Culinary smackdown: Food writers compete to feed six for fifty dollars

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Feed six people for fifty dollars? No problem. No problem that is until you realize what your competition is serving. When the New York Times asked two of their food writers to create menus for dinner parties on a strict $50 budget both of them quickly realized they couldn't offer chicken and salad, not when their competition was dishing up tilefish ceviche in handmade tortilla chips or cheddar gougeres and Jean-Georges desserts. In this culinary Thunderdome, it's Julia Moskin versus Kim Severson and they are battling it out for best budget dinner party. The judge? Frank Bruni, the feared New York Times food critic. They join The Takeaway for a reenactment.

The story of their dinners, Comrades at Arms: Two Food Writers in a Kitchen Smackdown, is in today's New York Times.

Recipe Files: Kim's Tacos de Carnitas
Adapted from Tara Duggan, The San Francisco Chronicle
Time: 2 1/2 hours
  • 3 pounds pork shoulder, either butt or picnic
  • 7 strips orange zest
  • 5 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 large onion, chopped, plus finely chopped onion for garnish
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 cinnamon stick, preferably Mexican canela
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons crushed dried oregano leaves, preferably Mexican
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, more to taste
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 24 small corn tortillas, warmed, for serving
  • Chopped cilantro for garnish
  • Salsa for garnish.
  1. Trim any thick fat from surface of pork. Cut meat into 1-inch cubes, discarding any that are pure fat. Put pork in a large pot. Add enough water to cover by 2 inches, orange zest, garlic, chopped onion, red pepper flakes, cinnamon, bay leaves, oregano, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt and the cloves.
  2. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Skim off any scum that forms on surface. Simmer uncovered for 1 1/2 hours, until pork is very soft; add water if necessary to keep meat submerged. Season with salt, then continue to cook until water has evaporated, about 30 minutes. Cook a little longer to fry meat slightly; cook even longer if you prefer crisper meat. Stir often and add a bit of water if meat sticks or seems about to burn.
  3. Remove bay leaves and cinnamon stick. Spoon a few tablespoons of carnitas onto each tortilla. Top each taco with cilantro, finely chopped onion and salsa. Serve.

Yield: 6 to 8 servings.

Julia's Tangerine-Vanilla Floats

Adapted from "Sunday Suppers at Lucques" by Suzanne Goin with Teri Gelber (Knopf, 2005)

Time: 10 minutes
  • 6 large scoops vanilla ice cream
  • 3 cups freshly squeezed tangerine juice (from about 12 tangerines) or orange juice (see note)
  • Seltzer
Divide ice cream among 6 medium-size glasses or cups. Add 1/2 cup tangerine juice to each cup and top off with seltzer. Serve with a straw.
Yield: 6 servings.
Note: Fresh orange juice can be used instead of tangerine juice, but it should be very sweet and not too acidic. Try adding superfine sugar to taste.
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Kim's Chili-Spiced Peanuts

Adapted from "Simply Mexican" by Lourdes Castro (Ten Speed Press, 2009)

  • 1 cup roasted, unsalted peanuts
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon coarse salt or kosher salt
  • 1 lime, quartered
  1. In a nonstick pan over high heat, toast peanuts for 2 to 3 minutes, shaking pan or stirring often until nuts begin to smell toasty. Pour into a bowl and set aside.
  2. Decrease heat under pan to medium and sprinkle sugar, cayenne pepper and salt evenly into it. Melt mixture slowly, stirring a bit with a heat-proof silicone spatula. When sugar has melted, add peanuts to pan and coat well. Mixture might clump a bit.
  3. Pour nuts onto parchment paper. As soon as mixture is cool enough to handle, break apart any clumps of peanuts. Serve with wedges of lime. Squeeze lime over nuts right before eating.

Yield: 1 cup.

Julia's Pasta With Roast Chicken, Currants and Pine Nuts

Adapted from "The Book of Jewish Food" by Claudia Roden (Knopf, 1996)

Time: 45 minutes

  • 3 1/2 pounds bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs, patted dry
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Paprika
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 1/2 pounds dried pasta, preferably bucatini or linguine
  • 2 teaspoons crumbled dried rosemary
  • 1/2 cup dried currants or raisins
  • 2/3 cup pine nuts, toasted
  • 3 tablespoons chopped parsley.
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Arrange thighs in a large roasting pan, preferably nonstick. Thickly sprinkle with salt, pepper and paprika, and dot with butter. Bake until just cooked through and skin is crisp (if oven has a convection feature, use it), about 35 minutes.
  2. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. When chicken is done, let cool slightly, then use hands (rubber gloves are helpful) to pull meat and skin from bones, making bite-size pieces. Reserve meat and skin in roasting pan; discard bones.
  3. Meanwhile, add pasta to boiling water and cook just until tender but not mushy. Reserving 1 cup cooking water, drain pasta and add to roasting pan with chicken meat and skin. Add 1/2 cup pasta cooking water to roasting pan on stovetop and turn heat to low.
  4. Add rosemary, currants and pine nuts to roasting pan and toss, adding more salt and black pepper to taste, and more cooking water if mixture seems dry. Sprinkle with parsley and serve immediately in shallow bowls.

Yield: 6 servings.

Guests:

Julia Moskin and Kim Severson

Contributors:

Melissa Locker

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