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It looks like spring, smells like spring, feels like spring. And now that local farm stands are proudly displaying the first asparagus of the season, it really is spring. I busted loose at Latham’s, run by a family that has farmed this part of the North Fork of Long Island for generations. All that separates the sturdy butter-yellow structure from Orient Harbor is a long, broad, gently sloping field, and every time I pull off the road there, I’m reminded of just how rare maritime farmland is in this part of the world.

I’m also reminded of what true luxury is: the chance to buy asparagus that was picked an hour or so ago, then going home to fix it for lunch. I was in such a hurry, I didn’t even cook it.

Instead, I made the salad below. The recipe is from The Zuni Cafe Cookbook, by the late influential San Francisco chef Judy Rodgers and tweaked (in order to serve six) for the March 2002 issue of Gourmet. Rodgers used lamb’s lettuce (a.k.a. mâche), but any soft, tender butterhead lettuce will do the trick. Use fleshy jumbo asparagus, she advises, and the purple variety if you can find it; since it’s served raw, it will retain its color. “You may be surprised to learn that the stem of any spear of asparagus is sweeter than the tip, especially raw,” she wrote. “So trim off the pretty tips and save them for risotto, or pasta.” Nice in an omelet or stir-fry, too.

“By itself, this spring salad makes a good first course,” Rodgers added. “It is delicious and lovely piled in a small mound on thinly sliced prosciutto.” And how.

I picked out the largest spears from my haul for one of the most immediately gratifying lunches ever, and saved their tips as well as the slender spears for another meal. Which was dinner.

Lettuce with Raw Asparagus, Pistachios, & Parmigiano-Reggiano

Adapted from The Zuni Cafe Cookbook, by Judy Rodgers, with thanks to Gourmet 

Serves 6

2 tablespoons shelled unsalted pistachios

¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon Champagne vinegar or white-wine vinegar

Coarse salt

6 very fresh jumbo asparagus spears (or the largest you can find; about 9 ounces), trimmed

3 ounces lamb’s lettuce (mâche), trimmed, or butterhead lettuce leaves, torn into bite-size pieces (about 12 cups)

An enjoyable amount of Parmigiano-Reggiano shavings (use a vegetable peeler)

1. Preheat the oven to 350º. Warm the pistachios on a baking sheet 2 to 3 minutes to intensify their flavor, then coarsely chop.

2. Whisk together the oil, vinegar, and salt to taste.

3. Cut the tips from the asparagus and reserve for another use. Starting at the tip end, cut asparagus into very thin (about 1/8-inch-thick) slices on a long diagonal.

4. Gently toss the lettuce with the asparagus, pistachios, and just enough vinaigrette to coat, then season salad with salt and pepper. Top with the Parmigiano shavings and devour immediately.



blog-mimi sheraton

I wish I could say that 1,000 Foods To Eat Before You Die: A Food Lover’s Life List, the latest book by journalist, restaurant critic, and national treasure Mimi Sheraton, was the sort of thing I kept next to the bed, for dipping into last thing at night.

But it makes me too hungry. I end up in the kitchen at midnight, eating scrambled eggs when what I really want is arista alla fiorentina—the rosemary-scented roast pork of Tuscany—or schokoladen topfenpalatschinken—tender, airy cheese-filled crêpes draped with chocolate sauce—or an order of dan-dan noodles from Wu Liang Ye, if the place weren’t already closed for the night. No, I prefer devouring the book in big greedy chunks, like a novel, and on a lazy weekend, when there’s time to shop and cook, or book a table or—what the hell—a plane ticket.

1,000 Foods is global in scope, divided by cuisine and encompassing the humble and haute, the familiar and exotic. Each entry comes with rich crumbles of context as well as useful information about where to find the dish or ingredient, and perhaps a recipe or bibliographic note. What elevates it from an idiosyncratic jumble to a vast, original mosaic of flavors is Sheraton’s flair and discernment—six decades’ worth. I can’t think of anyone else who could have written this book.

I had the chance to hear Sheraton talk about the book and much more in an interview with Dan Pashman, host of WNYC’s podcast The Sporkful, at last weekend’s Food Book Fair, in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. A number of the Bright Young Foodies in the audience didn’t seem to know who Mimi Sheraton was, exactly, but by the end of the session, they were virtually sitting at her feet. As well they should.

Sheraton’s conversation, like her writing, is fresh, funny, direct, and free of pretension, condescension, or the I’m-an-insider-and-you’re-not tone that creeps into too much food writing (and too many panel discussions) these days. Her thoughts on the effort, knowledge, pondering, and overall discipline it takes to evaluate food (“I was once in a car with 104 pastrami and corned beef sandwiches”) took me back to my years at Gourmet, where assessing six different chocolate cakes before breakfast, for instance, or one-bite-and-pass-the-plate research dinners were part of the job, and an ongoing education. “It doesn’t matter if you are in the mood or not, if you’re a professional,” Sheraton tried to explain. She’s a self-described “bestavore,” interested in the finest of a food’s type—the benchmark—no matter where it comes from. In another life, she would have been a superb dog-show judge.

1,000 Foods was supposed to be done in two years, but instead took almost ten. I can believe it. Having worked on two big Gourmet compilations—The Gourmet Cookbook and Gourmet Today—I’m sure Sheraton’s selection process was fraught. Her big regret is that one of her favorite comfort foods in the world, Sichuan ma-po tofu, got lost in the shuffle. She just plain forgot to write the dratted thing, and the oversight wasn’t discovered until the book was almost in bound galleys. Just typing that last sentence gave me the wobblies.

You never know, ma-po tofu could be the subject of Sheraton’s next book, or the impetus for 1,000 More Foods to Eat Before You Die. Or dinner.

Now to a recipe for the spicy classic, and its backstory. Ma-po tofu is supposedly named for the pockmarked (ma) old woman (po) who created the dish for her husband’s restaurant. The recipe below is from a piece called “A Journey of 1,000 Dishes” (yes, really) by Margy Rochlin; it appeared in the June 2000 issue of Gourmet. Margy’s spectacular eating tour of China was led by Chinese authority Barbara Tropp, who had made a version of the dish for years. At culinary school in Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province, Tropp learned the technique of poaching the tofu before stir-frying to freshen and tenderize it.

The quality of Asian ingredients varies from brand to brand. Tropp, who died in 2001, felt that the specific ones mentioned in the recipe give the right flavor to the dish. And you may be interested in the fact that aromatic, tongue-tingling Sichuan peppercorns aren’t true peppercorns, which are harvested from the Piper nigrum vine, but are related to the Japanese spice sansho, which is sometimes labeled “Japanese pepper.” Both spices are made from the dried fruits of prickly ash trees (Zanthoxylum simulans and Z. piperitum).

Ma-Po Tofu à la Barbara Tropp

From the June 2000 issue of Gourmet 

Serves 3 or 4 (main course)

For sauce

¾ cup chicken broth

2 tablespoons Chinese hot bean paste, preferably Szechuan brand

2 tablespoons soy sauce, preferably Kikkoman regular or Pearl River Bridge dark (black or mushroom)

Kosher salt, preferably Diamond Crystal, to taste

For tofu

1 pound regular or soft (not silken) tofu, drained and cut into ½-inch cubes

1½ to 2 tablespoons corn, peanut, or canola oil

½ pound ground pork shoulder, preferably 75% lean

4 teaspoons finely minced garlic

4 teaspoons finely minced peeled fresh ginger

1 tablespoon cornstarch, dissolved in 2 tablespoons water

1½ teaspoons pure roasted sesame oil, preferably Kadoya brand

½ to 1 teaspoon Toasted Sichuan Peppercorn Powder (see below), or ½ teaspoon sansho plus 1/8 to ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

3 tablespoons thinly sliced scallions

Accompaniment: cooked rice

1. Make the sauce: Stir together broth, bean paste, soy sauce, and salt in a small bowl.

2. Poach the tofu and cook the pork: Slide tofu into a saucepan of simmering water and keep at a bare simmer. While it’s simmering, heat a wok or large heavy skillet over high heat until hot. Add 1½ tablespoons corn oil, swirling to coat. Add pork and stir-fry, breaking up limps and adding remaining ½ tablespoon corn oil if meat sticks, until no longer pink. Add garlic and ginger and stir-fry over moderate heat until very fragrant, about 2 minutes.

3. Finish the stir-fry: Stir reserved sauce, then add to pork and bring to a simmer. Drain tofu in a large sieve and slide into sauce, stirring gently. Stir cornstarch mixture and add to stir-fry. Bring to a boil, stirring gently, and cook until thickened and glossy, about 15 seconds.

4. Turn off the heat and sprinkle with sesame oil, Sichuan-peppercorn powder to taste, and 2 tablespoons scallions. Stir once or twice, then serve sprinkled with remaining tablespoon scallions.


Toasted Sichuan-Peppercorn Powder à la Barbara Tropp

Makes about ¼ cup

I know you need just a small amount of this for Ma-Po Tofu, but it’s difficult to grind less than ¼ cup Sichuan peppercorns at a time. Use the extra powder in other stir-fries, seasoning rubs (it’s especially good on duck), and on flatbreads.

1. Shake ¼ cup Sichuan peppercorns in a sieve to get rid of dust, then spread in batches on a white plate and discard any twigs, leaves, thorns, or black inner seeds (they’re bitter).

2. Toast the peppercorns in a dry heavy skillet over moderate heat, stirring, until very fragrant and smoking, 3 to 5 minutes (don’t let them burn).

3. While still hot, grind to a powder in an electric coffee/spice grinder and sift through a fine sieve, discarding hulls. Keep the powder in an airtight container away from heat and light and discard when it loses its pungency.


blog-pasta primavera

Given the hard winter and cold, snowy spring we’ve had in the Northeast, the growing season is weeks behind schedule. Heaven knows when we’ll see the first local asparagus and peas—let alone tender, slender green beans and (dare to dream!) sun-ripened tomatoes. In other words, a visit to the farmers market is more about foraging than shopping.

So for a dinner party last week, I thanked my lucky stars for the too-often-unsung bounty at my local supermarket. Asparagus and green beans have become, for better or worse, seasonless—a quality held in high esteem ever since there have been market gardeners—and frozen baby peas (I’m a Birds Eye girl) are more consistently sweet, tender, and less starchy than the vast majority of “fresh” peas available in season. Plus, a bottle of dried morels has been burning a hole in my pantry, so to speak, ever since Christmas. Admittedly, they are a luxury, but their nutty earthiness plays beautifully with other flavors without overwhelming them, and they have a famous affinity for cream sauces.

Pasta primavera has undeniable glamour and a provenance to match: It was introduced in the 1970s at Le Cirque, in New York City, and soon became the pasta dish of the moment. It makes an elegant first course for a crowd and is substantial enough for a vegetarian main course.

Don’t let the long ingredient list below throw you: Chopping is about as complicated as the prep work gets, assembly is a snap, and permutations will make the dish your own. Substitute strozzapreti or other short, curvaceous pasta shape for the spaghettini, for instance, or skip the pasta entirely and stir the fixings into a pot of risotto. If there are no good-looking green beans to be had, zucchini will do nicely. If time is an issue, rein things in in a way that works for you. One step that does make a difference, though, is cooking the tomatoes and vinegar into a quick little sauce. It adds a hit of fresh-tasting acidity that you’d miss if it weren’t there.

Pasta Primavera

From The Gourmet Cookbook (Houghton Mifflin, 2004)

Serves 10 as a first course, 6 as a main course

1 oz dried morel mushrooms
1 1/2 cups warm water
1/2 lb asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
1/4 lb green beans (preferably haricots verts), trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
3/4 cup frozen baby peas, thawed
2 teaspoons minced garlic, divided
Rounded 1/2 teaspoon dried hot red pepper flakes, divided
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 1/2 pints grape tomatoes
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
3 tablespoons water
1 lb spaghettini (thin spaghetti)
1/2 stick unsalted butter
2/3 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon finely grated fresh lemon zest
1 cup finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh basil
1/3 cup pine nuts, lightly toasted
Garnish: Parmigiano-Reggiano shavings

Prepare green vegetables: Soak morels in warm water in a small bowl 30 minutes. Lift mushrooms out of water, squeezing excess liquid back into bowl. Pour soaking liquid through a sieve lined with a dampened paper towel into a small bowl and reserve. Rinse morels thoroughly to remove grit, then squeeze dry. Discard any tough stems. Halve small morels lengthwise and quarter larger ones.

Cook asparagus and beans in a 6- to 8-quart pot of boiling salted water, uncovered, 3 minutes. Add peas and cook until beans and asparagus are just tender, about 1 to 2 minutes more. Immediately transfer vegetables with a large slotted spoon to a bowl of ice water to stop cooking, reserving hot water in pot for cooking pasta. Drain cooled vegetables in a colander.

Cook 1 teaspoon garlic and a rounded 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes in 2 tablespoons oil in a 10- to 12-inch heavy skillet over moderately low heat, stirring, just until garlic is fragrant, about 1 minute. Add drained vegetables and salt and pepper to taste and cook, stirring, 2 minutes, then transfer to a bowl. Reserve skillet.

Cook tomatoes: Cut half of tomatoes into quarters and halve remainder lengthwise, keeping quarters and halves separate. Cook remaining teaspoon garlic and remaining rounded 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes in remaining 2 tablespoons oil in skillet over moderately low heat, stirring, just until garlic is fragrant, about 1 minute. Add quartered tomatoes with salt and pepper to taste and simmer, stirring occasionally, until tomatoes are softened, about 3 minutes. Add halved tomatoes, vinegar, and water and simmer, stirring occasionally, until sauce is thickened and halved tomatoes are softened, 3 to 4 minutes. Keep tomatoes warm.

Cook pasta and assemble dish: While tomatoes are cooking, return water in pot to a boil and cook pasta until al dente. Drain in a colander. Immediately add butter, cream, zest, and morels to empty pasta pot and simmer gently, uncovered, 2 minutes. Stir in cheese and add pasta, tossing to coat and adding as much of reserved morel soaking liquid as necessary (1/2 to 2/3 cup) to keep pasta well coated. Add green vegetables, parsley, basil, pine nuts, and salt and pepper to taste and toss gently to combine. Serve pasta topped with tomatoes and Parmigiano-Reggiano shavings.

blog-pasta primavera2


blog-braised endives

It took me a long time before I could admit how much I dislike barely cooked vegetables. I realize I am in the minority; most folks love them, especially this time of year, when heavy winter food has palled. Granted, their crispness and bright colors have a clean, minimalist appeal, but I find them squeaky in the mouth and one-dimensional in flavor.

I prefer my cooked vegetables well done—that is, with a tender, yielding consistency that stops short of falling apart. When I have tried to explain this to people, they can’t get beyond my heritage and the pervasive yet misguided notion that to a southerner the only good vegetable is a mushy vegetable. It makes me sad that they’ve never had an honest southern meal, one in which vegetables are treated with respect.

In that regard, good southern cooks have much in common with their counterparts in France or Italy—they all know there is a world of difference between overcooking and slow, gentle cooking. The technique of braising vegetables in a little liquid until they’re soft and tender, for instance, allows a give-and-take between the braising juices and the vegetables themselves. The resulting layers of flavor are a revelation.

One of my favorite vegetables for braising is belgian endive. Its slight, pleasant bitterness is a clue that it’s related to edgier greens such as escarole, frisée, radicchio, and other members of the Chicorium genus. The vegetable has long been grown around Brussels, and the industry has spread to the Netherlands, France, Spain, South America, and California. Belgian endive cultivation takes time and is labor intensive, so it is not cheap. You get lots of bang for the buck, though: There is practically no waste, and the only cleaning that’s necessary is a quick rinse under cold running water.

The pearly leaves, which are at once crunchy and satiny, make a dramatic salad when cut crosswise and tossed with a darker green, or a sturdy vehicle for creamed blue cheese. But braising, which coaxes out the rich, nutty sweetness that lies just beneath the surface, transforms it into a far more interesting vegetable, one that can stand alone as a first course or pair nicely with roast chicken or lamb, or grilled steak or fish.

For all its elegance, belgian endive is a forgiving vegetable, and braising is a forgiving technique, so it’s pretty much impossible to go wrong. Below you’ll find two versions, and I’m very fond of them both. As for any embellishments, they’re up to you. You could cut the endives in half lengthwise and wrap each half in a paper-thin slice of pancetta or prosciutto, say, or perhaps add a bit of cream at the end, or even tuck in slivers of ham, then top with grated Gruyère and run under the broiler until the cheese is golden in places.

I like to braise vegetables in a sauté pan—that is, a deep straight-sided skillet—or a low, wide clay pot, but a flameproof gratin dish works well, too. In any case, choose a size that will just hold the endives side by side. A braise can’t be rushed, so give yourself plenty of time—or make it a day ahead and reheat it gently.

Braised Endives à la Julia Child

Adapted from The Way to Cook (Alfred A. Knopf, 1989), by Julia Child

Serves 6

12 endives—fresh, firm, and fat, all the same size, all creamy white, and all neatly closed at the pointed end

¼ teaspoon coarse salt, plus a little more, if needed

½ cup water

½ tablespoon fresh lemon juice, plus a little more if needed

2 to 4 tablespoons butter, cut into slices

2 to 3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley (optional)

1.  Remove any wilted outer leaves from the endives. Trim the root ends but keep the leaves attached. Rinse under cold running water.

2. Arrange the endives in a sauté pan or flameproof clay casserole or gratin dish and add the salt, water, lemon juice, and butter. Cover and boil slowly on top of the stove for about 20 minutes, or until the endives are fairly tender and the liquid is reduced by half. Either cover and cook slowly on top of the stove or lay buttered parchment paper over the endives, cover, and braise in a 325ºF oven until very tender, pale golden in color, and almost all the liquid is evaporated, about 1 hour. Taste and correct seasoning halfway through. Serve sprinkled with parsley if desired.

Braised Endives à la Richard Olney

Adapted from Lulu’s Provençal Table (HarperCollins, 1994), by Richard Olney

Serves 6

4 tablespoons butter, cut into slices

12 belgian endives

Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper

¼ cup dry white wine

½ lemon

1. Remove any wilted or discolored outer leaves from the endives. Trim the root ends but keep the leaves attached. Give them a quick rinse and pat dry.

2. Smear about half the butter in a sauté pan, or a flameproof clay casserole or gratin dish and fit in the endives. Top with the remaining butter and season with salt. Cover the endives with a piece of parchment paper and then a lid or foil.

3. Gently cook the endives over low heat in the butter and the liquid released by the endives, turning them over when golden on the underside. When no more liquid remains in the pan, add a couple of tablespoons wine. Continue to cook, adding a bit of wine from time to time to keep the bottom of the pan moist. When the endives are golden brown on all sides, meltingly tender but still intact, squeeze over a few drops of lemon juice, grind over pepper, turn them around in their juices, and serve directly from their cooking vessel.


Bonnie Slotnik

Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York, a blog by Jeremiah Moss, is a must-read for a certain kind of New Yorker. The writing is fine and knowledgeable, and the losses and injustices chronicled there in this Age of the Greedy Landlord are the sort of thing one chews over at three o’clock in the morning, when righteous indignation or, on occasion, impotent fury, is easier than sleep.

Last November, Moss had dire news for cookbook lovers everywhere: Bonnie Slotnick, a dealer in out-of-print and antiquarian cookbooks, was being forced out of the Greenwich Village shop she’d inhabited for 15 years. Bonnie isn’t what you might call a social media person, so she asked Moss to run an announcement she’d prepared for her customers.

“I’m still here!” she wrote. “But my landlord has refused to renew the lease on my shop. I’m looking for a small storefront in the East Village … but would also be open to other (marginally affordable) neighborhoods. It’s also possible that if I found the right person, I would consider sharing space—with another bookseller, an antiques dealer, a kitchenware shop. Maybe you’d be interested, or know someone who might? Rest assured that I will find a space, you will find your way there, and I will make it as cozy and welcoming as the old shop.”

The combination of resoluteness, good cheer, and an openness to opportunity is a powerful one. Bonnie’s circumstances came to the attention of sister and brother Margo and Garth Johnston, who moved with alacrity, offering her the ground-floor commercial space of their family home, an 1830s brownstone on East 2nd Street. “These wonderful people read of my plight and reached out to me,” Bonnie wrote in another announcement for Moss, “because in their eyes, a bookstore is the ideal tenant. Their late mother, Eden Ross Lipson, was the longtime children’s book editor at the New York Times Book Review, and it’s a book-loving family. It’s also a family that prizes the history and traditions of their neighborhood and appreciates the plight of the small-business owner.”

Although Bonnie specializes in cookbooks of the early to mid-1900s, her inventory stretches back to the mid-1800s. In addition to about 5,000 volumes, it includes ephemera and old kitchen implements, arranged like the sculptural objects they are. In other words, there is something for everyone, from serious collectors (she ships worldwide) to devotees of period salt-and-pepper shakers. Bonnie’s new store is three times the size of the old one, and she now has the room for book parties, readings, and a dedicated children’s corner, already furnished with the small, sturdy table and chairs Margo and Garth Johnston had when they were young. Bonnie gently fingered a faded duck decal on one of the chairs. “I need to get the story behind this,” she said.

When I stopped by the just-opened shop late last week, Bonnie and Margo were admiring the salvaged shelves that had been neatly jigsawed, as Bonnie put it, into every imaginable space. “I’m still trying to figure out what to do with the middle of the room,” she explained. “I’ve never had to think about that before!” For now, coins on the floor, scattered by one well-wisher, “for luck,” take pride of place.

The aromas of new paint and sawdust mingled invitingly with those of old books and freshly pressed vintage table linens, another one of Bonnie’s interests. She organized a drawer of aprons here, a stack of books there. The store’s location may be new, but its richly textured history is ongoing. Chinese-cooking authority Grace Young had come by to organize the Asian books, I heard. Bonnie’s contractor decided the fireplace needed a mantel, and just like that, she had one to showcase some absolute gems. Longtime friends, welcoming neighbors, and customers both old and new drifted in, all happy to be there. Somewhere, Eden Ross Lipson is smiling.

Bonnie Slotnick Cookbooks, 28 East 2nd Street (between Second Avenue and the Bowery), 212.989.8962;

bonnie slotnik3


blog-turkey chili

I’m a purist about a number of things, but not about chili. I like it with ground, cubed, or shredded meat. With or without beans. With or without tomatoes. I do prefer really good soft tortillas as an accompaniment, but tortilla chips, rice, or the spaghetti (and oyster crackers) that folks in Cincinnati are crazy about all have their place.

I’m fascinated by the diversity, I guess. By its very nature, this product of various ethnicities and a timeline that spans four centuries embraces change. Culinary antecedents include a Native American buffalo stew; a Berber-influenced meat dish seasoned with cumin and garlic from the Canary Islanders who, by order of Philip V of Spain, helped populate Texas in the 1700s; and, in Cincinnati, saltsa kima, a Macedonian meat sauce seasoned not with chiles but spices such as cinnamon and allspice and brought to the Queen City by Greek immigrants in the 1920s.

What really captures my imagination, though, are the untold numbers of cooks who have made this dish their dish down through the generations, from cowboy cooks and the “chili queens” of San Antonio, who sold their wares on the plazas from the 1860s until the late 1930s, to today’s cook-off champions and dedicated home cooks across the country.

Then there’s Bobby Short.

The legendary jazz singer and pianist, who died in 2005, epitomized Manhattan sophistication and style, whether holding court for 35-plus years at the elegant, intimate Cafe Carlyle or gadding about town with the fanciest crowd imaginable. His apartment on East 57th Street, near Sutton Place, was suitably glamorous, with a Bechstein black-lacquered grand piano, Art Deco furniture, African-American art, African sculpture, and a monogrammed Cartier silver ice bucket.

My knowledge of these particulars is not firsthand—we shared the same neighborhood, not the same universe—but rather from that peculiar intersection of research, fate, and procrastination with which every writer is familiar. Back in 2009, you see, Jennifer Boles wrote a charming Peak of Chic blog post about a luncheon Bobby Short gave for friends, as chronicled in the March 1970 issue of House Beautiful. His knack for making things appear effortless extended to the kitchen, with a clutch of make-ahead dishes: Texas Chili, Corn Meal Muffins, Salsify with Mayonnaise Mousseline, and Boysenberry Sherbet. Jennifer Boles’s favorite part of the article was a quote from Mr. Short that compared cooking to making music:

When you make a stew, you finish it to taste with a few grinds of the peppermill, maybe a dash more salt, thyme, too, and you know—you just know—when the flavor is right. Making music is much the same thing. You start with a little bass, add a soupçon of treble, throw in a bit of the drum, ‘growl out’ the lyrics, and suddenly it’s okay. You’re in there swinging.

And how.

Mr. Short was a experienced host, and he must have known how smart it is to have a no-fail menu, one that people find irresistible. And chili would have had a bit of unexpectedness to it. I’ll bet his guests had more fun than they would have had at a more formal do.

My favorite chili recipe, a staff favorite at Gourmet, is made with turkey and rich with the smoky heat of chipotle chiles. Its green color comes from tomatillos; only (very) distantly related to true tomatoes, they have a round, fruity acidity and great body. Although this chili isn’t as substantial as a typical beefy red version, it manages to be satisfying and suave, all at the same time. Mr. Short would approve.

A few kitchen notes: Don’t let the somewhat lengthy ingredient list put you off this recipe; you can find everything at a well-stocked supermarket, including tomatillos (canned are more common this time of year) and chipotles in adobo. Chipotle chiles, by the way, are red, ripe jalapeños that are smoked and dried. The fact that they’re fully mature before processing helps explain their underlying sweetness, and the smokiness gentles their heat. In addition to being sold dried, they’re also available canned in a tangy tomato-based sauce called adobo. After using what you need, transfer the leftovers to a glass jar and store them in the fridge. I often whiz them up in the blender, then use that purée to spice up mayonnaise for sandwiches or chicken salad, or stir a little into a stew or braise.

Turkey Chipotle Chili

Serves 6 to 8 (makes about 14 cups)

Adapted from The Gourmet Cookbook (Houghton Mifflin, 2004)

2 canned chipotle chiles in adobo, or 2 dried chipotle chiles, stemmed and seeded (wear rubber gloves)

1 cup water (boiling if using dried chiles)

2 pounds fresh tomatillos, husked and rinsed well, or 5 (11-ounce) cans whole tomatillos, drained

3 tablespoons vegetable oil

2 large onions, chopped

4 tablespoons minced garlic, divided

2 tablespoons ground cumin

4 pounds ground turkey (not lean)

2 cups chicken stock or store-bought low-sodium broth

1 bay leaf

1½ teaspoons dried oregano, crumbled

Coarse salt

1 green bell pepper, cored, seeded, and chopped

2 (4-ounce) cans mild green chiles, drained and chopped

1 tablespoon cornmeal

1 (19-ounce) can white beans (Great Northern or navy), rinsed and drained

½ cup chopped fresh cilantro, plus more for garnish

Accompaniment: sour cream

1. If using canned chipotles in adobo, purée them with the 1 cup water in a blender and transfer the purée to a bowl. If using dried chipotles, in a small bowl soak them in the boiling-hot water 20 minutes, then purée with their soaking water in a blender.

2. If using fresh tomatillos, blanch them in a large pot of boiling water 5 minutes; drain, then purée in blender. If using canned tomatillos, simply purée after draining.

3. Heat oil in an 8- to 10-quart heavy pot over moderate heat. Add onions and 2 tablespoons garlic and cook, stirring, until onions are softened, about 10 minutes. Add cumin and cook, stirring, 30 seconds. Add turkey and cook, stirring and breaking up lumps, until no longer pink, about 8 minutes.

4. Add chipotle and tomatillo purées, chicken stock, bay leaf, oregano, and about 2 teaspoons salt. Simmer, uncovered and adding more water if necessary to keep turkey barely covered, 1 hour.

5. Stir in bell pepper, green chiles, and cornmeal and simmer, stirring occasionally, 30 minutes.

6. Stir in white beans, remaining garlic, and salt to taste and simmer until beans are heated through, about 5 minutes. Discard bay leaf and stir in cilantro. Serve with sour cream and additional cilantro. The chili, without the cilantro, may be made 3 days ahead; let it cool completely, uncovered, before covering and refrigerating. It also freezes beautifully.



For most people, their first oyster is a rite of passage. M.F.K. Fisher’s was at the Christmas banquet at the southern California boarding school where she was a student. “I swallowed once,” she wrote in The Gastronomical Me, “and felt light and attractive and daring, to know what I had done.” My first wasn’t raw, but an angel on horseback—that is, shucked, wrapped in bacon, and broiled until the bacon is crisp. Angels on horseback were a staple at my mother’s cocktail suppers, and she and my father thought to offer me one at around age eight. Never mind that I was expert at filching them from an unattended baking sheet in the kitchen—that salty, suave, officially sanctioned bite made me feel like a grown-up, part of their social milieu. I soon progressed to roasted oysters and then those on the half shell without a backward look.

My mother saved oyster shells that caught her fancy. One became a grand “alabaster” sink in my dollhouse, but mostly they joined other small, random treasures on the kitchen window sill. Mom might soak okra seeds in them just before planting, or use them to pocket a bit of soil and a tiny bluet, wild violet, or rue anemone. Oyster shells would stand in for salt cellars, both by the stove and on the table.

I picked up my mother’s habit and consequently have a collection of oyster shells that remind me of people and places near and far. Above, at top left, that big ‘un is an Eastern oyster (Crassostrea virginica), which is indigenous to the East and Gulf coasts of North America. Virginicas range from clean-tasting (Wellfleets, from Massachusetts) to beautifully briny (Shooting Point Salts, from the Shooting Point Oyster Company, on the Eastern Shore of Virginia) to sweet and creamy (Apalachicolas, from the Florida Panhandle). Virginicas are also cultivated on the West Coast; one of the most popular is the Totten Inlet virginica, raised by Taylor Shellfish Farms in a bay off Puget Sound. Seafood authority, genius promoter, and longtime friend Jon Rowley introduced me to the Totten, which is sweet, with an alluring mineral finish.

Moving clockwise, you’ll see a virginica from Peconic Bay, Long Island, which is where most of the oysters we eat at home come from these days. The shell that looks like a ruffled party frock is from a mild, rich Pacific oyster (Crassostrea gigas), a species that was brought to the West Coast from Japan in the 1920s; today, it’s commonly cultivated in Europe as well. The little deep-cupped shell below it comes from a Kumamoto (Crassostrea sikamea), originally from Japan and now cultivated successfully in Washington, Oregon, California, and even the cold offshore waters of Mexico. Its diminutive size and sweet-salty balance make it a great “starter” oyster for a novice at a raw bar.

At the bottom is the tiny yet full-flavored Olympia (Ostrea lurida), the only species indigenous to the West Coast. And the round, aptly named European Flat (Ostrea edulis), the famed oyster of Belon, Marennes, and Colchester, has a robust mineral aftertaste that you either adore or equate to french-kissing the bottom of a boat. Overfishing, the parasite Bonamia, and the current passion for smaller, milder oysters have caused edulis to virtually disappear in Europe, but all is not lost. In North America, it’s cultivated on both the East and West coasts, with place names that incorporate the word flat. (For additional info about oysters, as well as why they really are best in the “R” months, take a look at my “Jane Says” column at from a few months back.)


My parents were true educators at heart, and their library included Oysters, a slim hardback prepared by workers in the Writers’ Program of the Work Projects Administration in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and published in 1941. I cannot tell you how many times I pored over its pages, with their charming illustrations and captions (“The oyster crab, drawn very much larger than it is in real life”). It was my favorite, along with Orchards in All Seasons, in a series of science books for third and fourth graders that also included Life in an Ant Hill, Romance of RubberThe Story of Bees, and 20-odd other titles.


Not that Sam and I really need an excuse to eat oysters, but it seems only natural to indulge on Valentine’s Day. We’ll be spending it in Orient, a small coastal community way out on the North Fork of Long Island. The English who settled the area around 1661 knew it as Oysterponds.

So our favorite bivalve will be on the menu chez Lear. We might romp through a few dozen raw, on the half shell, or choose instead my father’s Sweetheart Oysters, always a great favorite. Or, if we’re in the mood for some retro chic, angels on horseback. No matter what, I’m on the prowl for some pretty shells. I have a couple for salt cellars, but the window sill—it looks empty.




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New England is still getting pounded by one heck of a blizzard, but New Yorkers are experiencing their own DeflateGate: Although conditions are serious out on Long Island, a measly five and a half inches or so of snow was measured in Central Park.

What a bust. A couple of respected computer models certainly looked dire, with predictions of more than 30 inches of snow for Manhattan, but what meteorologists and newscasters neglected to hammer home was that the storm was a complicated one, and the forecast should have been more obviously presented as a range of possibilities.

Even if that had happened, you can’t mess with Mother Nature—or human nature, for that matter. Speaking as someone who grew up thinking “hurricane season” was an official division of the year that came between summer and fall, I laid in supplies with a zeal my mother would’ve recognized. While taking inventory of a pantry shelf or two, I discovered a dusty bottle of dark rum that had escaped being corralled with the rest of the booze, and knew we were ready for whatever the “Blizzard of 2015″ could throw at us. Or not.

Most recipes for Hot Buttered Rum say to make a compound butter with the spices, then stir a pat of the butter into each mug of rum and hot water until it melts. The method below calls for simmering everything except the rum together for ten minutes, which gives the spices the chance to lose their rawness and release their flavors and aromas, making for a more mellow, well-rounded drink. Cradle a mug in your hands, inhale, and you will feel very après-ski, even if your aching muscles and glow of accomplishment come from nothing more glamorous than shoveling the sidewalk.

Hot Buttered Rum

From Gourmet Today: More Than 1000 All-New Recipes for the Contemporary Kitchen (Houghton Mifflin, 2009)

Makes 4 drinks

2 cups water

1/2 stick (4 tablespoons) unsalted butter

1/3 cup packed dark brown sugar

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg (preferably freshly grated)

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1/8 teaspoon coarse salt

5 1/3 ounces (2/3 cup) dark rum such as Myer’s

Combine water, butter, brown sugar, spices, and salt in a 1- to 2-quart saucepan and bring to a simmer. Simmer, whisking occasionally, 10 minutes to blend flavors. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in rum. Pour into mugs.

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January is typically devoted to fresh starts. We all know people who have vowed this month to exercise more, eat or drink less, and otherwise curtail the excesses that began at Thanksgiving.

Good for them! I’d be more inclined to join in if I hadn’t discovered that my favorite Stilton—from Colston Basset Dairy (estab. 1913), in Nottingham, England—is carried by one of my favorite specialty foods purveyors, Salamanders, in Greenport, on the North Fork of Long Island. (It’s closing this coming Sunday until March 1, but you can also find Colston Bassett at and formaggiokitchen, both of which ship nationwide.)

If I had to settle on a single blue cheese for life, it would be that from Colston Bassett, one of England’s smallest Stilton producers. Made from local cows’ milk—the farms are all within 1½ miles of the dairy—the cheese is simultaneously creamy and crumbly, with veins of deepening rich color and lingering, mellow flavor that isn’t marred by harsh acidity or overwhelming saltiness.

It is lovely creamed with a fork and served with celery sticks or silky endive leaves for an hors d’oeuvre, or crumbled over an watercress and pear salad for a first course. Made into Stilton Sauce (recipe below) and spooned over slices of beef tenderloin, it vaults a dinner party into the stratosphere. But it’s at its most assured at the end of a meal, with a glass of Tawny Port or a good red wine, and a firm-ripe pear or two. That’s when I renew my January vow, which is the same every year because I always fail miserably: Be kind, be kind, be kind.

Stilton Sauce

From The Gourmet Cookbook: More Than 1000 Recipes (Houghton Mifflin Company, 2004)

This is also delicious served over cauliflower, instead of Mornay sauce.

½ pound Stilton, softened

1 stick unsalted butter, softened

1½ cups dry white wine

1 cup heavy cream

4 teaspoons finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

1. Stir together cheese and butter in a bowl until smooth.

2. Boil wine in a 1-quart saucepan until reduced to about 2 tablespoons, about 15 minutes. Add cream and boil until liquid is reduced by about half, about 8 minutes.

3. Reduce heat to moderately low and whisk in cheese mixture a little at a time, then whisk in parsley. The sauce, without the parsley, can be made 1 day ahead. Cool, covered with wax paper, then refrigerate, tightly covered. Reheat over moderately high heat, whisking constantly. Whisk in parsley. 


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And how. It’s been way too long since I last posted—I was typing as fast as I could for folks who pay for it—but here’s hoping in the meantime you’ve made Chicken Marbella at least once, and are contemplating your journey into the new year.

Here at the Lears, we have a delicious few days ahead. There is Beef with Tomato Sauce and Garlic braising in the oven as I write this—just the ticket for a bitterly cold night, and the leftovers will come in handy over the weekend.

New Year’s Eve will find us at home, sitting down to Sweetheart Oysters or “Mama Macie’s Oyster Stew,” courtesy of Damon Lee Fowler. Either way, our richness of oysters, as my father was fond of saying, will be local, from Peconic Bay. As for the main course, we’re keeping it ultrasimple: confit duck legs from Hudson Valley Duck Farm, cooked until brown and crisp, then served bistro-style, with a watercress salad à la my former Gourmet colleague Paul Grimes. I have a feeling juicy pomegranate seeds will find their way into the mix—nice with the walnuts and orange slices called for in the recipe, no? And since dessert is Sam’s department, that frees me up to organize things for the following day.

That’s January 1, of course, and for us, that means Hoppin’ John, traditionally eaten for good luck in the American South, especially in the lowcountry of South Carolina and Georgia. It’s a very plain dish of field peas (today, the most common type used is the black-eyed pea) cooked in ham-hock broth and served with rice and collard greens, which symbolize “folding green” money. Why tempt fate?

Hoppin’ John

With thanks to The Gourmet Cookbook—as well as a few centuries of southern home cooks.

Serves about 8

As far as the traditional accompaniments go, they can be fraught for many. If cooking rice gives you the wobblies, try this tried-and-true Gourmet recipe; it’s called “foolproof” for a reason. And if you don’t have the time or inclination to cook your greens long and slow until they become supple, then cook them quickly, in the Brazilian style; they’re just as delicious, but in a different way, and you can easily substitute olive oil for the bacon and drippings if desired. Lastly, what will really put things over the top is some really good cornbread. My go-to recipe is from the Cornbread Goddess, Ronni Lundy.

A 16-ounce bag black-eyed peas, picked over and rinsed

1 large meaty ham hock (or 2 small ones)

9 cups water

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 large onion, chopped

Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper

1 small dried hot-but-not-searing chile or ¼ teaspoon dried red pepper flakes

Accompaniment: cooked long-grain rice

1. Soak the black-eyed peas: You can do this the slow way, by putting them in cold water to cover by about 2 inches, then soaking them for 8 hours, but quick-soaking works, too. Put them in a pan and cover with 2 inches of water, then bring to a boil and boil 2 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and let the beans soak in their water, covered, 1 hour. After either method, drain the black-eyes in a colander and rinse.

2. Make the ham-hock broth: Combine the hock and 9 cups water in a deep pot and bring to a simmer. Simmer, uncovered, until the meat is tender, 1½ to 2 hours. Fish the hock out of the broth with tongs and let cool on a cutting board. Meanwhile, measure the broth: If you have more than 6 cups, boil until reduced to 6 cups; if you have less than 6 cups, add enough water to make up the difference. When the hock is cool enough to handle, remove the meat, discarding skin and bones, and chop.

3. Put ’em together: Heat the oil in a large heavy pot over moderately low heat. Add the onion and season with salt. Cook, covered and stirring occasionally, until softened, about 10 minutes. Add the chile or red-pepper flakes, drained black-eyes, broth, and ham; bring to a simmer and simmer, partially covered, until black-eyes are tender but not falling apart, 20 minutes or so. Discard chile, if using, and season with salt and pepper. The cooked black-eyes can be made a day or so ahead of time, cooled completely in the broth, and refrigerated. Reheat gently, adding a little water to thin.

4. To serve: Spoon the black-eyed peas over the rice and serve the extra black-eyes in their pot liquor on the side to provide more moisture. And Happy New Year!

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