"Many top chefs have discovered some surprisingly tasty ways to keep the pounds at bay. [Their] tantalizing suggestions [are] put forth in Smart Chefs Stay Slim, a new book detailing the eating strategies of today’s culinary superstars." -- OPRAH.COM

find me

Life of Pie


Started my Thanksgiving season -- yes, it's a season now -- by reviewing new cookbooks. (You can see them in the Sexiest Man Alive issue of People.) Among them was Sam Sifton's "Thanksgiving: How to Cook it Well," which mandates for the use of at least two pounds of butter to make the holiday meal. Writes Sifton: "There may well be lots left over. But two pounds sends a message."

That's the kind of message that I am happy to perpetuate for a once-a-year occasion like Thanksgiving. But this year, I'm not the cook. I'm a guest. And my generous hosts happen not to use butter in their meal because they follow the Jewish laws of keeping kosher. No bird and butter on the same table.

Since I'm not a fan of margarine, this presented a challenge for making pie crust. Having returned recently from Italy, where I spent an afternoon learning about how olives become olive oil and tasting a tart of figs nestled in an olive-oil crust, I thought I could do something similar with apples and pears.

A digital scale is a great help.

I adapted a standard tart recipe, chilling the oil in the freezer so that it created the recognizable pea-sized pieces of fat hitting flour. I also used some almond flour mixed in for sweetness and structure.

Here's the basic shell recipe; fill with sliced fruit (tossed with cinnamon and 1/4 to 1/2 cup sugar, depending on how sweet the fruit is and your own taste) and bake at 400 for 25-45 minutes, or until your fruit is golden and glazed.






Enough for up to a 12-inch tart pan.

200 grams flour

50 grams almond flour

1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt

2 tablespoons sugar

1/4 cup olive oil, chilled in freezer for at least 30 minutes

1/2 cup very cold water

Combine the flours, salt, and sugar in a medium mixing bowl. Add the oil and mix it in with a fork until pea-size crumbs form. Add the water, mix with the fork until it is absorbed, then knead gently until the dough comes together into a ball; don't overwork it.

Turn the dough out on a lightly floured surface and roll the dough out into a circle a little larger than your tart pan. Transfer the dough carefully into the pan. Trim the excess dough and place the pan in the refrigerator for 30 minutes to rest.

Get your fruit ready: I peeled, cored and thinly sliced two Empire apples and two bosc pears. Toss the fruit in olive oil (just enough to lightly coat) and sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar. Layer the slices in concentric circles until the tart is filled. Because this is a holiday and too much isn't enough, I dotted the tart with finely chopped pieces of candied ginger before baking.

Bake until golden; mine oven tooke the full 45 minutes to get those apples soft and syrupy, but mind yours if you're using fruit that cooks more quickly.

Thankful to be sharing this holiday with loved ones in the beautiful Berkshire foothills. Grateful for a year that saw my book published, and so many readers respond to it.  Thanks!

Happy Thanksgiving!



Eating Chocolate with Eric Ripert

The blog is back. After doing battle with spotty or non-existent hotel internet connections in Europe, and no power at all for six days in NYC, I have returned to my post, to post.  To draw a line under the gloomy week that was, I was happy to get an invitation to Ardesia, Mandy Oser's lovely midtown winebar, for the launch of a special edition chocolate from Éclat. The bars, called Good & Evil (dark chocolate + cocoa nibs), were a collaboration between Éclat and chefs Eric Ripert and Anthony BourdainSmoky truffles from Éclat, at Ardesia. Ripert and chocolatier Christopher Curtain were on hand to talk up the creation, which began, Curtain told me, with the blessing of the mayor of a Peruvian town too secret to name. His video, here, does a better job of illuminating their tree-to-bean-to-bar adventures. When I met him last year for our Smart Chefs interview, the Le Bernardin chef was forthcoming about his love of chocolate, and how it fits in -- daily -- to his balanced way of eating.

"I love dessert, but I don't eat dessert at night. I eat dark chocolate -- I have no problem to eat it before I go to bed or in the morning.  If you go to my office now you'll freak out; I have that much chocolate. But I can have one or two squares -- a little piece. I have this discipline about it." 

We did look in his office, and there was a lot of chocolate, all dark (though with varied flavors), and all in bars, stacked up on the credenza. This is a good way to go about it: Get the best chocolate you can find, keep it handy, and don't make a big deal about having just a little everyday.  "A lot of journalists ask, 'What's your guilty pleasure.' I have no guilt," said Ripert. "To me it is inconceivable to have guilt about eating. If you feel guilt, it's not edifying."

So, Good & Evil, sure. Guilt, never.



3 Qs for: Hugh Acheson

Georgia-based Hugh Acheson of Empire State South, Five & Ten, and the National is the 2012 James Beard Award winner for Best Chef Southeast, and the judge on Top Chef with one eyebrow.  But the important thing to remember here is: Hugh is a transplanted Canadian, so he is too polite to make sweeping statements about Americans that could seriously be considered rude. Keep that in mind as you take down his technique for perfect just-hard-enough boiled eggs. I spoke with him at the Cooking Light "Light Up the Night" 25th anniversary party, where he was seasoning a tray of the aforementioned perfect eggs, on their way to a delightful little from Cooking Light

I've noticed that whoever puts an egg on something in Top Chef, will win that challenge.

HA: Usually. You know, I’ve had about a hundred people ask me tonight how to cook an egg. I think America does not know how to cook a fucking egg. 

This is a 9-minute egg. [Indicates his tray of uniformly beautiful eggs.] Boil the water, eggs go in, 9 minutes, eggs get chilled down.

[At this point a young woman interrupts and says to Hugh: "I love you. Can I have a picture? I love you." Hugh says, "Awesome," and obliges. I think I may have photo-bombed them; sorry drunk girl.]

How do you lighten up the heavier elements of Southern cooking, say fried chicken? 

HA: There are some things you can lighten up in the Southern vernacular. But the Southern dinner is not fried chicken and biscuits. It’s a small amount of fried chicken with greens, succotash, hoppin' john. A big spread. So I don’t want to change the good Southern food. But I want to change food across America, which is stupid in a lot of ways and really unhealthy for us. I want to make sure kids know food doesn’t come out of a bag, that it’s grown by people. Food Corps [the evening's beneficiary] is doing a great job in that. It's not Southern food, but it’s food of convenience that is bad for us.

How do you stay in shape?

HA: I smoke and drink bourbon -- it’s very slimming! No, I eat a lot of salads, healthy. I don’t workout as much as I used to. You have to be smart with food. Understand when overconsumption happens. Americans have been trained to overconsume. We need to stop that, it’s pointless. Bad for our food supply, bad for obesity rates, bad for diabetes rates. We need to think about how much we eat.



Smart tip: The One-Pot Meal

 Before you write in, let me say that I realize that the dish prepared below—José Andrés's modern take on traditional paella, which he called Arroz a banda con Bogavante (rice apart from lobster, with cuttlefish)—likely required a battery of saucepans and other equipment to prepare. José Andrés (second from left) and a non-traditional paella at ICC.The occasion was a joyful one: the launch of the new Spanish Culinary Arts program at New York's International Culinary Center, which Andrés will oversee.  There was a lot of wonderful food that day including a tomato, water and goat cheese salad, and a dessert of Catalan custard with citrus and vanilla -- a peek at what the curriculum might include.

These dishes were made by pros, with the aim of teaching future pros who will in turn be cooking these sorts of show-stoppers in restaurants. But while top chefs may take their skills and their palettes home when they are off-duty, they don't take their prep cooks or dish washers with them. Nobody likes cleaning up after dinner; chefs cooking on their own time loathe it. Arroz a banda con Bogavante

The solution? One-pot dinners. “In restaurants it takes so much equipment. At home I literally try to figure out what will take the least amount of effort and the fewest objects to wash, because I don’t have my crew picking up after me," says Sang Yoon, chef-owner of Lukshon in Los Angeles. Yoon is a big fan of the one-pot meal: soups, stews, casseroles, or curries. The prep and clean-up is easier, of course. "But I also think that one-pot meals are incredibly soul-satisfying, comforting.”

Paella came up often as a favorite one-dish dinner among chefs I spoke with: Cat Cora, Jacques Torres, and Marc Murphy all make it regularly for their families or guests at home. It is a dish that can be as elevated as Andrés's presentation, or a simple as you like: use a combination of seafood, chicken, sausage, or try a vegetarian version. Murphy's easy-to-follow recipe appears in Smart Chefs: Rice, proteins, vegetables, stock all in the same pan. I'll be making it this week. Meanwhile, I wish the best of luck to the first class of students at the Spanish Culinary Arts program. And their dish washers, which is mostly likely also them.

Tomato & Watermelon salad with Goat CheeseCatalan custard with citrus & vanilla


3 Qs for: Masterchef winner Christine Ha

A Houston native as comfortable with fried chicken as stir fries, Christine Ha won over the Masterchef judges with flavors and techniques—that she happens also to be blind and didn't lose a finger in the process is equally impressive. I met Ha at Eataly, where Joe Bastianich was hosting a viewing party for the finale.


What's your stay-slim secret?photo from

CH: [Laughs] I don't think about it. I'm from the South, so I like fried foods. But in small portions. I also love dark chocolate, but in moderation.

How were you eating during the weeks of Masterchef shooting?

CH: They catered food in for us. [Diplomatic pause.] We cooked way better. We all wished we could eat our own food.

Everything on the show is plated really beautifully for the judges -- what's the quick-and-unfancy dish you most love to make for yourself?

CH: Stir-fried noodles. I'd make that for just myself.