Journal entries from August 2010

Wild Blackberry Pie

The surprise of finding wild blackberries creeping along the edges of the woods is one of the great pleasures of these deep summer days. Even the mean wild vines, stretching out their vicious thorns to scratch you, cannot dim the pleasure. The purple juice stains your fingers for days, a trophy, a tattoo.

No other pie tastes quite like this one, and few are so forgiving. The most important point is to taste the berries and decide how much sugar to throw in. Some berries are large, moist, generous with sweetness while others are so small, tight and circumspect that only heat can make them sweet. Taste the berries, and then add anywhere from half a cup to a whole one for 4 to 5 cups of berries.

You can thicken this pie with anything you like; I’ve used cornstarch, instant tapioca or flour. Choose one, and use about 3 tablespoons. You can add cinnamon if you like, but I think these berries deserve to stand on their own.

Stir the sugar and the thickener into the berries, squeeze in some lemon juice and mix gently. Toss the berries into a pie crust, dot the top with butter, cover with a top crust and cut some vents. Put the pie on the bottom rack of a very hot oven (425 or so) for about 10 minutes, then turn the heat down to 375 and bake until fragrant and golden, about 45 minutes more.


Warm Peach Cobbler

This is summer, served warm on a plate. Just peeling the peaches, uncovering that color just beneath the skin, makes me happy. As does the scent of this simple cobbler as it bakes, filling the house with its golden aroma

Peel 4 large peaches, and slice them directly into a glass or ceramic pie plate, being sure to capture the juice. Squeeze half a lemon over the fruit and toss in a half cup of sugar and a tablespoon of cornstarch.

Mix a cup of flour with a teaspoon of baking powder, and a quarter teaspoon of baking soda and salt. Cut in half a stick of butter and very gently mix in a third cup of buttermilk. Plop the dough onto the fruit, shake a little sugar over the top and bake in a 400 degree oven for about half an hour.

Serve warm, with a pitcher of cream.


Fast, Easy, Satisfying: Indian Chicken

This is one of my favorite fast dinners; the most time-consuming part is pulling the skin off the chicken legs, and you can do that in about a minute. The yogurt tenderizes the meat, making it incredibly silky, and the spices penetrate it, making it sing with flavor. The high-heat of the oven gives it a few charred spots, which makes the chicken even tastier.

Preheat the oven to 500 degrees.

Pull the skin off 6 whole chicken legs (or a dozen thighs if you prefer).

Chop up a handful of mint and another one of cilantro, and stir them into a cup of whole-milk yogurt, along with a few good dollops of bottled vindaloo paste and some salt and pepper. If you like your food really hot, shake in some ground chile flakes too. Slather the chicken all over with this mixture, put it onto a foil-lined baking pan and roast for about half an hour.

Wonderful finger food - and terrific cold the next day.


Images from Eataly

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The fish counter. Last night David Pasternak was serving oysters and crudo right across the way.


Eataly, after Hopper

The guys behind the counter were serving dried beef cured in bergamot.

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Focaccia at Eataly

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We need a better word for slime

Why are Americans so repelled by the texture of slime? Could it be because the word itself is so awful? What if we called it bounce instead? Would we like it better?

Years ago, in Japan, I learned to love the clean taste and mysterious texture of grated yama imo - surely one of nature's slimiest creations. When you slice this mountain potato it has the texture of jicama, but when you bite in it begins to dissolve in a wonderful fashion, slowly disintegrating beneath your teeth. Grated, it turns into something more resembling melted mozzarella than any vegetable I can think of, a kind of fresh-tasting porridge that separates into long rubbery white strings when you attempt to pick it up.

In Japan slime is much prized; if grated yama imo is good, grated yama imo with a raw quail’s egg is even better. But last night at SushiZen I had a veritable slime fest: muzuku, the beautiful feathery seaweed from Okinawa that goes shivering from your chopsticks when you try to pick it up. I love its fresh, citric flavor and buoyant texture. Last night it shimmered up at us from etched glass bowls, topped with a pure white squiggle of yama imo, a single raw quail egg and a bright green dab of grated okra.

It was lovely, and I knew I should take a picture of it. But I was so happy when it arrived that I just dived in.


Sashimi at Sushizen

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From Today's New York Times

Sunday Routine | Ruth Reichl A Day for Food (Bears Not Invited)


For Ruth Reichl, the saving grace in losing her decade-long job as editor in chief of Gourmet when the magazine closed last year is being able to live, write and cook virtually full time at her glassy hilltop home in Spencertown, N.Y., in Columbia County. Ms. Reichl, 62, who was the dining critic for The New York Times before joining Gourmet, is the author of four memoirs and is currently working on a cookbook and a novel. She and her husband, Michael Singer, 70, a retired news producer for CBS, have a son, Nick, 21, who attends Wesleyan University, and a 17-year-old cat, Stella, as well as an apartment on the Upper West Side.

UP WITH THE CAT I’m up by 6, because that’s when Stella gets me up and demands her breakfast. Now that I don’t have a job, we often have a bunch of visitors sleeping over on weekends, so instead of getting up and making breakfast for Michael and me, I’m making it for lots of people at all different times, depending on when they wake up. But at 6, it’s Stella and me.

MAKE COFFEE, CHECK BREAD I make some coffee, a French roast by Strongtree that I buy in Hudson, read the papers online and walk around outside by myself with Stella looking at the deer and the birds for a while until it’s time to check the bread. I bake bread nearly every day; I use Jim Lahey’s no-knead method and leave it to rise overnight. At 8, I drive to Hudson to get the Sunday papers, and by the time I’m back, around 8:45, people are getting up.

O.J., BACON, EGGS First I squeeze the orange juice and make the bacon; I get it from a restaurant in Hudson called Swoon that uses local pigs and cures the bacon right there. My eggs come from North Plain Farm. I like poached eggs, but I’ll make scrambled or fried or whatever anybody wants. I’m kind of a short-order cook in the morning from 9 until noon. There’s home-baked breads for toast. And jams. Sometimes I make scones or muffins or biscuits: Sunday is the big wonderful breakfast day.

WRITING TIME Around noon, I put the leftovers on the kitchen counter and go out to my writing studio in the woods. It’s pretty comfortable in the summer; there’s always a breeze. In the winter, it’s a different story. There’s no heat, so I have to get out there and get the wood-burning stove going before breakfast if I want it to be warm by noon. I’ll usually write for two or three hours.

LUNCH, ANYONE? Around 2:30 or 3, if anybody’s hungry, I’ll make grilled cheese sandwiches or whatever. And I put the bread in the oven. Then my treat is to sit outside and do the crossword puzzle on the lawn. After that, I’ll drive to a farm stand and pick up whatever’s fresh.

NO GARDENING I don’t have my own garden; we’re on shale and in the woods. And if I did have a garden, the deer and chipmunks and squirrels and bears would eat everything anyway. The bears can be scary; I woke up a few days ago and two of them were peering in the window.

DINNER AT SUNSET Let’s face it, my life tends to revolve around food, and I love feeding people. We try to time dinner to sunset and we eat on the porch. Corn, tomatoes, potato salad, burgers, and I’ll probably have made a pie — this summer it’s been sour cherry or apricot.

“MAD MEN” AND BED I have to watch “Mad Men” at 10 — I’ve been a fan since the beginning — and then I go to bed and read for an hour. My day’s over at midnight.


To Eat Meat or Not - That is the Question

Reading Francis Lam’s insightful piece on killing his first chicken (, I scroll down to see the number of comments: 79. Then I look at the number of comments on the previous post about corn: 11. As I keep scrolling, I realize that every post about meat-eating has elicited a huge number of comments. Clearly it is something that is of deep concern to many of us.

It’s a good sign that we are finally coming face to face with the most serious ethical issues of eating. But it is also, I’m convinced, a measure of how deeply removed we are from the true business of keeping ourselves alive. To thrive without killing is virtually impossible, at least if you include insects among the living. There is no way to harvest fruits and vegetables without destroying the insects clinging to the roots, the leaves, the very fruits themselves. Are insects no less deserving of their lives than mammals?

And what about fish? Why is it that there is no outcry about the killing of fish? Is it because most of us have gone fishing at some point in our lives, and it is such a familiar occupation that it renders this particular kind of killing comfortable? Or is it that fish - like insects - are so removed from how we see ourselves that their death does not upset us? We do not anthropomorphize them as we do the pigs and sheep, do not ascribe feelings to them.

For most of human history, most people have lived too close to the edge to have the luxury of debating these issues. In a world where those who do not hunt or raise animals to eat will die, killing for food is simply to join in the solemn dance of life. It is a measure of the sheer abundance available to us in the modern world that we are starting to consider these issues.

It seems to me that the question should be posed in the present rather than the past. The issue is not how human beings have behaved throughout the ages but rather that, given these new circumstances how can we best live ethical lives?


Written in Pepper



Smokey, Sweet, Tangy, Sticky: Ribs for a Summer Night

Ian Knauer's Sticky Balsamic Ribs are my favorite recipe from Gourmet's last July issue. Smokey, sweet, tangy and sticky, they're wonderful party food on a star-filled night when you can eat outdoors. The meat falls off the bones into your mouth in a very appealing way. Serve them with tiny new potatoes roasted with onions and whole cloves of garlic, sliced tomatoes, corn and a big salad and you've got a pretty perfect dinner. After making them again and again, I've made a few changes to the recipe that we published.

The important thing to remember is that they need a full day to marinate, so you have to think ahead.

Mash 12 large cloves of garlic with a teaspoon and a half of salt until it's a wonderful mush of a paste. Stir in 3 tablespoons of chopped rosemary, 3 tablespoons of dark brown sugar, 3 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar, 2 teaspoons of cayenne, 1 1/2 tablespoons salt, and 1 1/2 teaspoons pepper. Rub it all over 4 racks of baby back ribs (8 pounds). Pack the meat into a large plastic bag and let it rest in the refrigerator for a day or so.

Put the ribs in 2 pans (they should be in a single layer), add a half cup of water to each pan, cover tightly with foil and roast at 300 degrees for about 3 hours, until the meat is very tender, adding more water to the pan as needed.

Add a cup of hot water to each roasting pan and stir around, scraping up the good brown bits. Pour into a large measuring cup and allow the fat to rise to the top. Skim it off, put the remaining liquid in a skillet, add a cup of balsamic vinegar (this is the time to use the industrial kind) and a half cup of brown sugar, stir, bring to a boil and reduce it to a cup or so of glaze. This will take 15 or 20 minutes.

You can do all this ahead of time, which is very convenient if you're having a party. Just before serving, brush the glaze all over the ribs and grill over low heat for about 5 minutes, just to give it a taste of smoke. Brush with more glaze and dig in. This will make a gloriously grubby meal for about 8 people.


Tomato Pie

People have been bringing me tomatoes - fat, gorgeous red orbs, like Christmas ornaments - and this morning when I went into the kitchen the aroma just reached up and hugged me. I suddenly had this sharp taste memory of James Beard's Tomato Pie - a dish I used to make all the time when I was in my twenties. I haven't had it in years, but I had this urgent need to taste it, right now.

James Beard’s Tomato Pie

Begin by making biscuit dough. (I like buttermilk biscuits for this recipe, although any biscuit will do – even the ones that are in the freezer case of your supermarket.)

Buttermilk Parsley Biscuits Combine 2 cups of flour with 2 and a half teaspoons of baking powder and a half teaspoon each of salt and baking soda. Cut in 1/3 cup of butter until it’s the size of peas, and add a little flurry of chopped parsley (mostly it looks pretty). Stir in ¾ cups of buttermilk until the dough holds together, turn out onto a floured surface and knead a few minutes. Pat it into the bottom and sides of a 9 inch pie pan.

Cover the biscuits with 4 to 6 ripe tomatoes, sliced into nice fat rounds. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Shower a couple of tablespoons of shredded basil on top.

Mix a cup or so of grated Cheddar cheese with a cup and a half of mayonnaise and spread the mixture on top of the tomatoes.

Bake at 375 for about 35 minutes, or until it is golden brown.


Sharp, Sweet, Spicy Noodles

On a hot summer morning (today), this is the kind of breakfast that promises a wonderful day ahead. With a slice of icy melon, and a few birds singing just outside, it makes me very happy to be alive.

Thai Noodles

Soak 6 to 8 ounces of the thinnest rice noodles (sometimes called rice sticks or rice vermicelli) in hot water for about ten minutes, or until they go limp. Drain and set aside.

Peel a half pound of shrimp and dry them well. If they’re big, cut them in half.

Dice the whites of 4 scallions, and slice the green parts into confetti. Smash 2 or 3 cloves of garlic.

Mix a quarter cup of sugar with a quarter cup of Asian fish sauce and a quarter cup of white vinegar. Squeeze in the juice of one lime.

Put a half cup of peanuts into a plastic bag and hit it with something heavy – a rolling pin works well – until the peanuts are crushed.

Assemble all of this next to the stove, along with a half pound of ground pork, a couple of eggs and some crushed red chile flakes.

Working quickly, heat a large wok and film it with peanut oil until it shimmers. Add the shrimp, toss them just until they’re no longer transparent, and turn them onto a platter. Add a bit more oil to the wok, toss in the garlic, stir, add the scallions and then the pork, stirring until it’s no longer red. Throw in the drained noodles, give it a couple of stirs, and pour in the fish sauce mixture. Cook, at high heat, about 7 minutes, until the noodles have absorbed all the liquid. Push them aside, crack one egg into the bottom of the wok ,tilting so that it forms a sheet. When it has set, mix it into the noodles, then repeat with the other egg. Toss it all about, add the shrimp and the scallion greens and chiles, and toss once again. Turn out onto a platter and top with crushed peanuts.

Serve with lime wedges and Sriracha sauce.

This will feed 4 people at breakfast (or 3 at dinner, with a little leftover for the first one up in the morning).


Blueberry Muffins

I found the most beautiful blueberries at the farm stand today, and they just called out to me. I had one of those instant visions - blueberry muffins! They're so easy, and so satisfying. I'm sorry to say that they were so delicious that we ate them all up, warm from the oven, before I remembered to take a picture. So instead of a photo, I'll offer you the recipe:

Blueberry muffins

Melt 6 tablespoons of sweet butter. While it’s melting throw a cup and a half of flour into a bowl with ¾ cup of sugar, 2 teaspoons of baking powder and a teaspoon of salt. Stir it about a bit, then add the melted butter, a third of a cup of milk and a couple of eggs. Add 2 cups of blueberries (you can use less, but this recipe works particularly well when it is very fruit-filled.) Spoon into 10 or 12 well buttered muffin tins; I particularly like the silicon muffin tins, because they're so colorful that they look like frilly little jackets when you serve them

Melt 3 more tablespoons of butter and stir in 3 tablespoons of sugar and a half cup of flour to make a streusel top. Scatter it across the tops of the muffins and bake in a 375 degree oven for about 20 minutes, or until golden.


David Chang is 33

Dark, smoky, intimate dinner last night at Torrisi Italian Specialties to celebrate David’s birthday. It was a small group: a few chefs (April Bloomfield, Jonathan Benno, Marco Canora), some food people (Kate Krader, Dana Cowin, Ken Friedman), and a smattering of Dave’s college friends.

It was funny; all the wine people were standing around drinking beer out of cans, and David was hopping from table to table, looking happy. Or as happy as he can.

The food was so fantastic, I want to go back and eat it all over again. The standouts were powerful little squares of garlic bread with soft warm fresh mozzarella to spoon on top, and the most intense seafood pasta I’ve ever eaten; each strand of spaghetti seemed to have inhaled the ocean. It was followed by long ribs of beef, the edges wonderfully crisped to blackness, the meat itself cut into rich, rare slabs. On the side a bitter little salad paired with achingly sweet polenta. Eaten together the meat, the greens and the corn delivered a powerful flavor punch.

We ate and drank and talked and then afterward – what else? – went off to The Breslin, still packed as the IRT at rushhour at 2 a.m. How can you not love being in New York?


Is LaGuardia the new Las Vegas?

It’s a soupy gray morning in New York, and I’m thinking about all the new restaurants going into LaGuardia, wondering what it means. In the next few weeks so many of my favorite chefs will be opening restaurants in the Delta terminal that I’ll be heading out to the airport just to eat.

Lee Hanson and Riad Nasr, who blew me away with Balthazar and then again Minetta Tavern, are opening a bistro out there, and the lovely Michael Lomonaco is opening a steak place. Pat LaFrieda, the guy who put designer labels on beef, is opening a burger place. And maybe most exciting of all, Di Fara’s is opening a branch; maybe the pizza lines will be shorter than the endless one in Brooklyn?

But I can’t help thinking what a strange development this is. Does it mean that people now expect to spend so much time waiting in airports that they’ve become dining destinations? Or does it mean that airports are changing their profiles, and every vacation will now begin with a few lovely hours before the plane departs?

I’m not sure. But I am reminded that the Guide Michelin was started by a tire company, eager to give people a reason to get out on the road.


Summer salad in Riverside PArk

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Spiced Tuscan Kale

A friend came by yesterday with armfuls of Lacinato Kale from her garden. I'd already bought tiny new potatoes for dinner, and corn and tomatoes, and I had a pan of peppers, onions and green garlic on the stove, sending that spectacular fresh garlic aroma up into the air. But it seemed a shame not to use the kale while it was still hours from the earth, so I poked around in the refrigerator until I came up with this dish. We all liked it so much that I'm calling to ask for more kale; I could eat this every day.

Spicy Tuscan Kale

Strip 3 bunches of Lacinato kale from the ribs and coarsely tear them into pieces. Drop them into a few quarts of boiling salted water for about a minute, drain and run under cold water to stop the cooking. Set aside.

Pour a glug or two of olive oil into a frying pan, and add 4 anchovies. Stir about until the little fish disintegrate, then add two coarsely chopped onions. Shake in some chile flakes and salt and pepper to taste. Add 4 smashed cloves of garlic and cook until it is all insanely fragrant. Add the kale and a bit more oil and cook just until it comes together into a dark, soft, glorious mush. Toss with grated Parmesan and crisp bread crumbs.


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About this journal
Where am I eating? What's for dinner tonight? And what books have I been reading? For a look at what's going on in my life lately, take a look at this journal, which I try to update on a regular basis.