Clams with White Wine, Sweet Corn, and Basil

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If you were to do a graph–and I’m not a graph person, so you’d have to help me out here–measuring the effort you put into a dinner vs. the pleasure you get from eating it, chances are there’d be a real corollary between the work put it in and the pleasure received (see, for example, lamb merguez with eggplant jam). Every so often, though, there’s an outlier: a recipe that’s so incredibly easy, so simple to put together, it doesn’t make sense that the results should taste as good as they do, but they do. And I’d wager that of all the recipes that fit into this tiny category, the ones at the very apex of “easy to do” and “good to eat” are recipes involving mussels and clams.

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Quick-Brined Pork Chops with Pan-Fried Cauliflower

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For the past few months, I’ve been buying kosher chicken breasts from Trader Joe’s not because I prefer kosher chicken breasts but because Trader Joe’s is underneath my gym and it’s way easier to grab chicken there than to make an extra stop on my way home. The problem with this is that kosher chicken breasts are brined in salt water and, as a result, they’ve spoiled Craig for more ethical, more sustainable chicken from our local butchers. I know this because I recently bought chicken from one of them, sprinkled it with salt, and cooked it and though Craig enjoyed it–he enjoys all of my cooking–he didn’t like it as much as the brined stuff I get much more cheaply after jogging for 60 minutes to the Footloose soundtrack. Brining, it turns out, is a powerful technique.

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Lamb Merguez with Eggplant Jam and Green Olives

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Sometimes you make dinner, and everyone nods in approval, eating pleasantly and saying, “This is very good. Nice job.” That’s most of the time. Then, every so often, you make a dinner that has people piping up a bit more enthusiastically. “Ooooh this is delicious,” they say. “Where did you get the recipe?” But only once in a blue moon you make a dinner that has people eating in stunned silence, taking their time to process the glory that is happening in their mouths, only to mutter–after a several minutes have gone by–“This is incredible.”

Ladies and gentlemen, this is that dinner.

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How To Host An Indoor Clambake

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My usual dinner party process goes like this: a day or two before a dinner party, I grab a handful of cookbooks off my towering cookbook shelf and casually thumb through them. The goal is not to frantically search for the perfect recipe, it’s to let the perfect recipe come to me. Usually that happens best when, while flipping, I meditate on who my dinner guests are going to be and, also, what foods I’m most excited to make. Which is why, on Wednesday of last week, a certain recipe from Michael Symon’s Live To Cook positively lifted itself off the page and smacked me in the face. It was a recipe for an indoor clambake and considering that I was going to be cooking for seven hungry guys for my friend John’s birthday on Friday, a more perfect recipe couldn’t have existed at that particular moment. Now all I had to do was ready myself to make it.

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Julia Moskin’s Steak with Sam Sifton’s Potatoes

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The New York Times is having a tough moment and though some are basking in the scandal, I’d rather take the Ira Glass route and turn the other way. Well not so far that I stop actually reading the Times; it’s still the paper of record, as far as I’m concerned. And though I’ve griped about the Magazine food section growing a bit stale (can’t we get a few other writers into the mix?), I still read it regularly, along with the Dining section where many of the recipes–particularly those by Melissa Clark–earn a bookmark in my browser. Last week, though, two recipes earned a bookmark in my brain; Julia Moskin’s steak recipe–which involves cooking a high-quality steak in a cast iron skillet with no fat, just salt–and Sam Sifton’s smashed potatoes, both of which I made on Sunday night for Craig who’d just arrived back from screening The Skeleton Twins at the Seattle Film Festival.

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David Lebovitz’s Caramel Pork Ribs and Garlicky Slaw

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Many moons ago, a man in Paris wrote me an e-mail and told me about his food blog with a link at the bottom. I clicked it dubiously–we food bloggers get e-mails like this all the time–only when I clicked, the blog it took me to was unusually impressive. More importantly, the man behind it wasn’t just some striving up-and-comer, he was the former pastry chef at Chez Panisse and the author of several books. His name, as you are all aware, was David Lebovitz and soon after that early exchange we became friends: I visited him in Paris, he visited me in New York. We figured out food blogging together. And then a funny thing happened: he become wildly famous. People line up around city blocks to meet him and the David who was relatively obscure ten years ago is now an international phenomenon. What’s so great about it is that David is so deserving of his success; he’s a terrific cook, yes, and a wonderful writer, but what makes people love him so much, I think, is his heart. You can feel it beating in all of his work–on his blog, in his recipes, even on Twitter–but never has it been better represented than it is in his new, absolutely stunning cookbook My Paris Kitchen. It’s the kind of cookbook you need to rush out and get right now.

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Shrimp and Grits

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Last week, I shot a little commercial for SAY Media here in my apartment and the food stylist (who ended up being my friend Brett) came with tons of ingredients and left many behind. Most significantly: a bag of shrimp.

On Saturday morning, I decided I wanted to put that shrimp to work along with a bag of very authentic grits that I picked up in Charleston, South Carolina. At first, I thought I might wing it, doing the fast technique that Chef Peter Dale taught me for my cookbook in Athens, GA (it’s a great combination of chorizo, shrimp, and arugula); but then I thought it might be fun to do a more traditional shrimp and grits, and since I was using Charleston grits I turned to the Lee Bros.

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Eggs in Tomato Sauce with Sausage and Basil

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As you probably know, by now, I’m a pasta-loving fool. My blog has 78 recipes for pasta and risotto in its archives, so you know I take my pasta-eating seriously.

Sadly, my pasta love is now at odds with my spring-time desire to get in shape. I’ve been sticking to my gym routine for two months now, and though I still eat pasta and pastries and all the other naughty P foods on weekends, I’m trying to focus on a healthier P-word during the week: protein. The challenge I made for myself was this: transform the kind of sauce you’d love to eat over pasta on a typical weeknight into a protein-rich dinner that’s every bit as satisfying but way better for your beach bod. The secret? Instead of pasta, use eggs.

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