Cooking for Hugo: Debbie Koenig's Barbecued Brisket

Parents Need to Eat Too
Way back in the early days of food blogging, when there were only about six people doing it, a woman named Debbie Koenig started a blog called Words to Eat By. Long before I started this site, I read hers and loved it. Debbie lived in New York, like me, had worked in publishing, like me, plus her recipe for chocolate chip cookies really was so good. It's not a big leap to say that she certainly helped inspire my own jump into food blogging.

When Debbie and her husband had their son in 2006, she realized, as most of us then do, that cooking with a baby is a whole new universe to navigate. Where once you thought nothing of spending an afternoon in the kitchen to make an elaborate dinner, you now have a screaming baby attached to your body, in desperate need of your full attention, to the detriment of your ability to shower, pee or even just make a sandwich. Bit by bit, Debbie figured out her way back into the kitchen and was inspired to help other mothers get their sea legs cooking again.

Parents Need to Eat Too, her book and the name her blog has since taken over, is a compendium of all the wisdom she gained over the years since then. By teaching cooking classes to new mothers and keeping the conversation alive on her website, Debbie found herself with scores of recipes and tips to share with other sleep-deprived, harried and hungry new mothers. Parents Need to Eat Too holds all of them, plus a glut of information on freezing big batches of food, foods to promote milk production and soothing reassurances that one day things will feel normal again, even if right now your world is one big mess of burp clothes, peanut butter eaten out of a jar and multi-night wakeups.

I first read Parents Need to Eat Too when Hugo was a few weeks old. I hadn't though it possible before, but just like they tell you, in those days I couldn't figure out how to do anything but nurse Hugo. I barely found time to shower and dress and fixing myself a bowl of yogurt (as in, open fridge, get yogurt, find bowl, pour yogurt into bowl, get spoon and eat) seemed so remote and difficult that the one time I managed to do so I felt a level of achievement I hadn't had since learning how to tell time in the third grade. Oh, early motherhood! You are a kick in the teeth.

Debbie's book was a breath of fresh air. The few parenting books I had scattered around the apartment filled me with dread (nap schedules? infant character profiles?), but reading Parents Need to Eat Too was the soothing distraction I really needed. It didn't matter that I actually was in no position to cook again just yet. Debbie was telling me that I would be again, in time, and that it was just a matter of being patient and resourceful until then. At a time when everything I knew about my old life was gone, it was deeply comforting to know that.

I've, of course, long found my way back to the kitchen, but these days I find myself reaching for Debbie's book all the time. Because now is the time that I'm really cooking for my family. Max is living at home again (praise be!), Hugo no longer needs his little pots of puréed veg (glory be!) and getting food on the table for all of us is my job. Along with everything else I do. So what I'm looking for these days is help in preparing dishes that all of us will eat, as well as stocking the freezer for those days when I just don't have the time to cook and finding recipes I can make with one hand tied behind my back.

Parents Need to Eat Too has all of that, but is tailor-made for those of us who love to cook anyway and don't want Hamburger Helper to get dinner on the table. The recipes are relatively sophisticated despite their supreme easiness and there are lots of delicious things to get excited about. (Big-Batch Adobo Chicken is next on my to-do list.) Currently, I'm having a delightful love affair with the slow cooker chapter even though I don't own a slow cooker. (Debbie says that a cast-iron pot with a lid in a low oven mimics the heat of a slow cooker pretty well.) So the other day I decided to try my hand at brisket.

I bought a big slab of brisket meat after a hilarious back-and-forth with the German butcher who, despite my having researched this exhaustively online beforehand, had no idea what I was talking about and a bottle of apple juice (I already had barbecue sauce in my fridge leftover from this).The prep was almost comically simple: First, I preheated the oven to 200 degrees F (about 90 degrees C) and put the slab of meat in my biggest cast-iron pot. Then I poured in a cup of apple juice and a cup of barbecue sauce. Then I put the lid on the pan and put it in the oven for about 6 hours. And That Was It.

Sliced brisket

When I removed the pot from the oven and took off the lid, the brisket - shrunken from its impressive girth in its raw state - was dark brown and fragrant, swimming in a pool of mahogany cooking liquid. I sliced it thinly and spooned the liquid over each portion. The meat was wonderfully lean and flavorful, pleasing both Hugo and his daddy. (Hugo loves chomping away on the meat for a while, then spitting it out once he's leached all the good stuff out, so while I can't guarantee that your child will have quite the same delightful table manners as mine does, the recipe is definitely kid-friendly.) We had a big dinner, the three of us, and I packed the freezer full of leftovers, my biggest thrill these days.

Along with Dinner: A Love Story for people with children over 3 and which I wrote about here, Parents Need to Eat Too is the best parenting resource for cooks.

Barbecued Brisket
Serves 6 to 8
From Parents Need to Eat Too

1 3-4-pound brisket, trimmed of as much fat as possible
1 cup barbecue sauce (if store-bought, then as natural as possible)
1 cup apple juice

1. Put the brisket in the slow cooker or a large cast-iron pot (if using the pot, preheat the oven to 200 degrees F). Pour the sauce and juice on top, making sure some of the liquid ends up underneath the meat. The meat should not be fully submerged.

2. Cook on LOW for 6 to 8 hours or, if using the pot, for 6, checking once at the 5-hour-mark. The brisket is done when a fork pierces the meat easily. Slice the meat against the grain thinly, then serve with the cooking liquid. Debbie suggests rounding out the meal with these beans and cornbread.

Nigel Slater's Pork Meatballs in Broth

Nigel Slater's Pork Meatballs in Broth

Meatballs! Oh, meatballs. Is there a more wonderful food? More pleasing to shriek out loud whilst walking your child, more lovely to mix and roll, more delicious to eat? I usually make meatballs in sauce, like the good Italian I am, and forget how many other ways there are to eat meatballs. But when Katie reminded me the other day, I practically tripped over myself getting to the store to buy ground pork.

I mean, ground pork flavored with mint and chiles and garlic and scallions, rolled into little balls and then suspended in broth? Hello? Was there ever any chance that I would hear about this recipe and not make it? No, I tell you. NO. (They're like skinless wontons in soup! In fact, next time I might actually wrap them in wonton skins.)

The recipe comes from Nigel Slater's Tender, his book on growing and cooking with vegetables, and it makes me giggle to no end that the original title for this recipe is Chicken Broth with Pork and Kale.


Why, if you are given the opportunity to use the word meatball, would you ever shy away from using it? Doesn't Nigel know MEATBALL! is how you sell a recipe? Chicken Broth with Pork and Kale, I mean, I wouldn't even bother reading the recipe after seeing that title. I'd just flip on by. Tell me you wouldn't. GO AHEAD. (Yeesh! I'm worked up or something!)

Anyway, I am herewith rebranding the recipe as Nigel Slater's Pork Meatballs in Broth, because meatballs deserve all the love and attention they command, every last drop of it. Loud and proud, meatballs, loud and proud.

Now, onto the recipe. It is so easy a child could do it. You simply flavor ground pork with chiles and herbs and garlic and scallions, then roll it into little balls. Emphasis on little! You want these to be one-bite meatballs, maximum two-bite. Then you lower them into simmering broth for a few minutes. The original recipe has you fry them first, but we all know how I feel about that. The meatballs taste just as delicious and you get to skip a whole, messy, pan-dirtying step. Boom!

Of course it'd be best if you made this with your own, lovingly prepared chicken broth. Of course! Of course. However, I am here to tell you that I made these with Better Than Bouillon vegetable stock (I should be getting stock options in the company at this point, shouldn't I?) (and yes, I know that it is most definitely not Whole30-approved, but life is full of tragic decisions and this was never going to be one of them) and it was sublime. Seriously! Totally delectable.

Finally, the original recipe tells you to blanch kale leaves and then float them in the broth (which is what Katie did, if you'd like photographic support). But kale has cleared out of stores here (and thank goodness is all I can say to that), so instead I used a very firm, very fresh zucchini sliced paper-thin and just threw the slices in at the very end of the cooking time. Why the zucchini? Because it's all I had in terms of green vegetables. Honest! No other reason. I imagine that a few spinach leaves would be nice here, too.

Meatballs! The best.

Nigel Slater's Pork Meatballs in Broth
Serves 3 or 4

500 grams (1 pound) ground pork
2 small hot chiles
4 scallions
2 cloves garlic
6 sprigs mint
6 springs cilantro or parsley
1.5 liters (6 cups) vegetable or chicken broth
1 fresh, firm zucchini, sliced paper-thin

1. Put the pork in a mixing bowl. Finely chop the chiles and add them with their seeds to the pork. Slice the scallions, discarding the roots and the very darkest tips of the leaves. Peel and mince the garlic, and add with the scallions to the pork. Pull the parsley or cilantro and mint leaves from their stems and chop coarsely, then add them to the pork with the salt. Mix everything thoroughly with your hands and form into about sixteen balls, about 1 1/4 inches in diameter.

2. Bring the stock to a boil in and season with salt and pepper. Lower in the pork balls and then decrease the heat and simmer for 5-7 minutes, until they are cooked through. Add the zucchini slices to the soup and serve one or two minutes later.

Lisa Fain's Tex-Mex Meatloaf with Chipotle-Tomato Glaze

Tex-mex meatloaf

There are a few truths that are universal to food blogging: 

1. Shooting in natural light will always result in the best photos.

2. Posts on cake always get the most comments.

3. It is literally impossible to make meatloaf look good.

But not every post around here can be about cake now, can it? We'd all be twenty pounds heavier with really bad teeth. And anyway, we're all smart enough to know that sometimes the homeliest things are the most delicious.

Especially meatloaf.

Chipotle-lime tomato sauce

This meatloaf is particularly wonderful. It comes from Lisa Fain's Homesick Texan cookbook, which was published a few years ago, when I was deep in the misery of book-writing and not inclined to go chile-hunting in my fair city. But now, my kitchen a veritable font of chiles (chipotle! New Mexico! Arbol! Guajillo!), I'm making up for lost time. The meatloaf was the first thing I made from the book and if it's any indication of the quality of the rest of the recipes, we are in for a very good time indeed.

Now, despite my bragging about all those chiles in my possession, I was still short of several things that Lisa calls for - fresh chorizo, for example, and cilantro and tortilla chips. I didn't even have Worcestershire sauce. But I did have Sicilian colatura, which is also made from anchovies, so I used that instead. Even without the chorizo and with boring old breadcrumbs instead of crushed tortilla chips, this meatloaf was fantastic. Exploding with unexpected flavors.

But the very best part of the recipe? The tomato-chipotle glaze that Lisa has you slather on top of the meatloaf twice - once before baking and once almost at the end. She spikes the glaze with lime juice and adds allspice, and as it concentrates in the heat of the oven, it becomes incredibly tangy and spicy and rich. It's better than ketchup and if you know me at all, this is saying something. (I could eat it with a spoon.) In the days after I made the meatloaf, when I'd unpack it from its foil pouch and slice off a piece for lunch, I kept wishing I'd made more of the glaze for slathering and sandwich-making.

In fact, I think that what I really need to do is just make a double batch of the glaze, reduce it in the oven, and then keep it around for all sorts of things, not just this meatloaf. Spreading on burgers, dolloping on fried rice, heck, even just eating with a spoon.

Lisa Fain's Tex-Mex Meatloaf with Chipotle-Tomato Glaze
From The Homesick Texan Cookbook
Serves 6

For the glaze
1 cup crushed canned tomatoes 
1 to 2 canned chipotles in adobo
2 tablespoons lime juice
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
2 cloves garlic

For the meatloaf:
1/2 tablespoon vegetable oil
1/4 small yellow onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 1/2 pounds lean ground beef
1/2 pound fresh chorizo, removed from casings (I left this out)
1/4 cup chopped cilantro (I left this out)
2 large eggs
1 cup finely ground tortilla chips, crackers, or breadcrumbs
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce (or colatura or Asian fish sauce)
1 teaspoon black pepper
Salt to taste

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a large baking sheet with greased foil.

2. To make the glaze, combine all ingredients except salt in a blender or food processor and puree. Add salt to taste.

3. To make the meat loaf, heat oil in a medium skillet over medium-low heat. Add the onion and cook uncovered for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add garlic and salt and cook 30 seconds more.

4. Scrape the onion mixture into a large bowl. Add the remaining ingredients to the bowl and mix thoroughly by hand.

5. Form the meat mixture into a loaf and place on the baking sheet. Spread half the tomato-chipotle glaze on top of the meatloaf. Place in the oven and bake 50 minutes.

6. Remove from the oven and spread the remaining glaze on top. Put back in the oven for 10 additional minutes. Remove meatloaf from the oven and let sit 15 minutes. Slice with a serrated knife and serve. 

Dispatch from Italy: Pork Chops

I realize that upon reading Dispatch from Italy you might be expecting something, let's say, more sophisticated than pork chops. Whenever I hear the word dispatch, I think of George Orwell in the 1920's being all down and outy, for some reason. But this is where I am for the next two weeks, decamped at my mother's house with Hugo for a vacation of sorts where other people cook me lunch and soothe the baby and let me take forty thousand photographs of this view which never grows old:


Here's some lavender to set the scene for you:


This morning I picked figs, all hot and soft in the summer sun. This afternoon we'll go to town to run some errands and eat gelato, as it is my goal to work my way through the flavors in the case of the gelateria before we leave. (Yesterday: peach and watermelon. Today: chocolate and pistachio.) And at lunch today, Maurizio, my mother's cousin, made pork chops so good that I must must must tell you about them. I've never seen pork chops cooked this way before and I've never eaten pork chops this good, so I have to share. Isn't this what blogs were invented for?

(Is this the right moment to say that I'm really not a meat person? I mean, I'm really not. Give me a bowl of boiled green beans with olive oil and vinegar over a steak any day. But put Maurizio in a kitchen with a stack of meat and a hot pan and and suddenly I'm tearing into pork chops like some prehistoric cavewoman.)

The first thing you need to do is gather your ingredients. Watch out, it's not a long list:

Good-quality pork chops, one per person (if I had to guess, around 1/2 an inch thick)
Coarse sea salt (do not use fine, no matter what)
A lemon and that is it.

Crazy, right? 

Now take a heavy frying pan and put it over medium-high heat. (I'll bet a cast-iron pan would be best, but Maurizio used a nonstick one.) Coat one side of each pork chop evenly with one or two teaspoons of coarse salt. That's PER CHOP, people. They should look like this:


Lay the pork chops, unsalted side down, in the hot pan. There's no oil or anything to coat the pan. Let the chops fry until, Maurizio says, the salt on top starts to go clear, meaning they've absorbed the liquid from the meat (this takes a little less than ten minutes). Your kitchen will smell like browning pork fat, which is indescribably delicious. Flip the chops to the salted side. The browned side should look like this:


Now fry this side for just a few minutes, until the salt sticks to the pan. Remove the chops to the serving plates and, using a spoon, scrape off the coarse salt and discard. Flip the chop again, so that the nicely browned side is facing up. After all, your eyes are eating, too, as the Germans would say.


Serve everyone their pork chop and then, at the table, squeeze a good amount of lemon juice over each one and tuck in: 


I find it difficult not to tear into the hot, salty chop with my bare hands, but I do my best to restrain myself and use a fork and knife because just because I can eat figs straight off of trees right now doesn't mean I've turned into a total animal, you know? The chop is all juicy and wonderful and the lemon juice cuts through the richness of the pork and wouldn't you know, I even eat the bit of fat edging the meat because it's so darn good.

(Ha! I just realized Hugo's pacifier is lying next to my plate there. Poor Hugo, no pork chops for him.)

Next up for Dispatch from Italy, if I can get my mother to cooperate: pickled eggplant. Yes? Yes! And an update on which gelato flavors I've worked through. I know you're all on the edge of your seats. Now go forth and fry chops!

Meatballs for New Mothers


Hugo will be eight weeks old this week. Eight whole weeks! In the past two weeks, he has started smiling at us, big, toothless grins that I have decided are the best thing since sliced bread, the steam engine and the birth of Steve Jobs put together. He stares at us in wonder when we speak, uttering little coos like he's trying to answer our absolutely inane questions, eats like a champ (and, for that matter, sleeps like a champ, unless the hubris of putting this down in type damns me forever) and is an absolute delight.

I have always wanted to be a mother. I've had baby fever my whole life, at least as far back as I can remember. I babysat avidly as a teenager, nannied as a young woman and fawned over my friends' babies when they were born. I very, very much looked forward to becoming a mother myself one day. And yet, still, the first three weeks of Hugo's life were a kick in the teeth. I don't want to say they were the hardest days of my life, because they were bound up with the wonder of Hugo - the boy who made us family - but they were hard.

(Proof? This tweet, in that wretched third week, was totally, completely, wholly unrhetorical in nature.)

Our culture, our society, prepares us endlessly for birth. But no one prepares you for what comes next. It's because, of course, there is no preparation. The sleep deprivation, the hormones (the hormones!), the terror of realizing in one split second that you are this little person's caretaker, its most important person, for the rest of your life, man, it is seriously heavy stuff that is very difficult to handle, much less prepare for. I realize now how right other societies have it when their new mothers are surrounded by their community for the weeks following birth, caring for her, washing and feeding her. A new baby doesn't really need much, but a new mother needs everything.

If you're a cook and you know a new mother or a woman who will be one soon, these meatballs can be your contribution to the cause of keeping that woman fed and sane (sort of). They're easy to make, they freeze well, they are nourishing and the new parents can even use the leftover sauce for a separate meal (we don't eat meatballs on spaghetti in Italy*) - a boon for those weary souls who will probably find it difficult even just to boil water at first.


My mother doesn't consider herself much of a cook. (More on that in the book. And more on the book next time! Whee!) She only uses one cookbook, Ada Boni's Il Talismano della Felicità and even that one she only uses for inspiration, shall we say. (She takes a rather loose approach to following recipes, which irritates me to no end, but that's my cross to bear.) These meatballs come from there, but with one crucial difference: instead of frying the meatballs, she plonks them raw into a simple tomato sauce, eliminating a messy step and creating meltingly tender meatballs. (I think she got this idea from me? I'm not sure. I hate frying meatballs with a passion.)


To make the meatballs, gather up the following:

1/2 pound of ground beef, 1/2 pound of ground pork, two eggs, 2 slices of white bread, the crusts cut off, enough milk to soak the bread, a bunch of parsley, a nutmeg for grating, salt, pepper, and, er, that's it.

Put the meat and eggs in a bowl. Tear the bread into little pieces, then soak them in the milk and squeeze them out, adding them to the bowl. Mince up the parsley and add it to the bowl. Grate a bit of nutmeg into the bowl. (30 strokes? To taste.) And salt and pepper the mixture. (I used about 1 1/2 teaspoons salt. I think.)

Then, using your hands, mix all of this together until it's a smooth, uniform mass. Cover the bowl with a plate or some plastic wrap and stick it in the fridge for a few hours. When you're ready to cook, form the meatballs. I like smaller-sized meatballs, about the size of a small plum, two inches at most in diameter. Put them on a plate.


Next you have to make your tomato sauce. Which is as easy as browning a clove of garlic in olive oil and then dumping a 28-ounce can of good-quality tomatoes (puréed, chopped, whatever) and their juices into the pot and cooking this over medium-low heat for about 25 minutes (don't forget to salt the sauce). When the sauce tastes good and cooked, for lack of a better descriptor, gently plop the meatballs into the sauce like so:


Then put the lid on and let the sauce and meatballs simmer slowly away. Resist the urge to stir the pot; if you are concerned, shake the pot a little. 25 minutes later, turn off the heat. Let the pot sit there until fully cooled. At that point, you may freeze the meatballs or package them up to take to the new mother who needs feeding. This recipes makes enough for at least two meals for two people.

(*Are you asking yourself what on earth do Italians eat meatballs with, if not spaghetti? Well, this Italian likes serving them with polenta (also because leftover polenta fried in butter and doused with maple syrup is a prairie breakfast of the gods) or steamed rice, the better to soak up the sauce with.)

Meatballs may seem like a pretty humble offering, but to a hungry, bleary-eyed, frightened new mother, they can be deeply comforting. Especially if you tell her that I promise that whether she believes it or not, one day, not so far off in the future, she'll be feeling capable enough of making those meatballs herself.

John Willoughby's Tagine-Style Lamb Stew


We came back from Greece, where the heat nearly felled us as we attempted to see the Acropolis, to a Berlin that had a chill in the air, not unlike the one that usually hits New York in early October. You know, when the sky is blue, but you find yourself needing not only a wool jacket, but a scarf, too, while brittle leaves crunch and scatter on the sidewalks. Okay, I thought, time to haul out the winter suitcase from the basement, time to put the warmer comforter on the bed, time to pick apples for apple butter and pull out the heavy pots for stew.

I couldn't stop thinking about my grandmother's pot roast, you see. Or about shredded pork. Lamb stew. Pot au feu served with hot mustard and grated horseradish. In other words, meat, meat and more meat. From one day to the next, salads and light dinners made up of flatbread and meze were out the window, gone the way of the mosquito and the drippy peach. Now was the time of thickened gravies and spoon-tender meats.

Well, at least until the next heatwave hit. Today, sitting in my office with hot sun streaming through the window, it feels a little silly to tell you about this lamb stew that requires cold temperatures and at least one article of wool clothing to be worn by the cook at the time of preparation. But I swear that last weekend it was just the thing to spoon over deep plates of couscous and eat, gathered at the table with friends who tried to guess every single ingredient in the pot.


Since that's a rather dull exercise anyway, I'm going to come straight out with it for you guys. It's a crazy mix. There's lamb shoulder and butter and onion. There is a trio of warm spices (cumin, coriander, cinnamon) and apricot jam and red wine vinegar and garlic. There are chickpeas and red pepper flakes, prunes and parsley. In short, this stew holds everything but the kitchen sink.

The recipe comes from John Willoughby's article in the New York Times on how to make savory stews without that tedious first step of browning meat (which, beyond the tedium, also spreads oily filth around my kitchen, irritating me to no end). (In fact, I'd say the step of browning meat is probably at the top of the list of reasons why I hardly ever, ever, ever buy meat to cook at home.) (Do you guys now think I'm insane for calling the gentle spatter of browning meat "oily filth"?) (Oh, parentheses, I like it in here.)

His lamb tagine has you basically simply dump all the ingredients into a pot at once before stewing everything together until the meat falls apart with a gentle nudge. Now here's the funny thing: I wanted to cook the stew for a dinner party on Saturday night, but because I didn't want to waste any time on Saturday cooking (my Saturday hours are preshus), I decided to make the stew the day before, figuring that all stews benefit from a little ripening. Wouldn't you say? But on Friday, as my stew-cooking drew to a close, I was rather taken back as I stared into a pot of lamb soup that looked absolutely nothing like the lush, moody photograph of the stew in the paper.

My stew was wan and gray, even a little thin. Vaguely gruel-like. Instead of looking like the kind of lusty fare you'd imagine gorgeous women in a harem feeding each other, my stew looked like boarding-school stew. (I've never attended boarding school, but I'm pretty sure I read every English book ever published on the subject before I turned 16 years old and have also been blessed with an active imagination. Therefore I am an authority. Also on Moroccan harems. Thank you, good night.)


Huh, I thought. That is peculiar.

Was my German lamb shoulder to blame? Or the low lighting in the photographer's studio? I stared at my tagine-style stew for quite a while on Friday afternoon, completely stumped. Food coloring? I thought. Molasses? Did I miss the red wine? Finally, at a loss, I resigned myself to serving our guests a grayish dinner. This hardly qualified as a kitchen disaster, but all the same, I told myself that worse things had happened. I'd survive the humiliation. It might even taste good. I put the stew in the fridge and went on my way.

The next evening, I pulled the pot out of the fridge and carefully scooped off the top layer of bright orange fat that had risen and solidified overnight. I don't think you have to do this step, but lamb fat can sometimes taste a little...barnyardy and I didn't want that adding to the already unfortunate visual. Then I started to warm the stew, adding chopped prunes instead of the apricots that the original recipe called for. They swelled and plumped in the fragrant gravy, adding sweetness to the air. Just before serving, I added lemon juice and some chopped parsley. Somewhere in a Moroccan harem, someone's stomach growled.

And wouldn't you know. In that last half hour, the stew changed color entirely, going all mahogany-colored with little shimmering dots of oil, bobbing chickpeas and nuggets of prunes and lamb in varying shades of rich, warm brown. Just like the photo. Just in time.

A few minutes later, doled out to a table of hungry guests who seemed especially charmed by the prunes, that whole pot of stew was gone. The chickpeas and prunes all velvety-soft, the lamb swollen with flavor. I even had to bring out spoons for some of our eaters who had been staring rather forlornly at the sweet-savory gravy, brightened by the lemon and parsley, pooled at the bottom of their plates after the couscous and bulk of the stew was eaten.

Just like a bunch of English boarding-school students, really, heading for warmer climes.

John Willoughby's Tagine-Style Lamb Stew
For the original recipe, click here.
Serves 6 to 8

2 pounds lamb shoulder
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 small onion, grated (about 1/3 cup)
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/4 cup apricot preserves
1/3 cup red wine vinegar
1 20-ounce can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
2 cups chicken stock
1/4 cup chopped prunes
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
2 tablespoons lemon juice
Cooked couscous, for serving

1. Trim excess fat from the lamb and cut into 1-inch cubes. If your shoulder was sold to you with the bone and joint still in it, add it to the pot while you stew the meat for additional flavor (discard before serving).

2. In a Dutch oven, melt the butter over medium-low heat. Add the lamb, onion, garlic, pepper, salt, cinnamon, coriander, cumin, red pepper flakes, apricot preserves and vinegar and cook, stirring frequently, until the aroma of the spices is strong, about 5 to 7 minutes. (Do not allow the meat to brown.)

3. Add chickpeas and stock, bring just to a simmer, then reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer gently until the lamb is very tender, about 1 hour 15 minutes. Let cool to room temperature, then refrigerate overnight.

4. Twenty to thirty minutes before you're ready to serve, pull the pot from the fridge and gently scoop off the orange layer of fat that will have risen to the top. Put the pot over medium-low heat, adding the chopped prunes, and bring the stew to a very low simmer. Continue to cook, uncovered, until the pieces are nicely plumped, about 10 minutes more. Remove from heat, stir in the parsley and lemon juice, and serve with couscous.

Stephen Williams's Salsify in Black Forest Ham


You know, most days I think I'm a pretty good catch. I have all my teeth, I earn my own keep, I speak four languages and I can cook (at least perfect spaghetti, a decent loaf of bread and poached eggs the old-fashioned way). Then along comes one man and cooks me a dinner made up of a few different root vegetables, for Pete's sake, and a simple roast chicken and I realize that I am a hack and a fraud and I might as well be serving cold cereal every night for dinner.

I guess I should explain. Stephen Williams is no ordinary man, you see: he's a Michelin-starred gastropub chef and the friend of a friend of mine who very kindly invited me over to dinner the night that Stephen was in town and cooking for her.

Now, I don't know if you know this about me, but I do truly believe that fancy food is sort of wasted on me. Give me a plate of spaghetti over a seven-course tasting menu any day. It's not that I don't appreciate the skill and artistry that go on behind that seven-course menu. It's just that I really kind of prefer, say, a plate of boiled vegetables and a good olive oil. Let's call it the Italian peasant in me.


I am not entirely a Philistine. Because as I sat at that dinner table, chewing on a stub of ham-wrapped salsify (oh, fine, five, no, seven of them), I distinctly felt the earth move.

My goodness, it was good.


And also slightly terrifying. If such glory was lurking behind a black-peeled root, what on earth else had I been missing my whole life? What other kind of magic was Stephen able to practice, if given a home kitchen and, say, a cabbage or a pound of carrots or celery root or a hulking rutabaga, for crying out loud?

(Only a few of us will be able to find out - Stephen's leaving the Harwood Arms and traveling in Australia for a while before going to work at the Auberge de Chassignolles this summer. In other words, you must go to there.)

It's too upsetting to comtemplate, really, so instead let's just get down to what actually matters: How to cook salsify yourself.

First of all, find the salsify. Not such an easy task! You're looking for what basically look like black carrots. Black as night, with little white roots emerging from their spindly ends. Here's a visual aide, since I wasn't able to find any to photograph for you (the season is ending, even in Berlin, but remember this for next year!). Buy four or five or six salsify roots. Go to the butcher and get some real Black Forest ham, which should be the cured and smoked German kind, not the cooked American kind you see in sandwiches. You could also use prosciutto or jamòn Serrano, I suppose, though those are sweeter, unsmoked hams.

At home, take out a pot with a lid and pour a couple of inches of water into it. Add a splash, just a splash, of white wine vinegar. Next, peel the salsify. This is a little unpleasant. The salsify, upon peeling, excrete the oddest sort of goo that makes your hands rather tacky and can be a little tough to wash off (though using the scrubber side of a sponge did the trick for me in a matter of seconds). The second you've finished peeling a salsify root, cut it in half and drop it in the pot of water. When you're finished, the salsify should be entirely submerged in the water.

You parboil the salsify, then wrap them in the Black Forest ham you've painstakingly sourced. (You won't regret it, I promise you!) These little packages are laid lovingly in an oil-smeared baking dish (does the oil actually do anything here? I'm not entirely sure) and then roasted for about 20 minutes, until the ham has crisped and the salsify is satiny-fudgy in texture.

Good luck plating these: I guarantee at least three of them will not make it from the dish to the plate. Somewhere in mid-air, you will swoop in, your mouth agape. You will chew and taste sweetness and salt and the faintly mysterious flavor of the salsify, balanced somewhere between this world and the next. You will, quite unlike you, not offer anyone else the last one, but take it as your divine cook's right to finish it.

And then you will give your inner Italian peasant a hard look and contemplate attending cooking school, if only to learn what Stephen knows.

Salsify in Black Forest Ham
Serves 2 as a side

5 salsify roots
1 glug of white wine vinegar
5 slices real Black Forest ham
1 teaspoon olive oil

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Fill a saucepan with a few inches of water and add the vinegar to the water. Peel the salsify quickly, cut each root in half after peeling and drop into the acidulated water.

2. Bring the pot to a boil and simmer, covered, for 15 minutes. Drain the salsify. Oil a baking dish large enough to fit all the salsify in a single layer. Cut the ham slices in half lengthwise. Wrap each piece of salsify in a slice of ham and place, seam-side down, in the prepared pan.

3. Roast for 20 minutes, or until the ham has crisped and the salsify are entirely tender. Serve immediately.