The Man Who Knows How to Cook Everything

Note: Most of the links in this post are to The New York Times which requires you to log in.
He's A.K.A. The Minimalist with good reason. Mark Bittman is the no fuss master presenting recipes that cooks with minimal skill level can make easily. His "No Knead Bread" technique from Sullivan St. Bakery sparked an Internet buzz still ongoing. Is it really possible to have awesome bread without giving your biceps a workout? Yes. He proved with Mario Batali that risotto doesn't need the ground and pound of a Jiu Jitsu master to be creamy and elegant. Mark Bittman takes the drama out of cooking and infuses it with honest, straightforward flavors. He guides with technique that can be applied all over my kitchen.

Last week we had 3 nights of Bittman food. I used his method for grilling chicken wings and applied it to some thighs which are my favorite. Previously I had parboiled chicken parts before grilling, like I do for ribs. This left them well seasoned but Bittman's chicken cooked over indirect heat and then crisped over a higher flame was, well, more chicken-y. If you put raw chicken over high flame the outside burns and the inside remains raw. His video for twice cooked Chinese pork left me drooling. I braised the pork while the chicken was grilling and served it the next day. I served it along side a stir fry of rice noodles and bok choy with black bean sauce. Exciting. Night #3, a few days later I sliced the remainder of the pork and served it atop homemade fried rice, a new staple for me. I'll use the pork braising liquid in a dish of Lion's Head Meatballs next week. More on that later.

Check out Bittman every Wednesday in The Times, and be sure to catch his video that usually accompanies his article.


A Renaissance

About 6 months ago I gave up gourmet cooking at home. It wasn't because I wanted to. I was defeated by my tiny apartment kitchen and taking on the project of our house that consumed so much time. Well, Gourmet-me is back and I couldn't be happier.

I present whole wheat butter nut squash ravioli with beef demi glace, walnut pesto, gorgonzola and brussel sprout leaves. This would be a menu item at my non existent northern Italian Trattoria.

Surprisingly, it would fall under the "semi homemade" guise. The ravioli were courtesy of Severino Pasta of NJ (the best fresh pasta company in the Northeast, even beating out the Brooklyn institutions of pasta I was raised on) and demi glace from Williams Sonoma. I made the walnut pesto - toasted walnuts chopped the food processor with loads of parmiggiano reggiano, olive oil and black pepper. I've also used this pesto on steamed broccoli. I blanched the brussel spout leaves in the pasta water, they added great texture and a fresh flavor to the whole dish.

Notice the ravioli weren't tossed with the demi glace. It would look terrible and demi is strong, so I spooned it over once the ravioli were in the bowl. Same with walnut pesto. Given the hearty flavors of the dish I poured a 2004 Louis M. Martini Cabernet from the Sonoma Valley. This is my favorite wine served at Ruth's Chris and I finally added it to my home wine rotation. Terrific together.

Another note about Severino Pasta. A few years ago I made my favorite birthday dinner ever using their butternut squash tortelloni. I made a sauce this time of Italian Panna (very heavy cream) Gorgonzola melted into the cream, and balsamic vinegar drizzled over at the last moment. I wonder about the owner, if you make wonderful pasta all day long, can you stand to eat it for dinner?

I look forward to getting back in the swing of sharing my degustations with you!


Perfect Summer Send Off

I've been celebrating the end of summer with great sales on seafood at the store. Last weekend we hosted our first dinner guests, my Father in law and one of four brothers in law. Not wanting to make Italian food knowing that's what they'd expect, I tried out a new crab cake recipe from Cook's Illustrated. It was a success! Served with pan roasted carrots, creamy basil sauce and a green salad with balsamic roasted mushrooms and onions.

A few days ago I settled on an entire eat-with-your-hands menu of jumbo wild gulf shrimp (poached in old bay broth and served in shell), king crab legs (poached in broth after shrimp were removed) with homemade cocktail sauce and corn on the cob. Served with Victory Brewing Co's Prima Pils, it was a match made in heaven. Shrimp cooking is a very delicate thing. While boiling for 3 minutes yields edible results, a slow poach brings about tender, wonderful results.

To begin, make a court bouillon (quick stock) by sauteing onions, garlic, carrots and celery in some olive oil. Don't dice them nicely, just rough chop. Add a bay leaf, black peppercorns, a cut lemon and some herb stems like parsley. Depending on mood I might add crushed red pepper, coriander, ginger, lemongrass or kefir lime. Add a flavor conductor, like white wine, beer, or store bought broth. Allow the alcohol to cook off, and top off with any additional liquid you may need, usually water will be fine. Bring to a simmer. After the flavors have had a few minutes to marry, turn the heat off. Add shrimp. Cover. Poach about 5 minutes for very large shrimp. Remove and lay on a pan in a single layer so they don't continue cooking too much. Chill and peel for shrimp cocktail or serve immediately for a feast. A casual dish like this really impresses guests and is almost no work. Save this valuable cooking liquid for making paella, bouillabase, or some Italian fra diavolo.

Give the utensils a rest and celebrate the bounty of the sea!