Spring Stews with Crunchy Crusts

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April is a transitional season, not only for weather but also for cooking. More produce begins to appear at farmers’ markets, and even supermarket asparagus begins to come from places closer than Peru. In most of the country, though, it’s not yet time for hot-weather eating; we still crave more than a light salad.

Light stews with springtime ingredients and satisfying crusts are the perfect dish for this time of year. These are neither the gut-busting braises that we’ve been eating all winter nor the cold soups that we’ll eat in a couple of months, but something in between. The most famous example of this kind of dish, of course, is chicken potpie. The version I offer here is a modern take that celebrates spring with the addition of peas (traditional) and asparagus (less so) and the exclusion of cream.

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Posted in Recipes

Not Just for Breakfast Anymore

Screen Shot 2013-12-05 at 11.41.09 AMIt started simply enough: Some months ago, I needed to make myself something to eat, and I had a few ounces of leftover scallops from dinner the night before. I remembered something I learned in Madrid called a tortillita, which inspired me to produce a kind of eggy pancake — or, if you like, a floury omelet — laced with shrimp, parsley and onion. I beat together an egg and a little flour until smooth, wanting to thicken the mixture just enough so that it wouldn’t run in the pan. I chopped the scallops and added them to the batter, along with a bit of onion, some parsley, salt and chopped fresh chile, shallow-frying all this by the spoonful in abundant oil. Predictably, the little guys — eight in total — took a couple of minutes per side to become gorgeously golden. I sprinkled them with salt, squeezed a few drops of lemon over each and ate the entire batch by myself, in about the same amount of time they took to cook.

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Better Than a Meat Lollipop

Screen Shot 2013-12-02 at 5.49.03 PMNot long ago, in certain circles, serving anything other than the most tender and expensive rib or loin chops — in the form of a “rack” or a “meat lollipop” — to respectable company was considered déclassé. Leg and shank eventually got their dues — and now the shoulder has finally arrived.

It’s about time, because all things considered, it’s the best major cut of lamb. (The best minor cut might be the neck, or even the kidney or tongue, but we’re not addressing “specialty meats” here.)

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Past Perfect: Memories of Home, and a Huge Thanksgiving Latke

Screen Shot 2013-11-24 at 12.54.36 PMAfter living in what must have seemed like every neighborhood in three boroughs — Coney Island, the South Bronx, East Flatbush, Spanish Harlem (as it was then called), the Lower East Side — my mother’s parents, in their oldish age, settled in Astoria, which is where I spent almost all the Thanksgivings of my childhood.

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Thanksgiving Pastrami From Danny Bowien

Hanukkah and Thanksgiving fall on the same day this year, so Danny Bowien proposed doing a Thanksgiving Pastrami. He demonstrates the simple meat dish for me.

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Posted in Recipes, Uncategorized

Do Not Fear a Beet Without Goat Cheese

Screen Shot 2013-10-23 at 9.31.46 AMGive a cook a beet, and he’ll probably do one of two things with it: Reject it for fear of turning the kitchen into a juicy red crime scene, or roast it and serve it with goat cheese. Ever since its ascendance, the beet-and-goat-cheese salad has been as ubiquitous a combination as tomato and mozzarella. I can take this marriage or leave it, but even if you love it, you must admit that it only scratches the surface of what beets have to offer.

There are some roasted-beet recipes here — sans goat cheese — but the rest treat the root in less familiar ways. More than half the time that I prepare beets, I begin by shredding them in a food processor. After that, you can serve them raw with a simple dressing, or you can stir-fry them in a skillet to brown them slightly, which brings out their sweetness like nothing else.

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Deep Fried and Good for You

Screen Shot 2013-10-22 at 9.05.03 AMFried food is probably not on anyone’s lists of healthy eats, but you have to start with this: Fat is good for you.

The long-lived people of Crete might not drink a glass of olive oil a day, but they consume three times as much as we do, and that’s probably more desirable than our misguided notion that the less fat you eat, the better.

There are differences among fats, of course, but with trans-fats in full retreat and lard and butter making comebacks, the whole fat-eating thing is starting to make some sense. Of course, the key word is moderation. You can eat fat as long as it’s high quality and you don’t eat it to the exclusion of plants.

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Stuff Yourself

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Dolmades or dolmas — better known as stuffed grape leaves — have long been a fixture of Mediterranean-style appetizer spreads. They’re one of those foods that just seem to materialize magically from supermarket cans or specialty-store containers; we eat them happily, but most of us have never endeavored to make them ourselves. Truth be told, sometimes we don’t even know what’s inside them.

Until recently, I tackled dolmas exactly once: in a forlorn upstate New York town that had some vineyards. But since then, I’ve made the project routine, because D.I.Y. dolmas are not only doable but come with a significant advantage: choice. Whether they are from regular grocery stores (not great) or Mediterranean markets (much better), dolmas are typically the same: grape leaves stuffed with soft rice, sometimes lentils or meat and whopped with lemon. Making them yourself means you cannot only play around with the flavors of the fillings, but you can also use other grains and leaves as well.

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Rescuing Tartare From the Stuffy, Old Power-Lunchers

Screen Shot 2013-09-13 at 10.04.11 AMIn the go-go ’80s, “tartare” pretty much meant a pile of raw, well-seasoned chopped beef topped with a raw egg yolk. It was seen as food for the carnivorous power-lunch crowd — tartare even had a cameo as a status symbol in “Wall Street”— and for old-fashioned people who ate at old-fashioned restaurants.

I’m not sure what the first nonbeef tartare was, but I do remember getting a chuckle when my friend and co-author Jean-Georges Vongerichten introduced me to beet tartare sometime around 1990. In any case, tuna tartare has far surpassed beef in popularity, lamb tartare is fashionable and carrot tartare is expensive. In short, the field is wide open, and it’s time for home cooks to forge ahead.

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Posted in Recipes, Seafood

Bring Your Lunch to Work

Screen Shot 2013-08-27 at 9.00.32 AMThere are few brown-baggers in the building in which I work. This is not because the food in the neighborhood is so great (it isn’t), or because the cafeteria is Google-like (it isn’t), but because many people are either “too busy” or too embarrassed to bring their lunch. Somehow one of our oldest and sanest traditions has become a laughingstock: it’s not hip to bring lunch.

Let’s try to fix that.

As a meal, lunch is undeniably tough; most people say that and I recognize it. But something good happens when you make the default a brown bag.

I am not talking literally about brown bags; you can bring your groovy REI lunchbox, or your authentic Mumbai tiffin carrier (actually, where I work the people who seem to bring their lunch most often are of South Asian origin) or — as I tend to do — your assortment of recycled takeout containers.

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