Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Emergency Chicken Rub

One night, when I had neglected to plan ahead for dinner, I bought several bone-in chickn breasts and threw together this rub. It was a big hit, so I saved the recipe. The name comes from my daughter, Abigail, who believes that no plans for dinner constitutes an emergency.

½ cup brown sugar
¼ cup seasoned salt
2 Tbs paprika
2 Tbs freshly ground black pepper
1 Tbs garlic powder
1 Tbs dry mustard
2 tsp cayenne pepper

1. Combine all of the rub ingredients. Store in a sealed glass jar.

• Remove the skin from the breast before applying the rub.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Grandma's Rugelach

I grew up on these Hanukkah cookies and, fortunately, inherited the recipe from my grandmother.

2 c flour
½ c confectioners' sugar
½ tsp fresh lemon juice
½ tsp vanilla extract
2 4-oz sticks unsalted butter, softened
1 8-oz pkg cream cheese (preferably Philadelphia)
granulated sugar
ground cinnamon
1 c small walnut pieces
1 c currants (or raisins)
1 egg, beaten

1. Into the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade, measure the flour, confectioner's sugar, lemon juice, and vanilla extract. Cut each stick of butter into eight pieces and add to the food processor. Cut the block of cream cheese into eight pieces and add to the food processor. Pulse until the dough is well blended and collects in a ball.

2. Remove the dough from the food processor and shape into a ball. (If the dough seems overly sticky, knead in a little more flour.) Seal the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour.

3. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

4. Cut the dough into quarters. Working with one quarter at a time, roll the dough into an 8-inch-by-10-inch rectangle. Sprinkle 1 teaspoon granulated sugar and a few shakes of ground cinnamon over the rectangle. Rub in with the palm of your hand.

5. Spread one-quarter of the walnuts and one-quarter of the currants evenly over the dough, leaving a margin of about one inch on each of the short sides and about three inches on the top. (In other words, the area covered should be about eight inches across by five inches high.) Press the nuts and currants into the dough so that they don't slide around. Beginning at the bottom, roll the dough to create a tight cylinder (as though the dough were a cigar wrapper). Seal by pinching at the seam and at the two ends. Place the log seam-side up on a platter and refrigerate while repeating this procedure with the remaining dough quarters.

6. Brush the top of each log with the beaten egg and sprinkle with additional granulated sugar. Refrigerate for about 15 minutes, then slice each log into 8–10 inch-thick rounds.

7. Place the cookies on baking sheets lined with silicon mats (or parchment paper). Bake until golden brown, about 25–30 minutes.

• It's important that the sides of the dough rectangle be roughly parallel. You can achieve this easily by folding any unevenness back into the rectangle.

• Because currants (and raisins) tend to stick together, I microwave them first for 20-30 seconds. This loosens and also plumps them.

Thursday, December 9, 2010


Koreans eat kimchi several times every day because it's such a great digestive. American cuisine is a bit too diversified for that—I wouldn't serve kimchi with spaghetti carbonara, for instance—but I do eat it often as a snack before dinner.

1 large head napa cabbage (about 4 lb)
1 c kosher salt
10 c cold water
1 large daikon (Japanese white radish)
1 lb carrots
1 bunch green onions
½ lb fresh ginger, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 large head garlic, peeled and trimmed
1 large apple or pear, peeled and cored
1 large white onion, peeled, trimmed, and quartered
½ c fish sauce (nam pla)
½ c sugar
½–1 c hot red pepper powder

1. Remove any damaged outer leaves from the cabbage and trim the root end. Cut the head lengthwise into quarters. Cut each quarter across its width to create slices about three inches long and a quarter of an inch thick.

2. In a large stockpot or crock, combine the salt and water to make a 10 percent brine. Add the sliced cabbage and soak for 2-3 hours. (The brine should cover the cabbage. If not, make and add more 10 percent brine.)

3. While the cabbage is soaking, peel and trim the daikon and carrots and chop into bite-sized pieces. Trim the green onions and chop into pieces about one inch long. Add the sauce ingredients to the bowl of a food processor and puree.  In a large mixing bowl, combine the chopped daikon, carrots, and green onions with the sauce and toss to coat.

4. When the cabbage has soaked sufficiently, rinse it three times with cold water and drain well. Add to the sauced ingredients and mix well. Cover with plastic wrap and let stand overnight. The next day, transfer to storage containers and refrigerate.

• Although Asian market typically sell the freshest (and cheapest) kimchi ingredients, you can probably find what you need in your local supermarket—except for the hot red pepper powder that gives kimchi its distinctive zip. Fortunately, the powder keeps forever, so a single trip to an Asian market can keep you in kimchi for a year or more.

• The way the cabbage is sliced has no effect on the kimchi's taste. I find it expedient to use the method described above, but feel free to make the pieces larger or smaller to suit your taste. Similarly, cut the daikon and carrots as you wish. I tend to slice the daikon and julienne the carrots.

• Even after three rinsings, the brined cabbage will still have a slightly salty taste—but only slightly salty.

• I store my kimchi in large Ball jars. Make sure to leave a little headroom so that the juice doesn't overflow onto your refrigerator shelf.

• Kimchi belongs to the same food family (fermented vegetables) as sauerkraut. Thus, if you prefer, you can store your kimchi at room temperature in the same way you would store sauerkraut—that is, with the vegetables completely submerged in the briny juice. This anaerobic ("without air") environment prevents harmful bacteria from growing.

• Although kimchi tastes good (at least to me) on the day that it's made, I recommend  waiting about a week for the flavors time to develop.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Penne with Brussels Sprouts and Gorgonzola

The pecans in this dish add a nice, sweet crunch. Walnuts are another option.

(serves two adults and two children)

2 lb Brussels sprouts
¼ c olive oil
kosher salt, to taste
freshly ground black pepper, to taste
½ c pecans
2 Tbs unsalted butter
1 lb dried penne
2 shallots
¾ c heavy cream
1 c (4 oz) Gorgonzola

1. Place a large rimmed baking sheet in the lower half of the oven. Preheat to 500 degrees Fahrenheit.

2. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.

3. Trim the Brussels sprouts, removing any spoiled outer leaves. Rinse. Using a food processor fitted with a slicing disk, shred the sprouts. Transfer to a mixing bowl. Toss with the olive oil, salt, and pepper. Spread in a single layer over the heated baking sheet and roast until charring just begins, about 10–15 minutes.

4. Coarsely chop the pecans. In a small skillet over medium heat, melt 1 tablespoon of the butter. Add the pecans and cook, stirring often, until the butter is browned and the pecans are toasted, about 3 minutes. Remove from the heat.

5. Cook the penne in the boiling water until al dente, about 8 minutes.

6. Meanwhile, peel and chop the shallots. In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt the remaining 1 tablespoon butter. Add the shallots and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 3 minutes. Add the cream and bring to a simmer. Remove from the heat, add the Gorgonzola, and stir until melted.

7. Drain the penne and return to the pot. Add the Brussels sprouts and Gorgonzola sauce. Toss to coat. Sprinkle the pecans on top and serve with grated parmesan(or additional crumbled Gorgonzola.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Pork Satay

Over the weekend in DC, I served this dish to a group of Habitat for Humanity friends that my wife, Julia, and I made last year at the Carter Work Project in Thailand. Reminded us all of Chiang Mai.

(serves 12 as an appetizer)

2 pork tenderloins (about 2 lb)

 The Marinade
2 Tbs coriander seeds
2 tsp cumin seeds
¼ c canola oil
¼ c coconut milk
2 Tbs fish sauce (nam pla)
2-inch piece fresh ginger, grated
6 cloves garlic, grated
2 Tbs sugar
2 tsp turmeric
1 tsp ground cinnamon

The Dipping Sauce
1 14-oz can (less ¼ c) coconut milk
½ c peanut butter (oreferably smooth)
2 Tbs red curry paste (or green curry paste)

1. Place the pork tenderloins in the freezer until they are firm but not frozen, about 30 minutes. Cut each in half crosswise to yield shorter "logs" about 4-5 inches long. With one hand pressing the pork down into a cutting board and the other holding a sharp knife parallel to the board, cut each lengthwise into 1/8-inch-thick slices. ( Each piece should yield about 9 slices, or 36 slices in all.)

2. In a small skillet over medium heat, toast the coriander and cumin seeds until fragrant, about  3 minutes. Remove from the heat. When the spices have cooled a bit, grind them in a spice mill (or crush them with a mortar and pestle).

3. In a mixing bowl, combine  the ground spices with the rest of the marinade ingredients. Add the pork and toss to coat. Marinate in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour or up to 1 day.

4, Prepare the dipping sauce (which can also be made in advance and refrigerated). In a small saucepan over low heat, combine the coconut milk,  peanut butter, and curry paste. Simmer until the flavors combine and deepen, about 20 minutes.

6. Soak the skewers in water for at least 30 minutes so that they don't burn.

5. Preheat the grill to high. Thread each marinated pork slice onto a skewer. Cook until slightly charred on one side, about 3-4 minutes. Turn and cook until done, about 3 more minutes. Serve with the dipping sauce, which can be either warm or at room temperature.

• It's nearly impossible to find fresh Thai ingredients in this country (have you ever seen a kaffir lime leaf?), so I don't even try. Instead, I buy the little jars of red and green curry paste sold under the Thai Kitchen brand. These pastes contain kaffir lime leaves, galangal, and a host of other hard-to-find ingredients. Admittedly, it's a convenience food, but I compromise because it's such a great convenience.

• Don't let the coconut milk quantity for the dipping sauce throw you. The point is that I don't want you to open a second can for this recipe. Take 1/4 cup for the marinade and then simply use the rest of the can for the dipping sauce.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Carrot Sambal

If you’re tired of cole slaw, this slightly spicy side dish goes beautifully with barbecue.

(serves 6–8 as a side dish)

4 cloves garlic
1 jalapeno pepper
¼ c canola oil
¼ c sugar
4 tsp fish sauce
juice of one lime
1 lb organic carrots (see tip below)
2 scallions, trimmed and chopped
a small handful of fresh cilantro, coarsely chopped

1. Smash the garlic with the flat side of a large knife, then peel and trim each clove. Trim the jalapeno, remove the seeds, and mince the flesh.

2. In a skillet set over low heat, cook the garlic and jalapeno in the canola oil until the garlic begins to brown, about 8–10 minutes. Remove from the heat. Stir in the sugar and let cool. Complete the dressing by whisking in the fish sauce and lime juice.

3. Meanwhile, wash, trim, and shred the carrots in a food processor. Add the scallions and cilantro. Toss with the dressing.

• I specify organic carrots primarily because you don’t need to peel them. That’s a big plus when recipes like this one call for carrots in quantity.

• Carrot sambal (made with carrots from our garden) has become such a staple in our house that I’ve had to develop a variation, just so we don’t get bored. I add 2 inches of fresh ginger, peeled and minced, along with ½ teaspoon of ground cardamom to the simmering oil. The resulting sambal has a nice, refreshing tang.


This is a great dish for a crowd. The name may be fancy, but it’s really just a simple seafood stew. Note, however, that the recipe sinks or swims with the freshness of the ingredients, so I make it only when I’m near the ocean.

(serves eight to ten)

The Fish and Seafood
1 lb white steak fish (such as swordfish and halibut)
1 lb bivalves (such as mussels and small clams)
1 lb shrimp
1 lb squid
1 small lobster (optional)

The Stew Base
3 large leeks, white part only
1 medium onion
6 cloves garlic
½ c olive oil
2 c chicken stock
1 c white wine
1 c water
2 28-oz cans diced tomatoes
a large handful of fresh parsley, coarsely chopped
several sprigs of fresh rosemary or thyme
Tabasco sauce, to taste

The Finish
½ c brandy
kosher salt
freshly ground pepper
a small handful of fresh dill, coarsely chopped

1. Prep the fish and shellfish. For the fish, remove any skin and cut the steaks into large chunks. For the bivalves, scrub the shells and debeard the mussels (see tip below). For the shrimp, shell and devein. For the squid, clean and slice the bodies into rings. For the lobster, kill and quarter (see tip below).

2. Rinse the leeks well, slice into thin rings, and rinse again. Peel and coarsely chop the onion and garlic.

3. In a large stockpot over a medium-low flame, heat the oil. Sauté the leeks, onion, and garlic until the leeks and onion have wilted, about 10–15 minutes.

4. Add the chicken stock, wine, water, tomatoes, parsley, rosemary or thyme, and Tabasco. Raise the heat to medium-high and bring to a simmer. Simmer for 10 minutes, adjusting the heat as necessary.

5. Add the fish and seafood, cover, and simmer for another 30 minutes.

6. Uncover. Add the brandy. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Add the dill. Serve with crusty bread.

• It’s important to rinse the leeks after they’re chopped because dirt often gets trapped between the various layers of growth.

• The beard of a mussels is the little bit of algae-like fuzz attached to the concave side of the shell. Commercially raised mussels often don’t have beards, but wild ones do. To remove the beard, simply give it a tug.

• The best way to quarter a live lobster is to get it over with quickly. Start by cutting through the top of its body between its eyes. This kills it instantly. A good description of the process, complete with photos, can be found at  HYPERLINK "http://www.cooking-lobster.com/cooking-lobster/lobster-killing.html" http://www.cooking-lobster.com/cooking-lobster/lobster-killing.html.

Green Curry Game Hens

I use game hens with this Thai-influenced marinade because half a game hen makes a lovely dinner-party serving. But the marinade works equally well with whole chickens.

(serves two adults and two children)

The Marinade
2 tsp coriander seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
½ tsp white peppercorns
1 bunch cilantro (including the roots and stems)
2 jalapeno peppers, stemmed
2 cloves garlic, trimmed and peeled
1 large shallot, trimmed and peeled
1 stalk lemongrass, trimmed and sliced
1-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and coarsely chopped
large pinch of kosher salt
1 Tbs fish sauce
3 Tbs peanut oil

The Game Hens
2 game hens, butterflied (see tip below)

1. In a small skillet over medium heat, toast the coriander seeds, cumin seeds, and white peppercorns until fragrant, about 3 minutes. Remove from the heat. When the spices have cooled, grind them in a spice mill (or crush them with a mortar and pestle).

2. In the bowl of a food processor, combine the ground spices with the rest of the marinade ingredients. Puree until a paste forms. Rub the paste over the hens and let them marinate, covered, in the refrigerator for at least one hour and up to a full day.

3. Prepare the grill. Arrange the hens skin-side up and cook for 10 minutes before turning and cooking until done, about another 10 minutes.

• Butterflying poultry means splitting the bird’s body into two pieces that remain attached but lie flat. If you don’t have a butcher to do this for you, don’t worry; it’s easy. Using poultry shears or a sharp knife, remove the bone that separates the two pieces of breast. Then pry the chest cavity open until you hear the spine crack. The bird should now lie flat on its exposed interior.

• If you don’t have whole spices, you can make do with ground ones. You can also substitute black peppercorns for white (which are milder), but use a little less.

• You can dramatically reduce the spiciness of this dish by discarding some or all of the jalapeno seeds.

• If you’re unfamiliar with lemongrass, don’t be intimidated. Simply remove the brittle, yellowish-greenish outer leaves to expose the dense white core. Then trim both ends so that you use only the bottom four inches or so.

• You can also make this dish in the oven. Place a roasting pan on the middle rack and preheat to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. (The roasting pan should be large enough to hold the hens in a single layer.) When the oven has reached the proper temperature, arrange the hens in the pan skin-side up and roast until done, about 25–30 minutes. For a crispy skin, finish with a few minutes under the broiler.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Macaroni and Cheese

Don't be afraid to make this casserole in advance because it tastes just as good reheated. Also feel free to experiment with other cheeses.

(serves a crowd)

1 medium onion
4 c milk
1 lb sharp cheddar cheese
half of a baguette
6 Tbs unsalted butter
1 tsp kosher salt
6 Tbs flour
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 lb macaroni elbows
2 oz Parmigiano-Reggiano (or other grating cheese)
2 Tbs olive oil

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Bring a large pot of salted pasta water to boil.

2. Finely dice the onion. Heat the milk in the microwave until warm. Grate the cheddar. Chop the baguette in a food processor to make about two cups of breadcrumbs.

3. In a large, heavy saucepan, melt the butter  over medium-low heat. Add the onion and salt. Cook, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon, until the onion softens, about 4-5 minutes. Add the flour and cook, stirring constantly, until the flour darkens, about 1-2 minutes. Stir in the mustard and Worcestershire sauce.

4. Switching to a whisk and raising the heat to medium, add the milk in a slow stream, whisking constantly to form a white sauce. Let the sauce come to a bare simmer and cook, stirring frequently, for 15 minutes, adjusting the heat as necessary to maintain the simmer.

5. Meanwhile, cook the macaroni until al dente. Drain and transfer to a 9- by 13-inch Pyrex baking dish.

6. Add the grated cheddar to the white sauce, stirring until the cheese melts. Pour the sauce over the macaroni and toss to combine.

7. Grate the Parmigiano-Reggiano and combine it in a medium bowl with the breadcrumbs and olive oil. Season well with salt and freshly ground pepper. Sprinkle this topping over the macaroni.

8. Bake the casserole in the center of the oven until the topping turns golden, about 15 minutes. Let rest for at least 5 minutes before serving.

• If you like, you can add a dried herb such as thyme or rosemary to the breadcrumb topping.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Eggplant with Mint and Feta

If you don’t grow your own mint, you can make do with a single bunch from the supermarket. But if you do grow your own, use a lot!

(serves four as a main course or eight as a side dish)

2 cloves garlic
juice of 2 lemons
kosher salt
2 large shallots, peeled and thinly sliced
2 large Italian eggplant
olive oil
6-8 oz feta cheese
1 bunch fresh mint
1 tsp ground cumin
½ tsp cayenne pepper

1. Peel and grate the garlic. Combine in a small bowl with the lemon juice and a large pinch of salt. Add the shallots and stir to coat. Set aside, stirring occasionally to keep the shallots marinating.

2. Trim and slice the eggplant into rounds ¼–½ inch thick. Using a brush, “paint” each slice with olive oil (both sides). At the same time, sprinkle each slice with a little salt.

3. Grill the eggplant until tender, about three minutes per side. Remove and let cool.

4. Crumble the feta. Remove the mint leaves from the stems, roll into cylinders (several at a time), and slice into quarter–inch ribbons.

5. After removing and reserving the shallots, add the cumin, the cayenne and 2 tablespoons olive oil to the lemon juice. Whisk to form a vinaigrette.

6. Line a serving platter with a layer of grilled eggplant. Top with some shallots, some feta, and some mint. Repeat until you have used all of the ingredients to compose a pleasing stack. Drizzle with the vinaigrette and serve.

• The easiest way to grate the garlic is with a Microplane rasp-style grater.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Spaghetti Carbonara

The trick to making this dish properly is to keep the eggs creamy while still cooking them sufficiently. I find that deglazing the skillet with a little pasta waster tempers the heat just the right amount.

(serves two adults and two children)

½ lb. bacon
1 medium onion
2 oz. parmesan cheese (to make about 1 cup grated)
½ bunch fresh parsley
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
2 eggs
2 egg yolks
¼ cup heavy cream
1 lb. thick spaghetti

1. Bring a large pot of salted pasta water to a boil.

2. Dice the bacon and onion. Grate the cheese, chop the parsley, and combine. seasoning with salt and pepper. In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, egg yolks, and cream.

3. In a heavy skillet large enough to hold the pasta, cook the bacon over medium heat until barely crisp, about 10–12 minutes .Remove and drain on paper towels. Pour off all but 1–2 tablespoons of the bacon fat, reserving the rest. Reduce the heat to medium-low and sauté the onions. If the skillet seems dry, add back more bacon fat.

4. Add the spaghetti to the boiling water and cook until al dente, about 8 minutes. After reserving some of the pasta water, drain the spaghetti.

5. Remove the onions from the heat. Using two or three tablespoons of the pasta water, deglaze the skillet, scraping the bottom to dissolve the stuck-on bits. Add the drained pasta and toss to combine. 

6. Add the egg mixture and toss to coat the pasta. Add the bacon and the cheese mixture. Continue tossing until thoroughly combined.

• Use good-quality bacon that’s not too fatty or salty. Otherwise, pour off most of the rendered fat before adding the onion.

• I keep bacon in the freezer, which means that I can use part of a package as I need it. Also, frozen bacon is easier to chop than rubbery refrigerated bacon. I cut off what I need while the bacon is still frozen and let the slices separate by themselves as they cook in the pan.

• There are so few ingredients in this dish that you can’t hide bad cheese. The best Parmesan is imported Parmigiano-Reggiano, which is pricey; but even at sixteen dollars a pound, two ounces sets you back just two dollars.

• Because of the danger of salmonella, the Food and Drug Administration recommends that egg yolks be cooked thoroughly until firm. Firmly cooked yolks, however, are antithetical to a good carbonara. If you’re concerned about salmonella, you can keep the flame on underneath the skillet as you add the eggs.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Garlicky Angel Hair with Grape Tomatoes

This is a great way to use grape and/or cherry tomatoes from the garden. Be sure not to overcook the angel hair!

(serves two adults and two children)

olive oil
1 quart grape tomatoes
kosher salt
8 cloves garlic
1 tsp. red pepper flakes
1 bunch fresh basil
2 oz. parmesan cheese (to make about 1 cup grated)
1 lb. angel hair pasta
freshly ground black pepper

1. Place a rack at the top of the oven and turn the broiler on high. Line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil and rub the foil with a little olive oil.

2. Toss the tomatoes with 1 tablespoon olive oil and a few pinches of salt. Transfer to the lined baking sheet and broil, shaking the pan occasionally, until the tomatoes shrivel and become slightly blackened, about 12 minutes. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.

3. Peel, trim, and coarsely chop the garlic. In a small saucepan, combine the garlic and the red pepper flakes with ½ cup olive oil. Bring to a simmer over medium heat. Let simmer for 1 minute and then remove from the heat.

4. Separate the basil leaves from the stems. Roll the leaves, several at a time, into cylinders and slice crosswise to produce ribbons of basil ⅛–¼ inch wide. Grate the parmesan.

5. When the tomatoes are done, cook the angel hair in the boiling water until al dente, about 4 minutes. Drain and return to the cooking pot. Immediately add the garlic oil and toss to prevent sticking. Add freshly ground pepper to taste and continue tossing. Add the tomatoes and basil and continue tossing. Finally, add the grated cheese, toss, and serve.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Braising Greens with Shallots and Crispy Pepperoni

This side dish is so robust that you could serve it as a (mostly) vegetable main course, paired with either a hearty soup or some bread and cheese. The most important step is the draining of the blanched greens. If they're too wet when you add them to the skillet, the dish will come out unpleasantly watery. For the same reason, don't reheat the greens too long or they will begin to weep moisture.

(serves two adults and two children)

1 large bunch braising greens (such as collard greens or kale)
2 tsp honey
1 tsp. sherry vinegar
2 large shallots
2 oz pepperoni slices
1 Tbs extra-virgin olive oil

1. Prepare the greens by trimming away the stems and tearing the leaves into bite-sized strips. On a baking sheet, spread two layers of paper towels.

2. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Blanch the greens until just tender, about 4-6 minutes. Remove and drain on the paper towels. Set aside.

3. In a small bowl, stir together the honey and sherry vinegar. Set aside.

4. Halve the shallots lengthwise. Peel and cut into thin half-rings. Cut the pepperoni slices into thin strips. (You can stack them and cut several at a time.)

5. In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over a medium flame. Sauté the shallots, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon, until well browned, about 5-6 minutes. Remove and set aside.

6. Add the pepperoni to the skillet and sauté, stirring occasionally, until crispy, about 4-5 minutes. Remove and set aside with the shallots.

7. Add the drained kale to the skillet and toss to coat with the rendered fat. When the kale has just reheated, remove the skillet from the heat. Add the reserved shallots, pepperoni, and honey-vinegar mixture. Toss to combine. Serve.

Party Cake

This light, sweet cake suits any celebration, but I especially like to make it during strawberry season. You can use all-purpose flour, if you like, but using cake flour ensures a soft texture and delicate crumb.

2¼ cups cake flour
1 Tbs baking powder
½ tsp kosher salt
1¼ cups buttermilk (or whole milk)
4 large egg whites
1 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
1½ cups sugar
1 pint (or more) strawberries
1 pint (or more) heavy cream
confectioners' sugar, to taste

1. Place a rack in the center of the oven. Preheat to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

2. Butter two 9-inch round cake pans. Cut circles from parchment paper to fit. Place in the cake pans and butter.

3. In a mixing bowl, sift together the cake flour, baking powder, and salt.

4. In another mixing bowl, whisk togehter the buttermilk and egg whites.

5. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment (or in a large bowl using a hand mixer), beat the butter and sugar at medium speed until the sugar dissolves and the butter becomes pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes.

6. With the mixer still running, add one-third of the dry ingredients. When these have been incorporated, add one-half of the wet ingredients, again mixing until incorporated. Repeat, alternating between dry ingredients and wet ingredients, until all have been added. Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl. Beat for 2 additional minutes to ensure that the batter is smooth and well aerated.

7. Divide the batter evenly between the twio pans. Shake them gently from side to side to spread out the batter. Bake until a knife inserted in the center of each layer comes out clean, about 30–35 minutes. Transfer the pans to a rack and let cool.

8. If the sides of the cooled layers haven't already pulled away from the pans, release them by running a knife around the outside edges of the layers. To unmold, invert the layers onto platters. Remove the parchment liners.

9. Trim and slice the strawberries, reserving a few whole berries for decoration. Whip the heavy cream, adding confectioners' sugar as you go to taste. Frost one of the layers with about half of the whipped cream. Top with the sliced berries. Place the second layer on top of the berries. Use the remaining whipped cream to frost the rest of the cake. Decorate the top with the reserved whole berries.

• I measure the parchment circles by placing the pan on top of the parchment paper and marking its outline with a pencil. Then I cut with a scissors just inside the pencil line. Close is good enough; better a little small than a little large.

• Although I think this cake tastes best with strawberries, you can easily substitute any kind of fresh, sweet berry—such as raspberries, blackberries, or blueberries.

• You can make the layers a day in advance and store them at room temperature covered in plastic wrap.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Lemon Chicken Kebabs

These kebabs pair nicely with a rice pilaf and some quickly braised greens. Remember that metal skewers stay hot for quite a while, so be sure to use oven mitts to handle them.

(serves two adults and two children)

The Kebabs
1½ lb boneless chicken thighs
2 lemons
8 cloves garlic
3 Tbs olive oil
1 tsp brown sugar
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
¼ tsp ground cinnamon
1-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and sliced
1 Tbs kosher salt
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
2 sweet onions (such as Vidalias), peeled and cut into eighths
2 red (or yellow) bell peppers, seeded and cut into chunks

The Sauce
2 c plain yogurt
1 cucumber, peeled, seeded, and finely diced
1 bunch cilantro, coarsely chopped
kosher salt, to taste

1. Trim any excess fat from the thighs and cut them into golf ball–sized chunks.

2. Cut the lemons lengthwise into quarters. Place them with the peeled and trimmed garlic in a covered microwaveable bowl. Microwave on high until the lemons soften, about 10–15 minutes. Let cool.

3. Strain the juice into the jar of a blender. Transfer the garlic to the blender. Then, using a sharp paring knife, scrape the pulp and as much white pith as possible off the yellow lemon peel. Add the scraped peel to the blender along with the olive oil, brown sugar, cumin, coriander, cinnamon, ginger, salt, and pepper. Puree to make a soft paste.

4. Setting aside two tablespoons of the paste (for the sauce), scrape the rest of the marinade into a large, resealable plastic storage bag. Add the chicken pieces and massage until all are coated well. Refrigerator for at least one hour (but not overnight).

5. Meanwhile, start the grill and prep the onions and bell peppers (see tip below). When the chicken has marinated sufficiently, remove from the bag and thread onto metal skewers, alternating chicken pieces with vegetable pieces.

6. Make the sauce by adding the yogurt, diced cucumber, chopped cilantro, and salt to the reserved marinade.

7. Grill the kebabs, turning every 2-3 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through. Serve with the sauce on the side.

• You can use chicken breasts, but dark meat grills better because it doesn’t dry out.

* When prepping onions for the grill, it’s useful to cut them through the root end. Keeping just a little bit of the root with each piece. Doing so helps the onion hold together as you skewer it.

• To give the onions and bell peppers a little more flavor, I sometimes roll them in the plastic bag from which I’ve removed the chicken so that they can pick up a little marinade.

• If you use a cucumber from your garden or a local farm stand, there’s no need to peel it. Cucumbers from supermarkets, however, are generally waxed and need to be peeled.

Tandoori Chicken on the Grill

To make authentic tandoori chicken, you need a tandoor (an Indian clay oven). But this is a pretty fair substitute. The marinade is so easy that you can make it on a weekday morning, add the chicken before you leave for work, and grill it when you get home.

(serves two adults and two children)

The Marinade
6 oz plain yogurt
juice of a lime
1 tsp chili powder
½ tsp ground cumin
½ tsp turmeric
1 tsp kosher salt
6 cloves garlic, peeled and coarsely chopped
3-inch piece fresh ginger, coarsely chopped
red food coloring (optional)

The Chicken
4 boneless chicken breasts
3 Tbs unsalted butter, melted

The Garnishes
1 sweet onion (such as a Vidalia), peeled and sliced into rings
1-2 fresh jalapenos, trimmed and sliced into rings
1-2 limes, cut into wedges
1 bunch cilantro, coarsely chopped

1. Combine all of the marinade ingredients in a mini–food processor or blender and process until smooth. Scrape into a glass or Pyrex dish large enough to hold the chicken breasts. (I use a loaf pan.) Make a few slits in the chicken breasts to encourage the marinade to penetrate. Add the chicken to the marinade and toss to coat well. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 4–12 hours.

2. When you’re ready to eat, start the grill, melt the butter, and prep the garnishes

3. Cook the chicken over high heat, flipping the breasts after 5 minutes. (The meat should look slightly charred.) Cook for another three minutes, then begin basting with the melted butter. Remove the breasts when they are cooked through.

4. Meanwhile, combine the garnishes on one half of a large sheet of aluminum foil. Fold the foil and crimp it to make a pouch. After turning the chicken for the first time, place the foil pouch on the warming shelf (if you have a gas grill) or in a cooler spot (if you have a charcoal grill). You want to wilt the garnishes, not cook them.

5. Transfer the cooked breasts to a platter, top with the wilted garnishes, and tent with the foil from the pouch. Allow the chicken to rests and the flavors to meld for 5-10 minutes before serving.

• I don't bother peeling the ginger, because the mini–food processor pulverizes the skin easily and the marinade is eventually discarded.

• Buy dark green limes because they have more flavor than light green ones.

Grilled Leg of Lamb with Cinnamon-Cardamom Pilaf

(serves eight)

Because you begin marinating the lamb the night before, this recipe makes an easy weeknight meal. But given the high cost of lamb, I usually reserve it for dinner parties. The ease of preparation is still an important benefit, though, because it allows me to spend more time with my guests. The pilaf—which tastes great with the lamb, picking up its Indian flavors—is another easy, make-ahead recipe.

The Lamb
small butterflied leg of lamb, about 3 pounds

The Marinade
⅓ c canola oil
juice of two limes
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
½ tsp cayenne pepper
½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp kosher salt
1 bunch cilantro, stems trimmed
2 large shallots, peeled and coarsely chopped
3 cloves garlic, peeled and coarsely chopped
2-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and coarsely chopped

The Pilaf
1 medium onion
4 Tbs olive oil
2 c long-grain white rice
6-inch cinnamon stick, broken into about 6 pieces
10 whole cardamom pods
4 c chicken broth
1 tsp kosher salt

1. The night before, prep the lamb by trimming it of excess fat, connective tissue, and silverskin. Also, if any thick lobes remain, slice them as described in the tip below to create a more even thickness throughout. (Don’t worry if you end with three or four disconnected chunks of meat.) Finally, score the meat with shallow, parallel cuts about an inch apart. (These allow the marinade to penetrate.)

2. Combine the marinade ingredients in the jar of a blender and puree until smooth.

3. Place the lamb in a large glass or Pyrex dish. Rub the marinade into the meat, cover the dish with plastic wrap, and refrigerate overnight.

4. The next day, as dinnertime approaches, begin the pilaf by chopping the onions and sweating them in the olive oil in a large, heavy saucepan set over medium-low heat. When the onion has softened but not yet begun to brown (about 5 minutes), add the rice, cinnamon, and cardamom. Cook, stirring often, for about a minute.

5. Add the chicken stock and salt. Turn up the heat to high and bring the stock to a boil. Let the stock reduce, uncovered, until it just covers the rice, about 5 minutes.

6. Reduce the heat to low, cover the pot tightly, and simmer for 15 minutes without lifting the lid. Remove the pot from the heat and let the pilaf rest for at least another 5 minutes without disturbing the lid. Fluff the rice4 before serving.

7. Meanwhile, prepare your grill. Sear both sides of the lamb for 2-3 minutes each on the grill’s hottest section. Then move the meat to a cooler section and let it cook until done to your taste (see tip below). You can use whatever marinade is left in the glass dish to baste the meat, if you like, but it’s not necessary.

8. Let the meat rest for about 10 minutes before carving.

• The process of butterflying removes the bone from the leg, producing a misshapen cut with many different thicknesses. Note, in particular, the large, thick lobes. The nice thing about the variation in thicknesses is that you end up with a good mix of rare and medium portions. But the variation can often be a little too great, with the thinner parts drying out before the thick lobes are done. To ameliorate this problem, I slice the lobes horizontally and open them up like a book, thereby reducing their thickness by half.

• I monitor doneness with an instant-read thermometer. A reading of 125 degrees Fahrenheit is quite rare. I aim for 135 degrees, which is pinkish rather than red.

• If you don't want to grill the lamb (or you want to make it during wintertime), broil the meat for about 10 minutes per side, basting with the marinade to keep it moist. Then roast it in a 375-degree oven until done to your taste, perhaps another 20 minutes.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Carrot Paté

This spread tastes even better a day or two after you make it. I like to serve it on garlic toasts, which I make using thin slices of baguette. Just mix pressed garlic with some softened butter, spread the result on the bread, and bake in a moderate oven for 20-30 minutes.

3 large carrots
1 small onion
1 Tbs olive oil
¼ c orange juice
¼ c cold water
½ tsp (or more) curry powder
kosher salt, to taste
freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 Tbs mayonnaise
1 tsp coarse-grained mustard

1. Peel the carrots and slice them thinly. Chop the onion.

2. Using a skillet with a tight-fitting lid, heat the oil over a medium flame. When the oil is hot, sauté the onion until soft, about 4-5 minutes.

3. Add the carrots, orange juice, water, curry powder, salt, and pepper. Stir to combine. Reduce the flame to low. Cover and simmer until the carrots become tender, about 20 minutes. (If the liquid evaporates too quickly and the carrots start to burn, add more water and orange juice.)

4. When the carrots have softened, uncover the skillet, raise the flame, and boil off the remaining liquid.

5. Transfer the carrots to the bowl of a food processor. Add the mayonnaise and mustard. Puree.

Cilantro-Mint Chicken Curry

The reason I recommend making the chutney in two batches is that most food processors can’t hold all the ingredients at once.

(serves two adults and two children with leftovers)

The Cilantro-Mint Chutney
2 bunches fresh cilantro, stems included
1 bunch fresh mint, stems removed
2 jalapeno peppers, trimmed and seeded
1 large red onion, coarsely chopped
2-inch piece fresh ginger, coarsely chopped
1 c cold water

The Curry
2 Tbs cumin seeds
1 Tbs coriander seeds
3 cloves garlic
½ c canola oil
1 c yogurt
1 Tbs kosher salt
2½ lb boneless chicken thighs

1. Using a food processor, puree the chutney ingredients in two batches, using half of each ingredient per batch. Combine the batches and set aside.

2. Measure the cumin and coriander seeds. Peel, trim, and press the garlic.

3. Using a large heavy skillet with a tight-fitting lid, heat the oil over medium heat until it’s hot enough to make a cumin seed sizzle. Add the cumin and coriander seeds and cook for 30 seconds. Add the garlic and cook until it begins to brown, about another 30 seconds. Add the yogurt and salt. Stir well. Then add the chicken thighs in a single layer. Cover and cook for 25 minutes, stirring occasionally.

4. Once the thighs becomes tender, shred them use two forks to pull them apart. Then stir in the cilantro-mint chutney. Simmer, uncovered, for at least 10 minutes. Serve with basmati rice.

• Wear an apron when adding the yogurt because the oil tends to splatter.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Indonesian Lime and Coconut Chicken

I love this dish because it tastes great and also because it never fails to impress guests. It seems so complicated; and yet, as you can see, it’s a snap. The trick is that the marinade doubles as a sauce.

(serves two parents and two children)

The Marinade
1 14-oz can coconut milk
3 Tbs peanut oil
2 Tbs soy sauce
2 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp curry powder
2 Tbs sugar
2 tsp kosher salt
1 fresh jalapeno, minced
grated zest of a lime
cayenne pepper, to taste

The Chicken
4 boneless chicken breasts

The Garnish
cilantro coarsely chopped
lime wedges

1. Combine the ingredients for the marinade in a bowl or dish large enough to hold the chicken as well.

2. Pound each breast to flatten it into a paillard about ½-inch or ¾-inch thick. (If the breasts are especially plump, consider butterflying them—that is, slicing them across their thickness and opening them up like a book.)

3. Marinate the chicken in the refrigerator for at least an hour but not overnight.

4. Prepare your grill. When very hot, remove the chicken from the marinade, reserving the marinade, and grill the chicken until cooked inside with nice grill marks on the outside.

5. Meanwhile, in a saucepan, boil/simmer the marinade for about five minutes. (This kills whatever harmful bacteria may have migrated from the chicken.) Serve over the grilled chicken with a garnish of chopped cilantro and lime wedges.

• You can also make this dish on a stovetop using a large cast-iron skillet. Heat the pan over a high flame, add some peanut oil, let it come to temperature, and sauté the breasts quickly, about 2 minutes per side, until cooked all the way through.

• I use a Pyrex loaf pan to marinate the chicken because its small footprint and high sides ensure that the marinade covers all of the meat.

• If you don't have a specialized meat mallet, a heavy-bottomed saucepan or skillet will do. I recommend placing the chicken between sheets of wax paper to keep down the mess.

• When making this on a weeknight, I make the marinade the night before and add the chicken the next morning before I go to work. This way, the breasts are ready to grill when I get home.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

New England Clam Chowder

The worst thing about commercial chowders is how glutinous they are. The second worst thing is the predominance of potatoes over clams. Fortunately, you can rectify both problems by making the chowder yourself. Any type of hard-shell clam will do, but I use the large ones, sold as “quahogs,” because they’re by far the cheapest. What’s most important is that the clams are fresh.

(serves eight)

8 lb fresh hard-shell clams (about 20 quahogs)
¼ lb pancetta (or bacon)
2 large onions
2 lb potatoes
2 Tbs unsalted butter
¼ c flour
1 tsp dried thyme
freshly ground black pepper
3 c milk
1 c heavy cream
fresh parsley

1. Scrub the clams well to remove all the sand and grit from their shells. Place in a large stockpot. Add two cups cold water. Cover and cook over medium heat until the clams open, about 20-25 minutes. Remove the clams as they open. Allow clams and broth to cool.

2. Remove the clams from their shells and chop coarsely. Strain the broth through a coffee filter or cheesecloth to remove any sand or grit. (You should have 4-5 cups of broth. If not add cold water to make 4 cups.) Clean the stockpot.

3. Dice the pancetta and sauté in the stockpot over medium-low heat until the fat renders, about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, chop the onions and dice the potatoes.

4. Add the butter and onions to the pancetta. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions soften, about 10-12 minutes. Add the flour and cook, stirring often, another 3 minutes.

5. Add the reserved clam broth, potatoes, thyme, and black pepper to taste. Raise the heat to medium-high and bring the soup to a simmer. Adjust the heat to maintain a simmer and cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the reserved clams and continue simmering, stirring occasionally, another 7 minutes. (Do not overcook the clams or they will become tough.)

6. Reduce the heat to low. Add the milk and cream. Stirring often, heat the milk and cream but do not bring the soup to a boil. When the soup is suitably hot, add freshly chopped parsley and serve.

• This soup is easily made in advance, and it tastes even better reheated the next day. You can also make it in stages. The clams can be steamed and refrigerated separately from the broth. Just let the broth warm to room temperature before adding it to the stockpot.

• I recommend pancetta over bacon for this soups, because I think the strong flavor of bacon tends to obscure the more delicate flavor of the clams.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Kung Pao Chicken

You’ll probably have to visit an Asian food store before making this dish. However, if you’ve never been to one, you’re in for a treat. The Chinese grocery that I frequent, in addition to being unbelievably inexpensive, has fabulous vegetables and the freshest fish around.

(serves two parents and two children)

The Chicken
2 boneless chicken breasts (about 1¼ lb)
1 egg white
1 Tbs cornstarch
large pinch of kosher salt

The Sauce
1 tsp sugar
1 Tbs cornstarch
2 tsp (or more) chili paste with garlic
2 Tbs soy sauce
1 Tbs rice wine (or dry sherry)
1 tsp rice vinegar
4 Tbs chicken broth
1 tsp sesame oil

The Rest
3 cloves garlic
3 scallions
2 Tbs peanut oil
5 (or more) dried red chile peppers
1 c roasted unsalted peanuts

1. Cut the chicken into bite-sized pieces. Place in a bowl with the egg white, cornstarch, and salt. Mix well. Set aside.

2. In another bowl, combine the ingredients for the sauce and mix well. Set aside.

3. Trim and coarsely chop the garlic. Trim and cut the scallions into ½-inch lengths.

4. Heat a wok (or a large heavy skillet) over a high flame. Add the peanut oil and heat until it begins to smoke. Add the chile peppers and stir-fry until blacken, about 1 minute. Add the garlic and scallions and stir-fry until fragrant, about another 30 seconds.

5. Add the chicken and stir-fry until just cooked through, about 3 minutes. Add the peanuts and stir-fry for another minute. Add the sauce and heat thoroughly. Serve over rice.

• In Chinese cooking, the technique of coating meat with cornstarch (usually as a prelude to stir-frying) is called velveting. I find that the easiest way to do this is to mix the ingredients with my fingers.

• Because I like my Kung Pao to have a lot of “pao,” I often hold back some of the chicken and stir-fry it separately with a little broccoli for the kids.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Chopped Liver

When making chopped liver, you have a choice. If you’re looking for a finely grained paté, you should use a food processor to purée the ingredients. But if you prefer (as I do) the traditional method that my grandmother used, then you’ll want to chop the liver by hand. The result is a nicely rustic spread.

3 eggs
1 large onion
1 small onion
1 lb chicken livers
olive oil
kosher salt

1. Hard-boil the eggs (see tip below).

2. Heat two tablespoons of the oil in a skillet over medium heat. Chop the large onion finely and sauté it in the oil until caramelized, about 10 minutes. Remove from the skillet and set aside. Meanwhile, chop the small onion finely and set aside.

3. Rinse and pat-dry the chicken livers. Using the same skillet (and adding a little more oil, if necessary), sauté the livers over medium heat until firm but still a touch pink in the center, about 4 minutes. (Overcooking the livers makes them tough.) Set aside.

4. Once the livers have cooled, chop them coarsely on a large cutting board. Add the hard-boiled eggs and continue chopping. Add the cooked onion and continue chopping, mixing the ingredients together as you go. Add some of the raw onion and continue chopping. Season with salt and taste. To adjust the flavor, add more raw onion or salt. To adjust the texture, add more olive oil. Continue chopping and mixing until the spread reaches a consistency that you like.

• Here is a foolproof way to hard-boil eggs: place them in a single layer in a small saucepan with enough cold water to cover them by two inches. Bring the water to a boil over medium heat. Turn off the heat, cover the pan, and let the eggs cook an additional 15 minutes. Then rinse them in cold water to stop the cooking process.

• In the old country (by which I mean the Bronx), chopped liver was made not with olive oil but with schmaltz (rendered chicken fat). Should you be roasting a chicken any time soon, save and refrigerate the fat that collects in the bottom of the roasting pan and use it instead of the olive oil.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Biscotti Rustica

What I like best about these biscotti is their sophisticated taste. Imagine a lightly, nutty, crunchy fruitcake.

(makes 36 biscotti)

1-2 oz crystallized ginger
1 c mixed dried fruit (such as currants and golden raisins)
grated zest of one lemon
2 Tbs brandy
¾ c slivered almonds
3½ c flour
¼ c cornmeal
2 c sugar
1 Tbs baking powder
¼ tsp kosher salt
3 large eggs
3 large egg yolks
1 tsp vanilla extract
turbinado sugar (see tip below)

1. Chop the crystallized ginger into pea-sized pieces. Combine in a small bowl with the dried fruit, lemon zest, and brandy. Let sit for at least 20 minutes. Meanwhile, toast the almonds.

2. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix the flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, and salt. In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, egg yolks, and vanilla extract, reserving an egg white for the glaze.

3. With the mixer on low, pour the wet ingredients into the dry, mixing just enough to combine. Avoid the temptation to continue mixing even though the dough seems crumbly. Add the macerated fruit and toasted almonds. Continue mixing until the dough begins to come together in a ball. Let the dough rest for 15 minutes.

4. Preheat the over to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line two baking sheets with silicon mats or parchment paper.

5. On a lightly floured countertop, shape the rested dough into four equal logs about eight inches long and two inches in diameter. (If the dough is sticky, you can dust it with a little flour, but try to use as little flour as possible.) Flatten each log slightly so that its cross-section is an oval rather than a circle. Place two of the logs on each of the baking sheets.

6. Beat the reserved egg white with a fork. Brush the top of each log with enough beaten white to make it sticky, then sprinkle each with turbinado sugar.

7. Bake the logs until golden brown on the outside and firm in the center, about 30 minutes. (Rotate the sheets every 10-15 minutes to ensure even baking.) Remove from the oven and let cool for 10-15 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 300 degrees Fahrenheit.

8. Once the logs have cooled, gently slice them crosswise to create biscotti about ¾-inch thick. Return the biscotti to the baking sheets cut-side down and bake for another 20-25 minutes, flipping them and rotating the sheets about halfway through. The biscotti are done when they have turned a rich golden brown on both sides. Remove from the oven and cool completely on the sheets before storing in an airtight container.

• Turbinado sugar, also known as “sugar in the raw,” has large crystals that adhere nicely to the tops of the biscotti. They add a nice sweet crunch, in the same way that large sea salt crystals enhance focaccia.

• These biscotti cut easier if you use a serrated knife.

Chocolate Biscotti

I suspect that, like tomatoes grown to be shipped, commercial biscotti are baked for travel rather than for taste. Even so, the ones I’ve tried have been so brick-hard they could probably scratch glass. They’re also expensive, which is another reason to make them yourself. Depending on your mood, you can bake either these chocolate biscotti or my gingery biscotti rustica (recipe posted separately).

(makes 24 biscotti)

2 large eggs at room temperature
4 Tbs unsalted butter, melted but not hot
1 tsp vanilla extract
1½ c flour
¾ c sugar
1 tsp baking powder
¼ tsp kosher salt
½ c cocoa powder
1 Tbs instant espresso powder
¾ c semisweet chocolate chips
¾ c pine nuts (optional)

1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a baking sheet with a silicon mat or parchment paper.

2. Using a fork, beat together the eggs, melted butter, and vanilla extract.

3. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine at a low speed the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, cocoa powder, and espresso powder. With the paddle still turning, add the chocolate chips and pine nuts (if using), then drizzle in the egg mixture. Continue mixing until a dough ball forms.

4. On a lightly floured countertop, shape the dough into two eight-inch logs. Flatten each slightly so that its cross-section is an oval rather than a circle.

5. Place the logs on the baking sheet and bake until firm, about 35 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool for 10-15 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 300 degrees Fahrenheit.

6. Once the logs have cooled, gently slice them crosswise to create biscotti about ¾-inch thick. Return the biscotti to the baking sheet cut-side down and bake for 10 minutes. Flip and bake until done, another 5-10 minutes. Cool on a wire rack before storing in an airtight container.

• The eggs should be at room temperature so that they don’t cause the melted butter to congeal. (A quick way to warm eggs is to place them in a bowl of warm water.) Similarly, the melted butter should be cool so that it doesn’t cook the eggs.

• If you don’t have a stand mixer, use a whisk to combine the dry ingredients, then form a well in the center of the mixing bowl. Pour in the egg mixture and use your fingers to knead the dough as you would when making fresh pasta. Form the logs and continue as above.

• Handle the once-cooked biscotti logs delicately while slicing them because the dough will still be crumbly.

• Experiment with different nuts. Pecans also work well, but I recommend toasting them first.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Pork Scaloppine with Lemons

Scaloppine are pieces of meat that have been pounded very thin. You’re probably familiar with veal scaloppine, which are used to make dishes like veal marsala and veal parmesan. Veal scaloppine can be hard to find, however, and they’re usually pricey. That’s why this dish calls for pork scaloppine, which you can make yourself.

(serves two adults and two children)

1 large pork tenderloin (about 1 lb)
2 large lemons
¼ c flour
3 Tbs canola oil
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
2 Tbs unsalted butter
6 Tbs sweet vermouth
½ c chicken broth

1. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a baking sheet with paper towels.

2. Cut the tenderloin across its width into six approximately equal pieces. Cover a cutting board with a sheet of wax paper. Working with one piece at a time, place the pork cut-side up on the wax paper and cover with a second sheet of wax paper. Using a wooden mallet or the bottom of a small heavy pan, pound the pork until it forms a quarter-inch-thick scaloppine. Repeat with the remaining pork.

3. Trim the ends off both lemons, revealing the pulp. Cut one of the lemons into eight thin slices. Cut four similarly thin slices from the second lemon. Squeeze the rest of the second lemon, producing 2-3 tablespoons of juice.

4. Measure the flour into a pie plate or shallow bowl.

5. Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Meanwhile, salt and pepper three of the scaloppine and dredge them in the flour, shaking off any excess. Sauté the scaloppine in the oil until lightly browned on both sides and cooked through, about 1-2 minutes per side. Transfer to the baking sheet, which should now be place in the preheated over. Add the remaining tablespoon of oil to the skillet and repeat with the remaining scaloppine.

6. Pour off any excess fat from the skillet and reduce the heat to medium. Add 1 tablespoon of the butter to the skillet. Once it has stopped foaming, add the lemon slices and cook them until well browned on the bottom, about 4 minutes. Turn the slices. Add 2 tablespoons of the vermouth and cook until the vermouth boils down to a glaze, about 2-3 minutes. Transfer the caramelized lemon slices to the oven, placing two on top of each scaloppine.

7. Return the heat to medium-high and use the remaining quarter-cup of vermouth to deglaze the pan (see tip below). Add the reserved lemon juice and the chicken broth, bringing the sauce to a boil. Cook until it reduces to a quarter-cup, about 5 minutes. Stir in the remaining tablespoon of butter and serve over the scaloppine.

• The purpose of deglazing the pan is to incorporate into the sauce all of the flavorful bits stuck to the bottom. When deglazing, you should scrape the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon to help the solvent (in this case, the alcohol in the vermouth) do its job.

• Eat the lemon slices, peel and all. Caramelizing them takes the edge off their sourness.

• This dish can easily be fancied up with some fresh sage leaves and a few slices of prosciutto. After you’ve salted and peppered the scaloppine, top each with two sage leaves. Then cover each with a slice of prosciutto, tucking any excess underneath. (The prosciutto will stick to the pork, sealing in the sage leaves.) Finally, dredge all in the flour and proceed as above.

• You can also make this dish with chicken. Simply cut a boneless breast crosswise into three or four pieces and pound them as above.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Lift Ev'ry Voice and Sing

Last night, as I watched the telecast of a gala White House concert on PBS, my disappointment with Barack Obama and the party that he leads—my party, I’m embarrassed to say—really hit home. Not that I’ve been expecting much from this administration. I voted for President Obama in the primaries because I perceived an arrogance in Hillary Clinton that I considered dangerous. I voted for Obama again in the general election because I perceived a lack of integrity in the Republican party that I considered even more dangerous. Nevertheless, I must admit that on election night, I cried.

The reason I cried is that I have deep feelings about the civil rights movement. I remember it from my childhood (I was six years old when Martin Luther King Jr. was killed), and I’ve studied it carefully ever since. In 2005, I published a history of the movement entitled The Coming Free.

As an author, I’m still drawn to the civil rights movement because it’s the best kind of history to write about. More than just teaching us the ways of the world, the stories of the civil rights movement inspire us with their idealism and emotionality. They encourage us to identify with people who acted courageously and pursued commendable ideals, even if they suffered painful consequences. Speaking for myself, I know that recalling and retelling the stories always makes me feel ennobled.

When Barack Obama appeared on stage in Grant Park last November to accept John McCain’s concession, I felt as though the half-brothers who had murdered Emmett Till, the driver who had kicked Rosa Parks off the Cleveland Avenue bus, the Klansmen who had beaten the Freedom Riders in Montgomery, and the firemen who had turned their high-pressure water hoses on schoolchildren in Birmingham had finally been exorcised from the collective unconscious. And so I cried.

Which brings me to this week’s White House concert of “Songs from the Civil Rights Movement.” As you might expect, I tuned in with great eagerness. But I could tell from the president’s pedestrian opening remarks that neither he nor anyone else in the audience felt much of an emotional connection to the history of the movement.

What followed was, to my mind, a sadly inappropriate revue. The evening opened with gospel singer Yolanda Adams offering a virtuosic rendition of  Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come,” followed by Smokey Robinson and Jennifer Hudson singing Curtis Mayfield’s “People Get Ready.” I love both these songs, and I’m always happy to hear them performed well. But they are pop songs, not  movement songs. No one sang these songs in churches or at rallies—in fact, no one sang them at all, unless you count singing along with the radio.

It wasn’t until John Mellencamp, of all people, sang “Keep Your Eyes on the Prize” that I finally heard a movement song; and it wasn’t until Joan Baez launched into “We Shall Overcome” that a few people in the audience began joining in, if only by mouthing the words quietly. Didn’t anyone recall that joining in and singing along was the point and purpose of movement songs? Raising one’s voice not only showed solidarity but also boosted morale and released emotions through the catharsis of physical exhortation. If you haven’t experienced this yourself, try listening to Pete Seeger’s We Shall Overcome, the recording of his June 1963 Carnegie Hall concert, and you’ll hear what I mean.

The highlight of the White House concert for me came when Bernice Johnson Reagon, one of the original SNCC Freedom Singers, interrupted her performance of “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me ’Round” to admonish the audience, “I know this is a show, but you have to actually sing this song. You can never tell when you might need it.”

What a shame that the president had to be told this. What a shame that the history of the civil rights movement rests so lightly, like dandruff, on the shoulders of those in power. I often wonder, despite my cynicism, how the Washington elite can be so oblivious to the struggles of the people whom they ostensibly serve. Surely, after spending their days seeking partisan advantage, they can spare some time for the people’s most pressing business? Surely, after fattening themselves at the public trough, they can show a degree of shame and some measure of respect and compassion for those less privileged than themselves? Unfortunately, the truth is that the people in power have trained themselves to ignore such feelings, even as the weight of history presses down upon them.

Here was Joan Baez—no longer the beautiful folk princess of 1963, now grey and a little hoarse—reprising her performance at the March on Washington, singing “We are not afray-ay-aid/We are not afray-ay-aid/We are not afraid today-ay-ay-ay-ay.” I could see in her eyes that she was fighting back the tears. Not being on stage, I didn’t have to. But the audience of Washington dignitaries seemed not to notice. They just sat there placidly in the East Room of the White House, greeting the end of the song with smiles and polite applause. Didn’t they realize what was happening?

I’m sure they all consider the civil rights movement a highly laudable period in American history, but I don’t think they understand that its recollection presents a rare opportunity for humility. It isn’t every day that one gets the chance to feel genuine empathy with people who felt the lash of injustice, nor awe at the heroics of those who righted the wrongs. Such opportunities should be seized, because they are the wellspring of the emotions that inspire us to lead better lives. All else is temporizing or the pursuit of personal advantage, which is why—after a year of emotionless talk from the White House and Congress—there is still no health care reform and prisoners are still being held without trial at Guantánamo Bay.

I couldn’t help but feel that this concert, intended to celebrate the civil rights movement, cheapened its memory because its organizers and especially its audience failed to connect with what remains vital about the movement: the example that it set of ordinary people accomplishing extraordinary change.

Is it still possible to believe that the party of this milquetoast president can make a similar difference in the world? I think not, and I can no longer suspend my disbelief.

You can watch excerpts from the concert yourself on YouTube. Joan Baez’s performance can be found here,  and Bernice Johnson Reagon’s performance here.

Super Bowl Ragu

My mother began hosting Super Bowl parties when I was in high school so that my stepfather could watch the game with a big crowd. The guests were mostly my friends, though, because my parents’ friends don’t like football. Typically, my mom made spaghetti with meatballs—a dish that I’ve always found a little bland. When I took over the tradition about a dozen years ago, I changed the menu. This is one of my favorite recipes to make for a house full of people when I want to spend time with my guests and not in the kitchen.

(serves twelve)

6 oz pancetta
1 large onion
5 cloves garlic
¼ c olive oil
3 lb ground meat (beef, pork, or sausage removed from its casing)
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
1 Tbs dried oregano
2 tsp red pepper flakes
1 c dry white wine
1 28-oz can crushed tomatoes
1 12-oz can tomato paste

1. Finely dice the pancetta. Finely chop the onion and garlic.

2. Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large Dutch oven over a medium flame. Sauté the pancetta and onion, stirring occasionally, until well browned, about 12 minutes. Add the garlic and continue sautéing for another 2 minutes. Remove and set aside.

3. Adding the remaining olive oil, increase the flame under the pan to medium-high, and add half of the ground meat, seasoning it with salt and pepper. As the meat cooks, turn it with a spatula so that it browns well on all sides. Don’t crumble it, however. Merely break it up into pieces about an inch long (about the size of a large gumball). When done, remove and set aside. Repeat with the remaining meat, adding more olive oil if necessary.

4. Return the pancetta-onion mixture and the previously browned meat to the pan. Add the oregano and red pepper flakes, stirring to combine. Add the wine to deglaze the pan, using a wooden spoon to scrape up and dissolve any browned bits. Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, and half a cup of water. Stir to combine.

5. Bring the sauce to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook the sauce for at least two hours, stirring occasionally. As the liquid in the sauce evaporates, add more water, half a cup at a time. Serve with penne.

• If you’ve never cooked with pancetta, this is a good time to start. Pancetta is an Italian form of bacon that you can buy from any decent butcher. I store large chunks of it in my freezer, but you can also buy it sliced. Because it’s so fatty, pancetta cuts easily, even when frozen. In fact, pancetta is much easier to dice when it is frozen, so don’t defrost it first.

• Don’t forget to put the pasta water on early. I cook three pounds of penne, so I use a big pot and a lot of water, which can take up to an hour to boil.

Grandma's Fruit-Nut Bread

When my grandmother died twenty years ago, my mother saved her recipe box. This was one of the recipes I was happiest to find inside. It’s a quick bread that Grandma made with dates and apricots. Like most quick breads, it benefits from sitting around, so a loaf made on Sunday tastes great all week. Try it as an afterschool snack for the kids, maybe with a little cream cheese.

6 pitted dates (about 3 oz)
12 dried apricots (about 3 oz)
1 tsp baking soda
1 c walnuts
1¾ c flour
¾ c sugar
1 tsp kosher salt
½ tsp baking powder
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla extract

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.

2. Butter and lightly flour a loaf pan.

3. Chop the dates and apricots into pea-sized pieces. Place in a small bowl. Coat with the baking soda. Add 1 cup boiling water. Stir to separate, then let hydrate while you prepare the dry ingredients.

4. Chop the walnuts. Combine in a mixing bowl with the flour, sugar, salt, and baking powder. Beat the egg with a fork and add it to the dry ingredients. Add the vanilla extract.

5. Add the fruit-and-water mixture and stir to combine thoroughly. Scrape the batter into the prepared loaf pan.

6. Bake until done, testing as you go, about 45 minutes. Allow the bread to cool completely before slicing.

• You can use any dried fruit or nuts for this recipe. I usually keep the dates and walnuts, but I've successfully substituted dried cherries and dried cranberries for the apricots.

• I test for doneness using a knife. I insert the blade into the center of the loaf, and if it comes out clean (no gooey batter attached), then I know the bread is done.

Monday, February 8, 2010


If you’ve got only one waffle iron, buy another. Although this recipe allows you to stockpile waffles in the oven, you really need to have two irons going at the same time if you want to feed a family.

(makes about 10 waffles)

1½ c flour
½ c cornstarch
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
2 Tbs sugar
1 tsp kosher salt
1½ c milk
½ c plain yogurt
¼ c canola oil
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract

1. Preheat the waffle irons. Preheat the oven to 225 degrees Fahrenheit.

2. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, cornstarch, baking powder, baking soda, sugar, and salt.

3. In another bowl, whisk together the milk, yogurt, canola oil, eggs, and vanilla extract.

4. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients. Mix gently with a spatula until all the dry ingredients have been moistened and no pockets of flour remain. Do not overmix.

5. Bake the batter in waffle irons. When the waffles are done, transfer them to the preheated oven and let them crisp, unstacked, for a few minutes before serving.

• Most waffle recipes (as most pancake recipes) call for buttermilk, but I don’t generally keep buttermilk around, and I’m not going out for some early on a Sunday morning. That’s why this recipe uses yogurt, which I do keep on hand. If you want to use buttermilk, the proper amounts are 1½ cups buttermilk and ½ cup milk.

• The use of cornstarch makes these waffles nicely crispy. If you don’t have enough, substitute flour.

• Don’t be afraid to add chopped nuts to your waffles. Both walnuts and pecans work well. You can add them to the batter, but my son prefers his waffles nutless. So what I do is put a ladleful of batter into the waffle iron, sprinkle some nuts on top, and cover the nuts with some more batter. This way, those who want nuts can have, and those who don’t need not.

Oatmeal Cookies

We hosted a skating party for our kids and some of their friends this weekend. About four-thirty, we realized that we’d forgotten about dessert. By five, these cookies were ready. They’re always a big hit—with grownups, too.

(makes 24-30 cookies)

1 c nuts (such as pecans or walnuts)
1 c dried fruit (such as raisins or sour cherries)
1½ c old-fashioned oats
1 c bittersweet chocolate chips
1 c flour
¾ tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
½ tsp kosher salt
12 Tbs unsalted butter, softened
1½ c dark brown sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla extract

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line two baking sheets with silicon mats or parchment paper.

2. Toast the nuts. Let them cool, then chop coarsely. Chop the fruit coarsely.

3. In a mixing bowl, combine the nuts and fruit with the oats and chocolate chips. In a second bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

4. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar at medium speed until the sugar dissolves, about 1 minute. Reduce the speed to low, add the egg and vanilla. Beat until fully combined, about another 30 seconds.

5. With the mixer still running, gradually add the flour mixture and then the oats mixture. Mix until just combined. Using a spatula, scrape down the sides of the bowl, incorporating any leftover dry ingredients into the batter.

6. Pinch off a golf ball-sized piece of batter and roll it in the palms of your hands to form a tight ball. Flatten slightly and place on a baking sheet. Continue until there is no batter left.

7. Bake until the edge of the cookies have set but the centers are still soft, about 12-15 minutes. Let the cookies cool a little on the baking sheets before transferring them to a rack.

• If you don’t have a stand mixer, a hand mixer and large mixing bowl will do.

• Be careful not to overbake these cookies, which should be a little chewy.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Chicken with Cashew Nuts

No doubt because of the high price of cashews, most Chinese restaurants drown this dish in celery. The only fix I could find was to learn how to make it myself.

(serves two parents and two children)

The Chicken
2 boneless chicken breasts (about 1 lb)
1 egg white
1 Tbs cornstarch
kosher salt

The Sauce
3 Tbs hoisin sauce
3 Tbs rice wine (or dry sherry)

The Rest
3 cloves garlic
1 red bell pepper
3 scallions
6 oz cashews
3 Tbs peanut oil
2 tsp sesame oil

1. Cut the chicken into bite-sized pieces. Place in a bowl and add the egg white, cornstarch, and a large pinch of salt. Mix thoroughly so that the chicken becomes well coated. Set aside.

2. In a small bowl, combine the hoisin sauce and rice wine. Set aside.

3. Peel and coarsely chop the garlic. Julienne the red pepper. Trim the scallions and cut into one-inch lengths (both white and green parts).

4. Heat a wok (or a heavy skillet) over a high flame. Dry-fry the cashews until toasted, about 1 minute. Stir often to avoid scorching. Remove and set aside.

5. Add 2 tablespoons peanut oil to the wok. When the oil just begins to smoke, add the garlic and stir-fry until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the chicken and red pepper, stir-frying until the chicken is nearly cooked through, about 2 minutes. Remove and set aside.

6. Add the remaining tablespoon of peanut oil to the wok. Wait for the oil to heat, then drop the sauce into it. Stir. After the sauce has thickened a little (about 30 seconds), return the chicken and red pepper to the wok. Stir to combine.

7. Add the cashews, scallions, and sesame oil. Continue to cook until the scallions wilt slightly, about another minute. Serve over rice.

• In Chinese cooking, the technique of coating meat with cornstarch (usually as a prelude to stir-frying) is called velveting. I find that the easiest way to do this is to mix the ingredients with my fingers. It’s a gooey delight.

• When I first began making this dish, I simply added the sauce at the end. Then my friend Michael Chesloff, an expert on Chinese regional cooking, told me that the proper way to "build" the sauce was to use a method called gong bao, which I have since adopted. The term refers to the way the hoisin sauce “explodes” when added to the hot oil.

• If you like your food a little spicy, this dish benefits from the addition of a few dried red chile peppers. Add them before the garlic to flavor the oil. Remove after they blacken, about 1 minute.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Thai Green Chicken Curry

The hardest thing about cooking Thai food at home is getting the right ingredients. Although I can usually find lemongrass at a local specialty store, there’s no grocery within an hour of my home that carries galangal (Asian ginger) or kaffir lime leaves. Fortunately, many supermarkets do carry Thai Kitchen green curry paste, a handy product that blends all of the hard-to-get ingredients together so you don’t have to. It even keeps well in the refrigerator.

(serves two adults and two children)

1 lb boneless chicken thighs
2 c snap peas
1 large red bell pepper
2 large shallots
1 bunch basil
1 Tbs peanut oil
3 Tbs green curry paste
1 14-oz can coconut milk
1 Tbs brown sugar
juice of a lime
2 Tbs fish sauce

1. Cut the chicken into bite-sized pieces about an inch or so long.

2. Trim the peas, removing the strings (if necessary) and cutting the larger ones in half on the diagonal. Slice the red pepper into thin two-inch strips. Peel and slice the shallots thinly. Strip the basil leaves and slice into strips or tear into pieces.

3. In a wok (or a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan), heat the peanut oil over a medium-high flame until very hot. Add the curry pate and stir-fry until fragrant, about 30 seconds.

4. Remove the wok from the heat. Add the chicken, red pepper, shallots, coconut milk, brown sugar, and one cup of water. Stir to combine.

5. Return the wok to the heat. Bring the curry to a simmer, Reduce the heat to medium, cover, and cook until the chicken is done, about 8-10 minutes. After 4-5 minutes of simmering, add the peas.

6. When the chicken is done, stir in the basil, lime juice, and fish sauce. Let the curry rest off the heat for 5 minutes. Serve over rice.

• The only difference between green chicken curry and red chicken curry is the curry paste. Red curry paste is a little spicier, however, so you might want to use a little less.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Sear-Roasted Salmon with Lemon and Onions

This recipe—developed by my wife, Julia—minimizes the fishiness associated with some farmed salmon. Like many great inventions, it was born of a mishap (vulcanized rubber also comes to mind). One day, Julia pan-seared a salmon filet, only to discover after she had wiped the skillet clean that the fish wasn’t cooked enough. Because the oven was already on, she put the fish back in the skillet and roasted it for a few more minutes. The result was a dish with a noticeably cleaner taste.

(serves two adults and two children)

1½ lb salmon filet
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
1 large lemon
1 large onion
olive oil

1. Preheat the oven to 500 degrees Fahrenheit.

2. Wash and dry the salmon. Sprinkle the flesh side with salt and pepper.

3. Wash the lemon and slice it thinly, discarding the pulpless ends. Peel the onion and slice it into rings (or half-rings) that are approximately the same thickness as the lemon slices.

4. Lightly coat a large nonstick ovenproof skillet with olive oil and heat it over a high flame until very hot. Place the salmon in the skillet flesh-side down and sear for 3 minutes.

5. Remove the salmon to a plate lined with paper towels. Meanwhile, use another paper towel to wipe the rendered fat from the skillet. Add a little more olive oil, about a tablespoon. Return the skillet to the high flame.

6. Add the onion slices and sauté for a minute or two, until they begin to wilt. Add the lemon slices and continue to sauté for another minute.

7. Pushing the lemon and onion slices to the side, return the salmon to the skillet, skin—side down. Transfer the skillet to the oven.

8. Roast until the salmon is done and the lemon and onion slices have caramelized, about 10-15 minutes. Serve the salmon topped with the lemon and onion slices.

• Sweet onions, such as Vidalias, work especially well in this dish.

• Eat the lemon slices, rind and all; they’re fabulous.

• If your salmon filet is on the thin side, it may finish roasting before the lemon and onion slices are properly caramelized. If so, remove the salmon to a bed of paper towels while the onion and lemon slices finish in the oven.

• To promote even caramelization, I shake the skillet once or twice during the roasting.

• Remember that the skillet handle will be very hot after 15 minutes in the oven. Use two mitts to remove it from the oven and leave one mitt on the handle in case you reach for the skillet without thinking.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Buttermilk Pancakes

This recipe delivers pancakes on the thick side, which is how I like them. The most important thing to remember is not to overmix the batter. As my daughter, Abigail, demonstrated in a science fair project last year, overmixing the batter will drive off the aeration created by the baking soda and baking powder, leading to flat and rubbery flapjacks. Mix the batter only enough to wet the flour and break up any clumps—but no more!

(serves two parents and two hungry children)

2 c flour
2 Tbs sugar
2 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp baking powder
¾ c milk
1 c buttermilk (see tip below)
2 eggs
4 Tbs unsalted butter

1. Preheat a griddle until hot. (Drops of water should sizzle and evaporate instantly.)

2. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, salt, baking soda, and baking powder.

3. In another bowl, combine the milk and buttermilk and microwave briefly until lukewarm. Beat the eggs lightly with a fork and add them to the buttermilk mixture. Melt the butter and add it to the buttermilk mixture. (If you add melted butter to cold milk or buttermilk, it will congeal.)

4. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients, mixing gently with a spatula or wooden spoon to combine. Make sure that all of the flour is wetted and break up any large pockets but leave the batter thick and a little lumpy.

5. Spoon the batter onto the griddle. Cook the pancakes until bubbles begin to appear, about 2 minutes. Flip and cook until done.

• I you don't have buttermilk, use plain yogurt. Substitute one cup of yogurt and an additional half-cup of milk for the cup of buttermilk. (The additional milk compensates for the thickness of the yogurt.)

• Many factors, including the type of flour you use and the humidity in your kitchen, will affect the consistency of the batter you produce, even if you measure carefully. As you make this recipe again and again, however, you’ll become familiar with a consistency that works for you. Keep in mind that too thin a batter will yield crepes, while too thick a batter will make it difficult to cook the inside of the pancakes before the outside turns black. To judge whether the consistency of my batter is right, I scoop up some batter in the cupped silicon spatula that I use to mix the batter and transfer it to the griddle. If the batter drools quickly off the spatula, it’s too thin (and I add a little flour). If the batter holds in a clump on the spatula, it’s too thick (and I add a little milk). Just right is a gravity-induced plop-plop-plop back into the bowl.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Butternut Squash Soup

This soup is nearly rich enough to serve as a dessert, but I use it as the basis for an easy midwinter meal. I make the soup ahead of time, say on a Sunday, and then serve it midweek with a hearty salad (perhaps including pear or some roasted beets), an oven-toasted baguette, and a nice cheese.

(serves two adults and two children)

1 medium butternut squash
1 medium onion
1 sprig fresh rosemary
2 Tbs unsalted butter
4 c chicken stock
ground nutmeg
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
heavy cream (optional)

1. Trim and peel the squash (see tip below). Halve it lengthwise and scrape out the seeds. Cut into one-inch dice. Coarsely chop the onion. Strip and coarsely chop the rosemary.

2. In a large stockpot, melt the butter and sauté the onion over medium-low heat until translucent, about 8 minutes. Add the squash, chicken stock, and rosemary. Raise the heat to high and bring the soup to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer until the squash becomes tender, about 25 minutes.

3. Using a slotted spoon or wire skimmer, remove the squash to the bowl of a food processor and puree. Return the squash puree to the stockpot and stir to combine. Season to taste with the nutmeg, salt, and pepper. When serving, consider drizzling a little heavy cream into each portion.

• For some reason, peeling butternut squash leaves an unpleasant residue on the hands that can badly dry out the skin. I avoid this by wearing disposable latex gloves (found at any drug store).

• This soup has a lot of body. If you prefer your soup thinner, add more chicken stock at any time.

• If you own an immersion blender and haven’t figured out when to use it, this is your chance. Forget the food processor. Just lower your immersion blender into the stockpot and press PLAY.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Spaghetti with Clam Sauce

A lot of families rely on spaghetti with butter and cheese when there seems to be nothing else in the pantry, but at our house the default is spaghetti with clam sauce. Because of this recipe, we always keep chopped clams on hand as a staple, and we’re rarely without parsley, either in the garden or in the refrigerator.

(serves two parents and two children)

3 6.5-oz cans chopped clams
4 cloves garlic
1 bunch parsley
1 lb dried spaghetti
¼ c olive oil
freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 tsp (or less) red pepper flakes
Parmesan or Romano cheese (for grating)

1. Bring a large pot of salted pasta water to a boil.

2. Open the cans of clams, retaining the clam juice. Peel and chop the garlic. Trim and chop the parsley.

2. Add the pasta to the boiling water, stirring occasionally to avoid clumping. Cook until nearly but not quite done (limp but still toothy). Drain.

3. Meanwhile, heat a skillet large enough to hold all of the cooked pasta over a medium flame. Add the olive oil. When the oil becomes hot, add the garlic, black pepper, and red pepper flakes. Wait a minute for the garlic to cook, then add the clams and their juice. Stir to combine and bring to a simmer.

4. Add the drained pasta and toss to coat. Add the parsley and continue cooking, tossing occasionally, for two minutes so that the pasta can absorbs the sauce and become thoroughly done. Serve with cheese for grating.

• Be sure to use dried pasta rather than fresh, because fresh pasta doesn't have sufficient body to stand up to this cooking method).

• I like my spaghetti with clam sauce to have a little bite, so I use a full teaspoon of red pepper flakes. If you don’t like your food spicy, use half a teaspoon.

• If you're feeling adventurous, try sautéing some finely diced pancetta in the oil before adding the garlic. The robust flavor of the pancetta adds a nice depth to the sauce. (I like to keep a chunk of pancetta in the freezer so that I always have some on hand. It's so fatty that you can cut it without thawing it first.)

Monday, January 25, 2010

Steak au Poivre

Usually, I grill steaks; but in the dead of winter, this recipe comes in handy. The method is called sear-roasting: you sear the meat on the stovetop, locking in the juices, then roast it in a hot oven. Although the steak tastes great on its won, I like to add an easy pan sauce.

(serves two parents and two children)

2 T-bone steaks (about a pound each)
2 Tbs black peppercorns
kosher salt
olive oil
1 cup red wine
3 Tbs unsalted butter

1. Preheat the over to 500 degrees Fahrenheit.

2. Wash the steaks, then pat them dry with paper towels.

3. Use a mortar and pestle (or the side of a heavy knife) to crush the peppercorns.

2. Season both sides of the steaks with the crushed pepper and salt, pressing the seasonings into the meat.

3. Heat a cast-iron skillet large enough to hold both steaks over a high flame. Add a thin film of olive oil.

4. When the oil starts to shimmer, add the steaks and sear for three minutes. Flip the steaks and transfer the skillet to the oven. Roast until done, about ten minutes for medium rare.

5. Transfer the steaks to a platter and tent with aluminum foil to keep them warm while you make the sauce.

6. After pouring off the accumulated fat, place the skillet over a medium-high flame. Add the wine and deglaze, using a whisk to loosen the browned bits stuck to the skillet’s bottom. Bring to a boil, whisking occasionally, until the wine is reduced by three-quarters, about 6 minutes.

7. Add the butter, one tablespoon at a time. As it melts, whisk it into the sauce. When all of the butter has melted, the sauce is done. Serve drizzled over the steaks.

• Whenever you cook with wine, use a decent bottle. My rule is, if I wouldn’t drink a wine with dinner, I won’t cook with it, either. There are plenty of decent four- and five-dollar Cabernets to choose from. My favorite is Crane Lake.

• If you lack the hand strength to crush peppercorns, you can always put them in a small plastic freezer bag and crush them with a hammer.

• I test the doneness of meat by pressing it with my fingers. Undercooked meat feels flaccid, while cooked meat feels firm to the touch. Telling the difference takes a little practice, but learning how is worth the effort because cutting into meat while it cooks releases juices, drying the meat out. I suggest probing the steaks every few minutes as they cook so that you can gauge the differences in feel.

• Remember that cast iron stays very hot long after you remove it from the oven. Keep a mitt on the handle at all times while making the sauce.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Penne with Broccoli Raab

This is one of my family’s favorite easy dinners—a step up from  boiling frozen tortellini when we’re feeling rushed or lazy. The recipe also works well as a side for roasted or grilled chicken.

(serves two adults and two children)

a large bunch of broccoli raab
1 lb dried penne
¼ c olive oil
1 tsp red pepper flakes
Parmesan or Romano cheese (for grating)

1. Bring a large pot of salted pasta water to a boil.

2. If you haven’t already done so, trim the ends of the broccoli raab (see tip below). Blanch the broccoli raab in the boiling pasta water for two minutes. Remove and drain.

3. Bring the pasta water back to a boil. Add the penne and cook until done. Drain.

4. Meanwhile, when the penne is nearly done, begin heating the oil and red pepper flakes in a large skillet over a medium flame. Chop the drained broccoli raab into pieces about an inch or so long and add them to the skillet. When the penne is cooked and drained, add it to the skillet and toss to combine. Serve with cheese for grating.

• The wire that holds the bunch of broccoli raab together in the supermarket promotes spoilage, so I remove it when I get home. Before I do, however, I trim the ends of the broccoli raab, because trimming is much easier when the bunch is still wrapped tightly.

Chocolate Bonbon Cake

My feeling is that, if you’re going to eat things that are bad for you, those things should taste really, really good. This cake tastes that good, and it’s fancy, too. Some restaurants call it a chocolate mousse cake because its lack of flour makes it seem more like a baked mousse thank a cake. My daughter, Abigail, calls it a chocolate bonbon cake because when she was just learning to read, she confuses bourbon with bonbon, and the name stuck.

12 oz high-quality semisweet chocolate
12 Tbs unsalted butter
6 eggs, separated
¾ c brown sugar
¼ c flour
4 Tbs bourbon
1 tsp vanilla extract
½ tsp kosher salt
confectioner’s sugar

1. Place an oven rack in the middle of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

2. Unlock a nine-inch springform pan so that the bottom separates from the ring (the sides). Cover the bottom with extra-wide, heavy-duty aluminum foil so that there is an outside margin of several inches. Press the foil down to reveal the rim of the bottom but don’t wrap the foil under the bottom. Return the bottom to the ring and relock the pan. Place the pan on a second large piece of foil and fold both foil layers up so that they cover at least half the height of the ring. (This application of foil prevents seepage from the water bath in which the cake is baked.)

3. Butter the inside of the springform pan. Add a parchment-paper liner to the bottom and butter this as well. Set the prepared pan inside a larger roasting pan.

4. Melt the chocolate and the butter (see tip below). Stir to combine.

5. Using a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment (or a hand mixer), beat the egg yolks and brown sugar on medium until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes.

6. Reduce the mixer speed to low. Add the melted chocolate and butter and mix until just combined. Add the flour, and mix until just combined. Add the bourbon and vanilla extract and mix until just combined.

7. Transfer the batter to a mixing bowl. Clean and dry the stand mixer, then beat the egg whites and salt on high until the whites form soft peaks, about a minute.

8. After carefully folding the whipped egg whites into the batter, transfer the batter to the springform pan and place the springform pan/roasting pan assembly in the middle of the oven. Before closing the oven door, add enough hot tap water to the roasting pan so that the water covers half the thickness of the cake, about 1½ inches.

9. Bake until the center of the cake is set, about 50-55 minutes. Remove the springform pan from the water bath and let it cool on a rack. When the cake has cooled completely, unlock the ring and, using a suitably flat platter, invert the cake so that the top becomes the bottom. Peel off the parchment paper, and dust the top of the cake with confectioner’s sugar. Serve at room temperature.

• The “proper” way to melt the chocolate and butter is in a double-boiler (which can be as simple as a metal bowl set inside a pot of simmering water). But I usually use the microwave, which works fine as long as you’re careful. If you leave the microwave on too long, either you’ll scorch the chocolate, ruining its taste, or the butter will “pop,” sending it all over the inside of your oven. I guard against these unpleasant outcomes by remove the mixtures and stirring it every 15-20 seconds. Whichever method you use, remember that you needn’t heat the chocolate until every last morsel is melted. Residual heat will take care of any graininess.

• For this cake, I like to use Maker’s Mark bourbon, but you can substitute another whiskey (Jack Daniels) or a liqueur (Grand Marnier, Cointreau, Fra Angelico).

• An easy way to cut this cake neatly is to use a long strand of dental floss. Cut wedges by pulling the floss down from the top. Remove it by pulling the floss through the cake horizontally.

• Because chocolate loses flavor as it gets colder, be sure to serve this cake at room temperature. (Think of the difference in taste between a cold chocolate bar and a piece of chocolate melting in your mouth.)