Monday, December 18, 2017


The first time I ever saw British chef/restaurateur and global media wunderkind, Jamie Oliver, was through his breakthrough TV shows in the late 90s on the fledgling Food Network. I didn't like the marketing moniker assigned to him. It was silly and what the hell did the Naked Chef mean? He was a scruffily appealing London lad, but when he got behind a stove, the food he produced looked amazing. I bought his first cookbook, THE NAKED CHEF on the strength of those early shows, and I still make his Simple Chocolate Tart and other recipes from that book. I also bought his follow-up and his JAMIE'S ITALIAN books, and then a sort of boredom set in. Then a few years later, I discovered a British edition of JAMIE COOKS. I bought the US version and cooked my way through most of it. The vegetable section alone is pure genius with one exciting dish after another. I adapted his recipe for Tender-as-you-like rabbit set with the best dumplings ever using chicken thighs in place of the rabbit (which isn't always easy to find ). The dumplings in this recipe are "baked" in the oven, rather than "steamed" on top of the stove. JAMIE COOKS sealed the deal for me. The man had grown up and he had developed into a cookbook author with his own authentic voice. Nobody wrote like he did with a "glug" of this or "preheat your oven to full whack." Oliver's enthusiastic, conversational style probably set the tone for many other cookbooks authors to follow, relaxing language without losing the structure or the techniques he imparted. Oliver's maturity had blossomed and JAMIE AT HOME may be my favorite of all of his books.

Oliver's crusade aimed at improving the nutrition of children was aimed directly at school cafeterias and became the basis of a TV series and a cookbook. This became a turning point, and for the most part, his books turned to a lighter, healthier way of eating.  I admired his vision and he was no less communicative, but I was less interested in subsequent cookbooks. Even his detour, JAMIE'S COMFORT FOOD missed that spark of originality found in his earlier work and seemed too chef-oriented. Then I stumbled on a link announcing JAMIE OLIVER'S CHRISTMAS COOKBOOK (Flatiron Books; $35.00; October, 2017), and with this stunning book, Jamie has produced one of the finest holiday cookery books I've ever seen.

The terrain is surprisingly sparse. Yes Martha Stewart has one. So does Pioneer Woman, Ree Drummond. Nigella Lawson has one too, but that's about it. Italians, Mario Batali and Michele Scicolone produced Italian holiday cookbooks that are wonderful. But most of the Christmas-specific cookbooks are by well-established magazines and brands such as Good Housekeeping, Country Living, and Betty Crocker. Now that I've seen Jamie's I'm waiting for the Barefoot Contessa to announce the publication of hers. Okay, okay, it's time to get to the point. In this gorgeous book, stuffed with mouth-watering, holiday-centric color photos, you'll find everything Christmas from big meat mains and veggie and vegan plates, potatoes, gravies, and sauces and sides to dazzling desserts, edible gifts, colorful salads, dips and handheld nibbles, adult beverages to make the season bight, plus fresh ideas for leftovers, and a really useful guide for roasting turkey, duck, goose, chicken, beef, pork and lamb.

So what of the recipes? I live in the Pacific Northwest, and smoked salmon pate, with shrimp, white crabmeat, salmon caviar and cayenne pepper, looks like a eye-opening starter. A Silky Pate, is a sublime meeting of chicken livers, butter, sweet onions, sage and thyme. And it's an easy to make as it is stunning to behold. I prepared a roast goose in my youth. I remember it being a chore, and when I tried to shove the pan back into the oven, the goose slid off of the roasting rack as goose fat sprayed itself across the floor of the oven, creating a fire. I reached into the oven to rescue the expensive center of my Christmas table, and yanked it out of the flames, The goose landed on the floor. But I saved it. The clean-up was not pleasant, and I burned my hand. I swore I'd never try it again. Jamie's simpler Roast Goose Slow Cooked with Christmas Spices appears short on drama and long on flavor and ease. I may reconsider. Of the mains my choice would be Porchetta, his version of a Rolled Pork Loin Stuffed with Beautiful Things. Those beautiful things include pancetta, fennel seeds, chicken livers, sage, rosemary, white wine, dried apricots, cranberries, raisins and sultanas, pine nuts, Parmesan, Vin Santo, bread crumbs and carrots. The presentation is spectacular. His Turkey is roasted with a basket weave of bacon woven across its breast (and photos show the various essential steps to properly carve it for the table. A Roast Chicken features the choice between four flavored butters. If you have a butcher who deals with game, how about a Roast Venison Wrapped in Prosciutto with Barolo and Chocolate Sauce. There's even a festive Meatloaf with Sweet Roasted Fennel, Crispy Smoked Bacon, Herbs. For seafood, there's a Salmon En Croute with an Herby Spinach-Stuffed Crust; a Gorgeous Cheesy Sauce, Fish Pie with Luxurious Fish, Creamy Prosecco Sauce, and Red Leicester Mash, an aromatic Fish Curry, and a Salt Crust Salmon with Fennel, Lemon and Herbs Galore.

Vegetable and vegan choices are wide-ranging and creative: Nut Roast Squash, Quinoa, Chestnuts and Spiced Tomato Sauce, a Moroccan Vegan M'Hanncha Savory Style with Pearl Barley, Squash and SpicesRoasted Celeriac Winter Herbs, Butter, Garlic, & and Creamy Truffled Mushroom Sauce, Eggplant Curry Bombay Mix, Fluffy Rice, Mango Chutney, Pappadams have wonderful eye appeal. I'll certainly want to try them. I wanted every potato dish here, but two stood out as completely different:  Baked Mash, Crushed Yukon Gold & Oozy Red Leicester Cheese and Balsamic Potatoes Sweet Red onions, Thyme, Garlic, Arugula and a Little Faith show Jamie's rethought ideas about these sides. Roasted Parsnips Squashed with Bay, Thyme, Garlic, Honey, and Ground Almonds, four different Brussels Sprouts recipes, and Clapshot Smashed Carrot, Rutabaga, Marmalade, and Loadsa Chives may be your new favorite smashed veg puree for your winter table. Red Cabbage Crispy Smoked Bacon and Rosemary, Apple, Fennel Seeds, Balsamic, elevates this humble hot winter vegetable.

There are time savers such as Gravy and Vegan Gravy (both of which can be made well ahead of the big feast).  Baked Bread Sauce Sweet Tender Onions, English Mustard, Cloves, Butter and Bay, takes a classic British "wet" sauce and turns it something savory and akin to stuffing. Jamie's Cranberry Sauce with Burnt Butter, Maple Syrup, Apple, Thyme, and Spiced Rum, is a new and creative variation. Horseradish Sauce contains Fiery Horseradish, Vinegar and Creme Fraiche--an ideal  complement to his impressive roast beef. Pigs in a Blanket Gone Crazy is Jamie's variation of this classic featuring bacon as a robe surrounding brie, shelled walnut halves, and thyme, or bacon or a pitted date with crumbled blanched hazelnuts, with drizzled honey, are among the 12 options available. Several stuffings (one a veggie recipe) and Yorkshire Puds(ings) round out the Christmas dinner.

Among the fine salads, there's a seasonal Winter Slaw with carrot, apple, red and white cabbage, dried fruit and almonds that looks as though it were created especially for Christmas. Fifteen Christmas Salad was inspired by Jamie's London restaurant, and it's combination of buffalo mozzarella, clementines, arugula, radicchio, fresh mint, sliced speck, Parmesan and a few drops of good-quality balsamic vinegar, delivers a salad of bold yet refined flavors.

Jamie provides seven totally different ways to use up leftovers--most of them very new. Turkey Risotto, Sweet Leeks, Parmesan, Prosecco, Crispy Turkey Skin and Gravy, Toad in the Hole Yorkshire Pudding Filled with Leftovers and Dirty Gravy, and Carbonara Cake Spaghetti, Smoked Ham and Lotsa Cheese are my three top choices here.

Dessert is the dazzling finale to a JAMIE OLIVER'S CHRISTMAS COOKBOOK feast. Christmas Pudding filled with Dried Fruit, Pecans, Ginger, Rosemary, Bourbon and Golden Syrup, will earn you a standing ovation. Classic British desserts such as Retro Trifle (his mother's ultimate celebration  pud), Chocolate Pots (with Clementine Syrup and Creme Fraiche),  Pavlova (Ruby Poached Pears, Chocolate, Mulled Wine Jelly, Cream), a heart-stopingly gorgeous Apple Pie (with Sour Cranberries, Blood Orange, Vanilla and Cinnamon), or something called Banoffee Alaska (Almond Pastry, Caramel, Bananas and Vanilla Ice Cream--a pairing of Banoffee pie--which I have never heard of--with Baked Alaska. How about Jamie's recipe for a traditional Chocolate Log (Sweet Chestnut Puree, Honeyed Cream and Crushed Honeycomb filling)? There are three different variations of mince pie (with pastry, with phyllo dough, or Mince Pie Strudels. Billionaire's Shortbread (Guinness Caramel, Dark Chocolate and Sea Salt), Amalfi Cake (almond sponge layers, limoncello lemon curd and raspberry sauce).

Okay I realize you're eyes are nearly glazed over, but Jamie Oliver isn't done yet. There are chapters on holiday cocktails (Pink Pepper Negroni, Party Prosecco), dips (a creamy Greek Taramasalata, bites (four different sausage rolls), and handheld nibbles (Smoked Salmon Blinis, Baked Buns Stuffed with Winter Ragu). Finally there's an edible gifts chapter with lots of interesting, tasty, and delightful things to give, i.e., Fudge, spiked with whiskey and clementine, Truffles, Rocky Road with popcorn, nuts, clementine, ginger, sour fruit and chocolate, and Chili Sauce that can accompany just about anything.

What makes this book especially special is its packaging. It gorgeously evokes an old fashioned  Christmas without embalming it in kitsch or flash. The many color photographs compliment the foods superbly.  Jamie's patented London Lad prose inspires you to cook up lots of wonderful food for family and friends, polish the silver, set the table, and fill the ice bucket. Happy Holidays!

Wednesday, May 25, 2016


Oven-Fried Chicken

Nearly two years ago, my mother died. She was just shy of 83. For the most part, we had a terrible relationship (as she had with all of her four sons). But that part of the story is more than likely for a book on surviving a dysfunctional parent. My mother was a talented cook and a fine baker, and it was her cooking that drew me to a life-long love of feeding family and friends. It started at the age of nine, when my mother was delayed returning home from an appointment in the city. She had planned on making spaghetti and meat sauce for dinner, a recipe I had seen her make innumerable times. I told the babysitter that I would be preparing dinner for her and my brothers. Apparently it was a success and I've been cooking ever since. My father disappeared from our lives shortly thereafter, and as my mother assumed the duties of providing for her sons, so too did my responsibilities of feeding us. This meant hot oatmeal or farina or puffed wheat or rice for breakfast nearly every day (we all took turns with breakfast, and making bag lunches). Lunch meant tuna salad or peanut butter and jelly or bologna sandwiches with mustard (no cheese--we couldn't afford it, some cookies or an apple). Dinner was a rotational round of a variety of meals. Oven-fried chicken, meatloaf, Spam with onions and scalloped potatoes, knockwurst and beans, fish sticks, Kraft macaroni and cheese, fried liver and onions (we were the only kids we knew who liked liver), a baked dish my mother called American Spaghetti and meat sauce, creamed chipped beef--food very much a standard of the times. Weekends, things got a little fancier--a pot roast or a long-simmered chuck roast with home-made noodles, stuffed flank steak, roast chicken, chicken stew with dumplings, or a glorious roasted loin of pork on the bone. Sometimes pan-fried shoulder lamb chops. On occasion lasagna (my mother used cottage cheese because it was cheaper than ricotta), very rarely, a rib roast or for holidays, a roasted leg of lamb. Mom generally made these fancier dinners, but just as often, so did I.

A little more than a year ago, a good friend's beloved mother died, and he collected a number of her recipes in a bound sheaf and sent it to me. Her name was Doris, and she also had four children. She was a busy, stay-at-home mother who was also a very good cook, with a wider culinary range than my mother. My mother never baked cookies aside from the occasional Oatmeal Raisin variety (Pecan Sandies were her cookie of choice, and the commercial brand is what we ate), but Jim's mother baked an astonishing variety:  Toll House cookies, Phyllis' Chocolate Cookies, Greek Cookies, Filled Cookies, Fruit Bars, Almond Italian Macaroons, Round Sour Cream Cookies, Thumbprint Cookies, Chocolate Crinkles, Pineapple Cookies, Oatmeal Cookies, Mom's Italian Cookies, Sesame Seed Cookies and Brownies. Like my mother, she used margarine and Crisco. My mother made a scratch cake when she had the time, the rest of the cakes we consumed were Duncan Hines. Jim's mom's cakes--Devil's Food, Pineapple Upside Down Cake, Coffee Cake, Lemon filled Cup Cakes, Favorite White and Favorite Chocolate Cake, Walnut Pound Cake, Mary Ann's French Cake, Sponge Cake, Whoopi Pies, Chocolate Graham Cracker Cake, Angel Food Cake Waldorf, Cranberry Swirl Cake, Swiss Chocolate Roll, Pumpkin Bread, Banana Tea Bread, Applesauce Cake, Cheese Cupcakes, Orange Refrigerator Sheet Cake (which called for a Duncan Hines Deluxe II White Cake mix), Grandma Dowd's Chocolate Cake, Banana Coffee Cake, Carrot Cake, and Best Ever Pound Cake.

Both of our mothers prepared Stuffed Cabbage, Oven-Fried Chicken, and Fruit Cakes. Mother's fruit cake was edible (I loathe fruit cake). She started it in October and by Christmas, those cakes were so filled with brandy or bourbon, you could blow up the house. Since striking out on my own, I've never encountered Oven-Fried Chicken. While I have prepared Fried Chicken southern style, I don't think of it as an at-home recipe. What do you with all that leftover oil? It makes a mess of your kitchen. It also smells up your kitchen for days. Yet I haven't made oven fried chicken since my teens and I don't know why. I recall it as being one of my favorite dishes. Mother's recipe was simplicity itself. For one cut-up chicken (we never bought pre-cut parts) she would use 1 1/2 cups of flour, a good pinch of cayenne, two teaspoons of oregano or Italian seasoning, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, and a teaspoons of ground pepper. All this was dumped into a brown paper bag and shaken to combine. The chicken was then added and shaken to coat placed on a platter covered with waxed paper. She would put a large baking pan into a hot oven with three tablespoons of Crisco to melt. The chicken would be added to the pan and baked about 1 hour and fifteen minutes with the chicken turned once to make sure it browned on both sides. It was simple and delicious--crunchy enough with the flour coating sticking to the chicken, which made gnawing on the bones a real pleasure. Doris has two recipes, a conventional one similar to my mother's, only using Bisquick instead of flour, and onion salt with no herbs or cayenne, and she cooked it at a higher temperature--425-degrees F. Her "Crunchy Baked Chicken uses crushed saltine crackers, grated cheese (no indication if this is parmesan, but I'm certain it is probably Kraft), 1/4 cup parsley (fresh or dried?). You melt two sticks of butter and dip the chicken pieces in the fat and then roll them in the crushed saltines. Any leftover butter is poured over the chicken in the baking pan and is baked for 1 1/4 hours at 350-degrees F.

These simpler recipes and memories have made me go back to my childhood and once again cook those recipes that I recall my mother making. Like many before her, my mother didn't leave recipes. I grabbed an index box full of recipes I found in her kitchen after she died, thinking, I would finally find out how she made those toothsome and thick noodles for her boiled beef, or her creamed mushrooms on toast for fancy meals. When I got home and opened the box, I was disappointed to find a number of recipes culled from women's magazines in the 70s, 80s and 90s--the decades after I had gone off on my own.  The problem with these recipes is they display my mother's regression as a cook. She has three different recipes for Pumpkin Bread. There is a recipe from Stouffer's for a Cheese and Chile Beef Dip calling for 2 packages of Stouffer's frozen Creamed Chipped Beef, defrosted! Another for Popovers made with Wondra flour, and something horrifying called Favorite Banana Mallow Pudding (Jello-O Vanilla Flavor Pudding and Pie Filing, Vanilla wafers, bananas and Kraft Jet-Puffed Marshmallows! She never got over her preference for margarine over butter and Miracle Whip over mayonnaise (her macaroni salad was a recipe I could never enjoy eating). She would insist they were better than their superior counterparts.

As my talents as a cook began to overtake my mother's she began to get competitive about it. In my 20s, I will admit to taking on challenging and somewhat silly recipes. I remember a hazelnut dacquoise with a coffee buttercream filling that I made for a dinner party at my mother and step-father's home in the late 70s. Frankly the dacquoise was too sweet and the buttercream left a slick on the top of the inside of my mouth that seemed to stay there for a week afterwards. Everyone ate every spec of that cake, but it was the last time I would ever opt for something that sweet and cloying. But it left the door open to my mother to snip about my cooking. She hated the fact that I would debone a turkey at Thanksgiving, or when I sent her a recipe for a fruit crostata, her response was, why wouldI make a pie with only a bottom crust! I ignored the criticisms. I wasn't about to yell at my mother because my cooking threatened her. Her last husband's cooking offered them plenty of room for competitive contentiousness. My stepfather was a very good cook, and did a lot of catering, and for a number of  years, was a prep-chef for Martin Yan's cooking school in California. As a couple, they took baking classes, and learned lots of cooking techniques. But his cooking was completely different than hers and arguments ensued.

So my mother's heyday as a home cook really was at its best when when brothers and I were kids. She made a lot of birthday cakes, and a really good chocolate loaf cake from a Hershey's cocoa box. We had her bread pudding and tapioca often and they were delicious and comforting. Mom also made good strawberry jam, and her potato salad was terrific, even if it was made with Miracle Whip. Mother did good picnic sides, including picked beets and eggs, a recipe I've just made for the first time. The recipe is different than my mother's--I recall onions in hers, but not cumin, fennel or mustard seeds in the recipe I prepared.

There are memories of my childhood meals that I'd like to forget. I'm never going to eat another Knockwurst in my life again, nor Spam with Onions and Potatoes, and Kraft Macoroni & Cheese is definitely out forever. Like other Moms, Mother made desserts with Jello, Junket and Mighty-Fine gelatin and pudding mixes, which all kids liked. I wouldn't go near them today and Kool-Aid will never occupy any space of any kitchen I'll ever use again.

Truth be told, my cooking is isn't that much different from my mother's. I've gotten all the fancy recipes out of my system. I've only cooked my way through part of THE ART OF FRENCH COOKING. I've always preferred Italian food over French cuisine. My weeknight fare is usually a piece of sautéed protein, with rice or potatoes and a slightly parboiled vegetable finished in the same pan with a bit of butter or olive oil, salt and pepper. I save more ambitious projects for dinner parties, but I still keep it simple.

This week I made a version of my mother's Oven-Fried Chicken and it was very good. Now I want to try both of Doris' versions. They say nostalgia ain't what it used to be. But maybe sometimes it is. I'm ready to start cooking my way through my mother's repertoire again, no for nostalgia, but because she made a lot of good food.

Pickled Eggs and Beets

Tuesday, January 19, 2016


The last three Saveur 100 issues

Every January for more than a decade now, I've looked forward to "The Saveur 100" a regular feature of the magazine's "favorite places, tools, ingredients, cookbooks recipes, restaurants, and more." I even saved issues devoted to this list. In going over some of them, I re-connected with a lovely remembrance by Liz Smith about her good friend, Norah Efron, or reacted in total horror at the price of an artisanal cast iron skillet that costs hundreds of dollars. One of the most odd inspirations from the sous vide side of food news was the conversion of vodka to gin in a sous vide machine. Clearly the general manager of a tony New York restaurant has lots of time on his hands to come up with these things. Or how about a 20-second recipe for mayonnaise using a hand blender? I love pie and would even travel to Topeka, Kansas to sample any of the 20 pies "on offer at a time," at Bradley's Corner Cafe. 

Imagine my distress in late December when I went looking for this annual issue and found out it was no more. No explanation in the replacement issue for its apparent demise, and only old news from past 100 lists. Saveur has a relatively new editor, and perhaps he thinks it was time for the magazine to move on. However, I miss the thrill of new products, rediscovering old favorites, and just enjoying. Sadly, that anticipated joy is gone. It's like reading the news that an old favorite restaurant has closed
--a bit wrenching, really. 

Tuesday, December 29, 2015


I'm not sure why, but somewhere into the first 50 pages of MY KITCHEN YEAR: 136 RECIPES THAT SAVED MY LIFE (Random House; $35.00), Ruth Reichl's memoir with recipes, really began to piss me off. Ruth Reichl was fired as editor-in-chief of Gourmet along with the entire staff as Conde Nast shut down the beloved and venerated cooking publication just short of its seventieth anniversary. It sent a deep shock waves into the already struggling magazine publishing world. Reichl herself had spent a decade atop the masthead as it's editor-in-chief. But in 2010, the country was bogged down in a deep financial recession. In all more than eight million lost their jobs; six million lost their homes. It was a financial catastrophe that we're still reeling from.

Ruth Reichl has enjoyed a storied career as a restaurant critic for both The Los Angeles Times and The New York Times before she landed one of the most coveted culinary jobs at Gourmet. During her decade there, Ms. Reichl published three volumes of her memoirs--all of them bestsellers. Since the demise of Gourmet, she has written a successful novel, landed a contract as a sort of culinary editor at large at Random House, and because she is a recognized culinary brand, has continued to work.

I am sure MY KITCHEN YEAR was intended to be a book that chronicled her shock, sadness and depression following the loss of a wonderful job--a job which she clearly loved and excelled at. But this slight narrative comes off as selfish and clueless. Millions lost their jobs, many of them are still picking up the pieces of shattered lives. So when Reichl worries that she won't be able to maintain both her Manhattan apartment and country home, I was a little offended. How tin-eared can you get? She risks being taken too seriously over her rhapsodic purchases of very expensive organic, farm-to-table ingredients, which would be one of the first economic cuts made by your average unemployed family when facing a similar crisis. There's no thought given to the human tragedy that caught the entire world during the long recovery. Perhaps it's churlish of me to expect that, but I wasn't expecting the "poor pitiful me" tone that permeates nearly every page.

One expects good recipes from Ruth Reichl, and to be very fair here, she offers many tasty indulgences:  Cider-Braised Pork Shoulder, Nectarine Galette, Anchovy Bread, High-Heat Turkey, Chinese Dumplings, Pumpkin Pancakes, Sriracha Shrimp Over Coconut Rice, The Cake that Cures Everything, Lemon Panna Cotta, Spinach and Ricotta Gnocchi, Thai-American Noodles, Bulgogi at Home, Pink Deviled Eggs, Three-Day Short Ribs, Fabulous Hummus, Fresh Apricot Jam, Real Fried Chicken, Magret of Duck with Easy Orange Sauce are all inspired. For the most part, Ms. Riechl's instructions are chatty and colorful, rather than set forth in the usual list-and-preparation format.

Because MY KITCHEN YEAR was more of a memoir with recipes, I decided to get the Kindle edition rather than the book (my shelves are overstuffed with cookbooks already). I wanted to like this book. Ruth Reichl has been a writer, editor, and witness of the big changes in the food world since she burst onto the national scene when she joined The New York Times.  She has much to say still and I hope she back to it soon.

Friday, November 20, 2015


I really do feel sympathy for those afflicted with acute Thanksgiving anxiety over issues such as gravy or the proper way to roast a turkey. Stuff it or not stuff it. There is an avalanche of information about preparing a Thanksgiving feast, easily obtainable on Google, and other sources. The food magazines start to ramp up anxiety over the holiday season in September when their first issues on Thanksgiving are on the newsstands. "Get Organized," they admonish. Make lists. Check your dishes, linens, flatware. Do you have enough chairs? How big a bird do you need? Make your turkey stock in October--freeze--and it's ready for you on Thanksgiving. Who is on your guest list and do they have food issues (nut allergies, gluten-free, dairy-free, vegetarian, vegan, organic-only)? All this stuff accumulates and is added to the family drama that's already been in place for years before everyone has assembled for this annual gathering of "family and friends." Julia Child used to take calls from anxious Thanksgiving cooks because her phone number was listed. She cheerfully answered their questions. Over the years, I've accumulated lots of calls from friends over Thanksgiving. So in the spirit of the holiday, I'm offering a few words of wisdom on how to avoid making your Thanksgiving an ordeal:

1)  A Thanksgiving feast is a ton of work. Don't take it on unless you're prepared to work like a dog putting it on the table.

2)  Make lists. There are too many items in a Thanksgiving menu and you don't want to discover you have no condensed milk for the pumpkin pie filling on Thanksgiving morning.

3) A frozen turkey will not thaw on Thanksgiving day. If you forgot to thaw the turkey, take everyone out or order in from your local supermarket. Thawing instructions usually come with the turkey. Or ask your butcher.

4) Try to minimize the amount of special-needs foods that you can. Don't worry if Aunt Sarah can't eat gluten. Instead of stuffing, she can have the mashed potatoes or sweet potatoes.  Gluten-free stuffing is pretty awful. If you do have to make special dishes, okay, but send the person home with the leftovers. They will appreciate it, and you'll have one less thing dying in your fridge.
Read labels carefully so that you don't have any allergic surprises to ruin the big day.

5) Assess your talents as a cook realistically, and manage what you can. If you're having guests, ask them to bring something for the meal. There is nothing worse than eating a lousy meal that you've slaved over. That includes pies with uncooked bottom crusts, potatoes that have been
food-processed into a gluey mess, lumpy gravy, and overcooked white meat. It is no sin to buy canned cranberry sauce. You ate it as a kid, it is still edible.

6) If your white meat is dry as a bone, you over-roasted it.

7) I try not to offer too much in the way of noshes and nibbles in advance of the meal. If you're not known for your culinary skills, you might want to provide your guests with a nice spread of appetizers, just in case.

8) Foodies will tell you a recipe is a template for your creativity, and that is fine. But most Thanksgiving cooks need to stick to the recipe as closely as possible. There are fewer chances for disasters to occur if you follow this advice.

9) Set your table the night before. It provides you with the opportunity to fix any issues that arise in time.  This means setting up your dessert dishes, plates, cups and saucers or mugs, and serving pieces such as a pie server, spoon for whipped cream, etc.

10) Make a time-line schedule of items that need to be cooked, baked, etc. by order. A turkey will need at least 30 minutes to rest before it is carved. That's the time when potato casseroles, gravies, stuffings (not inside the bird), rolls, etc., need to be addressed.

11) Every holiday meal my mother used to freak out, usually by the time she reached into the freezer for the frozen peas. There would be my brothers and her latest husband sitting in front of the TV set while she slaved in the kitchen. I would have to remind her that I was there in the kitchen with her. It didn't matter. Those four lumps in the living room were doing nothing and it added to her sense of martyrdom. Ask for help. You'll get better results by asking a woman. Men and football make for a selfish combination and no amount of nagging will get the job done.

12) Set up for clean-up. I usually have a deep bowl filled with soapy water to soak the silver/stainless flatware in. Make sure your dishwasher is empty. Ditto the sink and counter around the sink. There is nothing more defeating than the sight of a trashed kitchen. You can get organized while the coffee is brewing and before you serve dessert. This is the time to ask the men to help. Take out the trash. make sure the table is cleared of the dinner dishes and prepped for dessert. If there's time, begin to organize the leftovers (containers, plastic bags, etc.). Don't let leftovers hang out in the kitchen unattended for long periods of time.

13) If you can't do any of this, and you want to have a Thanksgiving feast and you can afford it, look to a local market, caterer, or restaurant that will make the meal complete for pick-up or delivery to your door. I was a guest at a friend's home for my first Christmas in Portland, Oregon. He is not a cook, but ordered in an entire meal for twelve. Was it the best Christmas feast of turkey with all the trimmings?  Certainly not, but it was the right thing for him to do, and it was a very pleasant holiday meal.

Now put down the anxiety medication, step away from the counter and go make a plan!

Happy Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015


I suppose every good writer of Italian cookbooks wants to leave behind that one big book that will be a summation of all they have done in the field. I'm not sure the late, great and cranky, Marcella Hazan had that in mind when she wrote the first volume of her The Classic Italian Cookbook, but I'm pretty sure she did when she delivered her second volume. Michele Scicolone did something a bit similar with her 1000 Italian Recipes, a huge, encyclopedic survey on the subject. This outstanding Italo-American cookbook writer has published a number of excellent cookbooks mostly focusing on Italian cuisine. If you're looking to begin to wade into the depths of this, one of the world's most popular cuisines, you would do well to start with either Hazan or Scicolone. Now Lidia Bastianich (with the able help of her daughter, Tanya Bastianich Manuali) has produced LIDIA'S MASTERING THE ART OF ITALIAN CUISINE: Everything You Need to Know to Be a Great Italian Cook (Knopf; $37.50). It covers a wide scope of Italian cooking in its more than 400 recipes.

Let's begin with all the good things. The chapter on ingredients is comprehensive and easy to understand. There are lots of illustrations. Here is where Lidia's knowledge shines. You can tell she loves talking ingredients. For instance, Asiago, Grana Padano, Parmigiano-Reggiano, and Pecorino are thoroughly defined, including the regions where they are from and what they are used for. When she gets to Extra Virgin Olive Oil, she is one of the few writers who insist that it is used as a finishing oil or for salads, rather than for frying, where it will smoke at high temperatures more easily than a vegetable oil. She states her preference for red wine vinegar over Balsamic, which she describes as a regional specialty vinegar in Italy. Though wildly popular here in the U.S. many restaurants in Italy serving mostly tourists, have it on their tables, and you have to ask for red wine vinegar if that is your preference. The meat section is wonderful and displays the Italian respect for eating the entire animal and not just the fillets. She speaks plainly and unsquemishly about offal, the internal organs of a butchered animal. These are delicious parts of the animal and our insistence on manicured meats sold off the bone without much beyond liver from supermarkets, shows what fussy eaters we've become.

Lidia next takes the reader through techniques used in Italian cooking. I always knew that olive oil had to be added to a hot pan, but it was interesting to find out that butter should always be added to a cold pan to prevent it from burning. A mortar and pestle as well as a potato rice entered my kitchen relatively late, but are now regular helpers as I cook. Lidia explains why. There are secrets revealed to a great gratin, adding zip to cured olives, or tasty (and less oily) versions of Eggplant Parmigiana.

When you reach the recipe section, you'll find something missing, which is unlike any other cookbook from Lidia--a real lack of head notes. In fact, there are none. This became really curious when I got to a recipe for Caesar Salad. It is not Italian at all. So why is it in an Italian cookbook that doesn't cover Italo-American recipes, let alone a salad credited by an Italian-American chef and owner of restaurants in California and Mexico, doing so here? For me the launch of any recipe by Lidia always begins in the entertaining and informative head notes of her many cookbooks. Another problem in this day and age, is the lack of photographs. As a publisher and a former promoter of cookbooks, the first complaint you hear about a cookbook without pictures, is this. It doesn't bother me and I've long thought it absurd to complain about this. But today's popular cookbooks are drenched in color photos because the audience for them demands it.

And what of the recipes? This is as fine a collection of recipes as you'll find in any of Lidia's books. Prosciutto and Fig Bruschetta, Swiss Chard and Potato Crostada, Scallion and Asparagus Salad, Farro Salad, with Grilled Eggplant and Peppers, Cauliflower and Tomato Soup, Lettuce Soup with Fontina Gratin, Borlotti Bean Pizzaiola, Whole Braised Cauliflower, Horseradish Mashed Potatoes, Snails with Polenta, Risotto with Barolo on a Bed of Carrot Puree, Crespelle "Lasagna" Filled with Spinach and Herbs. Pappardelle with Duck Guazzetto, Fresh Pear and Pecorino Ravioli with Cacio e Pepe Sauce, Fresh Ricotta Cavatelli with Mussels and Beans. Spaghetti with Crab Sauce, Calamari and Skate with White Wine Sauce. Clams with Leeks and Couscous, Skillet Gratinate of Mushrooms and Chicken, Chicken Thighs with Potatoes and Olives, Quail Under a Brick, Pork Tenderloin with Balsamic Onions, Meatloaf with Ricotta, Veal Kidneys in Mustard Sauce, Bread and Peach Cake, Polenta Sponge Cake, Cannoli Napoleon, Roasted Pears and Grapes and Pomegranate Sorbet, are just a quick sampling of some of the arresting and tasty dishes Lidia has assembled for this volume.

The book ends with a useful section of Italian Culture and Language. You'll find all sorts of interesting cultural observations such as Boar Hunting: Favorite Italian Pastime, Enotecas (Italian wine bars), as well as a breakdown of the differences between the Trattoria, Ristorante, Osteria and Bar, which define Italian dining outside the home, or how to toast in Italian. The mostly food glossary in Italian will be helpful to anyone traveling in Italy without knowledge of the language.

LIDIA'S MASTERING THE ART OF ITALIAN CUISINE is unlike any cookbook she has produced before. If you demand lots of color photos, this book is not for you. I miss the head notes, which always make the time you spend with Lidia pleasurable. Maybe I'll warm up to it as I watch her new companion series on PBS (whenever that airs in Portland--shame on you OPB for the ridiculous times you air your food programs). Still any time a new collection of recipes from this wonderful TV chef and teacher appears, is time for rejoicing.

The book is available in many fine bookstores as well as on-line.

Saturday, March 7, 2015


The T-Fal Pressure Cooker

I recently re-organized my kitchen drawers and put the pressure gauge for my 35-year-old pressure cooker in a new place. Now I can't find it. I'm not going to live without a pressure cooker and that's that. You can keep your slow cookers. For my money, the modern pressure cooker, which resists the kinds of silly explosion stories that seem to dog this wonderful appliance even years after manufacturers have designed them so well, cannot fail. In far less time than the slow cooker, you can have fabulous stews, soups, bean dishes, risottos, stocks, desserts all with their full nutritional value. I make a shrimp risotto that takes six minutes to cook once the pot is up to full pressure. This delicious dish is on regular rotation in my kitchen. Last night, I made meaty pork shanks in under 25 minutes that were so tender, they fell off the bone. This is the appliance to tenderize all those economical cuts of beef, lamb, and pork and it takes a fraction of the time to cook than a slow cooker.

My mother had an old Presto pressure cooker in the 70s. It never exploded. But she was one to follow instructions carefully. Today's pressure cookers have all sorts of safety features and come in highly polished stainless steel in four-quart, six-quart, and ten-quart and larger (for canning of jams and vegetables). The appliance I purchased all those years ago at Zabar's in New York was made by T-Fal, the French manufacturer of inexpensive pots and pans. This appliance was made of heavy stainless steel and it produced many a memorable meal over the course of its more than three decades of hard work in my kitchen. So when I decided to purchase a new one, I went to T-Fal and found a brand new one on eBay for less than I paid for the older model. This new model is easier to use than the old one with the gauge built into the lid.  I found meaty pork shanks at Fubon, a large Asian market in SE Portland, and decided to break in the new machine. Here's the recipe:

Greg's Pork Shanks With Tomatoes and Carrots

The cost of veal shanks has put the classic Osso bucco out of the financial reach of most Americans grocery budget. Also I live in Portland, OR, a city that is very wary of veal because of the negative stories on the poor treatment of calves. Some of this is justified, but not every calf is clubbed to death or raised in sub-standard and cramped quarters. Lamb shanks are hard to come by in my town as well. The pork shank  has become a popular braising choice if you know where to find them. Asian markets here now sell them without the hoof, which makes preparation a lot easier and far less squeamish. This particular braising method will produce succulent pork shanks with good flavor and a sauce for polenta. This is a wonderful wintry dish.

2 large pork shanks, skin removed (but leave a little fat for cooking around them), about 12 oz each, 
   lightly dredged in flour
three tablespoons canola or grapeseed olive oil
four anchovies packed in olive oil, drained and patted dry on paper towel
1 yellow onion, medium dice
2 large carrots, peeled and cut into about five pieces each
two stalks celery, sliced diagonally in about eight pieces
1/2 cup sturdy red wine
2 1/2 cups chicken broth
1-14 oz can diced tomatoes with their juice
1 generous teaspoon dried oregano 
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 large, fresh bay leaf
kosher salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

1) Heat the oil in the bottom a six-quart pressure cooker over medium high heat. Salt and pepper the pork shanks then dredge lightly in flour to cover all over. 

2) Add the floured pork shanks to the pressure cooker and over medium high heat, brown them all over until thoroughly caramelized. This will take about 10 minutes. Remove from the pot and set aside. 

3) To the pot, add the anchovies fillets, onions, celery and carrots, and cook over medium heat, stirring until the onions are a little soft and begin to take on a golden color. The anchovies will dissolve. Watch your flame, you don't want to burn the four on the bottom of the pan. This will take another 10 minutes. 

4) Add the red wine and over medium high heat, let the wine boil down, another two minutes or so, scraping the bottom and sides of the pan to dissolve the bits sticking to the pot. In about two minutes, you'll notice the sauce in the pan begin to thicken slightly. Add the chicken broth and diced tomatoes. Rub the dried oregano between the palms of your hands to release their oil and let that fall into the pot, then add the red pepper flakes and bay leaf. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste and still one minute. Return the shanks to the pot and cover with the lid closing it according to your manufacturers directions. Watch until the indicator lets you know the pot has come up to full steam (mine has a little red button that pops up). 

5)  Turn heat down  to medium and cook for about 20 minutes. If the machine is hissing steam to much, adjust heat lower. You want a steady hiss, but one that isn't harsh sounding. Let the shanks cook for about 20 minutes. When you've reached that time, turn off the heat. If you like, let the pot release the steam naturally (about 12 minutes). If you're in a hurry, then put the pot in your kitchen sink and run cold water over the lid for about 10 seconds. Jiggle the gauge to make sure the steam has released. Open pot lid, taking care that in doing so, the pot and lid are facing away from you. Return the pot to the stove. 

6) With the folk check for tenderness. A fork should easily insert into the meat indicating how tender it is. If it is not tender, lock the lid back in place and bring to full pressure again and cook for another five minutes. Again, take the pot and put it under cold water again until all the steam is out of the pot.

Serve over polenta with Parmesan cheese and butter.

NOTE:  This recipe will easily include a third pork shank, or even a fourth, but it will depend on the shanks overall size and shape. Don't try to brown them together in the pot at the same time. You'll just ended up steaming the meat. You want room around the shanks to brown properly. Alternately, you can brown four shanks in a large frying pan before transferring them to the pressure cooker. I would add five more minutes cooking time for the four shanks.

I love the pressure cooker for preparing all sorts of bean recipes, rice, and other grains, soups, even desserts. There are also fine cookbooks available. Lorna Sass' COOKING UNDER PRESSURE (William Morrow), THE PRESSURED COOK (Morrow), Rick Rodgers PRESSURE COOKING FOR EVERYONE (Chronicle Books) and MISS VICKIE'S BIG BOOK OF PRESSURE COOKER RECIPES (Wiley) are my recommended volumes on the subjects. 

Now that I found the gauge for the older pressure cooker, I decided to give it to my brother and his fiancee and get them started on using the pressure cooker. I have always considered it a kitchen essential.