Guacamole

Guac 6

Can we talk about my favorite holiday — a foodie celebration that comes but once a year, a national occasion that makes my heart swell with unmistakably American pride?

Obviously, I don’t mean Thanksgiving. I’m talking about National Half-Price Avocado Day, a.k.a. the Monday after the Super Bowl. It’s not recognized on a nation-wide scale yet — the name, I admit, could use work — but there’s real potential there. Continue reading

Eggplant Parmesan

Eggplant Parm 15

So as I’ve written before, the first thing I ever really cooked for myself — beyond scrambled eggs — was Nonnie’s ratatouille.

But the first fancy thing I ever cooked — something that required preparing separate ingredients in different ways, making a sauce, carefully assembling a final dish that was not only tasty but also pretty — was  Gourmet magazine’s intricate inside-out eggplant parmigiana, an artistically deconstructed take on the fat kid classic. (You know, the kind of thing a Top Chef contestant would call “my play on eggplant parmesan.”) Continue reading

Barbecued Chicken and Cucumber Salad

BBQ Chicken 11

I spent the last week of 2015 in Mexico City, blissfully gorging myself on meat, cheese, and gloriously simple carbohydrates. I ate red mole and black mole and guacamole, corn fungus (surprisingly delicious) and goat-milk caramel (ditto) and grasshoppers (not… great), barbacoa and chilaquiles and weird Mexican convenience store snacks, sandwich cookies and pastries and a pink drink called a Lulu that I absolutely would have been embarrassed to order at home, but whatever, we were on vacation, and if you can’t have pink drinks on vacation, when can you have them?

Naturally, I returned to New York with a heavy sigh and a mild case of scurvy. I was more than ready for January, when we atone for the excesses of the holidays with whole grains and hot water with lemon and diets disguised as “cleanses.”

Cucumber Salad 1

Unfortunately for January, there’s a real deficit of “healthy” recipes in Nonnie’s cookbook. Continue reading

Latkes and Applesauce

Latkes 18

It’s still Hanukkah, which means it’s still acceptable – encouraged, even – to painstakingly grate a mess of potatoes into long, ropy strands, plunge them into ice-cold water, squeeze the living daylights out of them, bind them together just barely with eggs and flour, fry them in copious amounts of oil, slather them with sour cream and applesauce, and call it dinner.

Acceptable and encouraged, maybe — but nobody would blame you if you’re exhausted just from reading the previous paragraph. Continue reading

Carrot Pudding

Carrot Pudding 3

Sweet potatoes don’t make an appearance at my family’s Thanksgiving table — and haven’t for as far back as I can remember. (Although the one year my mom hosted, they were present — and topped with mini marshmallows to boot.)

Instead, the buffet’s “orange food” requirement is filled by my Aunt Maureen’s specialty, which is called either carrot pudding or carrot soufflé depending on who’s speaking. It’s soft and rich and decadent, unabashedly sweet but still substantial enough to fit in on a plate filled with turkey and stuffing. It’s certainly not an everyday food, unless you’re cultivating gout — but for the biggest eating day of the year, it works perfectly.

This… is not that carrot pudding. Continue reading

Green Beans, German-Style and Chicken and Dumplings

Green Beans 1

You know that scene from the second season of Mad Men, when Betty serves a  globally-inspired “trip around the world” dinner to Don and his colleagues — gazpacho, rumaki, Irish leg of lamb, and German noodles, with Bordeaux and Heineken to drink? And it’s funny but also sad, because she’s trying so hard to look cosmopolitan and sophisticated? I never really got how true that rang until I started studying Nonnie’s cookbook.

The binder is studded with recipes made to seem exotic by the ethnic modifiers they carry — Scandinavian Duck, Devonshire Turkey Sandwiches, Spanish Omelet, Mexican Hot Sauce, Norwegian Salad, Hawaiian Chicken. The irony, of course, is that there’s nothing authentic about any of them; they’re basic midcentury Americana, as far removed from the traditional dishes that inspired them as a Chinese fire drill is from China. (The worst offender is probably Nonnie’s “Armenian Vegetable Casserole,” a melange of eggplant, peppers, and zucchini mixed with ketchup and baked for two hours. What? Exactly.) Continue reading

Meatloaf and Oven-Browned Potatoes

Meatloaf 1

And so we arrive at Treif Corner.

But first, a story. Nonnie grew up in a pretty strictly Orthodox  household, doing the things pretty strictly Orthodox Jews do — keeping kosher, regular synagogue trips, the whole Megillah, so to speak. Then, around age 13, she visited a gentile friend’s house, tried bacon for the first time, and — according my mom’s telling, anyway — decided the whole organized religion thing was bullshit.

Which brings me to this blog’s maiden pig-based adventure. Continue reading

Eggplant Caviar

Eggplant Caviar 3

Alternate title: A Tale of Too Many Onions.

Look, I have nothing against onions. They’re a culinary workhorse. They have the power to make grown men weep. They figure prominently in the denouement of one of the best books ever written, Holes by Louis Sachar.

Even raw onions have their place — a sprinkling of scallions to top off your bowl of soba, a smattering of red onions folded into your quinoa. They’re sharp; they’re pungent; they’re good in small doses.

You know what isn’t a small dose? A whole onion, chopped. That’s what Nonnie’s recipe for eggplant caviar — a sort of Eastern European take on baba ghanoush — calls for. I looked over it a few times, just to make sure I was reading it right; once it became clear that I was, I tried investing in some cautious optimism. Continue reading

Ratatouille

Ratatouille 1

We’ll begin with a recreation of the first real dish I ever cooked for myself: ratatouille, which I believe is French for “chop shit up and toss it in a pot.”

It’s a completely idiot-proof meal — at least, the way my family makes it. (If you’re Thomas Keller, not so much.) That may be why my mom suggested I give it a try when I told her, the summer after I graduated college, that I was finally ready to tackle something a little more complicated than scrambled eggs.

The year was 2010; the recipe she sent me, of course, was Nonnie’s. (With an extra soupçon of Mom: She signed the email by saying, “OK, now send me your updated resume . . . . xoxo.”) Continue reading