Monday, February 25, 2013

I dreamed a dream

We ate every soft, sighing crumb.
I understand that oaks, suburban public schools, and backyard goats are incompatible with Filipino gastropubs, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, and blood orange donuts, but I wish that just a single atom of the creativity and ambition and artistry that abound in NYC would migrate to Mill Valley, California.

To wrap up our trip to New York:

-According to the Village Voice, Dough sells the best donuts in New York City.  Quote: "Dough pushes gorgeously light, plus-size doughnuts with soft, sighing middles." We went there. We ordered four donuts: dulce de leche, cafe au lait, cheesecake, and raspberry jelly. All delicious. Light. Soft, sighing middles. The neighborhood seemed sketchy, but Dough did a brisk business and at one point a paddy wagon pulled up and a cop came in and bought a passionfruit donut. If you're ever in Bed-Stuy, go.

-We saw Book of Mormon. Maybe we weren't in the mood, maybe it's been overhyped, maybe Book of Mormon humor has so thoroughly permeated our culture that what once seemed fresh and transgressive now seems coarse and obvious. I was mildly amused, mildly offended, mildly bored.

-Dirt Candy. Tasty vegetarian food, genial service, punishingly small restaurant. I could touch the lavatory door from my seat and every time someone went in or out I got a view of the toilet and a big gust of warm bathroom air. Not gross or foul smelling, but definitely bathroom air. I loved Pete Wells' review and wanted to exult in this little restaurant, but couldn't. I wish them well. I wish them a bigger space.

We did some more stuff, but it seems like a noisy, gray anxiety dream now that we are home. Home seems like a different kind of dream, quiet and sunny and calm. The bobcat turned up to welcome me back and even he seemed like a creature from a dream. I've been taking cold medicine and it messes with my mind.

Justine (sister) and family came over last night and we watched the Oscars.

My mom would have loved this.
I like to think the Seth MacFarlane humor went over their heads. Or at least some of their heads.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Our fin de siecle New York vacation

my Jersey Girl
New York is freezing and full of Europeans and young women wearing their hair in very high topknots like this. I've been spending money like a drunken sailor while wondering how I'm going to earn any ever again. This was the first place I ever held a full-time job and also the last. I have no idea what I'm going to do for the rest of my life.

Worries can wait until next week. Because Isabel loves theater, we've seen Fried Chicken and Latkes and Old Jews Telling Jokes and they were both pretty good, but Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf was better and you should see this production if you have the chance. It was funny and dark and I am in awe of Tracy Letts.

We've been to Carlo's Bakery in Hoboken (the Cake Boss's place) and Isabel explained to me who Joey and Madeline were and it was a delightful expedition even though we had to wait for an hour to buy our cupcakes and I would never, ever go back in a million years if you paid me and twisted my arm and it was the last bakery on earth.
fans, Joey, Madeline
We've eaten pizza at Eataly and it is good, but the pizza at Roberta's in Brooklyn is better. I like Brooklyn and at 16 would have aspired to live there, but as a mother and viewer of Girls, I hope Isabel does not.
my Girl? 
We've eaten a handful of non-pizza meals, but the best by far was at Ssam Bar. The pork buns. The toasted bulgur. The hanger steak. The crispy rice cakes. The service. Everything.

But even better than the dinner at Ssam Bar was when I bought Isabel a dress, a cheap dress on lower Broadway, and we were walking out of the store and she said, "Mom, you're the best."

I don't care if it's just because I bought her a dress. I'm buying happiness this week and that made me profoundly happy.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Actually I'm not the worst photographer in California

Nigella, Justine, me 
Do you have night vision goggles? In that case you can see that Nigella Lawson is signing copies of Nigellisima for my sister, Justine, and me. What a pathetic and disappointing memento!

For my birthday, Justine bought tickets to a luncheon to promote Lawson's new book and it was the best present ever, a convivial meal, decorously drunken bacchanal, brush with celebrity, and memorable sisterly adventure all rolled into one.

The event was sold out and I did feel like a groupie, but it wasn't a bad feeling. Lawson is even more beautiful in person than she is in pictures, which is to say, scarily beautiful. I had aways wondered how much her loveliness had to do with makeup, tight dresses, and artful camera angles. It turns out, very little. In person, it is clear that Nigella was born beautiful.

She seemed almost shy at moments, which was endearing. Her speech (about her longtime aspiration to become Italian) was smart and droll and she fielded politically loaded questions and boring questions with wit and grace. I wanted to ask her about her cookbook collection, which supposedly puts mine to shame, but the moment got away from me. The only thing I personally didn't admire were her shoes.

But I did admire her fashion-forward moxie and that cancels out the shoes themselves.

Isabel and I are at the airport about to board a plane to New York City. On the agenda are some plays, a trip to the Cake Boss bakery in Hoboken, a visit to our New Haven family, and Eataly. They're boarding us now so, bye. 

Friday, February 15, 2013

Transference in the cook-cookbook relationship

You should make this.
The title of the post is the title of the post I wanted to write, a searching essay about the the cook-cookbook relationship that would encompass the more mystifying rulings in the Tournament of Cookbook, my own muddled feelings about Smitten Kitchen, and field hockey. But that tour de force proved beyond my abilities today, maybe beyond my abilities full stop. I'll keep working on it and we'll see. Meanwhile, in order not to fall behind. . .

I know something about grapefruit desserts and the grapefruit olive oil cake from Smitten Kitchen is a standout. Moist, tender cake with a tangy, sugary glaze -- like a sublime lemon cake, but with the unexpected sparkle of Fresca. After 2 days the cake is almost gone and it's a loaf cake, the lowest of the low. Layne once likened loaf cake to "going out on a double blind date and finding out you get the ugly friend." My children would agree.  Most loaf cakes are beneath consideration, but we are devouring this one.

We were also fans of the Smitten Kitchen black bean ragout over garlic toast. Want to get a 12-year-old to eat black beans? Pour the beans over garlic toast. The dish is exactly what it sounds like and very tasty, if not revolutionary. The recipe is here. I don't have a slow-cooker, just cooked it very slowly on the stove.

The maple bacon biscuits?

 bacon, bacon fat, and syrup in biscuit form
Not for me. There's a "too muchness" to some of Deb Perelman's recipes. She takes something simple and perfect and loads it up with extras like bacon and maple syrup to make it even better, even more irresistible, but in the end it's not. I think she tries a little too hard.

But there are worse things.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Just a little more from the shrill schoolmarm

Doesn't that look heavenly.
I'm an early riser by nature and Mark is an early riser because he has a job. Isabel gets herself up and out the door without any help or encouragement and has done so since she was, I don't know, 6 weeks old? But Owen burrows under the covers and waits until we've gone from gentle nudging to hoarse shouting. I realize this is not unusual behavior in a 12-year-old American boy and, yes, that does make it easier.

Once Owen is up and dressed, after he's dawdled over breakfast, he will announce he can't do his morning animal chores (feeding chickens and goats, 7 minutes total) because it will make him late for school. Then we argue and I tell him, no, it won't make him late for school, he has plenty of time, he settles down in a chair and counters with some long-winded rationale that takes longer than the chores themselves, etc. etc. etc.

Day before yesterday Owen was spectacularly late getting up and I had arrived at the end of my rope. I told him that he has to do his animal chores and I don't CARE if it makes him late for school, I don't CARE if he has to do detention, and going forward this is the rule so he can stay in bed or he can get up when we wake him up, his choice. I think the neighbors might have heard me "say" this.

He did the animal chores, ran all the way to school, wasn't late. It's too early to declare victory, but yesterday he popped out of bed and we had a great morning. I made Smitten Kitchen's big latkes with fried eggs.  I didn't have any; breakfasts aren't my thing. Mark loved the whole dish. Isabel ate only the latke and liked it. Owen ate the egg, took a single bite of the latke, and declared it "not the best." He took the uneaten latke out to the chickens, didn't have to be told.

Analyzing the differing reports and knowing the sources, I feel confident saying that the big latkes from the Smitten Kitchen Cookbook are sensational. Recipe is here.

The verdict on her broccoli rabe panini with mozzarella was also mixed. I loved it and Owen exulted that this was the first dinner he's liked in a long time. Isabel opened her sandwich and picked out every tendril of broccoli rabe. Mark would have done the same, but tried to put on a good face.

Poor guy. I love broccoli rabe, but even I can see how hard it could be to love.

More soon. It's 5:37 a.m. Pacific Time and as of 5 minutes ago they STILL hadn't posted the day's Tournament of Cookbooks results.  

Monday, February 11, 2013

French toast, grilled cheese, rice pudding

I ask gently if the homework has been started and then I request that the homework be started and a little while later sternly command that the homework be started and after that slyly suggest that maybe we can watch The Walking Dead if the homework is started and shortly thereafter I bark that the homework has to be started right this second and pour a glass of wine and wish I kept bourbon in the house, which is exactly why I don't.

The "mean schoolmistress" phase of parenthood. That's what I'm calling this. Or maybe "shrill schoolmarm."

Cooking pulled ahead of blogging again. I'll try to catch up quickly right now and get back into a reasonable rhythm later in the week.

I'm cooking from Smitten Kitchen. This will be a short interlude as there aren't many dishes I want to cook from the book. Deb Perelman is all about maximally delicious food, beautifully photographed, but her idea of maximally delicious food is very different from mine. She loves savory pastries and eggs -- in frittatas, baked, on latkes, deviled, mashed into salad -- and hearty breakfast casseroles and breakfast in general more than I do. Black bean stew poured on toast. Heavy baked pasta dishes. Dense cakes. Everything seems very dense.

Elizabeth Spiridakis in the Tournament of Cookbooks criticizes the dark photographs and maybe that's at play too.

I'm trying to keep an open mind. I've heard good things from friends.

I made Owen go through and write an "O" on every Smitten Kitchen dish he would like to eat. I'm focusing on those. So far we have eaten:

linguine with cauliflower pesto You blitz raw cauliflower in the food processor until it forms couscous-like crumbs (Perelman's image and very helpful.) Put this in a big bowl while you blitz almonds, herbs, cheese, capers, and sun-dried tomatoes in the processor until reduced to crumbs as well. Mix with the cauliflower. Add olive oil and some vinegar. Serve on pasta. I thought this was a knockout. Owen ate 2 helpings and then said it was "only ok." Would I make this again? You bet. Will I? Possibly. Recipe is here.

emmentaler on rye with sweet and sour red onions You saute red onions until jammy, pile them on rye bread, top with Swiss cheese, cook in a skillet. I expected to die of happiness when I bit into this sandwich, but I'm still here, typing and yelling at my son to practice trombone. I make a lot of grilled cheese sandwiches and always use cheddar or pepper jack. While I like to think I'm open to change the emmentaler didn't work for me. It tasted flat and wan. Would I make these sandwiches again? No.

vinegary slaw with cucumbers and dill Very tasty for a salad that contains no fat. Crunchy and refreshing. Where you usually add oil or mayonnaise, she has you add cold water. Would I make this again? Sure. Will I? Unlikely. I like my usual cole slaw recipe better.

cinnamon french toast The custard didn't cover enough of the bread and this "casserole" was dry, overly crispy. The picture on Smitten's web site sure looks pillowy and delicious. Maybe I did something wrong? I can't imagine what. Would I make this again? Only to figure out what I might have done wrong. Will I? Almost surely not.

gingerbread spice Dutch baby A flat, eggy, brown pancake. Smitten: "not puffed, but rumpled like a bed sheet. The edges are a little crisp. The center is something you'll daydream about later in the day." No one in this house daydreamed about the gingerbread spice Dutch baby later in the day. Again, I might have done something wrong, though I can't imagine what. Would I make this again? No.

more "Nevada desert" than "bedsheet"
tres leches rice pudding This, I am happy to report, we loved. You cook rice until tender then mix with a can of evaporated milk, a can of condensed milk, a can of coconut milk, and one egg. Cook until thick, stodgy, and dense. Chill and top with whipped cream. The recipe is here. Would I make this again? Absolutely. Will I? Likely.

Forgive typos. I have to go make some broccoli rabe panini. Full report tomorrow.

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Beer just ain't as cold in old Milwaukee

warm golden kolaches
The Tournament of Cookbooks started at Food52. My Super Bowl.

I didn't need to cook as much as I did on Sunday, but I wanted to get The Homesick Texan out of my system. I succeeded.

Pour yourself a drink, tilt back the barcalounger. It's a long road to the bottom of this post.

I began Sunday by baking kolaches, a soft, yeasty sweet roll of Czech origin that, according to Lisa Fain, is a specialty of the Texas town of West. After reading the naysaying on Chowhound about Homesick Texan, I briefly questioned my love for this book. I tried to find a flaw with the kolaches recipe, but apart from the dough needing a little extra flour, it was flawless. The kolaches themselves were flawless. The recipe is here and you should try it. I made the cream cheese filling, but the fruit alternative looks tempting.

As soon as breakfast was over I started on snacks and dinner for the family Super Bowl party.

Aversions are intractable and unpredictable.
smoky deviled eggs I feel about deviled eggs the way others feel about tripe. I couldn't even bring myself to taste the filling to ensure it was properly seasoned. Mark did it for me and when he said it was perfect, I added a little more salt. I don't know anything about deviled eggs, but I know my man! Owen complained that these were overstuffed, but everyone else must have liked them because there weren't any left over. I can't describe what they tasted like, but will quote Fain: "My deviled eggs are on the simpler end of the spectrum, although lime juice, smoked paprika, and garlic give them a lift beyond the classic mustard and mayonnaise combination." Recipe is here.
proper Texas nachos Not long before my mother died, when she was still feeling bouncy and awesome, we went for a drink at my cousin Billy's fancy hotel on Lake Atitlan in Guatemala. Billy asked if we'd like some nachos. My mother said, "Oh yes, nachos are my passion!" My sister and I looked at each other. Only our mother. Three years later, I can't see a plate of nachos without thinking, "Nachos are my passion!" Sometimes I say it aloud.

Anyway, I don't think my mother would have been passionate about Fain's proper Texas nachos. They're too proper, maybe even uptight.

To make these you quarter corn tortillas, fry, salt, top each segment with a modest little pile of cheese and a single slice of pickled jalapeno. Instead of arriving in a big, slovenly heap under seven pounds of salt, fat, and refried pinto beans, each trim little nacho stands on its own. Like a canape. Who could ever feel passion for a canape?

They're good canapes, though. Recipe is here.
 second time out of the box in 14 years
chile con queso  It's overkill to serve both nachos and chile con queso at a party, but I had to make queso before I quit this book. Eight years ago we went to Austin on vacation and noticed everyone was eating this  melted cheese dish they called queso. I'd never even heard of it. We went queso crazy for a week and then came home and haven't had it since. Until Sunday. Fain effectively apologizes for using cheddar instead of Velveeta in her queso. Is she worried it makes her look like a food snob? Not to me it doesn't. I thought this was delicious. The recipe makes a lot. She says it serves 4 to 6, but I would double or even triple that estimate.

guacamole  If you have a good guacamole recipe already, you don't need Fain's. But you could do a lot worse. You'll find it here.

ceramics by Justine Reese
carne asado Carne asada is grilled beef. Carne asado is cubed pork shoulder braised for hours in dark purple chile paste. A West Texas specialty, according to Fain. I'd never heard of it before and didn't love it. The recipe on her blog is close to the recipe in the book, but her carnitas are a better use of pork shoulder.

frijoles a la charra Pinto beans doctored with bacon, chipotle, and tomato. Delicious. Recipe here.

a few people I love
fried apple pies To make these cute little turnovers, you mix a lard pastry dough, cube some apples and saute with butter, sugar, and cinnamon until soft. Roll dough and cut in circles, put some apples in the middle of each circle, fold into a half moon shape, seal. Fry until puffed and golden, dust with powdered sugar, serve warm. Mark compared them favorably to McDonald's apple pies and my father said he could have eaten the whole batch. This may be the only recipe from The Homesick Texan that isn't online and I'm not going to change that. There needs to be some incentive for people to buy this book.

I hung up my apron on Sunday night and haven't put it on since.

Sunday, February 03, 2013

Always ready to take the blame

apricot ginger bread
Good morning. Big day in our household. One of us has a lot of TV to watch and the other has a lot of cooking to do. Kids are on their own.

Last week someone tweeted that the apricot ginger bread in Make the Bread, Buy the Butter was too salty and asked me to help troubleshoot. I was out of town and started scrambling for any explanation that didn't involve author error. Heaven forbid.

Came home. Braced myself to re-test the recipe. Who wants to confront her own salty mistake? I baked the bread. The bread is fine. It's better than fine. It's delicious. But it's still my fault that the reader's bread was salty. Looking at the recipe, there are two problems, the first one major, the second minor.

1. I didn't specify Diamond Crystal kosher salt (what I use) which is significantly less salty than Morton's kosher salt (what she used.) This piece lays out the differences pretty clearly. When using Morton's, you need to cut the amount of salt by almost half. What this means is that her bread would have been almost twice as salty as mine and quite awful.

2. I didn't use weight measures in the book and they really do eliminate variability. I had reduced the amount of flour in the standard no-knead recipe to 2 1/2 cups because that worked best for me, but yesterday the dough seemed a little wet, so I used closer to 3 cups. Every 2 1/2 cups of flour holds a different amount of flour and if her 2 1/2 cups was light, as mine was yesterday, the ratio with every other component, including salt, would be off.

But the flour wasn't the critical issue. It was the brand of kosher salt.


Here's the picadillo recipe I mentioned in the last post. It comes out of Cooking Caribe by Christopher Idone and I've made only a few minor adjustments, like the omission of something called annatto oil. I've substituted ground turkey for the beef and pork, but, unsurprisingly, it isn't as good.

1/2 cup dark raisins
1/2 cup dark rum
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
1 green pepper, seeded and finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 serrano chili, seeded and minced
2 pounds ground chuck
8 ounces ground pork
1 15-ounce can diced tomatoes and their liquid
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/4 cup pimento-stuffed green olives, chopped
1 tablespoon capers
1 cup chicken stock
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

1. In a small bowl, soak the raisins in the rum. Set aside.

2. In a heavy skillet, heat the oil and cook the onion, bell pepper, garlic, and serrano until softened. Add the meats and cook, breaking up clumps with a spatula, until browned all over. Add the tomatoes and cumin and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 15 minutes.

3. Add the remaining ingredients, including the raisins and rum, and simmer for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. Serve with rice (or in gorditas.) Serves 6.

Saturday, February 02, 2013

All cooking business today

winter lettuce on the deck: a rare gardening triumph
No bobcat for 3 days. Fingers crossed.

I made one last Homesick Texan shopping list, bought one last load of serrano chiles, cilantro, pork shoulder, fire-roasted tomatoes, and limes. Mark thinks we're having a family Super Bowl party tomorrow, but we're actually having a Homesick Texan finale party.

A list of recent Homesick Texan dishes and how they turned out, with links when available:

biscuits. Very good and basic. If you already have a biscuit recipe you love, you probably don't need this one. Not sure what is accomplished by beating the dough with the rolling pin. Recipe here.

tortilla soup. Rust red, cheesy, packed with crunchy tortillas strips, wicked good. Recipe here.

gorditas with picadillo. The English translation of gorditas is "little fatties." You mix a masa dough, form buns, fry, split, and fill with picadillo. Top with cheese, lettuce and salsa. The buns are adorable and have an amazing crispy golden crust. However, the picadillo, a Latin American ground beef hash, was dry and lacked personality. I used to make a Cuban picadillo with rum-soaked raisins and pimento-stuffed olives that I much prefer. It came from a book called Cooking Caribe and if anyone wants the recipe, I will provide. I served it with rice and cornbread and it was one of the staples of baby Isabel's diet. That makes it sound like pablum, but it's an exciting and delicious dish. I served this to the same friends so many times in a row that it was embarrassing.

Uncle Richard's hot sauce. This is Fain's family hot sauce and entails doctoring crushed tomatoes with onion, garlic, pickled jalapeno, cumin, cilantro, chili powder, and lemon juice. The recipe on her blog is quite different from the one in the book. She implies it's an improvisational salsa, one you make differently every time depending on what ingredients you have around. It was good. Not something I'd go out of my way to make again, but good.

black-eyed peas. Excellent and full of bacon. Again, the recipe on her blog isn't exactly the same as the one in her book, but it's hard to mess up black-eyed peas.

  definitely an 8x8 inch pan next time
lime shortbread. Fain says to pat out the dough in a "large baking pan" then cut into squares. This is awfully vague. Maybe she just means to bake the dough free-form? But that doesn't make sense because it's hard to cut neat squares if the dough isn't tightly packed into a pan. Anyway, it didn't fill a 9x13 pan, as you can see. Next time I'd try an 8x8 brownie pan or an 8-inch cake pan and go with wedges. Great, gritty shortbread, perhaps on account of the tablespoon of cornmeal. Not overly limey. Might benefit from a little more salt.

steak tacos. BLOCKBUSTER OF THE WEEK. I saved this for last to reward patient readers who made it all the way to the end of this list  Mix a simple lime juice marinade and let skirt steak soak for 2 to 8 hours. Cook the steak in a super-hot skillet and finish under the broiler. Let rest 10 minutes then slice your tender, juicy, super-flavorful meat and wrap in tortillas or, if you're on a diet, a lettuce leaf. Just as good cold the next day. Make this. It's easy and spectacularly delicious and I couldn't recommend it more enthusiastically. Recipe is here