When my mother comes to visit…
… she rouses in the wee hours of the morning, brewing coffee, making oatmeal, preparing the kitchen for the pitter patter of hungry, cranky, little (and big) bodies.
… all day long she runs up and downstairs — seriously, she’s forgotten how to sit down — fetching clothes, doing laundry, making dinner.
… somehow she finds time to make me an Earl Grey tea latte — so good! — every morning, to make dinner every evening, and to bake a cake with Ella somewhere in between, this time a storybook recipe called “happy winter chocolate cake,” which, as many of you might suspect by now, is dry and disgusting.
… she, perhaps still seeing me as a three-year-old needing positive reinforcement, oohs and ahhs over every little thing I make, even a batch of completely inedible lemon ice cream. She tries not to wince as she forces a few bites down but finally agrees that cloying lemon ice cream and repulsive happy winter chocolate cake belong in the garbage together.
… she brings me fun gadgets like English muffin rings, because she knows I’ve been on a little English muffin-making kick recently.
… she also brings recipes. Her track record for selecting winners is astonishingly good.
In addition to mascarpone sorbet, my gnudi-making debacle, which left me with pounds of semolina flour in my pantry, has led to another pleasant discovery: relatively easy and completely delicious ciabatta-like sandwich rolls.
It turns out that when one cup of the all-purpose flour in the peasant bread dough is replaced with one cup of semolina flour, the loaves transform a bit, becoming at once chewier and lighter in texture and slightly more golden in color.
And when the dough, instead of being shaped into two loaves, is portioned into roll-sized pieces and sprinkled, just like those ever-so-promising gnudi, heavily with semolina flour, and gently stretched into squares or elongated “slippers,” it bakes off into light sandwich rolls, crispy on the exterior and soft on the interior.
But when the unbaked rolls are allowed to be pampered just a bit more by an overnight rest in the fridge, they bake off even more beautifully, becoming even crispier on the exterior, more porous on the interior, feather-light in weight, gorgeously golden in color, and resembling in taste the most delectable ciabatta, so well suited for housing any number of sliced meats and cheeses, fried eggs and bacon, or slices of mozzarella and tomato.
For years, all of my favorite cookbooks have been urging me to seek out salt-packed anchovies, that I won’t be disappointed once I find them, that their superior quality is worth the effort of soaking and filleting them, that once I get my hands on them I will want to sneak them into everything from herb butters to pizza toppings to sauces and salsas.
So when I read once again in my latest cookbook purchase, April Bloomfield’s A Girl and Her Pig, about their umami properties, I decided it was time to bite the bullet on a tin. To my computer I marched, to the rescue came Amazon, to my door two days later for a grand total of $24 arrived a kilo of salt-packed Italian anchovies. It may have been the beautiful tin; it may have been the sight of something other than diapers and Desitin; it may have been the snow on the ground; but opening that package felt like Christmas in March.
The arrival of the anchovies coincided with the arrival of my parents, who would take part in the little fishies’ induction to my kitchen whether they knew it or not. Let me explain. My stepfather believes he dislikes anchovies. Because of this, I would have to be strategic, as my mother always is, about preparing them, first with the rinsing and filleting, next when adding them to the bread crumb salsa, their ultimate destination that evening. When Chip escaped for an afternoon walk, my mother, Auntie and I began scrambling. All evidence of anchovies — the tin, the backbones, the scent — had to be removed before Chip returned lest he suspect their presence and in turn ruin his dinner.
Fernand came to the café where I waitressed in sunny CA every Sunday afternoon for the same meal: an omelet, a baguette, and a side of Dijon mustard. He ate his omelet methodically, spreading mustard over each slice of bread first, spooning bits of his creamy eggs overtop next. A mustard-slicked slice of bread accompanied every bite of omelet.
I always thought this mustard routine was a little odd. Slatherings of butter, cheese, and jam made sense to me. Mustard felt foreign. But when I read the description in The Zuni Cafe Cookbook of Madeleine’s omelet, and more specifically of the croutons that lace that omelet, I wondered if Fernand, or the French, were on to something.
Before we get to the croutons, a little background might be helpful: Madeleine is the sister of Jean and Pierre Troisgros, the brothers who ran the restaurant Les Frères Troisgros in Roanne, where Judy Rogers spent a year as a young teenager watching, tasting and recording everything that she could. During this year, too, at least twice a week, Rogers would escape to Madeleine’s home kitchen and delight in dinners of scrambled eggs filled with nutty hard cheeses and croutons or with lightly browned potatoes and bacon.
Given the generous amount of Dijon mustard and mustard seeds that dress Madeleine’s croutons, I suspect Fernand would approve of them wholeheartedly. And finding them in an omelet might just send him over the moon. Golden on the outside, chewy on the inside, mustardy throughout, these croutons are irresistible. And while they certainly are not as hard core as straight up mustard bruschetta, I should have known better than to question the eating habits of a French wine purveyor from Burgundy.
I have a confession. By the time Valentine’s Day rolled around, we had eaten the steaks, devoured the torte and made soup out of the turnips. And then, as it turned out, Ben couldn’t even be home for Valentine’s Day dinner, so we postponed the romantic occasion till the weekend, when my mother would be in town, too, and we could all cozy around the table together and enjoy a meze-style dinner with what remained of the planned Valentine’s Day menu as well as one more addition: a braised radicchio and gorgonzola tartine, another Nancy Silverton creation.
Since discovering the hard-boiled egg toasts with bagna cauda in the Nancy Silverton Sandwich Book, I’ve had my eye on a tartine topped with gorgonzola, radicchio, honey and walnuts, a series of ingredients I have seen in combination before but never with quite so much flair. When made in its entirety, slices of grilled bread are topped with sweet gorgonzola dolce and a drizzling of honey, both of which serve to offset the bitterness of the radicchio braised with balsamic vinegar and rosemary. Spicy candied walnuts provide additional sweetness as well as crunch, a nice contrast to the creaminess of the other ingredients. A few of these components never in fact made it to our table, but even in a simpler incarnation — braised radicchio topped with gorgonzola — the sweetness of the cheese alone was enough to counter the bitterness of the radicchio, and the combination was just so lovely. It was this dish that the three of just couldn’t get enough of during our romantic evening together.
Over the weekend while looking to employ the half dozen loaves of walnut bread cluttering my countertops, I stumbled upon this little gem of a tartine in Nancy Silverton’s Sandwich Book. Silverton had apparently prepared this snack — grilled bread topped with hard-boiled eggs bathed in a warm anchovy sauce — for Mario Batali one summer evening when he stopped by the piazza in the Italian town where she had been vacationing. Smitten with the combination, Batali insisted that Silverton include this creation in her nearly completed book celebrating the Thursday-night sandwich tradition at her restaurant, Campanile. And, with the addition of arugula, she did.
It all sounded too idyllic — an Italian piazza, a summer evening, a vacation, a warm anchovy bath — not to try immediately. And so, my introduction to bagna cauda, a classic Italian sauce made with anchovies, garlic, olive oil, butter and lemon juice came by way of an untraditional recipient — hard-boiled eggs — at an unconventional time of day — breakfast — and I am sorry this meeting occurred only because I now have to accept that for 31 years I have been missing out on some serious goodness.
I have no excuse. I have been reading about bagna cauda, which translates to “hot bath,” for years in all of my favorite west coast cafe cookbooks — Zuni, Chez Panisse, Tartine — Continue reading
So often, for me at least, the best part of a dinner out happens shortly after I am seated, when the server sets down a warm roll with a pat of soft butter sprinkled with sea salt or a basket of freshly baked focaccia and a little dish filled with olive oil swirled with a few drops of balsamic vinegar. It’s these simple details that, when done well, distinguish the meal from one prepared at home, when such delights are often absent and when relishing every morsel is not always the order of the hour.
With that in mind, I have a few very simple ideas for beginning a Valentine’s Day dinner at home. If you thrive at arranging delicious things on plates, ideas 1 and 2 are for you. If you like to fuss a little bit more, idea number 3 might interest you more.
But before we get to the food, let’s discuss cards. You have to begin Valentine’s Day with a card, right? I’ve added four Valentine’s Day cards to the print shop, including the above pictured one, Parmigiano Love. Each Valentine’s Day card costs $3 and can be shipped to you for the price of a stamp (45 cents). Continue reading
Homemade breadcrumbs slipped into our dinner regimen slowly, appearing on our salads to start, the kale caesars in particular, quietly replacing croutons altogether. But shortly after their introduction, perhaps encouraged by their warm reception, they made haste, and soon began garnishing our pastas, mingling with our roasted vegetables, delicately topping our fish fillets. These days they’ve gotten completely brazen, sometimes accompanying every item on the plate. I don’t know when this trend will fizzle, but I’m liking it very much at the moment.
The inspiration to start whizzing my stale bread in the food processor, storing the crumbs in the freezer, and toasting them in a skillet with olive oil at the dinner hour, came from two sources: a great chef interview on the kitchn in early November and the editor’s letter in this month’s bon appètit, which offered tips on how to be a better cook from seven renowned chefs around the world including Mario Batali who admits that “there’s almost nothing [he] wouldn’t put homemade breadcrumbs on.” I’m starting to share this sentiment. These crunchy, salted, olive-oil toasted bits are truly addictive. Continue reading
When I’m home in CT visiting my parents, my favorite pastime is poking around the two basement refrigerators, the home of all sorts of treats my mother has been preparing — soups, spanakopita, Grand Marnier chocolate truffles — and stocking up on — smoked mussels, white anchovies, enough cheeses to feed the neighborhood — for weeks. It’s a little gourmet paradise inside those boxes, and it’s impossible not to sneak a peak (and a truffle) with every trip down to the basement.
The only hard part about being home for the holidays is refraining from eating all day long. From the first bite of homemade cinnamon oatmeal bread in the morning to the last bite of flourless chocolate-almond torte in the evening, my stomach barely gets a rest. There is goodness at every turn, and none so much (if you ask me) as at lunch, which hasn’t changed (during the holidays at least) in about a decade: a bowl of soup, a square of spanakopita and a slice or two of homemade bread. On this most recent visit, we feasted on Vermont cheddar cheese soup — my favorite — and rosemary butternut squash bisque with slices of toasted buttered rye bread on the side. It was heaven.
Five days of this soup-and-bread routine made me miss it dearly upon returning home to my all-but-bare refrigerator. But when a large head of cabbage and a few carrots sitting in my vegetable drawer caught my eye, my spirits lifted. With the exception of fresh dill, I had everything on hand to make another favorite soup of my mother’s, one she has been making since the early 80′s: Paul Steindler’s cabbage soup with caraway seeds, a recipe Craig Claiborne wrote about many years ago in The New York Times Magazine and eventually published in The Essential New York Times Cookbook. Loaded with vegetables — carrots, potatoes, onions and cabbage — a little bacon and a touch of cream, this is definitely a hearty soup, best served on a cold winter day with crusty bread and nothing more. For me, it’s the dill and caraway seeds that make it unlike any other I have tasted, the caraway seeds in particular imparting a lovely yet subtle flavor. Continue reading
Biscotti lovers seem to fall into two camps: those who view dipping as essential and those who view dipping as optional. As you can see from the photo above, I fall into the dipping-is-optional camp. I like my biscotti with a chewy center (a texture achieved by butter, which dipping-biscotti recipes generally do not call for) and a crisp crust, and I like them on the larger, meatier size — I want to eat one (not ten) and feel satisfied.
While I am partial to classic almond biscotti, these gingerbread biscotti are a treat this time of year. This recipe is just a variation of my favorite recipe with molasses replacing some of the sugar and the addition of traditional gingerbread spices: ginger, cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg. With coffee or tea, a latte or hot cocoa, this dunking-is-optional treat will put anyone in the holiday spirit. Continue reading