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October 15, 2007

Mr. Henry pulls pork

It all starts, as things do, with one small misstep, a minor oversight that unwinds balefully into tragic chorus.

Even though he saw that the husk ends were dry, Mr. Henry bought some corn. He knew Mrs. Henry would feel compelled yet again to deliver her lecture, “How many times must I explain to you about fresh ears of corn?,” a well-argued and convincing thesis. But he had been beating the Manhattan streets all day. His feet were growing corns of their own, and back home his noble hound Pepper needed walking.

Oh where is fresh corn to be found? Where are the sweet ears of yesteryear? To buy fresh corn must he always take subways to foreign climes? Must he buy exclusively from farmstands in parking lots?

How many food miles these dry cobs had traveled Mr. Henry shudders to think. What became clear to him, however, was that he needed a quick-witted solution.


Cornbread! He hadn’t indulged in a good corn bread since winter. This week’s cold snap made cornbread a practical choice. Yes, all would be alright. Then, his nimble imagination galloping ahead of his vaunted sense of practicality, he smelled the cornbread together with its empyreal helpmeet – pulled pork with barbecue sauce. He imagined brioche buns oozing with sloppy joe. He imagined crunchy, vinegary cole slaw. His tongue became heavy with desire to pronounce each menu selection with a southern accent.


His bona fides as arbiter of fine food notwithstanding, Mr. Henry had never before slow-cooked a great slab of pork. Every recipe he found called for baking 10 hours at a tepid 225º. Could there be a shorter route?

Undeterred by inexperience, Mr. Henry bought five pounds of blade roast, slapped it on the kitchen counter, and massaged it with his own concoction of dry spices: brown sugar (lots and lots), cumin (a good heaping), cayenne (a smidge), paprika, (a smidge more), dry mustard, a big pinch of herbs de provence (why not?), ground black pepper, mixed whole peppercorns, whole cloves, and kosher salt (has nice granulation). No time for marinating or resting.

After searing the meat in canola oil, he covered it in two coarsely chopped onions, two whole cloves of garlic, and two cups of water. With the lid on, the dutch oven went into the stove at 350º for seven hours, all the time there was. The house smelled like Jimmy’s pit Bar-B-Q back home. Poor Pepper was pacing and licking her chops all day.


Mr. Henry is not ashamed to reveal the trepidation he felt as he lifted the lid, hoping against hope he wouldn’t burn his fingers once again on its handle. The liquid was gone! The browned meat sat nobly proud of a viscose, inky mystery. Four dinner guests were set to arrive. Mr. Henry placed the lid back on top and prayed for juices to settle.

Sensing that hesitation at this crucial moment would be fatal, Mrs. Henry rose from her yoga mat and stepped into the breach. With the assurance of a battlefield colonel she added more mayonnaise (!) to the cole slaw and punched up its brightness with a sprinkling more salt and a dash of sugared white sushi vinegar. To the mysterious dark pot liquor she added apple cider vinegar and ketchup.

We few, we happy few! We pulled and we slathered. We went WAY down South. Because others were too busy eating, holding a glass of cold Vouvray Mr. Henry toasted his signal victory against overwhelming odds.

Borrowing the idea from Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Mrs. Henry tossed kale in olive oil and veggie salt, and baked it at 350º for about 12 minutes. All its bitterness disappeared. The result was an intensely green, somewhat shriveled, crunchy leaf. “Hey kids,” Mr. Henry slyly asked, “who wants green potato chips?” They couldn’t get enough of them.

Fresh pineapple, a deliciously stinky aged hard cheese called toma persa, and Lorna’s beautiful pastries ended the feast.

September 5, 2007

Banana mini-muffins

Filed under: American Food,Bread,Fruit,Japanese Food,Mrs. Henry — Mr. Henry @ 6:06 pm

Now is the time of bounty, the season when little baskets in the market brim sinfully with berries so ripe you cannot in good conscience pass them by. They must be rescued and carried swiftly home to be consumed before sun-up.

From Mexico there are mangoes too broad to hold in one hand and giant red papayas nearly too broad to hold in two. Yellow peaches have arrived from local orchards as have blackberries the size of gumballs. All types of summer squash are perfect.

Amid such abundance, Mr. Henry hesitates to complain. These days, however, bananas, nature’s most perfect food, are rather too small and too ripe. Here is Mrs. Henry’s peerless recipe for banana mini-muffins. They freeze wonderfully.

Cream together 1 stick of butter and 1 cup of sugar.
Beat in 2 eggs, one at a time.
Mix dry ingredients:
1 cup unbleached white flour
½ cup whole wheat flour
½ cup wheat bran
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
Mash 3 ripe bananas with 1 teaspoon vanilla.
Add dry ingredients to butter/egg/sugar.
Add mashed bananas.
Add ½ cup plain non-fat yogurt.

Lightly grease mini-muffin pan. (If preparing large muffins you may elect to use silicone cups.) Bake in convection oven at 350 degrees until brown, about 10 minutes.

July 10, 2007

Summer scallops

Filed under: Fruit,Japanese Food,Mrs. Henry,Shellfish — Mr. Henry @ 11:17 am

knee-high.jpegOn the Fourth of July, the corn was not quite knee-high. Tomatoes were good but not magnificent, not yet the stand-alone dish they will become next month. Garden arugula was bright and not too sharp, happily reminiscent of Italian varietials. Peppers and onions came off the grill with flesh still meaty and toothsome.

Still, although Mr. Henry does not like to complain, the tastes of the weekend were beginning to be a bore. Meat grilled outdoors is all very fine but without a skillful marinade lacks both subtlety and complexity.

On a lazy Sunday morning at Paul’s country house, however, Mrs. Henry, ever the clever one when given a moment’s free time, created an appetizer of scallops that was the most exciting new taste of the summer. Completed in five minutes, it was beyond compare.

She brushed the broiling pan with olive oil and arranged a quart of sea scallops across its surface. In three minutes they were nicely browned yet still soft to the touch of a finger. [Don’t let them get rubbery. There is no need to cook them solidly throughout. So long as they are warm inside, you’ve done your job.]

She served them on top of a cool, fresh relish. To a peeled, seeded and diced tomato she added coarsely chopped cilantro leaf, the juice from half a lime, a pinch of salt and — now for the genius — one peeled and diced peach. The flowery aroma of peach married to its tangy tomato cousin created a subtly balanced liqueur, lighter than a wine sauce, which perfectly supported the scallop’s mild sweetness.

May 19, 2007

Tiramisu & Stinky Accusations


Emboldened by freely wandering the antique byways of Rome, Little Henry’s friend Stinky launched an accusation that Mr. Henry will not permit to stand uncontested in this or any other forum:

“Mr. Henry talks a lot about cooking but never does any!”

Ha! Only weeks ago Mr. Henry prepared a tiramisu at home that even the skeptical Stinky admitted was a bona fide, authentic, and glorious tiramisu.

It wasn’t exactly cooking, mind you, because no heat was applied. But it greatly impressed the crowd. Here for his gentle reading public so long ignored because he has been re-arranging his life, his office, and his books, Mr. Henry offers up a recipe of sorts, or rather recipe guidelines, for la vera tiramisu di Signor Henry.

Don’t worry. The thing is failproof. You can fudge any proportion and it turns out just fine.

Mr. Henry’s Tiramisu

6 eggs
1 cup confectioner’s sugar
splash of scotch
1 large tub mascarpone (500g)
5 ounces bittersweet chocolate
1 ounce unsweetened chocolate
1 package ladyfinger cookies (200g)

First brew some coffee quadruple strength (In deference to the children Mr. H. chose decaffeinated.) and let it cool to room temperature or colder. Grate some good chocolate like Scharffenberger, mixing half a bar of bittersweet withScharffen.jpg a modicum of unsweetened to intensify the flavor. Have close at hand, as well, a bottle of single malt scotch whiskey. (Mr. Henry believes this to be sound advice for any recipe.) For this recipe, Mr. Henry chose The Macallan.

Separate six eggs. Whip the whites until stiff. Cream the yokes together with a cup (or more) of confectioners’ sugar, beating until the color becomes pale. You raw-egg worry-worts at home, please relax. The sugar preserves the egg. In the fridge the concoction will stay perfectly fresh far longer than it will survive repeated servings to you and yours.

Finally to the creamed yokes whip in a splash of scotch, dark rum, or any other spirit appropriate for a coffee, chocolate, and mascarpone confection. This last touch brings a perfume to the dish that separates it from a quotidian custard.

With big gestures and a big rubber spatula, lightly fold in the mascarpone and then the egg whites. Ecco! Mascarpone custard cream. Now you build.

Slice the ladyfingers in half lengthwise if you like. (This is a decision more of style than of taste.) Spread half of them loosely in a deep dish pan. Using a pastry brush soak them – yes, soak them – with coffee. [A Mr. Henry Dictum: Italian desserts must be either soggy or hard as brick.] Cover with a layer of mascarpone custard cream. Then cover the cream thoroughly with half the grated chocolate. Repeat the procedure to create a second story. Chill until set, at least three hours.

Mr. Henry is reminded of an equally false accusation hurled his way by his diminutive and opinionated life-long consort, Mrs. Henry, namely, that whenever he gets an idea for a new dish he feels compelled to purchase a new kitchen utensil. This is falseness itself! Mr. Henry always makes do with whatever is at hand. (A recent purchase of a Le Creuset oval enameled gratin pan was NOT an indulgence. Someday soon she will thank him for it, and mean it sincerely.)

As an example of his resourcefulness, on the morning after returning late from JFK he prepared a fine breakfast of marmalade and crackers borrowed from several of Italy’s nicer hotel breakfast baskets and conveyed trans-Atlantic in Aunt Bev’s backpack. Although there are grocery stores within walking distance of his apartment, Mr. Henry prefers not to conduct his marketing at 3:30 a.m., an hour when he receives stares from street strays and riff-raffy youth.

He prefers the adoring glances he believes he got in Florence from American college students envious of his casual insouciance and his fluency in Italian. He did not actually witness these glances, mind you, being too polite to stare slack-jawed at breathtakingly beautiful young women. Mr. Henry, you see, has faith in the unseen.


February 12, 2007

A Hymn to Left-Overs

Filed under: Japanese Food,Mrs. Henry,What Mr. Henry is eating,Wine — Mr. Henry @ 10:29 am

For the past week Mr. Henry has been turning out his light early, sleeping until one or two, and then rising quietly so as not to wake either Mrs. Henry, perfectly unperturbable as she busily thrashes, talks, and even
laughs in her sleep, or to rouse the faithful Pepper nestled at the foot of the big bed. Since unlike princes of yore Mr. Henry does not permit himself a midnight capon or goblet of vintage port, in place of victuals Mr. Henry sneaks off to his chilly office garret, carves out a free spot from his cluttered daybed and reads A Stew or a Story: an assortment of short works by M.F.K. Fisher, the doyenne of food writers, indeed, the most remarkable of writers about places and the feelings they arouse.


She studied at the University of Dijon in 1929 and was still writing in the 1990’s. Equally at home in California and in France, she absorbed the deepest secrets of both places. Ever the gracious hostess, she wrote in small servings humbly sandwiched in the most unliterary journals. Who today would remember the magazines Holiday or McCall’s, or expect them to hold such riches? Who would think House Beautiful a trove of great writing?

For Mr. Henry, her sentences and paragraphs are finer than food or drink. Her styles, for indeed there are very many, established the template for this century’s food blogging. Rather than make you ache for a seat at her table, she quietly invites you, slyly prepares the tone, conjures the physical setting, and lays out recipes in amusing, clear prose that is readable and re-readable. She adds unexpected spice to a line, never too heavily, that illustrates concisely and elegantly exactly what taste truly is. She is never fussy or bombastic. (Might Mr. Henry find a lesson herein?) Her spirit is mischievous and what was once called ‘gay.’ Her laugh must have been indescribably attractive.

In A Hymn to Left-Overs (Pageant, 1950), writing of serving room-temperature roast chicken to her disapproving father, she says, “He is baffled…and I am happy, for nothing is more devoutly to be wished for in family gastronomy than the strong element of bewilderment.”


Housebound by last week’s unremitting winter wind, Mrs. Henry embraced this ethos and served up a truly original stew composed of odd bins found in the fridge. It began with chick peas soaked all day and boiled in preparation for a hummous that Mr. Henry failed once again to prepare. (Such things, after all, take time.)

After sputtering and fuming in the direction of her feckless consort, exclaiming how he never, ever comes up with new dinner ideas, how he leaves her to do all the planning, and how there is now no possible way she could come up with a suitable dinner — a stream of invective nearly unsuitable for Little Henry’s tender ears — she yanked out every left-over container and set to work.

First she sautéed some crumbled-up Italian sweet sausage. Removing it from the fire and wiping away its grease, she quickly did the same with some chopped-up sliced ham. After sautéeing chopped onion in olive oil she added chopped tomatoes and kale. After the kale had wilted she added a small container of vegetable stock and the chick peas. Finally the meat went back in just long enough to heat but not to steam. Topped with grated parmesan this amusing, elegant invention was eagerly devoured on the new Henry couch in front of the TV.

Since the stew tasted vaguely Mediterranean but not exactly site-specific, Mr. Henry decided he had traveled to a hidden corner of Spain and chose to drink a glass of rich, dark de Ribera. This kind of traveling reduces jet lag.

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