Luisa Weiss's Blog
October 10, 2014
My darling child, who, given the choice, would rather eat raisins than anything I cook for him.
I read this sensitive, intelligent piece last week by a woman who doesn't like to cook or, perhaps more accurately, doesn't like how cooking makes her feel, and it really stuck with me. What she wrote was funny and touching and and interesting, because it made me really stop and think about how I feel about cooking and specifically how I feel about cooking for other people like my husband, my child or my friends these days. Like most of us here, I imagine, cooking is a pleasure for me, not a chore, so I feel differently than she does on a lot of the points. (As far as I understand, she doesn't have children to cook for, so writes more about her memories as the child of a mother who felt obligated to cook and slightly oppressed by it.) But the truth is that in my current role as the resident cook for a picky toddler and a man who really doesn't have the time to share the chore, I have recently found myself having more moments of resentment about cooking each week and it was sort of eye-opening to read a daughter's perspective on the whole thing.
And because it seems to be in the zeitgeist right now, along came Virginia Heffernan's caustic piece on a similar subject, namely what to do if, in this day and age where the family dinner is held up as a glowing signpost of successful motherhood, you simply hate to cook. I say caustic because it felt sort of gratuitously cruel towards the writers and books it was skewering, as if it was easier for her to accuse these women of sanctimony instead of just accepting that she just doesn't dig the same things they do and that that's okay. I found myself rolling my eyes at her, even though the previous article really touched me, and I guess I wonder what that's about. Why did one piece strike such a chord with me and the other piece seem so curmudgeonly? She does also make some good points and, as the comments show, her feelings really resonate with a lot of people.
Have you read the pieces? Did you have a strong reaction to either? I would absolutely love to know what you think, not just on the pieces, but on the subject of the duty of cooking in general, especially if you happen to be the cook in the family.
Happily, I'm abandoning my cooking duties this weekend and spending a few days with a couple of my best friends in town for the book fair. Oh man, girlfriends make the world go round. I can't wait.
But before I go, one more thing. Max introduced me to the band London Grammar a couple weeks ago (Max is my music guru - if I lived alone I'd just listen to the same three classical CDs plus The Weavers because Pete Seeger's voice completes me) and I kind of can't get enough of it, especially this song:
I hope you have a great weekend, folks.
October 8, 2014
My favorite kind of pancakes are buckwheat pancakes; my dad used to make them for us when I was little and I've loved their haunting, stoney flavor ever since. I introduced Max to them several years ago. He fell instantly and madly in love, and of course Hugo likes them, too, but my suspicion is that Hugo would eat most anything in pancake form as long as it held the promise of a drizzle of maple syrup. ("May-ah, mama, may-ah?")
But last weekend we were out of buckwheat flour, so I got to wondering if rye pancakes would be any good seeing as I had just a little bit of rye flour leftover from some long-ago experiments in German bread (no, the experiments did not go well, sigh, gnash, etc.). I used equal amounts of rye and white flour in a pretty standard pancake batter and lo, it was a huge success! The pancakes were fat and puffy, glorious to behold, and the rye flavor was delicious - wholesome and nutty and very, very nice paired with the maple syrup. I don't usually put butter on top of my pancakes when I serve them, but in this case I did, because the pancakes were so thick and fluffy that they needed some moistening. Now I think the butter is essential. It melts and combines with the maple syrup and soaks the pancakes just right.
So, the recipe is as follows: Whisk together 3/4 cup white flour, 3/4 cup rye flour, 1 tablespoon baking powder, 1-2 tablespoons sugar and 1/4 teaspoon of salt in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together an egg and 3/4 cup of milk. Pour the liquid ingredients into the dry ones and mix until combined; try not to overmix. The batter will be relatively stiff. Fry as usual in a buttered pan and serve with a pat of butter on top and maple syrup.
Amelia recently raved about meatless eggplant-porcini meatballs that sounded (and looked!) so delicious that I had to try them. And, woah, yes, they are pretty glorious - richly flavored, with a wonderfully springy, chewy texture. They are more than a bit of work (you have to roast eggplant, soak porcini, make breadcrumbs, fry the polpette (I can't call them meatballs!) and make tomato sauce to cook them in), but I still managed to get all of this done on a weeknight, so go figure. As Amelia says, it's pretty much all enjoyable kitchen work and I sort of squeezed it in and around Hugo's dinner, bathtime and then that quiet, wonderful stretch just after he fell asleep, when the evening still felt new and full of promise.
The recipe is here. It's a keeper.
On book-testing days, I'm always in a bit of a scramble to think of something light and vegetable-based for our lunch. We just need a little something savory in our bellies to be able to evaluate the cakes without feeling ill and it needs to be quick and easy to put together since we need to be mostly focused on measuring and converting and baking and cleaning. I've been loving the challenge; it's made me more creative than I'd usually be on my own. (Oh helloooo, cheese sandwich, you again?) Liana Krissoff's dead-simple, nearly instantaneous tomato soup was a recent hit, but the other day I made a sort of ersatz creamed spinach on toast and ooh, that was very nice, too.
I fried a diced onion in some olive oil (or was it butter?) until it was fragrant and translucent, then dumped in a whole bunch (3/4 pound?) of chopped fresh spinach and let it wilt down. I added salt and hot pepper and then cooked the spinach until it was silky and most of the liquid had boiled off. At that point, I added just a few spoonfuls of crème fraîche and let them melt and mix in with the spinach. You could hardly tell that there was anything creamy in the spinach, but it added some welcome body and richness. I toasted two slices of white bread (peasant would have been even nicer), then piled a fat amount of spinach on each piece of toast. A few microplanes of Parmesan cheese on top and that was that.
Nothing more than a silly little fridge-cleaner, but it hit the spot.
Finally, dessert. I apologize for the photo, which looks a bit picked-over, right? I have a good excuse: namely, those very squares. So irresistible, I couldn't even get out my camera in time before a bunch of marauding dinner guests fell on the pan and made quick work of it. What you're looking at is a batch of Jane Hornby's salted caramel shortbread bites (also known as millionaire's shortbread, but doctored with flaky sea salt on top). The recipe comes from Hornby's latest book, What to Bake and How to Bake It. Millionaire's shortbread is insanely good, sort of like a very fancy Kit-Kat bar, but even better? (Way better, says Max.) Imagine: a vanilla-flavored shortbread base, baked until crisp, a thick, salted butter caramel poured on top and finally a dark chocolate layer sprinkled wth a few flakes of salt to offset all the sugar and butter. In the immortal words of Osgood Fielding III, zowie!
With no further ado, the recipe (I didn't have time to convert it to US measurements, apologies to those without a scale. You should be able to do all of the conversions using Google):
Jane Hornby's Salted Caramel Shortbread Bites
Makes one 8-inch pan
For the shortbread:
110 grams unsalted butter
50 grams sugar
Pinch of flaky salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
140 grams all-purpose flour
For the caramel:
110 grams unsalted butter
200 grams dark brown sugar
4 tablespoons golden syrup (or corn syrup)
1/2 teaspoon flaky salt
400 gram can of unsweetened condensed milk
For the topping:
200 grams dark (70%) chocolate
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon flaky salt
1. Line an 8-inch square pan with parchment paper; set aside. Beat the butter until creamy and very pale. Add the sugar, salt and vanilla and beat until very well-combined. Sift the flour over the butter mixture and gently work into the butter until you have an even dough that clumps together.
2. Press the dough into the prepared pan (you may have to flour your hands for this part) until it's level. Prick it all over with a fork, then chill for 10 minutes. Heat the oven to 160 C. Bake for 25-30 minutes, until the shortbread is golden all over. Let cool completely.
3. Melt the butter, sugar, syrup and salt together in a saucepan, then stir in the condensed milk. Bring the mixture to a simmer and let cook, stirring constantly, until it thickens. This will take about 20 minutes, give or take a bit. Don't let the caramel burn. At the end, it should be thick enough for the spoon to leave a trail in the caramel for a few seconds. Pour the caramel over the shortbread and let cool completely.
4. Melt the chocolate in a microwave or double boiler, then stir in the oil and pour the chocolate evenly over the caramel. Use a spatula to smooth out the chocolate. Sprinkle with the salt and let cool completely, either at room temperature or in the fridge. When the chocolate has just set, mark it into squares, then chill until completely firm. Cut into squares to serve. For a very clean finish, wipe your knife blade with a damp towel between each slice. The squares keep for three days in an airtight container.
September 27, 2014
Imagine, if you will, your heroine (may I be so bold?) going on the 10th day of a sinus infection that surely originated in the nether regions of hell. Her husband and young son have decamped to the family seat in the east of the country to allow her to recover in peace. She wanders from room to room in search of a clean tissue, forgetting the ones stuffed into her pyjama pockets and sweater sleeves earlier, and burning her tongue repeatedly on hot herbal tea (for everyone from the doctor to her husband has impressed upon her the importance of the tea being HOT HOT HOT if it is going to do ANYTHING at ALL to relieve her symptoms). Bathing has become, in the parlance of the day, optional. Her mind is a foggy swamp. Her blog, a neglected lot overgrown with kudzu.
However! There are a few things of note.
1. The baking book is coming along swimmingly (more photographic evidence of such available on Instagram), although the author is very happy indeed that plum season in Germany is over because one more Pflaumenkuchen and she was going to throw the damn thing straight out the window.
2. If you are in need of a delicious hors d'oeuvres that does not involve bread of some kind (toasted, dipped, spread, etc), Marcella Hazan's "Hard-Boiled Eggs with Green Sauce" (on page 52 of The Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, if you own it) are very fine indeed. You boil, cool, shell and halve six eggs, then mash the yolks with an approximated salsa verde (2-3 tbsp olive oil, 1/2 tbsp capers, 1 tbsp minced parsley, 3 anchovies fillets, 1/4 tsp chopped garlic, 1/4 tsp mustard and some salt) and spoon this savory, salty, creamy mess back into the halved egg whites. One would not be remiss in renaming these Italian Deviled Eggs, but one should do as one pleases.
3. Jim Lahey's (he of no-knead fame) pizza topped with an unorthodox mix of spinach, garlic, Gruyère, pecorino and mozzarella cheese, also called the Popeye Pie, is probably the best way to use up that bag of spinach currently rotting in your crisper. It shall be noted that the pizza, reheated, also makes an excellent breakfast in a pinch, even if you are not usually the type to eat pizza for breakfast and in fact find it slightly barbaric.
What else? A jumble of disparate thoughts and anxieties and to-do lists, stacks of cookbooks to work through, invoices to send, a little boy's toys to put away, a rumpled bed calling seductively, ten more gallons of herbal tea to burn a mouth on. For now, though, nothing more than that bed, some silence, a good book and rest.
September 10, 2014
Have you noticed how many good cookbooks are out this year? It feels like a bumper crop, an absolute bounty of fascinating, good-looking, delicious books, and I can't get enough. I have a backlog of cookbooks I have been itching to tell you about and thought about bundling them all into one post, but that felt like I'd be shorting both you and the books, so I'm going to take my time and tell you about my favorites, one by one.
First up is Liana Krissoff's Vegetarian for a New Generation, which is the loveliest vegetarian cookbook to cross my doorstep in quite some time. Liana, as you may recall, is a onetime author of mine (I acquired and edited Canning for a New Generation). Her next book in the "series", Whole Grains for a New Generation, was nominated for an IACP award last year. And in April of this year, the third book in the series was published. Incidentally, all the recipes in Vegetarian for a New Generation happen to be gluten-free, not because of a particular motivation on Liana's part, but because she realized halfway through the writing process that the recipes she'd worked on up until that point were naturally so, so she kept up the momentum with the entire collection.
Liana's talent as a cookbook author lies not only in her uncanny ability to find and create interesting, delicious and - yes - new recipes in a field that has been mined many, many times over, but also in her writing, which is wry and funny, understated and just so sharp. I like to take to my bed with Liana's cookbooks and hunker down just to read the headnotes, which never fail to delight. Liana's a very smart writer: well-informed, helpful, realistic. Her aim is to hand-hold without condescension, to explain clearly, to motivate, to whet your appetite. She succeeds on every level.
I especially love that I can always count on Liana to open my eyes to new ways of eating. Only she could get me enthusiastic about a bowlful of Indian poha (flattened rice) fried with onions, spices, eggs, chiles and greens for breakfast. Her "fun" smoothies are actually fun: have you ever had a green pea smoothie? Her sense of adventure in eating is fearless and addicting. She waxes rhapsodic about preserved garlic and Indian chaat mix, and puts delicious twists in everything from roasted potatoes (with butter and tamari!) to roasted eggplant (stuffed with a spicy coconut filling!). But even though Liana's tastes are eclectic, her recipes always feel simple and comforting. She writes so beautifully for home cooks because she truly is one herself.
We made Liana's chipotle potato tacos for dinner the other night: imagine a panful of crisped-up potato chunks, spiced with chopped chipotles in adobo, cumin and oregano, then piled into corn tortillas (Berliners, we bought ours at Chaparro in Kreuzberg) and topped with cubed cherry tomatoes, fresh cilantro and crumbled feta. It was, as Liana promised, the pinnacle of comfort food and almost painfully delicious. We were too busy eating to take a photo.
I made her slow-fried sweet potatoes a few days earlier. The technique, popularized by Joël Robuchon, is an old one, I'm assuming for regular French fries. But Liana uses sweet potatoes and holds your hand in the process, especially valuable for fry-phobics like me. Her headnote is cookbook-gold:
The fries turned out just as Liana said they would: crisp on the outside, meltingly tender on the outside, greaseless and wonderful. We made a meal out of them along with both ketchup and aïoli for dunking and a big green salad to balance things out.
And now it's on for the rest of the book. I bought romaine lettuce yesterday so I can make her recipe for stir-fried lettuce with chiles, rice stick noodles and sprouts (the irony is not lost on me that the recipe is actually meant for wilting lettuce languishing in your fridge, not a fresh bag); I can't wait to try all three of the kohlrabi recipes in the book (shaved, with lemon and mustard; cubed, with yogurt-tahini sauce and sesame and cumin seeds; cooked, with raisins and paprika) and Liana's recipe for Mexican salsa de semillas, discovered at a taqueria in Los Angeles, sounds nothing short of addictive:
"Crunchy and nutty, smoky, full of deep chile flavor but not very spicy, a crumbly paste of oil-seared and ground up dried chiles, toasty seeds, and nuts. Make a nice big batch, keep it in the freezer, and you'll find dozens of uses for it. Two favorites so far are as a topping for perfect black bean soup (page 216) and tossed into a hot pan with dark sautéed mushrooms (page 205) destined for tacos—spoon in another fresh salsa, like the creamy and crisp tomato and avocado one on page 71, for a meal you won't forget."
No, I don't imagine I would. Much like the rest of the book, which has instantly shot to the top of my favorite cookbooks. What an absolute home run.
Liana Krissoff's Slow-Fried Sweet Potato Fries
Serves 4 to 6 as a side
4 sweet potatoes
About 4 cups (1 liter) canola or other neutral vegetable oil
Salt and seasonings
1. Line a baking sheet with paper towels and set a cooling rack upside down on top so that the wire rungs are in contact with the paper.
2. Cut the sweet ootatoes into French-fry-size pieces, about 3-6 mm thick. (Liana peels her, I don't.) Put them in a wide, heavy pot and add enough oil just to cover them. Set the pot over medium heat. When the oil starts to bubble gently all over the surface, lower to the heat to medium-low—it will continue to bubble—and cook for 45 minutes, occasionally nudging the fries gently with tongs. The sweet potatoes should be very limp and soft. Raise the heat to medium or medium-high, so the oil bubbles more vigorously, and cook until the fries are golden brown and stiffer. This can take anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes, depending on your stove. Keep in mind that the fries will crisp up more after they're pulled from the oil.
3. Transfer the fries to the prepared rack. While they're hot, season them with salt or and other seasonings and eat. (Liana's genius seasoning ideas include her own kale furikake or shichimi togarashi mixes in the book.)
August 25, 2014
I don't remember exactly how I stumbled on this recipe, I'm remembering vaguely that I had too many zucchini knocking around in the fridge and a can of chickpeas gathering dust (by the way, Hugo doesn't like beans, what is up with that?) and I probably did a search for a recipe that would use them up together, but the point is that by some stroke of internet luck, I happened on quick-dinner-gold that you need to know about, especially now with end-of-summer zucchini flooding markets. (Those of you with access to fresh, sweet, lovely, tender, beautiful, local corn, ENJOY IT YOU LUCKY DOGS YOU WHILE THE REST OF US MAKE DO WITH CANS SOB).
While I love the concept of vegetable fritters, I often find that in reality they aren't substantial enough for a dinner and they're too fussy for me to make as part of a larger meal. (I still think back almost weekly on the celestial tomato fritters that Max and I ate almost every night of our honeymoon in Greece, but refuse to attempt them at home because sometimes a memory has to be enough, you know?)
But these fritters, thrillingly, are hefty enough to be the whole dinner. The base is made up of chopped chickpeas, milk and flour. Baking powder gives the fritters some lift. To this you add a grated zucchini, a can of corn, some fresh herbs (I liked a mix of mint, basil and parsley) and sliced scallions. Then you dollop little portions in an oil-slicked pan and cook the patties until golden-brown and fragrant and irresistible on both sides.
You could serve these with garlic-spiked yogurt, but we ate them with hot sauce - Sriracha preferably, the sweet-hot-sour flavor livens up the fritters just perfectly. And to go out onto a limb, I imagine that a more bean-interested child would probably be happy to gobble these up unadorned, making this family-dinner material (wouldn't you say, Jenny?)
Now I need to go contemplate what other vegetables one could stuff into these things successfully and craft plans to get Hugo to eat even just one chickpea. One! Could it be that hard?
Corn, Zucchini and Chickpea Fritters
Serves 3 to 4
Note: The original recipe is Australian, hence the metric measurements. A 310-gram can of corn is approximately 11 ounces, so I'd suggest using 3/4 of a 15-ounce can of corn. You can of course use fresh or frozen corn instead.
1 400-gram (15-ounce) can chickpeas, drained, rinsed
1/2 cup milk
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 large zucchini, grated
1 310-gram can corn kernels, drained
1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint leaves
1 tablespoon chopped basil leaves
3 sprigs chopped flat-leaf parsley
3 scallions, thinly sliced
Sriracha sauce or other hot sauce for serving
1. Process chickpeas until roughly chopped.
2. Whisk milk and eggs in a measuring cup. Place flour in a bowl. Gradually add milk mixture to flour, whisking until smooth. Stir in chickpeas, zucchini, corn, herbs and scallions.
3. Cover a large frying pan with a thin film of oil. Heat over medium-high heat. Add 1/4 cup mixture to pan. Spread slightly with a spatula. Repeat to make 3 more fritters. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes each side or until golden and cooked through. Transfer to a plate. Cover to keep warm. Repeat with remaining mixture to make 12 fritters, replenishing the pan with oil between batches, if necessary. Serve with hot sauce.
You must live in Berlin, be an experienced home baker, interested in the German baking canon, fluent in English and at least proficient in German (bonus points if you can read Fraktur, because a lot of our research will be done with older German texts). The internship will begin immediately and last until next August, starting with 2 days per week (about 6 hours each day), but expanding a bit as the project moves forward. The location is in my home kitchen in Charlottenburg.
Duties include: recipe research, grocery shopping, occasional field trips to local bakeries, recipe testing and taste-testing. (More bonus points if you have a network of hungry people to help consume all the delicious things we bake.)
If interested, please send me an email (wednesdaychef at hotmail dot com) and tell me a little bit about yourself, why you'd be interested in the internship, your relevant work experience and your availability. The position is regretfully unpaid, but I can promise insight into the field of cookbook publishing, an in-depth education in the world of German baking (historical, cultural, etc) and a great working environment, not to mention many contacts in the food and book world. If you are a student, I am more than happy to work with your institution on college credit.
Can't wait to hear from you!
August 10, 2014
Hello from the rolling Montefeltro hills! The verdict so far is that things are blissfully as they always are here: lazy, sunny, delicious, mosquito-filled. (That last bit just to keep you from going completely green.)
We have not done much since getting here. Which is sort of the whole point, of course. There have been a few dinners with friends, an excursion to the beach or two, and there has been beer with lunch and dinner almost every day so far (we are nothing if not livin'-on-the-edgers).
Also, there has been a lot of crostata. Crostata is the very first thing I ever learned to bake. For a long while, it was the only thing I ever baked. It is, to explain, a jam-filled tart of sorts, except the dough is sort of cakey as well as crusty. It is eaten for breakfast and for dessert. It can be filled with any jam you like, though we are partial to sour ones like plum or sour cherry. A grade-schooler can master it and it requires nothing besides a countertop and a baking pan. I make one every couple of days since that's about how long they last.
In the grand tradition of Italian desserts, crostata is a little dry and almost aggressively simple. I would urge you to resist attempts to fancy it up.
I suppose it will be the first thing I teach Hugo how to bake one day. He is showing more and more interest in what I get up to in the kitchen these days. I plop him on the counter next to me and he watches as I knead pizza dough or helps measure oats when it's time for oatmeal. For now, though, he's content just eating crostata. And I'm happy to still be the one tasked with making it.
A few notes on the recipe:
1. I've given you both metric and US measurements, but I haven't tested it with the US ones yet.
2. If you have access to Italian "00" flour, you can use that instead of all-purpose. If you don't, no sweat.
3. The baking powder here in Italy is conveniently flavored with vanilla. If you happen to have access to Pane Degli Angeli baking powder, you need half a packet. If not, use 3/4 teaspoon (8 grams) of regular baking powder and then add either a spoonful of vanilla sugar or of vanilla paste/extract.
4. The eggs here are smaller than in the US, so I've noted "medium" eggs. If you can't find those, you can use large but you may need to use a bit more flour as you go.
5. The butter must be very soft to be able to be quickly incorporated by hand into the dough. Let it sit out overnight before making the crostata.
6. My favorite jams in crostata are sour ones. Sour cherry, plum and apricot are all great choices. But you should feel free to choose whatever jam you like. You can even divide the crostata in half and fill it two different jams for variety. As for other fillings, there is such a thing as Nutella crostata, just FYI.
200 grams / 1.5 cups plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
Pinch of salt
50 grams / scant 1/4 cup sugar
8 grams / 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
Grated peel of 1/2 organic lemon
1/2 teaspoon of vanilla paste or extract if not using Pane Degli Angeli baking powder
2 medium eggs, room temperature
50 grams / 3.5 tablespoons unsalted butter, very soft
About 1/2 jar sour cherry or plum jam
1. Heat the oven to 180 C / 350 F. Dump the flour onto your work space and make a well in the middle. Sprinkle the salt, sugar and baking powder into the well, making sure to sift out any lumps in the latter. Add the grated lemon peel and vanilla flavoring, if using.
2. Crack the two eggs into the well and, using your finger, stir them gently to break up and start incorporating into the dry ingredients. Then add the very soft butter and continue to stir until a rough dough starts to come together. Knead gently until it is smooth and uniform. Try not to overwork or add too much additional flour, but don't overthink things either; this is not pie crust.
3. Pull off a quarter of the dough and set aside. Pat the remaining dough evenly into a 9-inch pan and make sure to push the edges of the dough about 1/2 an inch up the sides of the pan to create a crust.
4. Spoon the jam into the crust and spread out evenly. Pinch off small pieces of the remaining ball of dough and roll them out into strips of varying length that you lay on top of the jam to create a lattice top.
5. Put the pan in the oven and bake for 20-25 minutes, until the tart is browned and the jam is bubbling. Let cool on a rack for an hour before turning out of the pan. Keeps for several days at room temperature.
July 31, 2014
Dearest readers, I did not mean to leave you hanging for, uh, almost three weeks. Please accept my apologies and my offering: a recipe for "barbecued" Korean chicken that I discovered in this cookbook that's been on my shelf since 2002 when I found it in the giveaway pile of an old job, but never actually cracked until a few months ago.
I don't know how I landed on this one recipe seeing as there far too many to count in this book (it's sort of overwhelming, actually), but somehow I did and the first time I made it, Hugo ate almost the entire panful of chicken while Max and I desperately tried to pick off pieces for ourselves, fending off the screeching wild animal each time, and every time I've made it since then it's been nothing sort of a roaring success. So. You need to know about this. Consider it my penance.
The original recipe is meant to be grilled on a grill pan, if you have that kind of thing, and served in lettuce cups with two different kinds of dipping sauces (sweet-sour and spicy-sour) and if your child is adventurous or you are no longer cooking for small, wildly opinionated people, then you should definitely do that. The recipe that I have put here is just for the chicken itself, which will delight people both big and small, but especially the cook, because it is stupid-easy and silly-fast and the payoff is just delicious. I serve the chicken with steamed rice and broccoli drizzled with a little sesame oil, but I dream one day of serving these in lettuce cups and not having Hugo stick out his little tongue to probe the lettuce once only to turn away in utter dejection and disgust.
The only things you need to source for this are a bottle of dark soy sauce, which is thicker and sweeter than regular soy sauce, and a bottle of toasted sesame oil, which you use sparingly and will last for months. The rest - garlic, ginger, sugar and a scallion - should be self-explanatory. You mix together a little marinade, then you shred a bit of raw chicken (you could sully a cutting board and knife for this, but I am lazy, as you already know, and it's easier just to take apart the chicken breast with your hands, believe it or not) and put it in to soak up the marinade. The recipe says you should let it rest for 30 minutes, but I have never, ever, ever, been able to wait this long (see: hungry, impatient wild animal mentioned above) and the chicken has always been divine. So.
Cooking the chicken takes only a minute or two, so if having your whole meal on the table at the same time matters to you, make sure you do your rice/vegetable/lettuce-cup-prep while the chicken is marinating. Then put on an apron, throw your chicken in the pan, let it sizzle up into a fragrant, golden-edge, sticky-sauced delight and watch it disappear almost faster than it took to cook.
Next dispatch will be from Italy! xo
Korean Barbecued Chicken
Adapted from The Essentials of Asian Cuisine
2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breast
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
2 tablespoons Japanese or Korean dark soy sauce
1/2 ounce ginger, peeled and grated
1 large garlic clove, peeled, crushed, and minced
1 scallion, root and green stems trimmed, and stalk minced
1/2 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
Freshly ground black pepper (optional)
1. Pull the chicken into child-sized strips or pieces with your hands.
2. Whisk the sugar and soy sauce in a bowl until the sugar is dissolved. Stir in the ginger, garlic, scallion, sesame oil and pepper, if using. Add the chicken and toss to coat well. Cover with plastic wrap and marinate for up to 30 minutes, refrigerated. If you're in a hurry, let sit in the marinade on the counter for 10 minutes.
3. Place a well-oiled grill pan or nonstick frying pan over medium-high heat. When the oil starts to smoke, add the chicken (you will have to do this in two batches unless you have an enormous pan). Cook for a minute or two on each side, then serve immediately.
July 13, 2014
You spend 10 years in a city like New York and you consider yourself some kind of expert. You know how to get around the West Village without a map; every street corner means something particular to you; you start recognizing strangers miles away from the neighborhood from which you know them. That kind of thing. And then you leave.
The city, of course, goes on (as do you). Restaurants open and close, people move away, new buildings go up. And you start to hear about new places that would have been the kind of place you would have loved, if you still lived there. But you don't anymore. Nuts to you. Cue cravings for things you've never even had the pleasure of tasting.
One of these places for me was Saltie on Metropolitan Avenue in Williamsburg. I can't remember where I first heard about them; I think it was through Brian. But their sandwiches sounded totally beguiling. I mean, with names like the Captain's Daughter, the Scuttlebutt and the Spanish Armada, how could they not? Their funny names belied their aggressively straightforward composition, though: focaccia filled a slice of Spanish tortilla with aioli, focaccia swiped with hummus and piled with pickled vegetables; focaccia sandwiching scrambled eggs with ricotta. Every time I heard about Saltie, I got peckish, for sandwiches and for New York.
Luckily for me, Saltie published a cookbook, which I bought on my last visit to Boston in the fall. Saltie's pedigree is illustrious - the joint owners and chefs come from Diner, the now-famous restaurant that put Williamsburg on the map. They care about high-quality ingredients and have cheffy standards, but apply them to humble sandwiches, soups and cookies. Their book is a quiet delight - full of bossy instructions (I love bossy instructions) and musings on a variety of subjects, including herb salads and Moby Dick.
It also makes you want to cook things as disparate as chicken salad, pickled red currants and perfect boiled eggs. But the crown jewel of the cookbook has to be the recipe for focaccia, the basis upon which the whole Saltie operation stands. I made it when Adam and Craig came to lunch and it is, in my opinion, the holy grail of focaccia recipes (I'm talking about focaccia genovese, meaning a flat "loaf" of bread about the size of a baking sheet, baked with so much oil that it's almost fried - for thick and fluffy focaccia pugliese, click here).
This kind of focaccia is the ultimate no-knead bread - you stir together flour, salt and yeast (the original recipe calls for active dry, which I don't like, so I substituted instant yeast, at a 1:1 ratio), then you add water and mix it all briefly with a wooden spoon until combined. You pour a substantial amount of olive oil in a big (big) bowl, dump in the batter, which looks more like milky oatmeal than bread dough, and put it in the fridge for a good amount of time (a minimum of eight hours; I let it go for 24). That's it.
The next day, or when you're ready to bake, you simply pour the risen dough, which reminded me most of all of a soft and yielding post-pregnancy belly, onto a baking sheet and push it gently out to the corners. You let it come to room temperature, sprinkle it with salt and put it in the oven. There is so much oil pooling around the edges and on the top and bottom of the focaccia that it partially fries in the oven.
It's pretty spectacular stuff, in the end. The top goes toasty, bubbly and brown and a rich, nutty fragrance fills the air. The focaccia, split open, has the most wonderful bubbly crumb, full of juicy holes to fill with mayonnaise or tomato drippings. I cut off the edges to prepare for our sandwich lunch and then snacked on those edges for a good long time - they are the platonic ideal of the cook's treat. Crisp and crunchy, salty and rich. Cocktail nuts who?
To make Saltie's Scuttlebutt sandwich for Adam and Craig, I filled the sandwiches with the cookbook's pimenton aioli, their pickled beets and herb salad, plus slices of feta and hard-boiled eggs. And it turned out that the whole concoction was just too rich and crazy for me (Adam and Craig liked it, though). But later that evening, I layered sliced tomatoes and a milky piece of mozzarella in a split piece of focaccia and found that I'd made myself a sandwich for the ages. Salty, simple, chewy, oily and juicy. What a home run.
Put this one in your laminating pile, folks. And with that, I'm back to the rest of the World Cup final WHICH I AM NOT HANDLING WITH EQUANIMITY RIGHT NOW AAAAAH.
Makes 1 sheet pan of bread
6 1/4 cups flour
2 tablespoons salt
1 teaspoon instant yeast
3 1/2 cups warm water
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for greasing and drizzling
Coarse sea salt
1. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, and yeast. Add the warm water to the flour mixture and stir with a wooden spoon until all the flour is incorporated and a sticky dough forms. Pour 1/4 cup olive oil into a 6-quart plastic food container with a tight-fitting lid (or a very large bowl, like the one from a standmixer). Transfer the focaccia dough to the container, scoop a little oil from the sides over the top, and cover tightly. (If you're using a bowl, wrap tightly and thoroughly in plastic wrap, making sure there's plenty of room in the bowl for the dough to rise.) Place in the refrigerator to rise for at least 8 hours or for up to 2 days.
2. When you're ready to bake, oil an 18 x 13-inch baking sheet. Remove the focaccia dough from the refrigerator and pour onto the prepared pan. Using your hands, spread the dough out on the prepared pan as much as possible. Place the dough in a warm place and let it rise until it about doubles in bulk. The rising time will vary considerably depending on the season. (In the summer, it might take just 20 minutes; in winter, it can take an hour or more.) When the dough is ready, it should be room temperature, spread out on the sheet, and fluffy feeling.
3. Heat the oven to 450° F. Pat down the focaccia to an even thickness of about 1 inch on the baking sheet, and then make a bunch of indentations in the dough with your fingertips -- like you're playing chords on a piano. Dimple the entire dough and then drizzle the whole thing again with olive oil. Sprinkle the entire surface of the focaccia evenly with sea salt.
5. Bake, rotating once front to back, until the top is uniformly golden brown, 25-30 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool, then slide out of the pan. Use the same day or slice crosswise, cut into squares, wrap tightly in plastic wrap and freeze.
July 1, 2014
It all started when the one local vendor at my Tuesday greenmarket had the most beautiful bunches of beets with vibrant, glossy, fresh greens (more on those later) last week. The minute I saw them, I felt a primal urge to make borscht. You know, the kind with beef shin or oxtail: hearty and warm, with little golden discs of fat floating on the surface. Definitely not the kind of meal you'd make on a warm summer's day, which it actually, surprisingly, happened to be. (Context break: With an exception or two, like my day of beets, our Berlin summer has been nothing but rainy and chilly and windy and gray. Here's something I never thought I'd say: I miss those hot and stinky New York City streets in summer something awful right now! My kingdom for a un-airconditioned subway car! For humidity! For sustained SUN! Anyway. Moving on.)
So borscht with beef was out. And then I started thinking about cold summer borschts, the ones you eat with boiled potatoes and buttermilk. I first learned about cold borscht when I was going through my Holocaust phase as a kid. Yes, there was a period in my childhood when all I read were books about the Holocaust. I can't have been alone? I was completely and utterly obsessed. (I even had nightmares about it, really vivid and terrifying ones that I have still not forgotten.) I feel more than slightly weird confessing a food craving that is in any way even peripherally related to the Holocaust, but sometimes the mind works in strange ways. That nourishing soup - a gesture of kindness in one of many bleak moments in that grim parade of stories - made an impression on me in the midst of all that horror, I suppose.
Once the thought of sweet, silky beets combined with cool, sour buttermilk and little waxy cubes of boiled potato occurred to me, it was difficult to think of anything else. A quick Google search led me to this recipe, in which the only cooking involved boiling beets and two eggs. (I had a few small leftover boiled potatoes from the day before, so I added those two - maybe you guys can tell me if that's more a Ukrainian thing? The original recipe, a Lithuanian one, is without potato.). The rest of the soup's work just involved dicing up a cucumber and some scallions. Once the beets were cooled and peeled, I grated them into a bowl, added the sliced scallions and chopped cucumbers, diced eggs and cubed potatoes, and then poured in a quart of buttermilk and a quart of cold water, plus salt to taste. The color was electric, hallucinatory, utterly stunning.
I stirred in a little sour cream at the end for richness, then put the bowl in the fridge to cool for a while. I committed what is probably heresy in the world of borscht by leaving out the dill, but as you may know, it is the final bastion in the almost-conquered world of Things I Do Not Under Any Circumstances Eat. Feel free to put it in, if you like dill. But for those of you for whom dill is an absolute no-go (solidarity fist-bump!), rest assured that the soup was as delicious as can be without it. Sour, crunchy, creamy, silky, cold and refreshing.
(As for the greens, I chopped them up, washed them verrrry carefully and then did a sort of Chinese stir-fry, with minced ginger and soy sauce and chile and garlic. They were delicious, especially with a fried egg on top. Yesterday I had another batch and made an aloo sag with them instead of spinach, which was also nice, but I messed up the potato-greens ratio and it was too potato-ey for my taste. My favorite use for them, actually, was in a frittata with a few sliced potatoes, chopped parsley and chunks of feta on top. I'm headed back to the greenmarket right now for another batch - have any other beloved beet green recipes to share?)
Cold Summer Borscht
1 pound beets (2-3 beets)
1 large potato (or 2-3 small ones)
½ English cucumber (or 2-3 baby cucumbers)
2 large eggs
Small bunch of fresh green dill (optional)
1 quart of kefir or buttermilk
1 quart of cold boiled water
3 tablespoons of sour cream
Salt to taste
1. Put the washed beets and the potato in a pot of cold water and bring to a boil. Cook, covered, at a low boil until a knife inserted into the potato goes in without resistance (should take about 20 minutes) The beets will take longer, but should submit to the same knife test. (Time can vary according to size and freshness of the beets.) Drain and cool until easy to handle. In a separate pot, hard-boil the eggs. Drain and cool the eggs. Wash the scallions and peel the cucumber.
2. When the beets have cooled sufficiently, peel them and grate them on the large holes of a box grater. Put the grated beets into a large soup bowl or pot. Peel and dice the eggs and the potato. Add both to the beets. Dice the cucumber and slice the scallions and add to the beets. Mince the dill, if using, and add to the vegetables.
3. Mix 3 tablespoons of sour cream into the vegetables and season with salt to taste. Then add the kefir or buttermilk and the water. Mix carefully, cover and put in the fridge to let the flavors meld. Serve cold from the fridge.