Category Archives: Food

Food Post: Beef Carbonnade

If I haven’t mentioned, Mr. Bookdwarf and I bought a house last year that needed to be completely gutted. We finally unpacked most of our cookbooks a few weeks back and start cooking, but now is the time to finish the kitchen, so we have no kitchen sink for a while! Before that, however, we did cook a delicious beef stew from The Cook’s Illustrated Cookbook. This is a classic cookbook, one we turn to time and time again. It’s a straightforward beef carbonnade made with beer. We cheat and add potatoes and carrots. Yum!

Food Post: Cookbook Challenge

We started unpacking cookbooks that had been in storage for over a year in our new house. I forgot how many I have! Mr. Bookdwarf and I decided to make a recipe from each cookbook, as a way to try new recipes and to test that they’re worthy of keeping. Last night, we cooked this Winter Minestrone from David Tanis’s One Good Dish.

As an aside, you should also know is that I got an Instapot for Christmas this year. Did I (or you) need another kitchen appliance? Honestly, after living in a temporary apartment with not much of my kitchen stuff, I realized there was a lot I didn’t need could get rid of. But this device is many things in one—pressure cooker, slow cooker, rice maker, yogurt, and more. I’ve used it a few times and had fantastic results.

Tanis’s recipe is quite simple. Sauté some aromatics,  add pancetta or bacon and cook for a few minues. Then cook cannellini beans that have been soaked overnight in 6 cups water for 1 1/2-2 hours. Meanwhile, you roast some winter squash to add to the beans at the end. I simply adapted the recipe to use non-soaked white beans with water in the Instapot on the pressure cooker bean setting after sauteing the aromatics and bacon on the sauté setting. It took about 45 minutes until the beans were tender and creamy. And we used acorn squash—a complete pain to peel FYI—roasting it with olive oil, s&p, and a dash of red pepper flakes for 35 minutes. I also threw some bacon to crisp up toward the end of the squash cooking for garnish because I’m fancy like that.

This was both easy and delicious and I would definitely make it again! I can’t wait to pick another cookbook to try.



Cooking with Pok Pok by Andy Ricker

All of the things I bought for this meal!

Early in December @TenSpeedPress tweeted that Daily Candy “dares you” to cook from @pokpokpdx in a post titled Four Books Destined for the Coffee Table. Never one to pass by a challenge, I said I would cook from Pok Pok by Andy Ricker soon and report back. Then the holidays happened and frankly after all of that eating, drinking, and cooking I needed to lay low for a while. On Saturday I decided to try and recover my cooking spirit and cracked open Pok Pok. Folks have been swooning over this book–it made all sorts of best of the year lists, best gift to give, etc. I’ve seen a hard copy with it’s lovely, colorful design and it is a marvel. My copy is a galley so it’s all black and white, with no pretty pictures to distract me!

Northern Thai Chicken Soup

I read through most of the book before deciding what to make. I’ve had a whole frozen chicken from a meat share that I’ve been wanting to cook so decided on Yam Jin Kai (Northern Thai Chicken Soup). To accompany the chicken I would make Phat Khanaeng (Stir-Fried Brussels Sprouts) and Khao Niaw (Sticky Rice). One of the things I noticed in this book is that each recipe often requires one if not more of another smaller recipe, as simple as fried garlic or as complex as a broth or a homemade shrimp and spice paste. This didn’t deter me. No, it was the rare ingredients that made me pause for a second, but it also meant I could trek up to the Burlington H Mart and wander the aisles. So I did that yesterday and guess what? H Mart doesn’t stock kaffir lime leaves or galangal and the Whole Foods near me which usually does was also out. I did what any self-respecting cook does. I went to Russo’s in Watertown which had all of these things and more, even culantro (not to be confused with cilantro, of course). Yes, reader, I went to three stores to get the ingredients for this meal. Anyway, I digress. I really just wanted to share with you my enthusiasm for cooking from this book.

I managed to find everything except for gouramy (a preserved fish of some kind), two kinds of specialized peppers (pippali and mak hwen) and Vietnamese mint. I skipped the extra fish and used extra Thai peppers and regular mint.

Brussels Sprouts Mise en Place

The soup calls for adding aromatics like lemongrasss, galangal, and cilantro stems to a pot with a whole chicken and shrimp paste, covering it all with water, and simmering until the chicken legs start to fall off. Then you remove the meat, strain, and make a soup. It was pretty straightforward, actually, and once I had the broth made the soup came together quickly: combine more lemongrasss, galangal, shallots, garlic, kaffir lime leaves, more spices, more shrimp paste, and 6 cups of the broth. Add green onions, cilantro, and culantro. Simmer for 5 minutes and done. Serve with a bit more of the herb mixture and some fried garlic. You get a rich chicken soup filled with funk and herbs until it’s opaque.

The brussels sprouts were even easier. Blanch and sauté the sprouts, then add an easy-to-make sauce of oyster sauce and fish sauce. Tasty!

Stir-Fried Brussels Sprouts

And there you have it. My first and certainly not my last meal from Pok Pok. The book is worth reading if only for the lovely introductions to the recipes. Now that I own something called Thin Soy Sauce I’ll have to continue exploring this fine addition to my cookbook collection, though perhaps one day I’ll get the color version.

Sweetness and Power by Sidney Mintz

Before Michael Pollan, before the History of The World in 6 Glasses, before Salt: A World History, there was Sweetness and Power, Sidney W Mintz’s look at the history of sugar.

 I must have heard of it before, but I was really impelled to read it by Kevin West’s Saving The Season, which points out that, as old-fashioned as it seems, jam-making is relatively new on the scene. Home canning relies not only on a modern conception of sanitization but also on reliable sealing jars – the Ball jar company is only 100 years old – and jam requires a great deal of sugar.
In the beginning, sugar was rare and enormously expensive. Henry II once sent out for three pounds of it for the court, if his messenger could even get that much at once. That’s closer to the Rolling Stones sending a roadie out to get cocaine than it is to our contemporary understanding of sugar as a food, an adulterant, as a sneaky source of too many calories.
Mintz covers how sugar was made, how its manufacture and trade were implicated with slavery, the decline of mercantilism, the rise of liberal economic theory, the importation of new food habits, theories of working classes, and on and on.
It’s an academic read, not quite as user-friendly as the food books that followed it. But it’s thorough, and if you want to understand just how we got to this place in our caloric, economic, and culinary history, it’s well worth reading.

In a Jam

I’ve always imagined that making jam or putting up things required whole days standing over a hot stove stirring and stirring, sweat dripping off my nose, jars everywhere, fruit juice staining the walls. As canning and jam making has gotten more popular in this DIY decade, more and more books appear on the market. Many are nice and instructive, but I couldn’t get past what I imagined it would entail. That is, until I tried the simple strawberry jam recipes in Kevin West’s Saving the Season. The whole process took only an hour and we ended up with 4 half pint jars of the most amazing jam.

We kept going. So far we’ve made spicy agrodolce onions, Maraschino cherries with fruit that we foraged from the parking lot of a Valvoline near our house, the most delicious sour pickles ever, blueberry jam with gin, and last night, Methley plum jam with star anise. The last one was really a riff off of a recipe he had, but not quite the same. I’ve gotten so confident now that I want to make jam or pickle out of everything I find at the farmers’ market.

My favorite part of the book isn’t the recipes. It’s the approachable, extensive text that West includes. There are plenty of beautiful pictures of food, of course, but they’re matched with tons of stories and poems that you don’t find in other cookbooks. You get tales of his family making jam, the history of the preserving pan, and cocktails you’ll want to make instantly, plus charts and graphs about every fruit or vegetable you can think of preserving.

Below you’ll find a photo of what we’ve been up to at Chez Sullivan & Weber. From left to right, Blueberry Jam with Gin, Strawberry Jam, Pickles, Maraschino Cherries, and Spicy Agrodolce Onions:

Jams & Pickles

The Magic of Casado

A few weeks ago I had some friends over for dinner and wanted to make something welcoming and comfortable. The weather was warming up and for some reason it seemed perfect to make casado.

It’s basically a Costa Rican version of what I grew up knowing as “meat & three,” a set plate with a protein, vegetable, and
some rice and beans. The name casado may have come from restaurant customers asking to be treated as casados, or married men, getting meals like a wife would make for them. I liked the idea of making a simple, hearty meal for my friends.

It sometimes seems like I have a cookbook for every country in the world, but I don’t have one for Costa Rica. I looked a little north, to Rick Bayless’s Mexican Everyday, because I like his easy style and his food always turns out great. I found a recipe for chicken thighs with a Yucatecan Garlic Spice Marinade. I made a salad with a cilantro lime dressing, some Mexican rice, and easy pinto beans. The marinade was incredibly easy to make: take a bunch of ingredients, toss them a blender, and then put them on the chicken. It doesn’t need to marinate long at all.

Our only problem arose when we tried to grill the thighs and realized our gas grill was out of propane. Oops. We switched to the cast iron skillet and got cooking.

When we were in Costa Rica this March, we ate a lot of casado. It was inexpensive but delicious and filling after a long day of surfing (OK, mostly sitting and watching other people surf). Each restaurant made it slightly differently. One place served it with a piece of grilled cheese, some sort of Cotija cheese. When I asked for cheese at another place, they looked at me like I was crazy and threw on a piece of orange American. Some offered avocado and all had a blazing green hot sauce. With an Imperial beer chilled almost to freezing, the casado became our favorite meal. It’s one that allows for diversity and play.

I’m going to make casado again, maybe with pork instead of chicken, black beans instead of pinto, and perhaps brown rice instead of white. The beauty of the meal is that you can switch it up all you want and still end up with a delicious plate.

The Cocktail Lab by Tony Conigliaro

Even if you’re not the sort of person who actually cooks recipes from Eleven Madison Park or The Fat Duck Cookbook, you might still want to pre-order a copy of The Cocktail Lab, which is coming this summer from Ten Speed Press. All three are seriously advanced manuals that require specialized equipment if you’re going to follow them closely. Of course, most people use them for inspiration rather than as strict templates.

If you like a cocktail you probably know how to make a couple variations on the Manhattan already. But Conigliaro takes cocktail design to a completely different level. Even if you don’t wind up making a recipe that requires a specific rare variety of sochu, or blending your own grapefruit bitters, or serving a drink garnished with ruscus leaves and a cloud of your own house-made green tea incense, you’ll learn something new about what a cocktail can be.

And fear not, there are plenty of recipes in here that are simple enough that the everyday home bartender could make them without too much advance preparation. I think my favorite parts, are the component recipes in the back, for things like pink peppercorn vodka and rhubarb cordial, and guides to ways more intense or varied flavors from citrus, all of which seem likely to inspire additional recipes on their own.

Making Bolognese

What does one do on the first day of the new year? Embark on a bold, new project? Make resolutions? Begin a new exercise routine? If you’re me, indulging in a day off of work, you read for most of the day and decide to make Ragu alla Bolognese. I’ve been finishing up Michael Moss’s forthcoming book on the food industry, Salt, Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us, and his tales of Oscar Meyer inventing Lunchables made me crave a hearty sauce.

I’ve made Bolognese before and had a good idea about the basics. I consulted Cook’s Illustrated and Mario Batali to make sure I was on track. Here’s what I did:

3-4 small carrots

2 celery stalks

1 medium onion

I roughly chopped these and then pulsed them in the food processor 6 to 7 times until they were in really tiny bits. You don’t want mash though, so don’t go overboard.

Olive oil

3 oz pancetta

I chopped this up too and pulsed in the food processor into a paste.

8 oz ground beef

8 oz ground pork

1 TBSP tomato paste

1 cup red wine

1 cup beef broth

1 cup chicken stock

1 28 oz can tomatoes

2-3 garlic cloves, peeled

Oregano, salt, and pepper to taste

1 cup milk–I used whole because I had it

I heated up some oil, about 1 TBSP, in a large dutch oven until it was almost smoking. I added the ground meats and the pancetta and browned it in two batches. Setting that aside, I added the ground mirepoix (carrots, celery, and onion) and softened them for a bit, about 20 minutes. After scooching some aside in the middle of the pan to make a hole, I added the tomato paste and let it cook for 5 minutes. Then I added the wine and let it simmer until it cooked down, another 5 minutes. I might have drunk some of the red wine too. After that you just have to add back the meat and the broths, canned tomatoes, the garlic cloves, salt & pepper, and some dried oregano. Get it to a slow simmer and wander off. Drink more of the red wine.

I checked on it periodically to make sure it was simmering and not boiling crazily. After about one and a half hours, I heated the milk up in a saucepan and added half to the sauce. Once it cooked into the sauce for 10 minutes, I added the second half.

You were probably wondering why I threw in whole garlic cloves, weren’t you? Those I fished out. They were wonderfully soft; I mashed them up and added them back to the ragu.I let it cook a bit longer but we were starving. I had some wonderful fusili pasta from Bella Ravioli in Medford (if  you live in the Boston/Cambridge area this place is amazing) so I cooked that up and served it in bowls warmed by pasta water, topped with parmesan. Yum!

Ragu all Bolognese


Things I would do differently next time–I didn’t do a good job of breaking up the meat as it browned. I’d make that happen. I would let the mirepoix cook longer, maybe 25 minutes. I think more tomato paste wouldn’t hurt. Now I’ve got lots of leftovers to eat for the week, never a bad thing.