Journal entries from December 2011

The Way We Ate in 2011

Most of us don’t go around wondering what we’ll be eating next year, and it’s always seemed to me that “trend” lists were something invented by the media to keep ourselves busy.  But so much changed so fast last year that I’m taking a look back at what we ate - and why. And then - forgive me - I’m going to project what these choices might tell us about what we’ll be eating next year. 


 2011 was the year when kale became cool.  It probably has something to do with the wide availability of lacinata kale (also known as Tuscan or dinosaur kale), which is so much more versatile than the ordinary kind.  We ate it roasted (into healthy chips), sauteed (with just about everything), and raw (as a major salad ingredient).  This is very good news for the other leafy greens: next year I expect to see more  collard, turnip and mustard greens showing up on our dinner plates. 

 Salty Caramel Everything

Americans have always loved the conjunction of salty and sweet. Pastry chefs everywhere started salting their desserts.  This year that was expressed in the explosion of salted caramel puddings, candies and sauces.  Next year? Expect a plethora of savory sweets. Cocktail cookies anyone?


A few years ago everyone was talking about the way salsa had replaced catsup as the condiment of choice.  This year Sriracha trumped salsa, showing up in a wide variety of recipes. When I visited the Wired cafeteria, I discovered a bottle of Sriracha on every table.  Next year, Korean flavors will make a giant surge, and kimchi may push Sriracha off its perch. 


It all started (in this country at least), with Nutella. Once sophisticated palates embraced the marriage of chocolate and hazelnuts, they went looking for a better brand. The result? Eataly sells about ten different varieties of Gianduia. Next year: other nuts will be folded into chocolate, for a wider variety of flavors.

Bitters, Bitters, Bitters

Mixologists embraced bitters in a very big way.  That’s big news, because Americans have never embraced bitter flavors.  In the long term this will pave the way for a whole new range of bitter foods. But what I see in our immediate future is an explosion of home-made bitters.


Macarons in a wide variety of colors and flavors, battled it out with cupcakes. The macarons won.  Next year, I think, pie will win the sweets sweepstakes, and we’ll see pie shops springing up all over.


Meatball sliders are so 2010.  2011 was the year of everything else: oyster sliders, pork belly sliders, fried chicken sliders.  They’re cute, they’re delicious - and there are still a lot of unexplored possibilities. I don’t expect to say good-bye to the slider anytime soon.  

Sticky Toffee Pudding

It’s the title, mostly that's so irresistible. On menus everywhere this year, the ubiquitous dessert may mean that puddings of all sorts are ready for their closeup.

Pork Belly

In 2011 it was every chef’s favorite ingredient. But it’s just uncured bacon - and the bacon craze continues unabated.  






Another Old Recipe from the File

January Pudding

 I’ll admit that I haven’t tried this in many years, but I remember it well. It’s an old Irish recipe, given me by a friend, and I’ve always been charmed by its sturdy simplicity.  (It is, of course, the yang to the yin of summer pudding, made with fresh raspberries and currants, slices of bread and always served with a generous swoosh of cream.) 

Cream a half cup of sweet butter with a half cup of brown sugar.  Beat in 2 eggs and 2 large tablespoons of raspberry jam.  Fold in a cup of flour that’s been sifted with a half teaspoon of baking soda.  Put it into a well-buttered 1-quart mold. Stand the mold in  pot with enough boiling water to come two thirds up its sides and steam it for 2 hours, covered. The water should remain at a simmer, but check every now and then to make sure that the water has not boiled away.

(If you don’t have a mold use a small bowl. Cover it with buttered parchment paper and then two layers of aluminum foil securely tied with a string.)

Serve it with a sauce made by stirring a half cup of raspberry jam into a quarter cup of water and heating over low heat until the jam has dissolved.  Stir in the juice of one lemon. 





A Fabulously Rich Old Recipe

Minetry’s Miracle

 I’ve been going through an old recipe folder filled with bits of crumbling paper that I tore from newspapers and magazines long ago. (Some are from my childhood, dating back to the fifties.)  One, in particular, caught my eye because it was what I considered the height of elegance at one point in my life. The date’s vanished, but it was something Craig Claiborne published in the New York Times, probably in the sixties.  I remember it as really, really rich. This will make 16-20 servings, and I’m thinking of making it for New Year’s Eve. 

 4 dozen amaretti

1 cup bourbon

1 pound butter

2 cups sugar

1 dozen eggs, separated

4 ounces unsweetened chocolate,melted

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 cup chopped pecans

2 dozen ladyfingers

1 1/2 cups heavy cream, whipped.

Soak the macaroons in the bourbon. Set aside.

Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy Beat the yolks until light and mix into butter/sugar mixture.  Add the chocolate, vanilla and chopped pecans.

Beat the egg whites until stiff and fold them in.

Line a 10 inch spring from pan with the split ladyfingers.  Fill it with alternating layers of soaked macaroons and chocolate mixture.  Chill for at least 8 hours. Remove the sides of the pan, decorate with whipped cream, and serve.  





A Great, Quick, Winter Meal

When Nick was little, Brussels Sprouts were the only vegetable he would eat.  I’ve never really understood why, but as a consequence I’ve cooked them in every conceivable fashion. (The one way he hated them - still does - is boiled.) 

 A couple of days ago I needed a quick dinner after a movie. Before we left, I put some big potatoes into a slow oven to bake, washed and shredded a few handfuls of Brussels Sprouts, until they were nothing but ribbons, and diced an onion. Just before walking out the door I put some locally-raised lamb chops on the counter to come to room temperature.

When I came home I checked the potatoes; they were soft, pliant and quite perfect.  I tossed the diced onion into a pan with a glug of grapeseed oil, a smashed clove of garlic and waited until they become almost impossibly fragrant. Then I added salt and pepper, some chile pepper flakes and a few generous tablespoons of miso. Finally I added the shredded sprouts and tossed them about.

While the sprouts cooked I salted the chops and threw then into a hot pan, cooking them until they were really crisp on the outside, but still bright pink within. When they were ready I sprinkled some Vietnamese fish sauce into the sprouts, adding a final layer of flavor. 

It was a wonderful meal: crisp lamb chops, potatoes baked almost to the melting point with sweet butter, and those sweet, salty spicy Brussels Sprouts.  Even Michael, who has no love for either lamb or Brussels Sprouts, had seconds. 




Final Gift Guide Offering

Home-Made Bread Crumbs

 This is the best last-minute present I know, so even though I included it in last year’s gift guide, I’m offering it to you again this year. After all, you can never have too much of a good thing. I don’t know anyone who wouldn’t be thrilled to find some of these spectacularly useful home-made breadcrumbs sitting under their tree. The gift is even nicer if you put them into a pretty bowl. 

Cut a good loaf of stale bread into cubes and grind it into crumbs in a blender or a food processor.  (A blender is better; it gives you a more uniform texture).  If your bread is not stale enough to crumb, you can dry the cubes out in a 200 degree oven for about 15 minutes before grinding. 

 Spread the crumbs onto a baking sheet and toast in a 350 degree oven for about 20 minutes until they are crisp and golden.  Drizzle with olive oil (about a quarter cup for every 2 cups of crumbs), season with salt and allow to cool completely before putting into containers. 

 These will keep in the freezer almost indefinitely.  Just whirl them in the microwave for a few seconds to take the chill off. 



Gift Guide, Day Twenty-Three

Salted Caramel Bourbon Sauce

Okay, it's two days until Christmas, and you suddenly realize that you're behind on your shopping.  It's too late to mail-order anything, and you've no time to go to the store. What to do?

Got ten minutes?  Then you can make this terrific sauce that requires nothing obscure in the way of ingredients.  (If you have no Bourbon, you can substitute Scotch, Cognac or Armagnac - or simply leave it out altogether. )

One suggestion: Before you begin, read David Leibowitz’s wonderful post on making caramel, here. Caramel can be tricky, and it will save you a lot of trouble down the line.

And another: Use a larger pot than you think you'll need.  I use a 5 1/2 quart casserole. Trust me - it makes everything easier.

Cut 3/4 of a stick of the best butter you can get your hands on into small pieces and put that next to the stove.  Let half a cup of heavy cream come to room temperature. Stir in a couple of tablespoons of Bourbon.  Now pour a cup of sugar in an even layer into a large, heavy, light-colored pot and watch it melt over moderate  heat. When it begins to liquify around the edges, begin stirring with a spatula, watching carefully. When it is completely liquid, has turned a deep copper color, and is just on the edge of smoking, stir in the butter until it is completely incorporated into the sugar. Turn off the heat and stir in the cream mixture.  It will hiss and sizzle and generally act nasty. Ignore it  - this is the nature of caramel - and whisk until you have a smooth sauce. Add a generous quarter teaspoon of coarse salt (or a bit more if you've used unsalted butter).

This is great on just about everything, and it will keep for a month or so in the refrigerator. (Rewarm the sauce in the microwave for a minute before serving.)  Divided into half cup portions and poured into pretty jars, it will make three friends very happy.






Gift Guide, Day Twenty-Two

A Perfect Way to Boil Water

I think this is the most beautiful teakettle ever made.  A big statement, but I really do love this.  

I first saw it at the Museum of Modern Art - or at least one very like it.  You can see the picture here.  Designed by John G. Rideout in 1936, it was manufactured in Ohio. But that kettle has a design flaw - the only way you can remove the lid is with a screwdriver.

 This English version, which has been made by Picquotware in Scotland since the 30s, has a removable lid.  But more importantly, it’s still being made. When I went to the company’s website, I put my phone number in and ten minutes later I got a call from Scotland. It's too late to get it in time for Christmas, but who cares? In this case, a promise would certainly do. Anyone who loves this gorgeous object as much as I do would thank you every morning when they put the kettle on.

 Incidentally, when I told the man that I had burned up the handle on my first one (the handle is sycamore), he told me very sternly that I should have sent it back.  “We refurbish them so that they look like new,” he said. “We want them to last you a lifetime.”




Gift Guide, Day Twenty-One

Carnivore's Delight

 The Chinese may call it the year of the rabbit, but 2011 was actually the year of the meat eater.  This was the year when butchers became cool, the year when the meekest people began picking up knives and carving up cows, the year when every cook worth his salt was wrestling whole pigs onto the grill.

 If you’ve got a red-blooded friend with a passion for meat, Pat LaFrieda’s Big App for Meat would make the perfect present.  LaFrieda (the man behind the famous Minetta Tavern burger), teamed up with Tony Bourdain’s producers (ZeroPointZero) to make this new app which takes you literally into the belly of the beast. There's almost an hour of video, with LaFrieda showing you how to age, cut, and cook meat.  (Along the way he reveals why he think the Porterhouse is a sucker cut.)   Any carnivore with an IPad and an appetite would be thrilled. 




Gift Guide, Day Twenty

A Food Writing Class

 These days everybody wants to be a food writer. Colleges and universities offer food-writing courses. Culinary schools do too. But if you know someone who wants to start a food blog, write a cookbook or indulge in a food memoir, you’d be doing them a great favor if you enrolled them in one of Molly O’Neill’s virtual seminars. 

Molly’s done it all - she was a reporter at the New York Times, a cookbook author, food memoirist and an internet pioneer in the food space. For these courses she’s drawn on both her experience and her connections, and she’s a born teacher.  

 (Full disclosure: I owe Molly bigtime. In 1993 she was at the New York Times, and I’m pretty sure that if she had wanted to become the restaurant critic, I never would have gotten the job.)






Gift Guide Day Nineteen

Oysters Galore

Enough oysters.  To me that is the greatest luxury.  That’s why the present I’m buying myself this year is 100 oysters from Island Creek (purveyor to many of your favorite chefs).  Order today and they’ll be plucked from the Cape Cod waters and shipped straight to your house.  Covered with a wet towel they’ll keep in the refrigerator for a solid week.  So every time the urge for an oyster hits, you can stroll to the refrigerator, pluck out a few and eat them standing at the kitchen counter. (And still have enough left for a Christmas celebration.)

Island Creek will send you salty Chathams or the sweeter Wellfleets (which I prefer).  Today’s the last day you can order them in time for Christmas. Believe me - this is a present that no one will ever forget. 





Gift Guide Day Eighteen

A New Way to Wash Wine Glasses

Do you know someone who ends every party standing at the sink, laboriously washing wine glasses by hand? Doesn’t everyone? Well, here’s their perfect present. Tethers fall so squarely into the why-didn’t-someone-think-of-this-before?-department that they make me a little crazy.  Such a great idea.

 The flexible plastic rods attach to the stem of your wine glasses, stabilizing them in the dishwasher so they won’t fall over.  What wine-lover wouldn’t want these? At $15 a pack, you might even want to throw in a few wine glasses as well. 







Gift Guide, Day Seventeen

Some Salt!

This is what I like about Maldon salt: The shape.  It comes in great fat flakes, that don't penetrate food, but sit on top, waiting to provide a little saline jolt right when it's most needed. It's exactly what you need to make a new-laid egg taste like heaven. 

And this is what I like about this salt box: It's an incredibly beautiful object.  Just looking at it makes me happy.  I'll bet you have a friend who will feel the same. 



This handsome wooden salt box, carved from a single piece of walnut and trimmed in leather is the sort of thing few people would buy for themselves. It's an expensive indulgence. And that's exactly why, with a box of Maldon salt from the supermarket, it would make a practically perfect present for a passionate cook. 


Gift Guide, Day Sixteen

A Tiny Grinder

Yesterday I suggested that any cook would love a masala dabba, which is certainly true. Want to embellish the gift? A spice grinder would be a very nice addition. Lately I’ve found I can’t live without mine, which has taken up residence on the kitchen counter. (It used to live in a drawer.)

This is what I like about this handy little machine. It crushes spices with extreme efficiency. It’s easy to clean (you can put the bowl in the dishwasher). But most importantly, it works wet as well as dry, so it’s perfect when you need to puree a small amount of something soggy (chiles in adobo come immediately to mind).  And at this time of the year, it’s exactly what you’ll want when it comes time to grind those nuts for tortes and cookies.  





Gift Guide, Day Fifteen

Something Spicy (but not hot)

When an Indian woman marries, she carries her spice box to her new husband’s home. Every Indian cook has at least one masala dabba, a perfectly designed stainless steel box with seven small containers (and a small spoon) to organize the spices she uses most frequently. 

But you don’t need to be an Indian cook to find these wonderful spice boxes useful; any cook would be happy to have one. You can find them at all price points - some are really cheap- but since you're giving this as a present, you’ll want one that will still be beautiful this time next year.  I like this masala dabba, and when I give it as a gift, I fill it up with exotic spices like kokum, dried mango powder and whole fenugreek seeds from Kalustyans




Gift Guide, Day Fourteen

Antique Plates and Glasses

I have to admit that sometimes, when I’m trying not to write, desperate to lose time, I find myself trolling through the beautiful vintage plates and silverware at Elise Abrams, imagining a more gracious world. Her collection of plates, bowls, and glasses is so vast that it’s like visiting a museum where everything is for sale.  Even the descriptions are exotic.  One ornate offering is described as  “ French Hand-blown Apricot Crystal Vase with Raised Paste Gold.” 

If you’re looking for a unique (and expensive) present for someone with wonderful taste, this would be a good place to begin. Even if you don’t find something to buy, it’s an awfully good way to escape into another world for a little while. 










Gift Guide, Day Thirteen

A Great Magazine

I often find myself looking at Lucky Peach and thinking, “I wish we could have done that at Gourmet.”  The magazine is fearless, irreverent, well-written and brilliantly art-directed.  It’s an entirely new generation of food magazine. If you haven’t seen it, you should.  And if you know someone who enjoys reading about food (and if not, why are you reading this?), a subscription to the quarterly would make a very good gift. 




Gift Guide Day Twelve

Hand Made Candy Canes 

Candy canes are as seasonal as strawberries, which is a big part of their appeal.  Every one is an instant holiday.  They’re so beautiful that I can never resist even the ordinary drugstore sort with their suspiciously strong flavors.

 But when I discovered these hand-pulled candy canes made with natural ingredients, I was instantly hooked. They come in a gorgeous array of colors, they’re charmingly uneven, and they arrive in a bright red box tied up with bows and bells. A great gift for children - although anyone who considers herself too grown up for these is probably not someone I want to know.




Gift Guide Day Ten

One Fabulous Pepper Mill

I wrote about my favorite pepper mill in one of the last issues of Gourmet. I’m writing about it again because I still think it’s the best pepper mill you can buy - and there is no better gift.  A great pepper mill is just about the hardest thing to find - and you can never have too many.

What’s so great about this one? It’s easy to fill and clean.  It’s a truly handsome creature. It keeps grinding evenly for years - not just pepper, but salt and spices too.  But most importantly, it makes me happy every single time I pick it up

The downside?  I only know one place to buy Magnus Lindstrom's hand-crafted wood and ceramic mills, and they are not inexpensive ($80 to $120, depending on size).  Quantities are limited. Still, if you want to offer someone a unique present, this one would surely do.  Magnus Lindstrom pepper mill at Rubiner’s Cheesemongers 413-528-0488).





Gift Guide, Day Nine

Hand-Blown Glass Candles

 When I walked into CM Cherry in Hudson a couple of weeks ago, I fell so hard for the hand-blown glass candles that I instantly bought a pair for myself.  Then I went back and bought them for just about everyone on my Christmas list.  I’d just never seen anything like them.

 You simply fill the elegant glass tapers with liquid paraffin and give the wicks a bit of  time to absorb the oil. Then you light them, like an ordinary candle.  They sparkle as they burn. They’re dripless. They’re also reusable.

Candle lovers (and I suppose such people do exist) would undoubtedly be thrilled to find these under the tree. But it’s hard to think of anyone who entertains -even once in a while - who wouldn’t be happy to put these unusual candles on their table. You can browse the website (the shop also has a remarkable collection of candlesticks), but it isn’t set up to take orders.  So you'll have to resort to something even more old-fashioned than glass candles: The telephone. 518-828-2452.  




Gift Guide, Day Eight

 Spherical Ice Cubes

Those big, beautiful ice cubes you see at cocktail bars aren’t just for show. They melt slowly, which means they don’t dilute your drink.

Many bars and restaurants actually chip cubes off of a large block of ice (or even an iceberg), which is not exactly ideal for the home kitchen (unless you’ve got a ton of space and a love of chiseling). Spherical ice cube trays are an excellent  alternative. A set of two is $16, and all you have to do is fill the trays with water to get perfect little globes of ice.

But if you’re looking to splurge on a serious entertainer you might want something a little splashier.  I kind of love this gorgeous professional ice ball mold, which churns out 30-40 ice cubes per hour.  It's $213 - but it assures many hours of drinking pleasure. 








Gift Guide, Day Seven

Shatter-resistant Stemware

 Good wine glasses break.  It’s one of the certainties of life.  And a reason why wine glasses make such great gifts: Almost nobody doesn’t need them.

But what if they didn’t? What if you could find crystal stemware that didn’t shatter when you dropped them or come out of the dishwasher covered in scratches?

They actually exist. Korin’s elegant shatter-resistant crystal glasses are both delicate and tough. I banged one on the floor and it remained magically intact. I could hardly believe it. 

The glasses aren’t cheap: $150 for a set of six. On the other hand, they could last a lifetime - and that’s an awful lot of toasts. 





Gift Guide Day Six

 A Small Cast Iron Skillet

 The most-used pan in my kitchen isn’t a fancy one with a designer label. It didn’t require a loan, and it doesn’t have a scientific- sounding name.  But my 6 1/2 inch Lodge cast iron skillet withstands high temperatures, retains heat, and has given me at least thirty years of nonstick cooking. I couldn’t live without it. I use it to toast spices, roast nuts and I reach for it every time I fry myself an egg.

Lots of people have large, much-cherished and well-seasoned cast iron skillets (they are, after all, almost essential for frying chicken), but the small ones are much rarer, which is why they make such swell presents. I have a hard time coming up with a better low-cost gift ($10.95).



Gift Guide Day Five

An Indoor Garden 

I've explored a lot of indoor urban farming options, and so far I like Windowfarms  best. This hydroponic gardening system hangs in your window looking lovely as it grows herbs and lettuces using nutrients supplied by an automated system (there is no soil). It would make a spectacular gift for any passionate locavore. 

But if you order in the next couple of days, you’ll be giving more than one gift. The Brooklyn-based business is trying to raise enough money to start manufacturing the systems in the United States. ($99 gets you the standard kit, $169 gets you a two-column version, and the options continue from there.)

The first kits won’t be sent until next March, but if you buy them as Christmas gifts your friends will get personalized cards from Windowfarms by December 24th.  It will welcome them to the windowfarming community - and give them something to look forward to. 




Gift Guide Day Four

Vintage Tablecloths

 I started looking for vintage tablecloths in thrift stores because they were portable, light, cheap...and nobody else seemed to want them. When I began giving them away I discovered that I was wrong. They are light, portable and easy to pack, but people really do want them. They make terrific gifts. 

 I’ve given most of mine away, so now I find myself actively seeking them out. The Vintage Table has a wonderful collection of linens dating from the 1930’s to the 1970’s, and ranging from the humorous (think turquoise cows) to the ornamental (think shabby strawberries or simple stripes). Priced anywhere from $10 to $500, each one is lovingly described and pictured. 

 If you match each tablecloth to the recipient’s personality they become a kind of giant greeting card. Cheerful, personal and sometimes funny they have the added virtue of being useful. 






Gift Guide Day Three

State-Shaped Cutting Boards

 You can never have too many cutting boards, which is why they make such great gifts. But the bamboo cutting boards from AHeirloom (a husband and wife duo from Brooklyn) are especially charming because they come shaped like every state in the Union. (They’ll also design any country, island, or landmass by special request.)

 This would make a great (and inexpensive) gift for anyone who's passionate about his geographical roots. So know your audience. Texans will invariably be delighted. People from Delaware? Maybe not so much. 

Keep in mind, too, that you'll get more chopping done on Kansas than California. Although the skinny states do very well for serving cheese and salume.  

 The cutting boards are custom-made, so you don't have a lot of time. Holiday orders are only taken until December 9th





The Gift Guide: Day Two

Vintage Cookbooks

Old cookbooks are the perfect present for a passionate cook, and I can’t think of anything more fun than spending a day browsing a vintage cookbook store to pick out exactly the right book for each of my friends. My latest discovery is Amber Unicorn in Las Vegas, a surprising place with thousands of old cookbooks (and wonderful proprietors); if you can’t make the trip, they’ve got a delightful website. It’s a great way to spend an afternoon, even if you’re not in a shopping mood. The wonderful Omnivore Books in San Francisco is a lovely little store with a website so dangerously delicious that I have to limit my visits. You’re sure to come away with some fascinating book you never even knew existed.  Bonnie Slotnik Cookbooks, on the other hand, is dangerous only if you go there in person. Bonnie’s inventory is amazing, but her website’s not much.  On the other hand, few people are as knowledgable about old cookbooks, and when she invites you to call and talk, she really means it. 



The Gift Guide: Day One

It’s time to think about gifts again. Last year’s gift guide was so popular that I’m going to post gift suggestions every day until Christmas. Like last year, nobody is paying for product placement; these are just a few things I’d be very happy to find beneath my Christmas tree.

Last year’s guide began with pork. So let’s consider it a tradition. Here’s another pork product that I love. 

Benton’s Aged Whole Country Ham

Country ham is one of America’s glories, and at a time when everyone’s falling for prosciutto and jamon iberico, it’s time we appreciated what we have right here. People are making country hams all over this country, but I like Allan Benton’s best. Dry, complex, a little bit funky, it tastes wonderful on biscuits or sliced into scrambled eggs, and nothing looks more impressive on a party table.  At around fifteen pounds, it’s a real steal, a gift that will keep on giving for months. But order now. The waiting list is long.





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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.