cat-sized watermelons and other indignities

My last post overstated things. Prosciutto and butter and bread are excellent, yes. But that was then (May), and this is now (July), and the city has an ineffable stickiness that makes you root, root, root for the kids wasting water with the open hydrants (you know it’s wrong, but man is it fun to bike through the spray).

So I’ve been eating my share of squash and blueberries, favas and corn like the rest of the local food crazies. This being my first year in a CSA, I’m gonna crack open the cat-sized watermelon* I just got and turn it into the glorious watermelon-feta salad featured in the August InStyle (the one with Jessica Biel on the cover). It’s a Hugh Acheson recipe, and part of an article on summery Southern cooking by yours truly. All of his recipes are lovely and light, and I’ve been dreaming up riffs on his Pimm’s Cup all summer. Pictured above (right) is Acheson’s fava bean, prosciutto and mint appetizer. It is wonderful.

In less melony news, a bunch of my copy for Bon Appétit is live; I worked on this “Dress for Dinner” project (scroll down) and wrote all the little restaurant reviews. I’ve also been working on guides to various cities in collaboration with Restaurant and Drinks Editor Andrew Knowlton. I’m particularly pleased with the Boston and San Francisco writeups, so please clickety click.

A couple of parting notes: If you are biking, please wear your helmet: I got doored by a car that was illegally parked in a bike lane a couple of months ago, went flying, and was bruised for weeks. I wouldn’t be sitting here writing this if I hadn’t been properly kitted out.

Fellow stone fruit aficionados, don’t miss this article by Mark Bittman. Each approach is so easy: Cherries are simmered in a touch of water and sugar, then maybe topped with mint and crème fraîche (above, left): I am an ice cream fanatic, and I temporarily forgot about ice cream’s existence when I ate these cherries.

Hope you’re having a rad summer.

* We have a large cat. This was a very large melon. It dwarfed her. She seemed indignant. Post title explained.

picnic like you mean it

It’s been a while. And now it’s hot outside. I’m not one of these people who covets salads, tiny berries and buckets of water when it’s hot. I covet ice cream and barbecue, lobster rolls and chicken liver mousse. Weird but true.

To that effect, here’s my favorite picnic sandwich. A twist on the super-simple French classic of meat, butter and baguette, it combines prosciutto di parma, unsalted European butter, and a ramp dressing (minced ramps, olive oil, salt and pepper). Take a whole baguette, lace it with folds of prosciutto, and slather one side with butter and a scallion-or-ramp olive oil mixture (stick to butter if you don’t feel like puréeing scallions). Wrap the whole beastie in wax paper, then foil. Hand out mini wrapped sandwiches at a picnic. Wait for people to ask where you bought it. Laugh.

It’s expensive, sure, for the good prosciutto. But there’s nothing better than this and the Times on a lazy Sunday… unless it’s this, the Times, and a big glass of bourbon mint lemonade.

I’ve been writing for a few great clients lately. I did a piece for InStyle about which I can say nothing until it hits newsstands, wrote some fun marketing copy for Tasting Table (to which everyone should subscribe), and have started working with the lovely folks at Bon Appétit, where I’m a contributing writer. A few of my articles will be popping up there over the coming months.

Oh! And there’s this: Anthony Bourdain, whose life I find so fascinating, was kind enough to chat with me for an epic Grub Street piece—an effort to understand why people who love AB love him So Much.

Happy almost-summer, folks. Eat some salad. Just put cheese on it in case I’m in the vicinity.

IACP Best Televised Culinary Series Nomination

So this is a little wild: The season of the NY CHOW Report that I wrote, hosted and produced and Alex Lisowski directed, shot and edited was just named a finalist for best “Televised Culinary Series” by the International Association of Culinary Professionals. We put together the segments for the fine folks at, including Lessley Anderson, Meredith Arthur, Blake Smith and Davina Baum, who advised on scripts and production. The finished product aired on CHOW and on NY1.

We’re up against heavy hitters like Jacques Pépin and Ming Tsai, so it’s a real honor to be nominated. The show’s second season is hosted by the talented Pervaiz Shallwani and Liza de Guia, and they’re doing a really nice job. Check them out!

And many thanks to the voters at IACP!

winter warmers: my favorite cold-weather recipes

Homemade baked béchamel mac ‘n cheese with sriracha

I am not a winter person. I hate the cold, and have vivid memories of my parents using the “double plastic bag” method to keep our feet warm in the winters of the late 1970s.

It went like this: One pair socks, two plastic bags per foot, then snow boots. I would tuck my pants into the boots, hoping against hope. But every time I jumped into a fat Massachusetts snowbank, thinking I was secure against the elements, I’d wind up knocking—panicked—at the door of our home an hour later. The snow would freeze in the tops of the plastic bags, creating glossy ice rings around the shins that would not look out of place in one of today’s adorable vintage punch bowls.

No wonder I became a cocoa person and not a skiing person. But I do admire the effect of the seasons—the way people slow down in the winter, speed up in the spring and fall, and slow down again for the hot summer. There’s something to be said for winter’s indoors-y laziness.

Yesterday I was listening to Nina Nastasia’s “The Long Walk,” and today it’s Nina Simone. And all I want to cook are soups and chili, moles and stews, braises and casseroles. Here are the best recipes I’ve cooked over the last few months.

Nigel Slater’s killer onion tart is far and away my best party trick—layers and layers of slippery caramelized onions with fat cubes of taleggio and wisps of thyme. People freak out about it. Then there’s the cavatelli with sausage and sage from the Frankies cookbook; brown butter is wonderful this time of year. Bon Appetit’s Swiss chard soup is bright and floral with mint and cilantro, creamy from feta and yogurt, and makes a wonderfully warm starter or entrée. I like to strain the leftover soup for the base of some fantastic chilaquiles.

I’m also a big fan of Jonathan Waxman’s chicken-under-a-brick with bacon—that’s chicken butterflied and sizzled in bacon fat, folks—and it will probably be my Valentine’s Day meal. I reckon Molly Wizenberg’s French toast, with nutmeg and vanilla, would be an excellent way to wake up the next morning.

Lastly, I’m totally making Andrew Carmellini’s favorite chili—a recipe from Texas chef Julie Farias—once more before the winter is out. It uses coffee, beer and chocolate, packs a wallop of flavor, and it completely cheered up a sick friend.

We’re not through the season yet, so comment if you’ve got an ace winter recipe—and thanks!

ebullient at borobudur

Borobudur monument in Java, Indonesia

In Bali, everybody looks good walking down the beach in their flowing sarongs. In Bali, the ocean crashes an appropriate distance away (not too close, and none too fiercely), and the sand looks like it’s made of the glimmering dust you find in Pixy Stix. Waiters—ubiquitous on Pixy Stix Beach—shake cocktails in coconuts, each of which is roped to the back of a friendly monkey who scampers up to you, smiling with his big monkey teeth.

This was my vision of Bali. I’m not gonna lie. And since I stayed at a snazzy hotel for part of my stay there, that vision was pretty well met, sans happy monkey. (Those dudes are fierce, and yes, they really do love bananas).

But what amazed me most about our recent trip to Singapore and Indonesia was how little I knew about the island just west of Bali—Java. Yogyakarta, its cultural capital, is an $80 hour-long flight from Bali’s main airport. And it is so, so worth it.

Our itinerary was New York to Shanghai to Singapore—a mall-driven, very clean city with excellent Indian food—followed by a short hop to Jakarta in western Java, and a quick drive to nearby Bogor. The Novotel Hotel was relaxing and gorgeous, with this sort of water world of a pool, a million little verdant paths, and great massages for ten bucks apiece. Our room came with a gratis and well-hidden gecko, who would croak “GECK-O” emphatically at 2 a.m. I tried to embrace the tropicality of it all, and things were looking good.

A couple of mornings later, though, the adventure portion of the trip began in earnest. Our driver drove up in a rickety blue minivan to pick up our group of five. The leader of our party had guesstimated an eight-hour trip ahead, from Bogor in west Java to Yogyakarta in central Java.

Wrong, our guide corrected him. That would be an 18 hour trip.

That’s a big difference when you’re in a bus with busted shocks and a crazy driver with an affinity for the gas pedal. It’s a big difference when you’re zipping along skinny winding mountain roads to stop at toilets set in the ground, with clouds of mosquitoes hovering overhead and zero squares of toilet paper in sight. (It would take me a week to stop carrying my own roll around when I got back to America). We stopped at mosques several times per day so our Muslim driver could pray—one hybrid mosque-gas station-rest-stop was pretty incredible—and I kept my nose in a 900-plus page Haruki Murakami novel to while away the hours. It wasn’t awful, and the scenery was beautiful, but it was exhausting, particularly for our two drivers.

When we arrived at our hotel at 11pm, having left at 6:45 that morning, I heard my beau say excitedly, “We’re falling asleep on the grounds of an ancient monument.” I mustered a grunt in reply, as I was busy gobbling up chicken satay, my first real meal of the day. I didn’t register our location.

We woke up the next morning, drank some bad instant coffee, stretched our arms and legs, and made our way down a path. We rounded a bend, and an incredible monument stretched into the sky.

Borobudur. It is breathtaking not in a mortal, normal way, but in the way that one imagines Lothlórien, the elven forest, might have been for Frodo and Sam. Buddha is everywhere at Borobudur. He is under the stupas (turrets), except the very top one, which at its zenith points straight like a lightning rod into the heavens. He is headless in some places—Muslim warriors reportedly chopped off his stone head long ago—and wears a beautifully serene expression in others. Hordes of tourists clamber everywhere, snapping photos, reaching to hold Buddha’s hand through holes in the stupa, which is thought to bring good luck. Most sport bright yellow sarongs, like happy fireflies. All seem to want to take their pictures with the very pale Americans.

Irrespective of religious tenets—I am not a practicing Buddhist—it would be hard not to be moved by this place. Carved into its sides are vignettes, many of people trying to distract Buddha from his journey towards enlightenment. Others are of animals, such as a bird with two heads. The top head, able to reach the best branches, eats fresh fruit. The bottom head has not such range, and is relegated to bruised fruit and dirt. The top head refuses to share, insisting that all the food benefits their mutual stomach. At last the second head, desperate with hunger, eats a poisonous mushroom. (It’s a tough moral story, but it’s one I’d love to somehow update for my nieces and nephew.)

Yogyakarta is a two-hour drive away—don’t trust Lonely Planet on drive times in Indonesia—and a neat little city, with the Sultan’s palace, the Kraton, at its center. The Hindu temple Prambanan is about an hour’s drive outside the city. There are colorful rickshaws and ex-pat bars, decent food and great people-watching.

So yes, the Singapore hawker markets were amazing, especially the woman at Tekka Market who spatulaed piping-hot dosas with one hand while dropping medhu vadai into boiling oil with the other. The air in Singapore Airport smells like ginger and sugar, and I ate the best soup dumplings of my life in that city. And Bali was wonderful and dreamy. Oodles of Elizabeth Gilbert wannabes writing in their journals and dreaming of lovenot that I’m judgingcouldn’t shake its charm. To that monkey in the Monkey Forest who detected a cherry cough drop wrapped in two layers of plastic and ate a corner of my bag: My hat is off to you, guy.

But for me, everything comes back to Borobudur, the sense of peace I felt there, and the goodwill towards others. I was in a quietly rapt state for the duration of my time there—perhaps my new ideal when it comes travel. Thank you to Java for that.

chocolate pistachio tart… and it’s a wrap

Chocolate pistachio tart with brandied cherries at Bien Cuit.

It’s apt that the last piece I host and produce for CHOW is about chocolate, since I have a major sweet tooth. This chocolate pistachio tart is delicious, gorgeous and made with a lot of love. Props to Alex Lisowski for his usual expert shooting, directing and editing.

We’ve filmed 48 segments over the last year—48!—and I’ve learned a few things. I’ve learned to look at the camera like you’re telling your best friend an awesome story. (Sometimes it works, sometimes you look ca-razy). I’ve learned how to produce a shoot without pulling my hair out. I’ve learned how to stand in snowbanks on Brighton Beach in 30 degree weather while looking chipper in a thin vintage coat, and how to look bright and happy in 105 degree heat. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting all sorts of extraordinary business owners, and learned the tricks to their various signature dishes. It’s been something else, this experience, and I have really enjoyed it.

I’ll continue to work on a few freelance projects, including writing and editing alongside some wonderful writers and editors at Gilt Taste. I’m very impressed with what they’re up to.

Just for the heck of it, below is a list of all 48 segments, most of which you can find on the NY CHOW Report Youtube page. Thanks to all my friends, loved ones and CHOW colleagues for being so supportive as I took the leap from print to video, and I hope everyone’s autumn is as pretty as mine has been.

10/18 chocolate pistachio brandied cherry tart @ bien cuit
10/11 hanger steak @ st anselm
10/04 beer cheese & tomato soup @ earl’s
9/27 banana roti @ rhong-tiam
9/20 farcita at catania,
9/13 halusky at korzo haus
8/30 gelato flowers at amorino
8/23 ratatouille at thirstbaravin
8/16 peach-blueberry pie @ fort defiance
8/9 samosa chaat at mumbai xpress
8/2 arepas at arepera guacuco
7/26 chicken with foie gras at the beagle
7/19 bananas foster @ coolhaus/ lot on tap
7/12 crudo at esca
7/05 malted milkball ice cream at ample hills
6/28 strawberry gazpacho at northern spy
6/21 middle eastern picnic, governor’s island
6/14 okonomiyaki, otafuku
6/07 tres leches, empellón
5/31 moi moi at buka
5/23 burger, burger garage
5/17 fusilli with octopus and bone marrow, marea
5/10 jamaican picnic, flatbush
5/03 pizza, zero otto nove
4/26 pernil, sofrito
4/19 lobster roll, red hook lobster pound
4/12 chole bhatura, sapthagiri
4/05 duck rillettes, colonie
3/29 lemon cake, betty bakery
3/22 papaya salad, ayada
3/15 deviled eggs, tia pol
3/08 fish and chips, the cuckoo’s nest
3/01 chilaquiles, el paso
2/22 irish coffee, dutch kills
2/15 elk chop, henry’s end
2/08 blueberry scones, ted & honey
2/01 khachapuri, georgian bread
1/25 cumin lamb noodles, xi’an famous foods
1/18 chicken liver mousse, vinegar hill house
1/11 Restaurant Week: pork chop, riverpark
1/04 sabich, taim
12/28 poutine, mile end
12/21 champagne cocktail, flatiron lounge
12/14 boozy hot chocolate, l.a. burdick
12/07 chicken adobo, purple yam
11/30 Mexican food: fonda; sunset park; tulcingo del valle
11/23 brats & dogs, Brats and Bark
11/16 mad scientist beer, sixpoint

catching up

Pie at Fort Defiance, Red Hook, Brooklyn. Still by Alex Lisowski. 

Oof, I’ve been remiss in keeping this page current! The last two months have been busy. In addition to some fun writing and editing, I’ve produced and hosted nine new videos for CHOW. Director/ shooter/ editor Alex Lisowski and I have had a blast: We’ve covered frozen treats like malted milk ball ice cream at Ample Hills, Bananas Foster ice cream sandwiches at the Coolhaus truck, and gorgeous gelato flowers at Amorino. There was a Restaurant Week feature on a sustainably-fished crudorazor clam in its pretty shell—at Esca, and a behind-the-scenes of the delicious brick chicken with fennel pollen and foie gras at The Beagle.

We drove out to Floral Park, Queens, to highlight the chaats at Mumbai Xpress, a longtime Chowhound fave, then biked to the opposite end of the city (sort of). In Red Hook, the new chef at Fort Defiance is making a mean blueberry-peach pie. We found a gorgeous burrata with ratatouille at newish French wine bar Thirstbaravin on Classon and Pacific in Brooklyn, and deep-fried halusky tossed with rosemary oil at Korzo Haus in Alphabet City.

NY CHOW Report now has a show page on Youtube, if you’d like to catch up on some of my favorite dishes around town. Thanks for watching, and thanks to CHOW colleagues Lessley Anderson, Blake Smith and Meredith Arthur for their sharp script edits. These segments air Tuesdays and Saturdays on NY1.

summery strawberry gazpacho

Strawberry Gazpacho at Northern Spy Food Co. Still by Alex Lisowski

So strawberry season in New York is set to wrap up pretty shortly, if the farmers at my local market are correct. Before the pretty berries disappear, eat as many as you can: I love this strawberry gazpacho, a seasonal special at Northern Spy Food Co. It’s bright and sweet and hot and crunchy and smooth and everything a well-balanced dish should be. Sous Chef Brittany Anderson, who has worked at Blue Hill at Stone Barns, created the recipe, and I reckon she has a bright future ahead of her.

Check out our CHOW segment (directed and shot by Alex Lisowski) over here. And thanks for watching!

middle eastern picnic

Pistachio baklava at Damascus. Still by Alex Lisowski. 
Damascus and Sahadi’s have been mainstays for about seven years. I love the Sahadi’s hummus, fried cauliflower, spanakopita and even the tiramisu. The Damascus pitas and baklava are likewise wonderful. Many thanks to the Matli brothers and to Charlie and Ron Sahadi for working with shooter/ editor/ director Alex Lisowski and I on this piece about Atlantic Avenue and Governor’s Island.

tres leches at empellón

Still by Alex Lisowski. Tres leches with mango at Empellón.

This week’s piece was just too beautiful not to get a post of its own. How lovely is that tres leches cake?

Lauren Resler, pastry chef at Empellón, deserves credit for its creation, and my co-producer-shooter-editor-director-Englishman Alex Lisowski deserves credit for this shot. I love this dessert. You should stop by, sip some Mezcal or bubbly, and try some. That goat’s milk ice cream is just out of control.