Recipes you’ll really use. Delightfully mean-spirited articles. Information on cooking techniques—what works and what doesn’t. Cookbook reviews that aren’t puff pieces about my friends. Guaranteed to be free of lies about how you can substitute yogurt for sour cream in most recipes.”
– Mission statement at www.curmudgeon.com.
Dan Goldberg ’72 has always been somewhat of a contrarian. I should know. When we first met, I had the distinct idea that Dan wished his girlfriend, my sister Tessa ’71, was an only child. That impression has not changed over the years. “I got the pick of the litter,” he would periodically announce over family dinners, before he and Tessa married and moved West to the Napa Valley.
Tessa, a journalist, hails from a cuisine-loving tradition. Our father, SLC president emeritus Charles DeCarlo, is an outstanding gourmet chef and bon vivant whose meals at the President’s House are the stuff of legend; our mother, Dorothy, has a corrective leaning toward whole grains but bakes a mean loaf of bread. Like me, Tessa grew up inhaling the exquisite food aromas of the DeCarlo kitchen.
Ten years ago Tessa encouraged Dan, also a great cook, to start “The Curmudgeon’s Home Companion,” a monthly food newsletter. “I started it because I thought I could do what I like doing and make enough money to live on,” Goldberg says. “I was wrong. But I continue it because some people like it, and it makes a lot of things I like doing tax-deductible.”
Each newsletter contains essays about whatever is on Goldberg’s sardonic mind, followed by recipes either collected from his travels around the world, his relatives or readers. The curmudgeon and his Curmudgeon have garnered praise from the Washington Post (“Refreshingly irreverent”) and Chicago Tribune (“Shows cooking is a laughing matter”), among others.
Goldberg may mince garlic, but never words. His stance on avoiding animal protein: “Maybe the solution is to eat vegetarians. After all, they are pure-grain and vegetable-fed, just like prime meat, and by their own account not superior to sheep, morally or intellectually…I bet they don’t use much water, either, especially if you dry-roast them.”
Ask him what’s his favorite food, and he’ll show you a Texas Web site that gives the last meals of people who have been executed: “Talk about comfort food!” If Goldberg couldn’t get guinea hen with rosemary and garlic under the skin in prison, he would want roast turkey and homemade stuffing.
And his least favorite food? Mexican tripe, or menudo, which, to him, “tastes somewhere between acid reflux and manure.”
Yet even worse, Goldberg says, was a meal he ate (“purely for research!”) at one of the Olive Garden restaurants; he laments the rise of such chain eateries as the worst culinary trend of the new century. “Not eating and cooking at home on a regular basis is very bad,” he says, “in several ways. It’s important to eat with your loved ones, and also children should be brought up seeing real cooking and knowing how to cook.” Raised in Los Angeles, Goldberg participated when his parents, aunt or grandmother cooked.
“My grandmother kept a hand-written cookbook,” he recalls. “But it’s lists of ingredients and quantities and not much more. People who depend on Mom to make that special pot roast should be watching and writing things down. Some recipes took me thirty years to figure out!”
So even this self-styled curmudgeon has a soft spot for food and family—at least his own. “My proudest moments are when my children call from their own homes to ask how to cook something. No matter how badly I feel about what I did or did not do in bringing them up, it makes me realize I gave them something important.”
— Elisa DeCarlo
From the Charles DeCarlo Kitchen
In a recent issue of “The Curmudgeon’s Home Companion,” Dan Goldberg shared a recipe from his father-in-law — SLC President Emeritus Charles De Carlo.
My father-in-law is an improvisational cook who rarely does the same thing twice, so for him to actually commit a recipe to paper means it is extraordinarily good.
As I read the recipe, though, I was surprised. Aside from a small amount of olive oil, it was all vegetables: red peppers plus carrot, celery, onion and garlic….I know everyone else in the universe is busy substituting no-fat yogurt for sour cream, using lecithin spray instead of butter and generally ruining every recipe in sight. But my father-in-law takes a harder line against healthiness than anyone I know, even me. He didn’t even start smoking until the Surgeon General announced that it was bad for you…. Despite its ingredients, the sauce is delicious, thick and flavorful and rather creamy, the kind of stuff that has everyone scrambling to wipe up the last puddle with pieces of bread. I called my father-in-law to express our appreciation.
“It is a good recipe,” he told me. “But it’s even better if you add a few cups of heavy cream.”
Red Pepper Sauce
3 stalks celery
3 medium carrots
6 cloves garlic
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon rosemary
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon sweet paprika
2 japan chilies, or 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
6 sweet red peppers
Coarsely chop the celery, carrots, garlic and scallions. Sauté in half the olive oil for about 10 minutes, until carrots are soft but not mushy. Add spices, chilies or red pepper flakes and lemon juice and cook for two more minutes.
Chop peppers and sauté in remaining olive oil for about 5 minutes, until no longer raw-tasting.
Put peppers and other vegetables in a food processor and process until smooth. (This takes a while; a blender is quicker.)
Serve sauce over fettuccine or other thick spaghetti, accompanied by lots of grated Romano cheese.