Lunch: September on #BittmanTopics

Whether you’re cooking it, eating it, growing it, or reading about it, food brings people together. Welcome to #BittmanTopics: a place where we can all share ideas about a different food-related topic each month. In case you missed the first installment, here’s how it works—and check the archives for past conversations.

Photo by Andrew Scrivani for the New York Times

Photo by Andrew Scrivani for the New York Times

September is a transitional month, time for heading back to school or maybe easing out of the summer vacation groove and into a routine. After taking it easy in August, I’m back in Berkeley; “California Matters,” my webseries with the University of California, will pick up again this week, and here on #BittmanTopics, we’re talking lunch.

The midday meal is easy to overlook, but with just a little planning, it’s also easy to ace. In recent years, school lunches have received the attention they deserve as an issue that intersects policy issues from public health and government regulations to food justice. Blogs have even cropped up about the desk lunch, parodying those that are sad and glorifying those that aren’t. What’s in your brown bag? How are the students in your life eating at school? Any time-tested tips for streamlining your own weekday lunches? Tales of lingering restaurant meals and brunches also welcome… This month, tag your lunch-related photos, tweets, recipes, and reads with #BittmanTopics and I’ll share my favorites.

The Pleasure of a Steak at Home

Photo by Grant Cornett for the New York Times.

Photo by Grant Cornett for the New York Times.

After staring at the bill for a ridiculously overpriced and not very good rib-eye at a famous steakhouse in Chicago — replete with a sauce so banal it may as well have been ketchup, and served with attitude, too — I remembered I could do better at home. I went to my local butcher (which in my neighborhood just happens to be called the Local Butcher Shop) and paid $60 for a glorious, two-inch thick, fat-laden rib-eye. The plan was to blow the minds of three guests with a piece of meat so good it needed no sauce — and then pair it with sauces that were irresistible on their own.

Sixty dollars may sound like a lot of cash for a piece of meat, but if it’s local and well raised, with better flavor, texture and karma than cheaper commodity beef, it’s worth it for a table of four. While the idea of creating a one-night steakhouse at home may sound self-indulgent, it’s also unreservedly fun, and as you do the work yourself, the final bill is actually pretty tame.

Because I don’t cook 100 steaks a day, I knew I’d have to be careful not to ruin this gorgeous slab. I grilled it, although if I’d cooked it in a pan, my method would have been similar. It’s actually possible to achieve nicely cooked meat, with moderate portions of everything from rare to medium in one steak, using two unusual but easy techniques I’ve refined through years of mistake-making.

Read the rest of this article and get the recipes here.

Posted in Recipes

Looking Back: Eating Outdoors on #BittmanTopics

Whether you’re cooking it, eating it, growing it, or reading about it, food brings people together. Welcome to #BittmanTopics: a place where we can all share ideas about a different food-related topic each month. In case you missed the first installment, here’s how it works—and check the archives for past months’ conversations.

This month’s topic gave an inspirational glimpse of how many of you are enjoying your meals al fresco: at cookouts and food trucks, on picnics and in gardens, from NYC to the south of France. No- and low-cook meals seem to be the perfect food in this sweltering heat—that is, when your grills aren’t fired up for searing local produce and pizza.

Here’s just a handful of my favorite ideas from July; keep tagging your posts with #BittmanTopics so I can follow along, and check back here tomorrow for August’s topic:

Happy 4th of July! A photo posted by @lizpotasek on

 

Where—and What—You’re Eating

Alpine provisions {tarte du champsaur} + route planning near Col du Lauteret …

A photo posted by julia spiess (@dinnerswithfriends) on

“Champlain Valley, Vermont. Grilled king salmon, roasted corn, fresh tomatoes with cucumber and balsamic vinegar, baby summer squash.” –@cckinvt

“Central Park’s Great Hill; fresh fruits, homemade hummus, pretzels, pearl couscous salad, wild rice and grape salad, lemon cookies.” –@reinamaureen

“Gazpacho andaluz, made with fresh farmers market ingredients, garnished with melon and micro mustard greens!” –@lornina

“On our courtyard, watching the sunset over Santa Monica Bay, with great food, great wine and great friends!” –Ann Carley Johnson, Facebook

“My garden. Eggplants, zucchini, tomatoes and peppers every possible way from around the Mediterranean. Lots of feta and lots of fruits. It’s that time of year.” –Clio Tarazi, Facebook

“Aix en Provence, South of France. Watermelon and feta salad !” –@kadee_jah

“Lobster roll on Nantucket” –@sjadad27

“Neighborhood food truck – woodfired pizza in our backyard! #ilovepittsburgh #driftwoodoven” –@leahnorthrop

“LOVE summers in Truro, eating outdoors as the grill master (usually me) finishes the last touches, Chicago-style hotdogs, several amazing summer salads and delicious local craft beer! Throw in some local seafood = Grand Perfection! Cheers, Mark Bittman!” –PiaDora PiaDora, Facebook

 

Cold Soups

Dinner #alfresco at the Lake House #bittmantopics #yyc #amazing #SummerWeather A photo posted by City Palate (@citypalate) on

Lots of interest in this genre—no surprise—during the #BittmanTopics tweetchat:

“what is your favourite summer cold soup? I love de gazpacho of course & vichychoisse.” –@riucafe

“i gotta go off-topic. just made this gazpacho: almonds, almond milk, cukes, grapes, mint, oil, lemon… sorta ugly. but really delicious. and drinking it outside so it counts.” –@bittman

“.@bittman Just had a version of this at @contigosf, but w white garlic & no mint. Very tasty. Do you blend almonds? Presoak?” –@PlantAndPlate

“.@PlantAndPlate forgot. i used a touch of garlic too. and roasted almonds. no soaking. but used almond milk.” –@bittman

@bittman I LOVE a cold cucumber soup- we make a Bulgarian version w walnuts a la Joy of Cooking” –@deb2525

“That gazpacho sounds perfect to take along. Many Bay Area picnic opportunities are in places where flames would not be good.” –@EyeEmEff

Sour cherry crisp made on the grill! 👌🍒 Great way to celebrate summer fruit

A photo posted by Civil Eats (@civileats) on

 

Low-Cook Summer Meals

Another hot topic during our tweetchat—very fun bouncing around ideas with all of you:

Discussing the shape of the chickpea. #picnicinthepark #chickpeas #garbanzobeans

A photo posted by reinamaureen (@reinamaureen) on

“.@bittman I don’t have a grill (apt dweller) – what are some ways to prepare my abundance of summer squash?” –@stephestellar

“.@stephestellar slice zucchini thin. saute in oil. toss with mint, raw egg (like 1 per 2 servings), parm. so great.” –@bittman

@bittman What is your go-to summer vinaigrette/marinade/sauce for all those salads and no/low-cook meals?” –@NeedleInHay

“.@NeedleInHay You’re all going to hate this answer. Ready? Olive oil, lemon, and salt. Maybe pepper.” –@bittman

coffee ice cubes and otherworldly rocks. go utah. #BittmanTopics

A photo posted by Rémy Robert (@remyrobert) on

The Ultimate (for now) Pasta with Clams

Screen Shot 2015-07-19 at 10.23.40 AM

TIME: 30 minutes
MAKES: 2 servings

I’ve made many pasta-with-clams recipes. This is the current, simplest, and I believe best version. My mouth waters just thinking about it; I’d say three of the best meals I’ve had in the last six months were just this. Is that too hard a sell? Try it.

Salt
Good olive oil as needed
24* hardshell (“littleneck”) clams, the smaller the better, scrubbed and dried in a salad spinner or a towel
¼ cup (a little splash) of good white wine (or use water)
6 to 8 ounces linguine or other long pasta
1 tablespoon, more or less, minced garlic
Dried red chile flakes to taste
½ cup chopped parsley

1. Salt a pot of water for pasta and bring it to a boil.

2. Put olive oil in a pan large enough to hold the clams in one layer; be generous – the oil should thickly coat the bottom. Heat until shimmery, then add the clams and, quickly, the white wine. There may be some spattering but it’s worth it; don’t cover the pan; keep the heat medium-high to high, depending on your stove.

3. Start cooking the pasta.

4. The clams will open one by one, and exude a lot of liquid. (You probably will not need to salt this dish but you’ll see later.) Keep cooking until the pasta is nearly done. When the clams are all, or mostly open, add the garlic and chile. Stir a few times, drain the pasta, and toss it with the clam mixture and the parsley. Cook if necessary, tossing, until the pasta is perfect.

5. Add salt if necessary — you might also add a little splash of olive oil — and serve. Do not fall for the trap of discarding clams that appear not to have opened; just open them with a butter knife. If the clams were unbroken and tightly sealed to begin with, they are fine.

*: You can use 36 if they’re real small or you just want more. Or you can use cockles, which are tiny, and use 48. Your call. All should be firmly closed – any that you can pry open with your fingers are dead and should be discarded. And don’t buy any with broken shells.

Posted in Recipes, Seafood

Alice Waters’s Perfect Aioli

Screen Shot 2015-07-15 at 10.14.28 AM

In Berkeley, where I currently live, ‘‘Alice’’ is a one-name celebrity, like Madonna. This is completely justifiable. In her lifetime, there has probably been no more important American in food than Alice Waters.

It was a matter of timing, of course — Alice is not a superwoman. She is, however, a dreamer and an uncompromising visionary. Some 40 years ago, when she settled in Berkeley — she had graduated from the university and then spent many summers in France — she had already recognized that good cooking was not about fancy French ingredients or techniques, but about taking the best local food you could find and not messing it up.

Eating Outdoors: July on #BittmanTopics

Whether you’re cooking it, eating it, growing it, or reading about it, food brings people together. Welcome to #BittmanTopics: a place where we can all share ideas about a different food-related topic each month. In case you missed the first installment, here’s how it works—and check the archives for conversations from past months.

Photo illustration by the New York Times

Photo illustration by the New York Times.

For most of us north of the equator, it’s picnic season. I’m taking advantage with a perfectly packed basket and 101 20-minute-or-less dishes to eat outdoors. The best picnic foods get better as they sit, and since it’s summer, the less time spent in the kitchen the better—adventurous riffs on familiar foods are perfect. I bet in your neck of the woods the weather is nice enough right now that you’re also enjoying as many meals as possible outside.

There are plenty of ways to talk about food and the great outdoors: dining al fresco at restaurants, nibbling fresh harvests in the garden or market, having cookouts or going camping, and thinking and talking about the impact of our food system on climate change. Whether you’ve taken it to the streets, a boardwalk, or in a basket, I’d like to see.

Tom Willey among his eggplants. Photo by Jeff Minton for The New York Times.

Tom Willey among his eggplants. Photo by Jeff Minton for the New York Times.

Where and what are you eating outside right now? What’s fueling your adventures and vacations? Have you eaten anything good off a stick? How do you pack for a day the beach? Stay in touch this month—on FacebookTwitterInstagram, and in the comments below—and be on the lookout for details on the next tweetchat. Tag your photos, recipes, and reading with #BittmanTopics and I’ll feature my favorites back here in a few weeks.