Thursday, February 17, 2022

Dinner for a Food Critic @LucyBurdette

LUCY BURDETTE: Down here in Key West, I've been super-busy with our Friends of the Key West library speaker series, which has been absolutely splendid. A couple of weeks ago, our special guest was Sam Sifton. (In case you don’t recognize the name, he is a former New York Times restaurant critic, the founder of New York Times Cooking, and now an assistant editor of the Times.) Anyway, we were able to talk him into being our speaker that night as well as appear as the star
 guest at a special fundraising gala.

Sam Sifton with the greeting committee aka Lottie

I told my friend who persuaded him to come that John and I would love to take them to dinner the night before. She chose coming to our house for supper instead. That’s all I could think about for the next three weeks: Sam Sifton, the food critic, was coming to my house for dinner. What in the hell do you cook for Sam Sifton?? John thought I was out of my mind, but as always, he was a good sport. I told a few cooking friends, but the suggestions began to make me anxious.

I confess I was nervous, but I decided to go with comfort food that I knew would turn out well. 

Once Upon a Chef's mac n cheese

Alison Roman's roast chicken

A salad like our fave at Clemente's Trolley Pizza

I had made the caramel cake from Southern Cakes many times, but it's always a little nerve-wracking. The kitchen gods were with me. This was my best version ever--the cake came out tall and light, the icing was to die for.

caramel cake from Southern Cakes

Sam and his friends were lovely and the night was a lot of fun. 

Sam and friends Paul, Ellen, Brendan, in terrible lighting

The Friends event was fabulous--Sam was smart and charming and personable. And we made a chunk of money for the library. Phew!

Ellen T. White grilling our guest

photo by Brendan McCarthy

Once Upon a Chef’s Macaroni and Cheese

This is very similar to other mac n cheese recipes I've made, except that the toasted panko crumbs really does kick it up a notch!


1/2 pound good quality short pasta
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided, plus more for greasing the pan
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2-1/2 cups whole milk
4 ounces Gruyere, grated 
6 ounces extra sharp Cheddar, grated
1/4 cup shredded Parmigiano-Reggiano
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 cup panko bread crumbs

Preheat the oven to 375°F and butter a 2-qt baking dish.

Add the pasta to a pot of boiling water and cook until slightly underdone. Drain and rinse.

In a medium pan, melt 3 tablespoons butter over low heat. Whisk in the flour and cook for a few minutes. Slowly add the milk and continue to whisk, until thick and smooth. Whisk in the cheeses, pepper, and nutmeg. Add the cooked pasta and stir well. Pour into the prepared baking dish and set aside.

In a small sauté pan over medium heat, melt the remaining tablespoon of butter. Add the panko and cook, stirring often, until golden brown. Top the mac n cheese with the toasted panko. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until bubbly and golden brown.

What would you make for a food critic??

Lucy Burdette writes the popular Key West food critic mysteries, including the latest, A SCONE OF CONTENTION. Her first thriller, Unsafe Haven, was published in December.

Follow her on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Bookbub!


  1. Wow - what an amazing experience! Great job, Lucy. I read this post and couldn't stop smiling.

    1. Thanks Molly! Once they arrived and were so pleasant, it was a lot of fun!

  2. Cooking for a food critic?! How nerve wracking is that!!?
    But, not surprisingly, you pulled it off beautifully.

    1. Thanks Libby! I had to stop asking people what they would make as it was making me too nervous:)

  3. You are brave to prepare a meal for a food critic. I have a few reliable salmon recipes that I would choose from. Side dishes would be simple: salad, rice, green beans. Pineapple upside down cake made with my rum cake recipe rather than the traditional yellow cake and ice cream for dessert.

  4. I would if it meant contributing to a fundraiser for a worthy cause like our library or our animal shelter or our Rainbow Room. I'd choose foods I'm totally comfortable with preparing like Frogmore Stew and cherry pie. I'd still be nervous though! When I saw "food critic" I thought of the book I just finished, My Place at the Table by Alec Lombrano. He's a food critic I would enjoy having to dinner.

    1. Your dinner sounds delish, and now I must go look up the book, thanks!