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.


  1. Cookies from the tin are fine, Mark's right about that. I hope you enjoyed the movie! As to Homesick Texan's chili, I didn't think chopping up all the meat was worth the effort, so I started buying "chili grind" ground meat. I think it's just as good, and I enjoy cooking the chili at lot more when I don't have to chop all that meat. I am looking forward to your reviews from Sweet very much. Isn't it odd how tastes change over time? As exciting as the fare is at your house, I would imagine you have had a hand in changing their tastes, although I am sure they would be loathe to admit it. Oh, and all the links worked fine except the story link.

    1. Aaargh! That meat chopping. Do you just ask at the butcher counter for chili grind?

    2. They generally have it at Whole Foods here, but they do grind it for me when asked. It turns out chunky in a way similar to chopped meat. In fact, I really like it better. Sometimes my chopped meat doesn't have enough texture to suit me. The chili ground meat seems to hang together better for slow cooking.

    3. I agree about the ground meat. I have a meat grinding attachment for my Kitchen Aid, with two different sized plates. The larger one is perfect for chili meat, and the action of the grind seems to "knead" the meat in a way that makes it firm, which is nice for a long braise. Having said that, I vote for buying the meat pre-ground whenever possible! Let the meat department clean that up.

  2. Is the carnitas recipe on your Top Ten List from the Homesick Texan? I love that recipe and that cookbook. I wouldn't have known about it if not for you.

    1. Yes! There are lots of good carnitas recipes (though I made one once with cinnamon. No.) but my current favorite is Homesick Texan's. LOVE.

  3. Hi Jennifer, the link to the tester story didn't work. And just to say how very very much I enjoy your writing.

  4. I feel like I should whisper this: I'm a Texan and frequently just use the Wick Fowler's kit because it's so easy.

    So, your family likes pasta. Have you tried ?

  5. I use my food processor for chili beef. Cut the chuck into big cubes, freeze for ten or twenty minutes, pulse in batches. Easy. But course-grind from the meat counter works fine.

  6. ThNk you for linking to One For the Table. Nora Ephron's sister! I learn so much from you. I'm also looking forward to your reviews of Sweet and would like to cast my vote for Blum's Coffee Crunch Cake.

  7. Second vote for Blum's. yum

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