That’s what he told me anyway, a few months ago when we talked about his second and presumably last cookbook Cooking for Good Times, which hits the market Tuesday in all its full-color glory.
I recall the One Off Hospitality chef-partner saying long ago that he never wanted to do a cookbook in the first place, and then came Cheers to the Publican in 2017, which was definitely a chef’s cookbook, as much a historical document of the Fulton Market beer hall as a Rosetta stone for young cooks to unlock the secrets of the famous roast chicken, ham chop in hay, and boudin noir. It’s fascinating but a bit beyond the skill set of the average home cook (Though I did manage a decent version of Chef David’s Cassoulet.
“I feel like I got tricked in the first place,” Kahan says of the two-book deal he signed. “Life’s too short. It’s a lot of work, and there a lot of other things I wanna do. It’s not a clear-cut representation of the creative process I enjoy so much.”
What Cooking for Good Times is is a representation of what it’s like to go to a party at Kahan’s fishing cabin in the Wisconsin Northwoods. Or more accurately, what it’s like to cook for one of those parties without getting stressed out and harshing everyone’s mellow.
“We’re not trying to show you how great of cooks we are,” he says. The book’s fundamental truth, however, comes straight out of a restaurant kitchen:
“In restaurants so much is done ahead of time.” In translation: before you head up to the cabin, make a plan. Figure out if you want to Roast a Whole Fish, Braise a Pork Shoulder, or Toss Together Some Bread. In chapters like these, Kahan offers a master recipe you can do ahead of time that allows you to plan ahead for a bunch of variants on it that take advantage of what you might have on hand up in the woods or in different seasons. So you can roast that whole fish with creamy braised beans, green sauce, and pickled lemon, or serve it with squid stew, roasted tomatoes, and fennel. You can braise the pork with knepfle noodles, cabbage, caraway, and apple, or with fresh peas, saffron, orzo, and clams. With that bread you’re making panzanella with roasted leeks, pecans, and apple, or tossing it with Brussels sprouts, grilled onions, and crumbly cheese.
It’s all simple enough as long as you get you get organized, though there is some notable restaurant food in the book. Kahan says the book is also partly inspired by the communal conviviality of Avec. And you definitely can’t have a party at Avec without ordering the iconic Bacon-Wrapped Chorizo-Stuffed Dates.
The recipe hasn’t changed at all in fifteen years. We’ve had the same guy makin’ ’em too—Jorge Ruiz. From the very beginning he’s been cranking out more than three hundred a day, five days a week; that’s almost two mil to date. He’s made nearly every stuffed date at the restaurant—no kidding. When he goes on vacation he fills up the freezer with them because when someone covered for him once, people complained that the dates weren’t the same.”
Damn. Chingon Jorge.
Kahan tells me he’s been cooking a lot of Japanese food up at the cabin, just because there’s not a lot of it around there. Me, I’m gonna roast some parsnips and rutabagas and serve them with persimmons and walnut-anchovy vinaigrette. Do you think Paul would come over?
PREP, ROAST, AND MARINATE ROOT VEGETABLES
by Paul Kahan
This technique is perfect when you’re cooking for friends and family because it takes way less time than roasting the vegetables whole—thirty to forty minutes tops—and they can be roasted ahead, which just means they spend more time hanging out in their tasty marinade in the fridge. Then they’re ready to be tossed back in the pan to be crisped up again—or not. They’re delicious at room temperature, or even served cold. It’s the kind of thing you want to have in your back pocket. MAKES 6 SERVINGS
2 pounds beets, sweet potatoes, or turnips (any color, golf ball–to baseball-size)
1⁄4 cup rice bran oil, grapeseed oil, or olive oil
1 tablespoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons sugar or honey
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 sprigs thyme
2 sprigs rosemary
Juice of 1 orange or lemon, or 2 tablespoons red, champagne, or cider vinegar
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1⁄2 teaspoon crushed red chile flakes
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Depending on the size and type of the root, peel it or not. Peel the dirty, gnarly beets. Sweet potato skins soften up when roasting, so leave those on. For thinner-skinned turnips, a good scrubbing will do. Cut the roots into chunks; I like them about 1 inch thick and 2 inches long. Cut the round roots through the equator and chunk them up from there. For sweet potatoes, cut them in half lengthwise, then again lengthwise, and then into 2-inch pieces. If you can find baby sweet potatoes, just cut those in half. There’s no wrong way to do this; just keep all of your vegetables similar in size and shape so they cook evenly.
Preheat an ovenproof sauté pan large enough to hold
the root vegetables in one layer over medium-high heat. Add the rice bran, grapeseed, or olive oil and continue heating until the oil shimmers and is thinking about smoking. Carefully add the roots and let them caramelize on one side, 2 to 3 minutes. Check to make sure they’re not burning—lower the heat if they’re scorching in some spots. Give the roots a toss in the pan (tongs work, too) and season with the salt, sugar, and pepper. Add the thyme and rosemary and transfer the pan to the oven. Cook until the vegetables are lightly browned and tender. Start checking with the tip of a sharp knife after 6 minutes and continue to check every 5 minutes. They’re done when they’re easily pierced all the way through. The beets will cook in about 30 minutes, the turnips in just 10 minutes or less, and the sweet potatoes in 20 minutes. This will depend on the age, variety, and cut of the vegetable, so use your senses(including common sense) and check often.
Spoon the roasted vegetables into a large bowl. Discard the herb stems. Add the orange juice or vinegar, extra-virgin olive oil, and chile flakes. Toss until well coated.
You can serve at this point, or store in the fridge for up to 5 days.
ROASTED AND MARINATED ROOT VEGETABLES WITH PERSIMMONS AND WALNUT-ANCHOVY VINAIGRETTE
Here’s a nut vinaigrette to add that rich unctuousness to the roots, and anchovies to give a salty, savory component. You wouldn’t necessarily taste this and think it’s fishy; the anchovy just kind of makes everything else taste better. There are two kinds of persimmons you’ll usually see at the market or store—fuyus and hachiyas. You want the fuyus, which can be served crisp, almost like apples. (Hachiyas should feel like liquid in a plastic bag before you eat them, otherwise they’re supertannic and basically the worst thing ever—either way, not what you’re going for.)
Sometimes the skins are tender, and sometimes you want to slice them off. Take a bite and if the skin is just short of shoe leather, cut it off. MAKES 6 SERVINGS
1⁄2 cup walnuts
1⁄4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 clove garlic, peeled
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
Roasted and marinated root vegetables
2 fuyu (not hachiya) persimmons, cut into 1⁄4-inch wedges*
1 small head frisée or escarole, cleaned and separated into leaves
1⁄2 small red onion, sliced as thinly as you can
2 ounces Parmigiano or other hard cheese, such as Pecorino or aged Gouda
MAKE THE VINAIGRETTE In a food processor, combine the walnuts, oil, anchovies, and garlic and process until smooth. Add the vinegar and lemon juice and zest and pulse two times. Taste for seasoning—if your anchovies are very salty, you won’t need any additional salt. Otherwise, add a pinch or so, to your liking. Set aside until ready to use or store in the fridge for up to 5 days.
PUT IT TOGETHER AND SERVE Scatter the root vegetables, persimmons, frisée, and onion on a platter. Spoon the vinaigrette over the mixture. Using a vegetable peeler, shave the cheese over the platter, and serve.
Reprinted with permission from Cooking For Good Times, by Paul Kahan, copyright (c) 2019. Published by Lorena Jones Books, a Division of Penguin Random House LLC.