Thursday, October 30th, 2014
Some of you may already be familiar with the food blogger, author, and Bon Appetit magazine columnist Jenny Rosenstrach of Dinner: A Love Story (and if you’re not, then you must familiarize yourself immediately by going to her fun and snappy site HERE). In an interweb landscape chock-a-block with food and family sites, Jenny’s is one of my favorites. Truth be told, it’s one of the few I actually read with any regularity, and not just because she’s a buddy of mine (full disclosure: we met when she edited my food posts for the website of the sadly departed parenting magazine Cookie). Reading DALS is liking hanging at the side of a soccer pitch with that awesome and smart mom-friend, you know the one… She can make an onerous hour and a half of practice in a Nor’easter speed by with her advice and gossip on everything from favorite This American Life podcasts (THIS one, THIS one, and THIS one), to the best place to find cheap underwear (Marshall’s). Just like in her blog, Jenny’s first book of the same name also provided a real glimpse into a household that I recognized (working parents in the burbs with two kids, regular weeknight chaos, a love of books and Manhattans), while providing a food and family philosophy that was both down-to-earth and entertainingly funny. Well lucky for me (and you!), Jenny has a new book out— DINNER: The Playbook.
So why is this book a must-read in a season full of wonderful new cookbooks? Or more accurately, why do I like it? Well first, there’s the trim size. Not to be a book geek about it, but I ADORE a good trim size. DINNER: The Playbook has a nice chubby heft to it that just feels good in the hand… OK, I just re-read that sentence and realized it sounds completely raunchy. No matter! You know what I mean, right? Fellow book geeks help me out!
Second, I like that Jenny has created not a cookbook per se, but a plan, a textbook of awesomeness for facing the family dinner landscape. You may ask if the world needs more help in this department—and the answer is “yes”, it definitely does. Pretty much on a daily basis I’m approached by parents who say they still feel adrift when it comes to family dinner. There are lots of reasons for this (which we can get into at another time), but if there’s something that can truly help, then I don’t think it’s necessarily another heaping portion of recipes, but guidance and practical tips. Sensible, ah-ha!, life-affirming, and do-able strategies. This is where Jenny shines. It’s probably the former magazine-editor in me, but I’m just a sucker for a punchy list of tips. Which leads me to this excerpt. I went right to this section because, although the information may seem obvious, having it all down and in front of you is like shining a light into a dark and overstuffed pantry—yes, there it is! So please enjoy Jenny’s Art of the Kitchen Dump! And then get the book and enjoy that nice trim size.
Tuesday, October 28th, 2014
I love soup as much as the next guy, but sometimes I feel like what every good soup needs is a small excess of garnishes. Case in point, this butternut squash soup (see above). There are few soups that seem to inspire the same rapturous response as a well-made butternut squash, which is the perfect transformation of one of fall’s humblest, best ingredients. I make it as soon as the leaves start to turn, which in-turn, unlocks the beginning of soup season in my kitchen. Yes, in the pantheon of potage, there are many greats, but here are my
TOP 5 FAVORITE SOUPS TO MAKE, in no particular order:
1.Chicken noodle: Made with extra noodles and a homemade broth (I use my leftover roast chicken carcasses, covered with water and simmered for a couple of hours). Perfect for head colds and any existential malaise.
2. Tomato soup: Using roasted tomatoes, and always served with a a side of grilled cheese—American to evoke childhood memories, sharp cheddar when someone you like is coming over for lunch.
3. French Onion: Lots of work if you do it right (caramelizing a sac of onions, making a hearty beef stock, putting aside some good crusty bread), but always worth it when you pull that first gooey bite to your lips.
4. Pasta Fagioli: I’ve been making only one version for years—chef Marco Canora’s from his wonderful Italian cookbook Salt to Taste—which includes pancetta, tons of herbs, and ditalini pasta. To me it’s the perfect cold weather soup.
5. Tomato-Chickpea: Marcella Hazan’s version, a close second to the pasta fagioli, it has the added step of peeling the chickpeas, which may seem like a nutballs task, but trust me, it’s worth it.
And then of course the butternut squash. The one pictured above is a version from the wonderful Deborah Madison, and uses coconut milk, miso, and lime juice. It’s divine. How I make it my own is with the selection of garnishes: I add toasted coconut flakes, lots of chopped cilantro, a spoonful of tart yogurt, and basamati rice. With the addition of these substantial ingredients, a simple soup becomes a multi-layered meal that can stand on it’s own. The same goes for all of my favorite soups to make this time of year—if I’m generous with the herbs sprinkled on top, the grated parmigiano-reggiano, the crisped pancetta, the addition of a spoonful of grains like quinoa or farro, or stir in some greens, a soup becomes something more than just the sum of its parts.
So what’s your favorite soup to make this time of year?
Tuesday, October 21st, 2014
Last weekend, I was lucky enough to be invited with my co-author to teach a KEEPERS cooking class at Southern Season in Chapel Hill. It was my first visit to North Carolina, which is surprising because I have long had an affinity for the South. My favorite author is Eudora Welty, and secretly I’ve always wished I’d been raised south of the Mason-Dixon, just so I could claim some of its rich heritage (and the accent and the pimento cheese sandwiches) as my own. I’ve also never in my life met anyone as sincerely nice as the people I’ve met in the South (with the exception of one harrowing incident years ago, when Tim and I attended a friend’s wedding in Gatlinburg, Tennessee and were harassed by the local police force for being “a bunch of Yankees”…it’s a long story).
From Charleston to Savannah, New Orleans to Atlanta, I’ve always been pleasantly surprised by how incredibly friendly everyone is to perfect strangers, which I guess is a product of good-breeding and geographical pride. Perhaps the fact that I’m from New Jersey has something to do with the shock I feel every time someone is nice to me for no apparent reason. Once, during a food festival dinner at Miller Union in Atlanta (a terrific restaurant that you should go to if you have a chance to visit), I hovered by the wall during cocktail hour, not knowing a single soul and expecting to spend the entire evening as a shunned interloper (which is basically what would have happened if this scenario occurred in New York City). But literally, within minutes of my arrival, a lovely couple came over and asked me who I was, where I was from, what did I do; and within minutes they had introduced me to everyone they knew, and they all scooped me up in their southern embrace of genuine interest and loveliness. We’re all friends on Facebook now.
Which all goes to explain why I was expecting a warm and delicious reception by the Tar Heel State, and they did not disappoint in the slightest. Before and after our class, Kathy and I plotted a course of Southern eating, aided by our good friend Kelly Alexander. Kelly is a former Saveur colleague, food writer extraordinaire, and Chapel Hill denizen, who literally knows everyone in town. Here she is with the owner/chef of famed Crook’s Corner during our epic Sunday morning breakfast visit (and I want his t-shirt):
And here’s what we ate:
Shrimp and Grits—known as the best in town but I might argue that it’s the best in the universe.
Jalapeno-cheddar hushpuppies. This was our breakfast appetizer…I mean…I’m still dreaming about them.
Peach gravy! This is one of the chef’s specialties, which he gave me a sample of when I told him I’d never had a peach and meat gravy before. He said it’s only supposed to be a seasonal item, but the regulars demand that he keeps it on the menu. Fully understandable request.
While we were in Chapel Hill, fellow magazine food editor Dana Bowen tipped us off to the miraculous Sunrise Biscuit Kitchen, which is essentially a drive-thru biscuit place. Have you every heard of anything more wonderful than that? Although, our friend Kelly said it became an extremely dangerous temptation when she was pregnant with her second son…she had to have extreme willpower to hit the Sunset only once a week. I don’t think I would have exerted the same amount of willpower. Funnily enough, on the menu (which lists ever imaginable indulgent biscuit-sandwich filling from fried chicken to bacon and cheese) they list kale as one of the filling options. Needless we didn’t order the kale, we ordered our biscuit stuffed with country ham…
We enjoyed these egg and country ham biscuit sandwiches from inside our rental car, with a view of the parking lot and a group of co-ed acapella singers from William and Mary (name: the “Cleftomaniacs”), who were also enjoying a roadside biscuit breakfast. My only regret? I didn’t go back before my flight home for a bag of biscuits to take with me (that would have been the pro-move), because no one in New Jersey makes biscuits like the ones at Sunrise Kitchen. Now I’m sad and hungry.
The one thing I had to have on this trip was North Carolina BBQ, which, for those of you who do not spend your waking hours contemplating BBQ culture, is distinct from other forms of regional BBQ because the sauce is vinegar-based, which is exactly how I like it. We were directed by Kelly to go to Allen & Son, which is literally a roadside shack (isn’t that where all good BBQ is made?), located not far from the UNC campus. The first thing we ordered was a big pitcher of sweet tea (see up top); which I only enjoy get to enjoy when I’m in the South (my favorite sweet tea is the one served at Mrs. Wilkes Dining Room in Savannah).
I ordered the pulled pork (which is wood-smoked out back), slaw, and yes, more hushpuppies. I was very generous with the sauce dispenser and another regret is that I didn’t ask to purchase a bottle for home. Not only was the meal everything you dream eastern North Carolina BBQ should be—smoky, tangy, with a tinge of peppery heat—but the actor William Dafoe was having lunch only a few gingham-clothed tables away from us. Bonus.
I also enjoyed two wonderful restaurant dinners which, I would feature more prominently in this post, but since they were enjoyed at night, the lighting was less than optimal, so the photos are not the best. So keep that in mind! Our first night we went to Lantern, Andrea Reusing’s famed Southern-Asian-farm to table restaurant in the heart of Chapel Hill. We basically ordered the entire appetizer menu (and were given some generous additional plates to try, courtesy of the kitchen), which included salt and pepper shrimp with fried jalapenos, Vietnamese-style NC crab and pork spring rolls, black mushroom and cabbage dumplings, crispy local okra, and these NC oysters topped with yuzu creme fraiche and roe…On my last night in town, I went with Kelly to Mateo, a tapas restaurant near the Duke campus in downtown Durham. Through the blur of several Ferdinands—a bourbon cocktail with ginger-apple shrub and ginger beer—I fondly remember all of the small plates: NC littleneck clams with sherry, garlic, ham and boiled peanuts; shrimp with green tomatoes; and in particular the Huevo Diablo, a riff on the deviled egg (clearly one of my favorite things to eat…see the name of this blog) that was encased in a crispy layer of chorizo…
It was a phenomenally decadent handheld dish, made perfect by the company, the bourbon, and the pulsating soundtrack. Will I ever stop falling hard for the South? I don’t think so.
Wednesday, October 8th, 2014
I’m of the belief that honey can cure just about whatever ails you. Raw, unfiltered, creamed. Tupelo, orange blossom, clover. I consume it all, in particular on a day like today, when I’m home sick with a hybrid of bronchitis and walking pneumonia (feel free to send chicken soup…extra noodles). To deal with my little illness I splurged on Manuka honey, which costs almost as much as a white truffle on the black market, but it’s healing properties are well documented (and it tastes better than Robitussin).
My devoutness to the cult of the bee began about seven years ago when I was an editor at Saveur. There were two assignments that really woke me up to not only the plight of the bee (which is currently very much in the news, as it should be), but also how truly magical and necessary they are to our everyday lives.
The first assignment was when I edited a review of three terrific books (some of which are now out of print, but fortunately still available on Amazon, I’ve included links below) that covered everything from bee culture and bee lore, to bees in science and agriculture. From reading those books book I learned several things:
*That a third of our food supply relies on pollination by bees, many of whom travel via truck across country—like professional hives-for-hire—to pollinate crops.
*That the invention of the first box hive containing moveable shelves occurred in the 19th century, and this was important because it allowed honey and honey to be harvested without killing the bees.
*And that Virgil and Aristotle thought that honey fell from heaven. Cool, right?
Not long after I read these books, I went to New Zealand and met an amazing woman who had been a pilot and architect before opening a honey business. She not only managed hives that produced honey and other bee products for her to sell at her store, but ran a cafe where every dish contained honey, and also had a learning facility devoted to bees (she also claimed that a regular diet of bee pollen and royal jelly helped cure her of cancer). Since then I have been prone to include honey often in my cooking—as a sweetener in homemade granola, marinades, vinaigrettes and even instead of sugar for my coffee, a trick I picked up when I went to Savannah Bee.
My newest favorite way to eat from the bee comes from my latest restaurant crush—Buvette in NYC. I can wax on about the perfection of this cozy, chic, French resto for hours (and if you can’t make it to New York City anytime soon, there’s also THIS beautiful cookbook); but instead, I’ll just share the marvel that is their breakfast toast of thick walnut-cranberry bread, slathered with melted butter and then liberally sprinkled with bee pollen. I would never have thought of doing this before, but now it seems like all my toast must be sliced thickly, slathered generously and topped healthfully with bee pollen (Side note: the novel pictured alongside my Buvette toast is hilarious and you should read it).
I also now add pollen to my morning yogurt (see heart dish above), along with chopped honeycrisp apples, toasted walnuts, a drizzle of honey, maybe some toasted coconut…it’s a morning cavalcade of goodness. For the kids, particularly before a sports practice, I’ve been slicing a banana into discs then drizzling with honey and sprinkling with cinnamon. With all the honey consumption that is going on in my house, I’ve even considered keeping my own hive…don’t tell my husband. But until then, I’ll keep spreading the word of the honey bee’s goodness and hopefully we can all keep them around for a very long time to come.
Letters from the Hive by Stephen Buchman
Robbing the Bees by Holley Bishop
Sweetness & Light by Hattie Lewis
Friday, October 3rd, 2014
Last Sunday night I was in a bit of a crunch for dinner—we had hockey practice until 7 o’clock and truth be told, I hadn’t really thought about what we were going to eat until we were basically in the car on the way home (the pro-move would have been to prepare a pot of turkey chili ahead of time and had it simmering on the stove waiting for us, but unfortunately half of my head is still in summer mode, when I could still toss a salad, throw burgers on the grill, and call it a night). When we arrived home—tired, sweaty, cranky—I had a few minutes to figure something out before my family began a rebellion. That’s when I remembered the dozen bagels I had bought that morning for breakfast. A-ha! Like a flash it hit me: I would make pizza bagels for dinner. Fresh, hot, pizza bagels on a Sunday night after a sporting practice inside of an ice dome, what could be better?
At first, my brilliant idea was met with skepticism (note: just because you’ve written and published a cookbook, doesn’t meant your family will buy into every food whimsy you throw at them). Their response went something like this:
Conor: “What’s a pizza bagel?”
Me: “It’s pizza. On a bagel.”
Conor: “I’ve never heard of it.”
Me: “It’s basically your two favorite things, combined.”
Conor: “I don’t like it.”
Me: “You’ve never had one before!”
Conor: “Bagels are supposed to have jam and butter on them, not pizza.”
Belle was more enthusiastic about the pizza bagel because she’s game for anything covered in melted cheese, but there remained some grumbling in the background:
“Pizza bagel? For dinner?”
At this point I was now determined to prove the worth of a pizza bagel. I decided to not only create the most delicious pizza bagel that ever existed, but to make it dinner-worthy. Luckily there were a few necessary elements that I happened to have on hand:
A batch of homemade tomato sauce that I had made earlier in the week with enough leftover for a second meal. Shredded mozzarella. Fresh basil. Pecorino. These were the basic building-blocks. From there it helps to have a few other ingredients to begin your “elevation plan”: Mushrooms and onions (caramelized over low heat in a pan with some olive oil), pancetta (chopped and crisped in a pan), prosciutto (slices layered on top), black olives (sliced and sprinkled on top), pesto (one of my favorite pizza toppings, along with big dollops of ricotta)…any of these can be used as a topping or placed on the table for everyone to help themselves. In my case, I had a bunch of rainbow chard in the crisper, leftover from my CSA. I was able to prepare the chard in the same time that it took to bake the bagels: Remove the leaves from the stems and roughly chop, slice the ribs about a 1/4 inch. Cook the sliced garlic and red pepper flakes over medium heat in olive oil until fragrant, then add the sliced ribs and saute until softened. Add the chopped leaves and cook until wilted. Season with salt and pepper. I wish this photo was better but just so you get the idea:
As for preparing the bagel: I find that it’s best to use a good-quality bagel (so not the doughy, supermarket variety; try and get a bagel shop bagel if you can). I used a combination of everything-bagel and plain bagels (onion, garlic, salt, poppy seed, or sesame would all be good): Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Slice the bagels in half and place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or tin foil (to help with clean-up). If you have a cooling rack then I recommend placing that on the baking sheet and the bagels on top, which will prevent the bottom from getting soggy. Top each bagel with some tomato sauce then a liberal sprinkling of cheese (I used mozzarella and goat cheese the other night, but if you’re using goat then allow it to soften at room temperature and then add on top of the sauce after baking the bagel, same with ricotta). If you want to add cooked toppings like mushrooms, onion, or crisp pancetta, then I’d recommend nestling them between the sauce and cheese layers; raw ingredients like prosciutto and black olives can go on after baking. Top the cheese with a drizzle of olive oil and then bake for about 10 minutes (you want to the bagel to get a little crisp and the cheese to melt). Tear your basil leaves and sprinkle on top; serve with your selected toppings so everyone can help themselves.
P.S:I love this idea not only for the weeknight meal but if you’re ever having a posse of kids over, say for a sleepover, it’s a fun way to get them fed without dialing in for pizza…again. It also saves time when making dough from scratch is just not an option.