The Bounty of Spring (whether you want it or not)

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The Bounty of Spring (whether you want it or not)

I regret that this is the only photo I have of the Spaghetti with Spring Onions and Sugar Snap Peas that I made on Sunday. I suppose I’m still, overall, relatively apprehensive about constantly photographing food— not to mention the fact that I am, after all, cooking.

     Cooking has been a strange business for me of late. I’ve wanted to cook plenty of things, but I certainly haven’t been moved to document anything I’ve cooked for the purposes of writing about it here. I made about 12 quarts of chicken stock, which are currently residing in my refreigerator. The idea of making large quantities of chicken stock and freezing it is not a novel one at all, however, if I may offer a somewhat unique tip: purchase these 16-oz plastic containers that come in packs of 32. It’s not a life-altering tip—it’s barely a tip at all—but 16 ounces is really the perfect amount for most everyday uses. To put a finer point on it, I almost always use all of the stock whenever I defrost a pint, thus making me feel like the endeavor of making something I can buy in the store and can usually never tell the difference, is worth the effort.

Moving on.

Sunday’s dinner came together quite serendipitously, and was precipitated by a loud (albeit brief) public argument, but more on the argument later. Unlike most Sunday dinners, I hadn’t been planning it since the morning—in fact my visit to the farmer’s market was brief and, I thought, unfruitful. The Hollywood farmer’s market can often be overwhelming—a claustrophobic, nervous-making jumble of human elements that on the surface ought to be tranquil (these are farmer’s market people, after all) but are often, in actuality, either aggressive and pushy or so slow-moving and obnoxious that I become aggressive and pushy (well, more so). And then there is the matter of the lousy cheek-by-jowl setup of the vendor stalls—relative, that is, to the Union Square Greenmarket in New York, one of the only instances I can think of where New York has an advantage in terms of space. The fact that the Union Square Greenmarket exceeds the Hollywood Farmer’s Market in more ways than are fair to count (with the exception—speaking of counting—of cost) is worth noting because it has always been a puzzling one. The HFM is marvelous in many ways, don’t get me wrong, but one should really expect more from a farmer’s market in Los Angeles of all places. Unfortunately, and this entire section has become a side rant, the farmer’s market system in Los Angeles is completely insane: one of the main drawbacks of the Hollywood market is that it is only once a week. The city is then served by several much smaller satellite markets throughout the week, all of which differ from Hollywood in that they have far fewer good vendors, and are generally in areas with little to no parking. The Santa Monica Farmer’s Market, which is generally regarded as the flagship of the market system, suffers foremost from the fact that it is located in Santa Monica and not five minutes from my house. Furthermore, it’s open only on Wednesdays and Saturdays, which I think is so silly it really needs no further explanation.

In any case, I did make my way down to the Hollywood Market on Sunday, as I always do. I purchased Martinez Apiary honey, which I love, some parsley, lemons, two bunches of purple spring onions, and about a half a pound of fresh sugar snap peas. Oh, and flowers. I forgot about the flowers. I’m used to getting many more vegetables at the farmer’s market and spending up to a full hour rinsing and cleaning them as soon as I get home, as I know that if they’re not ready to use right out of the crisper drawer, they’re just going to sit there all week. I also got ranunculus, lilies, and snapdragons. I love the ranunculus especially because of how long and slowly they continue to bloom.

Later that day I went for a long walk around the Hollywood reservoir with J. About half-way through the hike, the subject of dinner came up. J wanted my Caesar salad with some grilled chicken, which I said I was happy to make. After realizing that it was too late to go out to the fish market in Glendale, I said I wanted to make pasta, but J protested, strongly. We shelved the argument until we reached the supermarket where her insistence on having only salad for dinner caused me to throw a box of iceberg into my cart and storm away to cool down. Soon after that, I caught up with J in the cheese section where I announced that I’d make her her Caesar and chicken and I would make pasta for myself. What I didn’t announce was that I had suddenly concocted a pasta dish that would use up my sugar snap peas and would be so irresistible that she would have no choice but to eat a bowl.

Why did I choose not to respect her wishes and simply leave well enough alone? I don’t know. Perhaps I’m just a monster, but I often find that whenever anyone suggests having merely soup, or salad as their entire dinner, a mixture of deep sadness and disgust come over me and I just cannot abide it. I cannot. As good as their reasons for wanting only soup or salad may be, as much as that may truly be all they really want or need to eat, as aware as I am that I myself sometimes want only soup or a salad for dinner, I still feel as though eschewing a full meal for either of those two things is a sort of punishment—to whom, I don’t know—an intentional withholding of something pleasurable. Ergo, my pasta plot was launched.

Once at home, I whipped up a batch of negronis and set J up in front of my HBOGO account while I set about trimming and then finely slicing the peas—a laborious task indeed. (This is the point at which I really wish I had pictures). I coddled an egg for the Caesar dressing and put the chicken in a marinade. Last week I also got sugar snaps and I also sliced the thinly and sautéed them in olive oil with chilies and some orange juice—they were delicious and earthy but sautéing alone left them too crunchy for use as a pasta dressing—perfect though for a side veg. I defrosted a pint of stock to be added to the peas, now sautéing in a pan with the chopped spring onion, and a few cloves of garlic. The peas cooked in the stock, covered, for a few minutes until they softened, then I added butter and chopped mint—the mint not only adds flavor but the burst of green offsets the dull color the cooked peas take on.

I grilled the chicken outside and whisked the Caesar together on the kitchen table, then finally tossed the spaghetti in the pea sauce. J said the chicken was the single best piece of chicken she’d ever had…and she ate the entire portion of spaghetti that I forced upon her. 

 

Spaghetti with Spring Onions and Sugar Snap Peas

1 Lb. Spaghetti

1 Lb. Sugar Snap Peas (in shell), sliced

3 Medium Sized Spring Onions (or green onions), chopped fine

4 Cloves Garlic, minced

1 Tbsp. Unsalted Butter

1 1/2 cups Chicken Stock

Parmesan Cheese

  • Place a pot of water over high heat to boil
  • Slice the peas on an angle, as thinly as possible. Set aside.
  • In a large saucepan, sauté the onions and garlic in olive oil over medium heat. Add the peas after the onions begin to soften. Stir together and cook another 2-3 minutes.
  • Add chicken stock to onion/pea mixture, then cover and cook for 5 minutes. Add the pasta to the boiling water at this point. 
  • Once most of the stock has cooked out, whisk in the butter, and add the cooked spaghetti, reserving a cup of the cooking water. 
  • Toss spaghetti to coat with pea sauce, adding some of the cooking water and parmesan. 
  • Serve immediately. 

 

 

 

 

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101 Uses For the Same Thing

People are always clamoring for the next big thing in food but, like everything else there are really only so many "new" ideas left; anything that succeeds in satisfying our appetite for variety is usually something we're already relatively familiar with. When shopping for dinner as a home cook, I know I'm not alone in feeling bereft of creativity as I come back around to chicken or fish. Of course, this is an unfair burden to place on myself as it is for anyone else standing around a Whole Foods; I certainly am not going to "mix things up" by deciding to make goose for dinner. 

The truth is that there's absolutely nothing wrong with repetition, and a thorough knowledge of some good techniques that can be applied to many different ingredients is the key to avoiding monotony. That said, the easiest choice, although it may very well be the best choice, can always seem lazy.

Garlic scapes, the soft unripe stems of the garlic plant, are in season and given the fact that my mother was able to find them at the Stop & Shop in Cape Cod, are also apparently very trendy. I first cooked garlic scapes when they were tucked into a vegetable coop box I ordered in New York a few years ago. You can chop them up and sautee them as you would an onion, or you can roast or grill them and either eat them sprinkled with salt alone, or do as I’ve done and puree them.

The garlic scape season seems so be very long this year and I’ve bought several pounds of them over the past two months. While I still love the flavor and think they’re very versatile, I felt lazy when the best use I could come up with for the ones I received today was a pesto. I’ve made at least five garlic scape based pestos in the past three weeks…that’s a lot of garlic scape pestos.

I personally have no problem with cooking and eating another pesto, but I worried that D would lament having to eat it yet again. I spent about five solid minutes considering what else I could do with the ingredients I had on hand to prepare the striped bass filets I had for dinner. Five solid minutes. And then I realized that he not only wouldn’t even notice, but that even if he did he still wouldn’t care because he would have eaten the fish and the pesto before even noticing that it was a repeat.

You know you’ve cultivated an overly fancy palate when you’re worried that you’ve given your partner too much garlic scape pesto.

At any rate, the pesto I made tonight is really nothing like the pesto I would, or did, make to toss in with pasta. Blended with lemon juice, green olives and red chili flakes, I altered this pesto to complement the fish with a bright fresh and tart flavor as opposed to the rich earthy flavor I would get if I had added pine nuts and parmesan cheese.

Cooking the fish in a cast iron skillet with the skin side down and finishing it under a broiler to give color to the pesto that crusts the flesh is an incredibly simple and fool proof method of preparing fish filets.

A plain puree of vegetables- especially water laden ones such as olives and capers (which are actually fruit, right?)- will not color or crisp up under the broiler, but if you mix your pesto with a tablespoon or two of mayonnaise it will keep it’s shape and bubble up for a lovely presentation. Why? I have no idea, I’m not a scientist- I’m merely a bored home cook who was too lazy to invent another way of preparing dinner.

I’m sure you’ll scoff at the notion of a “lazy” person making Cesar salad from scratch, but that’s also exactly what I did tonight.

I haven’t made Ceaser salad from scratch in a very long time- back in my tableside service phase when I successfully made many wonderful versions of steak tartar for guests and one extremely unsuccessful attempt to make Cherries Jubilee using a butane burner and too much Kirsch liquer. The less spoken about the latter endeavor the better.

As it turns out, I haven’t lost my touch at all- the tangy, garlicky eggy dressing I whipped up took no time at all and paired beautifully with the bitter red kale I got from the coop box. It probably would have been better if I could have used anchovies but D has said he dislikes them and I have promised not to lie to him and sneak them into anymore dishes even though I’m 100% certain that he’ll never know the difference. Although the dramatic flair of whisking together a Cesar dressing with shirred egg yolks in a huge bowl is somewhat lost when you don’t have an audience in front of you, I hope it’s at least slightly captured in the photos below.

 

Capers? Yes.

Capers? Yes.

Garlic Scape Pesto (for Fish)

INGREDIENTS

1/2 lb. garlic scapes, chopped

1/2 a garlic clove

2 tbsp. capers

1/4 cup pitted green olives

1/3 extra virgin olive oil

Juice of half a lemon

salt and white pepper

1/2 tsp. red chili flakes

DIRECTIONS:

Heat some olive oil in a pan over medium high heat and sauté garlic scapes for about 6 minutes or until softened. Transfer cooked scapes to a blender and add remaining ingredients except for olive oil. Puree the mixture and begin adding olive oil until you have formed a thick paste.

TO PREPARE PESTO CRUSTED FISH FILET:

ADDITIONAL INGREDIENT: 2 TBSP. Mayonnaise

Preheat broiler to high with a rack at least two spaces below the heat.

Place cast iron skillet over med high flame.

Thoroughly coat fish filets in olive oil and season with salt and ground white pepper. In a separate bowl combine 1 cup pesto with mayonnaise and evenly coat the flesh side of the filets with the mixture.

When oil is hot but not smoking, place fish filets skin side down in the skillet and cook for 7-8 minutes depending on fish type and thickness. Place skillet under the broiler for about 5-7 minutes or until the crust begins to bubble.

Serve.

 

KALE C(A)ESAR SALAD*

*Also works without kale.

INGREDIENTS

2 eggs

2 garlic cloves

4 filets anchovy (Optional but recommended) 

2 Tbsp. lemon juice

1 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce (a little more if you're not using anchovy)

1 1/2 tbsp. Dijon mustard

3/4 cup olive oil

Salt and Black Pepper

Grated Parmesan cheese

DIRECTIONS

Set a pot with enough water to cover the eggs over high heat and bring to a boil. Prick a small hole in the bottom of the eggs and gently lower them into the boiling water. Reduce heat to a high simmer and cook for 5 minutes, then remove eggs with a slotted spoon and place in an ice bath for 5 minutes. Dry eggs and set aside.

In a wooden salad bowl add garlic cloves, anchovies and a few pinches of salt. Using the tines of a fork, crush the garlic and anchovies into a paste. Crack eggs dramatically and let the yolks fall from a great height into the bowl; if cooked properly, the yolks should still be entirely liquid and the whites should have solidified and adhered to the shell. Whisk the yolks into the anchovy and garlic paste, then add mustard, lemon juice, and Worcestershire. Add a few drops of olive oil at first, whisking to combine, then steadily and slowly pour in the remaining oil (while still whisking, obviously). 

Toss with red kale or any other greens, and sprinke with grated parmesan and cracked black pepper. 

Crushing (sans anchovy...)

Crushing (sans anchovy...)

Cracking.

Cracking.

Whisking.

Whisking.

Straining the lemon juice through a tiny little sieve is a fun flourish to add to an already flourish laden process.

Straining the lemon juice through a tiny little sieve is a fun flourish to add to an already flourish laden process.

Red kale is pretty...though bitter.

Red kale is pretty...though bitter.


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You Can Ramen Too

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You Can Ramen Too

Something about ramen seemed healthy to me. Maybe it was the fact that ramen had been such a deeply comforting thing to eat during this past brutal winter, or maybe it’s that as heavy as a bowl of ramen can be, it can also taste incredibly fresh and nourishing. Whatever my reasoning, sometime in the past few months I had managed to convince myself that a massive bowl of noodles in a glistening fat-laden meat stock was somehow a sensible thing to eat every day, multiple times a day.

It’s a testament, I suppose, to the ubiquity of incredibly high-quality ramen shops in both New York and Los Angeles, that I haven’t grown sick of eating ramen. I have not been eating ramen literally every single day, but I have had ramen at least two or three times a week for the past several weeks. During my last visit to LA I ate at Ramen Champ in Chinatown three nights in a row, and then another two nights over the course of two weeks.

Tonkotsu Ramen at Ramen Champ

Tonkotsu Ramen at Ramen Champ

     Part of me- my gut, most likely- always knew there was nothing sensible about eating ramen on a regular basis, but I had convinced myself that so long as I was consistent it would be somehow redeemable.

     All of this ramen was delicious, obviously, I never managed to lose my taste for it, probably because there are infinite varieties available that make the dish consistently new. There is mazemen, a variation served with far less broth than one generally thinks of when one thinks of ramen- Ivan Ramen Slurp Shop serves a vegetarian Miso Butter Mazemen that, were Ivan Ramen Slurp Shop not located in the middle of nowhere on 11th avenue and West 45th Street, I would have eaten every night since I had it last week. The flahsip Ivan Ramen, on Clinton Street, has a ramen with no broth that they call “Dan Dan Noodle, Dry Style”. It was incredibly spicy, topped with sautéed ground pork and a raw egg yolk.

The Spicy Miso Ramen at Ivan Ramen Slurp Shop

The Spicy Miso Ramen at Ivan Ramen Slurp Shop

 

Ramen is like most Japanese food in that I am far too intimidated by its foreignness and complexity to try to make it at home… but I really wanted to try. I had held out giving it a shot for a very long time by telling myself that since my live-in taste-tester did not eat pork, it was next to impossible. As it turned out, most of my favorite bowls of ramen were made with only chicken stock. This realization, along with my growing fear that the chicken broth I’d made and frozen several months ago was about to go bad, propelled me to give it a shot. Many articles also contradict the apparently prevalent belief that making ramen at home is too complicated.

As had been the case when trying a new and ambitious dish, I was both methodical and haphazard in my approach. Reading Ivan Orkin’s book, “Ivan Ramen” and watching an embarrassing amount of ramen-worshipping television would suffice as my guide. My research showed that most ramen broths are intensely flavored yet incredibly simple. The most important principle, it seemed, in ramen is that one bowl is comprised of many different elements. In this regard, ramen is not prepared; so much as it is constructed. I was only going to deal with the elements that I wanted and would not bother with making pork belly chashu, black garlic oil, fermented wood ear mushrooms or bamboo shoots. I wanted to master a very simple, base ramen first- if I could pull that off, I could throw in some improvisational elements later. The biggest risk, for me, was the broth. I had made the beef and chicken broths very very simply, and without salt- this aspect would be essential for transforming my nearly clear thin broths into thick cloudy stock.

I boiled the broths with added ginger and scallions until reduced by about 1/3, the goal being to render a rich broth that tasted only of meat, neither Japanese nor decidedly Western- I could add mirin, soy sauce, miso paste, bonito flake, dashi, sake and spices to taste. Ramen is salted with one of three ingredients: salt (shio), soy sauce (shoyu), or miso- I would be using soy sauce.

The other components of my ramen were: soy marinated soft-boiled organic egg, chopped scallion and ramps, shredded nori, and poached chicken thigh meat.

Cooking ramen at home, successfully, is a signal that my ramen journey is coming to a close. So is the fact that most of my pants don’t fit me anymore. I still want to visit Yuji Ramen in Brooklyn and Totto Ramen in Manhattan before hanging up my hat completely, or at least until the winter. I will report back about these last two restaurants in the future.

"Soy-Sauce Flavor Packets not used.

"Soy-Sauce Flavor Packets not used.

NB: The broth I had frozen was skimmed of most of its fat- fat, however, is one of the most important ingredients in a good bowl of ramen- so, in this instance I added fresh chicken to fortify it. Heavily reducing the broth produced a rich flavor but in an ideal world I would start from scratch, making a soup using whole chickens and dozens of chicken feet and wing tips- the latter two containing the collagen necessary to create a rich cloudy soup that can really support the noodles.

 

 

Monday Ramen: Basic Ramen

INGREDIENTS

1 quart Chicken Stock

1 quart Beef Stock

4 chicken thighs

4 chicken wings

3 cups dashi

2 ½ cups mirin

2 ½ cups soy sauce

½ cup superfine sugar

4 eggs

1 cup sake

1 cup water

1-2 teaspoons white pepper

1 large piece ginger

8 scallions

2 pounds ramen noodles

Shredded toasted nori

DIRECTIONS

To prepare the eggs:

Bring a large saucepot full of water to boil.

Pierce the bottom (fat) end of each egg with a push pin to allow air to escape. Gently lower the eggs into the pot with a slotted spoon, then reduce heat to a steady simmer.

Set a timer for six minutes and cook eggs.

While eggs are boiling, combine 1 cup water, 1 cup sake, ½ cup soy sauce, ½ cup mirin, and ½ cup superfine sugar in a mixing bowl until sugar is dissolved.

After six minutes, drain the water and carefully peel the eggs under cold running water.

Place the peeled eggs in the soy sauce mixture and cover with a paper towel soaked in the liquid, this will allow the marinade to totally cover the eggs.

Set aside and marinate for 4 hours or more.

Now, make the broth:  

Combine both stocks in a stockpot, add peeled ginger and 4 scallions, and chicken pieces. Bring to a boil and skim off the foam at the top. Lower heat and cook for 35-40 minutes. Remove the chicken pieces to a dish and set aside to cool.

Simmer the stock until reduced by a third.

Keeping the stock at a simmer, add dashi, soy sauce, mirin, ground white pepper to your preferred taste.

Bring a large pot of unsalted water to a boil and get your noodles ready to go in (defrost them or remove them from the packaging). Like all noodle dishes except kugel, all of your guests should be ready to eat by the time your water starts boiling, as the noodles should be eaten as soon as possible.

Arrange your remaining ingredients for easy access by your serving bowls: chopped scallions, nori, pulled chicken meat, enoki mushrooms, and the soy sauce eggs carefully sliced in half lengthwise.

Now you can ladle the broth into the bowls and put your noodles in the boiling water. Cook the noodles to the manufacturers instructions and drain thoroughly. Portion the noodles out in the serving bowls and place the other ingredients on top.

Serve.


Tuesday Ramen: Miso-risa Ramen For ONE

I made this recipe for one person for several reasons, mostly because it is spicy and best served scalding hot- two factors that do not make this an appealing dish to eat un-self consciously in front of another person.

INGREDIENTS:

1 quart Ramen Broth (see previous recipe)

½ cup Saikyo miso

¾ cup chopped scallions

2-4 tbsp. harrisa paste (more or less, TO TASTE)

½ lb. ramen noodles

Shredded nori

1 soy sauce marinated egg


There's an egg under there.

There's an egg under there.

DIRECTIONS:

Bring a large pot of unsalted water to boil.

In another pot, reduce the stock by half.

Combine miso and harrisa in a mixing bowl and whisk in several ladles full of the simmering broth until dissolved.

Pour the mixture back into the simmering broth, mix well. Ladle the broth into a serving bowl.

Cook the noodles. Drain well and add to the broth. Top with the remaining ingredients. Serve.


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Cooking May Induce Drowsiness

Tonight I made chicken stew and kale salad with avocado dressing. I just did it to use up the groceries I had in the fridge.

Coq au Riesling

INGREDIENTS

1 bottle dry Riesling

1 1/2 cups chicken broth

3 lbs chicken thighs (boneless, skinless)

3 tbsp. paprika

4 cloves garlic

1 leek, cleaned, trimmed and sliced

2 carrots, chopped

1/2 cup flour

DIRECTIONS

Mix the paprika into the chicken pieces and refrigerate for up to six hours.

Preheat oven to 425. 

Heat a large dutch oven over high heat. Remove chicken pieces from the refrigerator and season with salt and pepper. Toss chicken in flour and dust off the excess.

Sear the pieces in olive oil in the pan, about 6 minutes per side.

Remove chicken to a dish and pour out the excess oil. 

Add more olive oil to the pan along with the vegetables (except the garlic). Season with salt and pepper and cook until softened.

Add the wine and cook off the alcohol. Return the chicken to the pot and add the garlic and enough stock just to cover the chicken.

Bring the stew to a boil and then turn off the heat. Transfer to the oven and cook for forty-five minutes.

Serve.

Kale Salad with Avocado and Ginger Dressing

INGREDIENTS

1 lb. kale, washed and chopped

2 avocados

1 large apple, cored and sliced thin

1/4 cup olive oil

1/3 cup sherry vinegar

1 small knob (very small) fresh ginger, peeled

1/2 cup grated hard cheese (I used Roomano from Murray's, but Parmesan would definitely work) Optional

DIRECTIONS

In a food process, mix the avocados, olive oil, vinegar, and ginger with salt and pepper.

Mix the dressing, cheese and apples into the kale with your hands, massaging it into the leaves. 

Serve.


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Home Bouillabaisse...Home Shawarma

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Home Bouillabaisse...Home Shawarma

The first restaurant dish I ever tried to recreate at home was probably the miso-marinated black cod from the Nobu Cookbook. It was a long time ago, and I don’t think I got much further in my efforts than going to Sunrise Market to buy miso. Looking back, the reason I never actually tried to make the dish was that I was extremely inexperienced as a cook, and cooking any kind of seafood more difficult than shrimp, was too much for me.

I never made the black cod with miso, but I did continue buying restaurant cookbooks. I’ve never made a single dish from the French Laundry cookbook, but I gained a wealth of technical knowledge from it. The real reason I never made any of the recipes is that I have no actual desire to make tapioca eggs with caviar at home. There are, however, several dishes I routinely eat at restaurants or food shops, which I have never tried to make at home. I have repeatedly gone into cookbooks less complicated than the French Laundry, most notably Mario Batali’s Babbo cookbook. I highly recommend pretty much all of the recipes in that book, especially the ragú Bolognese.

There are some restaurant dishes that I can prepare at home more economically and to a higher quality, but there are some dishes I have simply wanted to see if I could make at home, dishes for which there are no real recipes. The chicken shawarmas at Zankou Chicken in Los Angeles and the one at Dabush in Tel Aviv are two such dishes. The bouillabaisse at Pearl Oyster Bar in Greenwich Village is the other.

Both dishes have seemed incredibly daunting to me for years. I made my shawarma with a rotisserie (oh how I wish I still had that Ronco Showtime Oven!) and my success with this oven-roasted version has only strengthened my resolve to attempt more methods of cooking it- but I somehow doubt that my parents will let me use the rotisserie on their elaborate grill.

The fact that I hadn’t attempted Bouillabaisse until this week is evidence only that I am not a trained chef. As a self-taught amateur, cooking any kind of fish other than shrimp (especially at home), is one of my last hurdles to jump. My bouillabaisse fear was more about getting the cooking times right and less about the perceived complicated nature of the dish.

Dabush, Zankou and Pearl aren’t the only shawarma and bouillabaisse that inspire me. I will order bouillabaisse at any reputable restaurant where it is listed on the menu.

I’ve always figured that nobody would put it on the menu if they weren’t very proud of it. There are many wonderful examples around the world, but the sine qua non of bouillabaisse can be found at Chez Tétou in the south of France. While my bouillabaisse was indeed satisfying and delicious, it was really just a version of bouillabaisse, more of a fish soup that no self-respecting Frenchman would ever call bouillabaisse.

"Sine Qua Non" is a pretentious way of saying it's the best.

"Sine Qua Non" is a pretentious way of saying it's the best.

Shawarma, on the other hand, is less exacting. Once you’ve stuffed a fresh fluffy pita with juicy, spicy, garlicky chicken slices and top it with spicy red sauce and tahini, I don’t think anyone would care if it was cooked on a rotisserie or a frying pan.

Dabush. Tel Aviv. 

Dabush. Tel Aviv. 

Both of these recipes are actually extremely easy and yield enough for at least four hungry people.

 

 

William’s Easy “Bouillabaisse”

Believing that I had some broth or stock on hand at home, I failed to buy any when I was shopping for this stew. I don’t know which is more shameful: the fact that I would use store bought broth, or that I had none of either at home. Alas, it was a happy accident: copious amounts of gently cooked aromatics- shallots, leeks, carrots, celery and garlic- combined with a smokey paprika (which subs nicely for the more expensive saffron found in traditional Bouillabaisse) for a very rich broth. The mussels also add more than enough briny seafood flavor.

PS: It's also "Easy" because there's no rouille. There is, instead, lots of garlic in the soup.

INGREDIENTS

1 ½  lbs. firm fleshed fish, such as hake

4 large, cleaned and deveined shrimp per person

2 lbs. mussels

2 large leeks, cleaned and sliced

6 shallots, sliced

4 carrots, peeled and chopped thinly

4 cloves garlic, sliced

2 cups tomato puree

2 cups white wine

4 cups cold water

2 tbsp. hot paprika

1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper

4 cups Swiss chard, chiffonade

Bouquet of parsley and celery leaves, plus more chopped parsley for serving

Sliced French bread for serving

Optional: 2 large sea scallops per person

DIRECTIONS

Heat a large, heavy stock pot or Dutch oven over medium high heat. Add some olive oil, then all vegetables except for garlic. Season with salt and white pepper.

Reduce heat to medium and sauté vegetables until softened, about 25 minutes. Add garlic, paprika and cayenne. Cook for another 10 minutes, stirring frequently.

This one worked great. Use this one. I don't know anything about wine except what I like and don't like. 

This one worked great. Use this one. I don't know anything about wine except what I like and don't like. 

Raise heat to highest level, and white wine. Cook until the alcohol has burned off, and add tomato puree and water. Bring just to a boil, then immediately lower heat to a simmer. Taste and adjust seasoning as necessary. Cover the pot.

The broth up to this point can be prepared a day in advance, or strained and frozen for up to two months.

When ready to serve:

Heat one tablespoon, sunflower oil in a cast iron skillet (with a lid). Season scallops and shrimp with salt, pepper, and a sprinkling of paprika.

Meanwhile, raise the heat under the broth to medium and add the Swiss chard.

Sear the scallops on one side for 5-6 minutes (or more depending on size). Remove scallops and arrange in soup bowls. Remove the shrimp and add to the broth along with the fish. Cover the soup pot.

While heating the skillet, toast bread slices, then rub with garlic and sprinkle with fleur de sel. Arrange one slice in each serving bowl

When the cast iron skillet is very hot add the mussels and, using a slotted spoon, toss the mussels taking care not to chip the shells. Add a cup or so of the broth to the mussels. The liquid should be bubbling vigorously. Cover the skillet immediately and while applying pressure to the lid, shake the pan to move the mussels around. Cook for three minutes. Remove the lid, checking to see if the majority of the mussels have cooked.

NB: You can tell if a mussel is safe to cook if it shuts its shell when you tap it. However, mussels that are completely or mostly shut unopened after cooking, are NOT safe to eat and should not be pried open.

Using a large slotted spoon, transfer cooked mussels to another dish and add a good amount to each serving bowl. Remove the fish pieces and shrimp from the simmering soup and arrange in the serving bowls. Pour the mussel liquid into the soup pot and stir to combine.

Ladle the soup broth and vegetables over the pre-arranged bowls, sprinkle generously with parsley, and serve.

 

SPINOFF RECIPE:

BILLI BI SOUP

If you have a surplus of cooked mussels, make this easy soup using the remaining broth. I can’t think of any other way to use cooked mussels.

DIRECTIONS:

Strain the broth and discard the cooked vegetables. Bring broth to a simmer and add ¾ heavy cream. Remove mussels from their shells and add to the broth. With an immersion blender, or in batches in a food processor, puree the mixture until completely smooth.

Mussel soup “Billi Bi” can be served chilled or heated.

 

Homemade Chicken Shawarma

I had resolved to make something resembling chicken shawarma at home and, with the help of about two dozen cloves of garlic and my shawarma spice mix from Israel, I came very close. Marinating overnight was essential. I tried to recreate the effect of real spit roasted shawarma by stacking the marinated chicken pieces up like a Jenga tower, and it might have worked, but it would have taken forever; after an hour in a 475 oven the chicken blob smelled great but had only browned on the outside and was raw inside. I dismantled the tower and within 30 minutes it was ready to serve.

NB: I was eager to use my shawarma spice mix, but I also didn’t want to use it all up in one recipe, so I supplemented it with additional spices- none of which I really measured. Not only do I not have exact measurements for my spices, but I also have no idea exactly what is in the shawarma spice mix. However, I am confident that with ample fresh garlic, enough turmeric to give color and flavor, enough cinnamon and cumin for aroma, and chili and/or paprika to taste, you’ll be very happy.

INGREDIENTS

4 lbs. boneless skinless chicken thighs

12 garlic cloves

2 tbsp. turmeric

1 tsp. cinnamon

½ tsp. cayenne

1 tbsp. cumin

2 tsp. Aleppo pepper

1 tbsp. fine salt

1 large white onion, peeled and sliced

2 tbsp. olive oil

 

DIRECTIONS

Combine all spices in a bowl and cook over medium high heat in a dry skillet until the fragrances begin to release. Immediately remove spices from heat.

In a food processor, pulse the garlic with salt until finely chopped. Add spices and pulse while drizzling olive oil until combined to a paste. (You may need to add more oil to bind the mixture)

In a large glass mixing bowl combine the chicken pieces, onion, and spice mixture. Massage thoroughly with your hands to evenly distribute the marinade. Transfer to a sealable plastic bag and refrigerate. Marinate at least two hours or up to overnight. Flip the bag over, or give the sides a quick mini-massage every time you open the fridge door.

Preheat oven to 475 degrees.

Place marinated chicken in a large cast iron skillet and cook for 30 minutes.  Flip the chicken pieces over and cook for another 10 minutes.

The attempt at a faux rotisserie effect.

The attempt at a faux rotisserie effect.

Remove from oven and turn broiler on high. Place chicken on the highest rack under the broiler and cook about 5-6 minutes until chicken begins to color and crisp.

Serve with pitas, tahini sauce, Israeli salad, spicy “red” sauce (heated ketchup and harissa) and rice.

 

 

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Haydn and Marmalade

The greatest breakfast of all possible breakfasts is slightly burned toast with bitter marmalade and a strong cup of coffee.

It isn't really, though. The best of all possible breakfasts includes more butter, both in its original form as well as in (and on) any number of delicate little French pastries. 

Yogurt, granola, and perhaps something involving chia seeds is the current breakfast of champions, but I'm not that kind of a champion. And those buttery French pastries (the best examples can be found wrapped in a crisp white linen napkin, served in a silver tray at the finer hotels of the world) is also the breakfast of champions, but a different kind of champion- the kind of champion who has figured out how to eat like that and not have to pay the price, literally or figuratively (pun intended). 

At this point in my life though, any breakfast can be called the breakfast of champions. And in a pinch, a cup of coffee can also be called breakfast. But since I have neither figured out what chia seeds are, nor how to eat many French pastries without paying any price, my preferred breakfast is toast with marmalade and a clementine. And Haydn. A Haydn string quartet first thing in the morning really sets the tone for the sort of day that I would like most days to resemble. 

Hello there.

  

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Coping With a Bi-Coastal Life Through Food

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Coping With a Bi-Coastal Life Through Food

I arrived back here at the Marthonian West Coast HQ earlier this week. It is certainly nice enough to be back in the warn southern California sunshine, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t lonely without my closest companion and lifelong partner- if for no other reason than that having him around means I don’t need to have a garbage disposal! In all seriousness, though, I am beginning to get into somewhat of a rhythm in my bi-coastal juggle.

While it’s definitely difficult to leave my personal life back on the east coast, it helps matters a great deal to have my full social life ready and waiting for me in Los Angeles.

It also helps to have a fully equipped kitchen. 

I have decided that cooking is without question a therapeutic act. It's one that also causes a great deal of stress and trouble, but the actual act of cooking- of filling my house with the smell of fresh, hearty comforting food, always puts me at ease.

It's amazing to me how quickly I can readapt to being in a different place, with similar, but different resources than I've grown accustomed to. In any event, the viewing party I held last night for “Whitney”, the Angela Bassett directed Whitney Houston biopic on Lifetime, was the perfect way to reacclimate myself. Watching “Whitney” with my dearest friend, Julia, would mean an evening of female empowerment (or so I thought until I actually watched the movie), sparkling wines, and a feast that would, ostensibly, honor the memory of Whitney.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t think of any menu that would befit Whitney’s legacy, per se, so I settled on two dishes that have become staples of my repertoire: raw cauliflower tabbouleh, and roasted whole cauliflower. The centerpeice of the meal, however, would be several other dishes that were extremely ambitious, at least for a weeknight dinner for two. 

The red cabbage “Melting Into Butter” is adapted from a dish made famous by Israeli chef, Eyal Shani at his restaurants Port Said, Abraxas North, and Miznon in Tel Aviv. The fish, dipping sauce, carrot and avocado salad, and apple tart are my own. 

NB: I would like to note, for the record, that grilling a whole fish ALWAYS seems like a very daunting endeavor, but in my experience it is ALWAYS extremely easy.

Roasted Cabbage “Melting Into Butter”

INGREDIENTS

2 heads red cabbage

4 tbsp. butter

2 cups chicken broth

Olive oil

DIRECTIONS

Preheat oven to 350. Cut cabbages lengthwise and slice out the tough bottom core. Arrange in a large pot cut side up. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Pour over 1 cup of the chicken broth. Cover pot and place in the oven for 1 hour. Remove pot, add one tbsp. butter to the top of each halved cabbage. Add remaining cup of broth. Cook for another 2 hours or longer as needed until cabbages can be scooped with a spoon.

 

Whole Grilled Fish with Meyer Lemon Sauce

INGREDIENTS

1 Whole fish, gutted and scaled

1 tbsp. za’atar

1 meyer lemon

1 meyer lemon, juiced

1/4 cup olive oil, plus more for grilling

1 bunch of parsley, chopped

1 clove garlic, crushed

1 tsp. Harissa

 

DIRECTIONS

Preheat grill. 

Rub the fish inside and out with za’atar, salt and pepper. Thinly slice the meyer lemon, place half the slices inside the cavity of the fish. 

Drizzle olive oil over the fish and remaining lemon slices. Grill fish on both sides for 5-9 minutes,, depending on grill heat. Grill lemon slices until they begin to char.

Remove fish from heat and cover with foil. 

Finely mince the grilled lemon slices, and mix in a small bowl with reserved meyer lemon juice, olive oil, parsley, garlic and Harissa. 

Serve fish whole with the dipping sauce on the side.

 

Rosasted Carrot and Avocado Salad

INGREDIENTS

1 lb. carrots

2 large avocados

1 1/2 tsp. Harissa

1 tsp. honey

1 bunch chopped cilantro

Juice of 2 limes

1/3 cup olive oil

Salt and pepper

 

DIRECTIONS

Preheat oven to 400.

Peel carrots and cut into large even chunks. Toss carrots with salt, pepper and olive oil. Roast on a baking sheet for 30-40 minutes until caramelized and tender when pierced with a knife.

Cut avocados into medium sized pieces.

In a salad bowl mix all remaining ingredients. Let carrots come to room temperature before adding to avocado and dressing. Toss together and serve.

Clockwise from bottom center: The (expertly) filleted fish, carrot avocado salad, raw cauliflower salad, roasted cabbage, meyer lemon and parsley dipping sauce.

Clockwise from bottom center: The (expertly) filleted fish, carrot avocado salad, raw cauliflower salad, roasted cabbage, meyer lemon and parsley dipping sauce.


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On the Evolution of Complicated Eating

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On the Evolution of Complicated Eating

The themed dinner party is somewhat of a relic in the world of home entertaining. I say it’s only somewhat of a relic because people still have “Taco Nights” and “Make Your Own Sushi Roll” parties (though, thankfully I’ve never had to attend such an affair), but these events are nothing like the multi-course dinner parties that became popular in the late 1950’s, and 60’s.  After WWII, the palates of average Americans began to expand- nothing compared to the sophistication of today, but simple roasts and side dishes had become dull, and cookbooks began to provide menus for multi-course dinners centered around a specific region of the world.

Please never invite me over to make my own sushi rolls. I do not find the idea remotely appealing.

Please never invite me over to make my own sushi rolls. I do not find the idea remotely appealing.

It was always a bit of a bourgeois practice though, and one whose time came and went rather quickly. On an early episode of Mad Men, set in 1963, Betty Draper prepares an “Around the World” dinner party at her suburban home to entertain Don’s boss and a client. She presents her elegant array of dishes like a creepy robot: “starting in Spain with gazpacho, followed by Japanese rumaki and then we'll stop by Duchess County for a leg of lamb, mint jelly, accompanied by egg noodles, the way my grandmother made them from Germany. And we have a choice of burgundy from France or a frosty glass of beer from Holland!” 

The joke, as it later turns out, is that Don’s client is in fact Heineken- Betty simply thought she had made a clever and sophisticated selection, when in fact she had just been susceptible to clever and sophisticated marketing. The next time Betty prepares “Japanese” Rumaki, again, is in 1969, at a fundraiser in her home for the Republican Party. The only joke here now, is that what was once the pinnacle of elegance had quickly become a tell-tale sign of someone woefully unhip and behind the times. 

In spite of the fact that I possess this knowledge, I am a fan of these dinner parties, and the cookbooks that illustrate them. The examples from the 60’s and 70’s (as is the case with most examples of everything from the 60’s and 70’s) are campy and hokey. The greatest example of the late 20th Century revival of this custom is campy in a different way altogether: Martha Stewart’s first published book, Entertaining. 

Martha-Stewart-Entertaining1.jpg

Entertaining was essentially a memoir of Martha’s catering business. The book was organized not by courses, but by the title of the events: Hawaiian Luau for Twenty, Afternoon Cocktail Reception for Fifty, Light Summer Dinner for Eight to Ten, Russian Buffet for Twenty-four. The book, published in 1982, is still a classic, and it cemented Martha’s (undeserved) reputation for advocating wholly IMpractical projects- that Russian Buffet includes an entire deboned sea bass roasted in a shell made of dozens of individually cut pieces of pastry. 

What Martha offered in 1982 was, all things considered, not exponentially more complicated than what Betty Crocker proposed in the 1960’s- projects for the housewife only began to get “speedy” around the 90’s, perhaps somewhat in response to Martha’s influence- but what Martha changed, and in turn led people to desire and expect, was the level of sophistication and quality. Cookbooks, like the Time Life series by Richard Olney, proliferated in the 80’s and for a time, it seemed that the more complicated and absurd the recipe, the better. 

For Martha’s generation- the generation who first bought Entertaining- the fascination with, and appreciation for what that it represented only lasted for another 10-20 years, depending on whom you ask. What has changed is not necessarily people’s willingness to labor over an intricate multi-course meal- the type of person who would ever endeavor such an undertaking, will always be up to the task-  what has changed is the degree to which such things impress people. It would stand to reason that the only place to go from the nose-bleed heights of Entertaining, with it’s caviar blinis and whole sides of poached salmon, would be down. The world got smaller in the intervening years, and a “Russian Buffet” was no more special than a bowl of borscht. The lasting legacy of Martha Stewart, however, is that that bowl of borscht contains homemade vegetable stock, cooked for hours and made with farmer’s market vegetables, and it’s served with a sprig of fresh dill set atop the perfect dollop of sour cream. That’s Martha. That, for me, is the importance of the shift from Japanese Rumaki and chafing dishes and wildly elaborate dinner parties, to everyone, everywhere in America embracing an approachable level of quality, in everyday cooking and not just for special occasions.

    

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A MediterRussian Feast

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A MediterRussian Feast

In my next post, which I will spare you all the obligation of reading by not attaching it to this, more exciting post, I explore the history of themed dinner parties in American cooking, from Betty Crocker and Betty Draper in the 60’s to Martha Stewart in the 1980’s to the present day.

It’s interesting historically tepid fluff.  It was something I began to think of after I tried to determine what, if anything, the theme had been of my most recent dinner party. I happen to enjoy creating special occasions as often as possible, and I still yearn for ease of design and preparation that the idea, at least, of a themed dinner party represents. I like the idea of picking a cuisine- say, Russian- and easily planning everything else around that. Borscht goes with blini, and chicken Kiev, etc. etc. 

Unfortunately, Borscht was the only Russian dish I had any interest in or intention of making. I’d found these very pretty white and pink marbled beets at the Greenmarket and organic chicken feet, and so, white Borscht was on the menu. Roasted cauliflower and “Cabbage melting into butter” (a dish with no butter, by the way)- both from Israeli chef Eyal Shani, will always be on my dinner party menus from now on, because apparently, whole vegetables are big crowd pleasers, and are easy to make.  I couldn’t decipher a national origin for the pan-fried spiced chicken meatballs I made, but they were very fluffy and delicious. As was the Moroccan carrot salad, and a poached pear tart, which was actually truly spectacular.

 

I am always very happy to feed my friends and loved ones beautiful food that I’ve prepared with care, but I continue to be very much on the fence about the idea of patting myself on the back excessively because of it. 

On the other hand, I think that the diminishment of such accomplishments could well be a holdover of mid-century chauvinism, in which the preparation of lovely dinners is something a good wife does at home, and which isn’t cause for any excess praise at all.

Who knows.

 

 

White Russian Borscht

4 spears celery, chopped,

4 carrots, peeled and chopped

1 large onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, whole

1 russet potato, peeled and chopped

1 lb white  beets (or any beets you can get of course)

5 cups chicken stock

1/2 lb fresh chicken feet

2 sprigs of dill and parsley, tied together

1 tbsp. sugar, to taste

More dill and sour cream, to serve

 

Bring a pot full of water to a boil, then add the beets and cook for about 20-30 minutes until the skins become loose. Drain and submerge the beets in ice, then peel and grate them in a food processor or box grater. Set aside.

I wanted to give credit to this farm, and the wonderful owners who sold me these feet at the Greenmarket on Wednesday from upstate NY.

I wanted to give credit to this farm, and the wonderful owners who sold me these feet at the Greenmarket on Wednesday from upstate NY.

In a stock pot, sauté onions for five minutes until soft, then add the rest of the vegetables, except for the beets, and sauté for another five-ten minutes. Add chicken stock, chicken feet, and 4 cups of cold water. Bring to a boil, lower heat to a gentle simmer and add grated beets and dill/parsley bouquet. Simmer covered for 1 1/2 hours. Taste soup and beets for flavor and doneness- the beets should still be firm, but very tender; if the broth is still peppery, continue to cook on low heat for another hour, until the flavor is gentle and the beets begin to give off their sweetness.

Remove the herb bouquet and chicken feet before serving with a dollop of sour cream and fresh dill.

 

Spiced Chicken Meatballs (A La Varda)

1 Lb. Ground chicken

1 large onion, minced

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 cup fresh parsley, chopped

2 tbsp. creme fraiche

1 red chili, finely chopped

1 1/2 cups fresh bread crumbs

1 tsp. turmeric

2 tsp. cumin

1 tsp. cinnamon

1/2 tsp cayenne

2 large eggs, lightly beaten

Combine all ingredients in a mixing bowl, and season with salt and pepper. Fry a small sample to taste and adjust accordingly for seasoning. 

In a large cast iron skillet, fry the meatballs for about five minutes on each side. Transfer to a parchment lined baking sheet and cook in a 400 oven for twenty minutes.

 

Poached Pear Crostata

1 lb. Bosc pears

4 cups red wine

1/2 cup sugar

1 tbsp. vanilla extract

1 tsp. cinnamon (or one cinnamon stick)

1/3 cup honey

FOR THE CRUST

2 1/3 cups pastry flour

2 sticks butter

1/4 cup sugar

1/8 tsp. salt

1/4 cup ice water

1 egg + some water, beaten together for glazing

 

Prepare the crust:

Pulse all ingredients except the water in a food processor until the mixture resembles coarse dirt. Slowly drizzle in the ice water until the mixture begins to come together.

Transfer mixture to a cold surface and, working quickly, form into balls, wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least an hour. Do not knead the dough, just press and compact it into a solid clump.

After cooling in the refrigerator, dust a surface with flour and roll the dough out into three sheets. Separate with parchment paper and return them to the refrigerator.

Preheat oven to 375

Prepare the pears:  

Peel and cut the pears in half and remove the core and seeds.

Bring all ingredients except for the pears to a boil in a pot. Reduce to simmer. Gently add the pears and cover with a round of parchment paper.

Cook for 25 minutes or until pears are tender when pricked with a knife (but wouldn’t you be tender too after 25 minutes in wine syrup?). Remove pears and set aside to cool. Reduce syrup until VERY thick and sticky, by at least half. Set aside.

Once cooled, sliced the pears thinly and arrange on a sheet of the dough. drizzle the reduced syrup over the pears. Cut a sheet of dough into strips and arrange over the pears in a lattice. Crimp the outer edges of the crust together and  brush the surface of the exposed crust thoroughly with egg wash. 

Bake for 30-35 minutes or until crust is deep golden brown. Let the tart cool for at least 10-15 minutes before slicing. Serve with ice cream and a sprig of mint.

This is all that was left.

This is all that was left.


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Anti-Resolution

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Anti-Resolution

It isn't difficult at this time of year to find any number of sources reflecting woefully on the excess weight that they gained over the past month and a half, and vowing to "start the new year fresh!" with a strict diet about which they are invariably "excited!".

If that's what you're looking for, I think you know you've come to the wrong place. After all the hard work I put in to cooking beautiful, albeit gluttinous, meals for Hannukkah, as well as treating myself and my loved ones to even more luxurious meals at wonderful restaurants in New York and on my recent trip to Tel Aviv, I'm certainly not about to tarnish the memory of it all by suggesting that any of it was a mistake that I, in any way, regret.

I absolutely do not regret eating dozens and dozens of homemade potato latkes and sufganyot, and stone crabs dredged in mustard sauce, or the gallons of tahini, or the pounds of smoked salmon, êntrecote of beef, the pitas, the gelato...I regret none of it. I regret the lousy genes I was stuck which don't let me naturally burn it all off with minimal effort. But that's my cross to bear, and it if I've learned anything in my years of gluttony, it's to embrace great food with moderation and an acute awareness of precisely how each forbidden food will affect my body. The difference between the holiday season and the rest of the year, for me at least, is that over the holidays I almost always choose to partake, where I would usually (and wisely) abstain. I know that the cheese platter from Murray's, or the bowls of pureed chilies in oils from Abraxas North in Tel Aviv, will cause me a range of internal issues about which the less said, the better. I don't believe in lactose intolorence- after all it's not the lactose's fault that my weak stomach can't handle it.

For most of the year, 9 times out of 10, for the benefit of both my gastrointestinal system and my waistline, I avoid most of the heavy foods which wreak havoc on both.

And so, rather than resolving myself to a fad diet I cannot, and will not maintain, I am happily returning to normalcy, and starting the new year of Marthonian by giving myself and you all, something to look forward to at the end of 2015.

 

Potato Latkes

1 Lb. Russet potatoes

1 yellow onion

2 large eggs

1-2 tbsp. matzoh meal

1 bunch chopped chives (3-4 tbsp.)

salt and white pepper

3-4 cups olive oil (for frying)

 

INSTRUCTIONS

Peel potatoes and soak in a large bowl of cold water.

Peel the outer layer of the onion and grate using the coarsest blade of an electric mixer, then grate potatoes.

Toss the grated potatoes and onion to combine, then place the mixture in a colander over a bowl. Press down on the mixture to extrude the excess potato starch, reserve this liquid.

Lightly beat the eggs in a seperate bowl to remove any bits of shell, then combine with the chives, salt and pepper and 1 tbsp. of the matzoh meal. If the mixture is too dry, add some of the reserved potato starch.

In a large skillet, bring about an inch and a half of olive oil to a medium high heat. When the oil is hot, begin to form the latkes and press out excess liquid.

Fry on each side for 4-5 minutes, taking care not burn, and reducing and raising heat as necessary.

Serve with apple sauce, creme fraîche, horseradish, ketchup, smoked salmon and caviar (though not all together...unless that sort of thing pleases you in which case, go forth and be gluttonous)

On Christmas day, after seeing the wonderful Mr. Turner at the Angelika, my friend Annabelle and I were at a loss when deciding what to do with our evening. My neighborhood is one of the only ones in New York with zero decent Chinese food options and we were both too sluggish to go to Chinatown. Evidently, we didn't think we were sluggish enough, because we decided to invent a new holiday called "Extra Hanukkah", which involved nothing more than making a giant batch of latkes and eating them on the couch while watching Woody Allen movies.

One more word about latkes: prepare for the smell of grease to permeate all of your clothes and furniture for at least a month. It's worth it though.

This is Extra Hanukkah:

 

Roasted Chicken with Shallots and Za'atar

4 chicken legs and thighs

4 chicken drumsticks

1½  lbs. peeled shallots

4 large carrots

4 large parsnips

2 cups white wine

4 tbsp. za'atar

6 cloves garlic

½ cup honey

1 bunch chopped cilantro

1 bunch chopped parsley

Olive oil

Salt and pepper

 

INSTRUCTIONS

Pre-heat oven to 350.

Peel carrots and parsnips and chop evenly.

Peel shallots; slice larger ones lengthwise, and keep smaller ones whole.

Crush garlic cloves with the back of a knife.

Combine all vegetables and a large handful each of the parsley and cilantro. Place vegetables in a large roasting pan. Combine chicken, za'atar, honey, olive oil, wine, salt and pepper. Arrange chicken pieces, skin side up over the vegetables and roast in the oven. Cover with foil after 45 minutes. Turn on broiler for an additional 10-15 minutes to crisp the skin.

IMG_2154.JPG

Sprinkle with remianing herbs and serve.

 

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My [most minor] Accomplishments

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My [most minor] Accomplishments

As I have said many times before, I derive little to no pleasure in the act of cooking. People are often confounded by this comment; unable or unwilling to believe that I would bother cooking if I really didn't enjoy it. However, I can assure you that I do not enjoy cooking, but I do enjoy having cooked. I enjoy having cooked, over cooking, because although I can't bear to listen to praise about something I've cooked, I do allow myself a brief moment to feel disgustingly proud of having done this. But having cooked feels especially good if someone else is doing the cleaning.

It's a catch-22 of clinical neurosis. It's also very waspy, bordering on Amish- I'm proud of having made this gorgeous crostata. What, I wonder is the virtue of feeling proud of having something I have only out of luck.

The ultimate lesson, I suppose, should be that pie, above all else is good, and also that making pretty-looking food has become far too coveted of a skill. In that spirit, now I know that I can make a very nice original desert...and it's at moments like this one that I feel like it would be fun to open a restaurant. Or that it's even possible.

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Spiced Honey Apple Crostata

INGREDIENTS

1 Pie Crust

4 Large Firm Apples (Honeycrisp, or Granny Smith)

4 tbsp. Honey

2 tbsp. Date Syrup (or treacle, or maple syrup, or nothing*)

Juice of half a lemon

1 tbsp. Ground Ginger

1 1/2 tbsp. Za'atar (plus 2 additional tbsp. Za'atar)

2 egg yolks

2 tsp. Milk

1/4 cup confectioner's sugar

DIRECTIONS

Pre-Heat over to 400.

Roll out pie crust and lay out on a cookie sheet, set in refrigerator.

Slice the apples into half-moon slices and place in a large mixing bowl with lemon juice 1 1/2 tbsp. za'atar, ginger, honey, syrup. 

Mix the apples thoroughly with your hands.

Remove the pie crust from the fridge.

In a small bowl, beat together the egg yolks and milks.

Arrange the apple and honey mixture on the pie crust and add an additional spoonful of the reserved honey and lemon juice to the slices.

Fold and crimp the overlapping ends of the crostata and brush egg mixture evenly over the exposed dough. Knead out a small, reserved piece of dough for the top of the filling. Dust the top with sugar and za’atar mixture and bake in the oven for 35-40 minutes, turning pan half-way through baking.

Allow to cool for about ten minutes before serving.

 

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What? No Beverage?!

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What? No Beverage?!

Since getting back into a nice, comfortable routine in New York, I've had the chance to unload a tremendous amount of excess energy in the form of cooking. It's deeply unhealthy, on a number of levels: it's clearly a way of distracting myself from more important work (as is blogging about cooking, and taking photographs of my cooking), it's exhausting, and most of what I've been cooking has tended to be relatively rich, especially the baked goods. On the other hand, I'm doing something vaguely creative, and it's cheaper to cook than to eat out (well, theoretically).

In LA, my lack of a dishwasher really discourages me from cooking, especially considering how much I use it in New York. These truly are the height of First World Problems. But they're MY problems, and if you think my problems are trivial, pity my poor boyfriend's daily struggle to consume such a wide variety of freshly prepared foods day after day when a mere sandwich would suffice!

 My appreciation for cookbooks and recipes continues to grow, apparently in reverse proportion to my well of original recipe ideas. I follow Martha's food editor, Lucinda Scala Quinn on Instagram, and learned that, for reasons unknown to me, she wrote several cookbooks on Jamaican cuisine in the 90's. Her pictures of a Jamaican Pumpkin Soup inspired me to buy her first book for that recipe.

At the Union Square Farmer's Market last week, I bought both Acorn Squash and a gigantic wedge of Calabaza squash which is sold pre-cut and wrapped in plastic, as nobody could conceivably need more than one or two wedges nor could they carry a whole one home.

Given that I'm a professional chef, with years and years of experience in test kitchens who has written a ton of cook books, I naturally thought I knew better than the food editor of Martha Stewart Living, and thus used her recipe as a mere launching pad for my own, improved version of pumpkin soup.

In my defense, there were several aspects of Scala Quinn's recipe that simply seemed off to me. For instance, she lists "1/2 lb. Pig's tail, salted (optional)", but provides no instructions for those who choose the option of not using the pig's tail. I also felt that the recipe's direction's to cook the beef and pumpkin together in only water until the beef is tender enough to be shredded seemed like insanity to me, which is why I basically ignored the recipe completely and added all of the ingredients to the stock pot and simmered them all together from the start. Adding the scotch bonnet pepper, the onions, garlic, thyme, and scallions only in the last 45 minutes, I thought, wouldn't allow you to benefit from their full flavor in the same way that a long slow simmer would.

It turns out that a whole scotch bonnet pepper, even in two gallons of water, will yield a LOT of heat; and, similarly, even two twigs of thyme will make a VERY thyme-y broth. What's more, the pumpkin/squash chunks are supposed to cook so much that they dissolve on their own (a process I had attempted to abort by separating the braising of the beef from the cooking of the pumpkin).

I followed her recipe for Stewed Fish to the T- and it was so good I repeated it two nights later.

And I also made more roasted cauliflower...and a Morroccan Carrot Salad with mint and Feta...and chocolate hazlenut cookies.

 

Pumpkin Soup

I cut and pasted the recipe below (minus the traditional Jamaican drop dumplings called "Spinners" as I didn't make them). This was printed on Martha's website and it's the same as in the book. My version involved removing the beef shanks after about an hour of simmering, and then braising them separately in the oven for several more hours in a cup or two of the broth.

 

  •     1/2 pound pig's tail, salted (optional)
  •     3 pounds beef with bone, such as short ribs or shin

  •     2 pounds pumpkin, peeled and cubed
  •     10 cups water
  •     3 whole scallions, crushed
  •     2 cloves garlic, crushed
  •     1 whole Scotch bonnet pepper
  •     1 sprig fresh thyme or 1 teaspoon dried
  •     1 1/2 teaspoon salt (optional)
  •     1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 pound yellow or white yam, peeled and chopped (optional) DIRECTIONS

    If you are using pig's tail, soak it in two 10-minute water baths and rinse. Place it in a large soup pot along with the beef, pumpkin and water. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer until the pumpkin has dissolved and the beef is tender, about 1 1/2 hours.

Calabazzzzzzzza!

Calabazzzzzzzza!

I didn't even MENTION the unnecessary celery I arbitrarily decided to add!

I didn't even MENTION the unnecessary celery I arbitrarily decided to add!

    Meanwhile, to prepare the spinners, in a medium-size bowl, sift together the flour and salt. And the water and blend with a wooden spoon until a ball is formed. Flour your hands and knead slightly to form a soft dough. Add more flour if the dough is too sticky. Cover and set aside.

Deceptive.

Deceptive.

    When the meat is tender, remove it from the pot. Separate the meat from the bones, chop it, and return it to the pot. Bring to a brisk simmer over medium heat and add the scallions, garlic, Scotch bonnet pepper, thyme, salt (if not using pig's tail), and black pepper. If using, place the yam in the pot.

It didn't hurt!

It didn't hurt!

    Bring to a simmer again. Continue to cook the soup for 15 minutes. Remove the whole Scotch bonnet pepper before serving.

 

My pumpkin soup was so different from her's that I really could have just printed whatever recipe I ended up inventing on my own and thus avoid all the confusion....but her's was already written up online and I only had enough energy to cut and paste. 

My pumpkin soup was so different from her's that I really could have just printed whatever recipe I ended up inventing on my own and thus avoid all the confusion....but her's was already written up online and I only had enough energy to cut and paste. 

Marinate fish filets in lime juice, salt, white pepper and curry powder for 30 minutes, Fry in oil, add sliced onions, scallions and cilantro, pour in 1/4 cup milk mixed with 1 tbsp. of flour and Worcestershire sauce.  

Marinate fish filets in lime juice, salt, white pepper and curry powder for 30 minutes, Fry in oil, add sliced onions, scallions and cilantro, pour in 1/4 cup milk mixed with 1 tbsp. of flour and Worcestershire sauce.  

Rather than risk even more copyright infringement lawsuits than I'm already setting myself up for, I'll just give the link to this recipe I used for chocolate hazelnut cookies from Martha: http://www.marthastewart.com/317488/chocolate-hazelnut-cookies. They were incredibly labor-intensive and I was unable to find the required "60% cacao" chocolate chips- everything eas either way over or way under, and it got very frustrating. The recipe contains two sticks of butter and lots of chocolate, so of course they were delicious, but they were far crispier and crunchier than I like (my preference is for chewy, if you ever decide to bake me cookies, which I know you'll probably never do).

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Dinner in a Box

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Dinner in a Box

I'm not ashamed to admit that I'm a sucker for new technologies, gadgets, apps, services, et cetera, (I have far too many other, more horrible secrets that I am ashamed of). With the exception of Saucey- the app that delivers beer, wine, and liquor to my doorstep in LA in the ghastly event of an unforeseen shortage (truly a godsend)- almost all of these things are big fucking disappointment; tons of hype, and a piddling result.

I believe this is what's referred to as, "The Internet of Stuff", a moniker that, itself, seems ripe for my as-yet-fictional new app, Epoch (patent pending), which generates non-vomit-inducing nicknames for movements or time periods. 

The world of food is riddled with opportunities for internet-related moneymaking. Somewhere between simple food delivery and an already-in-existence company that dispatches a live human chef (well, "chef") to your home with everything needed to prepare dinner or a cocktail party, but you're much hipper than me, so you've probably already heard of this nonsense. 

I call it nonsense because I'm embarrassed by just how appealing all of these new things are to me, at least at first. My current experience with a service called "Plated" (which you've also probably already heard of) represents my first major burn with the internet of stuff. 

Plated essentially offers an in-home cooking lesson without an instructor. Simply enter your dietary restrictions and the amount of people you're planning to serve, and the day of your choice, a 13 inch square box arrives at your doorstep via courier filled with all of the ingredients necessary to prepare the three recipes that have been printed on placemat-sized sheets of glossy paper with illustrated step-by-step instructions. 

The experience, thus far, has made me feel as if I'm in a version of The Stepford Wives, re-written by Franz Kafka, by way of Rachel Ray. 

I don’t want to beat up on Plated excessively; after all, I elected to try their service, and, of course I can see the appeal to the harried parent, the busy working professional, or even to the young guy who wants to cook for his girlfriend (although I really fucking hate that prototype; I feel like I’ve been told a hundred times that my cooking skills could be easily marketed to “guys who want to learn to cook for their girlfriends”, but I have yet to see evidence that this is actually a demographic that exists. I believe there are many men who are in relationships who do not know how to cook (I’m in one right now), but I haven’t met one man, straight or otherwise, who wouldn’t rather just take his significant other out to a nice restaurant. But I digress…) to these types (and frequently to me as well), finding new and healthy recipes, plus shopping for ingredients, and then preparing them is a daunting task indeed. The problem with Plated, however, is that little time seems to be saved by using the service. Although you do receive precisely (and hilariously- see photos) what you need to prepare the recipes, the ingredients aren’t what I (or Martha) would have picked, and the recipes are confounding to me. Although, on the surface they sound healthy and simple to prepare – Chicken Tortilla Soup, Butternut Squash & Kale Macaroni and Cheese, and Quinoa Goat Cheese Stuffed Swiss Chard Rolls – they felt either convoluted or simply not well thought out. I have now finished the first two recipes. To me, they are satisfactory. To my boyfriend, they are triumphs. I politely accepted his compliments on the meal, but it felt awkward taking credit for something that required very little skill or creativity. I felt roughly the same level of accomplishment serving this dinner as I do when I assemble an Ikea product.

I’m still trying to figure out what compelled me to sign up for Plated in the first place; I’m fairly certain it was my ever-present desire to submit to technology and the promise of convenience. In the end the recipes were fine; I added some Robiola cheese I had in the fridge to the mac and cheese, and baked the whole thing in the oven. The fact that Plated does not suggest baking the mac & cheese (a very easy additional step that makes every mac and cheese better), but does require two chicken breasts to be roasted separately from the otherwise bland soup broth (I poached the breasts in the soup and added Cayenne and more cumin than they provided) is beyond me.

In terms of practicality, it seems to me to have been more hassle than it was worth, but as far as value is concerned, I can’t argue with $25 covering the cost of three separate dishes that will serve two people for at least two days.

If, however, you would like more flexibility in selecting you meals, there is better service that I would recommend. Popcart is a free online widget that can scan the ingredient list of any online recipe, and, with the click of a button, add everything to your shopping cart on FreshDirect. Of course, it only works with FreshDirect, and FreshDirect doesn’t always have everything in stock and can be expensive, but it’s all gimmickry- this is just a gimmick I happen to like. Here is a link to Popcart, and here are pictures of my evening with Plated.

Don't put it in your hair.

Don't put it in your hair.

But what if you don't have Kosher salt?!?! PANIC!

But what if you don't have Kosher salt?!?! PANIC!

           

 

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Show, don't "tell" the recipe.

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Show, don't "tell" the recipe.

I haven't been cooking that much.

What's most troubling about this statement is how much it sounds like someone in a narcotics anonymous meeting who is trying to get off heroin. I do feel somewhat guilty about not contributing to this blog (nobody else is going to do it, that's for sure) but I've been directing my resources into other projects lately, not that it's any of YOUR business! Although I suppose I've made it all your business. That one's on me.

There are several excuses for the long absence of new posts on this blog:

1. I actually do have other things to do. Not many, but some. I've been directing most of my resources into other creative projects.

2. As it turns out, traveling across the country every couple of weeks (or days) takes a lot of energy, and the feeling of never being truly settled doesn't inspire one to go to the market and prepare meals day and night.

3. (And this is the big one) There have been many failures, and many repetitions.

I will address the last excuse because it really covers the bulk of why the blog has been so empty. Of course, in keeping with the Marthonian spirit, I have cooked some meals- I'm not a savage- but given the new projects I've started, and my travel schedule, I have entered a decidedly utilitarian mode of cooking.

The other night I boiled a single yam and quickly seared a single strip steak in a cast iron skillet, (I call it Steak  a la Rosemary's Baby). It was actually a lovely dinner, but I'm never going to be so invested in food blogging (certainly unpaid food blogging and photography) that I'd take the time to make a single boiled yam and a steak look magazine-ready. In my opinion, there's nothing sadder than a grown man making a big fuss about "dinners for one".

Of course, this is precisely the reason why I'll never ever make any money doing this. I'm at least aware of the fact that this is "a thing", and I'm even aware of the fact that there's a market for it. People have been telling me for years that I should either write a cookbook or teach classes to show men how to cook either just for themselves or for their girlfriends.

How this type of cooking is any different from all of the other cooking I do is beyond me. I suppose I'd have to come up with more "masculine" meals, like my steak and yam. But it would seem like the Emperor's New Clothes to me. It's too simple. Boil water, add yam, cook until done. Heat skillet, salt & pepper steak, rub with olive oil and paprika, sear and serve.

I suppose that the key here is in the paprika- that's the point in this recipe (if I were telling it to a non-cook) where they would say, "WHOA, wait wait wait, slow down- you lost me after salt and pepper- how much olive oil? How long do I rub it? Where do I get paprika? What is Paprika? My kitchen is on fire."

I can't tell you how many times I've taken for granted the notion that the simplest recipe in the world is remotely simple, in any way, to someone who has never spent any time in the kitchen. I always lose them after two steps. The exchange is often thus:

     FRIEND: Will you PLEASE tell me how to make your chicken stew?

     ME: Well, it's not really my chicken stew, it's kind of a basic-

     FRIEND: Will you shut up and just tell me the recipe already?

     ME: Please don't tell me to shut up.

     FRIEND: Shut up.

     ME: I'll just leave...

     FRIEND: Don't be such a baby, I'm only kidding.

     ME: (Aggravated scowl)

     FRIEND: Fine, I'm sorry. Will you tell me how to make it?

     ME: Ok. You just put six chicken thighs in a dutch oven- that's the red pot your mom gave you- with a chopped onion, some garlic, a spoonful of mustard, some white wine, maybe some thyme-

     FRIEND: Wait, what do you mean maybe some thyme? Is there thyme or not?

     ME: Depends if you've got it handy, it's not the end of the world.

 I am a very patient man, I really am, in fact I'm far more patient than anyone who has ever asked me to verbally recite a recipe to them on the spot; they invariably end up saying, "oh that sounds too complicated, will you just make it for me again?"

Maybe, from now on, I'll just tell people, politely, that whatever it is they're asking about is probably beyond their comprehension- although I'll never truly understand just why, or how, anyone can be wholly inept at the most basic levels of cooking.

I'm not sure how I diverged into this rant.... ah, yes, cooking for one- the bottom line is: it's not meant to be pretty, although there are, from time to time, some gems.

I have made some Marthonian level efforts of late, and had enough thoughts on the topic that would warrant a new post.

 

Cauliflower, two ways.

 

Whole roasted cauliflower and raw cauliflower "tabbouleh"

Paraphrased from Yotam Ottolenghi

 

I say these recipe were paraphrased from Mr. Ottolenghi because I only heard him describing the dishes on NPR. Since they were (to me, at least) exceptionally simple, I never bothered to look up any printed instructions- knowing that I could probably intuit any additional items or steps that he left out of the radio interview.

The fact that I didn't even look at his actual recipe is probably why it turned out so well. Ottolenghi's cookbooks are gorgeous and the ideas are inspired- I've eaten at one of his London restaurants and it was also gorgeous and inspired and not quite like any place we've got here in the states in terms of ambition- unfortunately though, I've had nothing but lousy experiences when trying to follow his recipes to the T. There's always some issue, either in finding an ingredient or translating from the metric measurements that fouls up the whole thing.

On the radio, Ottolenghi described the process of making the whole roasted cauliflower in a way that would probably infuriate non-cooks, specifically when he mentioned that he boils it for a few minutes "to get it going"- that would mean absolutely nothing to someone who doesn't cook.

 

At any rate, here's what I did.

 

Preheat oven to 325.

Wash the cauliflower, then plunge into boiling water for a few minutes. Remove cauliflower to an ice bath.

Pat the head dry with a kitchen towel and place in a skillet (or on a cookie tray, or anything really- a dutch oven is good).

Rub with a tablespoon of softened butter and some olive oil and salt and pepper.

Cook for at least two hours until golden brown all over and tender when pricked with a paring knife.

 The next time I have a dinner party (which will be never, if I stick to what I said to myself the last time I had a dinner party (which of course we all know is never going to happen)), I'm going to make one of these for each guest as a side dish. It's a good thing*.

(*TM MARTHA STEWART LIVING OMNIMEDIA #pleasedontsueme #ceaseanddesist)

 

Raw Cauliflower "Tabbouleh"

IMG_0497.JPG

Wash cauliflower. Cut into wedges large enough to fit into the mouth of your food processer, and grate using the large blade.

In a salad bowl, mix ONE clove crushed garlic (that's MORE than enough for one head of cauliflower), olive oil, lemon juice, chopped mint and parsley (you can't use too much mint and parsley in this), salt and pepper.

IMG_0501.JPG

Toss.

IMG_0504.JPG

That's it.

MORE recipes to come.... stay tuned. 

 

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An Actual Dish YOU Can Make!

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An Actual Dish YOU Can Make!

After reading Sarah Miller's genuinely funny essay, "To Cook or Not to Cook? The Answer is Obvious" on Cafe.com, I am more dubious than ever about why I bother to cook anything, ever.

     Miller argues that cooking for others is not the purely loving act we'd like to believe, but, rather it is almost always a cry for attention. Cooking, writes Miller, is a way to give a piece of ourselves to our loved ones in exchange for the sort of praise and affections that are hardly ever reciprocated- and certainly not to any extent on par with the drudgery of work that goes into it.

     While the cynicism and I'm fed up and not going to take it anymore quality of her manifesto, which I highly recommend (if for no other reason than her sharp voice which rings of very early and still unspoiled David Sedaris'), resonates with me, the truth is that the less pressure I put on myself to cook, the easier and more pleasurable it is.

     That may sound entirely self-explanatory...but only to the non cook. Just as there are some people who live to eat, and there are people who eat to live, there are also two kinds of cooks in today's world: the foodie chef obsessive, and the utilitarian. Of course, there's also the complete non-cook: the one who considers making meatballs to be an act of alchemy ("how do you get them to hold together?!"). Actually, all three types illustrate just how unnecessarily complicated our perceptions of cooking have become.

     The Utilitarian has the best approach, and, it would seem, gets the most pleasure from cooking because he rarely raises the bar to the dizzying heights of the home chef. The Utilitarian knows the right pots and pans to use, invests in a decent knife or two, and won't overcook pasta, and can roast a simple chicken. But, the difference between the Utilitarian and the Foodie Chef is that everything is a big deal for the Foodie Chef, the Foodie Chef lives and dies for the praise of their creations. For the former, cooking is a matter of necessity; they are sophisticated and intelligent enough to cook nice food for themselves- proficient enough to make anything advanced dish, but perfectly happy leaving the heavy lifting to others.

It takes a great deal of personal remove to accept just how unfathomable cooking is to non-cooks. Likewise, a Utilitarian can't imagine the logic behind the Foodie Chef who breaks his back to make a fig galette for his guests (to borrow Ms. Miller's example) when they would have been perfectly happy with ice cream.

     I've finally stopped wasting my breath on the matter though; if nothing else, one less cook in the world gives me more room to be impressive- but I cannot help but remain skeptical of the grown adult who is utterly flummoxed by any and all forms of food preparation. However, when I really get into the issue with these people- most frequently, with my boyfriend- I get the strong impression that it really, truly, is a mystery to them in the truest sense of the word. Could they learn? Probably, yes, at least on the level that any mechanical skill that can be taught.  But cooking and food have become so highly elevated, particularly to those often in the company of a Foodie Chef, that aquiring the technical prowess seems, to them, a futile effort; the visceral connection to cooking is just as unfathomable to them as their awe at what we perceive to be simple.

     The core of Miller's article though, is that the hardcore cooks, like myself, are in it for glory, that we want to please others with our food, no matter how backbreaking the work is in relation to any reward. Ms. Miller, with tongue in cheek, has announced her retirement from cooking, following a realization that she's underappreciated and that, when you think about it, "cooking is stupid." It's an empty promise that all cooks have made at one point or another; my mother announces that she'll never make another meal after every single holiday dinner we have as a family...only to go right back in the kitchen.

     Given my neurotic inability to determine wheteher or not I actually enjoy cooking at all, coupled with my belief that the bulk of the praise I receive for my cooking (though not all) is overblown and unwarranted, this new line of thinking helps to reinforce a utilitarian approach to cooking that I believe is healthier all around.

      Now here's a simple recipe for roasted carrots that any idiot can make. It's also one I'm genuinely proud of because I didn't adapt it from any recipe and it's moderately inventive. However, I'd be wary of accepting too much praise as the dish, at its core, is simply the proper combination of the right ingredients.

 

 

Roasted Spicy Moroccan Carrots with Herb Yogurt

 

INGREDIENTS:

2 lbs carrots

1/3 cup date honey

1/3 cup olive oil

2 tbsp. Harissa

1 ½ tsp. Garlic powder

2 tsp. cumin

1 tbsp. hot paprika

1 tsp. chili powder

1 tbsp. Aleppo pepper

2 tbsp. salt

2 cups Greek yogurt

1 cup cilantro, finely chopped

INSTRUCTIONS:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Peel carrots and cut into even chunks, or as even as possible.

In a mixing bowl, whisk together Harissa, olive oil and honey. Add in all ingredients except for carrots and whisk into a thick paste.

Add carrots to the mixing bowl and toss with your hands to coat the pieces evenly with the mixture.

Scoop the carrots onto a cookie sheet. Do not overturn the bowl, as you want to keep the excess oil/Harissa/herb mixture.

Add yogurt and cilantro to the excess spice and oil mixture in the bowl; stir to combine. Set aside.

Bake carrots for 25-35 minutes, or until tender when pricked w/ a knife.

Remove carrots from oven and leave to cool for 30 minutes.

While still warm, transfer carrots to the mixing bowl and toss with a wooden spoon until the carrots are coated.

Sprinkle with chopped cilantro and serve.

It's just some carrots and yogurt! Why fuss?!

It's just some carrots and yogurt! Why fuss?!

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Now That's A Spicy Meatball!

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Now That's A Spicy Meatball!

     I'm beginning to realize that almost every kind of food can be a tremendously laborious, hours long undertaking, or a simple everyday meal. Meatballs are a perfect example. It's also a remarkable metaphor for life, at least life as seen through the eyes of a driven yet ultimately self-defeating and lazy type-A personality: you can lead a very satifactory life by putting in, y'know effort, or you can lead an exemplory life by never taking any shortcuts of any sort, and only committing to perfection and excellence.

I live somewhere between those two poles, confident that my talent gives me just enough of an advantage that even my moderate efforts will be received by the world as superlative.

On the other hand, I may just be tragically misinterpreting the responses I've received to my work over the years. Maybe all of those people who have praised my writing were just like the people who gush over my cooking- maybe I'm actually one of those people who is blindly confident yet glaringly mediocre. The point is that meatballs are inherently confusing and potentially harmful to ones confidence.

 

Popular culture clearly demonstrates that most every recipe in which a pound of ground meat is the main ingredient is easy to make and a staple of the busy home cook- home cooks around the world, actually.

For a while I really thought I was some kind of culinary wizard for discovering just how far I could stretch a pound of ground meat using breadcrumbs and eggs. I made meatballs with chicken, with turkey, veal, beef and even fish.

However, meatballs were no different than any other dish I made in that it was a tremendous undertaking. Until relatively recently my approach to cooking was either "slap a piece of meat in the oven with pre-packaged vegetables" or "get up at 8am and don't stop chopping and cooking and slaving until 8pm."

 

I give a lot of credit to my friends in LA for exposing me to the idea that you can actually cook a real dinner from scratch in under two hours.

I give a lot of the blame for my contrary belief to my mother. I made dinner for my mother on Sunday night her astonished reaction to my efforts was, "you made sauce and meatballs? AND a cake? If I did that much work I wouldn't want to cook for months!"

The point is that it needn't actually be that much work. It can be, but it needn't be.

I can make serious meatballs, using beef, veal and sausage and ground pancetta and chopped herbs and cooked vegetables and on and on and on...but I can also pick up a pound of ground lamb, add some harisa, some cumin, cinnammon, and chopped cilantro and nothing more.

The point is that I've overthought it, and that's bound to happen.

 

My chicken ricotta "dumplings" are so called because they really are too fluffy to be called meatballs. My estimable colleague in cookery, Dr. L, sent me a picture of her chicken meatballs last weekend, and that inspired me to make my own.

While this recipe is well worth making, it's important to note that with extreme fluffiness comes extreme delicacy. Until the dumplings have been thoroughly seared on all sides, they can easily fall apart. In which case you should add all of the dumpling mixture to the pot and treat like plain ground meat, eventually adding tomato sauce to create chicken bolognese (or, you can add some beans and cumin and make chili...but I think I'm bastardizing my own recipe).

 

Chicken Ricotta "Dumplings" in Spicy Tomato Stew

Serves 4

Prep time: 40 minutes (includes waiting for sauteed onions to cool, so really, more like 15 minutes)

Cooking time: 40 minutes

INGREDIENTS

For the dumplings:

1 whole red onion, chopped small

2 cloves garlic, crushed

1 tablespoon tomato paste

1-2 teaspoons chili flakes

1 cup bread crumbs (additional if needed)

½ cup milk

2 large eggs

¼ lb. ricotta cheese

1 lb. ground chicken

½ cup flat leaf parsley, finey chopped

½ cup basil, finely chopped

½ cup ground parmesan cheese

For the sauce:

½ large red onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced

1 large carrot, pulsed in food processor or very thinly sliced

1 tablespoon spicy paprika

1 green chili, thinly sliced

1 cup red wine

1 quart crushed San Marzano tomatoes

 

Part 1:

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.

Heat olive oil in a medium saucepan and add onions. Season with salt and pepper and stir until softened.

Add chili flakes, crushed garlic and tomato paste and stir to combine. Cook additional three-four minutes.

Remove onion mixture to a bowl or tray and let cool about 30 minutes (NB: it's important to let the mixture cool before proceding, and if you are pressed for time you can put the onion/garlic mixture in a bowl over an ice bath stirring consistently from the bottom which should cut the time down significantly...unless you have weird ice).

See how cool that onion mixture is? It's so damn cool.

See how cool that onion mixture is? It's so damn cool.

In a large mixing bowl whisk together milk, eggs and ricotta. Let them sit, absorbing one another for a minute or two.

Add remaining ingredients and onion/garlic mixture. Using impeccably clean hands work the ingredients into a cohesive force, scooping from the bottom of the bowl to ensure homogenous consistency.

Mmmm, homogenous consistency and salmonella....ahhhhhhhhhh

Mmmm, homogenous consistency and salmonella....ahhhhhhhhhh

The mixture should resemble a mousse, but if it appears absurdly thin to you, you may add more breadcrumbs to bind thicken and bind.

Form the forcemeat into even balls, you should be able to get at least eight.

SEAR!

SEAR!

I seared this batch of dumplings in a 12-inch dutch oven, but I recommend using a 10-in cast iron skillet as you will get a more even distribution of heat and MOST IMPORTANT, you will have more space to flip them without mangling them.

Heat ¼ inch of olive oil in your skillet over med-high heat. Before cooking all of them, fry a small pinch of the mixture and taste for seasoning. Adjust as necessary.

Working in batches of four, gently place the dumplings in the hot oil and sear on each side for at least five minutes. Use a spatula to flip them, gently working it underneath the dumpling to dislodge any spots stuck to the pan.

Whatever you have to do to get them to this color and consistency, do it!

Whatever you have to do to get them to this color and consistency, do it!

The dumplings should be strucurally sound after frying and removed to a platter.


Part 2:

The dumplings will require an additional 10-15 minutes of cooking laid out on a baking sheet in a 325 degree oven. After which you can wrap them in parchment, place in plastic bags and freeze for up to eternity (or 3 months if you want to be safe).

TO SERVE:

Set seared dumplings aside.

Heat olive oil in a dutch oven over high heat.

Add onion, carrot and chili, stir to soften for 10 minutes. Add garlic and paprika, reduce heat and stir for an additional 5 minutes.

Raise heat to medium high and add red wine, then add tomatoes.

Once sauce has come to a simmer, reduce heat, add dumplings and cover pot. Place in oven for 25 minutes, and serve. OR, to serve at a later time, add 1-2 cups water, reduce oven temperature to 225 degrees and let sit for up to 2 hours. If not serving until much later, turn off heat after first 25 minutes, remove to stovetop when ready to serve, add 1-2 cups water and cook over med-high heat until piping hot.


Take note of the ring of sauce caked into the pot- the liquid that used to be there was absorbed by the dumplings. 

Parsley Basil fettucini from Raffetto's 

Parsley Basil fettucini from Raffetto's 

Dinner.

Dinner.

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Other Uses For Martini Glasses

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Other Uses For Martini Glasses

There is an unmistakable luxuriousness in the smell of fresh orange blossoms, and I can smell the ones on my blood orange tree before I even get to the steps to my apartment. The handful that I plucked from the tree and placed in water in one of the beautiful paper-thin martini glasses Natasha gave me for my birthday will last only a few days but I will carry that martini glass with me from room to room until the perfume fades away.

One day, I will have a house with enough space to place little glasses filled with fragrant blossoms on tables and/or shelves and be confident that they won't immediately be knocked over.  I would place a glass filled with blossoms at each place setting to make dinner parties more theatrical (and everyone knows that's the indicator of a successful dinner party). 

In the meantime, I'm getting woozy from these orange blossoms- they're really absurdly fragrant. 

I take back everything I said. There's nothing luxurious about the smell of fresh orange blossoms, unless you consider being trapped on the first floor of Bloomingdale's with every sales clerk spritzing you to be luxurious.

Nevertheless:

Must resist urge to sip.

Must resist urge to sip.

Don't drink it, don't drink it....not a martini.

Don't drink it, don't drink it....not a martini.


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The State of my Garden

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The State of my Garden

Blood (orange blossoms) and (no) Roses

 

     Like Charlie Brown with his sad skeletal Christmas tree, I have nurtured the same blood orange tree for nearly three years. Truth be told, it has been kinder to me than I have been to it. I have a meyer lemon tree of the same size and I transplanted it into a beautiful terra cotta planter but left the orange tree in the rubber pot it came in from the nursery. I've neglected to water it for numerous stretches of time. I placed a jasmine plant so close to it that the jasmine vines began strangling the orange branches.

I did all of this, and yet "Ol' Bloody" keeps on blooming. I recently returned from New York to find that the tree had exploded with intensely fragrant blossoms that could be detected all the way up on the curb.

By December this will be brimming with oranges! (Right?)

By December this will be brimming with oranges! (Right?)

Certain facts of my life will continue to necessitate my absence from LA for intermittent stretches in the future, and I since I cannot impose on my friend to water my garden forever, and I DEFINITELY won't ever ask my neighbors to do it (although I genuinely can't understand why they don't just do it on their own- I mean, they have to walk through my patio every single day, and can clearly see that I'm out of town and that my plants need care!); I have to care for them as best I can when I'm around and just hope for the best.

I have learned that jasmine and bouganvillea are the most resilient of all and will likely be the only green plants left when I'm forced to replace everything else with cacti and succulents. I also now understand fully what my old friend, P, meant when she indignantly asked, "Who on Earth buys a WHITE bouganvillea?!" Turns out they're horrible.

I don't know how this became bi-colored, but I'm pleased!

I don't know how this became bi-colored, but I'm pleased!

My ambitions as a gardener are tremendous, and I have a hundred excuses for why I'm not more avidly engaged in that pursuit: money, knowledge, resources- but the truth is that I've done well as an amateur and the most important part of maintaining a gardening is just that: maintaining it. Keeping a plant alive really could be seen as an indicator of whether someone is ready to be a parent; stability is undeniably essential. Essential for raising a great garden, but as someone who was raised with little to no stability I'm of the belief that what doesn't kill you merely pushes you on.

Martha's first book on the subject conveys that message in the title: Gardening: Month by Month. MONTH by MONTH. Unfortunately it is focused on gardening in the Northeast and provides no information about what to do with small patio gardens in an arrid desert climate with no seasons. But that's fair enough, because in Martha's world people live in New England and New York and have time to plot out the yearlong care of their gardens, and really we should all be living in Martha's world, or at least striving to.

Love.

Love.

 

 

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SundayFundays: Shakshouka, Tomato Salads and Buns

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SundayFundays: Shakshouka, Tomato Salads and Buns

 

Everything was purchased at the Hollywood as well as the Melrose Place Farmer's Markets.

 

Tomato Salad Inspired by Abraxas

1 lb. Heirloom tomatoes cut up

2 long chilies (not jalapeno or serrano), sliced paper thin

1/3 cup chives, finely chopped

½ cup flat leaf parsley, not chopped, leaves separated from stems

Olive Oil

Grey Sea Salt

INSTRUCTIONS

Combine all ingredients except chilies in a serving bowl, toss thoroughly. Scatter the sliced chilies on top. Serve.

 

Quick Marinated Grilled Sea Bream

2 filets Sea Bream

½ cup parsley, sliced

½ cup basil, sliced

1 large red chili, sliced paper thin

Juice of 1 Meyer Lemon

Salt & Pepper

INSTRUCTIONS

Preheat your grill on high.

In a plastic bag, combine all ingredients and let marinate for no more than a half hour.

Place fish on grill and cook for eight minutes on one side, not moving the fish at all. When the filet begins to become opaque carefully remove from the grill and put on a serving platter, with the grilled side up, drizzle a bit of olive oil over the fish and wrap platter with aluminum foil. Let sit for 10 minutes before serving.

 

Honeyed feta, Spearmint and Heirloom Tomato Fett'unta

2 thick slices rustic bread

1 cup sheep's milk feta

2 bunch fresh spearmint leaves

1 large ripe heirloom tomato

1 tablespoon honey

Olive oil

Sea Salt

2 cloves garlic

INSTRUCTIONS

In a medium bowl, mix the honey and feta together gently with your hands. Set aside.

Grill or toast bread slices on both sides. While still hot, rub the peeled garlic clove into the bread on one side.

Crumble the honey feta mixture over the bread slices and sprinkle with spearmint leaves and a drizzle of olive oil and seat salt.

Slice your tomato in half and squeeze its juices over the toast.

Serve.

Doing the Heirloom Squeeze!

Doing the Heirloom Squeeze!

 

Southern California Shakshouka

You wouldn't ordinarily think of serving a pungent, spicy, tomato and pepper stew with poached eggs in a skillet on a piping hot summer day by the pool...but we did.

I had never made Shakshouka before, and the only time I had it in Israel it was mediocre- even with nothing to compare it to, I knew it was mediocre and I always knew I could do it better.

Ingredients

2 lbs. multi-color heirloom cherry tomatoes, halved

2 roasted red bell peppers, stems and seeds removed, chopped

1 Orange bell pepper, raw, chopped

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 tbsp. Cayenne

1 tbsp. Paprika

¼ cup tomato paste

¼ cup harissa

1 tsp. Cumin

2 tbsp. honey

1 red onion, chopped

2 cups cilantro, finely chopped

1 bunch chives, finely chopped

Dry white wine

6 large brown eggs

Many slices rustic bread

INSTRUCTIONS

In a large skillet over med-high heat, add a tablespoon olive oil and red onion. Cook onion for a few minutes until it begins to soften. Add cayenne, paprika, cumin, garlic and orange bell pepper. Stir for a few minutes more, then add tomato paste and red bell pepper. Stir, cooking the tomato paste for a few minutes. Add harissa and tomatoes, sprinkle with salt and stir to combine, breaking down the tomatoes with the back of your spoon. Pour in a scant ¼ cup wine and cover the skillet.

Tomatoes NOT broken down enough!

Tomatoes NOT broken down enough!

Let the stew cook for 15-20 minutes, or until the tomatoes have broken down completely. Taste the stew for spices; add honey accordingly- if it is very spicy, add enough honey (probably not more than 2 tbsp.) to balance the flavors and tame the heat. It should not be overwhelming. Stir in a hearty pinch of the cilantro and chives and stir to combine.

With the stew at a steady low simmer, make six small indentations with your spoon and carefully crack the eggs into them.

Note the whites just beginning to solidify. 

Note the whites just beginning to solidify. 

Cover skillet and cook for about 8 minutes. If the whites of the eggs have turned opaque when you remove the lid, the shakshouka is ready to be served.

If cooked properly the stew should pull from the sides of the pan.

If cooked properly the stew should pull from the sides of the pan.

Liberally garnish the skillet with handfulls of cilantro and chives and arrange the toast slices around the edges.

Present the dish to your guests in the skillet and spoon one egg with the stew over a bread slice for each portion.

 Also, There Was Grilled Squash

INGREDIENTS

2 Giant Squash, cut into thick slices

Olive Oil

Salt Pepper

spearmint leaves (for garnish)

INSTRUCTIONS

Drizzle olive oil over squash and season with salt and pepper.

Grill and serve with spearmint leaves (as shown).

Finally, Secret Grilled Chicken

It's not easy to grill chicken. Especially marinated chicken.

Even with spray oil, it's difficult to prevent the bird from sticking. Or at least that's usually been my experience. 

Given that track record, I remain flabbergasted at how perfectly this chicken came out.

It could have been that the Jidori chicken is just that amazing.

It could have been the grill at Vanessa's house. But it wasn't anything very special.

It could have been Vanessa's simple and unusual marinade (which I will keep a secret because I don't really remember all the ingredients). 

There were a number of variables, any or all of which could have been the key factors in making this the greatest grilled chicken ever.

With all of this in mind, I offer the following "recipe"; the marinade is my invention and not the one we used- but there's no way to recreate that anyway. What I would recreate was the method in which I served the chicken. I highly recommend it.

INGREDIENTS

1 Whole Jidori Chicken, cut into pieces (BREASTS SKINNED and BUTTERFLIED)

Olive Oil

1 tbsp. Dijon mustard

Juice of 1 lemon, zest reserved

1/2 tsp. white pepper

1 tsp. kosher salt

1 1/2 tsp. Tabasco 

1/4 cup Maldon Sea Salt

1 1/2 tbsp. Ground Tasmanian Pepperberries

1 bunch finely chopped chives

1 bunch finely chopped cilantro


INSTRUCTIONS

Pre Heat Grill.

Whisk together olive oil, mustard, lemon juice, white pepper, kosher salt and tabasco. Pour marinade over the chicken pieces and let sit for up to 2 hours.

Grill chicken until golden brown.

In a small mixing bowl toss maldon salt and pepperberry together. In another bowl toss the chives, cilantro and lemon zest.

Make a little pile of the salt & pepperberry on one corner of a large wooden cutting board and the herbs and lemon zest on another corner.

Arrange the grilled chicken on the cutting board and serve.  

Not pictured: Chicken bones being gnawed at for 

Not pictured: Chicken bones being gnawed at for 


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From Whence I Came...

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From Whence I Came...

I'm not even going to bother explaining that the garlic powder I use is actually granulated garlic, and it's organic, and it's from a tiny little spice market in Silverlake....because that would be pointless. To my mother, garlic powder is the same as MSG or poison. Such strict adherence to purity led to a very rude awakening when I realized that not everybody felt the same way about food additives as I did. As a kid, whenever I would go to a friend's house and see that their mothers had no problems using garlic powder or serving canned vegetables, I would immediately cease that friendship and run home in horror. How small the world was then.

As no legitimate explanation will suffice, I must now purchase a food dehydrator (I'm hoping Ron Popeil is still selling one) and endeavor to make my own garlic powder from scratch. 

I can at least thank my mother for giving me a new project!

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