I hope we all have a happy new year, and definitely a more prosperous one, with good food and wine. New Year’s Eve, I’ll fillet out a wild sea bass, pin-bone the fillets, salt and pepper them, place them skin-side down in a little hot olive oil in my cast-iron skillet, scatter a tablespoon of mixed chopped chives and parsley over them, followed by a short squeeze of lemon, turn them over and finish the other side, serve on a bed of pilaf-style rice (steamed in light chicken stock and tossed with toasted pine nuts), with some baby peas and caramelized mushrooms. Simple, quick, lovely. The wine will be white Burgundy, Louis Jadot’s Macon-Azé, inexpensive, very nice, just right for the occasion and the food. (Much earlier, the kid will get his favorite food and beverage, sausages and French fries with lots of ketchup, and a rare Diet Coke.) We’ll all be in bed early and happy, and wish for the same for you.

Booked Up

Every Christmas, I get cookbooks, but the two food books I’m already enjoying, really quite wonderful, aren’t cookbooks at all. The surprising one is called Notes on Cooking, by Lauren Braun Costello and Russell Reich (RCR Creative Press, $21.95). Ms. Costello was one of the team who revised the 75th Anniversary edition of “The Joy of Cooking” (as I was, though we never met). It’s a

RECIPE: Chicken Pot Pie, French-Style

Some time back in the days of nouvelle cuisine, the idea of thickening sauces with flour was discarded by big-time chefs, and reductions became the thing; they’re fine, but there’s something supremely comforting about the mellow richness of the older style they can’t quite match. This recipe is adapted from a fairly standard country-French

Health Advisory

Please don't get swine flu, okay? Aside from the pain (considerable) and the discomfort (even more so), it interferes with blogging and anticipating the epicurean delights of the holidays to come. (Which resumes tomorrow.)

Dept. of Clear Thinking

“Now that the scientists have acknowledged what we have known for over a decade, that the biggest contributor to global warming is animals, everyone must act quickly and seriously reduce, or even better eliminate, meat and dairy from their diets. With all the excellent faux meats and cheeses and the variety of alternative milks, there really is no excuse to continue to ruin our planet. . ."
                --Heather Mills, founder of the V-Bites Vegetarian Café, former wife of Paul McCartney


RECIPE: Roast Turkey Stuffed with Pancetta and Herbs

If you want to do Thanksgiving a little differently, why not look to Italy? Italians took to turkey as no other Europeans did, probably because they saw the bird the way that artists see blank spaces, as something to project their imaginations onto. (The French were reluctant, confused about its origins. Brillat-Savarin said it had to have come from America: “Note the appearance of the bird, which is clearly outlandish.”) In Italy, you see it on menus  of even the most exalted restaurants,

It’s a Puzzlement. . .

Here are a couple of sort-of food-related conundrums:

What was the best thing before sliced bread?
If you sue a parsley farmer, can you garnish his wages?

Sorry, couldn’t resist.
Anyone else want to play?

Food Memories: Berlin

The Berlin Wall came down 20 years ago today, one of the most potent symbols of repression gone in a day, literally torn down by a joyous mob. A few years before, as a young journalist, I went to East Berlin:

Food and Foodies on Film

A friend who just signed up to Netflix wrote to ask about movies featuring food as a main theme. At first, it seems like a fairly long list, but then if you eliminate the mediocre remakes and overly sentimental goop, it’s manageable and fun. Here are the best, in my view: Babette’s Feast (reverential but sumptuous and sincere); Ratatouille (makes haute cuisine fun); The Big Night (good acting and story, great food);Tampopo (Japanese noodle nuttiness); 

RECIPE: Bread & Apple Pudding

Nothing went to waste in my grandmother’s kitchen. My stepfather insisted on a big stack of white bread on the table at every meal, which usually led to a fair amount of slightly stale bread hanging around—but not for long. Besides breadcrumbs and dumplings, we also had some terrific puddings, like this one. It not only tasted good, it was a  bargain—the apples were from a neighbor’s tree,

RECIPE: Macaroni & Cheese & Bacon

Suddenly, everybody’s old favorite, macaroni and cheese, is in the news. In England, neuroscientists at the University of Sussex measured subjects’ brainwaves while they ate, and it made one of their top foods in a “comfort index.” Chefs in New York, Santa Fe and San Francisco have put it on their menus,

Cooking in the Comfort Zone

What’s your idea of comfort food? I’d have thought there'd be a wide range, enveloping our variety of childhoods, but it seems not. Recently, psychologists at the University of Sussex conducted experiments to create what they called a “Comfort Index,” wiring up volunteers with electrodes and then feeding them various foods while scanning their responses. The top contenders for comfort were beans on toast, sausages and mashed potatoes, tomato soup, chicken and mushroom pie, and macaroni and cheese. How about you? I loved tomato soup as a kid, but clam chowder was my all-time favorite. Chicken pie, yes, but mushrooms are out for my boy (every time he asks, “What’s this?” it’s a prelude to rejection of whatever “this” is, and they’re near the head of his list). Beans on toast? Not even in my top ten. Macaroni and cheese, of course, is a hardy perennial. It’s been in the news lately, too. More to come next week. . .

RECIPE: Green Beans and Celery with Parsley

There’s so much green here that you’d think it would be instantly spurned, but it was/is a palpable hit. I wanted something to lift the beans out of their ordinary OK-but-blandness. Celery was a natural partner—it does the job for Chinese food, and adds crunch. Parsley provides another boost, completing a delicious one-two punch.

Smooth talk as beanz make newz!

Heinz, whose slogan is “Beanz Meanz Heinz,” introduced their canned beans in Germany and Austria earlier this year--“Gebackene Bohnen in Tomaten Sauce.” A newspaper in Vienna, The Austrian Times, decided to do a comparison with the original version, and discovered that the German one has less beans, less tomato sauce, and more water, sugar, and salt. The company’s smooth response was an understatement, to say the least: “Our subtle blend of sauces varies in different countries.”

RECIPE: Sweet Onion-Pecan Tarts

My wife calls these kinds of snacks hand-me-rounds, not a bad description. When my son’s pals come over, they disappear (the snacks, that is). The subtle flavor and crunch of the pecans perfectly complement the richly sweet onion topping.

Cloudy, with a chance of movies

September was a treat: Meryl Streep's portrayal of Julia Child in Julie and Julia enhanced the amiable-but-serious dual stories of the joys of cooking, and then Cloudy, With a Chance of Meatballs gently satirized junk food and over-consumption, the first witty kids’ movie of the year, and one I enjoyed as much as my son and his pals, who are still laughing about Leftover Mountain and the Spaghetti Tornado. Highly recommended!

RECIPE: Salmon Fishcakes

After we got through the year when all he wanted was fish fingers and chips, my son went completely the other way—fish was off the menu, forever, he said. Then one day I improvised this simple version of fishcakes for myself, he stole a bite, and fish was back.

Adios, Gourmet magazine

I’m still getting over the shock of the abrupt closing of Gourmet magazine. Founded in 1940, it always seemed to be part of the national fabric, reassuring, inspirational, and essential. I remember peeking into my mother’s copy of the massive, elegant “best of Gourmet” cookbook (edited by Vincent Price!) and imagining cooking and eating the food it described. Now it’s gone, just like that, another victim of the recession. But then I realized that the last time I bought a copy was five or maybe even six years ago, and I never finished reading it. . . perhaps a victim of something more than the recession?