Parts Unknown

I am deeply saddened by the loss of Anthony Bourdain, in a way that few celebrity deaths effect me. Over the last two decades, Bourdain's shows have been one of the few places in American media that have deliberately tried to show travel and exploration as a human activity, a cross cultural exchange that changed both the visitor and the visited. That's an ethos deeply embedded in the idea of the Peace Corps, and it's one that has always spoken to me.

The United States isn't a uniquely inward-looking country, but we are a determinedly inward-looking one, and Bourdain always tried to expand the horizons of people who haven't left by letting people from other places (even other places in the US) speak for themselves and tell their stories in a way that made them the center of their own stories, even if Bourdain had his own stories to tell. I looked forward to each new season of his show, and just last week, watching the episode in Armenia, I turned to Stacey and said, "We won't have him forever." I thought I was talking about ten or twenty years from now, not a little over a week later. We shall not see his like again.

But what I really want to celebrate here are how bad, how inexplicably, how perversely terrible his theme songs were. He was so clearly proud of having people like Mark Lanegan, Josh Homme, and John Spencer record theme songs for him that it didn't seem to matter to him that they are collectively some of the worst music ever recorded.

I will miss hearing them very much.

Potato and chorizo stew

I'm always looking for new things to cook, and I recently ran across the video above, and I immediately decided to make it.  It was delicious, deep red and warm and just the thing for a fall night.  But I had a couple of issues with the recipe.  First off, it was huge, which isn't always a problem, but meant that it was a lot to do on a week night, and had a ton of leftovers.  So, in my version below, I've scaled down the size and made a few other changes that I think will help improve the flavor a bit.  But if you're looking for a deep, smokey, deliciously filling soup, I recommend this one highly.

Patatas con Chorizo a la Riojana / Chorizo Stew


Olive oil
1 small onion, thinly sliced
1 red pepper, thinly sliced and cut into bite-size pieces
6 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
7 oz semi-cured chorizo (two Goya packages), sliced into small pieces.
1 lbs yellow potatoes, cut into one inch cubes
2 tbs sweet paprika
1 tbs hot paprika
2 bay leaves
Salt and pepper
½ cup white wine or dry vermouth
2 quarts chicken stock or water
1 tbs fresh thyme
2 tbs red wine vinegar


1. Heat olive oil in a wide, deep pan or stock pot until shimmering, then add onion and pepper, and a pinch of salt and sauté until soft, five minutes. Add garlic and stir, another minute
2. Add the sliced chorizo to the pan and combine. Let cook another five minutes, until the fat has begun to render out of the chorizo and stained the pan red.
3. Add paprika, salt and pepper and stir until the pan begins to look slightly dry, thirty seconds. Add the wine or vermouth and deglaze the pan, then add the stock, potatoes, thyme and bay leaves. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer, half an hour or until the potatoes are tender. Add vinegar and serve with crusty bread.

Fall music

Fall is probably my favorite time of the year.  I love the cooler weather, the jackets, the smell of burning leaves (less of that since I moved to New Jersey).  Shorter days mean longer nights and more opportunities to get out and take long exposure photos at night.  I love Halloween and Thanksgiving.  I love hearty comfort food, stews, chili and other traditionally fall-ish foods.  And I love fall music.  There's no science about this, of course, but it's music that strikes me as indelibly autumnal.  Slow, languorous, melancholy and a bit chilly, it always puts me in a certain mood and makes any long, cool walk thorough leaf-strewn sidewalks more cinematic.  And there's no music that fits that category more than the albums that Ryuichi Sakamoto and Alva Noto produced in the aughts.

Hamburger Gravy and Mashed Potatoes

The basis of this dish is something that my mother made when I was growing up.  I always enjoyed it, and I've made it many times myself.  My mom usually made it with jarred gravy and boxed mashed potatoes, and when you've worked a full shift and have to feed two small boys, I can understand why you would.  But I've been going through the recipes I remember best from my childhood and trying to remake them without processed ingredients.  I'm really happy with how this turned out.

The basic recipe is more or less a deconstructed shepard's pie (or cottage pie, really, since it uses beef instead of lamb).  That hadn't really ever occured to me until I made it this time.  Maybe it makes it a little bit classier?  This is still more or less classic midwestern comfort food, but that's what I am usually most at home making.


I'm a pretty poor blogger, and every time I make something, it occurs to me after I've sat down and eaten that I should have taken a few photos.  So, the only thing I've got is a cell phone photo of my bowl right before I eat it all.  If this at all appeals to you, believe me: it tasted much better than it looked.

Hamburger Gravy and Mashed Potatoes
1 medium onion, diced fine
5 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tsp dried sage
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp ground black pepper
2 tsp salt
2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 lbs lean ground beef
1/3 cup flour
2 tbsp tomato paste
4 cups chicken stock
1 lbs frozen peas
In a large saute pan over medium heat, saute onions until translucent, then add garlic and saute until fragrant.  Add ground beef and seasonings and cook until browned.  When the meat is browned, sprinkle on the flour and stir until no flour is visible.  Add the tomato paste and stir into the meat until it’s combined.  Continue to stir until the meat begins to darken and look dry, and the pan begins to develop a layer of brown crust or fond.  Pour in generous splash of the stock and begin to scrape up the fond from the bottom of the pan, then pour in the rest of the stock.  Bring to a boil, add the peas, cover and reduce the heat to a low simmer.  Let simmer for twenty minutes or until the sauce has thickened.
For the mashed potatoes
2 lbs russet baking potatoes, peeled, rinsed and chopped into one inch cubes
1 ½ cups plain yogurt
4 tbsp butter
Salt to taste
Peel, rinse and chop the potatoes, and then put them in a large stock pot, with enough cold water to cover by a couple inches.  Put on medium high heat and bring to a boil.  Allow to boil for about twenty minutes.  When a knife or fork slides easily into the potatoes, they’re done.  Remove from the heat and drain in a colander.  Put all of the potatoes through a ricer (or with a masher), add the yogurt, butter and salt and stir to combine.  Avoid over stirring, but combine all ingredients into a uniform whole.  Check for salt and serve.