Monday, March 31, 2014

The Momofuku ramen experience

If you love a cooking adventure but have already fried turkeys, baked a wedding cake, dropped a beggar’s chicken, smoked bacon, barbecued brisket, and built your own pizza oven, I suggest you tackle the Momofuku ramen recipe. At different points in the ramen-making process you’ll feel challenged, martyred, excited, annoyed, fascinated, and proud. When you're done, you’ll never want to make Momofuku ramen again. What more could one ask from a cooking adventure? 

I bought the groceries a week ago Friday and served the ramen last Wednesday. Did a little work on the ramen every day in between. What follows is a whirlwind blow-by blow, if that's not a contradiction in terms.

Momofuku ramen is all about an intensely flavorful broth. To make this broth, give yourself at least a day, preferably four. You start by steeping some dried seaweed in a big pot of hot water, then remove the seaweed and replace with dried shiitake mushrooms, which you simmer for a while. Remove the mushrooms and replace with a whole chicken, simmer for a while, remove the chicken and replace with five pounds of roasted pork neck bones and a pound of Benton’s bacon. Simmer for 7 hours or longer then add carrots and scallions and simmer some more. Strain.

Meanwhile, you should make some tare (no idea how to pronounce it), a special sauce that will season the broth. Roast chicken backs in a very hot oven until they're dark brown and exude a lot of sticky, fatty liquid and goo. Pluck out the bones, deglaze the pan with sake, and simmer with mirin and soy sauce for an hour. The finished tare will be the color of coffee and very salty. You can now use this strange substance to season your broth and after you do so, the broth is done!

Now to the toppings: Rub a big slab of pork belly and a big hunk of pork shoulder with sugar and salt and let sit overnight. The next day, roast them -- but separately, because they cook at different temperatures. Shred the pork shoulder. Put both shoulder and belly into the fridge. You could use the shoulder immediately, but the belly needs to chill.

When the pork belly is cold and firm, you're ready to go. Start heating that broth. Cut the belly into cubes and fry, warm the pork shoulder shreds in the oven, slice up some fish cake, cut nori into squares, poach a few eggs, chop a bunch of scallions, cook some collard greens, and boil fresh ramen noodles. Ladle hot broth into bowls, add your cooked noodles, and top with all the other ingredients mentioned in the previous sentence. Bon appetit!

Was the ramen good? Hell yeah, it was good. My father loves Asian noodles more than anyone I know and it was a huge pleasure to be able to serve him such an impressive bowl of ramen. He's not a gushy man, but he got a little gushy.

But to be perfectly frank -- and when am I not? -- the ratio of deliciousness to effort with Momofuku ramen is a lot lower than it is with Top Ramen, its trashy distant cousin. Top Ramen is lousy, but it 's no trouble at all. You never, ever wonder if it's worth the effort, you just snarf it up. Momofuku ramen is delicious, but it's a whole world of trouble, and as you're eating you'll be asking yourself whether it's that delicious.

I know what my answer is. Fun kitchen project. The box has now been checked. 

Monday, March 24, 2014

Tea and cookies

A couple of quick recipe reports: 

Tea-based desserts are polarizing. No matter how silky and fragrant it is, no matter how pretty it looks in your grandmother’s vintage china tea cups, if you make jasmine panna cotta roughly half the people at the table simply will not eat it. Last night, my 4-year-old nephew shouted, “I don’t like it!” after a single bite. No one else was quite that direct. They just quietly put down their spoons.

But the other half of the people scraped clean their cups. Infused with jasmine pearls tea, Valerie Gordon's panna cotta from Sweet is similar to a lovely tea cream I made last year, but firmer, richer and probably better, though I’d have to taste the two side by side to be sure. 

The panna cotta wasn’t roundly adored, but the accompanying almond shortbread was. These delicious, buttery, nicely salty cookies (another recipe from Sweet) are about the size of poker chips and ridiculously easy. You should make them . All shortbread is good, but this one is extra good. I’m stingy with my star stickers. Valerie Gordon now has three.  
Just feeling exuberant, I guess!

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Ssam and Shrek cookies

The Momofuku cookbook is eccentric and absorbing, but I’ve been consuming it in tiny chunks because David Chang has a pungent, supercilious persona that I find hard to digest. Here’s something that really turns me off: He repeatedly describes losing his temper with his employees. He’s apparently famous for it. Every time he brings it up, I hate him a little. I can’t help it. I identify with the employees. 

But here’s something I love about him: His devotion to American country hams. After tasting some great country ham, he became convinced that Ssam Bar "had to serve country ham, had to put money in the pockets of people who are preserving an old American tradition, and had to do it in New York before anyone else." With great passion he tries to persuade the reader to start buying and eating country ham. He succeeds. I ordered a country ham. One day soon I will make red eye mayonnaise, warm up a baguette, and slice some salty, pink Tennessee ham. He’s an interesting guy, David Chang. He should stop yelling at people.

Since the last post I’ve cooked two new Momofuku dishes: pork sausage ssam and steak ssam. Ssam is food (Korean) that’s wrapped in lettuce or some other leafy green, sort of like tacos. You may have heard of Chang’s bo ssam, a great, sugary-salty shoulder of pork that is slow-roasted for many hours and served with oysters, rice, and various sauces, along with a big bowl of lettuce for wrapping. It’s a tremendous party dish -- bounteous, communal, delicious, easy. I can’t recommend it more highly. I consider it a staple now; I’ve made it six or seven times and it never disappoints. 

These two new ssams aren’t quite as brilliant. They’re relatively easy and quite delicious, but don’t feel bounteous and communal. Rather than pulling chunks of meat from a giant shared haunch, you serve yourself neat little portions. Steak ssam = marinated beef that is grilled, sliced, and served with rice and pureed kimchee. Pork sausage ssam is made by mixing ground pork with various Vietnamese ingredients (fish sauce, lemongrass), baking it in a brownie pan, cutting it into rectangles and grilling it for a few minutes. This ssam is served with fish sauce vinaigrette and scallion ginger sauce. Both ssams are very good. Realistically, I probably won’t make either again. 

The same is true of the last two recipes I’ve tried from Valerie Gordon’s Sweet. Her matcha cookies with white chocolate and macadamia nuts are superrich, intensely sweet, and only faintly tea-flavored. We all liked them, but they sat around for a week, disappearing at the sluggish rate of maybe one per day which means they got stale before they got eaten. Was it their warty green appearance? I called them Shrek cookies, but no one knew what I was talking about, so apparently that cultural reference is dead. 

But maybe it wasn't their looks. Maybe everyone in the house is sick of cookies. No one ate the salted peanut blondies either, and they were tasty, tan, and conventionally attractive. I can’t explain. 

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Noodles and coconut cream pie

It’s warm and springy here in northern California and the mood at our house is correspondingly warm and springy. I realize the weather elsewhere remains less than tropical so I apologize for crowing. Your time will come, Easterners, and when it does, unlike us you will probably be allowed to water your plants. 

This is  just a quick post so I don’t fall behind: The Momofuku noodles with ginger scallion sauce are tasty, though I agreed with some of the commenters here that the “sauce” could use a little more oil to help coat the noodles. I used fresh ramen from Ranch 99 and added toasted nori and David Chang’s quick-pickled cucumbers. The whole meal took about 20 minutes to prepare, start to finish. Predictably, Owen and his friend didn’t like this, so we gave their leftovers to the chickens who thought the ramen was a pile of worms and went wild with joy.

We don’t need any more desserts in this house, but since it was Pi Day, I baked the Bullocks Wilshire coconut cream pie from Sweet on Friday.  What’s unusual about this pie is that the flavor comes from coconut cream, the stuff from a can that you use to make pina coladas. You mix this sweet, artificial goo into a custard filling that you cook on the stove and then pour into the pie shell and bake. Too much cooking! The custard became very, very firm, losing all its velvety softness. This could be easily fixed by shortening cooking times all around and then I expect this would be a lovely pie.

If I notice any pattern in Sweet it’s that the grand statement desserts tend to fall short while the humbler productions, like the cookies, are generally excellent. 

Friday, March 14, 2014

Momofuku: chapter 1

The Benton’s bacon arrived so we’ve started our Momofuku phase while continuing with the Sweet desserts. 

If you didn’t already know, Momofuku is a famous, fashionable New York City restaurant group that includes Ssam Bar, Noodle Bar, and the painfully expensive Ko. Founder David Chang, 36, is the original Korean-American bad boy chef and one of the people we can thank for adding “fuck” to the cookbook lexicon.

That’s Momofuku. Momofuku is Chang’s 2009 book (written with Peter Meehan) about founding and building Momofuku. It’s a real, readable book with roughly equal quantities of text and recipes. As of page 123, here’s what I’ve learned: Chang excelled at football and golf as a kid, majored in religion at Trinity College, and daydreamed about writing “a screenplay that told the story of the Bhagavad Gita through the lens of the Civil War with Robert E. Lee in the hero’s role.”  (Joke? I can't tell.)

He also daydreamed a lot about noodles and ran off to Japan to apprentice in a ramen shop. After working in various restaurants in Japan and New York City, he eventually decided to pursue his ramen dream and in 2004 opened Momofuku, a tiny noodle shop in the East Village. Where I left off reading, he’s just opened his second restaurant, Ssam Bar, and while things are going badly for hot-tempered, foul-mouthed David Chang, I sense a big turnaround is afoot. It has to be, or this book wouldn't exist. 

Sprinkled throughout the text are recipes and a lot of them are daunting. In order to do the book justice I will have to tackle Chang’s ramen recipe, which involves seven component recipes. Eight, if I decide to make the noodles from scratch, which I won’t. 

But there are some easier recipes I’m using to warm up.

The first recipe I tried was Chang’s Napa cabbage kimchi. I made this last month and let it ferment in the refrigerator until a few days ago. I’m not a kimchi connoisseur and suspect this version contains more sugar than is strictly proper, but I love it. The sugar is probably why I love it.  Be warned that it is very, very sweet and will not work on the Paleo or Atkins diet. The recipe is here

On Monday, I used the kimchi to make one of Chang’s brussels sprouts recipes. You roast some sprouts, toss with chopped bacon (Benton’s, of course -- Chang is hung up on Benton's), and then serve on a bed of pureed kimchi. It was really tasty. Not life-changing and not as streamlined as Roy Choi’s brussels sprouts/kimchi dish, but really tasty. 

The next night: asparagus with miso butter and poached eggs. You beat together white miso and butter, warm this with a little sherry vinegar, and serve with sauteed asparagus and a poached egg. My family would be aghast if I put this in front of them, so I made cole slaw and bratwurst for them. I alone ate the asparagus. And it was a very lonely meal indeed.

Not to mince words, but I hated this dish. You’ll find the recipe here followed by many glowing reviews, so don’t let me deter you from trying it.  Chang writes that the miso butter-egg combo resembles hollandaise sauce -- “in a similar appealing fat-on-fat sort of way.”

I found it unctuous, overpowering, cloying, and totally unappealing. Hollandaise has a nice, lemony bite that cuts through the “fat-on-fat." While the vinegar was probably supposed to do this for the miso butter, it didn’t, or not enough to suit my particular palate. The egg yolk mingled with the miso butter and pale yellow liquid ran all over the plate. Jokes were made. At the end of dinner, Isabel stood up to clear the table, looked at her father, and said, “Do I have to clear her plate?”

You get the idea.

For dessert: tangerine cake from Sweet. We all ate the same dessert and all agreed it was delicious. What Momofuku put asunder, Sweet joined together again, if only for about 7 minutes.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Flour children

What is that weird and gorgeous thing?
Recipes I've cooked from Sweet by Valerie Gordon: 
  1. brownies (A)
  2. sugar cookies (A-)
  3. Durango cookies (A+)
  4. goat-cheese cheesecake (B+) with almond crust (B-)
  5. whole-grain muffins (A)
  6. Blum's coffee crunch cake (C+)
  7. oatmeal raisin cookies (A)
Even with the C+, that's a pretty stellar GPA.

I've written about the brownies, sugar cookies, and Durango cookies. (I didn't do the Durango cookies justice in the last post. They're magical. Make them.)
Durango cookie, whole grain muffin

Now, about the goat-cheese cheesecake:

Isabel thought it was too lemony. Mark wasn't a fan. Owen didn't try it. I thought the cake was dry (in a good way) and had a lot of great, goaty character. That said, I didn't like it as much as I like a creamy, snow-white cow's milk cheesecake with a supersweet graham cracker crumb crust. I feel this is like admitting I like grape juice better than wine.

About the whole-grain muffins:

As I wrote in the last post, Gordon grew up with a big crush on a glamorous San Francisco bakery called Fantasia, but she later reveals that there was a second, very different San Francisco bakery that shaped her baking style: Tassajara.

The Tassajara Bakery was the offshoot of a Zen Buddhist center and while I don't remember the bakery itself, I remember the breads -- big, rustic, rugged loaves that were sold at a famous vegetarian restaurant called Greens. If Fantasia was the impossible dream, Tassajara was the earnest, earthy reality of San Francisco in the '70s and early ‘80s. My reality.

Just look at my mother circa 1978:
Although never a hippie, she favored ethnic clothing, sweetened everything with honey and ground her own whole-wheat flour. If she made brownies, they were carob.
You can see the Tassajara influence on a handful of Gordon's recipes, like her whole-grain muffins. On Saturday, I got up early and baked a batch of these because it seemed like a nutritious breakfast for Isabel, who was heading off to take the SATs. They’re full of everything considered healthy in the Aquarian Age: whole-wheat, millet, oats, honey, prunes, yogurt, eggs, mashed bananas. There's not a single ingredient on that list that is universally embraced by the dietary police of today. Not one.

When they came out of the oven, the muffins looked like big blobs of indigestible hippie love and Isabel said, apologetically, “I really don’t want something heavy right now. Can I have one for breakfast tomorrow instead?” 

I understood. Isabel headed of to the SATs on a breakfast of peanut butter toast, bacon, and a Starbucks vanilla latte.

Then I ate a muffin and was happily surprised. What you can’t tell from their lumpy brown exteriors is that these muffins are actually very light, fruity, and delicious. A lovely homage to a bygone baking era.  

About the Blum's coffee crunch cake

I'm getting sick of writing about bygone San Francisco bakeries, but there's no escaping it. Blum's was yet another legendary and influential San Francisco bakery, one I don't personally remember. (The last Blum's closed in the late '70s.) It was famous for a coffee crunch cake that consisted of layers of white cake frosted with coffee whipped cream and topped with chunks of cinder-like coffee-flavored toffee. People who grew up with this cake are obsessed with it, among them Valerie Gordon who created her own version of this "extinct" (her word) dessert.

I didn't grow up with this dessert and am not obsessed with it. I baked and assembled Gordon's version of the cake and took it to my sister's last night. Everyone complimented me, but I was deaf to their praise. The cake layers were lemony!  I've never understood lemon peel in espresso and I don't understand why you'd want to eat a lemony cake slathered in coffee whipped cream. Maybe you just have to grow up with it. That was my first issue. Then, there was a problem with the coffee crunch topping, which looked fabulous, but tasted of baking soda. I've looked at other recipes for coffee crunch and the proportion of baking soda in Gordon's version does indeed look a bit high. It's also possible I made a mistake. 

In any case, the cake was beautiful, but in my view, a bust.

About the oatmeal raisin cookies

These were amazing. The cookies in this book have been so consistently amazing that I'm planning to make them all.

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Fantasia love

from the Fantasia cookbook
Like me, Valerie Gordon, author of the handsome new baking book Sweetgrew up in San Francisco. Like me, one of her first baking inspirations was a patisserie called Fantasia. After she revealed her Fantasisa love on page one of Sweet, I was putty in her hands.

I won’t bore you with a long description of Fantasia, which closed in 1989. I’ll just say it’s a type of neighborhood bakery that was much more common 30 years ago than it is today, specializing in old-fashioned European pastries -- napoleons, kringles, lace cookies, nut tortes, stollens  -- and staffed by older ladies dressed like nurses. When my mother was at the supermarket down the street, my sister and I used to run in to Fantasia and “steal” free samples that they put out on the counter. We’d each snatch a single free sample and rush out, hearts pounding, thinking we'd really gotten away with something. 

Here's Gordon on Fantasia: “The tables were occupied by beautifully coiffed ladies and the entire picture was one of unspeakable joy to my eight-year-old eyes. It was almost too much to take, such beauty and splendor in one room. . . .The image of the petits fours is seared in my mind to this day.” 

Mine too.

Sweet is a collection of greatest hits from Gordon's career as a baker and confectioner in Los Angeles. I don’t see Fantasia's influence on Gordon's desserts, aside from the coffee crunch cake, which was invented by Fantasia's owner. (More on that later.) What I see are a lot of attractive contemporary desserts made with extremely high quality ingredients. Gordon uses only Plugra butter and specifies Bazzini  peanuts in her blondies. I had to buy a jar of vanilla paste just to make her sugar cookies, but I don’t hold it against her, because: Fantasia.

Reviewers on amazon have found errors in some of the recipes, but there’s nothing wrong with the ones I’ve tried. Most recently, I made Gordon's Durango cookies -- huge milk chocolate chip cookies bulked up with roasted almonds and cacao nibs and sprinkled with smoked salt. They're great, great cookies, but I wanted them to taste smokier!  I love the Roxbury Road ice cream from Jeni's so much that I thought smoke and almonds would work similar magic on these cookies. In addition to dusting the cookies with smoked salt, I used smoked almonds instead of plain roasted almonds and yet no smokiness registered. Am I wrong to think that sounds delicious? 

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

I think I get it now

Not to belabor this, but I made the Roberta’s Cookbook burrata and apple salad last night for our first course, and I made Ed Lee’s sauteed squid and bacon salad from Smoke and Pickles for our second, and all my questions about yesterday’s Piglet verdict were answered. I think. I will never know for sure what Aran Goyoaga thought about these cookbooks other than what she wrote, but I may have a better idea of what she was getting at.

The Roberta’s salad consisted of chopped, cold Pink Lady apples tossed in a bowl with burrata (glorified, creamy mozzarella) which fell apart and coated all the apple chunks. You’re supposed to add sorrel, but there was no sorrel to be had, so I added watercress leaves, just a few. Then I lightly salted this salad, put it on plates, and drizzled with honey. 

It was clean, bright, light, refreshing, all the flavors distinct. Beautiful. I flipped through Roberta’s and can see that this is typical of the Roberta’s style, at least in the salad department. Most of their salads don’t have dressings. For instance the other salad Goyoaga made was a beet salad that is “dressed” with just some creme fraiche. Another salad is “dressed” with celery juice.

To assemble the Ed Lee salad, first you make a really delicious, intense dressing of tahini, Asian sesame oil, and lemon. Fry some bacon. Fry some squid. Put it all together on a bed of arugula. Find the antonyms of all the adjectives I used in the first two sentences of the last paragraph and you have a roughly accurate (but highly unflattering) portrait of this salad. Messy, murky, a little heavy, not too pretty. But you could also say: gutsy, dark, rich, and full of strong flavor. (A chef could make this salad handsome, even if I couldn’t.) One of Goyoaga’s complaints about Lee was the “sauciness” of his food. This salad was definitely not "drowning" in sauce/dressing, but it had a dressing, a very assertive dressing that tied everything together. If you don’t want everything tied together, if you like your flavors pure and clean, you’re going to resist this salad and probably most the dishes in Lee’s book. 

This is a completely valid reason for choosing Roberta’s over Smoke and Pickles. Depending on your tastes, this could also be a completely valid reason for choosing Smoke and Pickles over Roberta’s.

I like both styles of cooking. I preferred the burrata salad to the squid, but I’ve enjoyed a lot of Lee’s dishes, too. I think the deciding factor for me would be that there are about five dishes I can make from Roberta’s without mail ordering 'nduja, black truffles, or bottarga, begging the butcher for pork collars, smoking my own ricotta, or figuring out how to grow sucrine

But it’s all moot because in the final round this morning, Roberta’s lost to The New Persian Kitchen

Monday, March 03, 2014

A misspent Monday

This post is for serious cookbook nerds only. Anyone else who reads it will roll their eyes and pity me, so please go do something else.

Ed Lee’s Smoke and Pickles lost to Roberta’s Cookbook in the Piglet this morning and I found myself surprisingly put out. You can read the judgment here . I had a handful of problems with this verdict and here they are:

First of all, I’ve made the salmon rice bowl from Smoke and Pickles that reviewer Aran Goyoaga tested and it was not, in my opinion, “too saucy.” I thought it was lovely, one of my favorite dishes from the book. The sauce she refers to is a remoulade that you add to your individual rice bowl and it was as easy to control how much you dolloped on your portion as it is to control how much butter you put on your toast. She made the same “too saucy” criticism of Lee's sauteed squid and bacon salad, which I haven't tried, but here again, it looks like one could easily calibrate the quantity of dressing so as not to “drown” the squid. I had plenty of problems with Smoke and Pickles, which I cooked from extensively last year, but her criticisms didn’t add up.  I felt that Goyoaga’s indifference/dislike was about something more than "too saucy," something that she didn’t or couldn’t pinpoint, or pinpointed and chose not to articulate. I wish she had. I still might have disagreed, but the review would have made more sense to me.

Second, I couldn’t see how the dishes she described from Roberta’s Cookbook -- burrata salad, beet salad, sea bass, gingerbread -- offered more “surprise” than the food in Smoke and Pickles. A beet salad? Were there other truly "surprising" dishes in the book that she just didn't happen to mention in the review? Or was "surprise" an unfortunate choice of words? Because from what I read in the review, Lee's was by far the more "surprising" cookbook.   

Third, I have an outsider complex and wanted the Korean guy from Kentucky to prevail over the Brooklyn pizzeria where they shot an episode of GirlsThis is a problem with me, not Goyoaga's analysis. And it is silly.

Since I’m taking the week off, I decided to misspend the day and drove over to Barnes and Noble to buy a copy of Roberta’s. My family will be delighted to know that we’re having both a burrata salad and sauteed squid and bacon salad for dinner tonight. Someone should videotape this meal. 

Meanwhile, I baked the Roberta’s gingerbread, which Goyoaga describes as “moist and full of flavor and surprisingly easy to convert to gluten free.” How could it not be full of flavor when it's so full of ingredients? This gingerbread contains twenty two ingredients, including black pepper, caraway seeds, cinnamon, coriander, celery salt, juniper berries, almond flour, regular flour, cornstarch, honey, molasses, brown sugar. . . 

You could probably edit that list without losing much.

Results? It’s spectacularly good and seriously hot. Your whole mouth glows from the spices, especially if you eat it while it’s warm. I love that heat and guarantee I will be the only one in this household who does. 

There's only one problem with this gingerbread, but it's a big one: STRINGS. The grated ginger had long, tough fibers that you absolutely do not want in your gingerbread or your mouth. I followed the book’s grating instructions to the letter and when I looked at the photo of gingerbread in the book, saw that there are strings in their gingerbread too. How is this possible? Do they really serve gingerbread with strings in it? Are my strings just tougher and more offensive than theirs? Was something wrong with my ginger? How did Goyoaga not encounter the string problem? Did she encounter it and not mention it? Is this something a Vitamix might fix? Something one could avoid by mincing instead of grating the ginger? 
Anyway, if you're still reading: While the Roberta's gingerbread is fabulous, strings or no, I still think the wrong book won. I have a lot more to say on this. Sadly.

Sunday, March 02, 2014

Various and sundry

I'd been to Safeway and Whole Foods before anyone in the house got up this morning and as soon as I walked in the door I started cutting 6 pounds of beef chuck into 1/4 inch cubes. Energetically at first, and 20 minutes later, resentfully. Chili has a reputation for being easy, casual, no big deal, c’mon over, it’s just chili! but that is not the case when it’s The Homesick Texan chili. I'd forgotten. 

As soon as the chili was on the stove, I pulled out my copy of Sweet by Valerie Gordon, a newish baking book I’m infatuated with, and flagged a handful of enticing desserts to consider for tonight’s family dinner/Oscars party. I asked Mark and Owen, “So, which of these should I make: Chasen’s banana shortcake, Bullocks Wilshire coconut cream pie, or Blum’s coffee crunch cake?” 

Neither looked up from his computer. I asked again. Neither looked up from his computer.. 

I said, “Mark? Please answer my question.”

He said, “Yeah, sorry, why don’t you just serve the cookies that are in the cookie tin?”

“That isn’t what I asked you!” Maybe I snapped. You’d have to ask Mark. 

“Ok,” he said, still not looking up from the computer. “Read me the choices again?”

Cookies from the tin it is and I'm going to see Tim's Vermeer this afternoon. If there are typos or the links don't work, it's because the movie starts in 17 minutes in another town. Feel free to complain in the comments and I'll fix.


Waiting for the Benton’s bacon to make its way here by mule wagon, I thought I was betwixt and between cookbooks. But yesterday I realized I’d started cooking from Sweet without meaning to and might as well make it “official.” 

True to form, I baked the easiest things in the book first. On Friday I baked Gordon’s brownies and on Saturday, her sugar cookies. Both were excellent. Both were also very mundane and fail to capture the essence of this gorgeous and exotic book. I have fattening and ambitious plans for further explorations in the coming week.

This is a really cute story by the husband of the woman who tested all the recipes in Sweet.


To follow up on something I mentioned in passing a while ago, if I had to write a list of 10 dinners that my family loves it would be this:

1. pasta with pesto
2. pasta with vodka sauce
3. pasta with tomato, onion, and butter
4. spaghetti and meatballs
5. spaghetti carbonara
6. mac n' cheese
7. burgers
8. steaks
9. carnitas
10. pork dumplings

The dumplings, mac n’ cheese, and pesto recipes are all in my cookbook. The pasta with vodka is a Cook’s Illustrated recipe. The pasta with tomato, onion and butter is a Marcella Hazan classic. Nancy Silverton’s meatballs are the current favorite. Lately I’ve been using The Homesick Texan carnitas recipe. Steaks, burgers, and carbonara -- any old way.

After coming up with that list, I decided to open my recipe binder and revisit dishes I used to make to family acclaim, even if they weren’t obvious contenders for the top ten.

The other night, I served a stir fry of sugar snap peas and Chinese sausage that was very popular around here circa 2001.  I tore the recipe out of Gourmet early this millennium and made it repeatedly, pre-blog. 

Here’s what we thought in 2014

Jennifer: Not as good as I remembered, but I do love Chinese sausage and sugar snap peas. Also, easy.
Mark: I find Chinese sausages greasy. I’d rather have sausages on pasta than with peas and rice.
Isabel: Sausages are only good by themselves, never with things. 
Owen: I liked the sausages.