Hearty Stews, Heavy on the Vegetables

Screen Shot 2014-02-21 at 9.02.32 AM

There is an extreme version of just about every stew you can name — beef stew, Irish stew, curry, cassoulet, bouillabaisse — in which vegetables are used, if at all, as “aromatics.” You may start by sweating a little bit of onion, carrot, celery, maybe garlic, with a bay leaf and a thyme sprig, and then you proceed to brown your main ingredient, usually chunks of meat, and add some liquid.

It’s difficult to believe that this tradition goes back much before the ’50s, because so few people had access to the two pounds or more of meat that it takes to make a stew containing little else. From Henry IV to Herbert Hoover, the promise was made that every Sunday, there would be a chicken “in every pot.” No one ever said “a half-pound of meat per person per day,” which is about what we eat.

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

Posted in Uncategorized

A Busman’s Honeymoon

Screen Shot 2014-02-20 at 9.03.56 AM

I had been cooking avidly for six years when, in the fall of 1976, thinking it was important to learn about “French” and “Northern Italian,” I flew to Rome with my new wife to begin what we called a “sort of honeymoon.”

At the time, “sophisticated” meant “complicated” and conjured visions of high-hatted chefs spending hours creating sauces you could never hope to duplicate. Instead, we were eating eggplant Parmesan — sautéed eggplant slices with a light tomato sauce and a grating of Parmesan — at a steam-table restaurant near the Pyramid of Cestius and rigatoni con la pajata, with the intestines of baby lamb, at a dive in the Testaccio.

Read the rest of this column here.

Posted in Uncategorized

Show-Stealing Vegetables

Screen Shot 2014-02-18 at 7.32.31 AM

Imagine this: Your dinner guests are seated around the table, waiting for you to parade out the main course. You triumphantly carry it in on a platter. Oohs and ahs ensue.

What did you picture on that platter? A bronzed turkey, perhaps? A hulking roast? Lobster à l’Américaine? It probably wasn’t vegetables, which have long been entrenched in side-dish territory. But the wow factor isn’t restricted to animal flesh. I’d argue that elevating vegetables to star status is a better display of your culinary chops — and a more unconventional and surprising one — than showcasing a piece of meat.

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

Posted in Uncategorized

Eating in London’s West End

Screen Shot 2014-02-18 at 7.25.33 AM

It takes time to eat in a great restaurant, and time is precious pre- or post-theater. You’re either eating early and in a hurry to make the curtain, or you’re up late and half-ready for bed. In either case, a two-hour blowout is unlikely.

This could explain why traditionally the best restaurants are not usually clustered in theater districts, and why the restaurants you do find in those areas tend to prize efficiency over anything else. But in London, at least, that’s no longer the case. In the last decade, a dozen really interesting restaurants have opened in the heart of — or just a few blocks from — the West End. Some have come and gone, and I’ve written about others (most notably Quo Vadis, which remains a standby). But there’s now enough of a critical mass that the area deserves a survey of its offerings.

Read the rest of this article here.

Posted in Uncategorized

Fish Stews (with a Little Meat)

 Screen Shot 2014-02-05 at 8.33.27 AM Screen Shot 2014-02-05 at 8.33.32 AM

I don’t subscribe to the belief that everything is better with bacon, but small amounts of meat do often improve many dishes — even those with fish. While there are plenty of classic fish stews that don’t use meat for flavoring, including bouillabaisse, there are also many that do. (Clam chowder, anyone?) Think about it: When you’re making stew, everything is fair game.

Generally speaking, fish stews are easy to make and quicker than their meat-based brethren. Even making your own fish stock won’t slow you down, because few fish take more than several minutes to cook.

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

Posted in Uncategorized

Quinoa: Crunchier than Ever

Screen Shot 2014-01-29 at 8.07.05 AM

Not long ago, quinoa was as mysterious as dark matter. Few could even pronounce the name of this ancient, disk-shaped “super grain” from the Andes, mistakenly calling it kwih-NO-ah (it’s KEEN-wah). It tasted a little strange, home cooks didn’t know what to do with it and only vegan restaurants put it on menus.

Now quinoa is everywhere, and seemingly everyone knows everything about it. You probably recognize its grassy flavor and faintly crunchy texture. If I told you that it’s not a grain at all, but rather a chenopod related to spinach and beets, you probably wouldn’t be surprised. And perhaps you know that worldwide demand for quinoa has become so high that many of those who live in the regions of Bolivia where the crop is grown can no longer afford to buy it.

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

Posted in Uncategorized

Abundance Doesn’t Mean Health

The relatively new notion that around a third or more of the world’s population is badly (“mal”) nourished conflates hunger and diet-spawned illnesses like diabetes, both of which are preventable.

Both result from a lack of access to quality food, which in turn can result from a lack of money. No one with money starves, and the obesity-diabetes epidemic afflicts predominantly people on the low end of the income scale. With money comes good food, food that creates health and not “illth,” to use John Ruskin’s word. With a lack of money comes either not enough food or so-called empty calories, calories that put on pounds but do not nourish.

Read the rest of this column here

Posted in Uncategorized

Cooking Greek with Diane Kochilas

Screen Shot 2014-01-21 at 6.51.51 AM

When Diane Kochilas said we were making phyllo, I confess I was intimidated. But as Kochilas taught me, although “phyllo” means “leaf,” that leaf need not be the paper-thin type we’re accustomed to seeing in flaky Middle Eastern pastries. It may be, as it is here, a thin but readily made dough, rich in olive oil, smooth to the touch and easy to handle.

Kochilas’s father is Greek, but she was born in New York and now divides her time among Athens, where she has primarily lived since 1992; the island of Ikaria, where she runs a cooking school; and Manhattan. It’s mostly thanks to her 10 books that I know a bit about cooking Greek food.

Read the rest of this column, watch the videos, and get the recipes here and here.

Posted in Uncategorized

Tobacco, Firearms, and Food

Let’s say your beliefs include the notion that hard work will bring good things to you, that the golden rule is a nice idea though it may occasionally have limits, and that it’s more or less every person for him or herself. Your overall guiding force is not altruism, but you’re not immoral; you’re a good citizen, and you don’t break any major laws. This could describe many of us; most, maybe.

Now suppose you’re in the business of producing, marketing or selling tobacco or firearms — products known to sometimes kill others. You need not be a corporate executive or a criminal arms dealer; you might be a retailer of cigarettes, a person who sells them along with magazines, a marketer, a gun shop owner. In any case, your conscience is clear: you’re selling regulated legal products and, as long as you’re obeying the regulations, you’re doing nothing illegal. (“Wrong” is a judgment call.)

Read the rest of this column here

Posted in Uncategorized

Pâte à Choux

Screen Shot 2014-01-10 at 8.22.42 AM

A friend who almost never cooks recently made gougères — baked puff pastries with cheese. “I could not believe how easy that was,” he told me. In fact, I can’t think of anything as impressive that needs so little work.

The secret to gougères — and cream puffs, profiteroles, éclairs, even churros — is pâte à choux (paht-ah-SHOO), a dough that’s endlessly useful, shockingly uncomplicated and fast to make.

The secret to gougères — and cream puffs, profiteroles, éclairs, even churros — is pâte à choux (paht-ah-SHOO), a dough that’s endlessly useful, shockingly uncomplicated and fast to make.

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

Posted in Baking