The books of Ruth

I have some food heroes.Shirley Corriher.  She is the intellectual godmother of Alton Brown.  Shirley teaches the “why” of cooking.  You can teach a monkey to cook, but knowing the “why” you do something is the true key to the kingdom.

It’s like trying to be a writer without knowing grammar or vocabulary.  Only when you know the rules can you then bend or even break them, and in the bending refrain from killing anyone, or burning down the house.Another hero is Christopher Kimball, founder of America’s Test Kitchen, a resource for step-by-step recipes, which if faithfully followed, will never disappoint.  The secret is the exhaustive research and testing that every dish goes through.  He is the man who finally got me over my fear of hot sugar and candy thermometers.  Because of him I fearlessly create things like marshmallows, pecan pralines, and fudge.

Last year the sober New Englander in the bow tie stepped away from A.T.K. to go into an entirely new direction of ethnic technique and less time and labor intensive food.Last month America’s Test Kitchen filed suit against its creator for intellectual pillaging and plundering, among other lawyer-ish things.  It’s as if Quakers were hauling the guy on the oatmeal box into court.

But the nerdy, awkward Christopher has taught me a master’s class worth of cooking.  And thus, remains my hero.

Although she will probably laugh herself silly at this proclamation, my mother is one of my food heroes.  She’s not a chef and if you ask her, she’ll tell you she’s not a great cook, but that woman never met a mouth she wouldn’t feed.  She is the soul of generosity.  No one has ever left my mother’s house hungry.welcomeAnd no one ever will.  There is always more than enough for any number of unexpected guests.  She might apologize for the plainness of the fare, but wouldn’t dream of turning away any one of the strays and odd balls I was constantly bringing home.  To her, hell is running out of food before everyone is uncomfortably full.

Since the seventies, Ruth Reichl (pronounced Rye-shill) has been a force in the food world.  Early on as co-owner of the Swallow Restaurant in Berkley, she was a pioneer in the food revolution that took place and transformed the way we all shop, cook, and eat.She has been restaurant critic for both the Los Angeles Times, and the New York Times.  She wrote her first cookbook, Mmmm…The Festiary in 1972.

But The Kid and I discovered her later, when we read her second book, Tender At The Bone, originally published in 1998.  Her voice is funny, fearless, and above all honest.  I still chuckle when I recall the account of her mother’s cooking style and food philosophy which can be summed up with, “It doesn’t matter how old it was, what it smelled like, or looked like, if it didn’t kill you, it was fine.”

She shares stories of trying to remain anonymous as a critic in the Big Apple.  She used false identities, accents, and even theatrical disguises, in her work.  All of this in the attempt to get the type of restaurant experience which a tourist from Altoona would experience, rather than sweaty-palmed, four-star fawning.In 2014, she wrote her first novel, Delicious!.  It’s the story a young woman who moves to New York to write at the eponymously named magazine, which is then abruptly shuttered.  It is partially autobiographical, as Reichl was editor-in-chief of Gourmet magazine when Conde Nast unexpectedly ceased operations.

But what I really like about that book, and her others is the way she perfectly captures varied people in all facets of the food industry.  Most of them love to eat, but more, they love to share their passion.

Walk through any busy kitchen, professional or private, and someone, or many someones will come up, hold a morsel to your lips, and direct you to “Eat!”.

And they’ll watch you.  For that look on your face when they know.When they know that they’ve done it again; they created happiness out of food.  Which is what gives them their greatest happiness.

Thanks for your time.

The late-ish Debbie Matthews

I always used to be on time.  Always.

Then I met Petey.  That boy will be late to his own funeral.

So the fact that I’m talking about corned beef and cabbage, 3 ½ weeks after Saint Patrick’s Day is apt.

But you know what?

Any time is the right time for corned beef, because it is heavenly, meaty ambrosia.  Whether eaten hot, with a plate full of butter-drenched veg, or heaped between some rye, corned beef is mouthwateringly delicious.

Recently I made it for the first time.

This wasn’t by choice.  If I’d had my way, I’d make it all the time.  But Petey absolutely loathes it.  And, until recently, so did The Kid.

My child and I share a love of Reubens.  But traditional corned beef and cabbage was only enjoyed by me, and I couldn’t justify cooking an entire brisket for one.  Joyously, The Kid has lately had a change of heart.

But Buddy-Roe, we can put away Reubens like Reuben-eating rock stars..

Profoundly non-kosher Reubens


4 slices seeded rye

½ pound thinly sliced corned beef

½ cup sauerkraut

4 slices Swiss cheese


Thousand Island dressing

Lay out bread.  Spread mayo to taste on 2 slices, and Thousand Island on the other two.  Lay one piece of cheese on each slice of bread.  Top half the rye with corned beef and sauerkraut. 


Spread very thin layer of mayo on the outside of sandwiches.  Cook in skillet on medium-low until hot and melty.

But to make this delicious dish, you need some corned beef.  Most of the time I pick it up from a deli.  But now I can make corned beef with veggies, and put together a Reuben with homemade leftovers.

Corned beef and cabbage

corned beef

2 pound corned beef brisket with spice packet (or 2 tablespoons pickling spice)

1 large yellow onion

2 tablespoons butter

4 bay leaves

3 cups dark beer, divided

2 heaping tablespoons Dijon mustard

2 tablespoons maple syrup

Salt and pepper


8-10 medium red skinned potatoes, washed and cut into 4 pieces

1 head of cabbage, cored and cut into 8 pieces

1 pound carrots, peeled and cut into large pieces, or left whole if they’re small

6 tablespoons butter melted mixed with 2 tablespoons each chopped fresh parsley and chives

Preheat oven to 250.  Place Dutch oven on stove-top and set to medium.  Melt butter in pot.  Slice onions into half-moons.  Add to pot with bay leaves, spice, salt and pepper.  Cook on medium-low until onions are golden.  Turn heat up to medium-high and stir in mustard.

Pour in ½ cup beer.  Scrape up any bits clinging to pot bottom.  Add maple syrup and cook until almost dry.  Add rest of the beer.  Place in brisket, fat side up.  Add enough water to barely cover meat.  Insert probe thermometer set to 210.  Cover and place in oven.

When brisket gets to 195 degrees, put potatoes into separate pot with salted water to cover.  Add enough corned beef cooking liquid to cover by 1-2 inches.  Cook on medium.  After 10 minutes add carrots and cabbage.  Cook until all veggies are tender.  Drain and pour parsley-chive butter over.

When corned beef hits 210, remove from oven and let rest for 5-10 minutes.  Carve thinly against the grain.

Serves 6.

Normally I’d recommend serving this with salad.  But when it comes to this meal, I have no shame.  I can eat my weight in corned beef.  When this is on the menu, I don’t want to clutter up my belly with anything else.

Thanks for your time.