John Searles’ Lentil Soup: A Toast to “Help For The Haunted”

Few things make me happier than tasting my friends’ cooking — especially if it’s a situation in which I had absolutely no idea that they knew how to cook.

Recently, I had the pleasure of making one such discovery about a dear friend of mine, a person I adore and whom I know mostly as a writer (certainly not a cook) — the novelist John Searles.

I made this discovery one chilly evening this spring when John’s partner, Thomas (the chef in that family), wasn’t around. Instead of ordering in, John decided to cook up some soup instead. I remain grateful for this decision as this meant that I got to taste his lentil soup, which turned out to be so hearty and tasty that I distinctly remember the delicious sensation of its earthy goodness warming me up from within.

So when fall and all its coolness arrived last week, this soup immediately came to mind.

Besides, I had a very special reason to toast John this month — his third novel, a gripping literary thriller titled “Help For The Haunted” just hit book stores! It’s only been out for a week and it’s already gotten rave reviews everywhere — both Amazon and USA Today just named it one of the month’s best books.

So cheers to the book and to my dear friend John. And of course, let’s not forget his lovely lentil soup …

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Hemingway’s Hamburger: Papa’s Favorite

Earlier this year, I was perusing a Boston Globe story about some Ernest Hemingway papers from the writer’s years in Cuba that had just been donated to the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston.

A book editor who’s on the board of the Finca Vigía Foundation in Boston, which has been working on preserving Hemingway’s Cuba documents and bringing them to the United States, had told me of the story and I could not wait to read it. I’ve long been a Hemingway fan — an admirer of not just his work but also his appetite for life, food and drink.

So it was unsurprising that one line in the story about what the new papers contained struck me: “And the more mundane, like his instructions to the household staff, including how to prepare his hamburgers: ground beef, onions, garlic, India relish, and capers, cooked so the edges were crispy but the center red and juicy.”

Hemingway’s ideal burger? I had to find out more.

Many weeks and a few burgers later, I wrote about my quest to recreate Hemingway’s hamburger in The Paris Review.

I won’t go into details — you can read more there. But for the recipe and another glimpse of the burger, click right here …

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Mexican Cottage Pie: A British Standard, Spiced Up

I have been in love with pie for as long as I can remember — crisp crust, hot filling … what’s not to adore?

My love extends far beyond traditional American apple and pumpkin pies, however — spicy (or sweet) empanadas, pot pies, shepherd’s pies, British pork pies, Singaporean fried curry puffs (which are, essentially, hand-pies) … you name it, I’ll worship it.

So I was thrilled when Lucy over at A Cook and Her Books suggested pie for this month’s theme for our Let’s Lunch virtual lunch date, which is a special one as we have a bunch of fabulous new bloggers joining our little group this month: Betty Ann at Asian in America, Margaret at Tea and Scones, Too, Naomi at The Gastro Gnome, Sara at Three Clever Sisters and Tammi at Insatiable Munchies.

What to make for this month’s lunch? I decided it had to be something pretty special to toast our new Lunchers …

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Korean Roast Beef Sandwich: Umami on a Bun

Among the problems to have, this was a good one: What to do with that tub of leftover ssamjang in the fridge?

After whipping up a batch of the sweet, spicy and garlicky Korean dipping sauce for a recent night of kalbi, the leftovers remained front and center in my fridge, nudging me to do something — anything.

Sure, marinating a few pounds of short ribs for another round of kalbi was tempting — perhaps when I have more time.

For now, however, I had other easier plans …

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Belle Harbor Steak House (Rockaway Park, N.Y.): Back to the Basics

There’s something to be said for a solid, old-school meal.

What this means varies, of course, depending on where you are. In the U.S., I’ve always relished the mom-and-pop low-key restaurants that still roll out unfussy, decades-old standbys — hot turkey platters, melts, meatloaf and more. (If you’ve read “A Tiger in the Kitchen,” you’ll know what a meatloaf obsessive I am.)

I find myself craving these meals when it gets a little chilly. And so on a recent rainy day, we found ourselves heading over to a little restaurant called Belle Harbor Steak House in Rockaway Park, New York.

I’d caught a glimpse of the menu a few days before and it seemed like just the place to warm you up on a cold drizzly afternoon …

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Rockaway Taco (Rockaway Beach, N.Y.): A Delicious Reprise

It isn’t truly summer until you’ve had your first fried fish taco. (So I believe, anyway.)

Going by this policy, summer still hadn’t hit for me in early August. This late in the game, that certainly had to be fixed.

So on a recent morning, even though I had only just been to Rockaway Taco in New York‘s Rockaway Beach a few days before, I decided it was time to return …

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Thai Rock (Rockaway Beach, N.Y.): Sweet-Tooth “Thai”

Every few days or so, a craving will kick in.

If I haven’t been cooking or if I’ve been on the road, unless I’m in Asia, I’ll start to really need the taste of Asian food of some sort. So, after a few days of lovely fish sandwiches and hot dogs at Rockaway Beach, I started sniffing around for something a little closer to home.

And then I remembered a sign on a building by the water: “Thai Rock.” And off we went …

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Breezy Dogs & Shakes (Breezy Point, N.Y.): A Dog Day of Summer

Lunchtime on a hot summer’s day and two small boys are very silently perched on a bench near Fort Tilden Beach.

They’re still; their eyes a little glazed. Finally, one breaks the stupor to very slowly say, “These are soooo good.”

The source of their trance is at their elbows — two almost empty cups of thick, cold milkshakes and the carcass of lunch. At this point, sous chef and I have just gotten off a sunny bus ride all the way to the end of the Q22 line at Rockaway Beach, all in search of this mythical Breezy Dog food truck we’d been reading about.

From the look of the fog these boys were in, lunch was starting to seem worth the ride …

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The Wharf (Rockaway Beach, N.Y.): A View — With Food on the Side

Remember how I mentioned that people love to tell me where I must eat when I travel?

Well, The Wharf in New York‘s Rockaway Beach is certainly not one of those places.

Check it out, yes — I definitely heard that. With its outdoor dining deck with sweeping views of the water and Manhattan’s skyline in the distance, The Wharf’s vista for a sunset cocktail can’t be beat. But eat? We had read and heard enough about the food to know there were probably better restaurants in Rockaway Beach.

Even so, on a recent evening, as our cocktails on that famous deck were disappearing, the vaunted view was nudging us to stay.

How bad could the food truly be? We decided to find out …

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Rockaway Taco (Rockaway Beach, N.Y.): A Surfside Start

You get an inkling that a place is good if everyone who finds out you’re going somewhere for the weekend says you absolutely have to eat there.

Friends, your hairdresseryour hairdresser’s wife. You get the idea.

So on my first visit to Rockaway Beach in New York, I knew there was one place I had to find and hit: Rockaway Taco  …

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