Good For What Ails You

We’ve had a pretty sickly household lately; both Evan and My Girl are chomping on antibiotics. I have been able to claim a number of honors: healthiest person in the house, person who uses the least Kleenex, and best cook. That means I’ve been doing double duty with the chicken soup front. I started off with a basic chicken soup (chicken breast, carrots, celery, onion), which was good for the onset of the afflictions, but by day three it was time to pick things up a bit. I dug out an old recipe for “Sopa de Tortilla.”

Back when I was young(er), I used to go plays at American Conservatory Theater (ACT) or The Curren in San Francisco. There was an affordable little soup place right across the street, and it became a regular part of the whole theater going experience (a mad dash for coconut macaroons at intermission was also a part of this, but—sadly—macaroons don’t make it into this meal).

Tortilla Soup, based on the one from Salmagundi’s Restaurant

3 pounds chicken pieces
4 quarts water
1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
2 garlic cloves, peeled
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon whole coriander seeds

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander seeds
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 (1-pound) can whole peeled tomatoes(chopped up in the can a bit), undrained
1 onion, choped
1 green pepper, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced

1 (10-ounce) package frozen corn
4 green onions, coarsely chopped
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 cup cooked rice
1 Tablespoon chopped coriander

To Serve:
Corn tortillas
Corn oil

Grated cheese (Jack, Cheddar)

Combine chicken and water in stockpot. Make a bouquet garni of the peppercorns, coriander seeds, garlic, and any inner leaves from the celery. Cover and bring to boil, then reduce heat and simmer until chicken is tender, about 45 minutes. Skim as necessary. Remove chicken from broth and let cool.

Toast cumin, coriander, and cayenne in small skillet. Be careful not to let it burn, but just to turn to a little shade darker. Add to stock.
Add tomatoes, onion, green pepper and minced garlic; cover and simmer 30 minutes.

Add corn and green onion and simmer 10 minutes more. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Meanwhile, skin and bone chicken. Dice meat into 1-inch pieces. Add to broth with rice heat through.

Heat about 1 1/2 inches of corn oil in a skillet. Let oil get fairly hot. Cut corn tortillas into strips and fry a few at a time into tortilla chip strips. Let drain on paper towels.

Put cheese at the bottom of the bowl. Ladle into warm bowls and garnish with tortilla chips and fresh cilantro.

Everyone was happy eating the soup. Quiet cheers were heard as the two sniffled and coughed their way back to bed.


Do you know this place?

You should! It's a fabulous cookbook store on Lexington Ave. in New York City. If you're not fortunate enough to be able to stop by, get on their e-mailing list. Every once in a while they send a list of interesting cookbooks, and most of the authors don't even have TV shows. That's something!

For example:

The paperback edition of the latest collection of Thorne's thoughtful ruminations on cooking, ranging from marmalade and anchovies to improvised breakfasts. p. $15.00

Joan Santanach, editor; Robin Vogelzang, translator. THE BOOK OF SENT SOVÍ.
The first English rendition of an important, anonymous culinary text from 14th-century Catalonia. This is a glimpse at Spanish court food before the arrival of New World ingredients such as tomatoes, potatoes or peppers. The original Catalan text is included, rendered in contemporary spellings. p. $34.95

Amanda Hesser, editor. EAT, MEMORY.
This collection of food-related essays from The New York Times Magazine does not recycle old standards. Instead, it features a wide range of contributors, from the expected (Dan Barber, R.W. Apple) to the surprising (Tucker Carlson, Pico Iyer). Among the others: Dorothy Allison, John Burnham Schwartz, Gabrielle Hamilton, Jon Robin Baitz. cl. $24.95

Kelly Alexander and Cynthia Harris. HOMETOWN APPETITES.
In the 1950s and 60s Clementine Paddleford was a household name in America, writing on food-particularly American regional food-for the New York Herald Tribune. Alexander, a former editor at Saveur, and Harris, an archivist who oversees Paddleford's manuscripts, argue convincingly that this forgotten pioneer's adventurous, engaging prose and life story deserve renewed recognition. Serious fun. b-&-w photos. cl. $27.50


Dinner in the Morning

-or- a recipe for Lyane's Crock Pot

I woke up bleary eyed at 5:00 am, but committed to the task at hand: get the dinner in the slow cooker. I had the forethought to do most of the heavy chopping last night, otherwise I might be short a few fingers typing this. That didn’t mean it was a piece of cake to even think through what I had to do to get everything in the slow cooker. There were all kinds of mistakes, just waiting to be made.

If I have any advice about how to get dinner on the table, it would be this little adage from Iron Chef Maurice: It gets easier with practice. It’s true. The more you get dinner ready the easier it is to get dinner ready. It was all that practice (and a cup of good coffee) that got me to the point where I could walk out the door at 7:00 am knowing that when I walked back in the house would smell as if Hazel had been working in Mr. B’s kitchen all afternoon.

And that’s exactly what happened. I nearly swooned from the fragrance of the pork roast, potatoes, carrots and onions simmering away.

You can do this.

3 lb pork shoulder roast
Garlic slivers to stud the roast
1 C chopped onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
3-4 carrots cut into 2-3” pieces
3/4 C chopped celery
4 red potatoes, quartered
2 C chicken stock
1 C red wine
Salt and Pepper

The night before…
It does help to do some prep work the night before, and you can combine it with preparing that night’s dinner. So make something where you have to chop an onion and just chop some more. Decide to serve some carrots and then chop more. I put the carrots in a Ziploc along with some chopped celery, so I was good to go in the morning.

Morning of the scrumptious dinner…
Heat a little olive oil in a pan large enough to hold the roast. Stud the roast with garlic by (very carefully) stabbing it with a knife then inserting garlic sliver inside. Brown the roast on all sides (about 2-3 minutes a side) and put in slow cooker.

Sauté the onion in the remaining oil, add some salt, and cook until transparent. Add the minced garlic and cook for a minute or so, don’t let it burn. Add the celery and carrot mixture, letting everything get nice and sautéed.

Scrub the potatoes and chop them into quarters.

Everything goes in the slow cooker. Start this soon enough so you can let it cook on high for an hour while you drink another cup of coffee, figure out what you’re going to wear and do with your hair that day, and slather on some make-up.

Set the pot to “low” and to cook for about 6 hours.

Leave the house, knowing that dinner is ready and you have nothing else to think about.

I’ve been reading the recent Alice Waters biography, so (even though she has a management style that makes me quiver) I was inspired to make a little salad to go with the stew: hearts of romaine, sliced pear, bucheron cheese, sunflower seeds and a couple of dried cherries. It was wonderful.


Food Trip

With respect for the holiday and its celebrants, gratitude for school administrators who deemed to give us the day off, and absolute pity for those in our family who were forced to remain slave to their computer, My Girl and I ventured North yesterday in search of edible delights.

Our first stop was apple picking in Red Hook, in Dutchess County. We found a new place by browsing the Chowhound website, one that was not too big, not too commercial, and not too faraway: The Grieg Farm. We loaded up our bag with Empires, Macouns, and Macintoshes for eating; Jonagold’s for a pie. By the time we got our bag weighed and chose two small pumpkins from their patch (a real patch too, where the pumpkins were still connected to their actual vines—not just a patch of dirt where the cut pumpkins had been dumped), we were hungry.

We stumbled on Gigi Market by making a wrong turn. It’s the kind of place that wouldn’t have existed that far north five years ago. It specializes in local food from the Hudson River Valley (they list 34 farms that their restaurant supports on their menu), and does rather sumptuous things with what they get. We had a bowl of Minestrone that was delicious and filling. I had to work hard to persuade My Girl that we would be passing on the cookies and brownies there because another opportunity for dessert was yet to come.

We took a pit stop in Rhinebeck, which also seemed to be a bit more interesting than on previous visits. They have an old Five and Dime where I got a nice crochet hook, clasps to keep My Girl's mittens on her jacket sleeves, and old fashioned autumn leaf stickers. We spent far too much at the local independent bookstore (Oblong Books), but it’s hard to feel too bad about that. Plus, I found two new YA books for school: Hate That Cat (follow up to Creech’s lovely Love That Dog), and Gibson’s new Moxie Maxwell Does Not Love Writing Thank You Notes (a follow-up to the earlier Moxie Maxwell Does Not Love Stuart Little).

It was getting late, and since I always seem to end up getting lost on the way home from these parts, we hit the road. Our next stop, Hyde Park, wasn’t far at all. Dessert was to be had at the Apple Pie Bakery Café at the Culinary Institute of America.

I have wanted to go to this place for years, and it was, in fact, on my Summer To Do List, but since it was combined with going to a drive in movie (and the movie never showed anything the whole family could enjoy) it got passed up for The Amazing Tour of Miniature Golf Courses. What a mistake! This place warrants its own trip.

We had an impossible time deciding what to order. The mousse served in a little eggshell? An amazing tiramisu? Marzipan gelato?

My Girl finally chose the lemon meringue “pie,” a little tumbler with zingy lemon curd with some crust somewhere inside (it was eaten so quickly that I barely got a look at it) and a little browned meringue hat on top. I had a little tumbler with butternut squash (cooked way down with butter and some sugar into it’s most delectable essence), a round of gingerbread sponge cake, caramel/mascarpone custard, and then a little French macaroon as top. I had never tasted anything so surprising or scrumptious. I was sad when I had finished it but took delight in the strong coffee.

Our evening was bound to be a disappointment, as nothing could cap our day better than the meringue and macaroon. Still, we have today off too, and who can complain about that?

I took all those photos, so nobody can get mad at me.


Beer Can Chicken

Have we talked about Beer Can Chicken? It’s my favorite way to cook a whole chicken on the grill. I’ve been known to ask the butcher to butterfly the bird and then grill the whole thing flat, but it’s easier to plop the thing on a can of Bud and let the heat do it’s thing.

Here’s how to do it:

Beer Can Chicken


1 can of beer
1 whole chicken
Salt and Pepper
Some kind of rub, if you want

1. Heat the grill up.

2. Open the can of beer, and pour out (or drink) about 1/3 of it.

3. Prop chicken snugly on beer can: legs pointing down like it's going to sit down.

4. Season the chicken w/ salt and pepper. [I sometimes add some ground coriander, and sometimes I use a rub.]

5. Carefully put the beer can on the grill. Make sure it is steady and that it won’t topple (mess).

6. Cook the chicken until a meat thermometer, stuck into the bird’s thigh, reads 170 degrees.

7. Carefully take the chicken and beer can off the grill with good pot holders and tongs.

8. Even more carefully, take chicken off of the beer can and let the chicken rest for a few minutes.

9. Carve and serve.

Note: A can of bud is fine for the chicken, but pour yourself one these for a good beer: Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, Blue Point's Hoptical Illusion, or Captain Lawrence Pale Ale


Did You Know This?

“States now in the voluntary recall for ground beef purchased [from Whole Foods] between June 2 through August 6, 2008 include: Alabama, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New Mexico, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, Virginia, Washington D. C. and Wisconsin.”

You can get more information from the Whole Foods website or from Beyond Blueberries blog.

According to Whole Foods, “the beef in question came from Coleman Natural Beef (now owned and operated by Meyer Beef), which used Nebraska Beef for processing.” I’m shocked, shocked that Whole Foods trades with factory farms. Makes that pricey chicken from the Hastings Farmer’s Market seem even more worth it.


The Time of the Season

We usually visit family in California in the late summer, which means the amazing Sacramento Farmer’s Market is in full swing. One of my favorite parts of the trip is when Iron Chef Maurice and I make the short trek to the market under the underpass and weave our way through the maze of stalls looking for the best tomatoes, melons, and peaches. This being California and more specifically the Central Valley the place is truly a cornucopia of the freshest and most beautiful food imaginable.The heirloom tomatoes, of every possible color, are the big prizes, and they get prominently displayed on the kitchen counter as we unpack and plan the meal.

We all weren’t able to make the trip West this summer, so only Evan sat down to the traditional meal, pasta with fresh tomatoes. Maurice sent along the recipe, so I was able to do my best to replicate the summer ritual. It’s called Caprese with Penne, and it’s from Viana La Place & Evan Kleiman’s wonderful Pasta Fresca, which according to Maurice everyone should have a copy of on their cook book shelf.

The recipe itself is pretty easy; the secret is that you have to have incredible tomatoes. Maurice says “Never, ever try to make Caprese with store-bought tomatoes. They must be red all the way through.” That means that this is a summer recipe, more specifically a dish for August.

One basic rule of cooking is to completely read your recipe before you even think about starting. Dinner would have been earlier if I had read the part about having the tomatoes, garlic, and basil marinate in the olive oil for about 2 hours. Dinner was after eight, but believe me—it was worth the wait.

Here’s how to make it:

4 large and incredibly beautiful tomatoes, skinned and chopped into 1” pieces
2-3 T fresh basil, chopped (or torn or in a chiffonade)
2 cloves of garlic, minced
Salt and pepper
Olive oil (recipe calls for fruity) to cover
1 lb. penne rigate pasta
1 lb fresh mozzarella (recipe says to rate the mozzarella, but Maurice has a lot to say about this)*

So yes, mix the first 5 ingredients and let them all sit an incredibly long time while everyone gets hungry and you sip gin and tonics and eat salted nuts.

Then when it seems that everyone is getting cranky and starts giving you the eye, tell them to start boiling some water for the pasta. Cook the pasta in salted and oiled water until it is al dente (about 11 minutes) because if you let it go any longer, people like My Girl (who has inherited this from her grandfather) will start telling you that you don’t know how to cook pasta. Over-cooked pasta, according to Maurice will ruin the dish and everyone will scowl.

Invite anyone who looks really hungry to slice up the mozzarella with you. They can swipe bites of it, and that should keep them happy.

Put the tomato mixture in a serving bowl. When the pasta is done, drain it (reserving some of the cooking water in case things get a little dry) and add to the tomatoes in the serving dish. Stir it up and when everything is cooled down a bit, add what’s left of the fresh mozzarella.

Serve and sing praises to summer, give a clink of your glass to Iron Chef Maurice, and decide to get the Pasta Fresca cook book from your favorite independent bookseller.

*“ Fresh, made-in-California, mozzarella in a plastic container with some of the cheese water is far better than the shrink-wrapped, rubber ball kind that is usually found in supermarkets. Taylor’s Mkt on Freeport and 4th Ave has it and so does. Corti Bros. [both in Sacramento]. Both also have Italian Buffalo mozzarella. The rubber ball stuff will work in an emergency, but the best by far is the Mozzarella da Bufala from Italia I actually don’t grate the mozzarella, but cut it into little matchstick-sized pieces and add it after I have added the tomatoes to the pasta and it has had a chance to cool down a little. If you add it before then it tends to melt and clump together. Take your pick, a highly respected chef and author, or me.”

Image from Bountiful Garden: http://www.bountiful-garden.org/strains.html


Working on the Local Thing

Farro Salad

I recently finished reading Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, and I have to say that I found it inspiring. Her mantra “Eat Locally” is like an earworm, making me read those obnoxious stickers on produce to see where its from and get up early on Saturday mornings to shop at the Hastings Farmer’s Market. And that’s not all bad. I’m not really complaining here. I’m just glad I’m reading it now instead of back in the ‘80’s. I’d be digging up the back yard to plant squash and looking into raising goats. I was highly impressionable and full of zeal.

Now I embrace Julia Child’s attitude about moderation, and that’s why I could prepare my favorite farro salad for dinner last night.

The salad is problematic for “localvores” unless you live in both Italy and Spain; you see I have only been able to find farro made in Italy and Manchego cheese made in Spain. But I compensated by getting the red peppers at the local farmer’s market and the basil even closer – my own backyard. I can live with that trade off for now.

Farro, by the way, is a nutty grain. The internet tells me that it was the staple of the Roman Legions. Wikipedia says that it’s also known as Emmer Wheat and that it was one of the first domesticated crops.

I adapted this recipe from one in the beautiful Zuni Café Cookbook by Judy Rogers.

Here’s how to make it:

1C farro
1 Red pepper, diced – a bit bigger than the farro*
2/3 C Manchego cheese, diced — a bit bigger than the farro
1/4 C fresh basil en chiffonade (shredded)**
3-4 T Olive Oil
Salt and Pepper

Boil about 3 cups of water in a med. saucepan. Add a few pinches of salt.

Add I C farro to the boiling water. Cook for 10 – 15 minutes until somewhat tender, but not too firm.

Drain cooked farro, as you would pasta, and then spread it out on a baking sheet to cool.

When the grain is cool, combine red pepper, cheese, and basil in a large bowl. Add olive oil, a tablespoon at a time (while gently tossing the salad) until everything is thinly and evenly coated. Add salt and pepper to taste.

I will eat this salad anytime, even for breakfast! But now that I’ve read the Kingsolver I would feel badly to purchase basil in February. I’m not saying that I won’t ever, but I’d feel really badly.

*Rogers’ recipe calls for tomatoes. I’ve also used roasted red peppers when I’m not in a hurry.
** A chiffonade is done by stacking all of the basil leaves on top of each other, rolling them up like some kind of strange cigar, and then slicing thin thin horizontal cuttings (say, from the tip to the base).


In Case You Missed This - or - Food is Political

Here's NY Times Reporter Nicolas Kristof's update on Beatrice Biira. For those of you who haven't teared up over the picture book Beatrice's Goat, I'll give you the back story. Beatrice and her Ugandan family received a goat from Heifer International. The goat was the leg up that her family needed to become more self-sufficient and enabled Beatrice to attend school. Kristof, who persists in telling the stories that aren't always on the 24/7 news radar,shows how individuals (like you, like me) can change the world. I'm not kidding.

Printed from the July 3, 2008 New York Times:

The Luckiest Girl


This year’s college graduates owe their success to many factors, from hectoring parents to cherished remedies for hangovers. But one of the most remarkable of the new graduates, Beatrice Biira, credits something utterly improbable: a goat.

“I am one of the luckiest girls in the world,” Beatrice declared at her graduation party after earning her bachelor’s degree from Connecticut College. Indeed, and it’s appropriate that the goat that changed her life was named Luck.

Beatrice’s story helps address two of the most commonly asked questions about foreign assistance: “Does aid work?” and “What can I do?”

The tale begins in the rolling hills of western Uganda, where Beatrice was born and raised. As a girl, she desperately yearned for an education, but it seemed hopeless: Her parents were peasants who couldn’t afford to send her to school.

The years passed and Beatrice stayed home to help with the chores. She was on track to become one more illiterate African woman, another of the continent’s squandered human resources.

In the meantime, in Niantic, Conn., the children of the Niantic Community Church wanted to donate money for a good cause. They decided to buy goats for African villagers through Heifer International, a venerable aid group based in Arkansas that helps impoverished farming families.

A dairy goat in Heifer’s online gift catalog costs $120; a flock of chicks or ducklings costs just $20.

One of the goats bought by the Niantic church went to Beatrice’s parents and soon produced twins. When the kid goats were weaned, the children drank the goat’s milk for a nutritional boost and sold the surplus milk for extra money.

The cash from the milk accumulated, and Beatrice’s parents decided that they could now afford to send their daughter to school. She was much older than the other first graders, but she was so overjoyed that she studied diligently and rose to be the best student in the school.

An American visiting the school was impressed and wrote a children’s book, “Beatrice’s Goat,” about how the gift of a goat had enabled a bright girl to go to school. The book was published in 2000 and became a children’s best seller — but there is now room for a more remarkable sequel.

Beatrice was such an outstanding student that she won a scholarship, not only to Uganda’s best girls’ high school, but also to a prep school in Massachusetts and then to Connecticut College. A group of 20 donors to Heifer International — coordinated by a retired staff member named Rosalee Sinn, who fell in love with Beatrice when she saw her at age 10 — financed the girl’s living expenses.

A few years ago, Beatrice spoke at a Heifer event attended by Jeffrey Sachs, the economist. Mr. Sachs was impressed and devised what he jokingly called the “Beatrice Theorem” of development economics: small inputs can lead to large outcomes.

Granted, foreign assistance doesn’t always work and is much harder than it looks. “I won’t lie to you. Corruption is high in Uganda,” Beatrice acknowledges.

A crooked local official might have distributed the goats by demanding that girls sleep with him in exchange. Or Beatrice’s goat might have died or been stolen. Or unpasteurized milk might have sickened or killed Beatrice.

In short, millions of things could go wrong. But when there’s a good model in place, they often go right. That’s why villagers in western Uganda recently held a special Mass and a feast to celebrate the first local person to earn a college degree in America.

Moreover, Africa will soon have a new asset: a well-trained professional to improve governance. Beatrice plans to earn a master’s degree at the Clinton School of Public Service in Arkansas and then return to Africa to work for an aid group.

Beatrice dreams of working on projects to help women earn and manage money more effectively, partly because she has seen in her own village how cash is always controlled by men. Sometimes they spent it partying with buddies at a bar, rather than educating their children. Changing that culture won’t be easy, Beatrice says, but it can be done.

When people ask how they can help in the fight against poverty, there are a thousand good answers, from sponsoring a child to supporting a grass-roots organization through globalgiving.com. (I’ve listed specific suggestions on my blog, nytimes.com/ontheground, and on facebook.com/kristof).

The challenges of global poverty are vast and complex, far beyond anyone’s power to resolve, and buying a farm animal for a poor family won’t solve them. But Beatrice’s giddy happiness these days is still a reminder that each of us does have the power to make a difference — to transform a girl’s life with something as simple and cheap as a little goat.

[Kristof invites you to comment on this column on his blog, www.nytimes.com/ontheground, and join him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/kristof]


Iron Chef Maurice Delivers - or - Takin' It For Gratin

A present-for-no-reason arrived at my door the other day. Iron Chef Maurice gave me a copy of one of his favorite cookbooks: Bistro Cooking by Patricia Wells. It’s a beautiful book, and Maurice pointed out the gratin section, especially a gratin dauphinois with blue cheese.

I was in the mood for a gratin myself, but something a bit more summery. She had the perfect recipe: tomato and zucchini gratin. It reeks of summer, though it does take a bit to get the oven turned on to 400 degrees.

We ate it outside with some grilled chicken and some bread to mop up all of the juicy goodness. I thought it had a kind of pizza flavor, what with the tomatoes and cheese.

Here’s how I made it:

Zucchini, sliced very thinly into disks
Tomatoes, cored and also sliced thinly
Fresh thyme
Olive Oil
Parmesan Cheese

Preheat oven to 400 degrees (ouch!)

I lightly salted the zucchini disks and let them sit on some paper towels to keep them from being too watery. After about 20 minutes I turned them once and then about 15 minutes wiped the salt off.

Wells has you rub a cut clove of garlic in the au gratin pain, something I learned from the French to do in my salad bowl as well.

Then you place one layer of zucchini on the bottom. Follow that with a single layer of tomatoes. Repeat with zucchini and tomatoes until you run out or you reach the top of your dish.

I put a few breadcrumbs on the very top. I don’t know why. I just did.

Sprinkle the fresh thyme on the top along with about 2 Tablespoons of Olive Oil.

Bake for about 20 minutes. I knew mine was done with the veggies seemed a little soft and it was making lots of noise (think a soft hissing sound).

Grate a fair amount of Parmesan on top, and put the dish under the broiler (keeping a good eye on it) until it lightly browns.


Date Night

National Date
, Indio, California

Fairway had fresh dates yesterday, the kind still on the stick. They are so beautiful and have the appeal of the wild. Brussels sprouts on the stalk are like that, but only the cook gets to appreciate pulling the sprouts off the stem. These aren’t the shiny, sticky dates that look like insect exoskeletons (the fruitcake kind). These are smooth and the color of caramel—divine.

Evan is away visiting his parents, so I thought tonight’s dinner might be something plain and simple: prosciutto, figs, Machengo cheese, some quinoa salad, and fresh dates. But I think of Evan and a trip we took to Joshua Tree back in the early '90's. We were in date country and saw signs for date shakes . We were too chicken to try one then, but now that we are older and wiser I know we would have sprung for one.

Photo used with permission from


Time for More FotC - The Marvin Gaye Way

Back on the Farm

It’s time for Farm Camp again. My Girl, her best friend, and a gaggle of other local kids get the chance to frolic on the farm at Stone Barns (collecting eggs, herding sheep, picking berries, pulling weeds, harvesting veggies, making healthy snacks, and weaving lanyards). Yesterday was especially wonderful, according to My Girl, because they climbed up the compost heap and then slid down. She was the dirtiest she had ever been in her life, so beautiful I wanted to capture her grimy shins on film.

Stone Barns is exactly where she needs to be. Even though we moved to the suburbs three years ago, she’s a city girl at heart. Yes, she has come to love playing on the grass, can spot poison ivy from a good distance, and knows the names of most of the local songbirds. But what’s wonderful about Stone Barns is that just being there teaches us to consider where our food comes from. It’s different to see the chickens at Stone Barns than the ones in the Children’s Zoo in the Bronx Zoo. The chickens at the farm are just cute and funny as those at the zoo, but fact remains that they’re going to be food. This is an important lesson if you eat meat because it reminds us of our connection and perhaps makes us a bit more grateful for what we have.

Stone Barns grows wonderful fruits and vegetables, teaching about the patience and care it takes to sow, nurture, and harvest plants—that food is seasonal, and that fresh food is a joy. When the kids pick pea pods off the vine and pop them into their mouths it teaches them that the Earth provides for us and that we, in turn have a responsibility to it.

Yes, it’s terrific to have these lessons literally “farmed out” for my daughter, but I have to ask myself how well I am modeling these principals for her. We celebrate food, but until recently when prices began to go up noticeably, I took the full grocery cart for granted. Evan and I have a kind of running joke with some leftovers. We put them in the fridge almost ironically, and then a couple of days later we clean it out asking, “Is this done?” Tonight I threw out two slices of steak, a little bit of broccoli rabe, the remains of a delish strawberry tart, and some mozzarella cheese—and that was a low night.

Perhaps I need to go to farm camp for a couple of weeks too.


A Confluence of Summer and Nostalgia

I had some strawberries from the neighborhood farmer’s market going begging in the fridge. That’s a phrase my grandma would use when something worthwhile was being ignored. These strawberries were definitely worthwhile (little bright red ones), but they had been sitting around for a couple of days. They were past their prime.

The night before I had found a thread about memories of Berkeley in ‘70’s and 80’s, and it was like going through an old scrapbook. They wrote about all of my favorite places (The U.C. Theater, Edy’s, Monterey Market, Café Roma and on and on) and helped me remember my first espresso (Caffe Med), buying my first album (Cat Stevens’ “Teaser and the Fire Cat”), my first job (selling bagels at The Bagel Works on Telegraph). Another memory crept in too, sitting in the sun on a surprisingly warm afternoon drinking a coffee frappé. I don’t remember the name of the café (except that it was in the same Northside complex as The Melting Pot and Top Dog), but I do remember being very happy with a book, the sun, and this icy drink.

The two came together: the strawberries and the memories of Berkeley; I made strawberry frappés.

I crushed some ice in the blender, added some milk to make it a liquid, then added the edible parts of the strawberries (it seemed many had gone begging too long). I poured them into tall glasses, and we sat in the sun sipping. We had to return to the kitchen for an adjustment, sugar. Even the red, red strawberries need a little boost.


I say "Frittata"

If you plan on coming over to my house for brunch, odds are you’re going to be served a Frittata, quiche without the guilt or bother with the crust. I often serve it with asparagus and cheese, but last night’s had some of that leftover (pricey) Madrange ham and tiny-diced potatoes (and some sautéed onion). I grated some Parmesan cheese on top and sprinkled some torn basil for a festive look.

San Francisco Mom of One
served me my first Frittata years ago. It was a hot summer day in the South Bay, and she whipped up this fine dish. Hers had some pasta inside, which even Alice Waters gives permission to do.

Here’s how I made mine last night:


Some red onion, diced and sautéed

About 3/4 C boiled potatoes, diced small

About 3/4 C diced ham

6 eggs, well beaten

Salt and pepper

1-2 T Vegetable Oil (quantity depends if you’re using a non-stick pan or not. Sometimes I use oil and butter together)

Preheat oven to 350.
Heat a good size sauté pan (that can go in the oven) over medium flame and add the oil. Once oil is fairly hot pour in eggs. Briefly let eggs set, then add the onion, potatoes, ham, a few grinds of pepper, and some salt (depending on how salty your ham is). As the eggs set, push the edges in, letting runny parts move to the edge to cook more. This can take about 3-5 minutes, depending on the size of your pan, how many eggs you’ve used, how much filling you have.

Be sure to watch your flame because you don’t want the bottom to overcook.

When all is cooked but the top, put the pan in the oven for about 2-3 minutes more.

When it is cooked through (but not overly dry!), take it out of the oven and loosen the frittata from the pan. Invert it onto a large serving plate. Garnish and serve.

This can be good hot from the oven or at room temperature, and while I was eating ours last night I began to think of an artichoke frittata. Doesn’t that sound good?


French Dinner, Italian Style

My Girl’s best friend is French, so when she had dinner at her house on a hectic day (and when is dinner w/ a play date not hectic) the mom often served a simple dinner. She would put together some plates of ham, cheese, and salad, some cornichons and mustard; that would be it. My Girl began to think of this as a French Dinner, and in many ways it is. Delicious food served thoughtfully and with ease, what’s more French than that?

Tonight was a perfect night for a French Dinner. The Girl and I were tired out from 19 holes of mini golf. It is too hot to have the oven on, and the thunderstorms are keeping me from the grill.

So we made a detour to Mamaroneck on our way home.

It has only been three years that we’ve been in Westchester, so as the face of Manhattan evolves into some unknown entity (goodbye La Fortuna, Hunan Park, Lenge, Le Gamin, The Gardenia Coffee Shop, Jerry’s. (The Old) Palm Court, Zen Palate, Café Gray, Le Madeleine, Diwan Curry House), I have tried to become more familiar with my new territory. I let myself get “lost” to discover what’s worth finding around here. That’s how I found Cosmo & Alex Pisano Brothers’ Italian market in Mamaroneck—just driving through on my very round about way to the Apple Store at the Westchester Mall. This little market has everything (even the I Rigoli cookies I crave) and is definitely worth a detour (don't miss the bakery a few doors up either).

Today I went there purposely, with a goal in mind: dinner! I got a few slices of Madrange Ham, a Fava bean salad, another salad of celery, ricotta, and escarole, some fresh mozzarella, and a small ciabatta. I combined this at home with some fresh basil leaves from our garden, some curls of Parmesan cheese, and some roasted red peppers from a jar. The three of sat outside and enjoyed our feast, early for a change because it was prepared with ease.


How Do You Feel About Croquettes?

Dr. Freud's Couch

Croquettes creeped into my life slowly. Once, when I was whiling away my 45 minutes of psychoanalysis I asked out loud what I could prepare for dinner with leftover roast chicken. “Croquettes!” was the enthusiastic response from my analyst. This from the person who was so professionally restrained that nearly every question I asked in 10 years went unanswered. Croquettes? What in the world was she talking about?

Years went by and that cryptic and isolated response perplexed me. What are croquettes and why, of all the things she could possibly tell me, did she recommend them?

Then I picked My Girl up from a late afternoon play date (which marvelously included dinner). I could see some of the leftovers on the kitchen table, and the kind dad (who also happens to be a wonderful cook) offered me some. They were little potato pancakes full of chicken and peas. “What are these?” I asked with a mouth full of the light and savory morsel.


They are indeed an excellent way to make use of leftover chicken, leftover mashed potatoes, and leftover peas. But I was so in the mood for them the other night that I made fresh mashed potatoes and fresh corn to accompany the leftover chicken and to appease my hunger.

They are most definitely comfort food, and perhaps that comfort was what the wise doctor was trying to relay.

Here’s how I made them:

Mashed potatoes—this is the main ingredient, and the amount you have will determine how many croquettes you will have. Remember, butter makes them better.

Roast Chicken – take the meat off the bone and chop into bite-sized pieces

Some sautéed onion, shallot and/or garlic will add more flavor. You won’t need a lot

Some vegetables – corn, peas. I used one ear of corn for about 10 croquettes

Egg—(beaten) Think of this as meatloaf, you want enough to bind everything together and add some lightness when it cooks, but don’t make it too wet.

Salt / Pepper

Bread Crumbs or Panko

Vegetable Oil

Mix the potatoes, chicken, onion, veggies, egg, and salt and pepper. Form them into balls and flatten them out into cakes (about the size of a hamburger patty). It’s not a bad idea to let them chill in the fridge if you have the time. I think this helps them set.

Lightly bread each side of each croquette with breadcrumbs

Heat a griddle and add some oil (don’t let it smoke), and cook the croquettes, letting them crisp up on each side. Let each one drain on some paper towels after you cook them, then keep them warm a low oven until they are all done.

Image: From Freud.uk.org


A Day with Frog and Toad

I was feeling a lot like Toad yesterday, Frog’s rather glum and pessimistic friend. An iced coffee at about 4:00 finally shook it out of me, but I promised to have a brighter outlook today. So I started things off with a brisk walk and came home to stare down the three baskets of raspberries in the fridge.

The local A&P has raspberries on sale this week, three baskets for five dollars. It is actually a sweet deal when one considers that a half-gallon of organic milk is almost that. The thing with raspberries though, is you have to use ‘em or lose ‘em. So the pressure was on: what was I going to do with those berries?

I thought of a raspberry mousse, that is until I looked up the recipe and saw how many cups of heavy cream go into it, and it seems a shame to eat all those calories without the chocolate. I riffled through as many cookbooks as I could and came across this from my guru, Laurie Colwin: “God created raspberries in large part so that we would preserve them in glowing jars to stack smugly in our cupboard. Lord knows I love jam making—the ravishing color of the berries as they first combine with the sugar, the moment when the thickness is right, the satisfaction of ladling the wanton jam into the tidy jar.” See! Toad would not make jam; it is such a Frog activity.

I found some old jars and fresh lids and put them on to cook. Measured out equal parts berries to sugar and let my mind drift to other literary inspirations for the process. Suddenly I was Sal’s mom, in their kitchen, making blueberry jam. Yes, I am hopeless.

Feeling even more empowered I sliced up 9 lemons, sprinkled them with sugar, and began to mash them with a potato masher so we can have lemonade later too.

It’s 11:00 am. Maybe it’s time for a nap.

Frog and Toad illustration by Arnold Lobel
Sal and her Mom, inside cover from Blueberries for Sal, Robert McCloskey


Oh Yeah, I Forgot...

A friend told me that she actually knew of a reader (thank you, thank you) who has been waiting for months (Such patience! Such loyalty!) to hear how that darn pork roast turned out. I remember it well, even though many meals have been plopped down on my table since.

It was horrible, like cardboard.

Michael Pollan’s latest actually sheds some light on the pork loin problem. With our “lipophobia” (fear of fats) that came out of the ’77 and ’82 dietary guidelines from the National Academy of Sciences, we began to breed for leaner pigs. They became “The Other White Meat.” But it seems my high school home ec. teacher had it right: the flavor is in the fat, and that’s why the Prime steaks at Fairway have gorgeous marbling and taste like heaven (if red meat is your thing). Note that three of us share one small steak, so as red meat consumers we’re not at the top of the charts.

Since the March Madness of the pork loin debacle, I have been a champion of the pork shoulder. It’s cheap, difficult to botch, and oh my does it taste good.

One time I put a whole boneless roast in the slow cooker along with some celery, carrots, cannelloni beans, and a big can of tomatoes. I think I made a sauce of some of the veggies and juices after it all cooked for 6 hours and the meat was all falling apart. We were happily heating that dish up for a couple of days.

When I was in Sacramento last summer and under the tutelage of Iron Chef Maurice, I raided his cookbooks, xeroxing every good thing I could find. Many of these were from Rick Bayless’ Mexican Everyday, a book Maurice swears by. This past Sunday I made Puerco y Papas al Gujillo, which translates into Guajillo Spiced Pork and Potatoes. It was a revelation.

The deceiving thing about slow cookers is that it’s easy to confuse them with the Ron Popeil philosophy of cooking: “Set It and Forget It.” You usually can’t just throw everything into the pot, set the timer and go to work. There is usually some kind of prep work (e.g., chopping, sautéing) to do before you can resume your leisure activities. This recipe is no exception. You have to toast the guajillo chilies, puree them with a bunch of ingredients, and strain them over the meat and potatoes. Don’t let me dissuade you, however. It’s about 30 minutes of prep—then you’re free to watch movies, read a book, do a load of laundry, and have a good long phone chat.

It’s a heavy dish; still it’s good for a summer night (like in Mexico). I served it with black beans, tortillas and corn one night, escarole salad on the next.

Puerco Y Papas al Guajillo
(from Bayless’ Mexican Everyday)

Serves 6

1 1/2 pounds red skin or Yukon Gold potatoes, each cut into 6 wedges
1 1/2 – 2 pounds boneless pork shoulder, cubed (I used 1 1/2” cubes)
2 oz (about 8) dried guajillo chilies (stemmed, seeded, and torn so they lie flat)
1 – 15oz can diced tomatoes
4 garlic cloves, peeled and halved
2 tsp dried oregano
2 Tbs Worcestershire sauce
1/2 C (loosely packed) chopped cilantro for garnish
1/2 C diced white onion

1. Set the potatoes over bottom of slow cooker and top with pork.
2. Heat med. (8-inch) skillet over medium heat. When it is hot, toast the chilies – about 10 seconds per side. Any smoke means they are burning. Put in blender.
3. Add tomatoes w/ juice, garlic, oregano, Worcestershire, a generous 1 1/2 tsp. Salt, and 1 1/2 C water. Blend until as smooth as possible. Strain mixture through a medium-mesh sieve directly into slow cooker, over meat and potatoes. Stir to mix.
4. Put on lid and set to slow-cook on high for 6 hours. (It can keep on “warm” for 4 hours after cooked.)
5. Stir when done, add water if sauce seems too thick. Add salt if you think it needs it.
6. Serve in bowls with cilantro and onion on top.

Note: You can also do this in a Dutch oven at 300 degrees for 2 -1/2 to 3 hours.


Better Than Making Dinner

I'm about to get up and make dinner...but first...The Tape of Love


Not For Dinner

Some of my dinners have been pretty crappy lately, but I do have some handy tips for good things to serve.
First for the healthy: fruit kabobs. I had to bring something to The Girl’s school picnic, and I swear I lost sleep over this assignment. What will most kids eat that is good for them? What won’t spoil in the sun? What is easy to carry? Yes, delicious fruit-on-a-stick was the answer. I cubed up melons, blackberries, pineapple, and strawberries (having forgotten the organic grapes in the fridge), and they were pretty darn good. Color-wise, the pineapple blackberry combo looks best.

Now for the decadent! Our dear neighbors help us out in so many ways. I did two loads of laundry at their house yesterday because our machine is on the fritz; that’s how generous they are! They are so thoughtful that it isn’t unusual to get a phone call around dinner time announcing that “s’mores” will be available over their leftover coals. [They grill with charcoal, which is pretty much the only way to toast marshmallows.] They were out of chocolate on this particular night, but they did have Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. Oh man! The gooey hot marshmallow with the graham cracker and chocolate were amazing, but with peanut butter it was overwhelmingly delicious. We named them “Nutter S’mores.” Try it for yourself.


Stay Tuned for Results

It's the Sunday after setting our clocks ahead, and even though "people" say that it doesn't make a difference in our bodies and brains, I "feel" a difference. I am all out of whack, as if I didn't get enough sleep even after eight hours. To make myself feel better...I'm cooking.

I have Mark Bittman's Pork Roast with Potatoes in the oven, and even after 20 minutes the house smells like a place you want to be on a Sunday afternoon.

It's from his How to Cook Everything book (my copy is falling apart from use), and so far...so good.


Second Chance

Sometimes I make life difficult for myself. Take the little brussels sprouts they sell at Citarella. Each little sprout is about the size of a "shooter" marble, and is a tight, tight bud of cruciferous goodness. They come in a little mesh bag, which you can absent-mindedly fling into your shopping basket, never noticing how much you're paying for those little gems.

I bought them once, and, thinking that I had to clean each stem and peel off any tarnished leaf, it truly wasn't worth the effort. I had a heap of stem ends and tiny leaves to discard, and not much solid sprout to show for my work. I would bet that I probably cursed.

If I'm anything I'm hopeful, so just this Saturday (years away from my first baby sprout encounter) I flung another mesh bag of them into my basket. This time I had a plan: wash them really well, dry them, drizzle with some olive oil, sprinkle w/ salt and pepper, roast at 325 for however long it takes. I decided to go with a slowish oven to make sure that they were nicely cooked through. When they were just done I cranked the oven up a bit to ensure a nice brown crisp.

Oh my. These were some of the best brussels sprouts I had ever made. They were tender inside and then caramel crisp on the outside. I thought about taking a picture for this post, but I swear...I couldn't stop eating them to go get the camera.

They are good hot, cold, room temperature, and if you feel like it— you can eat these like popcorn.


Not Really About Dinner

Café La Fortuna is closing this Sunday. Lora sent me an e-mail with the news, and there it was in the Times. Café La Fortuna, home of the Iced Cappuccino with Chocolate Italian Ice, the place SFMomofOne showed me before she was a mom or lived in SF, home of so many great conversations and calories, a place so cool even John Lennon hung out there, a symbol of everything that the Upper Westside Side once stood for (before boutique cosmetic shops took over) is closing.

It feels like a really good friend who likes opera is leaving town.

I am devastated.


Morning Coffee

Sometimes you can tell a good friend by how much they listen to you and remember. I got a surprise in the mail the other day. It was the kind of gift that only someone who really knows me would send:a can of Ricoré. For those of you who don't know, Ricoré is a French instant coffee, and I suppose I like it because it is French and because it helps me relive fond, fond memories of days in France. My friend who sent it to me thinks of it kind of like French Sanka, the kind of coffee kids drink when they are just starting to like coffee--kind of like what a Frappuccino is to our teenagers today. For me, though, it is very different.

I heat up some skim milk in my favorite little sauce pan. Add two Tablespoons of the fine, fine Ricoré powder to my special cafe au lait bowl along with one knobby sugar cube. Pour and stir in the hot milk. Then I read the New York Times on line or work the crossword puzzle as the coffee helps me wake up.

Ricoré, as far as I'm concerned, is only for the morning. And since you have to work really hard to get it in the U.S. (Nestle, who makes it, refuses to sell it here) it is a rare and beautiful thing.

Thanks, C., for sending it to me. I promise a more personal expression of gratitude très bientôt.


Lunch at Savoy - or - Behold the Parsnip

Trust me, this will tie in to dinner.

I informed My Girl after dance class today that she was taking me out to lunch. It could be a Valentines Day lunch or a late B’day lunch, it didn’t matter. We had a free all day park spot on the Upper West Side, and I was long, long longing to go to one of my favorite restaurants: Savoy in SoHo. My Girl was kind of against the idea because it involved taking the subway (she’s much more of a bus girl), but she put on her game face, clutched my hand and trooped down the stairs to the downtown track.

We got a nice little table (with a view of the fire place and Salman Rushdie) and were quickly overcome with choices. The woman at the next table was digging into the duck confit on polenta, which looked awfully tempting. They had a pork loin special that sounded good too. One of the best things, though, about the Savoy menu is the “little plates.” I suppose they are kind of like tapas. We chose: caramelized brussels sprouts with lardons; a salad of dates, ginger and carrots; and roasted beets with grated horseradish and orange. When we saw parsnip soup on the menu (with gruyere croutons) we knew we had to get that too. I had white wine and My Girl had lemonade, and we savored every bit. For dessert we shared a Meyer lemon tart with elderflower sorbet. My Girl didn’t like the sorbet, and I was glad because it was amazing (like eating flowers in the snow).

During the lunch, I confess, to being awfully proud of My Girl. I know when I was her age I would have avoided anything parsnip-like at all costs. I think she's game because we recently had pureed parsnips at home—and you can too. And you should because they are unbelievably good and super easy to make.

Here’s how:
Steam some skinned parsnips and skinned carrots until tender. (Many more parsnips than carrots)
•Put the cooked pieces in a food processor (or if you have a good friend who has recently moved to Paris and gave you her immersion blending stick because of the different Euro electrical current use that.)
•Add some butter and process or blend.
•Add some salt and pepper.
•Serve to your friends and family to their utter amazement.


Get Comfortable

I tend to think visually, and though I am not a fan of food jargon I do like the term “comfort food.” I think this is because when I hear it I see myself sitting in our orange chair, wrapped in a blanket, eating something like macaroni and cheese or rice pudding. I am a big fan of comfort food, and I have one dish that is the most comforting of all.

I first fell upon this dish when I was working near Union Square, and I was able to duck out to (the now defunct) Verbena’s take out café. Every once in a while they offered a bowl of polenta with a fresh tomato sauce. I never wanted to leave, and I wanted my bowl to magically refill like in Strega Nona.

I found a variation of this dish at Via Quadronno. More than once I have gone there and plunked down myself (and a bit of cash) for their Polenta del Cacciatore, which they describe as baked cornmeal, Bolognese with mushrooms and mozzarella. It’s served in a piping hot au gratin pan, and the cheesy top is all bubbling hot. The tomato sauce is rich, and the polenta is a firm and buttery contrast to it. This is the dish to mend all wounds: emotional, physical, but maybe not economical.

I’ve done my best to replicate this dish at home, and have found some success. My take on it is fast and cheap (at least cheaper). Here’s what I do:

I make up some fast-cooking polenta (the five minute kind). I don’t often have time for the regular stuff, plus last time I made it I burned my hand on the bubble and pop.

I’m not sure if the polenta box calls for butter, but I learned from the folks at Verbena that adding butter to your polenta is an excellent idea. Add enough to make it yummy but not too shiny.

When the polenta is the right thickness – like oatmeal, pour it out onto a a baking pan. You want it about 1/2 to 1 inch thick. Let it cool and become solid.

Now the hardest part is over.

Open up a container of good Bolognese sauce. I know Maurice makes his own, but I’m just not doing that when I’m making dinner and I want to feel comforted. Locally, Citarella makes a decent sauce, and it isn’t too expensive. Heat up the sauce.

When the polenta is solid, cut it into pieces to fit into an au gratin pan.

Top it with the Bolognese sauce.

Sprinkle with cheese. I’ve been using parmesan, but next time I’m going for the mozzarella.

Put the dish under the broiler for a few minutes, until a nice crust forms and the cheese is melted and a little brown.

Find your version of my orange chair. Find a blanket. Sit in the chair; wrap self in blanket. Begin to eat the polenta (preferably in a bowl)—then ask the one who takes care of you for a glass of red wine. You could have gotten it yourself, but you just made this amazing dish and deserve to be waited on.


The Time, Space, Family Dinner Conundrum

We were sitting around the table this evening having dinner (linguine with a semi-spicy tomato/shrimp sauce and broccoli rabe) when I came upon this big idea. I was noticing that I really wanted to know if everyone was enjoying the dinner. Both Evan and My Girl said they liked it, and that’s when it hit me. For me to truly enjoy a meal I have cooked, the pleasure factor has to be greater than the preparation (e.g., time, effort, number of pots and pans used). The linguine dish was good, but it took a lot to put together (and that’s without making my own sauce or cleaning the shrimp). Evan admits that he would describe the left over mess (that he cleans up) as high, and I don’t think that’s just because I stacked a sauté pan on the stock pot.

The good news is that the people I’m cooking for (besides myself) don’t really have an inkling about the mess they are going to encounter while they sit around the table enjoying their meal.


Soup's On

Well yes, we have been eating dinner. Case in point: yesterday it was freezing cold, and the weather just screamed soup. I had a hankering for something with vegetables, beans and pasta, so that’s what we had for dinner.

Here’s what I did:
Put about 2 T Olive Oil in a big pot. Sautéed 1/2 onion, chopped. Added 2 cloves of garlic, minced. Added 3-diced carrots and 3 stalks of celery – also diced. Let things begin to soften.

Add some chicken broth (about 1 C) and some water (about 2 C). Add 2 C fresh string beans, cut about to about 1 inch; 6 whole plum tomatoes from a can-chopped; two 14 oz cans of cannellini beans (drained); and the rind from some Parmesan cheese. Bring to boil, then cover and simmer for a good long time.

When you are about 10-15 minutes from serving cook some tubular pasta in a separate pot. I use a separate pot because I don’t want the pasta to take all my good broth. Cut up a zucchini into the same size as your pasta and add it to the soup. Add salt and pepper to taste. When your pasta is done, drain it and put some of it in a bowl. Add a ladle of soup (being careful not to serve the cheese rind). Garnish with some Parmesan cheese. Easy and good. Today is even colder (a high of 24 degrees), so we’re having leftovers.