Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Crazy and complicated, plain and simple

bright and crunchy
Just when you think youve licked your addiction, a day like yesterday comes along and Twitter gives gives gives and then gives some more, like a broken slot machine. Mark and I were recovering from a rich dinner and slightly queasy new episode of Girls when I checked my phone one last time and whoa. If you know what Im talking about, great. If not, go read a newspaper! Today I met someone who had no idea what was going on in the world and while this is often sane and refreshing, sometimes I want to say: Dude, you are missing out. 

Anyway, I didn’t sleep well after several hours of Don Lemon and Twitter, but in fact the insomnia had more to do with the rich dinner I served than the news. Pivoting now to cooking.

As cookbook lovers know, Food52 announced its 2017 Piglet finalists yesterday. I own several of the titles (Koreatown, Deep Run Roots, Dorie’s Cookies), know something about a few others (Simple, Sirocco), and hadn’t heard of most the rest. At the library, Naomi Pomeroy’s Taste & Technique was on the new arrivals shelf so I grabbed it. This handsome book will teach you to make aioli, braise short ribs, and saute kale, presumably, hopefully with better results than ever before. After flipping through the book a couple times, I was respectful, if not bubbling over with enthusiasm. After cooking a meal from its pages, I am respectful and more enthusiastic, if not bubbling over. It takes a lot to get me bubbling these days. 

big and strong

The meal I cooked: pan-roasted salmon and long-cooked green beans. Here’s what went on my grocery list: salmon and green beans. It’s that kind of cookbook. 

To make the vegetable, you immerse trimmed green beans in a pint (!) of warm olive oil and let them simmer very gently for an hour or so until they’re drab and almost falling apart. I thought I didn’t like overcooked green beans, but it turns out I do. They required a lot more salt than the recipe indicated and a slightly longer cooking time, but otherwise the recipe was flawless and the beans very, very good. I may re-use some of the oil to try the long-cooked broccoli variation.

drab and soft
The salmon was even better. The salmon was sensational. Probably the best technique I’ve tried for cooking salmon, and I’ve tried plenty. You season your salmon filet then sear, skin-side down, in a hot, oiled skillet for three minutes. Melt a hunk of butter in the pan, baste the top of your fish, pop in the oven for a few minutes, baste some more, and serve. You could add lemon and capers to the butter, I suppose, but it was delicious as was. My one qualm: It was superrich, particularly when served with green beans poached in a pint of olive oil. But we loved this salmon, loved this meal, and I have already decided what dishes to try on Thursday and Friday nights. 

Today I put the leftover salmon into a green salad dressed with the cacao nib vinaigrette from Alton Brown’s EveryDayCook. Salmon and chocolate vinaigrette? I know. But it was fine. I made the dressing a few days ago and have used it on several salads with lovely results. You grind some cacao nibs, infuse into olive oil over low heat, mix with shallots and balsamic, and end up with a unique and tasty vinaigrette that would work especially well, I think, on a salad of spring greens, fresh cherries, and cheese. But it worked great on salmon salad, too. 

Other stuff:

*The fudgy mocha brownies from Dorie’s Cookies overwhelmed me. Too tall, too bulky, too nutty, too much chocolate, too much coffee. I served these bruisers to my in-laws, who are chocolate fiends, unlike me, and even they approached them cautiously. Not a fail, but I wouldn’t make them again.

*The narrative of villainy and greed that unfolds in Jane Mayer’s Dark Money beggars belief. I had taken it on faith that the Koch brothers were evil because that’s what the people I respect and the news media I follow always said. But I couldn’t have told you why the Kochs were awful; I would have muttered something vague and tried to change the subject. I’m only on disc 7 of this audiobook, but I can now tell you why the Koch brothers are terrible in gruesome detail. The narrator mispronounces a word every ten minutes or so, but otherwise does a great job with this informative and enraging book. 

*Finally, I enjoyed this interview with Slate book critic Laura Miller. You should read it for yourself, but here is my favorite passage: “It’s such an act of grace to give someone else ten or fifteen hours out of your own irreplaceable life, and allow their voice, thoughts, and imaginings into your head. I can’t respect any writer who isn’t abjectly grateful for the faith, generosity, and trust in that. I think there’s an unspoken, maybe even unconscious contempt for reading as merely “passive” in many people who obsess about writers and writing.”  

I am abjectly grateful to anyone who has given the last seven minutes of their own irreplaceable life to allowing my voice, thoughts, and imaginings into their head. 


  1. Yes, yesterday was a day that I couldn't ignore either! All chaos, all the time, and a bit disturbing, although I am trying to come to peace with the fact that I am somewhat powerless to change the track for this train. I do what I can, then I go to the gym to work it off.
    I am completely intrigued by cooking beans in oil! I will have to try this. As a southerner, I add olive oil or butter to beans when/after I cook them as a seasoning, but never in such gross quantity. Did they taste oily? Did you use a good olive oil? I immediately went the library website to see if my library had it. Nope. I will have to mull it over as to whether or not to buy. I generally am most intrigued by cooking techniques rather than variations of recipes. I think this is where really good cooks reveal themselves.
    I am pretty much overwhelmed by people who thank me for my time. The first time Jose Diaz-Belart said, "thank you for the privilege of your time" on NBC news, I was surprised and thoughtful. But I truly appreciated his sentiment. After all, time is what life it made of; it is precious whether we recognize it or not. It's always, and I mean this sincerely, always a pleasure to spend time with you. And I appreciate more than I can say how much I enjoy each and every post. So, thank you, Jennifer.

  2. Fascinating interview, thanks for the link. And, echoing beckster, I appreciate every post you take your precious, irreplaceable time to give us. - Gretchen

  3. I've spent hours of my life reading your blog, i.e., allowing your voice, thoughts, and imaginings into my head.

    Looking forward to Piglet commentary. As usual I think their judges will be controversial. I'm very curious about Deep Run Roots and would love to read your reports on it.

  4. I'm a little news obsessed. I can't help it!

    I got out that book from the library too - I think that I only made an easy salad, but was intrigued by the salmon, so maybe I'll take it out again.

    Thanks for the piglet tip - FYI, Freddie Prinze Jr is a judge. As is Lena Dunham. REALLY!?!

    1. HUH???? Is the Piglet becoming reality internet?

  5. I'm happy to spend the seven minutes with your voice, thoughts, and imaginings. Your blog is always a pleasure to read and I'm grateful for it.

  6. Have you encountered Jade Claws and Phoenix Trees, a fabulous book about Chinese cooking techniques? It's way too meat-centric for me, but I gave a copy to a Chinese American friend who is a tremendous cooking geek and he was immediately in love with it.

  7. Tipsy you are balm to my soul. Thank you for your writing

  8. Piglet is my favorite Feb event! Thanks for covering.

  9. I am grateful to you for sharing your life with us this way so generously. Thanks!

  10. Your coverage of piglet last year was what introduced me to Food52! Its been a great relationship since:) Also you would make a fantastic judge for it. Next year perhaps?

    Been so thoroughly enjoying spending my time with your voice, thoughts, and imaginings in my head. Really a treat!

  11. I count on you every year to notify me when the Piglet is happening! So, thanks for that. And I agree with a couple of other points above: 1) I have spent probably quite a few hours on your writing, including the book (when are you going to write another book, Jennifer?), and 2) the idea of green beans poached entirely in oil sounds, well, very oily. You say that was okay? It's hard to imagine.

    I have had to go to a policy of consuming news on my own schedule. Believe me, I consume a lot of news. But I am trying to consider whether or not I have time or energy at that moment to HANDLE the news before automatically checking email/Facebook/Washington Post/whatever. That is working better. Also: no multiple tabs open on the computer. Making that last rule has changed my life and made me feel so much calmer. !

  12. Thanks for letting us into your world!

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