinner for Julia Child, and it was pretty nerve-wracking, but not only for the reasons you’d expect. At the time, I was trying to get my first job in a professional kitchen.

In 1975, I left graduate school to become a writer. Because I wrote like an academic, though, my writing career began failing spectacularly almost as soon as it started. There followed jobs as a crewman on a commercial fishing boat (a line trawler out of Marblehead), as a surgical attendant in a pediatric hospital, as a night desk clerk at the Harvard Club of Boston (where I was fired for sleeping on the job), and as a security guard at Boston’s Logan Airport, babysitting at night for Boeing 747 freighters that had gold, platinum, or other kinds of valuable cargo aboard.

By about 1976, I was getting published, but my writing income was very precarious. I was still in the “don’t-quit-your-day-job” category. And I needed a day job.

At that time, I had a pretty good reputation (among classmates, and roommates) as a cook. It was a hobby that enabled me to produce better-than-expected meals for friends. We saved money by not eating out in restaurants and I was able to avoid doing dishes after dinner, which I loathe.

Because I felt like I knew what I was doing in the kitchen, I applied for a job as a sous chef at a new restaurant called Harvest that was opening soon in Cambridge. The restaurant was a venture of a renowned architect in Boston named Ben Thompson, who had designed the renovation of Fanueil Hall Marketplace on the Boston waterfront. He had also designed two all-glass, side-by-side, office buildings with retail spaces on Brattle Street, a couple of blocks from Harvard Square. Harvest was on the ground floor of one of these buildings. One entire wall of the kitchen was glass.

Harvest emphasized using only the ripest natural ingredients. The menu was to change repeatedly in order to make the most of what foods were in season. Nowadays this approach is pretty common. Then it was forward-thinking. Thompson and his wife had hired a French chef who was not celebrated but was something of a virtuoso. At least he sure seemed so to me. His name was an evidently French name such as Jean-Luc or Henri.

I had been taught to cook by my father’s mother, whom I called “Bubbie.”  She was a fantastic cook, and a very indulgent teacher. Cooking together became one of the most wonderful experiences of my childhood. But I don’t think she ever taught me a single recipe. I just emulated what she did, developing a feel for what proportions of ingredients should go together. In effect what I got from her was a big storehouse of tips: how to slice and dice; what to watch out for when you’re making a cream sauce; how to make sure, when making a hollandaise sauce, that the warmed beaten eggs don’t overcook. Best of all, she showed me how to make latkes out of mashed saltine crackers.

Bubbie was Russian, and when I would come to visit for breakfast, she and I would make the cracker batter and fry the latkes in a cast-iron skillet with about two inches of bubbling salted butter. Then we would eat the latkes smeared with her homemade strawberry preserves. She served the meal with tea, which she would sip through a sugar cube she would place between her teeth. This was a very exotic experience in my “Leave-It-To-Beaver” childhood in Michigan.

When Henri interviewed me, I told him that I had no experience cooking professionally. I didn’t know what clarified butter was, I admitted. He asked me why I thought I could do the job, so I told him about what a great teacher my grandmother had been. “Ah,” he said, “la cuisine grand-mère, eh?” “Yeah,” I replied, not knowing exactly what he was driving at.

Instead of spending a lot of time discussing my qualifications, in his lousy English and my lousy French, Henri put me to the test. He told me to cook lunch for the staff, and then he left me alone in the beautiful, brand-new kitchen. Rather than hang around looking over my shoulder, he went into the dining room, to drink some wine, smoke a Gauloise, and chat up the pretty waitresses, most of whom were in college in the Boston area, and had as little experience in the restaurant business as I did.

Being left alone helped. I went rummaging through the walk-in refrigerator and found four big leftover roast prime ribs. If Henri had been watching me, he would have killed me for using meat like this for the staff’s lunch. To conceal my profligacy with such ingredients, I chopped it all up in big chunks, along with onions, cooked cold potatoes, and green and red peppers. I fried this in a big sauté pan with some bacon fat and clarified butter. This became some really wonderful roast beef hash, which I served with poached eggs on top and some frisé salad with warm bacon dressing.

Meanwhile, Henri was on his fourth glass of wine. One by one, the waiters and waitresses walked into the dining room after lunch and said to him, “Hey, this Steve can really cook.” Henri told me to come in to work again the next day. I owed it all to using such great leftovers rather than to any special skill as a chef. The sautéing was pretty straightforward.

Before I could consider myself hired, though, Henri pointed out that the restaurant first had to open. Harvest was due to serve its first meals to the public in a few weeks, and I had a lot to learn. My final test would come just a few days before opening, when Julia Child unexpectedly showed up with her husband.

That story, and more, will follow on Monday. In the meantime, here’s Flax's recipe for hash, a meal that’s received considerable attention this week thanks to the article in Wednesday’s New York Times.

Steven Flax's Recipe for Hash

I'm one of those cooks who is not too attentive to the strictures of recipes. The key to the hash was that I was using medium-rare, absolutely prime, prime ribs from a roast. I used a lot of meat. That alone distinguishes this hash from almost all other hash, which looks and tastes like dog food. I cut the prime rib meat in big chunks, along with big chunks of onion, cold cooked potatoes, and red and green pepper pieces. What made it different was that I heated a big skillet with a copious covering of clarified butter, augmented by a heaping tablespoonful of congealed bacon fat. When that was sizzling hot I sautéed the onions and peppers for a while, until the onions were a bit beyond golden, but not too brown. Then added the potatoes. I cooked it on not too high a heat. When the potatoes were getting sort of crusty, I added the meat and cooked it for a while so that everything was heated through and the top of the stuff in the skillet had a crust on it. It looked sort of how good hashed-brown potatoes look when cooked by a good short-order cook. When the contents of the skillet were sizzling hot and crusty it was done. I didn’t add salt or pepper until the very end, and if you want to try this at home, that’s what you should do, too.


*Steven Flax has been a writer, supervisory editor, or contributor to the New York Times, Forbes, Fortune, GQ, the Harvard Business Review, and The Economist, among other publications. He has received two national journalism awards for feature writing. An Editor-in-Chief four times, he has also ghostwritten four books and numerous articles and speeches for senior corporate executives. He lives in New York City.

Hoppin' Mad

Like my darling Pinta, I can have a hard time pronouncing things, or in my case, writing them, as a friend of mine, the Charleston-born writer Jack Hitt, pointed out about the New Year’s Day Black-Eyed Peas post.

I got myself into trouble, apparently, with my suggestion that it had anything to do with another famous Southern dish of a certain name. “I think it's safe to say that the phrase has always been rendered, without affectation, as 'Hoppin' John.'" Hitt told me. "To even say the ‘g’ is to sound like someone referring to chitlins as chitterlings.”

“I'm pretty sure the first mention of Hoppin' John is was in a Carolina cookbook,” he continued, “and around Charleston anyway, the story, according to various sources on the Internet, is that “the dish goes back at least as far as 1841, when, according to tradition, it was hawked in the streets of Charleston, South Carolina by a crippled black man who was know as Hoppin' John."

“I've cooked these things all my life, and the key feature is to cook the peas (typically field peas, by the way, not black-eyed peas) and then reserve the 'pea likker' to cook the rice in,” he said.  “Most people cook the rice right in with the beans, but I have always found it easier to cook the rice in several cups of salty pea ‘likker’ and then fold the cooked beans back in.” He also prefers white long-grain rice to brown. And, he says, the rice and beans and collards should be presented together at the end.

“What your writer's talking about is just cooking typical Cajun, spicy black-eyed peas,” he summed up, “and I suspect anyone who's ever made Hoppin' John will react with cries of heresy and calls for blood.”

That hasn’t happened yet, but one reader did wonder if the he should use smoked or fresh ham hocks in the recipe. The answer is smoked—I’ve amended the recipe.

New Year's Day Tradition: A Cold Swim and Hot Black-Eyed Peas

The Coney Island Polar Bear Club’s New Year’s Day plunge into the Atlantic is a great New York City tradition. The annual swim, which is open to all, raises money for Camp Sunshine, a retreat in Maine for children with life-threatening illnesses, and their families. Abe de la Houssaye, who joined the Coney Island Polar Bear Club in 2004, is a Louisiana native who brings his own traditions to the holiday. He’s the father of two grown daughters, and he took some time out of his busy schedule to talk about being a Stay at Stove Dad. 

I love cooking, although I do it professionally. If you were in New York in the eighties you might have been to one of my restaurants—La Louisiana or Texarkana or, later, the Ludlow Street Cafe and Tramps Cafe. Since then, I downsized my career. I still cook, but now I do it for a great little catering company called The Upper Crust, so I can do more of the things I want to do, such as writing, drawing (that's a self-portrait, below), and swimming.  Abe4

To become a member of the Polar Bear Club, which meets every Sunday from November through April, you need twelve swims in one season, and I think you need to make four a year to maintain active membership. This year I've been there almost every Sunday. Coney Island is changing and those of us who love it want to make sure we are around to influence the changes if possible and if not to at least savor the last days. As some Polar Bears say - no matter what happens they can't take the ocean away.

After the swim on New Year’s Day and a beer or two on Coney Island my family will follow the Cajun tradition of a late lunch of Black-Eyed Peas cooked with andouille sausage and smoked ham hock, accompanied by a mixed green sauté of collard, mustard, and kale. We'll also have corn bread with cane syrup and butter, and spicy Bloody Marys. The Bloody Marys aren't exactly Cajun but they go along nicely. And we'll be checking our stockings to see if  "Le Petit Bonhomme Janvier" left us any fruit, candy, or pecans.

I was born and raised in Breaux Bridge, Louisiana, the Crawfish Capitol of the world. It is a little town in the heart of the Atchafalaya Basin, and when I was growing up many people there did not speak English—only Cajun French.

Le Petit Bonhomme Janvier is the good little man of January. I've read that the early Cajuns didn't have a Santa Claus and instead the little man brought small gifts on New Year's Eve—mostly candy and fruit. I also read that early Cajuns celebrated Christmas on February 25th (Trapper's Christmas) because the birthday of Christ fell during the busiest part of the trapping season.

When I was growing up we were told that Petit Bonhomme was Santa's poor brother, and while Santa did the heavy lifting for Christmas, Le Petit Bonhomme bought candies, fruits and pecans and, perhaps, one little present on New Year's Eve. He actually saved the day a few times in my family when one of us kids experienced the disappointment of not getting what they wanted for Christmas through some miscommunication. In such a case a special plea could be made to the little man, who although he was very poor, always seemed very resourceful.

Having my daughters—one who is a teacher and lives in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and the other who is getting her Masters at the University of Chicago—around for the holidays is, in a father's terms, about as good as it gets. During the early years when they were young, I didn’t spend much time thinking about what it would be like to relate to my girls as adults, and it's kind of mind blowing. First of all (fingers crossed and counting my blessings), they turned out to be fairly amazing young women and, dammit, they like their parents. Second of all, it's just plain good news for a dad (and mom) to be able to look at that long process with a feeling of accomplishment. Guess what? After all the ups and downs—the countless blessings and good fortune, including fun, successesm and friendships—these girls, along with their mother, jump to the top of the list of good things in my life.

Black-Eyed Peas are essentially the same thing as a Hopping John, though I just never heard that name in Louisiana. There is one legend that it got the name from the bastardized French pronunciation of the words "Pois a pigeon" but that one seems a stretch to me. I don't understand how you would pronounce either to make them sound alike, but don't blame me I saw it on the Internet; how could it be wrong?

Hopping John is traditionally eaten on New Year’s Day to bring good luck, and so is the Cajun version. The expansion of the beans while cooking symbolizes prosperity, and the color of the greens served with them symbolizes money (the cornbread with a touch of syrup just taste good). Here’s the recipe for you to make some Black-Eyed Peas yourself.

Abe de la Houssaye's Cajun Black-Eyed Peas for New Year's Day


  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 ounce of tasso (see notes; bacon can be substituted) - diced small
  • 1 cup chopped onions
  • 2 tablespoons minced garlic
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 smoked ham hocks, about 6 ounces each
  • 1/2 pound andouille sausage (see notes) - cut in 1/8 inch rounds
  • 1 pound dried black-eyed peas (see notes)
  • 1sprig of parsley chopped
  • 1 small bunch of chives choppes
  • 2 quarts chicken stock
  • Salt and pepper


In a 1-gallon stock pot, heat the olive oil.

When the oil is hot, render the tasso or bacon for 2 or 3 minutes.

Add the onions and continue sauteing for 2 minutes.

Stir in the garlic, bay leaves and ham hocks.

Season with salt and pepper.

Add the black-eyed peas and chicken stock.

Bring the liquid up to a boil, cover and reduce to a simmer.

Cook the peas for about 45 minutes then add the andouille, and continue to simmer for another 10 minutes, or until the peas are tender and plump.

Remove the hamhocks from the pot and remove the meat.

Add the meat back to the peas and re-season if necessary.

Add the parsley and chives.

Sever with rice (white is traditional but we use brown and when we have guest we offer both), with one bottle of green and one bottle of red Tabasco served on the side.


Notes: It is advisable (but not necessary) to soak beans over night before cooking - it shortens to cooking time which allows for less nutrients to be cooked off and will make them  more digestible. Tasso, a specialty of Cajun cuisine, is a spicy, peppery version of smoked pork made from the shoulder butt. Andouille, a spiced and heavily smoked pork sausage, is another Cajun favorite. Both are available at specialty merchants and on the Internet.