Friday, October 15, 2010


Folks, I didn’t mean to drop the ball. I’ve cooked several interesting meals from the Ethan Stowell’s New Italian Kitchen over the last week but one day I realized I’d never finish writing my book if I didn’t cut back on the blogging. In the morning I’d write a blog post and if I was happy with it I’d have this swell feeling of accomplishment that eroded the motivation to write anything else and the day would be lost. I can't afford to lose any more days. Hell, I can’t afford to lose any more hours. There’s the small matter of the deadline, plus, if I don't finish the book soon, I will become mad. Writing a book is like driving all alone through a long dark tunnel that you’re not sure is ever going to end and might, in fact, never end.  By contrast, blogging is like zipping around in a convertible on a sunny day, waving to people. I can not tell you how I miss the daylight.

My last four meals have consisted of BLTs made with Ethan Stowell’s home-cured bacon and his homemade mayonnaise, which is absolutely lovely. I could eat it by the spoonful.  It turns out that two things you can’t do while you’re finishing a book -- or at least I can’t -- are diet and blog.

Back very, very soon, I hope.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

I wish I could stay and chat

Busy today, but I don't want to fall behind.

Ethan Stowell's New Italian Kitchen recipe #4: duck leg farrotto with spinach

It's bugging me the way that strand of spinach stretches out of the frame in the picture. In any case, this was incredibly delicious. The recipe uses farro instead of rice in a risotto-like preparation which seems healthier and worked beautifully. Bought the duck at the Chinese deli in San Francisco yesterday, which made it all very easy. Speaking of ducks. I'll be sad to see them go, but they are so rough on our chickens.

Ethan Stowell's New Italian Kitchen recipe #5: roasted figs with chocolate sauce.

These are the figs pre-roasting; my photo of the finished dish was hideous. You toss figs with brown butter and honey and roast until they're dry and super-concentrated, then serve hot on a bed of cool chocolate ganache. This was a rich, intense, and unusual dish and we all felt it was more of a dessert garnish than a standalone dessert and would have been better served over ice cream. Nonetheless, every last fig got eaten.

Ethan Stowell's New Italian Kitchen is a lovely cookbook and I don't know how I'm going to stop myself at ten recipes.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

You win some. . .

Ethan Stowell's New Italian Kitchen recipe #2: bacon

The fire was not his fault. I was so proud of my stovetop smoking method -- developed and "perfected" over several months during which I smoked many batches of pastrami and Canadian bacon -- that I was going to unveil it in the blog today. Now I think I'll wait until I've ironed out some of the kinks. For the record, Stowell recommends smoking bacon in a smoker.

Anyway, I smoked one batch of Stowell's bacon successfully on the stovetop and then with the second batch, I foolishly turned up the heat to super-high, left the room, came back to the fragrance of barbecue, opened the pot, allowed some spattering of fat and . . . you can see. It wrecked the pot, wrecked the bacon, and did not want to die, that fire. I poured all our baking soda on it and after that an entire bag of flour and only then did it sputter out.

That said, the bacon from the first batch was fantastic, very sweet and curiously, deliciously fruity. Stowell calls for Aleppo pepper, which is an exotic spice, but cheap if you go to a Middle Eastern market. I've made a lot of bacon recently -- it's surprisingly easy -- and this was one of the best. I'd give you a tutorial, but my confidence is shaken.

Ethan Stowell New Italian Kitchen recipe #3: corn and chanterelles soup

First, you make a rich broth by simmering in a big pot of water all the mysterious and desiccated rinds of old Parmesan and Pecorino in your refrigerator. If necessary, scrape off the mold. I'd been saving rinds for years.

Then you scrape the kernels off of two ears of corn, quarter eight ounces of chanterelles, chop some onion, combine with the broth, and within 20 minutes you have an easy, tasty soup. I don't mind spending money on chanterelles for a dish this satisfying. Eight ounces of chanterelles is cheaper than anything at the butcher counter.

For you're amusement, here's a fried silkie egg:

As you can see, the yolk is about the size of a man's thumbnail.The new oddball silkies haven't yet merged with the rest of the flock and are being bullied by our evil ducks. Some of the silkies have problems jumping up onto the roosting pole, but some have managed to do so just fine. They're a mystery, those silkies. Incidentally, as soon as I have collected eight more duck eggs to try a duck egg ravioli recipe from Ethan Stowell's book, we are getting rid of the ducks. If anyone is interested in four noisy, dirty, unfriendly, violent birds, let me know.

In other news, here's a very nice review of the new Dorie Greenspan book.

Monday, October 04, 2010

Five & ten

The other night we hosted a joint birthday party for Owen and his cousin Stella, born five years and one day apart. Although we served burgers, which are not a very Ethan Stowell "new Italian" kind of dish, I did manage to embark on the new project by making one of Stowell's appetizers.

Ethan Stowell's New Italian Kitchen recipe #1: bruschetta with fresh ricotta and salsa verde.

 You whip the homemade ricotta with a little olive oil, spread it on your baguette toast, then top with a zesty sauce of parsley, anchovies, lemon peel, and pine nuts. Easy and great.

To go with the burgers, I fried a pile of potatoes that ended up looking like something you'd find in a coral reef.

I'd dog-eared the recipe in Aquavit years ago because I'd hoped it would make something like tater tots. You fry potato sticks as for french fries, then roll them in cornflakes and fry again, but since we didn't have corn flakes I rolled them in Total. Could that have been the problem? In any case, they were leaden and dry, altogether bad and not at all like tater tots.

I also made a variety of ketchups. Clockwise from top: Cindy Pawlcyn's ketchup from Mustards, River Cottage ketchup, Heinz, and some old-fashioned banana ketchup I canned over the summer.

I have concluded that homemade ketchup is a fool's errand. The homemade ketchup tasted "better" than Heinz -- less cloying, less synthetically smooth -- but none of it was ketchup. It was like dipping your onion ring in delicious sweet-tart marinara sauce. The banana ketchup was spicy and different enough that it was worth making and I would serve it in sandwiches, with roast pork, with pretty much anything, but Heinz defines tomato ketchup. It's a waste of time to try to replicate it when you could spend your time more profitably making things people will really appreciate, like bruschetta with fresh ricotta and green sauce. Or going to see The Social Network. Go see The Social Network!

Also at the party: my grandmother and her great grandson, born 97 years, 9 months, and 16 days apart.

Saturday, October 02, 2010

I want to be a good person. But.

I wish I had not discovered this fascinating and eclectic list of cookbook recommendations because I want them all and they are all extremely expensive.

Or are they? They're all extremely expensive if you buy them by clicking on the link, which takes you to Omnivore Books, a wonderful and much-loved independent cookbook store in San Francisco with a discerning owner who really knows her wares. Omnivore hosts great author events, like the forthcoming visit from the authors of Baked, which is one of Isabel's favorite cookbooks. I want to support Omnivore!

But I checked and of course you can get the titles for a fraction of the price on amazon, saving $10 or $20 per book. That's real money and it's real money you could spend supporting local organic dairies or buying magazine subscriptions for the public school library or donating to a worthy cause. If you're incredibly selfish, I suppose you could keep the money you save. But who would ever do that.

I'm not buying any of these books today or tomorrow or the next day, but I will say that it's much easier to support local bookstores when you're actually in the shop. I would find it impossible very hard to pay such a premium for books online.


Friday, October 01, 2010

Mixt Salads, the earnest summation

Herewith, a very short review of Mixt Salads, one sorry ass cookbook.

I made only 8 recipes rather than the planned-for 10 because this book was such a dud. I ceased to trust it after about the third recipe and began to resent it. The book calls for too many obscure ingredients, plays fast and loose with expensive ingredients (chanterelles, caviar), contains annoying errors, and, most egregiously, fails to produce tasty food.

The tally of recipes:

worth the price of the book -- 0

great -- 0

good -- 1

so-so -- 7

flat-out bad -- 0

The "good" recipe was a non-recipe: sliced tomatoes sprinkled with oil and salt. I do not doubt that Mixt, restaurants serve fine salads, though I would have to actually eat one to know for a fact. I wonder if the cookbook was just a promotional tool for the restaurants, in which case silly me for taking it seriously.

But I do take cookbooks seriously. We middle class Americans inherit a problematic home cooking tradition -- shall I pull out my grandmother's recipe for a molded lime Jell-O salad with horseradish sauce as proof? -- and we need our authorities to be authoritative. After years of cooking through and reading and collecting cookbooks I can cook without books, but I could never have gotten to this point without them. Almost all of the books I've reviewed here have shaped how I cook, taught me a new trick, brought me a new recipe, given me ideas. This one didn't.

End of review.

A couple of links:

-This is wonderful.

-A crime novelist I'd never heard of but now want to read. The only thing that worries me is his reported weakness on plot, as I like plot.