Basic Grilled Steak

Basic Grilled Steak

I am quite excited because today my parents are arriving from Madison, Wisconsin for a small family reunion of sorts. My brother will be driving up with his extended family to join us on Sunday, and we will have a small birthday party for my Father, as well as for Maya Hawk (my niece).

But the arrival of my parents raises the question, “what should I be feeding them?” We could go out to eat, but travel being what it is, I think it is much nicer to feed them at home. The trick is to find something that is both special, and relatively quick to put together. My mind almost immediately goes to strip steak.

Strip Steaks are a Cooking Fundamental


The most beautiful marbling, no?

Although it is often fairly spendy (all meat is spendy if you are doing it right) a strip steak is a fairly good choice to have in your “basics” repertoire. In point of fact, the Weber grilling company has made cooking a strip steak fairly foolproof: if you can be attentive for 6-8 minutes, the cooking is pretty hard to botch (incidentally, given the quality of Weber’s video, I will not go through the steps of cooking the steaks here). Further, a strip steak (steak cut from the short loin, which I call a “New York strip”) is, bizarrely, a great choice to cook for someone coming from the midwest; we tend to get better cuts of premium meats here in New Jersey. Which is not something you would expect.


Has a nice coating of olive oil, salt, and pepper.

Should You Get A Grill?

If you are 20-something, living on your own, should you get a grill? I think so, assuming that your living arrangements permit you to have one. I do, however, have a few caveats about purchasing a grill:

Caveat 1: I Wouldn’t Bother with Electric Grills

First of all, I have never encountered an electric grill that I think is worth the money. To my mind, the signal virtue of grills is that they get quite hot, and I have not yet seen a grill that can convert US current into something that gets hot enough. I know that there are people who are advocates of electric, indoor grills. Perhaps one day I will be convinced, but as of right now, I do not think they are worth it.

Caveat 2: Gas versus Charcoal

The issue then is, “what you should look for in an outdoor grill?” First, should you go gas or charcoal for your first grill?

My answer is that while I have romantic associations about charcoals grills (my family had one when I was quite little) and while I acknowledge that charcoal grills are indisputably cheaper than gas grills, they are a bad idea.

Gas Wins the Practicality Test

Frankly, the most valuable test I have ever used for assessing if I want a piece of kitchen equipment is “is this an investment in a tool I will actually use?”

You are much less likely to use a charcoal grill, and you are less likely to be successful when you do use it. I probably go through two propane tanks a season using my gas grill. And I grill a lot of vegetables. During the summer, I probably grill twice a week or more (eggplant sandwiches sell well to vegetarians). I do not love replacing the tanks, but I need to make one or two trips to the store in a season, versus hauling and storing multiple loads of briquettes back home. Further, although I loved helping my father set up our charcoal grill (crumpling paper, making a briquette pyramid, soaking the pyramid in petrochemical lighter fluid), all of these steps are a pain for an adult who has a job. Further, I really do not think the petrochemical byproducts of grilling are good for you in any regards.

My grill is easy to start (press a button), does not produce ashes, requires no lighter fluid, and has lasted for years (since 2002, at least). Further, the temperature in my grill is relatively easy to control. To my mind, then, gas has charcoal beaten hands down.

Gas Grill Manufacturers

What about brands? I am a Weber loyalist, and I love the Spirit-E series, and I would generally encourage you to invest in the 3-burner model (retails on Amazon for around $500). I cannot say that I have terribly rational reasons for my preference, however. You may do a huge about of research and find that someone is making a better product–and I would really like to learn about your experience. I just know that as of right now I really love my Weber grill.

A Word on Doneness

How done should a steak be? First of all, I do differ from Weber just a bit–I don’t like to trust time and hand feel to assess “doneness”; I like to use my handy ThermaPen to check, and I use the following guide to test. My mother and I are frequently at odds about this. She would like her steak rare (I’d try to pull her steak at a temperature right around 135 degrees). I like my steak cooked a little more than pure medium rare (I try to pull my steak at around 142 degrees). She maintains that I have destroyed the flavor of my steak by cooking it so long. I accuse her of being a vampire. Whatever your preferences, I generally would discourage people, for health reasons, from cooking their steaks much longer than the time required to get the steak to medium.

Musings about Meat

Although it is always dangerous to generalize, generalizations are fairly interesting and so I feel like I should take the risk. Given my experiences, it seems to me that the highest quality produce that is grown in this country tends to get drawn to urban centers, but more specifically drawn to New York, San Francisco, and L.A. Beef, in particular, seems to be prone to having this happen. It is very, very hard to get prime beef in the Midwest. Really. As a result, my parents are genuinely thrilled to see prime beef when they visit. Prime steaks it is.

Incidentally, the same cannot be said for pork and lamb. The pork and lamb I have secured in the Midwest have been consistently superior, not only in beauty (the appearance of the cuts of meat) but also in taste to those cuts I have purchased in New Jersey. I have no idea why the coasts do not seem to drain the excellent pork that is being produced in the Midwest, but they do not. Perhaps a reader from California, Oregon, or Washington can share their own experiences with the pork and lamb they have at home, versus Midwestern products.

Prime versus Pastured Beef

A legitimate question that could be put to me, however, is given the health benefits of pastured meats, why I am not purchasing pastured beef; why go prime?

The answer is that, in my experience, pastured beef is an acquired taste. Ground pastured meat tastes, well, like ground meat. There is not so much of a flavor difference there. Cuts of pastured beef, however, look and taste different from their grain-fed peers. That is not to say that they taste worse, but rather that their lack of marbling means that texture-wise they can frankly be chewier than many people prefer. Perhaps one day I will develop a great relationship with a pasture-raising farm which will make me less hesitant; for right now, I will purchase prime when I have guests.

I also think I need to say that I work to moderate my consumption of grilled meats. I do think there is sufficient evidence to say that the consumption of grilled (high-temperature cooking) foods increases your cancer risks. On the other side of it, they are absolutely delicious. I will try to serve lots of antioxidant-rich veggies (the kale!) next to the meat to offset the worst of the heterocyclic amines sitting on my plate.


Steak Companions

So what am I going to serve with the strip steaks? If we narrow in on what is on the plate, I think I will try to keep my guests in mind, and offer potatoes. I think I will boil some Yukon Gold potatoes up, rice them, and fold in some sour cream and Irish butter, and make soft mashed potatoes. In the past, I might have been tempted to make these potatoes into hash browns, but some evidence has come out that suggests that that is not a good idea.

Choice of Potato

Why am I choosing Yukon Gold potatoes over another potato, such as a large Idaho potato? The answer is that I think Yukon Golds are a wonderful choice for mashed potatoes. They have enough free starch that they pull together nicely, but they are somewhat less likely to turn into a gluey mess if I should accidentally over-work the potato (which breaks down the potato cells, releasing amylopectin). I will be ricing them, which helps protect against too much starch breakdown, and I will be buffering them with acid (the sour cream), but I still prefer not to take the risk involved in working with a starchier potato.


Cooking Technique for the Potato

Incidentally, how does one prepare a potato for cooking? While I do know some people leave the skins in, I do not. Rather, I peel my potatoes (a potato peeler is yet another essential I did not think of) and roughly chop them before putting them in a large stockpot with salted water (±1 tbsp salt).


While I debated about whether I should fully disclose my method here, at risk of over complicating things and making this look more like a blog about kitchen equipment than a blog about cooking and food, I usually really resent it when the authors of cookbooks use specialized equipment and do not talk about it. So it is time for some full disclosure.


Although I would never say that a vegetable/onion chopper is an “essential” piece of kitchen equipment, I do own one and I do use it when I have to process a large number of vegetables. There are a few reasons why I use it for making mashed potatoes, namely, that it really does cut things into a more uniform size, and thereby reduces the possibility that I will overcook the potatoes. Again, you do not need one, but the results are quite satisfying.


Once they are peeled, potatoes are subject to oxidation, and hence they should be put immediately into water. Assuming you salted the water, however, you really can leave the diced potatoes sitting on a cold stove for a few hours until you are ready to cook. Cooking itself should take only about 10-20 minutes (until a fork easily passes through the potato). My stove might be more powerful than yours, though, so do test generally. My mother, who cooks on a true professional Wolf stove (not one of your “play” professional Wolves, mind you, but the real, uninsulated-needs-a-fire-extinguishing-system-of-its-own, deal) and everything goes much quicker. I generally cook the potatoes before I grill the beef, trusting that the butter and sour cream will act to keep the potatoes tasting good in the 6-7 minute window that I am cooking the steak and the asparagus.


What to do about vegetables? I was also pleased to discover that my local Whole Foods has Michigan asparagus (clinging on to spring in the north), which always serves well. Following the same technique I used in grilling asparagus, I will coat the asparagus in olive oil, apply salt and pepper, and then grill them while I am working the steaks.

Lower Carbohydrate Options

As I think I have mentioned, however, I am generally trying to reduce the number of carbohydrates that I am consuming–with some mixed success. I’d like to come up with a carbohydrate alternative so that I do not feel deprived, and yet I am simply eating less.

One answer to this was suggested by some Almond Flour Tortillas (manufactured by Siete) which really only contain almond and tapioca flours. While each tortilla serving does contain 17 grams of carbohydrate, 17 grams is approximately half of the carb burden of mashed potatoes (assuming I could restrain myself, and not eat all of the mashed potatoes). Right now we have some very nice avocados available to us in New Jersey–I think I will serve myself sliced steak with full-fat sour cream, avocados, and tomato salsa on almond flour tortillas. And maybe I will sneak a spear or two of asparagus.

And then there is the Salad

What about a salad? I am rather bad at thinking about salads (hence why I am thinking about it only now). I do have some very nice mesclun greens (Bowery Green Mix) from Bowery Farming, and some mixed stone fruits (nectarines, peaches), which were left over from my Newark Academy dinner. I also happen to have some nice pistachio-kale pesto (a Jody Adams recipe) that I made for this event, so I think I will probably finely chiffonade some of our rampaging kale, salt-process that, and dress up a mesclun green salad with the fruits, kale, and pesto.


Overwhelmed by Kale

Overwhelmed by Kale

Susan Dinan, my incomparable wife, is currently away at a conference in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Although she is having a marvelous time, she has left me alone with the garden. In her absence, our kale crop has gotten out of control. It is frightening. It is frightening. Plainly my wife, who is vegan, has unbeknownst to me, been nibbling away at the kale, and has been keeping it in bounds. In her absence, the kale aboundeth! And so I must go forth and battle the kale lest it takeover the yard.

Kale is one of those foods that has been quite popular over the last decade (although there are signs that this is waning). The biggest problem, I find, is that I am often served woody kale. Kale, in point of fact, does need to be handled aggressively if it is going to be served in a salad. The preparation I am doing today is the most basic way of handling mature kale. Do keep in mind that this approach is inappropriate for baby kale, or a softer kale, such as lacinato (dinosaur) kale.



The key to making mature kale edible is that the stems must absolutely be cut out of the leaf (not, as is the case with Trader Joe’s kale mix, left in).



The resulting leaf strips then should be stacked and rolled into a kind of cigar roll.





The appropriate technique here is to use a sharp chef’s knife to shave the kale role into slender ribbons.



I then placed these ribbons in a bowl. Incidentally, this kale chiffonade could easily be deployed to make a great pasta sauce (saute garlic and olive oil, add the kale, then add some acid, such a red wine vinegar, pasta water, and then pasta), added to a smoothie, or a hundred other applications.

Our intentions, however, are to render this kale into a salad. The simplest approach is to get about a half a teaspoon of salt and to massage it into the kale.

The massaging action, along with the salt, helps to break down the kale. To this, I added the juice from half of a lemon (acid further processes the kale). At this point I simply left the room, leaving the kale to process in the salt-lemon mixture. When I returned about 15 minutes later, I dressed the kale mix with about a tbsp of olive oil. I also added half of an avocado in slices to the salad. And it was delicious.

Delicious enough that I ate it before I could think to photograph it.

Roasting the Chicken

Yesterday we took the time to prepare our spatchcocked roast chicken by putting it in a dry brine. By now all of the wonderful flavors from the garlic, lemon zest, thyme, and rosemary have had an opportunity to permeate the bird. Our goal tonight will be to roast the bird and to grill our asparagus. How should we proceed?

Roasting Philosophy

Broadly speaking, there are two schools of thought when it comes to roasting poultry–the low and slow people, and the fast and hot people. I happen to come from the second group.

Now, I am aware that there are real upsides to the low and slow approach. Almost all professional kitchens have gone the sous vide approach. The page that I have linked illustrates all of the reasons why low and slow has large numbers of followers–it is a low risk, high consistency approach. If you follow Heston Blumenthal (I do), Blumenthal attempts to cook almost everything according to the low and slow approach. Further, if you happen to follow the Bulletproof Diet, low and slow prevents the development of oxidants on the surface of your food. Oxidants are definitively not good for you; barbecue is indeed not healthy. The low and slow approach seems to win hands down.

And yet, according to my own judgments, low and slow cooking generates less tasty results.

My reasoning is simple: high heats change simple sugars (such as are found in chicken skin) into caramels. And I think caramelization is delicious.

Further, I also happen to like it when food has differing degrees of doneness. My experience of eating a piece of salmon, cooked in sous vide, is that I am eating salmon jello. The absolute uniformity of texture, and doneness does not strike me as being desirable; it strikes me as a tad unnatural. I really prefer a piece of salmon that is less uniform (and perhaps even a little overdone).

Getting Ready to Roast

Accordingly, I am going to encourage you to roast your chicken in an oven at a setting that is as high as your oven can reasonably go. In my instance, that is 500 degrees Fahrenheit. It is possible that for you that is 450, or perhaps only 400. I am going to have you roast the chicken sitting on a rack (to get it up off of the base of the roasting pan), and I will not have you turning the chicken at all during roasting.

In other words, preheat your oven. Set up your pan (you probably want to line it with foil to make cleanup easier). Put your rack into the pan. Put your chicken on the rack. Put your chicken in the oven, and leave it alone for about 45 minutes.

Now, as I suggested above, this is a slightly risky operation. First of all, all ovens vary. Some ovens are hotter. Other ovens are cooler. Equally, chickens vary. Some are fat, while others are thin. Some are long, while others are almost round. True, our spatchcocking the chicken will help it cook uniformly, but there is no doubt that this is not an exact science.


Time and Temperature

Accordingly, you are going to have to keep an eye on your chicken. If your chicken begins to blacken, you are going to need to intervene. In the alternative, your chicken may make very little progress. The only way that you are going to know where you are is if you are prepared to step in and periodically check your chicken using a fast read thermometer.


You will want to pull your chicken when the breast reads 160 to 165 (165 is considered safe; the temperature of your chicken will continue to rise once you have removed it from the oven, so you can pull the chicken at 160 if you like).


Resting Your Bird

Once your chicken has been pulled out of the oven, you will want to transfer it to a cutting board and cover it with sheets of foil (shiny side in) to allow the meat to rest. This will allow the chicken to reabsorb some of its juices and will make it an incredibly more pleasant food to eat. Note that it is useful to have the bird on a cutting board that has a gutter carved into it, in order to control for the excess juices that may flow from the bird.


Carving Your Bird

The goal of carving your bird is to remove the breasts, arms, and legs, from the chest cavity. While I have taken photos of my approach, I think you might also consider looking at Jamie Oliver’s approach to slicing a chicken.


Grilling Asparagus

Grilled asparagus is one of the great pleasures of late spring and early summer. The preparation here is really quite simple: get one bunch of asparagus (medium sized) and trim off the bases of the spears. Coat your asparagus liberally in olive oil, and then salt and pepper. Put your asparagus on a gas grill set at the high mark (I cook these on direct heat, at a super hot setting, for 3-5 minutes). Turn your asparagus at the 2-minute mark to cook both sides. Remove the asparagus to a plate, and top with parmesan cheese (to taste).


Nothing could be simpler!

Chicken Essentials

Turning Chicken

So what sorts of dishes might we consider to be fundamental in a cook’s repertoire? I don’t think it is unfair to say that roast chicken should be one of them. Chicken is delicious, versatile, tastes good cold and pleases a large number of guests (more than, say, pork would). Chicken should become a fundamental part of anyone’s skill set.

Interestingly, chicken is something that often scares 20-somethings in the kitchen. While I am sympathetic to people who are alarmed about touching meat, I do want to point out that there is a real problem when one is afraid to touch a particular food, and yet one is unafraid to eat that food. Susan, my wife, is a vegetarian and would not touch chicken because dead animals horrify her. I do understand that fear, and I admire the internal logical consistency of her world. I think it is only fair that I, as a meat eater, be prepared to really engage with my food and deal with all aspects of the food before I eat it. Besides, I worked for years in professional kitchens, and I assure you that you would really rather handle the food yourself rather than trusting it to a stranger.

Roast Chicken with Asparagus

Dinner Overview: Today we are going to dry-brine a chicken, and, 24-hours later, we are going to roast it. We will serve that chicken with grilled asparagus. Classically, one would serve this with a mashed potato, but I also know that my audience is (reasonably) somewhat suspicious of carbohydrates. I’ll feature mashed potatoes in a later article.

Choosing a Chicken: The first thing we need to do is to talk about by a chicken. I happen to be a very big fan of buying pasture-raised and pasture-finished animals. One of the things that every carnivore should do is take the time to familiarize themselves with industrial agriculture (sometimes called “factory farming”). While it is beyond the scope of this blog to go into industrial agriculture, Compassion in World Farming has a good deal of information about it, and Michael Pollan has published a raft of excellent texts about the origins of our food.

So why do I want my chicken to be pastured? Well, in point of fact, I would ideally like my chicken to have three major traits:

First, I would like my chicken to be from a healthy (genetically diverse) stock. Chickens have been so genetically inbred by industrial agriculture (seeking fast maturity, large breasts, etc.) that they have begun to display horrible taste traits, including something called “Woody Bbreast.” Chicken breeds that have been less manipulated are known as sometimes called “heirloom” breeds; if I can get one, I do.

Secondly, I would like my chicken to have the ability to access, and forage from, the great outdoors. In other words, in an ideal world I want my chicken to be raised on a multi-livestock farm, and be given access to the pastures in which other animals (often cows) have been grazing. In these pastures, chickens are able to scratch for grubs, and other insect life (which keeps down fly larvae that hatch in manure).

Thirdly, I would really like my chickens to be treated to a low antibiotic regime. Keep in mind, I am not opposed to antibiotics per se; I hate the idea of a sick chicken dying from a lack of antibiotics. That being said, many, many poultry operations routinely administer antibiotics to their entire flocks preventatively. This is necessary due to poor living conditions (the birds are packed in on top of each other, spur deep in their waste, and allowed to peck at eat other). Chickens who overnight in spacious pens (reducing aggressive pecking), who are allowed to forage outside, and who are kept clean, do not need routine antibiotics. This choice, then, is less about whether antibiotics are actually bad for you, and more about whether it incentivizes farmers to raise chickens differently.

If you take the time to taste chicken, or the eggs that come from pastured chickens, you will notice that it actually has a taste. The texture is better. The color is different. Pastured chicken is a revelation, and I hope you will consider purchasing pastured chickens.

That being said, you will pay for what you purchase. A commercial Tyson roasting chicken can cost as little as $6.00–possibly far less if you know what you are doing. The pastured chicken I purchased from Whole Foods (3.4 lbs), sold by Crystal Lake Farms, by way of contrast, set me back $15.29. The key is to avoid paying too much for what you are purchasing; Williams-Sonoma wants to charge $120.00 for two chickens–a price that leaves my head swimming. If you are more attentive than I, you might be able to do much better by working with local farms. Rock Ridge Farms, I believe, sells pastured chicken in New Jersey; doubtless, there are farms near you.


So now you have a chicken. Its dead. It is sitting on your counter. What the heck do you do with it?

My answer is that we are going to set this chicken up for cooking in two ways. First, we are going to make a dry brine (a salty spice rub). Secondly, we are going to spatchcock the chicken (which is easier than it sounds).

Let us put our chicken in the refrigerator, and get to work making the spice rub.

Making a Dry Brine

Dry brines typically consist of salt and a few herbs put together. Now, you always will have the option of following my flavor combinations, but I do need to do a shout-out to two very cool individuals, who changed my cooking life: Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page, who really changed the world, first with their book, Culinary Artistry (1996), and later with their book, The Flavor Bible (2008). With careful usage, you can look up “chicken” and see that classically garlic, lemon, rosemary, and thyme, go together.

In the best of all worlds, you will grow your own herbs in your garden. I live in a pretty urban place, so I grow everything in pots. If you cannot grow your own in pots, look for herbs that are bright, smell intensely, and are firm (not wilted) leaves.


Ingredients Needed:

  • A handful of salt (perhaps 2-3 tbsp). I prefer to use gray sea salt from France, but any coarse sea salt will do.
  • Garlic (3-4 cloves; more if you are adventurous).
  • Thyme (1 branch)
  • Rosemary (2-3 spears)


Begin by trimming and peeling the garlic cloves. I will mince the cloves, and add the minced cloves to the salt pile.




To this, strip the rosemary and thyme leaves from their stalks and add to the herb pile.





Using your chef’s knife, chop the herbs into the salt. As the chop on the salt pile becomes more and more fine, use a Microplane grater, (another thing to add to the “must have list”) or another grater, to zest the outer layer of skin from two or three lemons.


Add the zest to the salt pile, and chop to integrate.


At this point you have essentially completed your dry brine. You will ultimately have a choice here. You can either directly rub this mixture onto the chicken, or you can add olive oil, and rub the olive-oil-salt mixture on the bird. I have elected to do the latter.



At this point we are ready to begin dealing with the bird itself. We do need to say a few things about kitchen sanitation before we proceed, however.


Food safety is really quite important. I have taken a moment to show you that I have bothered to set up my work surface (my sink) before I introduce a bird into it. I simply grabbed my soft-scrub with bleach, and I have scrubbed the sink out. This is really important. Sinks–and especially pipes–have lush bacterial cultures alive in them. Even if you do not intend to set your bird down directly in your sink, water–and the bacteria living in the sink–can splash up and contaminate your bird. Take a moment, clean your darn sink, and protect yourself and your guests.

A second word needs to be said about poultry and cross-contamination. Even if you happen to have a bird, raised by hippies, on a farm that resembles heaven, there is a decent risk that your bird may be contaminated by some bad things. I won’t wade into the details, but you should assume that your bird needs to be handled with great respect. One of the reasons that the salt brine is so nice is that the high levels of salt and garlic actually act to beat down the bacterial populations that may live on your bird. Let’s hear it for salt and garlic!

But, one of the things you need to remember is that if your hands have touched the bird, anything that your hands touch from there on out will be potentially contaminated. Your apron is contaminated probably contaminated. So is the towel you absent-mindedly wiped your hands on. Did you touch the handle of your garbage can? If so, it’s contaminated. In short, keep your hands to yourself until after you have washed them.

None of this is bad if you take reasonable precautions to control for, or remediate, the cross-contamination. But there are some practices that are just silly: don’t drink wine while working with raw poultry. Don’t scratch your nose. Don’t forget to bleach your work surfaces after using them. Don’t touch other food while working with poultry.

So there.

At this point, we are going to spatchcock the bird in anticipation of cooking it tomorrow. Spatchcocking is a shorthand way of saying that we are going to remove the spine to allow us to flatten the bird. Alton Brown has a fabulous defense of spatchcocking the bird; I will let it speak for itself. The main thing is that you need a set of poultry shears (one more thing for the “must have list”). We will cut up along the spine, and remove the spine as a strip of tissue. If you are keen, you can use this to make an amazing butter-sauce. I am not doing that this time, but feel free to explore the Food Lab for more details!


In general, I do not like it when my chicken touches the sink. I prefer to work in a colander (another thing to add to the “must have” list) and to rinse the chicken there. When you open your package, your chicken should not have an especially strong smell. It will smell, but it should be relatively mild. This is hard to describe here, but if you think something is wrong, ask an experienced cook. Obviously, your plastic package (if you have one) should have no air inside of it.


Chicken–even chicken that has been plastic wrapped and sealed, should be given a complete rinse under the tap. The rinse should be both inside and out of the chicken body.


Once the chicken has been rinsed, you will need to use paper towels to pat the body down. Do remember to also towel down the inside of the chicken as well as the outside.


At this point you can transfer your chicken onto your cutting board or another work surface.


You will be using your poultry shears to snip up along the chicken’s spinal column. Although this sounds horrifying, the chicken actually has fairly soft ribs, so it is relatively easy to do this snipping. That being said, you really need poultry shears for this operation. This is very hard to do well with a knife (there are several layers of tissue here, and the slide against each other) and it is relatively easy to harm yourself if you do this with a chef’s knife. The end result is that you are cutting a strip out of the back of the chicken, and removing it.


When you are done cutting this strip out, you can either reserve the strip to make an amazing butter sauce (see link above) or you can discard it, which is what I did. At this point, I would flip the chicken so it is breast-side up, and I would use the palm of your hand to flatten it (breaking the breast bone) so that the chicken can lie flat. This is really useful because this chicken will grill or roast far more effectively than an intact chicken. The chicken is now ready for storage overnight.


At this point you will need a container in which to store your chicken. My experience is that it is much easier to store chickens inside ziplock gallon bags than in any other vessel. The advantage of the ziplock bag is that one can remove most of the air from the container, which helps the marinade (the brine) better adhere to the chicken. I simply pour the brine in the bag, and use my hand to cover all the chicken’s surfaces with the salt.



You will need to pop this bag into the refrigerator overnight. Voila! You are almost ready to cook and amazing chicken!

Kitchen Essentials–the Equipment

So today I got a very nice email from a Newark Academy alumnus who saw one of my blog posts. In addition to sharing really nice details from their life, the student urged me to consider posting a number of very “basic” recipes that would meet the needs of young graduates. This made a tremendous amount of sense to me, and I thought that I would take some time to offer some “survival” basics for my past students. I am quite excited by this as a challenge! What kinds of recipes meet the needs of 20-somethings?

It occurred to me, however, that I should probably start with detailing what I consider to be basic cooking equipment. What would you need to have in your apartment? I am planning to publish this, but I will probably panic in a few days, realizing that I left something essential off of the list. If you happen to think of something I have omitted, let me know. This is just a first stab.

Kitchen Basics

Chef’s Knife: The single most important purchase you can make, a chef’s knife will allow you to do an almost limitless number of kitchen tasks. The longer the knife (ideally 10 inches, although 8 will do) the better. To my mind (and several people disagree with me), a great starter point of entry for kitchen knives is the Victorinox 8 Inch Fibrox Pro Chef’s Knife. My parents gave this knife as a gift to me about 5 years back, and it has crept into usage as a daily constant, rivaling some of my more expensive knives. It is definitely a no-frills blade; it has plainly been stamped out of a sheet, and it does need frequent upkeep. If you are interested in investing in a long-term blade, I really enjoy Wustoff and Global knives. Maybe one day I will win the Bob Kramer lottery, and be able to purchase one of his amazing custom knives.

Knife Sharpener: The single most dangerous kitchen implement is a dull chef’s knife. Sharp knives cut cleanly, and predictably. If you do cut yourself with a sharp knife, the cut heals better because it is clean. Dull knives glance off food and tear skin. Sharpen your knives.

Cutting Boards: For starting cooks, I strongly recommend getting dishwasher safe cutting boards.

Bread Knife: Pre-sliced bread is an abomination. Really. If you can avoid purchasing it, you will be a happy person. Accordingly, you will want a long bread knife to help you get through the beautiful loaves you are purchasing fresh from local bakeries. Again, I think Victorinox makes a very acceptable product.

Mixing Bowls: You will want glass measuring bowls. Metal bowls can be terrific, but they are usually reactive to acids or other foods. Glass is utterly neutral. You will want Pyrex brand, however, as they are more durable.

Measuring Cups: You will want a set of measuring spoons, and dry, as well as liquid measuring cups.    

A cast-iron skillet: Lodge makes the most iconic skillet ever. It will last your lifetime so long as you treat it well.

Roasting Pan: Cuisinart makes a very acceptable roasting pan.

Stock Pot: While you may well want to purchase some sauce pans, a good stock pot is large enough to handle almost everything. In general, the heavier the pot, the less likely it is to scorch food. In an ideal world, we would all be cooking out of steel lined copper for everything. The pot linked above, however, is good enough to do most of the work you want it to do.

Baking Sheet / Cooling Rack: While I have never purchased the following combination, you need both of these things and it seems to me that it is a good idea to get both simultaneously.

Cake Pan: I am a huge fan of Fat Daddio’s pans. I am linking an 8-inch pan, but you may feel a different size is better for you. I’d recommend getting 3 8-inch pans.

Silicon Spatulas: There are many makers of spatulas, but I am simply linking here and here a couple of sets that appear, on first blush, to be quite good.

Added Later:

Colander: Although 20-somethings are fairly suspicious of carbohydrates, there are times when nothing will do except a big bowl of pasta. Colanders are hugely helpful and should have been on the original list.

Poultry Shears: There are some kinds of chicken or turkey prep that are very hard to do without poultry shears.

Microplane Grater: Microplane produces some of the best zesters and graters on the market.  These are pretty essential.

ThermoWorks Thermapen: I have no idea why I forgot to include this thermometer on the original list; it would seem so fundamental that I should include it that its exclusion has me quite thrown. Usually I try to link to thinks on Amazon; here I did not because I could not find this brand and manufacturer there. I know that ThermoWorks Thermapen works consistently and accurately; I would purchase this thermometer even if it costs more.


Basil Pesto

I am pretty happy with my pesto. Over a decade ago I decided to swear off using machines to make my pesto, and I have never looked back. And, in point of fact, I am not convinced, when you factor in cleaning food processors and the like, that I am actually doing more work making pesto by hand than I might be using a machine.

I am especially in love with pesto in late June and early July; we plant basil in pots, and it is officially warm enough that the basil grows aggressively, but we are not so early that the basil begins to get a harsh taste. While I may well contemplate putting some pesto away in a few weeks, my current mode of operating is to pick and pesto directly out of the garden.

Before I proceed any further, however, a word needs to be said about using pesto. My approach is that I will make small batches of pesto that will be consumed within a day or two. If you need to work ahead and make pesto that will last, you will need to modify my recipe.  The key is that you will need to shock the basil to hold its color and its flavor. You will do this by taking the freshly picked basil and briefly (30 seconds) submerging it in boiling, salted water (about a tbsp per gallon of water). You will then quickly submerge the basil into a bath of ice-cold water to “shock” the basil. It will fix the color of the basil and will preserve a good deal of the basil flavor. I usually do not do this step, however, and as a result, you will not see it below.


1 bunch basil: I grow my own. If you cannot, I strongly encourage you to purchase hydroponically grown basil from your grocery store over and above cut basil stems.

Olive oil: I wish I could give you a quantity, but I simply add olive oil in order to adjust the texture of my work product. See the images below to get a sense of the texture of my work product.

Grated Reggiano Parmesan cheese: In general, one should purchase the most expensive Italian parmesan cheese one can possibly secure. I strongly recommend the “red cow” parmesan cheese if you can get it (yes, it should be eaten by itself, but for this purpose, it is important).

1-2 cloves garlic: My family loves garlic. Yours may not. Adjust accordingly.

Almonds: I am aware that my Italian friends are currently having a conniption at my recommendation that you use almonds here. “Do you not know,” they will query, “that only pine nuts will do?” They are, of course, technically correct. I have walked away from using pine nuts for a very particular reason–I cannot get fresh pine nuts here in the United States. The pine nuts I get are, without exception, rancid. I am a very strong believer that there are few things that are worse for you than rancid oils. Until Americans can get access to genuinely fresh pine nuts, I suggest that we use almonds.

White balsamic vinegar: Here I am running against tradition. In its most classic iteration, pesto does not involve an acid. Personally, however, I believe that the best pestos are ones that contain as many tastes as possible. Further, I do not want to shock my basil, and I want my pesto to keep its spring-green color. Accordingly, I feel like pestos should have at least some acid added in order to brighten the flavor of the pesto, as well as to act as a mild antioxidant which can preserve the color of the condiment. In the past, I tended to use lemon (zest and juice) to bring up the acid of the pesto. I enjoyed this version, and would have kept it, except my brother sent me a bottle of a very fine white balsamic vinegar, and I substituted it in an act of desperation (my lemons had gone off).  White balsamic has a deliciously complex flavor, and I sprinkle it on my pesto to make it quite special.


Begin by cutting the base off of your garlic cloves, and splitting the cloves to peel them. Finely fan-slice the cloves, and finely mince them. Add the salt and almonds to the minced garlic, and chop until you have produced a fine nut-garlic-salt paste. Add olive oil and chop to incorporate. Add the grated parmesan cheese, and chop to incorporate. Adjust the quantity of olive oil so that all of the cheese is saturated with oil.

Pluck the basil leaves from the basil stems. Layering leaf on top of leaf, roll the leaves from each stem into a tight “cigar.” Using your chef’s knife, carefully cut each cigar into fine ribbons. When all of your basil leaves have been ribboned, put the ribbons on top of the nut paste, and begin to chop them in. Chop for about one minute, and add oil to keep the entire mixture moistened. When most of the leaves have been incorporated, taste the pesto paste you have been producing. Sprinkle white balsamic on top of the mound of paste, and chop to incorporate the acid.  Taste again. Adjust until the basil flavor “pops” out from the cheese. Conversely, you may feel you need to grate additional parmesan cheese to bring up the earthy undertones of the cheese.  Scrape the pesto into a bowl, leaving a substantial amount of pesto still smeared on the cutting board.

Toast a loaf of top quality bread, and slice several generous portions. Call your family down to the kitchen, and tell them you “couldn’t” get all of the pesto off of the cutting board. Allow them to use the bread to scrape the pesto off of the cutting board. It will be the best pesto you have ever had!


Guacamole, my way

It is hard to praise guacamole sufficiently. Beautiful, loaded with delicious and healthy fats, guacamole goes with almost everything.  Unfortunately, most commercially purchased guacamole is, well, depressing. I really prefer to make my own guacamole, and I think that most people would do it if they could overcome a vague guacamole anxiety.

Guacamole is, at its core, a pesto–a paste produced by pounding ingredients. Today, the vast bulk of pestos are produced by a machine. I think this is why the vast bulk of pestos are inherently disappointing. Gentler treatment (low heat, slow process) to me protects the ingredients found in a pesto.

Now, I am also keenly aware that many people see guacamole as a political issue. I have been informed, quite stiffly, that guacamole has rules; standards. I have no interest in the politics of guacamole. Rather, I like making guacamole, and eating it. If this guacamole violates a rule that you have, I invite you to break the rules.

Ingredients: garlic (2-3 cloves), sea salt (1-2 tsp), cilantro (a big bunch), lime (zest and juice of 1), avocados (as many as you can reasonably eat, perhaps 3-4), 1 tomato that actually has a flavor (heirlooms are best, but hot-house tomatoes are acceptable if they are aromatic) ground cumin (1-2 tsp), red pepper (1 tsp).

Method: Mince the garlic cloves. Using a fork, mash the garlic with the sea salt to begin to break the garlic down and to soften its flavor. Finely chop the zest of one lime and the cilantro into the garlic paste. Add the cumin and red pepper flakes, chopping to incorporate the spices into the paste. Dice the tomato. Put the chopped tomato into a bowl, and add the garlic-lime zest-cilantro-cumin-red pepper paste. To this, add the juice of one lime and stir to make a slurry. Peel and coarsely chop the avocados. Adding the tomato slurry, begin to blend the mixture together with a fork. Put the resulting paste into a bowl, and serve.

Storage: Like most pestos, guacamole has a limited shelf-life, and is really best consumed the moment after it is made. If you must store it, store it under plastic wrap–pressing the wrap against the surface of the guacamole to try to keep oxygen away from the pesto. Assuming that you added enough lime and salt, you should be able to keep the guacamole for a day in a refrigerator.






In Praise of Butter Coffee

I think it is fair to say that I take a certain amount abuse from people for my butter coffee drinking habit.

Although I did not start drinking butter coffee until 2017 (it has, apparently, been “hot” since 2014), it is certainly a new at my school. I think I am perhaps the only one that has been making it, although that might change now that you can get Bulletproof Coffee at Whole Foods.

So what is it? The animating idea behind butter coffee is ancient; namely, that butter contains a number of important fats, and those stimulants (such as tea or coffee) can be improved by the addition of butter. So long as the butter is emulsified in the stimulant, the effects of the stimulant are buffered, and the fats can sustain one (to feel full, to have mental clarity) for an extended period of time.

More recently, a very clever entrepreneur named David Asprey has been marketing buttered coffee aggressively. In order to monetize buttered coffee (and to sell a number of supporting products) Asprey has taken to calling his product Bulletproof Coffee. The directions for making it can be found in the blog. Now, let me begin by saying that I am a huge fan of David Asprey, and I think a good deal of what he says is very clever. However, I do not unquestioningly endorse everything he says or claims.

What do I support about Asprey? Asprey loves fats, and his thinking about the role of fats in the diet is some of the best out there. His blog, which is linked above, contains a huge volume of incredibly important information about fat metabolism. Asprey’s dietary ideas are also, in my estimate, largely sound. Asprey, as near as I can tell, is spot on when it comes to discussing the merits of grass-fed meats and fats.  Further, I think he is dead right on the role of carbohydrates in obesity. When I follow his diet, I lose weight. When I am off his diet (as I am now), I gain weight. Simple.

So I consume butter coffee because of Asprey. And I follow Asprey for the most part in making bulletproof coffee. For one, I think his idea of adding fractionated coconut oil (Caprylic acid, or C8) to the coffee is brilliant. There is no doubt that the C8 (which Asprey markets as Brain Octane) does an amazing job of improving my focus and clarity. It does a beautiful job of shutting down my appetite. Even when I am not following his diet carefully, I like cutting out a regular breakfast in favor of consuming butter coffee.

What are my reservations about Asprey? The answer is that I do not see the science behind his assertion that one should only consume HIS brand of very expensive coffee. He claims that his coffee is the only coffee not contaminated by mycotoxins. Perhaps this is so, but he has not convinced me that this is the case. I like my own brands of coffee (my favorite right now is Kicking Horse Coffee) and I have no need to spend what Asprey is asking on a product that does not convince me.

But what about the taste of buttered coffee? Contrary to most people’s expectations, it is flat out delicious. The nearest taste parallel is coffee with a ton of creamer–it is smooth and utterly delicious.  You do need a high power blender to make it (I use my Vitamix), and I do endorse using Brain Octane Oil and Kerrygold Unsalted Butter as the fats. And, it does take some time in your morning to put it together (make the coffee, blend the coffee, drink the coffee).  But the advantages of the coffee are so great that I encourage you to try it.



Dining with Old Friends, and Ming Tsai

One of the great pleasures of teaching at Newark Academy is that one gets to meet not only wonderful students, but wonderful families. While I am not entirely certain the would appreciate being named in a public blog, one family (M.E. & P), in particular (and their children, G, J & M) has always been a delight, and has consistently been willing to bid on a “faculty find” meal that I offer at the yearly NAPA gala (perhaps I will have more to say about my offering this meal later).  They are wonderful to cook for, because they are always willing to venture into something unusual with me. In a world where we have become more and more particular about what we will allow to pass our lips, it is wonderful to cook for people who are largely willing to take a risk. I had the pleasure of dining with them this Thursday, June 22, 2017, and I spent the day prepping for the event.

One of my great vices is that I always over-cook. I am paranoid about failing to provide for people, and when the food is good, sometimes it goes quite quickly. Although we were really only seven people all together. I cooked to feed 10.  At least I was able to leave my hosts with leftovers.

Summer is upon us, and for reasons that elude me, my summer cooking is most frequently Italian, or Asian inflected. Perhaps there are sound reasons for my choices; I just know that I am drawn in that direction.

Of late, I have been drawn back to a text that I fell in love with over seventeen years ago–Ming Tsai’s Blue Ginger: East Meets West Cooking with Ming Tsai. Perhaps this return was influenced, in part, because I recently grew misty-eyed upon learning that Ming Tsai recently closed his famous Blue Ginger restaurant. Or perhaps it was simply time to return to an old friend. Regardless, it was the Blue Ginger that drew my attention as I got ready to cook for my hosts.

When I first started cooking out of Ming Tsai, I was tremendously impressed by the subtle hand that Tsai brought to handling fish. In particular, I have long loved his Corn Lemongrass Soup with Lobster Salad (pp. 28-29) as it is unusual, relatively simple to produce, and is visually stunning. Unfortunately, I did not take photographs of the finished product (I had not thought of this blog when I prepared it), but I think the concept is pretty straightforward.

The base of the whole event is the corn soup. Unlike some other corn soups, Tsai has designed a corn base that is thickened exclusively by the cellulose and starch released by corn cobs.  This soup can be prepared vegan (as I did), but it is arguably even better designed around a chicken-stock base.

To prepare the soup, roughly chop about three large onions (I used Vidalia sweet onions, as they were on sale, but any onion would do), and toss into a stockpot along with a light, generally flavorless oil (canola is recommended) sufficient to generously cover the onions. In addition, Tsai recommends that you sprinkle in about two cups of finely chopped lemongrass stalks (the tender, white parts of the stalk). This, however, is where I strayed from Tsai’s advice.

I live in suburban New Jersey in a town called Chatham. While Chatham has a good deal to recommend it, it is rather short of people who might routinely consume lemongrass. I therefore have a good deal of difficulty getting lemongrass in sufficient quantities to meet Tsai’s recommendations. Yesterday, as in the past, I simply responded by grubbing as many lemongrass stalks as I could get from Whole Foods, and making due with what I could find (approximately half-a-cup).  I have to say, I like the end product, and I suspect I like it more than I would like the soup with a stronger lemongrass flavor. Lastly, I added two tablespoons of prepared ginger puree (I used the Ginger People’s puree, but any competitor would do).  I then popped the onion mixture on the stove, set it to medium-low, and let the mixture gently sweat while I turned my attention to the corn.

Now that it is summer, wonderful, sweet, fresh summer corn is just starting to come in. I picked up 12 ears of corn at Whole Foods, and brought it home. According to this recipe, one husks the ears of sweet corn (which makes a mess) and then uses a chef’s knife (larger is better) to slice the kernels of corn from the cobs (which makes an even bigger mess). Corn kernels will go everywhere. Collect all the kernels in a bowl, and set aside.  It is now time to move the cobs into the stockpot.

At this point one is almost at the point of adding the stock of your choosing to to the cobs, and allowing the cobs to cook and to release their wonderful colloids to thicken the entire broth.  A few things need to be said, however, before we proceed. First, one will be cooking the cobs, and then removing them, after about 45 minutes worth of cooking.  Accordingly, you want the cobs to be large and intact for easy removal later. Secondly, you will need to reserve about two cups of the largest corn kernels for adding to your crab salad, and for decorating the soup bowls.  The trick is therefore to add only the small, chopped up pieces of corn, while reserving the largest kernels.  How do you do this?

My answer is gravity sorting. Take your own of corn kernels, and begin to gently shake the bowl back and forth–perhaps even tapping it on the counter. Over time (2-3 minutes) the largest kernel clusters are likely to shake to the top. You can then skim them off the top, and reserve them for later usage.

So, at this point, you have a stockpot that contains (a) onion, (b) lemongrass, (c) ginger, (d) large corn cobs, and (e) a substantial quantity of corn kernels–all of which are cooking on very low heat. You can now add stock (chicken, vegetable) sufficient to cover all of the ingredients. Tsai estimates that you will need about 8 cups. I tend to estimate more. This should be raised to a gentle simmer, and left alone for around 45 minutes to an hour; stirring is probably a very good idea.

At the hour mark, I now take an additional step. I have a wonderful blender, a Vitamix, and it is amazing at reducing even challenging substances into a perfect puree. Working in stages, I take the corn soup (now cooked) and puree the soup until it is velvety smooth. I return the soup to the stockpot, and keep it just barely simmering.

It is now time to turn one’s attention to making the “lobster” salad.

Now, I have to admit that I am a heretic. I am simply not in love with lobster. Surely, young lobsters (1-1.5 lbs) are not bad, but I am not at all convinced that they are worth their time, Certainly, they are a pain to obtain, and they are annoying to cook and shell. If I was passionate about their flavor, I would exert myself. I am not, and so I look for alternatives.

One of the great dirty secrets that most Americans do not know is that canned crab meat is often really quite delicious, and is almost always the foundation for whatever crab products they are consuming (crab cakes, etc.). While I have tended to be Phillips Loyalist, I was unable to find Phillips at my local Whole Foods, and accordingly I substituted with J.M. Clayton Jumbo (the largest size) lump crab meat. Not only was it delicious, but I was happy to discover that it was processed in the United States (which, I acknowledge, is imperfect, but it is certainly less imperfect than some recent reports of working conditions of crab pickers in China and the Philippines).  I used one full tin of their crab meat (which I placed in a pyrex mixing bowl).

The backbone of this crab salad is fennel root. Many home chefs have little experience with fennel, but it is a delightful, sweet pairing that classically pairs with lobster or crab. Negatively, fennel, when eaten raw in large chunks, has a distinct aroma which is evocative of anise or licorice. While this is a classic flavor pairing in Chinese cuisine (say, 5-spice powder) it can be challenging if it gets to be too intense. The goal, to my mind, is to reduce the risks of exposing your guests to too large a single bite of fennel (releasing too many of the aromatics all at once). My solution is to achieve a very fine dice (brunoise) on the fennel. While I was unable to find a model of how to do this that was prefect, the following Vimeo does offer a crude model of what I am after. The end dice should be an eighth to a sixteenth of an inch in size; the key is to simply begin the cutting process with a very sharp knife, and approach the dice as if one is shaving slices, rather than chopping the root apart.  I ended up dicing one and a half fennel bulbs (well, I diced two, and used 1.5 bulb).  I do save as many of the fennel fronds as I can, as I like their look and I garnish with them as well as fold them into the final salad product.

A third important element of this salad is found in the reserved corn kernels. You should have about two cups worth of mostly intact corn kernels, and those kernels will need to be briefly cooked in order to get them ready for the salad. To do this, bring about 4 cups of water to a brisk boil on your stove. Salt the water with about a tablespoon of salt (I am very imprecise here) in order to lock in the color of the corn.  Before adding the corn, set aside another bowl in your sink, and add as much ice to the bowl as you can spare. Fill the iced bowl with cool tap water (we are making ice water to shock the corn) and have the bowl ready for your corn. Ready a colander in anticipation of draining the corn. Once that is set, add the two cups of reserved corn kernels to the pot, and cook them for no more than 3 minutes. At the three minute mark, drain the hot corn (be careful) and transfer the hot drained corn kernels into the ice bath to stop the cooking. When the kernels have become dead cold, drain the ice water, and set the corn kernels aside.  Approximately one cup of the corn kernels will be used to add to the crab salad. The rest of the kernels will be scattered as garnish in the bowls of soup.

If crab and fennel are the two features of this salad, we do have a major problem–together the two ingredients are very, very sweet. I do think it is important that dishes strive to combine or balance flavor profiles. How does one achieve a balance in this dish?

The answer is that one needs to supply (a) sourness, (b) bitterness, and (c) spiciness to offset the sweet.  Happily Ming Tsai has brilliantly designed this recipe to do just this. Chives (about a quarter cup) stand in to bring bitterness (a sulphuric undertone) to feature the crab’s sweetness. Secondly, the salad is dressed with the juice of one lemon. And lastly, the spice taste is added by dressing the salad with 8 teaspoons of hot chile oil.

The chile oil is the main ingredient that will cause home cooks to balk. While it is true that Ming Tsai provides a recipe for making chile oil at home, the quantities that result are so great that it is simply impracticable. I would head out to your local grocery, and pick up a bottle of chile oil from Ka-Me foods (carried by most grocery store chains).

These ingredients are then gently blended (do not break up the lump crab meat with vigorous mixing–you will make me cry).  And reserved for plating.  You should probably adjust the seasoning of the salad (salt and pepper) to your taste.

So! You are narrowing in on completing this dish! The last thing that you need to secure is a very good baguette from someone who knows what they are doing with bread. In general, I tend to lean towards three major bread bakeries as sources of a quality product: the Balthazar Bakery (widely available, especially in King’s and Whole Foods, but also available at Gary’s Wine and Liquor),  the Sullivan Street Bakery, (less available, but excellent), and the Tom Cat Bakery (widely available, especially in King’s and Whole Foods). Some Whole Foods markets produce excellent store-based breads (say, the Sperlonga at Springfield-Union, which can now be delivered); others produce mediocre to poor versions of their own breads. I would get the best loaf you can find, and slice the loaf into 1.5 inch rounds. Coat both sides of the slice in a high-quality olive oil, and grill them until just golden.


In a wide, flat soup bowl, place the grilled bread in the center. Using your hands, carefully mound the crab salad up on the toast (1/4th to 1/2 cup). Surround the toasts with the shocked corn, and then using a ladle, pour in the piping hot corn soup until it rises within a few millimeters of the top of the bread. Serve immediately.

Pfew! This was more writing than I intended! But what fun it is to write it all down! I shall return and talk about lemongrass ice cream with pineapple salsa (also Ming Tsai inspired) and poached chicken (MT as well), as well as pistachio-pesto and peach salad (MT and Jody Adams).





Food and Life

Food has long been tremendously important to my family. My mother and father were both very deeply affected by the American Culinary Revolution (be warned that the Wikipedia entry tends to reduce this to a one-note movement focused on Alice Waters and Chez Panisse; both are wonderful and important, but the world is less simple than this article implies) of the 1960s and 1970s, and, as natural scholars, both took to food as an amazing intellectual project that was worthy in its own right. Although there were many, many figures that influenced my parents (Pierre Franey, James Beard, Jacques Pepin), and who were, in spirit, always good friends in our house, it was Julia Child who might have been most important to us–if not always as a model to be perfectly imitated, as a figure who functioned for us (cultural Protestants) as a kind of secular saint. For my mother, in particular, Julia Child modeled a kind of passionate research-driven approach to food that satisfied the laboratory impulse that still to this day animates her work.  To my father, Julia Child modeled a kind of intellectual integrity; she reviewed food honestly, directly, and precisely, and saw “food talk” as an opportunity to plan how to make the next meal better. Food was quite literally the most important thing that my family did together. We loved each other through the table. I can scarcely remember a day in my life living with my parents where there were not several piles of cookbooks–propped open, interleaved–sitting around the house as research projects into one meal or another.

So why open up this blog? Because it occurred to me that I still cook passionately, but that unlike my mother, who documents her work as she goes, I have left no footprints behind my cooking for my daughter. I have no easy way to share what I have been doing in the kitchen with my guests. I am quite literally cooking without a history. While this site will never rival some of the slick productions of professional food bloggers, I don’t need it to. Rather, I just need to share what interests me. And that will be enough.