mixed grill 
I really love playing host, but let’s face it, some nights I just want to keep things simple.  Here’s a great menu for a casual evening among friends, where we’ve put down our saffron and beurre blanc and picked up only the most basic ingredients: salt, pepper and olive oil.  You’ll be amazed at how satisfying such an elementary meal can be.

Total Kitchen Time: 1 hr
Makes: Your work seem effortless to 6 awed guests

Mixed Grill (pictured above):

  • 2 Free-range organic chickens
  • 2 lbs. uncooked bratwurst
  • 4 tbsp. olive oil (or canola oil)
  • kosher salt and freshly-ground pepper
  1. Preheat your oven to 400°F and place the top rack in the lower third of the oven.  This will be your chicken oven.
  2. Preheat a second oven (even better, your toaster oven) to 450°F.  Place the bratwurst directly on your oven rack or on a wire rack in the oven and bake for about 5 minutes until the top side has browned.  Flip the links and brown for another 5 minutes.
  3. Turn the heat on your brats (long “a” sound) down to 200°F and let them continue to roast, turning occasionally, until you’re ready to eat (or about an hour and a half).
  4. Rinse the chickens and pat them very, very dry with paper towels.  Make sure that all the nooks and crannies, including the inside cavity, are dry.  The reason?  Crispy skin comes from dry birds that don’t create steam as they cook (thanks, Thomas Keller!)
  5. Truss the birds and salt liberally.  Pepper them to taste, then rub the skin with oil.  The oil will add flavor, but also act as a conductor to help us in our quest of an all-over tan.
  6. Preheat 2 large skillets [may I recommend cast iron] over high heat until they have just started to smoke.  Place one bird in each skillet, breast side up.  Transfer the skillets to the oven 400°F and place side by side.  Roast for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until a thermometer inserted into the breast reads 150°F.
  7. After the birds have rested for 10 minutes, carve them into quarters and place on a large platter.  Cut each bratwurst in half on a bias and place around the chicken.  Serve to an adoring crowd.

tossing vegetables 
For the roasted vegetables, chop yellow squash, zucchini, brussels sprouts and onions into 3/4″ chunks and toss with olive oil, kosher salt and pepper.  Roast on a baking sheet at 400°F for 25 minutes, or until golden brown spots of deliciousness appear.

beet and goat cheese salad
Round out your meal with a light beet and goat cheese salad.  Toss arugula and baby spinach with high quality olive oil, champagne vinegar and salt and pepper in a large bowl.  Top with crumbled goat cheese and sliced, boiled beets.

Serve this meal with a sweet wine such as a Gewürztraminer or an Alsatian Riesling.  You’ll look like a culinary hero, but for you, this was just “whipping something up”.  Bravo.

Reading time: 2 min

chinese shortribs 
These brightly-flavored baby back ribs combine all of my favorite things about Chinese cuisine: sticky-sweet sauces, quick cooking times, and… pork!  I would recommend doubling this recipe, cause, you know, you’ll be hungry again in 30 minutes.

Makes: 20 sticky ribs
Total kitchen time: 2 hours, plus marinating time

Shopping List:

  • 2-3 slabs baby back ribs (about 20 ribs)
  • 4-6 yards heavy duty aluminum foil
  • 5 cloves garlic, smashed
  • 1 tbsp. ginger, freshly grated (no, you can’t use the powdered stuff)
  • 1 tsp. orange zest
  • 1 tbsp. orange juice
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 2 tbsp. rice vinegar
  • 4 tbsp. teriyaki marinade (in a bottle, Asian food section of your grocery store)
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup Hoisin Sauce
  • 1/2 cup Chinese Barbeque Sauce
  • 1/4 tsp. chili oil (add more if you like ’em hot)
  • 1 tbsp. sesame seeds
  • 2 green onions, finely sliced (for garnishing)
  1. In a small food processor, combine the smashed garlic, ginger, orange zest, orange juice, olive oil and vinegar.  Pulse on high for 30 seconds, or until you see very small, even pieces of garlic mixed throughout. 
  2. Add the teriyaki marinade, salt, pepper, Hoisin Sauce, Chinese Barbeque Sauce and chili oil and pulse for a few more seconds to combine.  Reserve about 1/3 of the sauce mixture in an airtight container. 
  3. Lay out two sheets of aluminum foil, large enough to cover one slab of ribs.  Place one slab in the center of the sheet and coat well on all sides with the sauce (from the 2/3 pile, not the stuff you reserved earlier).  Seal the ribs into a pouch with the inner sheet of aluminum foil.  Be sure to crimp all the overlapping edges tightly.  Next, seal the ribs with the outer sheet of foil.  This is your insurance policy.
  4. Let the ribs marinate overnight.  When you are ready to rock and roll, preheat your oven to 300°F and set your top rack in the middle of the oven.  Place your rib packages directly on the rack and bake, sealed, for 1 hour.
  5. Carefully remove the packages from the oven and open the top.  They will be HOT and hot liquid will come pouring out.  There, I warned you. 
  6. Remove the ribs to a foil-lined baking sheet and smother them with the reserved sauce.  Crank your oven heat to 400°F and let the ribs bake for another 15-30 minutes.  You want the sugar in the sauce to caramelize, giving you a slightly crispy crust.  Watch the ribs carefully at this point, though – there is a fine line between caramelized and burnt.
  7. Remove the ribs from the oven and place on a cutting board.  With a big, heavy knife, separate the ribs by cutting through the meat between the bones.  Garnish with green onions and sesame seeds.

You might also want to close the blinds and turn off the lights while you’re cooking.  About 30 minutes into the baking process, they start to smell so good that your neighbors will show up unexpectedly.  Just don’t make any noise when the doorbell rings and you should be all right.  Or, follow my earlier advice and double the recipe.

Reading time: 2 min

shrimp nicoise
I love me some niçoise.  Most people are a little shocked the first time they encounter this salad.  In the traditional preparation, lightly seared tuna is served on a bed of butter lettuce with hard boiled eggs, steamed green beans and potatoes.  To a newcomer, it might appear that the salad is actually three or four different dishes, haphazardly confined to a undersized plate.  However, the niçoise is no consequence of inadequate dishware – to the contrary, it is a delicate balance of fat, acid, crunch and tenderness.  My composition honor’s the spirit of its ancestor, it just costs less. 

Serves: 2 Nice People from Nice
Total Kitchen Time: 30 minutes

Shopping List:

  • 1/2 lb. medium shrimp (20-30 count), peeled and deveined, tails on
  • 1/2 lb small red potatoes (you can also use fingerling potatoes)
  • 1 head butter lettuce (sometimes labeled Boston or Bibb; if you use Iceberg, you’re not allowed to make this salad ever again.) cleaned and torn
  • 1 large handful arugula
  • 1/2 cup Niçoise olives (substitute with Kalamata in an emergency)
  • 1 tbsp. unsalted butter
  • 4 tbsp. high-quality extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic, smashed
  • 1 tbsp. dijon mustard
  • 2 tbsp champagne vinegar or white wine vinegar
  • 2 tbsp honey
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • kosher salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 tbsp fresh parmesan cheese (optional)

       shrimp and a lemon

  1. Clean and halve the potatoes.  If the potatoes are more than an inch wide in any dimension, halve them again.  Big potatoes are not good for salad, but you probably knew that.
  2. Par-cook the potatoes until tender using your favorite method.  I like to submerge the cut potatoes in a shallow microwave-proof dish and nuke for a few minutes.  Also feel free to steam or boil the little buggers.  You’re looking for a doneness of fork-tender, but not quite to the point of cracking or falling apart.
  3. Using a large, heavy-bottomed skillet, sauté the potatoes with a very small drizzle of olive oil until they start to pick up a little color.  Set the potatoes aside and keep ’em warm.
  4. Make the dressing.  Combine the garlic, olive oil, mustard, lemon juice and honey in a small food processor.  Pulse for a while until it is emulsified.  Salt and pepper the dressing to taste.  Add half of the vinegar and taste again.  Adjust the final flavor by adding the remaining vinegar, a little at a time, until you’re satisfied or too hungry to care anymore. 
  5. Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat.  Once the butter is hot and a little foamy, add the shrimp and cook until they have turned completely pink, but not much longer than that.  The shrimp will finish cooking very quickly, so be careful not to over-exercise your sauté skills there, captain Benihana. 
  6. Arrange the salad with the lettuce, arugula, potatoes, olives, shrimp and dressing.  Top with a small amount of parmesan cheese, if you’d like.

This salad is also excellent with salmon, if you’d like to continue the variation on a theme.  If you’re looking for a salad with a little more, well, meat, look no further

Reading time: 2 min