Black Friday Rituals

It’s always a good idea to start with a homespun club sandwich made with challah toast, a couple of slices of bacon (this batch from Allan Benton in Tennessee), and thick pieces of turkey.  The rest of the culinary day is probably downhill although I see pecan pie in my future.

Yesterday was a gastronomical success: The turkey had crispy skin from having been air dried on a counter for two hours before roasting–thanks to Martha Stewart’s advice.  It was moist because I basted it periodically with miso butter.  We skipped the Brussels sprouts as the sides were plentiful: Turnip greens, traditional cranberry sauce, cranberry chutney, squash, and rainbow beets.

To pass the time, I wrote a little essay:  A family saga, in its way, compared to the Sopranos compared to families on holidays (by implication).



Thanksgiving Without Pain

After walking the dog on the icy streets and sidewalks, in the moderate temperatures of late Fall, taking in the sound of screeching blue jays, and thinking about why one of my credit card bills is higher than usual, whether Beckett’s laconic tone in his letters of 1960 was a sign of sadness or reflection or both, and what I want to put on page 138 of the book I’m writing, I came back home.

Boiled water for a pot of coffee made with beans from Java shipped to me from Porto Rico Coffee.  Pan fried a batch of Father’s bacon from Kentucky.  Made a half loaf of Challah French toast.

After breakfast, the plan is to remove turkeys from the fridge and air dry for two hours on the kitchen counter so as to get crispy skin.

Then make stuffing: Corn bread, chestnuts, chicken sausages, rice, celery, eggs, butter, onions.

Stuff birds.  Roast at 450F in pre-heated oven for 390 minutes.  Lower heat to 300F and roast for a few hours.  Remove,  rest birds.  Slice.  Add some white truffle butter.  Serve.

Sides: Brussels sprouts slow roasted and served with chopped walnuts.  Sauerkraut.  Boiled rainbow beets with ricotta.  Roasted squash.  Turnip greens and onions.  Pearl onions.  Cranberry sauce old school, and cranberry school chutney.

Pies: Pumpkin, apple, pecan.

It’s got to be the easiest holiday to cook for in the world: No rules, no rituals, no diagrams, no recipes.  A hot oven and a hot stovetop.




Countdown to Gluttony?

With just over 48 hours to go until the remaining troops of a once larger organization arrive–they are dropping like flies–the electricity in the air and the speed of vehicles on streets and highways are evidently increasing.

All that remains here to be done in terms of larder and fridge are the two birds from Jaindl in PA and a couple of loaves of bread for French toast and bacon the morning of The Big Day and club sandwiches on Black Friday.

Shouldn’t “Black Friday” be called “Good Friday” and “Good Friday” be called “Black Friday?”

Anyway, the Jaindl birds are fine.  Two 12-14 pounders from a collection of farms in Pennsylvania where, no doubt, the turkeys are read stories before bedtime, have their feet washed each day, and are fed a diet of rare, heirloom grain before handed Magic Pills that “put them to sleep” before being  “processed.”

Calls and emails have come in from several of The Six Survivors regarding offers of vegetables, and these are most welcome: Squash, turnip greens, collard greens, etc.  Add these to the Brussels sprouts and rainbow radishes and it’s a Vegan holiday, which is not the same as a Wiccan holiday, which in neither case is Thanksgiving due to the aforementioned Jaindl birds.


My Culinary Year, and Looking Ahead

Just out in today’s Sunday edition of The Boston Globe, my piece on things Swiss:

This completes the Fall edition of three pieces I published.  Two on Switzerland, and one on Japan.

Looking ahead, I’ll be doing three top secret pieces about Japan.  OK, fine, one involves Chef Rene Redzepi of NOMA.  In conjunction with that, my piece about him is in the January issue of Robb Report.

Meanwhile I’m in the middle of the third volume of Beckett’s Letters, which begin in 1957, and have him refusing a film version of Molloy and a theatrical version of All That Fall.  He’s my favorite writer, and his embrace of silence bears upon places I go routinely.


Thanksgiving Prep

Buy a couple of birds.  Pre-heat oven to 400 F.  Salt and pepper birds to taste.  Slice a stick of butter into one ounce squares and distribute on turkeys and under their skin.  Make a stuffing of corn bread, some eggs, a stick of melted butter, chopped leeks or celery or carrots or onions (any vegetable you like), throw in some ground up turkey sausages, add salt and pepper.  Stuff birds.  Put in oven for 30 minutes.  Lower heat to 300 F and roast until done.

Folks, it’s Thanksgiving.  It’s like making chili, fried chicken wings, pork ribs, etc.  There’s a reason why just about everyone makes turkeys each year.  It’s easy.

Sides?  Roast Brussels sprouts at slow heat in a pinch of olive oil and add chopped walnuts when serving.  Parboil carrots with cumin and honey.  Boil rainbow radish, slice thin, and drizzle with olive oil.

Honestly.  Calm down.

“Restaurant Man”

I’m reading “Restaurant Man,” Joe Bastianich’s frank, detailed, and wonderful account of his life in the business, from a childhood in Queens and Istria, up through these days as partner with Mario Batali in a few of the world’s best restaurants: Babbo, Del Posto, and Lupa.

It’s all about the numbers, for starters.  Getting the restaurant math, the low margins, and the cost of thievery, corrupt suppliers, etc.  But it’s also a passionate business with the element of performance and the pleasure of feeding people.

He writes, for example, “I knew the power of good food…Food could blow minds and dissolve your problems, at least for a while, and I had a strong suspicion it might help get girls into bed.”  Ah, the days of being single, when I lived in Boston’s North End, and fresh pasta with a simple grated cheese and boiled broccoli dish yielded yielding.

Speaking of the North End, which he visited when he was an undergrad at BC, he has this very funny and implicitly provocative comment to make about the restaurants there: “I would take my Wasp girlfriends out to restaurants in the North End of Boston…” followed in the next couple of sentences by his comparison to the superior quality of his home cooking: “In college, cooking was second nature to me.  We had a kitchen, and I’d make family-style pasta, simple stuff, with a lot of cream and butter.”


Without Italian Food, We’d Starve

It used to be Italian or Italian-American night here, once a week, maybe twice, and now it’s expanded to become Italian or Italian-American, period.  With a cuisine that is vegetable driven, economical, quick and easy to prepare (once you’ve been taught how [I was, over two years, with Silvano Marchetto]), in tune with the seasons, and delicious with deep flavors, we’re talking pleasure.

This Sunday I discovered Di Palo, which is located on 300 Grand.  I’m embarrassed to say I hadn’t known of it before.  You might as well be in Italy.  The aromas of cheese and brine.  Marie, Lou’s sister, taking orders.  The huge cash register in which numbers are punched in by hand.  Fresh pasta at $3.99 a pound.  Ricotta flown in from Italy.  Prosciutto  that was sweet and perfectly sliced.  For $38 I had enough food for six meals for two people.

Eataly, on 23rd, has the vegetables, pasta that’s stuffed and northern in shape and taste, and fresh meats and fish.

Why not go to both?

The thinly sliced eggplant with ricotta and tomato sauce I bought from Di Palo was heavenly.

Closer to home, if you can get past the staff who act as if they are doing you a huge favor by establishing eye contact, Russo’s is a good venue.  I wish they’d commit to going All Italian rather than a hodgepodge where chanterelles long past their prime are sold and what’s available varies wildly in quality.  Your best bet is an early Friday afternoon.  Weekends are like a mosh pit.

This week it’s fresh pasta and oven baked Brussels sprouts with radicchio and fennel salad; ravioli stuffed with ricotta and spinach; eggplant and ricotta; oven roasted turbot; and, baby chicken.  Avanti!

NYC Dining News, Part 3

I didn’t see you or you or you on my walk from Canal to the Met although maybe I did and just didn’t notice what with the bustling crowds who seemed to possess pre-Thanksgiving jitters and was that really early Christmas blues?

After the three Vermeer’s in a blissfully empty room and a few rooms of Buddhist sculpture from Southeast Asia, it was lunch at Rotisserie Georgette with many people I rather care about.  We feasted on duck cracklings, a couple of creamy pates, rilletttes, consommé with foie gras dumplings, roasted guinea hen and a roasted duck a la orange, chocolate madeleines, and a tart tartin.

We walked back to Canal, sensibly.

A drink at the terrific bar at The Lafayette.

Dinner, what again, at il Buco Alimentari.  The place was utterly slammed, it being Saturday night, and we found ourselves upstairs, a first, in an enjoyable environment where simple pastas deeply delicious satisfied the group utterly.

Dining in NYC, November 2014, Part 2

We began our day with bagels at Zucker’s, a place I’d not known about, located on Chambers, with an outpost, I’m told, at Grand Central.  Folks, five dollars and change and a freshly baked poppy with lox spread is yours.  These are perfect examples of the NY bagels I grew up on when visiting grandma in Brooklyn.  The spread is creamy, the fish simply minimal and not overwhelming in the least, and should you stay, the vibe pleasant and, well, tremendous.

I never pass up Rubirosa, on Mulberry, whether it’s for lunch or dinner, and this time it was lunch.  Yes, there are numerous menu items to choose from, but what we’re really talking about here is epic pizza.  Thin crust, almost paper thin, with a light spread of tomato sauce and, if you like, fresh mozzarella.  We had a couple of pies, a white clam, and a half anchovy and half sausage, and, of course, ate too much.  But honestly: This is one of the best pies in Manhattan.  And, bonus: They take reservations.

Before dinner it was drinks at The Brandy Library, on North Moore, no sign, well hidden, a long, dark room where jazz plays, a Charlie Parker tune was on when we walked in, killer service, great drinks, easily my favorite bar this year in NYC.

And, finally, dinner at Batard, my third in two months.  There’s a wonderful three course menu for $65, which beats places with nowhere near the skill but ten times the boast (not naming names), and with an Austrian in the kitchen, Marcus Glocker, who worked years with Gordon Ramsey, what you have are central European flavors deeply refined by French technique.  Octopus “pastrami,” tafelspitz, sweetbreads “strudel,” cod, venison, etc.  A boisterous room where you’ve found the party.  The place is really the future of fine dining: Delicious and complex prepared food presented with soul and care on wooden tables without tablecloths.  I’m in.


Dining News NYC: November, 2014

@ Annisa last night: Pan roasted chicken with sherry, white truffle and pig feet.  The truffle was ghostlike, but must have added depth.  The chicken was just about the best I’ve had in a very long time with crisped skin and a juicy interior.  The other entree?  Broiled Spanish Mackerel with garlic fried milk, satsumaimo and Korean chili.  The satsumaimo were an astonishment.  All preceded by grilled hearts of palm with lilies, orange, and Szechuan peppercorn sauce; and, steak tartare and bulgur, cinnamon and a sesame tofu sauce.
The food was tight in flavors, completely focused, and wonderfully woven together.
Great wines by the glass.  Pleasant and calm service.  A perfectly, subdued room in lighting on a quiet street.
At a price that’s perfectly reasonable.
On deck, never been, but it’s in the neighborhood: Zucker’s.