Journal entries from October 2010

An Ode to Brining

I’ve had such a love/hate relationship with pork. I loved the sweet meat when I was little, loved the wonderful aroma that filled the house as it roasted. And then, suddenly, I couldn’t stand the papery dry meat that emerged from the oven every time, which had all the charm of cardboard. For a long time, I stopped cooking pork altogether.

Then I discovered that simply by plunking the meat into a salt water brine, I could revive the joy of pork. The added bonus is that if you throw in some herbs, you not only get fabulously juicy meat, you also get extra flavor.

Brine recipe:

2 quarts water

1/3 cup kosher salt

3 tablespoons of sugar,

a few cloves of garlic


black peppers

Bring this to a boil, pour it into a large bowl and chill in the refrigerator. When it’s cool, add a 6-rib pork loin roast (about 3 ½ pounds) and marinate in the refrigerator for two days.

Drain the roast and pat dry before browning and roasting. It will be fat, sassy, completely satisfying. Especially if you begin with a pig who led a happy life.


The Easiest Dish for a Crowd

What I wanted was a ham. I should have ordered one in the mail, because in this not quite holiday season, a great ham is hard to find. And so, because I’m lazy and a lot of people were coming to dinner, I settled for a filet of beef. (Actually, 3 of them.)

It is (next to ham, which needs nothing more than an oven to warm it up in), the easiest way to feed a crowd. But how to make it special?

I made this sauce – which really adds a wonderful zing of flavor. But I wanted something more. Pawing around in my spice cupboard I found an overlooked jar of truffle salt, and although it was old, I opened it anyway. The flavor literally leaped out of the jar and filled up the kitchen – it was that intense – and so I patted my filet dry (this is important) and sprinkled it liberally all over the filet before browned the meat in the pan. Even two days later I could still detect that wonderful truffle scent in my hair.

You brown a 3 to 3 1/2 pound filet in a pan until all sides have turned a nice brown, then cook it in a 350 degree oven for about 25 minutes (it should be at 120 degrees). Let it rest for at least 15 minutes (you can serve it at room temperature if you like), so it gets to 130 degrees for rare. Slice, inhaling the fine truffle perfume, and serve the rosy beef with this sauce.

Cook ¾ cups of minced shallots in 2 ½ cups of white wine until the wine is reduced to about ½ cup.

Mix a stick of soft, sweet butter with a third cup of mustard. Add to the cooled shallot-wine mixture with a couple tablespoons of cream and a half cup of cornichon pickles that have been thinly sliced into julienne strips.

This will generously feed 6 people


Another Great Meatloaf

When Amy Mastrangelo came up with this meatloaf for the low-fat section of Gourmet, I'll admit that I was skeptical. I'm not a fan of turkey meatloaves, and the low-fat aspect of the recipe didn't do much to spark my enthusiasm. So the week she presented it, I went home and made it for my family.

We all liked it. A lot. The secret is the mushrooms, which add flavor, texture and moisture. Amy used cremini mushrooms, but I like to throw in some shiitake for extra flavor, as well as a few dried porcini. Play with it.

This one doesn't have the wow factor of Ian's bacon and prune laced meatloaf, but for a weeknight dinner (and one without a lot of calories), it makes six or so people very happy.

Mushroom-Turkey Meatloaf

Cook 1 1/2 cups finely chopped onions with1 diced carrot and 3 cloves of smashed garlic in a bit of olive oil until softened. Add ¾ pounds of mushrooms that have been finely chopped in a food processor, a bit of salt and pepper, and cook until all the mushroom liquid has evaporated (about 15 minutes).

Add 2 teaspoons of Worcestershire sauce, 1/3 cup chopped parsley and a quarter cup of ketchup and allow the mixture to cool.

Meanwhile soak 1 cup fine fresh bread crumbs in about a third cup of milk. Stir in 2 eggs and then mix into cooled vegetables.

With your hands gently mix in 1 1/4 lb ground turkey (if you can get dark meat, do; it will taste better), add a bit more salt and pepper and shape into an oval (the mixture will be very damp and moist), and put in a large pan. Brush the top with ketchup and bake at 400° for almost an hour (the loaf should register 170 degrees on an instant read thermometer).

Let it sit a few minutes before serving, just to reabsorb the juices.


Thing I Love 4

Matzo Brei for One

It's a rainy day, and the wind is howling around the house, whistling through every crack. That must be why I'm making all my comfort foods. I've got a pot of chicken bones on the stove, slowly burbling into soup, and I have a sudden, urgent desire for matzoh brie. When Nick was little he called it "manna" - and it's still pretty much that to me.

My mother always said that lots of butter was the secret to matzo brei, and I won't disagree. Brei, incidentally, rhymes with fry...

* 1 matzo
* butter
* 1 egg
* salt

Break matzos into a colander into small pieces. Run under the tap and moisten well. Drain.

Melt as much butter as you will allow yourself to get away with in a large skillet. My mother says the secret of matzo brei is lots of butter, so if in doubt, add more. Beat eggs in a bowl. Add matzos and mix well. Put into pan and cook, stirring constantly, until eggs are set. I like it quite dry, because I love the crunchy little bits that you get at the very end. Salt to taste. Eat with enormous pleasure.

Note: There is a big debate, between matzo brei mavens, on the virtues of the sweet versus the savory sort. May I just say that sweet matzo brei is, to me, an abomination?


Pumpkin Pancakes

I made these today because I had some left-over pumpkin from the Swiss Pumpkin I made the other night. But I originally made them to use up that annoying bit of canned pumpkin puree that's always left over when you make pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving.

Mix 1 1/4 cups flour with 3 tablespoons brown sugar and 2 teaspoons baking powder. Add 1/4 teaspoon each cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg and a pinch of clove. Add half a teaspoon of salt.

Separate 4 eggs. Put the yolks into a small bowl and mix in half a stick of melted butter, ¾ cup pumpkin puree, 1 ¼ cups milk and a teaspoon of vanilla.

Beat the egg whites in a separate bowl until they are just stiff.

Mix the pumpkin mixture into the flour mixture, and then carefully fold in the egg whites.

Cook in a lightly buttered cast iron skillet and serve with maple syrup. (These are particularly good with Blis, which is cured in bourbon barrels.)


Butter Taste-Off

A world without butter is, to me, a very sad place. In the list of foods I can’t live without, it ranks very high. I like it sweet and cold, and I have a very hard time understanding how anyone could possibly want it warm and salted.

My basic butter choices are Plugra and Land o’ Lakes. (Although I’ve been unhappy with Land o’ Lakes since they stopped wrapping their butter in foil; sweet butter is fragile, and foil provides the best barrier to the off-flavors it so easily absorbs.) But the store had sold out of both, so I decided to buy three other brands, from three countries, and have a butter taste-off.

Celles sur Belle, a French butter from Charentes-Poitou was the most expensive of the lot. Creamy and delicious, it was the most neutral. However, given its price, I wouldn’t buy it again.

Jana Valley from the Czech Republic was the least expensive of the butters, a little more than half the price of the French butter, and definitely one I would buy again. Of the three butters, it had the purest cream flavor.

Kate’s Homemade Butter from Maine was the big surprise to me. It was the median-priced butter, with a clean, sweet flavor. This is the one I want on my morning bread.


Ian's Great Meatloaf

This is my favorite meatloaf. It's a recipe that Ian Knauer invented for Gourmet a couple of years ago, brilliantly deciding to lace the bacon through the loaf itself, instead of laying it on top. He balances the smokiness of the bacon with the sweetness of prunes, then punches the flavor up with Worcestershire sauce and a touch of vinegar. I've increased the onion in the recipe a bit, and upped the proportion of pork to beef, but otherwise the recipe is pretty much the way he originally wrote it. This recipe will feed 6 to 8 people, but you really want to have some leftover. I love it reheated for breakfast, topped with a fried egg.

Bacon-Prune Meatloaf

Soak 1 cup fine fresh bread crumbs in 1/3 cup whole milk in a bowl large enough to eventually hold all ingredients.

Chop 2 onions. Smash 3 cloves of garlic.Chop a rib of celery and a carrot. Saute them all in 2 tablespoons of butter until tender and wilted. Remove from heat and stir in 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce, 1 tablespoon of cider vinegar, 1 ground allspice clove, 2 teaspoons salt, and 1 1/2 teaspoons pepper. Add to bread-crumb mixture.

Grind 1/4 pound of bacon and 1/2 cup pitted prunes in a food processor, then add to onion mixture along with 1 1/2 pounds ground beef chuck, 3/4 pounds ground pork, 2 eggs and 1/3 cup chopped parsley Mix it together, gently, with your hands.

Pack mixture into an oval loaf in a 13- by 9-inch shallow baking dish or pan.

Bake at 350 degrees for about an hour and a quarter. Let stand 10 minutes (or longer) before serving.


The Changing Taste of America

Went to visit Nick at college today, and we stopped into the campus grocery store. I was fascinated by what this tiny little place had on offer.

Right by the door, in the most prominent place was a case filled with sushi and hummus. The sushi was no surprise: it was the garden variety sort that you now find in every supermarket. The hummus, however, came in a dozen different flavors. Have I somehow missed the hummus revolution?

The produce section was equally interesting. To Nick’s disgust there was no organic produce, but I was amazed to see, among the prosaic lettuces, onions and eggplants, a surprisingly diverse display of herbs and aromatics. Ginger!

One entire wall of the store was devoted to various kinds of soft drinks; no surprise there. And the vast cast of ice cream was complete expected. But I was stunned by the wide variety of grains: quinoa, cous cous, barley, bulghur….even sticky rice.

Looking back at the campus grocery store when I was in school, I mostly remember that I yearned for garlic, which was considered too exotic. Walking through the aisles in my memory, I am wandering past shelves holding what were once considered staples: mayonnaise, Wonder Bread, macaroni and cheese. Clearly the taste of America has changed. It gives me hope


Things I Love 3

Zabar’s in the early morning, when you’re almost the only customer in the store. Everyone’s setting up, waiting for the day to begin, and there’s a hopeful quality that disappears in the exhausted rush of the day.

The cheese people will wave and smile at you. And the fish guys, who become taciturn later on (except in the presence of children for whom, in my experience, they always have a smile), will actually talk to you as they unwrap the slabs of salmon and wipe the display windows down.

Walking home, the feeling lasts. People on the street nod at one another like conspirators with a wonderful secret. For this moment, the city belongs to us.


Things I Love 2

White sweet potatoes, with their fluffy flesh, have a nutty flavor that is unlike that of any other potato. Think chestnuts. Cooked until near melting, they turn into a flavor catalyst. Add a bit of butter and a splash of maple syrup, and they make a great impromptu “cake” for dessert. Spoon in a bit of miso, and they’re an equally easy accompaniment to chicken or beef.


Things I Love 1

Yama Imo, the mysterious “mountain potato” of Japan, has the most exotic texture of any food I know. Pure white, it has a bite, a crunch, a crispness that quickly dissolves into a creamy paste and then, while you are chewing, breaks down again, becoming stickier and stickier until it is pure slime. This transformation never fails to entertain and delight me, and I love to carve it into sticks and eat it for breakfast, with umaboshi (the plum paste of Japan, for which it has a great affinity), or simply drizzle it with soy sauce. It creates a little circus of the mouth, the perfect way to start any day.


Talking with David (Chang) and Rene (Redzepi)

Rene Redzepi and David Chang are two of the most thoughtful, charismatic and entertaining chefs today. But I couldn’t help thinking about the irony of the evening. We were talking about eating culture, about the need to create a truly local cuisine. We all agreed that restaurant cooking has become so homogenized that if you closed your eyes and simply tasted what was on your plate, you would have no way of knowing where in the world you were. You could be eating the same dishes in Sydney, Shanghai, London or San Francisco. For these two young chefs, the creation of a truly local cuisine is the next food frontier.

But while they may be thinking local, they're living global. David looked exhausted, and he had to run off to catch a plane to London, where he’ll be cooking a meal with Claude Bosi of Hibiscus. Meanwhile Rene’s whistlestop tour has taken him to three continents in the last two weeks, and he's still wearing his traveling shoes.

Some more thoughts:

Favorite Moment: Rene pointing out that chefs would make great terrorists, because they’re so single-minded and obsessed. (Although I may have been the only one who laughed.)

Favorite Audience Question: The young chef, who stood up in front of all those people and made a pitch for a stage at Noma next summer. How could Rene say no? He couldn’t, although I suspect he’s opened the door to many more requests along the way.

Favorite Food in the Goodie Bag: The wild kiwi from Maine.

Second Favorite Food: Sea Asparagus.

Favorite Noma Dish: The incredible vintage carrot (which wins the ugliest food on the planet award).


Rainbow on the river

Rainbow on the river

image from

Sent from my iPhone


Lunch at Daniel, 2

Colman Andrews, who arranged the lunch at Daniel, wrote to tell me that my Iphone had very graciously changed "cuisses de grenouille" to "cuirass de grenouille." "Rather leathery, don't you think?" he asked. He also pointed out that my phone had decided that foie gras en gelee should be foie gras glee - which both of us rather liked.

Then we continued a conversation we had started at the end of lunch. He said that Americans don't like French food anymore, and that French cookbooks don't sell. I pointed out that Balthazar is the hardest restaurant to get into in New York; it is packed from the moment it opens for breakfast until well after midnight. So clearly we do like French food.

This isn't "writing"; it's just a casual conversation, but I thought you might be interested. I asked Colman if he'd let me let you listen in.


Was thinking later about your contention that Americans DO like French food, they just don’t like to cook it, and I think there’s something to that. The whole point of the kind of stuff we had yesterday, though, is that NOBODY should try to cook it at home. It’s restaurant food and depends on a whole repertoire of stocks and other fonds, many hands to do the work, etc. That incredible multi-level soup, for instance... I mean, I guess somebody could reproduce something along the same lines if they wanted to go to the time and expense, but why would you? We might fool around on the fiddle but we don’t think we’re Pincus Zucherman. Why should we assume that we can cook like Daniel (or Jean-Georges, or Michel Richard, or....)? Whereas if you want to make, say, Italian food, all you really have to do is cook like Mamma—which of course is equally impossible, but much easier to imagine. Anyway, it makes it hard to write a book about cooking French food (though we did it, in a way, with the Saveur Authentic French book), which just leaves books about eating it I guess.

Would be nice to think that “nouvelle cuisine” was the next big thing, though. Yeah, right.


That's why Americans love the idea of provincial French cooking so much. Bistro food books do sell. Our French home cooking covers always did well on the newsstand. People want to make cassoulet and poulet a la creme....all that cuisine de bonne femme.

As for chef cooking - I don't get why anyone at all buys any of the chef cookbooks. Not just the French guys; you look at David Chang's recipes, and every seemingly simple dish requires about a million steps. For me, part of the joy of that meal of Daniel's was being reminded of how much pleasure there is in that kind of cooking. That soup was extraordinary - on so many levels - well, it all was. I don't eat at big deal French restaurants much anymore, and it made me want to make the rounds again.

The one place I wish he'd gone in a different direction was dessert. I was trying to remember great nouvelle cuisine desserts, and I couldn't. Or is it just that the new desserts are so much more interesting?


Yes, you’re right. I do think it’s interesting, though, that people (“our” people, the serious food folk) tend to think that they should be able to—that they have the right to be able to—reproduce the most elaborate and labor-intensive of restaurant dishes, when they would never think themselves capable of playing serious music or painting museum-quality art or imagine themselves capable of leaping into Scorcese or Coppola territory with their Flips.

I know what you mean about not going to big-deal French restaurants any more (though I do always try to go to one or two when I’m in Paris) and about wanting to make the rounds again. I don’t think there’s much of that kind of food left in NY though. We experienced together how things have fallen (or our expectations have risen?) at the Cuisses de Grenouilles. I didn’t like the last meal I had at Jean-Georges very much (though he is certainly capable of doing this kind of food). Per Se to me is a different thing, not French—which I would usually say is a good thing, though not necessarily in this context. Haven’t been to Citronelle forever, but I imagine Michel would still be a real contender in this arena if he wanted to be. It was this kind of cooking I had in mind when I called the piece I did on Michel Bourdin at the Connaught years ago in Saveur “The Last French Restaurant in the World”.

Re desserts, as you know that’s never been my thing, but I thought the fig tart was very good. I do think desserts are on a whole different level, conceived differently and using different technology, today. I can’t really remember any ground-breaking masterpieces from the old days either. Lots of sorbets and tarts as I recall, basically the same old stuff, though often very good. (You may or may not remember, but I recall vividly your reaction to the very very simple pear sorbet at the old Boyer.)

I tweeted about the menu and mused how wild it would be if nouvelle cuisine turned out to be the next big thing. It won’t of course, but I got a lot of comments back on that and all but one seemed to love the idea...


My Lunch at Daniel

It’s been years since I sat down to lunch at noon and spent the entire afternoon at the table, slowly, dreamily, eating (and drinking) the day away. After today’s languid five-hour meals at Daniel, I wonder why I got out of the habit.

The idea for this lunch grew out of another long lunch, when Daniel Boulud and Colman Andrews boozily started reminiscing about the French food of the seventies. It was a halcyon time, the beginning of nouvelle cuisine, when young chefs were throwing out all the rulebooks. It was also the time when Daniel was starting out, working with French masters like Michel Guerard and Paul Bocuse.

And so, this “retour aux annees ’70,” an homage to all the great French chefs of the time. It was also, said Daniel slyly, an attempt to lure Colman (who has just written a book on Irish food and a biography of Ferran Adria), back to France.

As a seduction, I’d say it was entirely successful. We started with whole foie gras wrapped in a peppercorn jelly; the soft, rosy livers shining merrily inside their dark wrapping, their sweetness underlined by the prickle of the peppers. We drank an extraordinary sauternes, a ’62 Coutet (with its original price - $4 - still stamped on the bottle).

Back in the seventies you couldn’t pick up a food magazine without reading about the the truffle soup that Paul Bocuse made for Valery Giscard D’Estaing. A golden dome of puff pastry rose dramatically above the bowl. Daniel changed the recipe, creating a textural treasure hunt; every time you stuck your spoon through the pastry into the intense game broth, you came up with some wildly different texture. Now it is a bit of quenelle that dissolves in an instant, now a chewy little nugget of truffle, now a soft pillow of liver.

Georges Blancs frog’s legs, heady with parsley and garlic and served in a puddle of clarified butter, were so invitingly fragrant that it was impossible not to pick them up and eat them right down to the bone. The Raveneau Chablis (2004), was not only the most perfect Chablis I’ve ever tasted, but also the perfect wine for this dish, the acid cutting right through the butter.

Why did I forget what a shock it was the first time I tasted the Troisgros salmon? Eating this lovely little square of fish in its sorrel sauce, I suddenly remembered that moment, in Roanne, remembered thinking that I had never really tasted salmon before. Thinly sliced and barely cooked (and only on one side), it was, for me, the doorway to sushi. Eating it, slowly, thoughtful, I began to wonder what fish might taste like raw. It was then – and is now – the epitome of simplicity, and utterly satisfying.

Next we had an extraordinary tart of cepes and innards, an Alain Chapel dish from 1974. Even more appealing, at least to me, was the tender little kidney on the side; it looked like a rose just beginning to bloom, with a flavor so gentle it was hard to remember how kidneys usually taste.

As those plates were being removed a trio of large ducks was paraded about the room and then carved with great fanfare. The carcasses were put though an enormous duck press and the blood went into the sauce. The meat was deep red and deeply flavorful, with the primitive and faintly metallic tang that comes only from blood. The wine with that, a Domaine de la Grange des Peres 2000 impressed me more than the fancy 1990 Volnays served with the previous course.

Then there was a rare cheese Le Timanoix, a caramelized fig tart and a spectacular cake that Gaston LeNotre invented to honor the Concorde in 1978 (although with its mass of chocolate curls it looked more like an homage to Shirley Temple). They were both great, but even greater was the Boal Madeira from 1865. Think about it: We were drinking wine that was made while the Civil War was being fought.

And that, of course, is one of the great things about food. It is one sure way to remember the past. And as this lunch reminded me, the seventies are worth remembering.

(pictures follow)


Senderens caramelized fig tart

Senderens caramelized fig tart

image from

Sent from my iPhone


Canard au sang

Canard au sang

image from

Sent from my iPhone


Troisgros salmon in sorrel sauce

Troisgros salmon in sorrel sauce

image from

Sent from my iPhone


Cuisses de grenouille Mere Blanc

Cuirass de grenouille Mere Blanc

image from

Sent from my iPhone


Le foie gras en gelee

Le foie gras en glee de poivre

image from

Sent from my iPhone


« September 2010 | November 2010 »

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.