Tuesday, June 15, 2010

I Love Victoria’s Secret, Fran Lebowitz, and Cuban Black Beans. But Not in That Order.

I got my latest edition of the Victoria’s Secret Catalog in the mail. For the life of me, I don’t know why they keep sending me this stuff. Sheesh, I haven’t bought anything from them in over a year and I haven’t even worn a negligee in at least six months. However, I am disappointed over the fact that I haven’t gotten an invitation for a soirée from Fran Lebowitz lately.

Several of my friends say I should have my head examined. “You’re upset about getting Victoria's Secret Catalogs but you’re depressed that you haven’t received an invite from Lebowitz? What gives?”

Here’s what gives. I admit, the Victoria’ Secret models are beautiful. Stunningly so. But the pix have no soul. No depth. And even though Fran Lebowitz has been recognized by Vanity Fair as one of their Best Dressed Women, I doubt she would ever be chosen to grace the pages of Victoria's Secret. Or would want to.

But given a choice between holding court with her and others like her (Dorothy Parker, may she rest in peace, comes to mind) around a resurrected Algonquin Round Table; or snuggling with a couple of models from the Spring issue of Victoria's Secret at a corner table in the Rose Bar... well, I’d cast my lot with the likes of Fran and Dorothy.

Someone once said that beauty is only skin deep. That may be true. But wit, wisdom and the beauty of one’s soul runs deeper. And while I am not one to avert my gaze as a gorgeous woman passes by, there’s something winsome, earthy and simple in the writings of women like Fran Lebowitz that is remarkably attractive.

And how do Cuban Black Beans fit into the equation? Easy. I’m also drawn to meals that are winsome, earthy and simple. Dishes that have delighted both humble families and self-important monarchs. Cuban Black Beans is one such dish. Depth, history, comfort, and spice. It’s all there. I'm sure there are as many recipes for this as there are cooks. I whipped up a batch for 80+ people who dropped by the house this past Sunday. I’ve included it below. Scaled down, of course. This will make enough for 4 to 8 depending on what else you are serving and how hungry you are (freeze the leftovers for another day).

Now, you’ll have to excuse me. My cab just pulled up to take me to West 44th Street for a delicious lunch and scintillating conversation with a cadre of writers, illustrators and journalists – and more than one delightful ghost.

Bon appetit.


1 pound dry black beans
½ pound smoked pork (2 or 3 ham hocks are fine)
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 large yellow onions, finely chopped
1 green bell pepper, finely chopped
1 red bell pepper, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced or crushed
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 bay leaf
2 teaspoons brown sugar
2 teaspoons kosher salt (or more to taste)
1 tablespoon cider or red wine vinegar
½ teaspoon fresh ground pepper
1 tablespoon rum
3 or 4 dashes of hot sauce, or to taste

1. Rinse black beans and remove any stones or small sticks. Place in a 5-quart Dutch oven or pot and add 6 cups water. Soak for 5 hours or overnight.
2. After soaking, add the smoked pork and bring the beans to a boil over high heat then turn heat to low and simmer, uncovered, until the beans are barely tender, 30 minutes to 1 hour, depending on the age of the beans. Skim any foam that rises to the surface.
3. Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and peppers and sauté until the onions are soft and translucent, about 8 to 10 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté 2 minutes. Stir in the oregano and cumin and sauté 1 additional minute.
4. Add the onion and pepper mixture, bay leaf and brown sugar to the beans. Raise the heat to high and bring to a boil. Return heat to low and simmer, covered, for 30 minutes. Season with salt and simmer until beans are soft, about 30 minutes more.
5. Remove the bay leaf and smoked ham and pick off and dice meat. Return meat to the pot and stir in the vinegar, pepper and rum. Season with hot sauce and additional salt to taste.

Serve in bowls or over steamed white rice.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Long Blogs, Trench Coats, and Fast Food Religion

I’ve been told that my blog posts are too long.

I got a visit from the blog goons this week. Two burly guys in trench coats and starched white shirts. The one called Mikey Payday - his face looked just like a Payday candy bar - hoisted me up by my collar and threw me against the wall while his colleague, Kit-Kat Johnny - his face also looked like a Payday bar but they couldn’t have two guys named Payday in the same gang so they called him Kit-Kat - waved a freshly opened bottle of WiteOut® under my nose and seethed, “Your blogs are too long. You’re making all the other bloggers look bad. Like they ain’t got enough to say. You gotta cut back.”

I gulped and sputtered, “Cut back? How much?”

Mikey Payday drew his face close to mine. “Half.”

My eyes grew wide. “Half?”

“What is there, an echo in here?”

“Well, sometimes when all the windows are shut and the ceiling fan isn’t running you can quite often hear an….”

“Shaddup!” Kit-Kat said as he jabbed a finger into my chest. “In half. By tomorrow. Or else.” And with that the two goons spun on their heels and marched out of the room.

I stared down at my blog draft and sighed. In half? But how? Then it hit me. I could delete every other letter. That would certainly do it! I sat down and feverishly retyped my blog, posted it, then sat back and waited for the comments to roll in. It didn’t take long. The first was from my agent.

“What the heck do you call this jibber jabber?”

I tried to explain about the trench coats and the deceptively intoxicating smell of WiteOut, but she cut me off.

“Good grief, Caterson. Your blog reads like it was typed in tongues by some Pentecostal evangelist!”

I glanced down at my delete-every-other-letter blog. She was right. Heck, I wasn’t even a Blogger anymore. I was a Bogr (which is pronounced ‘booger’ in some parts of Bavaria). I slammed the phone down and bowed my head in abject failure. Then I heard a knock at the door. The mailman. I opened it and he dumped two duffle bags of express mail at my feet. All filled with fan letters, prayer requests and checks. And the letters kept coming. For days.

I finally called my agent to tell her that my blogging in tongues had made me a bona fide Blogging Pentecostal Evangelist and that I was only 75 cents short of clearing a gazillion dollars.

“Fantastic,” she said, no doubt thinking about her 15 per cent cut. “Now there’s only two more things you have to do to become the primo Pentecostal Evangelist of the blogosphere.”

“What’s that?” I asked. “Go to seminary and get ordained?”

“No. You need to bone your secretary and then cry about it on TV.”

“You know I can’t do that!”


“I don’t have a TV.”

Then it happened. I lost my following overnight to a new guy who can blog the future for his generous followers. All they have to do is reset the clocks on their computers to yesterday and he’ll predict what would happen to them today. It wasn’t long 'til the post office was dumping mounds of letters and checks on his doorstep.

Sometimes I think religion in America is a lot like fast food. We want it convenient, we want it our way, and we want it now. If someone down the street can serve what we want faster, well, see ya, wouldn’t want to be ya.

I went to church last week. The service was from the 4th century and was nearly two hours long. We pretty much stood the whole friggin’ time. I’m glad I went.

Slow food is good. So is slow religion.

So here I am, back to writing long blogs again. I’m sorry I’ve taken up so much of your time. But to make it up to you, I’ve included a killer recipe. But it’s not fast food. Are you up for it?

And if you set your computer clock back to yesterday, I’ll even predict what you might have for supper tonight…

Bon appétit,



If you make this a day ahead of time the flavors will meld and you'll have a truly heavenly dish. Can't make it ahead of time? Don't worry. This recipe is for four. That way, you'll have enough left over for lunch tomorrow.

PREP: 10 minutes
MARINATE: 8 to 24 Hours
COOK: 2 to 2-1/2 hours


2 pounds boneless chuck or bottom round cut into 1-1/2 inch chunks

For the marinade:
1 cup burgundy wine
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small onion chopped
1 small carrot chopped
1 clove garlic chopped
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
1/4 teaspoon thyme
1/2 teaspoon cracked pepper
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

To finish:
1 slice of bacon, diced
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon flour
1 cup beef broth
1/2 (15.5-ounce ) can diced tomatoes
4 ounces mushrooms, quartered
1/2 cup pearl onions, peeled
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley


1. Mix marinade ingredients in a bowl. Place meat in a 1 gallon plastic bag and add marinade. Toss to coat and place in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours. Turn occasionally.
2. Remove the beef and pat dry. Strain the marinade into a bowl and reserve the vegetables in another bowl.
3. Heat a Dutch oven over medium-high heat and add the bacon. Cook until brown and remove the bacon. Add the olive oil and heat. Add the beef and brown on all sides (you’ll need to do this in batches so the meat will brown, rather than steam). Remove with a slotted spoon to a bowl.
4. Add the reserved vegetables, stir and cook until slightly brown, 5 minutes or so.
5. Add the flour and stir for 1 – 2 minutes until smooth and slightly brown. Stir in the reserved marinade, beef broth, and tomatoes. Return the beef and bacon to the pan. Bring to a boil and cover. Reduce the heat and simmer for 1-1/2 to 2 hours until meat is very tender but not falling apart.
6. Add mushrooms and onions and cover. Cook an additional 15 – 20 minutes until tender. Garnish with fresh parsley.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

When I’m Depressed I Reflect on the Past. Then I Cook.

I read the news today. Oh, boy.

Now I can understand why John Lennon was so often depressed. The news in his day was often bad. Perhaps today even more so. Terrorism. Assassinations. Ecological disasters. Wall Street fluctuations. The Yankees five games behind at the start of the season. On and on. Deeper and darker. And yet, we as a people are resilient. I believe God has placed a spirit of ascendancy in humankind. A drive to rise above the muck and the mire.

We only need think about one of the greatest symbols of modern man’s quest for immortality – the Empire State Building. Bones of iron and steel anchored in bedrock…clad in panels of Indiana limestone…soaring 1250 feet into the ether…and built during one of our country’s darkest hours – the Great Depression.

Do you think this magnificent building would ever have been built if Morrie Stuckman hadn’t laid that very first brick?

Do you?

Of course it would’ve.

‘Cuz that idiot Morrie Stuckman laid the first brick in Perth Amboy, New Jersey, 31 miles from the Empire State Building. His uncanny ability to habitually show up at the wrong job site is just one reason why Morrie was never nominated for the Bricklayers Hall of Fame. The other reason being the fact that he erected the first section of scaffolding for the Chrysler Building in J. Edgar Hoover’s shorts.

But it still remains that even the longest journey begins with just one step. I’m often reminded of those immortal words spoken by Neil Armstrong as he stepped from the lunar module onto the moon: “That’s one small step for man,” he said with pride. Then looking back at the azure blue earth glowing in the distance, added, “And that’ll be one giant cab fare if they leave my ass on this god-forsaken rock.” Even today, those inspiring words bring tears to my eyes, as I’m sure they do yours.

But seriously. Sometimes we do lay the brick in the wrong state, but more often than not we lay it exactly where it needs to be. The important thing is we’re trying to do something productive. And if we erect scaffolding in a stranger’s drawers, so be it, as long as we recognize our mistake, tear it down, and rebuild it where it’s supposed to be.

You see, one of the things I’ve learned over the years is that there is a lot of wild and unpredictable Grace out there. Lots of opportunities for second, third, and even fourth chances.

Now that I’ve hopefully inspired us to do something, let’s grab that skillet and open up a bottle of Marsala ‘cuz we’re about to get busy.

Oh. And don’t let me forget to say Grace.

Bon appétit,



The rich, smoky flavor of Marsala defines this classic Sicilian dish; one that is traditionally prepared with veal. As in all of the wines used for cooking, Marsala does not have to be expensive. There are several reasonably priced domestic selections to choose from.

PREP: 10 minutes COOK: 20 to 25 minutes

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons flour
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup chopped onion (1 small onion)
1 garlic clove, minced
1/4 pound fresh mushrooms (or one 4-oz jar) sliced
2 tablespoons dry Marsala wine
1/2 cup beef stock
Salt to taste


1. Dry chicken breasts with paper towels.
2. Place a breast between two pieces of plastic or wax paper and pound it to 1/4” thickness.
3. Heat the 1 tablespoon butter and the olive oil in a 10-inch skillet over medium heat.
4. Mix the flour, salt and pepper together in a shallow dish. Dredge the chicken in the flour and shake off excess.
5. Add chicken breasts to the skillet and cook 4 minutes per side until meat is tender, lightly brown and opaque. Remove breasts to a plate and cover with another plate to keep warm.
6. Add onion and sauté for 3 minutes. Add garlic and sauté for 1 minute.
7. Add mushrooms and sautè until lightly brown, 3 to 5 minutes
8. Return chicken breasts to the pan and pour the Marsala and stock over chicken. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer until sauce is reduced by about 1/3. Add remaining tablespoon of butter and swirl. Add additional salt and pepper to taste.

Serve with Buttered Noodles and Sautéed Spinach with Garlic.