A Menu for December (Parsnip Soup, Beef and Mushroom Stew, Ginger Cake)


We got a tree, a Christmas tree, and it’s my first one–Rabbi Schlomo, plug your ears–and it’s making our apartment seem so festive. Somehow I thought getting a tree would be a big ordeal: with the lights and the stand and the balls and the baubles. But, actually, it was a totally easy process. On the advice of my friend John, we went to the Target in Eagle Rock where we stocked up on all the tree necessities (a tree skirt, to attract male trees; lights, balls, etc.) and then we bought a tree right outside at a pop-up tree farm. The tree came on a stand so we just carried it through the door, stood it up, and started wiring the lights. Voila. Now all we had to do was to have people over to enjoy the tree, which is why I spent some time figuring out the perfect December menu.

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Lebanese Chickpea Stew


The first post of 2013 has to be a winner–that’s a rule–and so it’s a huge relief to share with you a dish that I made for dinner the other night that’s such a winner, it portends very good things for the year to come.

I’m at the point now where I can read a recipe and I’ll know, pretty quickly, if it’ll be something that I’ll like or not. There has to be an X-factor, something sexy about it that intrigues me, that makes me go “Heavens to Betsy! What a good idea.” This Lebanese Chickpea Stew, which I found on BonAppetit.com, had that “Heavens to Betsy” quality I look for.

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Dijon and Cognac Beef Stew


Cooking out of season is a little more acceptable on the west coast, where seasons are peripheral. Yes, it got a little chilly out here in L.A. in January and February; I was wearing long sleeves in March, but life didn’t change the way life changes so dramatically when it gets cold back east.

So why not make beef stew in June? That was my philosophy when I unpacked Amanda Hesser’s mammoth New York Times Cookbook and discovered a recipe by that most fabulously ferocious food writer, Regina Schrambling, for Dijon and Cognac Beef Stew.

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The Best Chili of Your Life


If Craig had his way, this post wouldn’t have this title. I just asked him, “Would you call the chili I made the other day the best of your life?” And he answered: “I don’t even think of it as chili because there weren’t any beans; just lots of meat and stuff. But it was certainly delicious.”

Luckily, when my friend Diana ate it, she said the words that justify this post’s title. “This is seriously the best chili I’ve ever had.”

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This chicken chili is pretty good.

This chicken chili is pretty good. I’m not wild about it. You won’t see any exclamation marks in this post.


It comes from Barefoot Contessa: Parties. I am wild about the Barefoot Contessa. I will give her three exclamation marks: !!!

But this chili is a little soupy and a little ridiculous in that her recipe feeds 12, so halving it feeds 6. That’s ridiculous!

With that said, it lacks that certain snap and excitmenet of real, meaty chili. Maybe this isn’t a critique of Contessa chicken chili, but chicken chili in general.

Contessa chicken chili has onions, peppers, and garlic:


There is also a bevy of spices, but not too big a bevy (which is why it maybe lacked punch?):


Let’s see there’s cumin, and chili powder, and cayenne pepper, and red pepper flakes, and salt. (I feel like that lady with the magic mirror on Romper Room.)

The Contessa has you roast chicken breasts with bones in and skin on in a 350 degree oven:


I think they came out really pretty but now that I think about it, I think this step is a waste of time. Just buy an already roasted chicken—it’s cheaper and saves you time. You’re just pulling the skin off and using the meat. (Or, if you’re me, you nibble at the skin, feel guilty, and nibble some more.)

And that’s it. The chili tastes good and bright and fresh. (I think “bright” is the nicest word you can use to describe it.) It definitely benefits by the addition of sour cream (see lead photo) and the use of tortilla chips to eat the chili with. And it’s healthy—let’s give it that. I mean, it has only 1/4 cup of olive oil in it and that’s the only fat. Plus I will eat it for the next few days and still have more to freeze. So these are all nice things about this chili. In fact, I will end with an exclamation mark.



Remember when you were kid, there were always these toys that looked amazing on the box—like this rock tumbler I used to pine for at Toys R’ Us (yes, I was the kid who pined for a rock tumbler)–and when you got it home and took it out you thought it would be as easy as pie to tumble rocks, only there were all these complicated pieces and dad had to put it together and by the time he did you were bored and you didn’t want to tumble rocks anymore?

Well my new camera isn’t like that. I still love my new camera. My new camera took this picture of Kadjemoula tonight (which I will get to in a moment). As far as food porn goes, I think this is centerfold worthy: (click to enlarge)


God, I love that picture (even though it’s a little off-center). That picture makes me pat myself on the back and say, “Back–aren’t you glad your front decided to get the camera that you got?” I’m the love child of Annie Lebowitz and James Beard! (The Kadjemoula is a James Beard recipe.)

But back to the rock tumbler for a moment. The frustrated child with new toy syndrome concerns Adobe Photoshop and iPhoto. The last hour was spent formatting the pictures in Photoshop (adjusting levels, colors and contrast) only to have iPhoto not recognize the changes. So I couldn’t post, as I usually do, all the refurbished images to my .mac homepage and so I can’t punctuate this post with pictures like I usually do. I mean, eventually I’ll figure it out. But it was all…going…so…slowly. And at least you got to see my centerfold Kadjemoula pic.

So what is Kadjemoula? It is North African Lamb and Beef Stew. The recipe comes from (come on, come on…can you guess it? I threw it in my bag today? Yes, of course, Amanda Hesser–because paperback cookbooks are easily portable and easily portable is to cookbooks what location is to real estate in my little world) Cooking For Mr. Latte as adapted from The New James Beard by James Andrews Beard.

I like the concept of this recipe. It’s beef and lamb but the spices are cinnamon and ginger and pepper and there’s dried prunes and apricots in it too. What’s that you say? You want to see a picture of the apricots? FINE, FINE…I’LL WASTE VALUABLE TYPEPAD SPACE AND POST THIS PICTURE OF DRIED APRICOTS LIKE YOU HAVEN’T SEEN DRIED APRICOTS BEFORE. (Actually, these are dried Turkish apricots so they’re way special. I bought them from Whole Foods.*) (*And can we just talk about, for a second, how long the line was at Whole Foods tonight? IT WAS ENORMOUS. Seriously, it snaked all the way around the store. It was 15 minutes long. It’s madness, I tell you, madness!)


So all of this goes in a large pot and after browning the meat (which has been coated with flour in a plastic bag) it stews for 2 hours while you make important phonecalls. When time’s getting close you can make cous cous to soak up the juices. I highly recommend this. Do you really need to see the cous cous? You REALLY need to see it? YOU ARE SO PUSHY.


I really enjoyed this stew. Once again, like with my Beef Bourguignon, the beef wasn’t so flavorful. (The lamb was flavorful, but not the beef). But Amanda never tells you to season the beef, so I can only think I didn’t brown it enough. But Amanda says, “Brown it quickly” so maybe it’s not that. The sauce, though–the broth, rather–makes the not so salty beef forgivable. And how often do you make North African stews? I’d imagine not often. So whip out your Cooking For Mr. Latte and make this sometime. It won’t disappoint. It ain’t no rock tumbler.

Getting in Touch with my ROOT Vegetables; A Disappointing Stew

Tom Valenti’s “One-Pot Meals” seemed the perfect companion to my new Le Crueset. Here was the ultimate one-pot and how exciting to cook his “one-pot” recipes in it.

After the latke episode last night, Lisa and I were hungry something substantive. So we made Valenti’s root vegetable stew with cumin, coriander and millet. Except I couldn’t find millet. (And that, I think, proved disasterous.)

Root vegetables. What are they? Well there’s carrot. Onion. Celeriac (that went into our latkes, but not our stew–even though it could have gone into the stew.)

Also, though, parsnips:




Parsnips and turnips are new to me. I’ve never cooked with them before–never purchased them from the store. They added a great textural component to the finished dish and would have been perfect had I not oversalted them.

And boy did I oversalt everything. I should be fined for a salt and battery (rimshot!) but seriously folks. Check out the veggies in the pot:


Valenti says “add salt and pepper.” I said to Lisa: “I never add enough salt.” So I added moundfuls. Big mistake!

Anyway, these cooked down. Tomatoes and tomato paste were added.


This cooked down to this:


Then we added cumin (which Lisa said smelled like “body odor”), coriander and MORE salt. Ugh–so much salt. Salt salt salt salt. (This is why we taste things as we go.) We added 1.5 qts of vegetable broth using a technique borrowed from “Die Hard 3”: trying to figure out what was 1.5 qts using 2 one-quart boxes of broth. Lisa proved a genius.

And anyway, so everything cooked together–Lisa went to see “Ocean’s 12” (her timing was suspiciously perfect for escape)–and I was left to taste it. It tasted salty. But beyond that, it tasted interesting. The root vegetables added heft. The broth was ok. I would NEVER make this again. But there you have it. Another stew, another dream–down the tubes.

NOTE: After rereading this, I see I forgot to mention the millet again. Millet is a grain that Valenti talks up in the recipe description–says it adds great texture and thickens everything. So maybe the lack of millet made this dish crappy. If anyone cooks it with the millet (and much less salt) let me know how it turns out.