"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

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Summer Greenmarket Brunch, with jam

Temptation meets hostility at the Union Square market; this scared me off those peaches, good as they looked.I've discovered that with the Citibikes, I can haul more stuff back from the greenmarket. Here's some of what I very carefully rode back with today, and how we used it.


Pullet eggs from Violet Hill Farms



The eggs -- from pullets, which I learned are chickens that have just started to lay eggs, basically the sixteen-and-pregnant gals of the barnyard -- became a tarragon-heavy egg salad, served with tomatoes, lettuce and challah, and a fruit salad of blueberries, plums and mint.

Then, this:

It's SOUR CHERRY season.My friend Ellen Shapiro, who was the excellent fact-checker on SMART CHEFS, stopped by my office yesterday all excited about sour cherries coming into their very short season.  So when I saw them at the market this morning I grabbed a bunch, tasted them, and decided they would be jam.

Here's the recipe:

Use 3/4 the amount of sugar to the amount of cherries. My bag of cherries weighed (after pitting) 9 oz, so: 6.75 oz of sugar.  (You can eyeball this with measuring cups too, if you don't have a scale.)

Put in a heavy pot over medium-high heat with juice of one lemon, a cinnamon stick, and Why I save jam jars from the store.a couple whole cloves. Stir until the heat and the juices released from the cherries dissolves the sugar. Simmer for 30-45 minutes or so, until the fruit is broken down (help it along with a fork if you don't like big pieces in your jam) and the liquid is starting to gel.  Cool, and store in the fridge. Enjoy.


A Hummus to Remember

A little while ago we attended a memorial service for Lou Rispoli, the husband of my son's first piano teacher and our friend Danyal Lawson.  In 2011, just after New York changed the law to allow same-sex marriage, Lou and Danyal wed (after 31 years together -- about time!) and we were honored to celebrate with them at a backyard garden wedding with loads of their friends. It was a gorgeous August day in Queens, NY.

Lou Rispoli.

I didn't know Lou very well; we saw his friendly face only occassionally at the music school, where upstairs Danyal introduced my son to Mozart. But one of the first things you learned about Lou was that he was a wonderful cook. The home-cooked wedding spread included many dishes to honor moments in their long love story, including "our bagel sandwich" with bacon that they used to order regularly at the old Bagel restaurant in the Village. I love how a life together can be told in meals.

At the memorial, speakers and musicians offered a warm portrait of Lou, filled with admiration, humor, and tears.  The last person at the dais shared something Lou loved to share with his loved ones: great food. She simply recited his full written directions for a homemade hummus.  Reading it, you get a notion of how he felt about taking care with cooking—and his rather direct way of expressing himself to those who care to differ. 

I urge you to read it to the end. Press on past the instruction to remove the skins from a bowl of chick peas. If you believe life is too short to fuss with such tasks, I can only offer that, yes, life is too often  shockingly, tragically short. Let us not waste our precious time eating chalky hummus. And let us appreciate while we can those people willing to fuss for the pleasure and joy of others.

- chick peas (aka garbanzo beans), 1 lb., soaked, simmered, shelled and split [or use canned/jarred, rinsed, shelled and split.]
- tahini (sesame paste), ½ cup, only ingredient is sesame seeds (or make your own: ½ cup seeds, toasted lightly, cooled, powdered, blended using sesame oil)
- garlic, 4 large cloves, crushed or minced very fine
- aromatic broth (or water), ¼ cup, made with chopped onion, carrot, bay leaf, parsley, celery, garlic—strained
- lemon juice, ¼ cup, juice of 2-3 lemons
- olive oil, ¼-½ cup
- spices, to taste, use the following or choose your own: salt, black pepper, sweet paprika (2 teaspoons), hot red pepper (½ teaspoon), ground cumin (2 teaspoons)
- garnishes: olive oil, paprika, fresh parsley or basil (chopped), lemon wedges, pitted olives

1. Prepare the chick peas:
• soak 1 lb. of dried chick peas in cold water overnight
• rinse thoroughly, put in a large pot with cold water, bring to a boil, turn down to a very low simmer, cook for 20-30 minutes; drain, rinse with cold water till cool, leave peas covered with cold water till you shell them
• shell the peas and split them apart in half
• In a food processor, mix 2½ cups of the chick peas, ¼ cup of lemon juice, and ¼ cup olive oil. Puree to desired texture. Add more olive oil if too thick–but only enough to keep the ingredients moving.
2. Prepare and add the tahini:
• put ½ cup of sesame paste in a bowl, slowly stir in ¼ cup of broth (or water) until the mixture is creamy and white. Add to chick pea mixture. Blend well. Add more olive oil if too thick.
3. Finishing the dish:
• press the garlic and add to food processor. Puree.
• add spices, a bit at a time, tasting constantly
• correct texture and taste using additional lemon juice, olive oil and spices.
4. Garnishes [optional]: sprinkle top with olive oil, then paprika, then chopped parsley or basil, then lemon wedges and olives. Make it pretty.

A note about shelling chick peas: many friends have banged their head in incredulity when I tell them I shell the chick peas. Apparently, that’s too compulsive-obsessive crazy for them. Obviously, you can make this spread without shelling the chick peas. However, I say peel one chick pea and eat just the shell. It’s CHALKY beyond belief, and not a taste I want to add to anything. You do what you want. My choices are driven by taste, and I’m not lazy if taking extra time improves the taste. If, on the other hand, you conclude the benefit to taste is not worth all the time it takes to shell all those chick peas, I say, “Enjoy your hummus, lunkhead”.

Recipes That Don't Need a Recipe: Saturday lunch for Spring

I don't often cook and sit down with the family for lunch, but I had some shad in the fridge that needed to be cooked -- and we are going out tonight.

So: Fish simmered in water and lemon until opaque -- less than 5 minutes, dressed with olive oil and dill (which has been living in my window box for a week), with sliced tomatoes and radishes (olive oil + Maldon salt), and at my son's request, a side of pasta with butter and (window box survivor) parsley.  The most effort here was waiting for pasta water to boil.Dill, Parsley, Chives thriving for a week so far...

Shad has a pretty short season. If you can find it boned, I recommend grabbing it up.  Also recommended: slowing down on a weekend long enough to cook a little and eat together, rather than our usual practice of three people grazing solo throughout the day.




Last Gasp of Winter (I hope) Menu

Italian plum and port wine tart Really? Snow less than a week before Spring? Okay, one more warming soup, this one for company.

This is a great, pretty quick vegan soup from Mario Batali that first appeared in Food & Wine. To make the meal we put out slices of a crusty baguette, two cheeses (sottocenere and an asiago fresca), olives, apple slices and Italian dry salami, as well as an herby salad with a walnut oil and lemon dressing.  And an Italian plum tart with port wine for dessert.


Yes, burning a candle near your cutting board keeps the onions from making you cry! (h/t to America's Test Kitchen)MIXED VEGETABLE AND FARRO SOUP

  1. 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  2. 2 celery ribs, thinly sliced
  3. 1 medium onion, thinly sliced
  4. 1 medium leek, white and pale green parts only, thinly sliced
  5. 1 cup farro or wheat berries
  6. 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  7. 2 quarts water
  8. One 15-ounce can borlotti or pinto beans, drained and rinsed
  9. 2 large carrots, halved lengthwise and sliced crosswise 1/4 inch thick
  10. 1 1/2 cups frozen peas
  11. Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  12. 2 tablespoons thinly sliced basil
  1. In an enameled cast-iron casserole, heat the oil. Add the celery, onion and leek and cook over moderately high heat, stirring a few times, until softened, 5 minutes.
  2. Add the farro and tomato paste and cook, stirring, until the grains are coated and shiny, 30 seconds.
  3. Add 1 quart of the water and the beans and bring to a boil. Simmer over low heat for 30 minutes.
  4. Add the carrots and the remaining 1 quart of water. Cover and cook over low heat until the carrots are tender, 30 minutes.
  5. Add the peas, cover and cook until tender, 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, top with the basil and serve.

The tart had a basic pie crust dough (from Martha Stewart) pressed into the pan and the filling of plums, sugar and cinnamon was similar to the roasted fruit recipe in Smart Chefs (with the addition of corn starch to thicken), and a reduction of port wine with sugar and molasses.



The Last Meal of 2012—some memories and recipes

Katie Lee, Art Smith and me at the New York City Wine & Food Festival. Got any kale questions?Did you eat a lot of kale in 2012? I did. It seemed to be everywhere. One of my favorite days of the past year was at the New York City Wine & Food Festival, where I hosted a Smart Chefs panel that included chefs Marc Murphy, Sue Torres, Art Smith and cookbook author Katie Lee, who went on somewhat poetically and rather hilariously about the two kale meals she had eaten in one day (video here). So in addition to whatever else I was making for my last 2012 supper, a side of kale seemed in order.

But for the centerpiece of this meal, which was cooked for my family at the home in which I was raised, something festive and spectacular. Another great memory from the past year was my trip to Italy with Art Smith, where we ate insanely well (and possibly too much at times) and tried to get ourselves back in balance with runs along the Mediterranean in Livorno, a port town in Tuscany.

Livorno, Italy. Nice place to run, great place to eat. Harvesting olives for Lucini oil in Tuscany, October 2012

Earlier, when I was researching my book, Tom Colicchio introduced me to his family's traditional cacciucco, a fish stew with roots in Livorno, that turns out to be extremely easy to cook and really impressive, on its own with some freshly made crostini, or over bowls of pasta. (Not a lot of pasta; we used half a package of whole wheat spaghetti for 6 people. This is one of my personal big takeaways from Smart Chefs: Eat pasta the way Italians do, in small portions -- not massive bowls!)

I wanted something fresh and crispy for contrast, so I made a fast salad of thinly shaved celery, radish, shallots, with parsley and celery leaves, dressed with olive oil, lemon, salt and pepper. If you've read the book, you are familiar with how those last four ingredients are key to chefs for building flavor, and they did not let us down in this simple and refreshing preparation. Looking forward to 2013, Bon Appetit's January issue assures us that lettuce-free salads of shaved vegetables will be big this year. (My recipe, below, is adapted from one of theirs.)

And, as ever, dessert. The same Bon App had a gorgeous photo of a lemon-honey tart with a salted shortbread crust. Tart with meyer lemons, from my parents' garden. Happy New Year Mom + Dad! (Do you read my blog?) Their recipe calls for meyer lemons, which are not hard to find in stores anymore, but I had it really easy: There's a meyer lemon tree growing in my parents' backyard. When we were kids my brother and I used to pull a racquetball-sized fruit from the tree and toss it to our dog, who would catch it and then drop it in a puckerface (dogs can't really pucker, but we still thought this hilarious). Better use: in a honey-scented, pleasantly salty, tangy and custardy pie to close out an amazing year.



2 cloves garlic

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil (use a great one; you're going to taste it)

1 baguette or crusty Italian bread, sliced into 1/2-inch rounds.

2-3 fresh tomatoes (optional)Crostini. Photo by my son.

Crush the garlic cloves and stir them into the olive oil in a small bowl. Brush the bread with the garlic-scented oil.

Place the bread oil-side down in a large pan or stove-top grill over medium heat. While that side is cooking, brush the other with oil. Turn when they are golden, about 4-7 minutes. Cook the other side and serve immediately as is, or garnish with chopped fresh tomatoes and another drizzle of olive oil.


Shaved Celery & Radish Salad

10 celery stalks, very thinly sliced (shaved on a mandolin is best; otherwise use a food processor's slicing blade)

leaves from one head of celery, chopped roughly

5 medium radishes (we used French breakfast variety) very thinly sliced into disks

1 shallot, very thinly sliced (are you sensing a trend here?) and separated into rings

1/2 cup chopped parsley

1 tablespoon lemon zest

kosher salt

ground black pepper

1/4 cup olive oil

2 tablespoons lemon juice (or more to taste)

Place celery, celery leaves, radishes, shallots and parsley in a large bowl. Add lemon zest, salt and pepper and toss to combine. When ready to serve dress with olive oil and lemon juice, toss again and adjust seasonings to taste.


Cacciucco, adapted from Tom Colicchio

Serves 6

2 medium onions, minced
4 stalks of celery, minced
1 fennel bulbs, minced
1 cup olive oil
28 oz. can crushed tomatoes (I like San Marzano)
2 cloves garlic, mincedCacciucco. Traditionally part of the Italian Christmas fishes dinner, but equally good on New Year's
Zest from one lemon
Crushed red pepper
1 cup of dry white wine
1 cup water
1 lb. squid, cleaned and chopped into 1 inch pieces
18 manila clams
1 lb. medium shrimp peeled and deveined
1 lb. medium scallops
1 lb. monkfish, halibut or other firm filet that can be cut into 2 inch cubes

Over medium to low heat, cook the minced vegetables in the olive oil for about 45 minutes until soft.

Add the crushed tomato, garlic and lemon zest.

Add the squid and cook for about 30 minutes, simmering over low heat. Add the wine, water and clams. Cover and cook until the clams open, about 10 minutes.

Add the remaining seafood and gently cook for 15 – 20 minutes

Serve with whole wheat linguini or spaghetti mixed with garlic, parsley and olive oil.


Braised Kale

1 pound kale (about 2 bunches), large  ribs and stems removed, torn into roughly 1/2-inch pieces

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 medium onion, finely choppedKale had its year. Will we still love it in 2013?

4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

2 cups vegetable stock or organic chicken stock

1/4 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese

Heat the olive oil in heavy large pot over medium heat. Add onion and cook, stirring occasionally,  until translucent, about 5-8 minutes. Add sliced garlic and salt; cook until onion is golden brown, stirring, about 5 more minutes.

Add kale and stock and toss until leaves start to wilt. Cover pot and reduce heat to medium-low. Continue cooking until kale is very tender, stirring occasionally, about 20 minutes. Drain and serve tossed with Parmesan cheese.


Lemon-Honey Tart with Salted Shortbread Crust

Will post this shortly, after magazine is off-stand.

Meanwhile, as you think about eating deliciously and healthfully in this new year, I hope you'll find some inspiration in Smart Chefs Stay Slim, which is just out in paperback.