Lunch at Bottega in Birmingham, Alabama

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One meal. ONE MEAL. That’s all I really had time for when I went to Birmingham, Alabama this past weekend for Food Blog South. I got in late Friday night, spoke Saturday morning, had time for lunch (my ONE MEAL) then had the keynote, book-signing and after party to attend that night before flying back to L.A. the next morning.

I polled folks on Twitter and received many terrific suggestions; unfortunately, most of them were closed for lunch. Hot and Hot Fish Club: closed for lunch. Chez Fonfon: closed for lunch (at least on Saturdays). One suggestion, though, wasn’t only open for lunch, it seemed to be walking distance (more on that in a second) from my hotel. I settled upon Frank Stitt’s celebrated restaurant, Bottega.

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10 Food Blog Posts That’ll Get You Traffic

This past weekend I gave a lecture at Food Blog South in Birmingham, Alabama. The title of my speech was “10 Food Blog Posts That’ll Get You Traffic” and though I was slightly nervous going in–this was my first time both attending and speaking at a food blog conference–I felt validated, after it was over, by the many people who thanked me for my presentation. Turns out, after nine years of food blogging, I have something to say on the subject. What follows, then, is basically the speech that I gave with images thrown in for good measure (I didn’t use PowerPoint when I spoke, so everyone just had to look at me and my colorful shoes). Hopefully the food bloggers among you will find this helpful.

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Broccoli Cheddar Casserole with Homemade Cream of Mushroom Soup

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Eating paste has a special allure, when you’re a kid. First off, there’s the smell, which is chemical and funky. Then there’s the texture, the main pleasure behind eating paste, a texture like white peanut butter, but thicker, barely spreadable with the little wooden stick you dab into the jar. I’m not sure that I ate a lot of paste as a kid (though I was definitely a kid of whom people probably said, “He eats a lot of paste”) but I do believe I’ve found the adult corollary: canned cream of mushroom soup.

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Uncle Jerry and Joe Turkel at Fromin’s Deli

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And now a funny story from L.A.

For his birthday, I decided to take my 91 year-old Uncle Jerry out for lunch to his favorite spot, Fromin’s Deli in Santa Monica. It’s a pretty traditional deli with lots of character: salty waitresses, corned beef sandwiches, black and white cookies at the register. We were sitting at a table near the front, despite the fact that Uncle Jerry would’ve preferred a booth (there was a wait), and chatting about Craig’s movie and, later, Uncle Jerry’s experiences in World War II. As we were getting up to go, the man next to us said, “You’re leaving? I feel like I know you guys. You’re talking about the film industry, and you, you’re talking about the war.”

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In Praise of Chopped

With The Taste launching on ABC and Top Chef enjoying its 74th season, I’d like to offer up a radical idea: the best cooking competition show on TV is Chopped.

These other cooking shows, with their high-stakes drama and interpersonal conflicts, are 30% cooking, 70% fluff. Chopped is 90% cooking, 10% fluff. Iron Chef comes the closest to that ratio, but Iron Chef insists on a level of theatrics (see: The Chairman) that detracts from the show’s authenticity. Chopped has a format that couldn’t be more straightforward. Round one: four contestants make an appetizer from a mystery basket, one is eliminated. Round two: the remaining three make an entree from a mystery basket, one is eliminated. In the final round, the remaining two duke it out over dessert.

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Brittany Cake Aux Pruneaux

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The Neverending Story was one of my favorite childhood movies. I loved the back and forth between Sebastian eating his peanut butter and jelly sandwich in the attic of his school and young Atreyu on his white horse (well, not for long…Artax!) journeying to kill The Nothing. Mostly, though, I loved the idea of this dusty old book, discovered in a hidden-away book shop, that teleports our young hero to another world. I felt the same way, the other day, making a dessert from a cookbook I bought at Bonnie Slotnick’s in the West Village.

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Daube de Boeuf (Beef Braised in Red Wine)

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It’s inauguration day and also Martin Luther King Day and here I am sharing a French recipe. Before you label me a communist, I hope you know this is entirely coincidental. On Friday, I made dinner for a few friends and while thumbing through my cookbooks searching for an entree, the dish that really caught my eye was a recipe for Daube de Boeuf from Saveur Cooks Authentic French. Unlike Boeuf Bourguignon, Daube de Boeuf doesn’t ask you to render bacon or to cook pearl onions and mushrooms separately; here, you just brown beef in butter and olive oil, add your mirepoix (onions, carrots, celery), garlic, and a good, bold red wine. Two hours later you add dried porcinis and their soaking liquid and the rest takes care of itself.

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New York Brunches at Allswell and Calliope

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When I lived in New York, I swore off brunch. “Brunch is for idiots!” I declared. “You wait forever, you spend a fortune, and for what? Food you can make just as good at home for way less money.”

That’s why there are so many entries on my Breakfast Recipes page: I mostly make brunch at home. But while in New York, this last time around, I ate two brunches so good, they put me in my place. I couldn’t make food THAT good at home.

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