July 2008

Reader Mail: Knives, Books, Spotted Pig Prices, Food Allergies, and A Visit From San Francisco

We’ve got lots of questions from readers this week, so let’s get started.

The first is a series of five questions from Vickie.

Hi Adam! AG is a real inspiration for me–I’ve tried a number of your recommended recipes. I have some questions for you, and I hope to hear back from you about them!

Lunch with Jon Robin Baitz at Brooklyn Fish Camp

Jon Robin Baitz is the Pulitzer-prize nominated playwright of such plays as “The Substance of Fire (which starred a young Sarah Jessica Parker), “The Film Society” (which starred a young Nathan Lane), “Three Hotels,” “A Fair Country,” and, most recently, “The Paris Letter.” You may know him better, though, as the creator of the hit ABC show, “Brothers and Sisters.” My grandmother watches that show religiously and, to her, Jon Robin Baitz is something of a god.

Which is why, a few weeks ago, I was a bit startled to see that a god subscribed to my blog. Well, actually, I wasn’t sure. You see the form above where you enter your e-mail address? To make that work, I use a program called Feedblitz. And every so often I visit Feedblitz to see who’s signed up: I’m often surprsied by the names I find–hey, didn’t I go to school with him? Didn’t he beat me up?–and I was doubly surprised to see the name Jon Robin Baitz right there as the most recently subscribed.

Here’s where I took a risk: I decided to e-mail this Jon Robin Baitz to see if he was the famous writer Jon Robin Baitz. Who knows, maybe there are thousands of Jon Robin Baitzes in this world, all from the same unoriginal parents? I wrote a simple message: “Are you the writer and did you just subscribe to my blog? If so, I’m incredibly flattered!” A few minutes later a response came: “I am the writer, yep, but more than that; I love your blog, so much, and your book, and I am a Brooklynite, and you are a tonic.”

Spaghetti Carbonara For Beginners

I frequently have to remind myself that there was a time when any exotic-sounding, technique-heavy recipe would fill me with terror. Cook the pasta until al dente? How will I know when it’s al dente? Toast the garlic until golden brown? What’s golden brown? How’s that different from brown brown?

And by facing my fears head on, tackling recipe after recipe, the fear is gone and now I love to cook. But I remind myself of my old fears because I imagine there are many among you who experience similar fears: “Me? Make spaghetti carbonara? Oh no, I couldn’t. Me? Little old me?”

But spaghetti carbonara is a good recipe for beginners because the payoff is huge and the techniques required are basic and quickly learnable. Here, let me prove it.

Behind The Scenes of “The Next Food Network Star” Finale

The manufactured excitement of a reality show finale is both exhilarating and depressing. Exhilarating because, in the world of this show, one person will rise above the rest and have themselves declared the winner. Depressing because, in a few hours, the whole set will be swept away, memories of all the other contestants will vanish, and the winner will have a few weeks to sink or swim and if they sink, they’ll vanish too.

Mostly, I was exhilarated to be there behind the scenes of “The Next Food Network Star” finale. The atmosphere was both tense and spirited; family members nervously awaited the results. I met Adam’s parents, who reminded me much of mine; I met Aaron’s wife and sister (who you see in the video) and I met Lisa’s husband and son. Barbara Fairchild from Bon Apetit was there, as was a large cluster of Food Network executives standing anxiously behind a large black curtain. It was there, in fact, that I finally met the president of the Food Network herself, Brooke Johnson, who, after being introduced to me, said–with a tiny bit of threat in her voice: “You’re not going to blog about this, are you?”

She meant that I wouldn’t reveal the winner on my blog before the winner was revealed on-air. (Maybe she should’ve gotten that message through to her own web team!)

The depressing part came in the green room, where the eliminated contestants clustered around sad platters of cupcakes and supermarket fruit. What becomes of an eliminated reality show star? Each had a plan of action–Kevin has a cookbook and a radio show; Shane may join the peace corps; Corey has her stand-up–while others, like Kelsey, truly seemed wounded. In fact, later, when they were lined up to go on camera one last time, many in the group were consoling Kelsey because she was having a really hard time of it. Maybe because she’s friends with my friend Kirk’s sister, my heart went out to her. But something tells me she’s going to be ok.

When the big moment came, and Aaron won, you could tell his was the best story: his wife and sister were ecstatic, as were the executives. Aaron himself was deliriously happy–look how happy he is to greet me!–and yet it’s a testament to the soul-crushing power of TV production that just a few weeks later, on the set of his new show, Aaron was so much less jolly, so much less jovial. It’s like a kid with a brand new toy the day he gets the toy and then seeing him with it a few weeks later:

Still, I think Aaron was the right pick. I haven’t seen his new show yet, but there’s something about him that’s instantly likable, instantly relatable. Plus his food always looks fantastic. So congrats to Aaron and all the other finalists; it was fun to meet you all.

And what about you, readers? Did you think Aaron was the right pick? Who did you think would go all the way?

Two Summery Meals

Here are two meals you can make this weekend: one, a meal of farmer’s market goodies that are seasonal and good for you and good for the planet and the farmers, and the second a crowd-pleaser from your local grocery store that isn’t good for you or the planet but boy is it good and easy to make. Let’s start with the angel on your shoulder meal:

There on the plate you’ll see vegetables–sugar snap peas, beets and radishes. You’ll also see a Parker House roll (from the post below this). What I liked about this meal was that, even though it was a meal of just vegetables, it wasn’t punishing in any way. After washing and peeling the snap peas, I took butter–a few tablespoons–and cooked it in a skillet until it turned a toasty brown (make sure it doesn’t burn!) and then I added the peas and tossed them around until they were coated. I sprinkled them with salt and pepper and after a few minutes (and tasting one to see that it was just cooked enough) I put it on the plate. The beets were prepared with the knowledge that raw beets are better for you than cooked beets, so I peeled them and cut them thinly into strips and tossed with a simple vinaigrette of mustard, red wine vinegar and olive oil. And they were fantastic–I think I like beets better raw, now, than cooked!

So that was a relatively healthy dinner, rounded out by the rolls which helped fill us up. On the flip side was this:


This is a meal I hope all of you make at some point this summer. It’s like an instant picnic, and even if you eat it at home after a long day of work (as Craig did having come home from a full day of teaching high schoolers how to make movies) it transports you instantly to a sunny bench in the park.

The components are simple: fried chicken, biscuits, and watermelon feta salad. All of these are recipes I’ve posted on the blog before. For the fried chicken recipe click here; for the biscuits click here; for the watermelon/feta click here. It’s guaranteed to please a crowd or just a grateful significant other. And you’ll really impress if you serve the biscuits with your homemade red currant jam, as I did:


We’re eating well this summer, aren’t we? Let me know if you give any of this a try….

From The Desk of The A.G. (A Day of Letters)

Dear Craig Claiborne,

I am greatly enjoying your somewhat notorious autobiography, “A Feast Made For Laughter.” Sure, it’s a little creepy when you talk about touching your dad’s erect penis while sharing a bed, but I appreciate your zeal for people and food. Case in point: early in the book, you tell a story involving Parker House rolls. Your brother passes you a basket of them and instead of taking the basket from him, you start to reach your hand in and take one out and your brother, appalled, drops the basket to the floor saying: “When anyone passes you a basket of bread, you take the basket. Or at least you touch it as a gesture of thoughtfulness.”

This passage amused me because it’s a good story, but mostly it made me hungry–hungry for Parker House rolls. I cracked open “The Joy of Cooking” and found the most basic recipe in the world; a recipe that required only yeast, butter, flour, sugar, salt and milk. I’d write out the recipe here, but it’s so standard any internet search will suffice. And those rolls–which took a few hours to rise–were quaint and comforting, the kind of food you want an American food icon to eat. Thank you for inspiring me to make them; I look forward to the rest of your book.

Lunch with Regina Schrambling at The New French

“I think people are afraid of me,” said Regina Schrambling, creator of the web site Gastropoda, a site where she skewers food world personalities with loving names like “The Porcine Pantload,” “The Human Scratch n’ Match,” and “The Drivelist.” (I’m lucky I got away with “The Tyro” and now “The-Not-So-Tyro-Anymore.”) To say that she writes with a poisoned pen would be a profound understatement; her prose is prickly and pointed, she’s merciless in her attack of hypocrisy, idiocy, and corruption in the food world.

Normally, to be polite, I’d say, “No, they’re not afraid of you.” But there, over lunch at The New French in The West Village, I had to concur. “Yes,” I said. “I think people probably are afraid–though didn’t you once refer to yourself as having retractable fangs?”

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