Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Try this, won't you?

January is a grim month. I have some good news, and some bad.

We’ll start with the good. Grapefruit. It’s in season and it’s delicious, especially the pink kind. Not as delicious as a peach, but, hey, it’s January. So go buy some pink grapefruits. Come home and cut one in half. Preheat the broiler. Use a grapefruit spoon or a little knife to loosen all the sections, but leave them inside the grapefruit. This should take about 25 seconds.
The ancient grapefruit spoon on the left is soft, worn, small, and perfect. The one on the right is big, shiny, sharp and new. It mangles the grapefruit. If you want to find a good grapefruit spoon, check eBay.
Mix 2 tablespoons salted butter (or unsalted plus a pinch of salt) with 1/4 cup brown sugar until clumpy, like streusel. Add 1 cup Wheat Chex, crushing just a little bit so you have some small bits but also a lot of whole Chex. Mix briefly and gently. Pack about a third of this irresistible stuff on half the grapefruit. Put the rest of the streusel and the other half of the grapefruit in the refrigerator for subsequent meals. Broil the grapefruit until warm and slightly bubbly. Enjoy.

It looks like a bad joke, but it's my favorite food discovery of 2016.
If you're like me, you have doubts about the idea of streusel-topped, broiled grapefruit. How does sour, sharp, cold, and juicy possibly meld with sweet, buttery, warm and crunchy?

No idea. It just does. Miracle. Try it.

Now for the bad news: You won’t want to eat a grapefruit any other way after you've tasted it broiled and topped with streusel. The pleasure of unfattening plain grapefruit has been lost to you.

Don't thank me, thank Gabrielle Hamilton. Here's the recipe exactly as printed in Prune

Some other recommendations to brighten your January:

*The kale-apple-walnut salad from Zahav is tart, crunchy, and terrific. Recipe here

In the book it's called "tabbouleh," but it contains no bulgur. Really, it's just a salad.
*Also wonderful: the Zahav lamb shoulder, a superrich, hearty, easy, cheap, long-braised feast dish. Recipe here. You'll have lots of leftovers with which to make Suliman's pilaf.

*The sliced fresh oranges with honey from Zuni Cafe make a refreshing dessert after something rich like lamb shoulder. (Not that fresh fruit is ever a proper dessert.)

*The Zahav tahini cookies are a cross between shortbread and halvah. Couldn't be tastier. Couldn't be easier. 

*This is a stunning piece of writing.

*Karina Longworth’s fascinating history of Charles Manson's Hollywood on the podcast You Must Remember This enlivened many hours of tahini shortbread-baking, dishwashing, driving, folding, and sweeping last week.

*I saw the movie Brooklyn twice, most recently with a 10-year-old girl and 15-year-old boy, both of whom were enthralled. As was I.  It's a wondrous film, romantic and funny, but also thoughtful, compassionate, and poignant. I've seen all the Oscar best picture nominees. This is my favorite by far. 

Monday, January 18, 2016

If you want to criticize my writing, today ain't the day

I was hard on this book.
You probably didn't know that Alfred Hitchcock once served Jimmy Stewart a meal that was entirely blue, from soup to ice cream, or that Marilyn Monroe ate lamb chops in bed, "dropping gnawed bones onto her signature white sheets." That Marlene Dietrich "reached a deep understanding of dill and always used it with fish" and Michael Caine grew up avoiding chicken because his father told him it was for "nancy boys." You'll find lots of this kind of culinary gossip, plus recipes, in Dining with the Famous and Infamous, a book about the eating quirks of 20th-century celebrities. Am I recommending it? You can read my review here.  
Lauren Bacall's Romanian grandmother taught her how to make kreplach. Dining with the Famous and Infamous taught me how to make kreplach. Here's the recipe, which is pretty good, though I cut back on the cinnamon. Two teaspoons is plenty. Also, I omitted the saffron. Too expensive.
Back to business. I have a lot of business. This is a long post.

Yesterday, I bought Zahav. The library copy was overdue and there were more recipes I wanted to try. Should I buy a copy, should I keep the library copy another week and pay the fines, should I feel shitty that someone else is waiting for the book, should I take it back and put myself on the hold list again, if I buy it where will I put it, if I buy it will I feel like an irresponsible spendthrift, if I buy it will I really use it, et cetera. For about a week, this "issue" was buzzing at the periphery of my consciousness like an annoying little fly.

Smack. Killed that fly. The book is mine. Sorry Mark.

Two more Zahav dishes to tell you about:

Dish #1: Halloumi is a firm, chewy, squeaky Cypriot cheese that holds its shape when cooked. I bought two brands of halloumi at the Middle Eastern market and opened one of them to make Michael Solomonov's fried halloumi with dates, walnuts, and apples. I tasted the cheese straight out of the packet and thought, wow, salty, but this is probably just halloumi, it’ll be ok once it’s fried.

It wasn’t. It was inedibly salty. Product failure, not recipe failure. I would warn you off that brand of halloumi except I threw the packaging away.

To make this dish, you puree dates, walnuts, oil, and water to create a rich, sweet bed for the halloumi cubes, which you fry until golden in a bit of oil. Top with feathery herbs and raw apple. The date-walnut puree is intended to offset the saltiness of the cheese and the herbs and apples are intended to offset the unctuous sweetness of the dates and I’m sure under other circumstances this would be a glorious and perfectly balanced dish, but it wasn't for me, not last week. Recipe here.

The other night I opened the second packet of halloumi and it was pleasantly salty, springy, delicious. We ate it plain, like any other good cheese. It went quickly. 
This is the halloumi you want.
Dish #2: Celery root and apple soup with hawaij sounds bland, doesn’t it? It sounded bland to me. Celery root is barely a food. If it looked so bland to me, why did I make it? Because it also looked easy. If I like to cook so much, why do I always go for easy dishes? Because maybe I don’t like to cook, maybe I just like to have cooked.

As it turns out, the soup wasn’t bland at all and if I’d known the meaning of “hawaij” I’d have known it wouldn’t be. Hawaij is a Yemeni blend of turmeric, cumin, and black pepper, a close cousin of curry powder that you can mix in under a minute using spices already in your cupboard. The soup was sweet, spicy, hearty, cheap, easy, and, if you care, anti-inflammatory, good for brain health, and vegan. It yielded plenty of leftovers for lunches all week. This soup has everything going for it. Recipe at end of post. 

Speaking of brain health, I will now tell you a story.

Recently, I decided to take a class at the community college. There’s an English prerequisite, a basic course in reading comprehension and writing. I thought I should be able to skip this class given how I've spent the last 30 years. 

You have two options if you want to skip English 98 at the College of Marin: provide proof that you’ve passed an equivalent class, or submit to something called the Accuplacer test, produced by the same company that produces the SAT. I have definitely passed many equivalent classes, but excavating ancient college records sounded like a nightmare. I thought, hell, I’ll just take the test. How hard can it be?

So there I was a week ago at the College of Marin in a hushed room full of computers and fellow students, all of whom appeared to be the age of my children. When I sat down at the terminal I found I was shockingly nervous. 

The multiple-choice section of the test wasn’t hard but it was tricky. Sneaky. You’re rewarded for being clever and suspicious, not thoughtful. Fortunately, I can be suspicious. I did well on this section.  Lest you think I'm boasting. . . 

In the final portion of the test, the computer instructed me to compose an essay answering this question: “Is making mistakes necessary even when doing so has negative consequences for other people?”

I stared at the computer, stupefied. I began to perspire. I had the fleeting impulse to leave and forget about my community college course. The phrasing of that question made no sense to me, given my understanding of the words “necessary” and “mistake.” I figured there must be a diabolical trick embedded in the question that separated smart people from aging blockheads.

I pulled it together. I addressed my problems with the phrasing of the question and wrote an essay. I avoided sentence fragments and cutesy blog shortcuts, used all the colors in my writerly crayon box, reread for errors. It wasn't great, but I thought the essay was decent.

The computer scored the essay in under a minute. I bombed the essay. I got a 5/8. There were “lapses in quality.” My essay lacked coherence and exhibited “inconsistent control of language.” 

I was stunned. Indignant. Stung! 

When I got home, Mark said, “Maybe this is a wake-up call.”

Ha ha ha. What a card. I still don't know what to make of this disaster! Maybe I’ve spent too many years trying to entertain rather than rigorously argue. Maybe I don’t test well. Maybe the computer is an idiot. Maybe I'm an idiot. All I know is, I do have consistent control of language and I feel sorry for the kids for whom tests like this really matter. 

I was exempted from English 98 despite the essay. No way I would have told this story if I hadn’t been.

CELERY ROOT SOUP WITH APPLES AND HAWAIJ, adapted from Zahav by Michael Solomonov

Solmonov instructs you to use 2 tablespoons hawaij, total. I’d start with that and see how you feel when you taste the soup. I wanted a lot more spice, so I’m giving proportions that leave you that option. If you don’t want more spice, you’ll have extra hawaij left over that you can mix into your jar of curry powder or save for the next time you make this excellent soup.

In a small dish mix together 2 tablespoons turmeric, 1 tablespoon ground cumin, and 1 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper. Set aside. Warm 1/2 cup olive oil in a pot over medium heat, add 1 big onion, thinly sliced, 2 celery ribs, thinly sliced, 1 tablespoon kosher salt, and 1 tablespoon hawaij (the spice mix you just made). Cook, stirring frequently, until the vegetables have softened but not browned. Add 2 big celery roots, peeled and sliced, reduce heat to low, cover and cook until the celery root is falling apart, about 45 minutes. Add 2 apples peeled, cored, and sliced, and another tablespoon of hawaij -- or more  Stir. Add 2 quarts of water and bring to a simmer. Cook until the apples are completely soft. Blend with whatever implement you use to blend soups. Taste. Add more spices, if you want, and additional salt. (I thought it needed a lot of salt.) Serve with a dollop of yogurt or sour cream. Serves six.

Thursday, January 07, 2016

Our quotidian meal

Five hours until Mark comes home and we can continue watching Making a Murderer. I am in agony. Are you watching this incredible show? It’s a 10-part Netflix documentary about an uncanny crime saga in Manitowoc County, Wisconsin involving a wild, enraging, heartbreaking cast of characters and I would have stayed up all night to see the end if my companions had been willing. I can't recommend it more highly. 

A couple of stellar dishes from Michael Solomonov’s Zahav yesterday, although I was the only one who thought so. I'm 100% right, of course. These two dishes aren't even on the borderline. Total winners.

Dish #1: Mina with ground beef, coffee, and cardamom

Michael Solomonov: "Mina is the Ladino word for pie. This Passover dish, common throughout the Sephardic world, is almost good to be true.”

I have a serious question: Is it sacrilegious to make a Passover dish when it's not Passover and you're not Jewish? Is it cultural appropriation? Or is just eccentric, like a Jew or Muslim making buche de noel in July? Or is it none of the above? 

I did some internet research and found this in an Atlantic story about the recent cafeteria crisis at Oberlin:

People don’t usually think about food as something that deserves respect, but food is reflective of the heart of different cultures. I identify as religiously and culturally Jewish and I would be offended if someone prepared a traditional Seder plate incorrectly at some time other than Passover. This would de-sanctify the religious meal of Passover and reduce it to just another quotidian meal."

As Solomonov puts it: "Once the matzoh is soaked and baked, it magically transforms into something more like traditional pastry than unleavened bread." 
In any case, what's done, is done. 

To make this Sephardic pie, you fry up a simple hamburger filling of meat, onion, garlic, a tiny bit of coffee and cardamom. Soak some matzoh in water until pliable and line a baking dish. Spoon the filling atop the matzoh. Top with more matzoh. Bake. Unmold. Serve this lovely, spicy, satisfying pie with a charoset of carrot, apple, raisin, and walnut. It's more like a salad than the charoset I've had at seders. (I think I'm more comfortable calling it "salad.")

Owen wolfed his slab of meat pie down in under a minute. He was in a horrible mood. I said, “So you like that!”  

He replied, “I’m only eating this because I’m really hungry.” Shortly thereafter, he and Mark got into a big, dumb fight and Owen stormed off. He yelled, “Now I’m making a quesadilla, Mom. That food was bad.” 

Talk about de-sanctified. A minute later Owen was back, shoveling more pie onto his plate. He said, “I’m only having seconds because we don’t have any of the good kind of tortillas.” Then he stormed off once more.

Isabel did not try the mina. 

Mark knows his role on this blog and plays it with verve. Of the mina he said, “It’s too weird. All the parts are good, but why not serve a nice hamburger with some bread on the side?”

Recipe at the end of this post.

Lord, this was delicious. Make a sweet, rich yeast dough, roll it around a buttery chocolate crumble, freeze, slice, assemble the slices in a loaf pan, top with more crumble, bake. I believe the Zahav recipe can be found if you search Google Books, but the URLs are too long for me to link. If you do find and decide to make this splendid recipe, expect to add lots more flour than called for. Just keep adding flour until you have a soft dough and you’ll be fine. Better than fine.
Look at those pretty spirals.
Mark:  “It’s good, but it's not a cake and you wish it were a cake.”

No, you don’t.


Mina with ground beef, cardamom, and coffee, adapted from Zahav. I added kale to the meat filling, used more onion, doubled the raisins and apple in the salad and made a few other changes.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F and generously oil a medium-sized baking pan of some kind (I used a deep 9-inch pie plate). Brown 1 pound ground beef (I used chuck) in a little oil in a wide skillet. When it’s brown and crumbly, add 1 chopped onion5 minced garlic cloves, and a little salt. Cook for a few minutes and add a bunch of kale, stems removed and leaves shredded. Cook until all the vegetables have softened, but not browned. Add 1 teaspoon finely ground coffee and 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom. Mix well. Taste for salt. Now, soften 5 or 6 sheets matzoh in water, just long enough that you can bend them a bit but not so long that they disintegrate. Line the oiled pan with the matzoh, overlapping slightly if necessary. (It won't be tidy looking.) Spoon the meat into the matzoh shell. Layer more damp matzoh on top, pressing the edges to seal. Brush with some beaten egg and bake until the pie is golden and crisp, about 30 minutes. Let stand for 5 minutes. Invert onto a platter and serve with the following salad.

Carrot salad 

Grate together 4 carrots (peeled), 1 apple (peeled), and a small chunk of fresh horseradish. Mix in a bowl with 1/2 cup chopped walnuts, 1 cup chopped cilantro, 1/4 cup raisins, and 1 tablespoon cider vinegar. Add salt to taste. 

Monday, January 04, 2016

auld lang syne

a cozy scene, that's all
My first reaction when I heard about Zahav, the glossy new Israeli cookbook, was: Another Israeli cookbook? I already have Jerusalem, so why do I need Zahav

Dumb question, especially coming from me. If you own Julia Child, does that mean that Madeleine Kamman, Richard Olney, Jacques Pepin, Patricia Wells, and Elizabeth David have nothing to add to the conversation?

 As if.

Naturally, there’s some overlap with Yotam Ottolenghi's Jerusalem, but Zahav is far more personal, more casual, more anecdotal. It’s filled with photos of author Michael Solomonov’s family, which I love, and recipes from his mother and grandmother. I’ve always struggled to find my way into Ottolenghi’s books for reasons I can’t put my finger on; I’ve had no such trouble with Zahav

Last night I made my first Zahav recipe, a pumpkin soup with noodles and kale, chosen because It looked easy, healthy, and delicious. (You can see an appetizing picture here.) First you make a spicy stock from the peelings and seeds of a squash, tomatoes, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, and a charred onion. Strain. To this broth you add kale, pearl onions, big chunks of roasted squash and angel hair noodles. Cook briefly, serve immediately.

This decidedly exotic soup offered our family a chance to relive the bad old days when I cooked exotic dishes all the time. I am thrilled to report, we have not changed. Owen looked at the soup, groaned, said, “I guess I’ll be having cereal for dinner,” and I mentally gave him the finger while Isabel wanly picked at her portion and said, “How are you supposed to get the noodles without getting all the other stuff?” and Mark said, carefully, “What made you decide to try this recipe?” to which I replied, “I know. It’s weird and lousy. And you’re all unimaginative losers who don’t appreciate me. I’m going to bed.”

I took some artistic license with that dramatization, but flatter myself that it captures the underlying spirit of the meal. 

The soup wasn’t actually lousy. It just wasn’t quite right. The problem was the squash, which Solomonov has you cut into 2-inch chunks -- too big. Then you roast these massive, unseasoned chunks in the oven for 15 minutes until “dark brown but not fully cooked” which seemed and still seems impossible. In my experience, by the time squash is "dark brown" it is always fully cooked, if not burnt. Anyway, after 15 minutes I took out the bright orange, "not fully cooked" squash cubes and added them to the soup, simmering the two together for a scant four minutes, which isn’t long enough. The squash pieces were pleasantly firm, but exceedingly bland, with a flavor reminiscent of underripe melon.

The dish is easily fixed, however. I reheated the soup today and because the broth had permeated the pumpkin by this point, it was quite delicious. Here’s how I would amend the recipe: cut the squash into bite size pieces and season vigorously before roasting. Add to the soup and simmer for fifteen minutes. Cool and let the soup rest overnight. Reheat and serve.

I doubt that this blog post has inspired anyone to rush off to make Michael Solomonov's pumpkin soup, but if you do try it with these amendments, I think you will be pleased.

Saturday, January 02, 2016

I may never taste a white negroni, now

The best holiday cookies this year -- ginger florentines and fruit squares -- were from Alice Medrich's Chewy Gooey Crispy Crunchy. A very brown assortment, I see now.
Happy New Year, everyone.

An announcement before I launch into a new year of blogging: the tipsy baker is not tipsy anymore. I stopped drinking. I stopped drinking in October, actually. 

This requires a brief explanation, I feel, given the name of this blog and its purpose, which is to chronicle as honestly as I can everyday life in and around a kitchen. Mostly around a kitchen. I've strayed a bit. 


For most of my adult life I drank moderately. Then, around the time my mother got sick when I was in my early forties, I began drinking immoderately. A problem. I made resolutions to quit drinking, broke them, set limits, kept charts, gave up on charts, would stop for a month, would stop for a few days, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera, and it didn’t work and it didn’t work and this went on for a few years and then one day it all worked. I woke up and I was a moderate drinker again. In fact, I was more moderate than I’d ever been before. I gradually became almost (almost!) indifferent to alcohol. This period of moderation lasted for about three peaceful years and brings us to October 2015.

As you may recall, this past fall I read a nerdy self-help book for managers called Getting Things Done that I raved about maniacally in a post a while back. The author of GTD talks a lot about the “open loops” in your life, those uncompleted tasks/unresolved problems that weigh on your mind. I thought, hmmm, drinking. It wasn’t a problem anymore, but didn’t it always sort of weigh on my mind anyway? Would I be more tranquil if I just gave it up altogether and became a nondrinker? Could I actually do it?

The answers: yes, yes, and yes. I started off intending to quit for one month and it was so easy and pleasant I just kept going. Everything improved with booze off the table -- sleep, health anxieties, weight, self esteem, restaurant tabs, parties, mood. It was incredibly restful not to have to decide whether to have a glass of wine. I’d had no idea such decisions were still so loaded for me, but even just having to entertain the question for a few seconds had been stressing me out a little. 

After two and a half months of abstinence, I decided on New Year’s Eve (a.k.a. day-before-yesterday) that I would have a manhattan, once my favorite cocktail, to see if I wanted to resume moderate drinking. Mark encouraged this. He didn’t see why I had to be rigidly abstinent. Neither did I. 

Ay, caramba. Take some time away from manhattans and ... ugh. The ensuing buzz from that one manhattan was claustrophobic and unpleasant and I bitched the whole time about how “not fun” it was and by the time the glass was empty I had a headache. I bitched about that as well. A swell New Year’s date I was. When I went to bed I was queasy. I slept terribly. I woke up grimly triumphant, knowing that I was done with drinking, at least for the foreseeable future.

In hindsight, it's clear that I was never going to give that manhattan a chance. I'd hardened my heart against the drink long before I took my first sip and approached it -- or should I say him? -- with a spirit of vengefulness. For a few grim years alcohol had been like a charming, sociopathic boyfriend who kept doing me wrong, but whom I couldn't seem to get over. Now that I was really and truly over him was I really going to let him come to me with flowers and bonbons and tell me how much he missed me? Well, yes, I was. But I certainly wasn't about to succumb. I just wanted to see him on his knees.

Anyway, that's it. That's my story for today. To be honest, it has felt like a huge life accomplishment.

Mark, on the other hand, thinks this is all very sad.

Yesterday, I made the hoppin’ john from Sean Brock’s Heritage, such a lovely dish, reliant though it is on mail-ordered red peas and Carolina gold rice. One of the many fine dishes I made in 2015 and if I kept a nice, orderly list I would be able to give you some kind of top ten. One of my resolutions for 2016: keep a list of dishes I cook.

I also plan to keep a better list of the books I read so I can compile a top ten books list. Also: movies. In any case, this is the best book I read during the doldrums between Christmas and New Year’s and one of many fine books I read in 2015. 
The bar code hides Dr. Sacks' super-handsome head. Did you know that Oliver Sacks was once a motorcycle aficionado and body builder? That he briefly held the California record for the back squat and hung out on Venice Beach? Highly recommend this memoir.
These were the cookbooks my father, sister, daughter, and cousin gave me for Christmas:

This is the absolutely thrilling cookbook the library brought me last week:

I'm not sure how deep I can dig into it before the due date, but I'm going to give it my all.

Good times ahead.