Olympic Gold: Veal Steaks "Stroganoff" with Shiitakes & Portobellos

AFP 520158322 S SPO SPO RUS -I hope you have been enjoying watching the Olympics as much as I have. I've found myself wanting to indulge in a few hearty Russian classics, but how about a new-fashioned Veal Steaks "Stroganoff?" Priyatnogo appetita! Veal Steaks “Stroganoff” with Shiitakes & Portobellos (Radically Simple, Rodale, 2010)

Flavors of fino sherry, espresso, and lemon “lift” an old-fashioned dish, generally made with beef, to something lighter and special.

4 thick veal steaks, about 9 ounces each 1 tablespoon olive oil 2 teaspoons sweet paprika 1 cup heavy cream 6 tablespoons fino sherry 8 ounces baby Portobello mushrooms, sliced 8 ounces shiitake mushrooms, stemmed and thinly sliced 2 teaspoons chopped fresh lemon thyme ¼ teaspoon espresso powder 2 tablespoons finely minced fresh chives

Preheat the broiler. Rub the veal with the olive oil. Season with the paprika and salt and pepper and arrange on a broiler pan. Heat the cream in a large skillet until bubbly. Add 3 tablespoons of the sherry and all the mushrooms. Cook over high heat, stirring, until the mushrooms soften, 4 minutes. Add the remaining 3 tablespoons sherry, thyme, espresso powder, and salt and pepper. Cook, stirring, until the mushrooms exude their liquid and then absorb much of the sauce, 3 minutes.

Meanwhile, broil the veal six inches from the heat for 3 to four minutes on each side, until just cooked through. Let rest 5 minutes; thickly slice on the bias. Top with the mushroom sauce and sprinkle with chives. Serves 4

Day 8: A Radically Simple Countdown to Christmas

12-23-2013 07;29;06AM2Okay, this is my holiday gift to you. From the 325 recipes included in Radically Simple: Brilliant Flavors with Breathtaking Ease, this succulent pork dish has become the most famous. I know people who now make it once a week. It would be great on your holiday table whether you are creating a buffet (in which I would slice the pork very thin for easy serving) or whether you are plating the food in the kitchen. It sports the bright red and green colors of the holiday with a celebratory air. The dish is a riff on an Italian classic dish in which pork is cooked in milk flavored with juniper. My version is much simpler but equally divine. You can augment the sauce by adding some dry white wine in addition to the gin. It's lovely with a platter of sautéed broccoli rabe and a mound of buttery cauliflower & potato puree. I prepare the dish in a paella pan but you can use a very large ovenproof skillet. It's so easy to prepare that you can make two pork loins at the same time and serve 12! Happy Holidays! Pork Loin in Cream with Tomatoes, Sage & Gin 12 large fresh sage leaves 4 large garlic cloves 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil 1-1/2 teaspoons dried Greek oregano 2-1/2 pound center-cut pork loin, tied and lightly scored 1 pint grape tomatoes 1/2 cup heavy cream 1/4 cup gin, or more to taste

Process 6 sage leaves, the garlic, oil, oregano and 1/2 teaspoon salt in a mini processor to a fine paste. Rub all over the pork. Cover; let sit at room temperature 30 minutes or refrigerate up to 4 hours. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Heat a very large ovenproof skillet until very hot. Brown the pork on all sides, 5 minutes. Scatter the tomatoes around the pork; cook 1 minute. Pour 1/4 cup cream over the pork. Roast 40 minutes. Add the 6 remaining sage leaves, the remaining 1/4 cup cream, and the gin. Roast 15 to 20 minutes longer, until tender.  Transfer the pork to a cutting board. Place the pan on the stovetop and boil the sauce, adding more gin (some dry white wine), salt and pepper, until slightly reduced, 1 minute. Slice the pork and serve with the sauce.  Serves 6

Day 5: Radically Simple Countdown to Christmas

12-20-2013 02;50;42PMThis is one of the simplest, most festive dishes I know. It can be prepped and cooked in less than one hour yet looks like you've been fussing all day. This turkey roast is nothing more than a boned breast half, flattened slightly, so that it can be filled, rolled and tied. Prosciutto, fresh sage, and prunes perfume the dish and feel like Christmas to me. Be sure to serve it with a bowl of my (now famous) sweet potato puree whirled with fresh ginger and orange. A grand cru Beaujolais would be just the thing to drink. Rolled-and-Tied Turkey Roast with Prosciutto, Prunes & Sage 2-1/2 pound turkey roast (boned half-breast, skin on) 4 ounces thinly sliced prosciutto 10 large pitted prunes 1/4 cup pine nuts 12 large fresh sage leaves 12 medium-large shallots, peeled 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil 1 cup chicken broth 1/2 cup dry white wine 1 tablespoon unsalted butter

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Using a mallet, flatten the turkey (skin side down) to 1-inch thickness. Cover evenly with overlapping slices of prosciutto. Arrange the prunes in a tight row down the center. Top with pine nuts and make a row of 6 sage leaves on top. Roll up tightly. Season with salt and pepper. Tie with string at 1-inch intervals and tuck 6 sage leaves under the string. Place the turkey and shallots in a small roasting pan. Drizzle with the oil. Roast 45 minutes until cooked through but still moist. Transfer the turkey and shallots to a board and tent with foil. Pour the broth and wine into the pan. Place on the stovetop and boil, scraping up browned bits, until syrupy, 3 minutes. Strain into a saucepan. Whisk in the butter and cook 1 minute.  Remove string from the turkey, thickly slice. Serve with the shallots and pan sauce. Serves 6

Sweet Potato Puree with Fresh Ginger & Orange This is fat-free but tastes very rich all the same. For a bit more intrigue, spice it up with a pinch of ground cumin, ground coriander, ground cardamom -- or all three.

4 large sweet potatoes, about 3 pounds 2 juice oranges 3-inch piece fresh ginger

Scrub the potatoes but do not peel. Place in a large pot with water to cover. Bring to a rapid boil, then reduce heat to medium. Cook 50 minutes or until very soft. Meanwhile, grate the zest of the oranges to get 1 teaspoon. Squeeze the orange to get 2/3 cup juice. Drain the potatoes and peel when cool enough to handle. Cut into large chunks and place in bowl of food processor.  Mince the ginger to get 1/4 cup. Add to the processor with the orange zest and juice. Process until very smooth. Transfer to a saucepan and reheat, stirring. Season with salt and pepper.  Serves 6

A Radically Simple Countdown to Christmas: Day 4

prime-rib-roast-beefHere's a wonderful, upscale recipe that is lovely for Christmas Day or New Year's Eve. The editors at Gourmet magazine once said this simple roast was one of the best they had ever tasted. It is "cured" in the same way that fresh salmon is for gravlax, literally buried in a mixture of coarse salt, sugar, fresh dill and cracked black pepper.  It is radically simple to prepare and radically delicious served with a silky potato puree and roasted winter vegetables. Open a bottle of full-bodied red burgundy or syrah.  The next day: Serve the world's best roast beef sandwiches topped with a horseradish sauce made from crème fraîche, white horseradish, and a splash of sherry. 1/4 cup kosher salt 3 tablespoons sugar 1-1/2 teaspoons coarsely cracked black pepper 3-1/2-pound boneless rib roast, rolled and tied 1 cup finely chopped fresh dill

Stir together the salt, sugar, and pepper in a small bowl; rub all over the beef. Put the dill over the salt mixture. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap. Make a small hole in the bottom of the plastic so that any accumulated liquid can drain. Place in a small roasting pan and weigh down with a baking sheet topped with a few large heavy cans.  Refrigerate 24 hours, pouring off liquid from time to time. Unwrap the beef; let sit at room temperature 30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Scrape the coating off the beef and pat dry with paper towels. Place in a roasting pan. Roast in the middle of the oven 1-1/4 hours, until an instant-read thermometer registers 130 degrees for medium-rare. Transfer to a cutting board and tent with foil; let rest 15 minutes. Carve as desired. Serves 8

The New Brisketeers

When I grew up in Queens, New York, a housewife's fail-safe recipe consisted of baking a brisket with Heinz's chili sauce and Lipton's onion soup mix. This usually was done in a throwaway aluminum pan covered with a thick layer of foil. I was reminded of this last week when I was judging a brisket cooking contest in Manhattan, sponsored by Jimmy Carbone, food impresario of Food Karma Projects who is also the owner of the affable Jimmy's No. 43. Proceeds of the boisterous evening went to support a local charity.

In a frenzy to be named the Brisket King of NYC, an honorific similar to Iron Chef in some circles, a dozen die-hard guys and gals (mostly guys), competed for top honors with new styles that could rival the house of Chanel. It's funny to think of brisket being coiffed and demure and in some cases that evening it was: delicate portions of brisket Shabu-Shabu, wine-soaked brisket on a raft of melted fontina, and brisket croquettes served with mustard aioli. But mostly the stuff belonged in a Benetton catalogue, uniting the flavors of the world, from Red mole brisket with avocado cream and pickled onions, to a red wine, grape jelly and rosemary braised brisket on polenta, to oak-smoked brisket with a green papaya salad, to burnt ends with foie gras, truffle juice and tangy slaw, from worcestershire-braised brisket with horseradish, to beer-braised brisket with roasted grape chimichurri. Clearly, not your mother's brisket.

Beef brisket comes from the lower chest of an animal and its muscular function is to support most of the weight of cattle, since they have no collarbones. Brisket gets lots of exercise and therefore is one tough piece of meat. That's why it needs long, slow cooking to the point where it is well beyond well-done.

And why do we love it so? After the collagen, developed by all that muscular stress, is dissolved during cooking, you get an extremely juicy, extremely flavorful piece of beef.

Slow cooking is achieved in a variety of ways, depending on where you come from. Out west, smoking from indirect heat over hardwood coals -- in other words, barbecuing -- works wonders. If you're Irish, you immediately think of corned beef. If you're Jewish and your parents came from Eastern Europe, well then, you'd use brisket for pot roast. They're hot on brisket in Hong Kong, too, with restaurants that specialize in nothing else. In Thailand, you'd cook it gently in yellow curry paste and coconut milk.

Of course, it's not that simple. An entire brisket consists of two overlapping muscles whose fibers run more-or-less 90 degrees from each other. Supermarkets often sell these cuts separately: what's called "first cut" or "flat cut" is thinner and leaner (and therefore a bit drier); the "second cut" or "point end" or "deckle" is thicker, juicier, and much preferred in our household -- because what's the point of brisket if it isn't lip-sticking succulent? Both cuts have a fair amount of fat on or in them and you want to leave that fat on during cooking to keep the moisture in.

Because people are fat-o-phobic, many food markets only sell the first cut. But If you're cooking an entire brisket, which I like to do, then you need a quick carving lesson since the fibers of each cut aren't aligned. Much is made of this minor complexity but all you need do is carve the thin cut against its grain, then turn the meat (or flip it over) and carve the thicker cut below against its grain.

On this particular evening, what we ate was mostly the juicy voluptuous stuff: Mr. Bobo, the national Jack Daniels Master "brisketeer," even had a mixture of briskets, including Wagyu, in his delicious sliders. Those who didn't win any distinction that night were the cooks whose offerings were dry or thick or poorly cut. Top honors that night went to first-place John Zervoulakas of John Brown's Smokehouse (burnt ends with foie & truffle juice); #2 place to Ducks Eatery (Bubby's oak-smoked brisket with papaya salad), and 3rd place to Robbie Richter (for his suave Shabu-Shabu.)

And there's a new brisketeer in America: Stephanie Pierson. She is the author of The Brisket Book: A Love Story with Recipes (recently published by Andrews McMeel). It is a delightful read.

While I can't supply you with any of the winning recipes, I can give you one of my own that I created for Bon Appetit (below) or check out my "Tamarind Brisket" on my blog.

My Sweet-and-Sour Brisket with Shallots & New Potatoes

1-1/2 cups orange juice 5 large soft Medjool dates, pitted 4 large garlic cloves, peeled 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves 5 tablespoons olive oil 2 pounds onions, thinly sliced 16 large shallots, peeled 2-1/2 cups beef broth 5-pound brisket (first or second cut, trimmed, leaving 1/4-inch layer of fat) 1-1/2 cups tomato puree 16 very small potatoes, about 1 to 1-1/2 inches, scrubbed

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Process orange juice, dates, garlic and cloves in a blender until smooth. Heat 3 tablespoons oil in large wide ovenproof pot over medium-high heat. Add onions and whole shallots. Cook until onions are deep golden and shallots begin to brown, about 20 minutes. Transfer shallots to small bowl; reserve. Add broth to onions and bring to a boil, scraping up browned bits. Pour onion mixture into large bowl. Add 2 tablespoons oil to the same pot. Season brisket with salt and pepper. Add to pot and brown well on all sides. Turn brisket, fat side up. Return onion mixture to pot. Add tomato puree and orange juice mixture. Bring to a boil, stirring to blend sauce. Cover pot and bake 2 hours. Add shallots and potatoes. Cover and bake 1 hour. Uncover and bake until brisket is tender, occasionally spooning sauce over, about 2 hours longer. Let rest 30 minutes. (This can be made 2 days ahead. Chill uncovered until cold, then cover and refrigerate.) Scrape sauce off brisket. Thinly slice brisket across the grain and return brisket to pot. Add the potatoes and shallots and heat until hot. Serves 8 or more.

Ham from Jabugo: $150/lb.

No, that's not a typo and not meant to be $1.50/lb. It is $150 a pound and that's for the shoulder of a very special pig. Its back legs are more: $180 a pound, and they will be available in select areas in the U.S. on Monday. Mustard would be a sacrilege. After all, this is "5J Cinco Jotas" Ibérico ham from Spain.

The back story: More than 20 years ago, I had one of those taste epiphanies, the Proustian kind, where, embedded in your brain is a memory, an aroma, a texture and a story. One that is released upon even a near encounter with that said memory. I was in Barcelona, sitting with my husband and business partner, at a dank wine bar, slipping short, translucent, wafers of cured pork into our mouths and letting them gently rest upon our tongues until they melted away -- not unlike the experience of transcendental sashimi. "What is this?," we asked in our best Catalan, and the answer was simply "Jabugo." Not like anything else we've had, but reminiscent of the experience of sampling a superlative prosciutto or culatello, I always thought Jabugo was the word for ham. That is, until last night.

Jabugo, in fact, is a place -- a town in the southwest of Spain, near Portugal, where the world's most prized 100% pure-bred pigs are raised. These pigs eat acorns, not the shells mind you, but only the "fruit" within, occasionally munch on some verdant grass, and have 5 acres each upon which to saunter and socialize. They know that they are special because their parents were pure bred and so are they. These pigs remain slender and strong, and their ankles look a lot like my mother's, who wore a quad-A shoe with a quintuple heel. Imagine. Thin indeed, and one of the many sublime qualities that define their uniqueness. Twenty years ago I sampled the prized pork when we were working on developing a hotel in Barcelona, called Hotel Arts, that was meant to open in time for the Olympics in 1992. Along with über-designer Adam Tihany we created a tapas bar and other dining facilities. Along with the taste of Jabugo on that trip we sampled green olives the size of golf balls and drank orange juice in wine glasses, served with a spoon, for dessert.

Twenty years later, I found myself remembering that mesmerizing taste, porky perfume, and texture of Jabugo at a small tasting last night at Despaña.  (Despaña is a fabulous food store in Soho specializing in the best products of Spain.) The secret of this particular ham is in the fat, which is alluring sweet and ethereal.  The fat of the pure breed Ibérico de Bellota pig gets infiltrated between its muscles. The flesh is dark red and unlike its porcine cousins, it is cut by a professional cortadores into short, thin, translucent slices:  Another unique quality of the product. Last night we had our very own master cortador whose name is Paco, who cut  translucent slices, discerning the correct ratio of fat and meat, from different areas of the leg, each with its own perfume and texture. Recently Paco spent time with Ferran Adrià who is considered one of the world's best chefs. Adrià hails from San Sebastián, Spain where in his revered (and now sadly closed) El Bulli he melted, or rendered, the prized fat of the Iberian pig to use it as "olive oil." (I have some of this fat in my fridge and am considering scrambling some eggs in it in any moment.) These amazing hams, made with only three ingredients -- the shoulder or legs of the Ibérico pig, salt, and the climate of the region, take two to three years to cure. Under the supervision of a "maestro jamonero" (master ham craftsmen), the "air" is manipulated simply by the opening or closing of glass panes.

The pig is bred for one purpose only: To be served at room temperature (so that the fat glistens) before a meal, like caviar or pâté de foie gras, accompanied only by dry sherry (a fino or amontillado) or a Spanish red wine, and perhaps a crust of bread. Why mess with perfection?

For more information on 5J 100% Pure Breed Iberico de Bellota visit http://www.osborne.es/ Where you can find it: 5J at Despana, Dean & Deluca in NYC, Epicure and Delicias de Espana in Florida.

La Tienda and Ham Lovers carry it online: http://www.tienda.com/jamon/jamon_iberico_cincojotas.html http://hamlovers.com/product/121/947/Cinco_Jotas_paleta_iberica_de_bellota

Super Tender Lamb R-r-r-riblets

Last weekend in the New York Times Sunday magazine (June 26, 2011), was a nice food story, written by Sam Sifton, featuring glazed lamb ribs. Quite accurately, Sam observes that, heretofore, lamb ribs were rarely offered on restaurant menus and hardly ever in the supermarket. Yet, now, in 2011, restaurants such as DBGB, Casa Mono and Recette are serving them -- slow-cooked, grilled, deep-fried, confit, strewn with exotic spices, Moroccan lemon pickles, glazed, or cooled with a variety of yogurt sauces (including an intriguing sounding one -- smoked yogurt -- from Recette).

Enter Little Meals:  A Great New Way to Eat & Cook, published in 1993, where one of the first recipes for lamb ribs was ever published.  I always loved them and made arrangements with butchers, when possible, to prepare them for me.  Lamb ribs come from the breast plate of the animal and can be simply separated rib by rib.  They are very fatty, but at the same time, they are moist and succulent and very forgiving if you overcook them or even undercook them! They are everything one loves about ribs to begin with, only with a bit of funk and mystery.

My "slow-barbecued" riblets have a pungent sweet-and-sour glaze that turns an inexpensive cut of meat into the ultimate finger food.  Serve with tiny baked sweet potatoes for a very interesting combination and garnish with some mustard cress. Orange-Ginger Lamb Ribs (adapted from Little Meals) Have your butcher cut between the bones of the ribs to make individual ribs.  Dated 1993.  In 2011, I add a splash of Sriracha sauce to the marinade.

1 cup orange juice 1/3 cup hoisin sauce 3 tablespoons honey 1/4 cup soy sauce 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard 4 large cloves garlic, finely minced 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh ginger 3 pounds lamb ribs

Combine orange juice, hoisin sauce, honey, soy sauce, mustard, garlic and ginger and stir well.  Pour over the ribs. Cover and marinate several hours or overnight in the refrigerator.  Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.  Remove ribs from the marinade and transfer marinade to a saucepan.  Place ribs on a broiler pan fitted with a rack. Cover tightly with foil and bake 45 minutes.   Bring marinade to a boil and cook 10 minutes until syrupy.  Remove foil and bake 45 minutes longer, basting the ribs frequently with the marinade (using a pastry brush.)  Serve garnished with cress, wedges of oranges, and remaining marinade.  Serves 4

Drink your favorite beer or a big, fruity tempranillo or syrah. Que syrah, syrah, as they say. Enjoy!

Award-Winning Veal Chops

This Friday night marks the much-anticipated James Beard Awards for television, media, and books!  Radically Simple: Brilliant Flavors with Breathtaking Ease is nominated for best cookbook in the general cooking category.  I am honored and delighted and look forward to sharing the evening with many friends in the food world (a world that may also reach 1 billion people in the next few years -- thanks to the Internet!)  The philosophy of the book, in case you didn't know, is to bring simply elegant "restaurant food" to the home cook in 140 words or less.  Each recipe reflects a balance of time, ease of preparation, and number of ingredients.  As with all my books (this is the 12th), superlative ingredients are the hallmark of each dish, and simplicity is key.  As a professional chef for more than 30 years (yikes!), I bring a bit of "chef thinking" to each dish and help you discreetly combine interesting new flavors and techniques. In today's food section of the New York Times is a dish that prompted me to share one of my radically simple dishes with you.  As a fan of Melissa Clark, who writes the column "A Good Appetite," I was attracted to a recipe for lamb chops with capers, anchovies and sage.  It's stunning simplicity -- with its whole leaf of fresh sage encrusted on top -- had me immediately turn to my own "Veal Chops with Sage Butter, Sunflower Seeds & Beet Drizzle."   Although I don't make veal very often at home (there are four veal recipes in the book), I do on occasion, splurge and enjoy.  This is one recipe I know you will, too.  Served with a side dish of sauteed peppers with golden raisins and arugula, it is a study in nature's own color palate.

Veal chops, below.  For the side dish, you might want to buy the book!  (smile).   Big thick veal chops became the sine qua non of chic in the early 1980's on the upper east side and in some of the city's more swank Italian restaurants.  For those of you who remember Hoexter's Market, it was their 2-inch thick juicy grilled veal chop that was all-the-rage (ditto their garlic bread covered with gorgonzola sauce.)  It makes me hunger for the good old days -- when James Beard could still be found eating in some of the city's best.

Veal Chops with Sage Butter, Sunflower Seeds & Beet Drizzle

3/4 cup chopped canned beets 2 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar 4 tablespoons olive oil 4 thick loin veal chops, about 9 ounces each 3 tablespoons unsalted butter 12 large fresh sage leaves 1/4 cup toasted sunflower seeds

Place the beets, 1 tablespoon vinegar, 3 tablespoons of the olive oil, and 1/4 cup water in a food processor.  Process until very smooth.  Set aside.  Season the chops with salt and pepper.  Heat the butter and the remaining 1 tablespoon oil in a skillet large enough to hold the chops in one layer.  Sear the chops over high heat until browned on one side, about 4 minutes.  Place 3 sage leaves on the uncooked side of each chop and turn over.  Cook over high heat until browned on the second side, 3 to 4 minutes longer.  Add the remaining 1 tablespoon vinegar to the pan and cook 15 seconds.  Transfer the chops and pan juices to plates.  Serve chops, sage-side up, sprinkled with sunflower seeds and drizzled with beet dressing.   Serves 4

A Farmer's Market Meal

You can pretty much get everything on this plate at your local farmer's market.  After all, there are only 9 ingredients that make up this eternally spring meal. Although it's a bit gray and rainy today, I am off to the Union Square Market, the heart and soul of the city, to get the ingredients for tonight's dinner.  This image, from one of my earlier books, Recipes 1-2-3 Menu Cookbook (published in 1998), is attention-getting as it is stunning in its simplicity and restraint.  The three simple recipes include tender lamb chops under a "crust" of goat cheese and rosemary; a slow-cooked tomato layered with red onion "napoleon-style," and stir-fried watercress with garlic chips.  Only today, 14 years later when pea shoots are now the veg du jour, I may substitute them for the watercress in this recipe.  I may also, instead of the rosemary, use fresh lavender -- just a bit -- as my husband really likes it.  It is an unforgiving herb, however, as a little too much is...a little too much.  Goat cheese and lavender have great affinity and my husband often stuffs it under the skin of a large chicken and roasts it to perfection.  This menu brings great rewards for modest amounts of effort. Open an unexpected bottle of Domaine Clavel's Les Garrigues, a blend of syrah and grenache noir from the Languedoc, or choose a flowery Beaujolais like Chiroubles. Check in later for dessert.  I will see what's new and exciting at the market this morning!  One of life's simple pleasures is checking out what's on nature's agenda each week. Enjoy!

Lamb Chops with Goat Cheese & Rosemary 8 thick rib lamb chops 6 ounces fresh goat cheese 3 tablespoons finely snipped fresh rosemary or lavender

"French" the chops, cutting all meat from the bones to the "eye" of the chops; or leave them as they are.  Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  In a small bowl, mix goat cheese with 2 tablespoons rosemary or lavender.  Season chops with salt and pepper and steak in a large nonstick skillet until browned, about 2 minutes on each side.  Pack approximately 1-1/2 tablespoons of the cheese mixture on one side of each chop to cover completely.  Place chops in oven for 8 to 10 minutes, until desired doneness, but still rare in the center.  You may brown the cheese for 30 seconds under the broiler.  Scatter remaining herbs on top.  Serves 4 "Short-Stack" Tomatoes and Onions These can be made ahead of time and reheated for 10 minutes at 375 degrees.

4 medium-large ripe tomatoes, about 1-1/2 pounds 2 large red onions 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling

Preheat oven to 300 degrees.  Slice 1/4-inch from top and bottom of each tomato.  Cut each tomato into 3 thick slices.  Re-assemble each to look like whole tomato. Peel onions and slice 1/4-inch thick.  Layer thicker onions between tomato slices, ending on top with a thin slice of onion.  Drizzle 1 tablespoon oil over each and season with salt and pepper.  Place a short skewer in center of each stack to help hold together.  Place in shallow baking pan and bake 1-1/4 hours.  Baste with pan juice twice.  Remove from oven and let rest 15 minutes.  Carefully transfer to plates and spoon pan juices on top.  Drizzle with more oil and sprinkle with sea salt.  Serves 4

Watercress (or Pea Shoots) Saute with Garlic Chips

3 large bunches watercress or 12 ounces pea shoots 4 large garlic cloves 3 tablespoons olive oil

Remove woody stems from watercress.  Peel garlic and slice paper thin, lengthwise.  Heat oil in a large skillet until hot.  Add garlic, cook 15 seconds until crisp, then immediately remove.  Add watercress or pea shoots.  Cook over high heat for 1 to 2 minutes until just wilted.  Stir in garlic chips and salt to taste.  Serve immediately.  Serves 4

Sherry, Anyone?

A little more than six months ago, Alessandro Piliego opened a sleek, inviting tapas bar, and decked the walls with Botero paintings and high shelves teeming with sherry bottles. The hanging rustic chandeliers cast a warm glow along the bar and caress the tall tables and high-back stools where one sips and sups small plates of Spanish food.  Located on the burgeoning end of Court Street in Brooklyn, near the now-famous Prime Meats and Buttermilk Channel, Alessandro named his place Palo Cortado, and I asked him what it meant.  Something new to me, although I am an avid fan of fino sherry, palo cortado is a style of sherry, slightly richer than oloroso.  To that end, he could have similarly named his tapas bar, Fino, Manzanilla, Amontillado, Oloroso, Moscatel, or Pedro Ximenez, as each is a different type of sherry along the spectrum of very dry to very sweet. I was delighted to learn about this and even more delighted to drink it.  These fortified wines deserve more respect.  The varying descriptors of their flavor profile are rich and include, unlike wine, words like salty and nutty.  They are great companions to authentic, and not-so-authentic, tapas -- at once both piquant and lusty. It was fun to share the night with the food maven, Arthur Schwartz, whose birthday we were celebrating, and Bob Harned, who had not been to Palo Cortado since it opened.  They did, however, know Alessandro and had been to a tasting in the summer.   If I could order 5 servings of the patatas bravas for myself, I would have.  At $4 a plate, that would be bargain. They were exceptional: small cubes of perfectly fried potatoes laced with aioli and Rioja sauces.  We had delicious octopus (pulpo a la gallega) served with small potato discs and a pimenton vinaigrette.  Next came spiced lamb meatballs with mint-cucumber yogurt and preserved lemon, and piquillo rellenos -- small roasted peppers stuffed with chicken and cheese, served with a white bean puree and pepitas.  We enjoyed fabulous mixed olives and briny caperberries and acidic boquerones, which are marinated white anchovies with capers, garlic and parsley.  These two palate openers went especially well with the super-dry, and slightly salty, mineral-y, manzanilla that we had.  We moved on to a delicious full-bodied Rioja.  Instead of birthday cake, Alessandro brought something brilliant to try:  Medjool dates marinated in sherry with vanilla yogurt mousse and roasted almonds.  Happy Birthday Arthur, and muchos gracias to Alessandro.

I offer you one of my most radically simple and delicious tapas to serve at home.  Fatty and rich, these chorizos will taste wonderful with a glass of cellar-temperature Amontillado, or...Palo Cortado!  (located at 520 Court Street, Brooklyn, NY.  tel: (718) 407-0047). Grilled Chorizos in Red Wine In a shallow ovenproof dish (a small paella pan is great), slice 8 ounces chorizo or pepperoni 1/4-inch thick.  Place flat-side down, 1/4-inch apart.  Pour 1/2 cup red wine to come halfway up the sides of chorizo.  Preheat broiler.  Broil 6 to 8 minutes until crispy.  Spoon pan juices on top.  Sprinkle with finely slivered cilantro.  Serves 4

The Food of Love

The food of love often includes truffles and chocolate and champagne.  Pommes d'amour, or love apples, as the French call tomatoes, are also appropriate on Valentine's Day.  (You've got to hand it to the French regarding romanticism in music and in vegetable nomenclature, as potatoes are called pommes de terre, or apples of the earth.) Dates, are suggestive, as are the juicy seeds of the pomegranate.  I say, put them all in your Valentine's Day dinner, and invite another couple to dine.  Whether your goal is to eradicate winter's doldrums, or immortalize Cupid (once a religious holiday, it was Chaucer who first shifted the focus to romantic love), now's the time to scoot some chairs in front of the fireplace and delight in the warmth of a splendid meal.  Don't have a fireplace?  Then set a table, even a card table, in an unexpected place -- a living room corner, for example, that's warm and cozy.   My menu for this day of affection features: Champagne with a splash of pomegranate juice, served with fleshy Medjool dates and chunks of Parmigiano-Reggiano Fresh Pasta with Truffle Butter Wine-Dark Beef Stew Horseradish Potato Puree Roasted Beets With Balsamic Syrup & Walnuts Chocolate Oblivion with Sun-dried Cherries

What to drink?  Open a bottle of Saint Amour -- a sleek French red wine that is fuller-bodied than most other Beaujolais.  With dessert, a snifter of Malvasia (a sweet dessert wine from Italy) would be nifty.

If you're so inclined, you can make the lusty beef stew two days before Valentine's Day, as it improves with age.  Even the mashed potatoes can be made and gently reheated.  Tomorrow I'll post the recipes for the radically simple pasta dish and the ruby beets.  Chocolate Oblivion is my Valentine gift to you on the morning of February 14th.

Wine-Dark Beef Stew The secret ingredient here is...hoisin! It adds great complexity to the flavor of the sauce.  Use shin meat, also known as shank meat for the most tender results.

3 pounds beef shin or chuck (net weight) 3 tablespoons olive oil 3 heaping cups finely chopped yellow onion 1/2 cup hoisin sauce 2 cups cabernet sauvignon 14-ounces diced tomatoes with herbs 5 fresh bay leaves 1 pound long, slender carrots 1 tablespoon arrowroot a handful of fresh pomegranate seeds, or fresh thyme leaves, for garnishing

Cut meat into 2-1/2-inch pieces.  Season with salt and pepper and set aside.  Heat oil in a large heavy casserole with a cover.  Add onions.  Cook over medium heat until soft and brown, stirring often.  Add meat in stages and cook over high heat until browned on all sides.  In a medium bowl, stir together hoisin, 1 cup wine, and diced tomatoes with its liquid.  Pour over the meat and add bay leaves.  Cover pot and cook over low heat 1 hour.  Peel carrots and cut on the bias into 1-inch lengths. Add to the pot.  Cover and cook 1-3/4 hours longer until meat is fork-tender.  Transfer meat and carrots to a large bowl using a slotted spoon.  Add 1 cup wine to the pot and cook over high heat until the sauce is reduced to 2-1/2 cups.  Add salt and freshly ground black pepper.  Dissolve arrowroot in 1 tablespoon water and add to sauce. Continue to cook over medium heat until thick.  Return meat and carrots to pot and heat gently.  Garnish with pomegranate seeds or thyme.  Serves 4 to 6

Horseradish Potato Puree If you follow the steps below, you can process potatoes in a food processor without them becoming glutinous provided you follow the simple steps below.

2 pounds Yukon gold potatoes 1-1/2 cups milk 1 large clove garlic 1/3 cup prepared white horseradish 6 tablespoons unsalted butter

Peel potatoes.  If large, cut in half.  Place potatoes in a large saucepan with salted water to cover.  Bring to a boil, lower heat and place cover askew.  Cook until tender, about 40 minutes.  Meanwhile, put milk in a medium saucepan.  Push garlic through a press and add to the milk.  Bring just to a boil.  Lower heat and simmer 10 minutes. Drain potatoes, saving 1/4 cup of the cooking liquid.  Place in a large bowl and use a potato masher.  Add hot milk and horseradish, mashing until creamy.  Cut butter into pieces and stir into potatoes.  At this point you can briefly process them, add a little cooking water.  Add salt and pepper.  Heat gently before serving.  Serves 4 to 6

True Confessions

Last night's dinner was a disaster...and I made it!  No kidding.  I am just beginning the recipe-testing phase of a new article for Real Food magazine and am working on the Summer 2011 entertaining issue.  Many magazines work way ahead, and before long, I'll be using the cranberries currently in my freezer (from last November) to do the Thanksgiving feature -- due this summer! The theme of these food stories has been "planning ahead" -- with much of the prep done in advance, and the menu choreographed in such a way so that you, the cook-and-host, can enjoy your own party. This year's do-ahead dinner will include "dry-spiced" flank steak ceremoniously glazed with pomegranate and fragrant thyme.  That was to be last night's family meal.  One of the benefits of writing food stories is that often there is food to eat -- and generally, it's quite good.  If not the first try, then surely the second.  Last night, even the third hit was a miss.  It was enough to make a grown girl cry.  The problem was the pomegranate molasses.  Somehow I thought this would be a good idea, to use just a bit of the tart syrupy elixir and to it add soy sauce, tomato paste, grated red onion, dark brown sugar, fresh bay leaves, and a bit of cumin.  Well, it looked gorgeous and the marinade tasted real good.  But I had a premonition that such a concoction belonged on poultry or pork.  Four hours of marination, and a red-hot sear in a pan, made the meat taste like, well, the only word I can think of is...unknowable.  I scraped off the marinade and tried broiling it.  It was awful.  The third attempt deployed a simpler glaze but with disastrous results.   My family was starving. What to do?  I poured a bottle of chunky red salsa over the whole thing and finished cooking the meat in a 500-degree oven.   "Dinner's ready," I meekly suggested. I carved the steak into thick rosy slices and poured some unusual pan juices over both the meat and the salad that I threw together.   My husband had spent much of  the afternoon roasting an enormous beet.  It was pretty undercooked.  Chewy, in fact.  We cut it up and ate it anyway.  I believe my husband actually called it "Chewish."  And that, my friends, is the end of the story. But here's a yummy thing to do with flank steak.  You can serve it thickly sliced (on the bias) for dinner tonight or wait until the Super Bowl and carve it ever-so-thin on top of slices of toasted baguette -- it's a "he-man" canape and great with beer or martinis.

My Flank Steak “Chimichurri" 2 pounds flank steak 3/4 packed cup chopped flat parsley 1/4 packed cup chopped cilantro 2 tablespoons oregano 2 teaspoons ground cumin ½ scant teaspoon red pepper flakes 2 large cloves garlic, coarsely chopped 1/2 cup olive oil 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar 1 long, thin baguette, about 8 ounces, if using for canapes sea salt

Season meat with salt and pepper. Place all ingredients (except bread) in bowl of food processor. Add 1 teaspoon salt. Process until very smooth.  Coat meat lightly with 2 tablespoons dressing on each side. Let sit 1 hour. Reserve remaining sauce.

(Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Slice bread into 40 thin slices. Place on large baking sheet and bake until just firm, about 5 minutes. Remove from oven.)

Preheat broiler. Place flank steak on broiler pan.  Broil for 4 minutes on each side for medium rare.  Transfer to cutting board.  Let rest 5 minutes.  Sprinkle again with salt.  Cut into thick slices, on the bias, and drizzle with remaining sauce.  Serves 4

Or, if making canapes, slice very thin, against the grain, and place on croutons. Spread each with a little sauce.  Serve warm or at room temperature. Makes about 40

Meatballs "To Die For"

This brings us to our last of Google's most sought-after recipe requests.  Even at position #10, this number undoubtedly represents thousands of pots of simmering tomato sauce begging for orbs of ground meat, mixed with spices, and love.  "I love my meatballs," Italian cooking maestro Arthur Schwartz whispered to me just last night.  This, from the man who helped put Neapolitan cuisine on the map, about the dish that, "along with pizza and spaghetti with tomato sauce, (meatballs) have to be the most internationally famous, even infamous specialty of Naples."  And while other cultures have their versions, Jewish sweet-and-sour meatballs, albondigas from Spain, Swedish meatballs, Lions head meatballs from China, meatballs from India and the Middle East called kofta, I believe it is the southern Italian prototype that people most desire. According to Arthur in his delicious book Naples at Table, "often the meatballs of Naples are considered too bready -- too meager, too poor, too deceptive.  But it is, in fact, the high ratio of soaked, dried bread they complain about that makes them so light, so crusty, so juicy, so really clever."  The inclusion of mollica di pane -- the milk -or water-soaked interior dough of fresh bread -- gave way to dried breadcrumbs when Italians migrated to America.  In this mecca of meat and gold-paved streets, they upped the ratio of beef to bread, and presto!, the meatballs became heavier.  But no, not Arthur's.  His are considered among many to be "da morire"  (To die for.) Meatballs can be eaten as a main course with a vegetable, as they often are in Naples.  Or, they can be fried and dropped into tomato sauce; or served atop a bowl of spaghetti. I personally love meatballs in a hero sandwich (some of you say "subs" or "grinders"), topped with melted mozzaralla.  I adore the tomato-soaked bread that lingers behind.  Arthur's recipe, which you will find below, has pine nuts and raisins in the mixture.  These days, he laments, not everyone adds them -- it's up to family tastes -- "but these embellishments make for a much more interesting dish, a Baroque touch from the Baroque city."

All this talk about meatballs makes me want to run to the Film Forum next week to see director Pasolini's movie "Mamma Roma" starring Anna Magnani -- beginning 1/21.  The movie itself tells the story of a life that, like Neapolitan meatballs, depicts poverty and deception.  It is the tale of a middle-aged prostitute trying to put her sordid past behind her and fashion a good life for her teenage son.  Pasolini, by the way, is considered one of Italy's greatest modern poets, novelists, and film directors (he died in 1975.)  And Magnani, no doubt, is considered one of Italy's finest actresses.   See you at the Forum!

Polpette alla Napoletana adapted from Naples at Table

3 cups dried crustless bread cut into 1-1/2-inch cubes before measuring 1-1/4 pounds ground beef (80% -- not leaner) 3 eggs, beaten well 2 large cloves garlic, finely minced 1/2 cup (loosely packed) grated pecorino cheese 1/4 cup (loosely packed) finely cut parsley 1/3 cup pine nuts 1/3 cup raisins 1 teaspoon salt 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper 1/4 cup vegetable oil 1 quart favorite tomato sauce

Soak the bread in cold water.  Meanwhile, in a large mixing bowl, combine, but do not yet mix, the remaining ingredients, except the oil and tomato sauce.  Squeeze the bread by fistfuls to drain it, then break it up into the bowl.  First with a fork, then with your hands, blend the mixture very well, squishing it in your hands to make sure the bread blends with the meat.  Do not worry about handling the meat too much.  With your hands moistened in cold water, roll the mixture between your palms into 12 meatballs. When a drop of water sizzles immediately, it's hot enough for the meatballs.  Gently place them in the pan and as soon as the first side looks brown, dislodge them and turn to another side.  Continue rotating the meatballs, using a wooden spoon and/or spatula.  After 10 minutes the meatballs should be well browned but slightly rare in the center.  If serving without sauce, continue cooking them for 5 to 8 minutes, rotating them as you go.  If serving with sauce, place them in the sauce now and simmer for 15 minutes.  Makes 12 meatballs

A Heart-Shaped Meatloaf

As promised, a favorite meatloaf recipe.

For her entire life, my mother made meatloaf in the shape of a heart.  I still do.   The winning ratio is 2:1 -- two pounds beef to 1 pound onions.  But the real secret is the inclusion of ice water, and sometimes an ice cube or two, to keep the meat very juicy and moist.    As a teen I had the surprise (or disappointment) of my life when I sat down to a meal in the shape of a...loaf. Apparently my parents had a fight and my mother had no intention of using those romantic hands of hers that day to shape the familiar mixture into a big red heart (which she glazed with a bit of ketchup.)  It only happened once, but I never forgot it.  My first experience with a meat loaf, instead of a heart, still looms large.  In her day, my mother used ground sirloin and 4-C seasoned breadcrumbs.  Today, I use a combination of sirloin and chuck (for flavor and increased fat content) and add panko.  I also roast halved plum tomatoes alongside the "heart" and then pile them on top before serving.   It is very delicious and quite sensuous to sculpt with your hands.

Heart-Shaped Meatloaf with Charred Tomatoes

2 pounds ground beef (a combination of sirloin and chuck) 1 pound onions, finely chopped 2 tablespoons unsalted butter 1/2 cup panko or dried breadcrumbs 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard 6 tablespoons ketchup 2 teaspoons sriracha 1 clove garlic 1 egg yolk 1 tablespoon best-quality dried oregano 6 ripe medium plum tomatoes, halved lengthwise ¼ cup freshly-chopped chives

Preheat oven to 375.  Put ground meat in a large bowl.  Melt butter in very large skillet.  Add onions and ½ teaspoon salt; cook 15 minutes until dark brown; add to bowl.  Add panko, mustard, 2 tablespoons ketchup, sriracha, garlic, pushed through a press, oregano, and ½ teaspoon salt.  Add egg yolk and 1/2 cup ice water and mix well with your hands.  Place on rimmed baking sheet; form into a large heart shape.  Cover with thin layer of remaining ketchup.  Place halved tomatoes, cut side up, around edge of pan; sprinkle with salt.  Bake 45 minutes.  Turn tomatoes over, arrange on heart and drizzle with pan juices. Sprinkle with chives.  Serves 4

New Year's Eve Pig Out

I don't really mean pig out in the sense of the word overindulging, but I do mean the preparation of one of my favorite pork roasts.  Since it requires 18 hours in your oven, it is the perfect dish to serve at the stroke of midnight -- at the very same moment that you sing Auld Lang Syne and kiss your partner under the mistletoe.  Instead of shouting "Happy New Year!" however, you may instead scream "Let's eat!" The vapors streaming from your kitchen at this point will be so intoxicating as to leave all formalities aside and have you rushing to the groaning board (a word whose derivation is most interesting.)  Let's figure this out and I'm telling you now so you can get the ingredients today.  If you put the pork shoulder in the oven tonight (Thursday, December 30th) at midnight, the irresistibly crackly sphere of meat will be ready for indulging at 8:30 p.m. tomorrow night -- Friday, Dec. 31st, the early hours of most New Year's Eve festivities. That's fine for many of you who like to eat at a reasonable hour, leaving you enough time to position yourself in front of some fireworks.  For those of you who are glued to your big screen television to watch the ball drop from the center of Times Square in New York City and join the world's choral countdown, then you'll need to put the pork in the oven around 4 a.m. (Friday, Dec. 31st).  That could present a problem, or not, but it is no different than what many Americans do on Thanksgiving Day. I can't tell you how delicious this pork roast is.  Flavored with fennel and cumin seed, garlic and fresh lemon, the skin becomes so crispy and the pork flesh stays so very moist because of the very low temperature at which it cooks.  There's a little kick at the end from hot pepper flakes and the whole thing goes amazingly well with champagne, whose celebratory bubbles cut through unctuous succulence and tempers the salinity.  Serve with a pot of oil-slicked bay-scented lentils (good luck in Italy) and a simple arugula salad splashed with balsamic vinegar (and maybe some crumbled blue cheese with pickled red onions!)  A simple carrot puree -- for color and contrast -- would also be nice.  Crank up the music and bring in the new year on high.

Here's what you need to do: 18-Hour Pork Shoulder with Fennel, Garlic & Lemon If you put this in the oven before you go to bed, it will be ready for dinner the next day -- all crackly, succulent and irresistible.

10-pound whole pork shoulder, skin on 2 large heads garlic, cloves separated and peeled 3 tablespoons fennel seeds 3 tablespoons cumin seeds 1/2 teaspoon hot pepper flakes 2 lemons

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.  Make deep slits in the pork skin, about 1 inch apart, going through to the flesh.  Combine the garlic, fennel, cumin, pepper flakes and 2 teaspoons kosher salt in a food processor; process until coarsely ground.  Spread the mixture all over the pork, making sure to pack some into the slits.  Place the pork in a roasting pan.  Roast for 30 minutes.  Squeeze the juice of 1 lemon over the pork and reduce the temperature to 250 degrees.  Bake for 18 hours.  Squeeze the juice of the second lemon over the pork during the last hour of cooking.  When done, the skin will crackle and the flesh will be soft.  Carve into thick or thin slices. Serves 8 (or more)

Happy almost New Year!

Christmas Ham for Dr. Seuss

In a tiny cookbook called "Christmas 1-2-3" Is a recipe for ham just made for you and me You bake the ham for hours until its juices run and add a smear of mustard to make it much more fun. A slick of sugar-coating makes it taste so fine; its hint of fragrant cinnamon makes it smell divine.

There's magic in the air.  Whether you celebrate Christmas, or not, there's a good chance you feel a bit of electricity -- streets are lined with decorations, families reunite, supermarkets are bustling, champagne is chilling, a scramble for last-minute gifts (including Radically Simple!) and anticipation fills the air.  But you too might be filled with anticipation if you haven't planned your Christmas menu.  Why not try my delicious glazed ham --the world's simplest recipe -- alongside your favorite mashed potatoes (white or sweet orange) and a big bowl of Brussels sprouts with dried cranberries that glow like rubies.  It's radically simple and very delicious.

Glazed Christmas Ham

10-pound smoked ready-to-cook ham, shank portion 1 cup coarse-grain mustard 1 cup cinnamon-sugar*

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Place ham on a shallow roasting pan and add 1/5 inch water to pan. Cover ham with foil and bake 15 to 16 minutes per pound for a total of about 2 hours and 40 minutes. (Adjust cooking time if your ham is more or less than 10 pounds.) After 2 hours and 15 minutes, remove ham from oven and increase temperature to 450 degrees. Pour most of fat from pan. Using a sharp, thin knife, remove the rind, except for area around shank bone, and most of the fat. Score the fat by cutting diagonal slashes across the skin to make a diamond pattern. Cover the surface thickly with mustard, then heavily coat with cinnamon-sugar, patting down if necessary. Sprinkle with freshly ground black pepper and return to oven for 25 minutes, until sugar melts and hardens. It will become a bit crackly. Present on a large platter, decorated as desired. Carve and serve while hot. Serves 12

*You can buy cinnamon-sugar or make your own by mixing 1 cup granulated sugar with 1-1/2 tablespoons ground cinnamon.

Brussels Sprouts with Sun-Dried Cranberries 1-1/4 pounds Brussels sprouts 1 cup sun-dried cranberries 6 tablespoons unsalted butter

Trim the ends of the Brussels sprouts and remove any bruised outer leaves. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add Brussels sprouts and boil 10 minutes. Immediately drain in a colander under cold water. Dry them on paper towels. When ready to sauté, place cranberries in a small bowl and add boiling water to cover. Let sit 15 minutes. Drain and pat dry. Cut sprouts in half through the stem end. Melt butter in a very large sauté pan. Add sprouts and cranberries and cook over medium-high heat until sprouts are tender but still green with areas of golden color. Add salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Serve immediately. Serves 6

Good Morning America

For those of you who watch Good Morning America, you may have seen Radically Simple this morning as Sara Moulton showed off the best cookbooks of 2010. To see the complete list, click here.  Also featured, was Tournedos Balsamico with Rosemary & Gorgonzola Dolce, today's recipe which I have shared below. Tournedos Balsamico with Rosemary & Gorgonzola Dolce

4 thick beef tenderloin filets, about 10 ounces each 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil 6 tablespoons balsamic vinegar 1 tablespoon minced fresh rosemary, plus sprigs for garnish 4 ounces creamy gorgonzola cheese, cut into 4 slices

Place the filets in a shallow baking dish. Season with salt and pepper. Pour the oil and 2 tablespoons of the vinegar over the beef. Rub the rosemary into the meat. Heat a cast-iron skillet or grill pan until very hot. Add the filets; cook 3 to 4 minutes on each side for medium-rare. Transfer to a platter and let rest 5 minutes. Cook the remaining 4 tablespoons vinegar in a small skillet over high heat until reduced by half. Drizzle the steaks with the reduced vinegar; top with a thin slice of cheese. Garnish with rosemary sprigs. Serves 4

This recipe along with 324 others can be found in Radically Simple: Brilliant Flavors with Breathtaking Ease, chosen by The New York Times, People Magazine, and Good Morning America as one of this year's best cookbooks, it's the perfect holiday gift for the chef in your life.

For the Love of Meat

Years ago at a fancy butcher shop, I noticed a cut of meat that was new to me.  Piled high in the brightly lit case, was a stack of triangular-shaped mounds of beef,  known as trip-tip fillets, tri-tip roasts, or beef triangles.  They "sit" at the bottom of the sirloin, weigh 1-1/2 to 2-1/2 pounds, and are about two inches thick. Flavorful, but lean, they are best eaten rare so that the juices trickle down your chin.   I created a recipe for Bon Appetit using this cut and was reminded of it this weekend.  On our way to see the spectacular Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center, we walked through the retail spaces level with the ice skating rink.  New to us was a fast/casual restaurant called Tri-Tip Grill, featuring none other than this heretofore obscure hunk of meat.  It seems that this cut is very popular in California and newer to East coast folks.  The restaurant, too, had its origins in California and has only recently attracted attention in New York. Whereas a tri-tip fillet will never satisfy in the same way that a game-y aged rib-eye or velvety filet mignon might, it is a great cut to use for the holidays: fulfilling the promise of abundance without the financial burden. Why not buy a pair of tri-tips and invite a few neighbors for a holiday dinner this week?  Serve the juicy rare steak slices with a sweet potato puree flecked with fresh ginger and a hint of freshly-squeezed tangerine juice.   Then stir-fry a wok-ful of sugar snap peas tossed with tiny cubes of bacon and radish -- cut the same size so that they "mimic" each other.   All will come together in a harmonious triptych of flavors textures, and color.  A tri-tip triptych!  Not easy to say three-times quickly.

A trickle of "hot" Chinese mustard will light up your taste buds.  If you don't want to make your own, now's a good time to gather all those little takeout packets lurking in your fridge.

Tri-Tip Filet in Soy & Red Wine with "Chinese Mustard"

2 pound trip-tip beef fillet 1/3 cup dry red wine 2 tablespoons soy sauce 3 cloves garlic, very finely minced 2-1/2 tablespoons dry mustard 3 bunches scallions 12 ounces baby portabello mushrooms 3 tablespoons olive oil 2 tablespoons honey

Put tri-tip in a shallow bowl. Whisk together wine, soy sauce, garlic and 1/2 tablespoon dry mustard.  Pour over meat.  Let sit 30 minutes at room temperature, turning meat often. Preheat oven to 450 degrees.  Meanwhile, in a small bowl, mix together 2 tablespoons dry mustard, 2 tablespoons honey, 2 tablespoons cold water and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Whisk until smooth.  Let sit.  Remove roots and dark green parts of scallions and discard.  Cut scallions in half lengthwise.  Trim mushrooms and wipe with a damp cloth.  Put scallions and mushrooms on a rimmed baking sheet.  Drizzle with olive oil and toss until vegetables are coated.  Sprinkle lightly with salt.  Remove meat from marinade.  Pat dry with paper towels.  Season meat with salt and pepper.  Put meat on baking sheet, with scallions and mushrooms arranged around meat.  Roast for 12 minutes, turn meat and vegetables over and cook 10 minutes longer, until an instant-read thermometer registers 125 degrees for rare. Transfer meat to cutting board and let rest 10 minutes.  Cut in 1/4-inch thick slices. Serve with scallions, mushrooms, and any pan juices.  Drizzle with Chinese mustard.  Serves 4

A Nice Main Course

It's always interesting to me which recipes people choose when flipping through a cookbook -- mine or anyone else's.  What makes us stop at a particular page and say "eureka" -- that's for me?  There are a variety of factors, to be sure.  A compelling title, an interesting combination of ingredients or the ingredients themselves, the ease or difficulty in making the dish, a connection to a taste memory (yearning), something utterly familiar or wildly experimental.  That we all can "taste in our heads" before even lifting a fork to our mouths is what informs that moment. Mmmmmm.....that sounds delicious, we say to ourselves, and immediately write down the list of ingredients and run off to the store.  My "Pork Loin in Cream with Tomatoes, Sage & Gin" is such a recipe.  It helps that there are two gorgeous photos of the dish  -- as a whole roast surrounded by burst grape tomatoes in a burnt umber sauce and as a single generous serving where the fresh sage looks hyper-real.  But perhaps its greatest asset is that it simultaneously feels comforting and a bit exotic.  Many reviewers, and several friends, have chosen this dish as a semaphore of the 325 radically simple dishes in my book.  On Sunday, the New York Times food editor/book reviewer Christine Muhlke chose it, too. The recipe is a riff on an Italian classic in which pork is cooked in milk flavored with juniper.  My version is much simpler but equally divine.   You can augment the sauce by adding some dry white wine in addition to the gin.  It's lovely served with a platter of sauteed broccoli rabe and small potatoes roasted in extra-virgin olive oil and sea salt.  You might begin this meal with a platter of melon draped with the best prosciutto you can afford or a simple salad of wild arugula, toasted pine nuts, slivers of fresh pear and bits of gorgonzola cheese.

You may use a commonplace pork loin that you find in your supermarket, but if you trade up for a fattier, more flavorful heritage pork variety you will get superlative results.

I, too, might make this for dinner -- my friend who canceled a few weeks ago is coming tonight!

Pork Loin in Cream with Tomatoes, Sage & Gin I prepare this in a medium size-paella pan;  you may use any metal flat-bottom shallow ovenproof casserole or skillet that allows for the tomatoes to be arranged in a single layer.

12 large fresh sage leaves 4 large garlic cloves 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil 1-1/2 teaspoons dried Greek oregano (or any dried oregano with flavor!) 2-1/2 pound center-cut pork loin, tied and lightly scored 1 pint grape tomatoes 1/2 cup heavy cream 1/4 cup gin, or more to taste

Process 6 sage leaves, the garlic, oil, oregano and 1/2 teaspoon salt in a mini processor to a fine paste.  Rub all over the pork.  Cover; let sit at room temperature 30 minutes or refrigerate up to 4 hours.  Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.  Heat a very large ovenproof skillet or medium paella pan until very hot.  Brown the pork on all sides, about 5 minutes.  Scatter the tomatoes around the pork; cook 1 minute.  Pour 1/4 cup cream over the pork.  Roast 40 minutes.  Add the 6 remaining leaves, the remaining 1/4 cup cream, and the gin.  Roast 14 to 20 minutes longer, until tender.  Transfer the pork to a cutting board.  Place the pan on the stovetop and boil the sauce, adding more gin, salt, and pepper, until slightly reduced, 1 minute.  Slice the pork and serve with the sauce.  Serves 6

The Best Rib Roast

Several readers requested the recipe for the Rib-Eye Roast mentioned in yesterday's Hanukkah blog.  The editors at Gourmet magazine, where the recipe first appeared, had this to say about that..."A wonderfully salty exterior and a hint of dill make this easy-to-prepare roast one of the best we've ever tasted."  I'm not sure how this idea first came to me, to "cure" a hunk of raw beef in the same way you would cure a tranche of salmon, gravlax-style. What was I thinking?  Perhaps I imagined a kind of carpaccio that could be sliced paper-thin and served raw.  But I nixed that idea and decided to roast the meat instead:  the method produced very juicy, vibrant red flesh with a slightly caramelized, herbaceous crust.  And it is stunningly simple to make.  The most difficult part of this recipe, it seems, is to get the right piece of meat.  In the Gourmet recipe I used  a rib-eye roast that had plenty of marbling.  Retooled for Radically Simple (11 years later), I used a boneless rib roast. No one in my neighborhood seemed able to accommodate my request for a 3-1/2 pound rib-eye, rolled and tied.  Whichever cut you find, however, will yield great results.

Gravlax, a Scandanavian preparation usually meant for salmon, literally means "buried" in a mixture of coarse salt, sugar, fresh dill, and cracked black pepper.  According to the Oxford Companion of Food, the preparation can be traced back to 1348.  The salmon is wrapped in plastic and weighted down for a period of 24 hours to three days.  Not only does the flavor get absorbed but the texture is altered as most of the inherent liquid is released to become a kind of brine.  I apply exactly the same method to the meat.  With gravlax, the salmon is served uncooked.  In my recipe, the beef is roasted at 400 degrees for approximately 1-1/4 hours at which time perfection is achieved.

Start your prep one day in advance and make sure the meat is at room temperature before you cook it.  You might want to try it during one of the remaining nights of Hanukkah because it is delicious with latkes.

Rib Roast in the Style of Gravlax 1/4 cup kosher salt 3 tablespoons sugar 1-1/2 teaspoons coarsely cracked black pepper 3-1/2 pound boneless rib roast, rolled and tied 1 cup chopped fresh dill

Stir together the salt, sugar, and pepper in a small bowl; rub all over the beef.  Put the dill over the salt mixture.  Wrap the beef tightly in plastic wrap.  Make a small hole in the bottom of the plastic so that any liquid around the beef can drain.  Place in a small roasting pan and weight down with a baking sheet topped with a few large heavy cans. Refrigerate 24 hours.  Unwrap the beef; let sit at room temperature 30 minutes.  Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Scrape the coating off the beef and pat dry with paper towels.  Place in a shallow roasting pan.  Roast in the middle of the oven 1-1/4 hours; until an instant-read thermometer registers 130 degrees for medium-rare.  Transfer to a cutting board and tent with foil.  Let rest 10 to 15 minutes.  Carve as desired.  Serves 8