March 2007

San Francisco, Open Your Golden Gate


Good people of San Francisco: I come with news. I will be arriving in your fair city, my first time since childhood, on April 13th and staying with my friend Raife (who you met in the fish post) until the 20th! That means my time has come for fresh San Fran sourdough and dinners at the Zuni Cafe, Chez Panisse and maybe, just maybe, Manresa. It also means I finally get to meet my San Francisco readers! How many of you are there? Where would you like to meet me? I’m thinking of having a meet-up on Sunday the 14th… where should we have it?

And, of course, I have to ask my knowledgeable foodie fan base: where else should I eat while I’m there? Usually these posts elicit the most helpful comments. I look forward to all your suggestions and can’t wait to meet my west coast readers in the City by the Bay!

A Pork Shoulder To Cry On (With Blue Potatoes)

In case you were boohoo-ing over my fish feast debacle from the other day, fear not. I have redeemed myself, ladies and gentlemen. All because of a trip to the farmer’s market with Diana.

On Saturday it was nice out so I said, “Let’s go to the farmer’s market.” We hopped on an N train and rode to Union Square and got out and milled around for a while. “You know my problem,” I said, “is I come to the farmer’s market but then I never know what to buy.”

Just as we were about to go home empty handed, I saw the Flying Pigs farm stand and I remembered Ed Levine talking about Flying Pigs farm at lunch the other day. “He says it’s owned by a husband and wife,” I recalled, “and they raise pigs as a hobby.” I also remember him saying the pork there was truly excellent.

Well we studied the bin of meats, all of which were quite expensive, and were about to give up when I found the pork shoulder you see above.

“Pork shoulder,” I said. “We could braise this.”

But did I have a recipe? I didn’t remember. So I did something very natural, something more people should do at farmer’s markets across the country. I asked the man behind the stand (who was not the owner) if he had a recipe for pork shoulder.

“Actually,” he said. “We do.”

He opened a drawer and pulled out a piece of paper with two pork shoulder recipes on it, both by Amanda Hesser. The recipe I liked best was for “Braised Pork Shoulder with Garlic and Thyme.” We purchased the pork shoulder and then, just before getting on the subway, we spotted a table of blue potatoes.

“Let’s get blue potatoes,” said Diana. “We need something to serve with the pork.”

So we bought them also and headed home.

Once Upon A Sausage: Lunch with Elise & The Serious Eats Team at Biricchino

Elise Bauer of Simply Recipes has been reading this blog from the very beginning. She championed me on her site, way back when, and the hits came pouring in. Ever since, I’ve considered her this blog’s favorite aunt. And yet she’s been an estranged aunt: until last week, I’d never met her. But then she came to New York and invited me to join her and the Serious Eats team for lunch. We met at the Serious Eats offices and after leaping into each other’s arms, we entered a serious discussion about where we were going to eat. Ed Levine mentioned Biricchino, the restaurant half of Salumi Biellese, one of the most prominent purveyors of sausage in the United States.

“Sold!” I said and Elise said “Sold!” too which was a little awkward because I said it first and then we were out the door with Ed, Adam, Alaina and Elise ready to scarf down sausages like that woman in the Howard Stern Movie.

Fooled By Fat (The Buttery Contessa)

You who are wise and who read this blog will know whose recipe requires the following ingredients:

That’s six sticks of butter and two packets of cream cheese. Who else could it be? There was a profile about her last week in the New York Times. Yes, it’s everyone’s favorite Contessa–the Barefoot Contessa, Ina Garten–and these are the ingredients required for her famous coconut cupcakes. The cupcakes came out great, as you can see here:


But people couldn’t believe how much butter went in them. “Six sticks!” said Craig, after Raife and Alex consumed five cupcakes between them. “Six sticks of butter!”

(For the record: that’s three sticks in the batter, three sticks in the icing.)

The article mentioned that people attack Ina for her weight and I’m not here to talk about how much Ina weighs, but it is remarkable how much fat Ina uses in her recipes. On one hand I really admire her for it: while the rest of the world is Atkins-ing and South Beach-ing, Ina’s having a butter party on her Hamptons estate. On the other hand, though, watching her on TV I sometimes want to scream out: don’t you ever cook anything that doesn’t require a cardiologist? Not every recipe needs a gallon of fat to make it taste good. Why is Ina so undisciplined in the fat department? I have an answer and you will find it in the next paragraph.

One word: caterer. Think about it. Ina worked as a caterer at the start of her career and when you’re catering a party or event you don’t care about health, you care about umph. You want people to groan with pleasure as they eat your coconut cupcakes and vow to hire you for their son’s Bar Mitzvah, wedding, and funeral (all of which, if they keep eating your food, may happen at the same time.) Ina knows that fat makes food taste good so she uses lots of it. Lots and lots of it.

It’s a business decision. It sells cookbooks because people see your recipes on TV, they try them, and they come out great and they buy your books and call you a genius. Hell: that’s exactly what I did when I started this blog; The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook is the most used cookbook on my shelf. I love it. But I’m starting to realize a Barefoot Contessa diet is unsustainable, unless I want to go to an early grave.

Am I exaggerating? Let me whip out her book and go through it recipe by recipe to see how much fat there is. Ok, her roasted eggplant spread has only 3 Tbs olive oil, her lobster salad had 1/2 cup of mayonnaise, her crab cakes have 4 Tbs of butter and olive oil plus 1/2 cup mayonaisse and 2-extra large eggs.

Maybe that’s not so bad. That seems reasonable, normal proportions for those recipes. But then we get to her pan-fried onion dip: 4 Tbs butter, 1/4 cup vegetable oil, 4 ounces cream cheese, 1/2 cup sour cream and 1/2 cup mayonnaise. Jeesh! Her sun-dried tomato dip: 8 oz cream cheese, 1/2 cup sour cream, 1/2 cup mayonnaise.

Her cheddar corn chowder has 8 oz. bacon, 1/4 cup olive oil, and 2 cups of half and half plus 1/2 pound sharp white Cheddar cheese.

Are you getting the picture?

Sure there are healthy recipes scattered around–fat-free gazpacho, for example–but those aren’t the ones you’re going to make. You’re going to make her outrageous brownies which have 1 POUND of butter and 1 POUND of chocolate. Or her pecan squares which (oh my God, I never even noticed how much fat there is in this recipe) have 1 1/4 pounds butter in the crust and 1 pound of butter in the topping. No wonder I’ve been cooking these recipes for so long: I’ve been fooled by fat.

Look, I don’t begrudge Ina her old catering habits. They work. They make food taste good and that’s a great way to get people cooking. But now that I’ve been cooking for three years I need to cook things that I can eat every day. Curried cous cous salad? That’s ok. But lamb sausage in puff pastry? I’ll save that for my last rights. And I’ll eat that along with her lobster pot pie, which has 8 Tbs of butter and 8 Tbs of lard in the crust.

Today I saw Heidi Swanson’s beautiful new cookbook, Super Natural Cooking at Barnes & Noble and I’m ready for it to change my life. Only there are two cakes cooling right now in my kitchen. They’re filled with lemon zest and sugar and buttermilk and, oh yeah, two sticks of butter.

Oh, Ina, you’ve got me wrapped around your bejeweled little finger. You lured me in with fat and now I never want to leave.

A Fishy Feast

Alex and Raife are friends from college who came to stay with me last week. On the phone, the day before they came, Alex said, “Adam, my sister Lizzie wants to know if she gives you $10, will you cook us dinner?”

“No $10 necessary,” I said. “I was going to cook for you anyway!”

Here’s Alex, Raife, Lizzie and Diana gathered around the table consuming the meal I made the night they arrived:

It took me a long time to come up with what I’d cook and, unfortunately, I’m not sure it was a smashing success. The theme of the night was: fish stew.

I’d never made a fish stew. Alex eats fish and chicken but no pork or meat and so my options were limited. For a long time I’ve wanted to make a fish soup kind of dish. Not a bouillabaisse, necessarily; just something with lots of fish–shrimp, mussels, etc. I opened my River Cafe Cookbook by Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers and there it was: the simplest fish soup recipe I’ve ever seen. Too simple, actually. But you’ll see in a moment.


Yesterday I had lunch at popular Park Slope lunch spot and I wanted water. I have a cold and I was feeling dehydrated. So when the waiter brought the menu I asked for water and he said, “Sure.” A few minutes passed and no water came. Another waiter walked by me and as I was getting thirstier and thirstier I asked him if I could have some water. “No problem,” he said. Minutes passed. Then the first waiter came to take my order. I ordered my sandwich (ham, brie, apple and mustard: yum!) and asked again, as politely as I could, for water. A few minutes later it came, but only after he brought food out to another couple and took another table’s order.

I’ve had this happen in other restaurants too. Tap water earns the restaurant no money, it earns the waiter no greater tip. Sure, a server wants to make a good impression on the customer but somehow when a customer orders tap water there’s a always a sense of disappointment. I’ve had very aggressive servers in the past ask, repeatedly, if I was sure I didn’t want anything else to drink. Selling drinks accounts for a huge bulk of a server’s tip, so I understand the motivation, but at the same time if somebody only wants water you should bring them water. And usually that happens, but yesterday was the exception.

A good solution is the one that they use at Mary’s Fish Camp, right across the street from where I was yesterday. They bring a large glass bottle of tap water over to the table and two empty glasses so you have at least six glasses of water right there in front of you at the start of your meal. You don’t have to ask for it: the host or hostess just puts it on the table when you sit. More and more, I notice restaurants doing this and it’s a good idea. It saves the waiters time, it saves the customer the embarrassment of having to ask repeatedly for tap water.

In conclusion, many people are thirsty in this world and water helps to quench that thirst. If you own a restaurant, give your customers water. We’ll be very grateful and maybe we’ll even order dessert.

The Death of Wine Glass #4

Paparazzi were quick on the scene when Craig, who previously blamed my cleaning brush for his tendency to break my wine glasses, clumsily knocked another one over Monday night, bringing his broken wine glass record to 4.


This most recent wine glass disaster came after a generous wine glass donation from site reader and dear friend Lisa G. who, knowing it was my birthday, bought me a set of wine glasses to replace the ones Craig broke. Unfortunately, this most recent wine glass casualty was from the new set. It is survived by five very nervous wine glasses.

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