Reading Cookbooks and Grilling Steaks

Hilda's Horse Doover

Hilda’s Appetizer for Sunday Dinner

Zucchini Salad

Monday:              Shaved Zucchini and Herb Salad with Parmesan and Grilled Bread

Potato Salad

Tuesday:              Grilled Sausages and Austrian Potato Salad

Trapanese Pesto

Wednesday:      Pasta with Trapanese Pesto and green salad


chx salad

Thursday:            Vichyssoise and Curried Chicken Salad


Friday:                  Fettig graduation party / Chive and Cheddar Omelets


Thyme from Hilda and Tim’s Garden

Saturday:             Whispers Pub


Sunday:                Hilda’s appetizer – watermelon cubes with goat cheese / Grilled Porterhouse Steaks / Caesar Salad / Grilled Potatoes, Peppers and Onions                                Blueberry Clafoutis with Ice Cream

{You will find out approach to grilling high-quality steaks far below.

But first, allow me to bend your ear at some length, about cookbooks}

You will have noticed that there is a tab above labeled “Cookbooks”.  If you click on this, you will come to a list of cookbooks (with brief reviews) which we have found useful.  But here’s something we haven’t shared with you before:  Some cookbooks are actually fun to read.  And some bleed into the realm of literature proper.

Yeah – I confess that I really do read cookbooks.  Well, rarely cover-to-cover, though I have come close to that with Pépin and a few others.  A well-organized recipe reflects a strong mind and people who enjoy the preparation and sharing of food have interesting things to say about it.  To put it another away:  There is a difference between the Time-Life Cookbook Series and Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking.

And there are cookbooks which can be read cover-to-cover even if you have no intention of using the recipes.  One of these is the The River Cottage Cookbook, written by the spectacularly-named Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall.


In spite of Hugh’s enthusiasm, we are not going to raise our own pigs, or keep chickens, or even grow our own vegetables.  But Fearnley-Whittingstall’s book (let’s just refer to him as F-W from now on) is well-written and was one of the first to call for dealing with local farmers and livestock breeders, and to emphasize that fresh vegetables and herbs and pigs and chickens raised in non-industrial settings were tastier and healthier and, of course, enjoyed their own not insignificant lives a great deal more.

F-W is a typical, educated British socialist when it comes to attacking capitalism and the “big bosses,” but he is also a great cook and a fearless farmer.  I will probably end up using most of his recipes, which he introduces in full evangelistic mode.  If you can resist his recipe for ratatouille, you should consider becoming a runway model.

Here are some snippets from his book, to begin with, one which will correct any idea that he is simply a happy-go-lucky hippy:

“A chicken is not ready . . . for the table until you think it is.  Pick it up, feel its weight, and feel its breast.  If it feels tempting, then you should kill it if you want to.”

“. . . provided they have space, shade, and a warm bed, a pair of pigs need your attention for just a few minutes twice a day.  That little bit of contact is invaluable quality time for the pigs, which will help to keep them happy and healthy.  The curious and delight thing is discovering just how much that time can do for you.”

“If quality of produce and the interests of the consumer were their overriding concern, the supermarkets would be bending over backward to fill their aisles with the very best of what is seasonal and locally grown.  [If you have to buy vegetables in the supermarket] don’t forget who’s really boss] . . . . . . . choose [local] vegetables in preference to imported.  If you care about buying in   season, let your shopping cart do the talking.”

There are also less earnest writers whose books are well worth reading, for example:

The iconoclastic and foul-mouthed Tony Bourdain (The Les Halles Cookbook), whose solid recipe for vichyssoise includes this enlightening tip:

“Okay, the next part is tricky.   Slowly, and in small batches, purée the soup in a blender. . . never filling the blender . . . (over halfway up).  Make sure the blender’s lid is on, and that you’re leaning on the damn thing when you turn it on.  You do not want a face full of boiling starchy, sticky hot potato-leek purée.  Trust me.  It hurts like a #!!@**”  (Yes, I know that Tony’s act can grow old – but he’s so damn good at it, it’s difficult to look away.)

The courtly and sensible Jacques Pépin (whose act will never grow old):

“Think of this book as an invitation to come over to my house for a meal.  Like most gatherings here, it will be accompanied by plenty of interesting conversation about food (French people like to talk about food as much as they enjoy eating it), spiced with reminiscences, stories, perhaps a little gossip, and, of course, generous pourings of wine.”  (From Heart and Soul in the Kitchen)

The honey-voiced and well-travelled Lynn Rosetto Kasper:

“Ask an Italian where to eat only one meal in Italy and, after recommending his mother’s house, it is more than likely he will send you to the region of Emilia-Romagna. . .  “If this book were a novel, two of its main characters would be the Po River plain and the road called the Via Emilia.  A large section of the plain, Italy’s largest and most fertile expanse of land, lies within Emilia-Romagna’s borders.  . . . Its rich grazing and good land produces Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, Parma ham and the wheat for an extraordinary variety of pastas.”  (from The Splendid Table:  Recipes from Emiglia-Romagna, the Heartland of Northern Italian Food)

Oddly enough, much of the food writing that aspires to literature, leaves us cold.  M. F. K. Fisher’s books bore me stiff – though some of the recipes are interesting:  ‘In winter, peel a tangerine and leave individual segments on the hot-water register to heat up.  After ½ hour bite into the slightly crisp and warm but juicy fruit.’

So, what am I saying here?  Please take a look at the “Cookbooks” tab above, and send in your own recommendations (include a brief review, if you wish), and, by all means cook the recipe below which comes from Milk Street Magazine, edited and mostly written by Christopher Kimball.  The magazine, available on-line as well as in print, is well-written and Kimball also produces a pod-cast that is enjoyable from beginning to end.  When it comes to his interview with leading chefs – ‘What’s your go-to Tuesday night dinner when you have little time to cook?’ – grab a pen and paper and you’ll have 1/7th of the week taken care of in fine fashion.

Note:  There are fine and useful recipes in Junior League and Three Rivers collections, as there are in a notebook we keep with handwritten recipes from Jeanne Duffy, or jotted-down-on-a-note-card instructions from my mother.  But these books and notebooks do not claim to be literature.  You might be surprised, however, by the introductory sections in such voluminous repositories as The New York Times Cookbook.  There is some good writing and some better advice in these volumes.  And many of them have character and a certain terroir – with tomato-sauce and gravy stains or a dried-up slice of shallot sticking two pages together.

Steak and Potatoes


Beef is expensive.  We don’t eat it often, but when we do buy the good stuff, we want to cook it well.  Overcooking a prime piece of beef is more painful than sitting through a Wayne Newton concert.  If you undercook, you can always put it back on the grill – if you overcook, say a good Act of Contrition and pray for God’s forgiveness.

Raw Steak

The cooking method below can be used for any thick, quality piece of steak – rib eyes, strips, etc.  It can also be used for tougher but flavorful cuts we cook more often – hanger steaks, flank steaks, etc. – but the timing will have to be changed.

Timing:                 About 25 minutes


Equipment:        A charcoal grill with a very hot zone and a cooler space – if you have a large grill, pile the hot coals in the center, leaving cooler zones on the sides, if your have a smaller Weber, pile the coals on one side.  Place the grates on the grill, oil them and allow them to heat up for 3-5 minutes.

Or, a gas grill with some burners on high and some on medium

Ingredients:                       (Feeds 6 – 8)

3 Porterhouse steaks (1 ¼ – 1 ½ inches thick) – at room temperature.  Take them out of the refrigerator an hour or two before cooking.

Salt and Pepper

Rosemary and Good Olive Oil


Get the steaks out of the refrigerator about 1 – 2 hours before cooking and allow to come to room temperature.

Prepare a large serving platter with some sprigs of rosemary on the bottom

Cooking with Billy

Cooking with Billy


Salt aggressively and pepper steaks on both sides.

Place steaks over the hot part of the grill and sear them until they develop a good, brown crust – 2-3 minutes per side.  Do not fiddle with them – move them once as they cook on each side, if you wish, to allow a good crust to form on the grill marks.

Move the steaks to the cooler part of the grill (but still near the coals, if you have a long grill – the Weber will provide plenty of heat to the side opposite the coals) and cook for another 6 – 9 minutes.  Use an instant read thermometer, inserted horizontally into the steaks, to measure temperature (120 F for very rare, 125 for medium-rare – my suggestion,  or 130 for medium).  Don’t have an instant-read thermometer?  Go out and buy one.  You just spent $75.00 or more on the beef – the thermometer will cost you $10 tops.

Remove the steaks from the grill and let rest on the serving platter and rosemary for 3-5 minutes.  Pour a little high-quality olive oil over the steaks.

Remove the steaks to a cutting board and cut the meat (the long piece is a NY Strip, the round piece a fillet) from the bone and slice into serving pieces.  Arrange the slices on the platter, and drizzle with any steak juice left on the cutting board .  Drizzle a little more olive oil over the steak (if you wish – we do) and sprinkle with coarse, flaky sea salt (Maldon is perfect here).  Enjoy

Grilled SteakProsciutto App

Prosciutto and Canary Melon

Avocado ToastAvocado Toasts