Eating in London’s West End

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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.

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Fish Stews (with a Little Meat)

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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.

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Quinoa: Crunchier than Ever

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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.

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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

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Cooking Greek with Diane Kochilas

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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.

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Pâte à Choux

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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

Cheerios is G.M.O.-Free. Now What?

Well, a major and venerable American brand has gone and announced that it contains no genetically modified organisms (G.M.O.’s). Cheerios is G.M.O.-free! And will soon be labeled “Not Made With Genetically Modified Ingredients.”

Do we care? Should we? Is this a cynical marketing ploy or a huge deal or both? (It certainly isn’t neither.)

Without question this could be the start of something big. That it has value to Cheerios and to anti-G.M.O. activists is also undoubtedly true; the question is whether it matters to the rest of us. It does; but that doesn’t mean it’s a good thing.

Read the rest of this column here.

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Sustainable Diet Resolutions

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New Year’s resolutions tend to be big, impressive promises that we adhere to for short periods of time — that blissful stretch of January when we are starving ourselves, exercising daily and reading Proust. But, and you know this, rather than making extreme changes that last for days or weeks, we are better off with tiny ones lasting more or less forever.

Mostly, though, when it comes to diet, we are told the opposite. We have a billion-dollar industry based on fad diets and quick fixes: Eat nothing but foam packing peanuts and lemon tea, and you’ll lose 30 pounds in 30 days. Then what? Resolutions work only if we are resolute, and changes are meaningful only if they are permanent.

What follows are some of the easiest food-related resolutions you will ever make, from cooking big pots of grains and beans once a week, to buying frozen produce, to pickling things à la “Portlandia.” Committing to just a few of these, or even one, will get you moving in the right direction toward eating more plants and fewer animal products and processed foods. My suggestions are incremental, but the ease with which you can incorporate them into your normal shopping, cooking and eating routines is exactly what makes them sustainable and powerful.

Flexitarianism is about making a gradual shift, not a complete overhaul. It is a way of eating we are much more likely to stick to for the long term — which, after all, is the point of resolutions in the first place.

Get all the resolutions (with accompanying recipes) here.

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Pressure Cooking with Lorna Sass

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Not long ago, I found a piece of what I assumed was beef in the freezer. My choices were to cook it or throw it out, and because time was short — defrosting was not an option — the pressure cooker seemed the right option.

Thus began another pressure-cooker experiment. I threw the meat in, and added onion, carrots, garlic, water, cinnamon, star anise, a chile, Sichuan peppercorns, soy sauce, honey — things I knew would yield a dark, spicy sauce.

I brought the pressure up and cooked it for 40 minutes. Upon opening the pot, I saw that I’d made short ribs — how nice! I boiled off a bit of the extra liquid, and in less than an hour had produced something that normally would have taken four hours, not to mention defrosting time.

The next obvious step was to call the cookbook author Lorna Sass, a pressure-cooker maven who has always been a step or two ahead of her time. (Her “Recipes From an Ecological Kitchen,” published 20-plus years ago, was among the first mainstream vegan cookbooks, and it has not been bettered. Sadly, it’s out of print.) I needed a lesson.

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

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Gnocchi: 4 Flavors, 4 Sauces

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A phrase often used (overused, really) to describe well-made gnocchi is “light as a cloud.” It’s not an especially instructive description for a piece of real food, and for cooks hoping to try their hands at gnocchi for the first time, it can be downright daunting.

It’s true that gnocchi requires a bit of technique, but achieving that cloudlike texture — “light” is perhaps a simpler, less intimidating word — isn’t actually that difficult.

Read the rest of this article, get the recipes, and watch the video with Mario Batali here.

Posted in Italian, Recipes