March 4, 2014 § 2 Comments
I recently decided to quit eating sugar. That’s as much thought as I put into the decision. I didn’t give an end date or a goal or parameters or even a “definition of sugar.” But I did regularly post daily How Shitty I Feel updates on Facebook and my Facebook friends, being the sort of clever people that they are, wanted me to be more specific. They asked me what was my plan. (I didn’t have a plan.) They asked me, “What’s the point?” “When does it end?” And “Why are you doing this again?” So here, below, are my answers to those questions.
Let’s start with…
One. WHY: I gave up sugar for an as yet undefined period of time:
- I don’t know. I only know that I somehow slid down the slippery slope from, “I’m at a nice dinner and the chef sent out this dessert so let me have a bite,” to, “What’s the difference between an oatmeal cookie for breakfast and oatmeal?” Even in my sugar-induced stupor and with an addict’s skill at rationalizing, I knew something wasn’t right.
- I heard that sugar is bad for you, that it feeds viruses and can cause cancer and that it has aging affects and that it makes you tired. Whether or not it’s true, it seems obvious enough to me that sugar isn’t exactly what was intended to nourish the holy temple that is my body that I don’t even want to waste my time reading a book about it.
- Call me a Puritan but, it must be a good thing to give up anything that is as hard to give up as sugar is
- Any substance that makes me feel (in addition to foggy headed and tired and achy and sick), so agitated that I get angry at Rufus for having to smell yet one more effin’ shrub cannot be a good thing.
AND TWO. DEFINE SUGAR, PLEASE:
- Giving up sugar, for me, means not eating things with sugar in them. And by sugar, what I mean is sugar and date sugar and palm sugar and maple syrup and honey and agave and any of the things that you (that means me) will try to convince yourself aren’t really sugar because you are so addicted to sugar you are willing to forego all logic just to get your grubby little sugar addicted paws on the stuff.
- I will eat sugar as it occurs in nature: dates, raisins, those little heirloom seedless tangerine things that go by 47 different names but I can’t tell the difference. And to anyone who says, “Well, it’s the same thing; it’s still sugar,” A) you are wrong. No amount of dates has ever left me wanting to kick my dog. And B) Argofuckyourself.
THIRD AND LAST. THE GOAL? THE POINT OF IT ALL? FOR HOW LONG?
The day I decided to call it quits (for an undefined period of time and with no specific motive other than I didn’t want to feel crappy all the time or even ever, and without actually defining sugar other than to say, If you think it’s sugar, then it is), I had two bags of Trader Joe’s cookies in my cupboard. I’d bought them the day before and they were gluten-free, not because I am gluten-free but because, for reasons having to do with rice flour, I thought they’d be crispier. I contemplated waiting until I’d eaten all the cookies to start not eating any more cookies, but I’ve lived long enough, I’ve woken up enough times with achey shoulders and a foggy head (Thanks, Sugar! You’re welcome, Sweetheart!) to know that this was, for lack of a better word, a retarded idea. I didn’t tell myself, Self, you can go back to chocolate chip cookies for breakfast if you only abstain long enough to suffer, to prove you can, say you did, and then do it again. I just gave it up. For now.
One thing I know for sure: I will eat sugar again. But in the future, I would like to keep it to, “It’s my birthday, I can have a bite of this homemade cake if I want to!” And not, “Chocolate chip cookies are a completely sensible breakfast because the French eat chocolate croissants and Italians start their day with cookies which they refer to as ‘biscuits.’”
So there, in a three-step nutshell, is my plan. My rules. My goal. My initiative.
Join me in the pursuit of nothingness if you want, but whatever you do, pass the dates.
December 31, 2013 § Leave a comment
And in honor of great new beginnings, the best darned holiday food I know: Lentils, redux.
I’m not superstitious, but I do appreciate when certain superstitions give me an excuse to do something I want to do anyway. In Italy, lentils, called lenticchie (pronounced “len-TEA-ki-yay”) are traditionally eaten for New Year because they are supposed to bring prosperity to the eater. The reasoning being that the little legumes are vaguely reminiscent of teeny tiny coins so by eating them, you will be showered with money. Which is why every year when the new year comes around, thinking my friends and I could use a little prosperity ourselves, I invite, I make as big a pot of them as I can.
I start with Umbrian Lentils, which grow in and around a town called Castelluccio, in Umbria. Smaller than traditional brown lentils, Umbrian lentils come in various shades of brown and are known for their tender skin and rich, slightly sweet flavor. You’ll have to get them at a specialty food store and be warned, they’re never less than $10 a pound, but don’t worry as you ‘ll be showered with money you won’t bat an eye at the thought of $10 lentils . I spent $40 on three pounds of rogue Umbrian lentils, or roughly eight times what I would have spent had I started with regular brown lentils from the grocery store. The lentil-prosperity project, like so many good things in life, was going to be a story in patience and faith.
This is the “town,” where lentils are grown. It’s full of tourists, mostly Italian, many of them on motorcycles, who come for the beautiful drive and a bowl of rich, sausagey lentils while they’re there. I visited this little crater of the world two summers ago. It’s a long winding drive to the top of the Apennine Mountains, nestled at the crest of the mountains that separate Umbria from a region I’d never even heard of until I got within a stone’s throw of it: The Marche.
Having done this year after year, I’m convinced that a big part of the reason for the prosperity brought by the lentils is that if you make a big enough pot, you end up eating lentils for the next hundred days. I drizzle the lentils with olive oil so good that it could interfere with my prosperity—but certainly not my quality of life. And that, my friends, is like money in the bank. Happy New Year, and all that.
Prosperity Lentils, Umbrian Style
Extra-virgin olive oil
2 Spanish onions, diced
1/4 pound prosciutto (if you are not a vegetarian), pancetta, or bacon; ground in a mini food processor until it’s a paste
2-3 celery stalks, sliced about 1/4-inch thick
4-10 carrots (knock your socks off if you like carrots!), sliced about 1/4-inch thick
1-2 tablespoons tomato paste (preferably double concentrated)
4-6 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 pound lentils (preferably Umbrian)
2 to 3 quarts chicken stock
Pour enough olive oil into a soup pot to cover the bottom pretty generously. Add the onions and season them with salt. Cook them for about 10 minutes over medium-high heat, stirring often so they don’t get color on them. Add whatever ground pork you are using, if you are using it, and cook it for 3 to 4 minutes to render the fat. Add the celery and carrots. (You could also add some leeks if you happen to have them, which I did today.) Season the vegetables with salt and cook them for about 10 minutes to soften them, adding more olive oil if the pan seems dry. (The more olive oil you add, the better your lentils will taste. Period.) Add the tomato paste (preferably the Italian stuff, which comes in a tube, not the canned stuff, which tastes cloying and weird), making sure the paste lands on the pan, not in the vegetables, and cook for 1 or 2 minutes to get rid of the raw tomato flavor. Add the garlic and saute for 1 or 2 minutes. Add the lentils and enough chicken stock or water to cover them by an inch. Bring the liquid to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer the lentils, adding more stock or water (or a combination) as needed, until they are tender. This takes about an hour, and you will probably use 2 to 3 quarts of total liquid.
Serve the lentils with good olive oil drizzled on top. If you want, you can also add crumbled Italian sausage. According to Italian tradition, you’re supposed to eat them with cotecchino, a weird meat product that comes in a box, unrefrigerated, lasts for generations, and that Italians love almost as much as they love their mothers. I never found one that doesn’t taste like Spam to me, so were I to want a super meaty, one pot lentil meal, I’d go the Italian sausage route. Here’s to your wealth.
August 26, 2013 § 6 Comments
Every summer, for me, has its culinary victory. One year it was gelato. Another: jam. There was the summer when the takeaway, clearly, was old fashioned American pie. This year, as the days get shorter and the occasional tree begins to turn color, the one thing that is obvious to me is that this summer was all about lamb and if you forced me to get specific, I’d say it was about lamb ribs.
Lamb as a victory and a theme for my summer has everything to do with the fact that I was collaborating on a MEAT book with Pat LaFrieda, New York City’s paint balling, turkey hunting, Prada shoe-wearing, scimitar wielding celebrity artisan butcher. Before that, I wouldn’t have known there was such a thing as lamb ribs. I mean I knew lambs had ribs. I have ribs. My dog has ribs. But who knew you could or that anybody did eat lamb ribs? Lamb being fatty, lamb ribs are also fatty, in the best way, and lamb being exceptionally flavorful, lamb ribs… don’t even get me started.
I recently brought several racks of lamb ribs with me to Lake Placid, where I visited the Tennesse-born, North Carolina-living cook, Sara Foster. Sara knows a thing or five about pig ribs, so we applied these things to the ribs of the beautiful, all-American lamb that Pat deals in. Sara and I added a hint of mint to the formula–I mean it is lamb, right? And what we came up with were fall-off-the-bone, succulent, glazed and caramelized riblets that are about the most delicious thing anyone we served them to had, up to that point, ever eaten. When we piled them high and put them out as an appetizer to our party of 12, guests started yelling–and I mean screaming. (It was that kind of party, they were those kinds of guests.) “What are these things?” One yelled from the patio, while another guest, known to subside off of Coors Lite alone, was spotted in the kitchen quietly tearing into not one rib but one after another. “These are the most delicious things I’ve ever eaten!” another guest exclaimed. And “Lamb ribs? Who knew lambs had ribs?”
Lambs do have ribs. And you can eat them. And you should eat them. Here’s how.
Double Glazed Lamb Ribs with Mint Pepper Jelly
I used Foster’s Market Seven Pepper Jelly to make this, since I made them with Sara Foster, who invented that jelly. (Plus it’s the best pepper jelly you’l ever eat. It has seven peppers!) Use whatever pepper jelly you want. You could serve these as a main course, but they are rich and sticky and perfect for cocktail time. You can also make these with pork spare ribs (aka St. Louis ribs), which are easier to find and also less expensive than lamb. If you are cooking pork ribs, lose the mint; if you’re dying to include a fresh herb, make it thyme.
Serves 6 or 8 as an appetizer
2 lamb Denver (spare) rib racks (about 1 1/2 pounds each; or pork St. Louis/spare ribs
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 yellow onion, thinly sliced
1 (12-ounce) beer
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh mint leaves (or fresh thyme if you are cooking pork)
1/2 cup pepper jelly
Maldon sea salt
First, get the lamb. Getting your hands on lamb ribs may be the most difficult part of your journey. Your friendly butcher, such as the nice guys at Huntington Meats in Los Angeles and at Ottomanelli in New York will order lamb Denver ribs for you with one or two days notice. Whole Foods will, too.
Now that you’ve got your lamb, preheat your oven to 325°F.
Season the lamb racks with salt and pepper on both sides. Put the onion slices and beer in a large baking pan. Lay the lamb on top of the onions and cover the pan tightly with aluminum foil. Put the lamb in the oven and bake the ribs for 1 hour. (If you’re cooking pork, make that 2 hours instead of one. Lamb is more naturally tender than pork, and it’s also smaller, thus the time difference.) This step is what gives you the juicy, tender, fall-off-the-bone meat. From here you’ll take the lamb, which at this point is a not appetizing shade of gray, glaze it with pepper jelly, and throw it on the grill, where you get the beautiful charred meat. You can prepare the lamb up to this point up to a day or two in advance. Let them cool and keep them in the braising liquid until you’re ready to grill them.
When you’re ready to grill and serve your lamb ribs, preheat a gas or charcoal grill.
Stir the mint into the pepper jelly. Remove the ribs from the braising liquid and onions and brush the racks on both sides with the pepper jelly. Throw them on the grill until the glaze is gooey and the ribs are charred in places.
Take the lamb off the grill and brush another layer of jelly on the ribs. Do this while the ribs are still hot so the glaze melts into the ribs.
Cut the rack into individual ribs but cutting between each bone. Sprinkle them with Maldon if you want and serve them piping hot with lots of napkins.
August 23, 2013 § Leave a comment
August 22, 2013 § Leave a comment
Whenever my lovely niece Johnna asks me for a recipe, I hop to it for a few reasons. First because she is one of my favorite people on Earth and she would be yours, too, if you had the good fortune of knowing her. Second, because the lovely Johnna has a lovely little family that includes a Hungry Husband, three and a half year-old Harper, and 14 month old Walker, that she very ambitiously tries to cook for, and I’d do anything I could to help. The third reason, which is related to the second, is that I love to be needed. So the other night when Johnna saw a picture of a scallop dish I’d made for dinner and asked me for the recipe, well, this is me, hopping to it.
I cooked these scallops in Lake Placid where I am staying with my friend, Sara Foster. It was one of those inspirational collaborations that started with, “Let’s cook the scallops while they’re fresh,” (she’d brought them in a cooler from CT the day before after a particularly meat-heavy week); and “What else do we have to go with them?” and, “I remember this delicious scallop recipe Jonathan Waxman gave me for my New York book where he tossed the scallops with a quick pesto…” (I was referring to a book, beautifully shot by Quentin Bacon, that I have just learned you can get on Amazon.com for one cent. Yes: a penny.) And, cooking together while listening to Van Morrison, using what we could find from our farmers market outings and an overstuffed summer fridge, we came up with something so unexpected and delicious that afterwards, as we watched the Blue Moon come up over the Adirondacks, Sara said, “I don’t cook like that with anyone. We should open a restaurant together.” I doubt that’s going to happen, but I’m sure hope there will be more inspired meals like this one.
Although these scallops were invented in August, I call them September Scallops because the dish is made up of ingredients at that great intersection between summer and fall, when there are still great tomatoes to be found but ingredients like cabbage and kale are also there to remind you that this particular party is almost over.
4 garlic cloves
A big handful of fresh, summer basil leaves
Extra virgin olive oil
2 or 3 strips of bacon (preferably thick-cut), thinly sliced
1 small head of cabbage (or half of a regular head) and 1 bunch Tuscan kale (or just kale, or just cabbage)
2 medium sized tomatoes, diced
1 1/2 pounds sea scallops
Half of a lemon for juicing
Smash the garlic cloves with the side of a large knife and sprinkle them with salt. Roughly chop the garlic, then put the basil leaves on top of the garlic and continue to chop until the garlic and basil together. (The idea is to make a quick, rough pesto. The salt helps the garlic break down and also keeps it from sticking to the knife.) Scoop them into a bowl and stir in a tablespoon of the best olive oil you have. (You can also do this the French and Italian ways–in a mortar and pestle, which is where the word “pesto” got its name.)
Pour enough olive oil to coat the bottom of a pan, add the bacon, and cook it over medium-high heat. Add the cabbage, kale, and/or radicchio, season the vegetables with salt and pepper, and sauté for 2 or 3 minutes until they’re wilted. (How long you sauté your greens is entirely dependent on how wilted you want them. If you were using kale and/or radicchio, you could skip cooking them altogether.) Stir in the tomatoes and cook for 1 minute just to warm them through. Turn off the heat, add the pesto and toss gently to combine.
Meanwhile, heat a second pan of olive oil over medium-high heat until it’s almost smoking. Season the scallops lightly with salt. Dip one scallop into the pan as if you were dipping your toe in a swimming pool to take the temperature. If the oil doesn’t make a sizzling noise when you introduce the scallop, take it out and let the pan heat up a bit more. Cook the scallops for 1 1/2 minutes per side, until they are a rich brown color. Turn off the heat and squeeze a few drops of lemon juice over them. Pile the vegetables on a platter, nestle the scallops in with the vegetables, squeeze a few drops of lemon juice over them, and dig in.
May 12, 2013 § 6 Comments
My mother is impossible to buy gifts for. Last night to dinner, I wore a scarf I gave her one year for Christmas. “You obviously liked it. You’ll wear it more than I would. You keep it.” Another year I bought her nice hand cream. The woman loves rubbing cream into her hands. A year later I saw the tube sitting on her bathroom counter, untouched. “Don’t you like it?” I asked. “I love it. I just don’t want to use it up.” I bought her another one so she’d know there was plenty of hand cream in her future. She kept that in her car console, also untouched. Her standard line regarding gifts has always been, “I can afford to buy myself anything you can afford to buy me. Make me something instead.” And so I decided to make her this online album. We’ve spent the last two mother’s days together at my friend Andre’s home in Venice, California. Andre is a landscape designer, floral designer, and artist. His garden, which I call Andre’s World, is a work of art, and one of my favorite places on the planet to spend an afternoon. So until I can afford to buy you something she can’t buy yourself, Happy Mother’s Day!
February 3, 2013 § 1 Comment
Every year when on Superbowl Sunday I think of a new way to recycle my guacamole recipe, so today I’ve decided to tell you about when Dario Cecchini, the famous Tuscan butcher, came to town—and by “town,” I mean Los Angeles. “What do you do when you have a butcher over for dinner?” asked Nancy Silverton, who was hosting a party in Dario’s honor.
You invite the only other butchers you happen to know, such as Jim from Huntington Meats, seen here inspecting the goods. (Or is he simply eating?)
You invite all Italian-speakers living in the vicinity, such as Rufus, seen here with fellow Italian-speaker Gino Angelini, who is inspecting a sign, written in Italian, that Rufus wears around his neck.
And you serve meat.
For the feast, two smokin’, bbq lovin’, ass kicking chefs Chris Feldmeier (Osteria Mozza) and Erik Black (Spice Table) spent days in order to show Dario how we do it in America.
This Mexican did the only thing she knows to do in such a situation. She made guacamole.
Here it is with that requisite of any meat eating feast: loads of red wine.
The sign Rufus wore, featured in both the English and Italian languages, instructed guests not to feed him.
- “Thankfully,” he says. “Nobody pays attention to anything my mom says.”
Although I can’t give you the recipe for that succulent sausage pictured above, I can give you recipes for what I think are the best red and green salsas you’ll ever taste–unless you go to Loteria! Grill and eat Jimmy Shaw’s chipotle salsa, which is, I hate to admit, un poquito better than mine. I’m still working on getting that one. Maybe next year. Jimmy? Are you listening or is Rufus right again?
Smoky Tomato Salsa
Makes 2 cups
1 pound roma tomatoes, charred on the grill
2 yellow onions, sliced, oiled, and charred on the grill
4 garlic cloves, browned in their skins on grill
1 tablespoon plus 1 to 2 teaspoons pureed chipotle in adobo
1 teaspoon chipotle powder
2 to 3 teaspoons salt
Puree the tomatoes (including juices), onions, and garlic in a food processor. Add the chipotle puree, chipotle power, and salt and stir to combine.
Charred Green Chile Salsa
Makes 1½ cups
4 garlic cloves (skins on) browned on the grill
1 pound husked tomatillos, charred on the grill
2 serrano chilies, charred on the grill, seeds removed
1 poblano chile, charred on the grill, peeled and seeded
1 yellow onion, sliced, oiled, and charred on the grill
A handful of fresh cilantro
Juice of 2 limes
2 to 3 tablespoons salt
Remove the skins from the garlic and puree the ingredients in a food processor to coarse puree, scraping down the sides of the food processor from time to time for even pureeing. Add water if necessary to make a loose salsa consistency. Taste for seasoning and add more lime juice or salt.