Do you ever find yourself needing to prepare a meal for a friend? Perhaps a new mom? Or someone on bed rest? Or just someone in need?
As comfortable as I feel in the kitchen, cooking for these sorts of occasions makes me panicky. I never know what to make. I know comfort food is the name of the game, but I worry that my comfort food might not comfort others.
Fortunately, I have friends who thrive in these situations — friends who can throw casseroles together in their sleep; friends whose pantries never fail them at these critical moments; friends whose freezers at any given time are stocked with a half dozen of these sorts of meals already. It was one of these such friends who passed along this recipe after I mentioned I had no idea what I was going to make for my friend who had just returned from the hospital with a new baby girl. I didn’t even have to note that this new mom was avoiding dairy and a few other foods. Amanda knew exactly the recipe I needed.
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
It’s a rare occasion that a New York strip steak needs anything more than a little salt and pepper. That said, in the spirit of special-occasion dining, a good sauce does make a meal feel a wee more special. And when a good sauce mixes with the juices of a good steak and that fusion pools around the edges of a good creamy purée and the dregs of that sauce-infiltrated purée get mopped up by a piece of good bread, well, it just doesn’t get much more special than that.
This balsamic caramel is another three-ingredient sauce that tastes as though much more effort went into its creation than actually did. Like the port wine reduction, the flavor from this sauce is attained by slowly reducing the liquids into a super concentrated syrup: a half cup of madeira reduces to a tablespoon; a cup of balsamic vinegar gets reduced by three quarters. The resulting flavor of this balsamic caramel resembles that of expensive Italian barrel-aged balsamics, fit for drizzling over anything ranging from prosciutto-wrapped figs to vanilla ice cream to pan-seared steaks. This recipe doesn’t yield a lot, but a little goes a long way, and as noted above, there’s no reason to smother a New York strip. Continue reading
On Christmas Eve my mother served this torta caprese — a flourless, chocolate-almond torte originating from the Isle of Capri — for dessert. If this is any indication of how it was received, not a single person sitting at the table, nine in total, turned down seconds. Later that evening, Santa even helped himself to thirds.
I love this class of cakes, those that can stand on their own, that don’t beg for layers of buttercream, pools of crème pâtissière, glazes of chocolate ganache or even dollops of whipped cream. This one, like the orange-and-olive oil cake and the Chez Panisse almond torte, fits into this class.
Containing no flour and leavened only by whipped egg whites, this torte is at once light, rich and moist. Ground almonds give it a wonderful texture throughout, and a splash of Grand Marnier offers a hint of orange. Made with bittersweet chocolate, it is perfectly sweet, and when it bakes, that brownie-like, most-delicious, paper-thin crust forms on the top-most layer. It is every bit elegant the finale of a special occasion should be, Valentine’s Day or otherwise. I hope you find an occasion to celebrate it soon. 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
On many Sundays during the summer we find ourselves at 2Amys, tired and famished after a long morning at the zoo, trying to keep our two thrashing children from making too much of a disturbance. An order of arancini — deep-fried risotto balls stuffed with cheese — usually does the trick, settling the children (and us) at first bite.
I LOVE arancini, but they’re a total pain to make, not only calling for leftover risotto, but also requiring a lengthy assembly process — shaping, stuffing, breading and deep frying. Crispy on the outside, oozing with cheese on the inside, these “little oranges” are worth their every effort — once I made them at home — but they are not something to whip up every day, better ordered out a place like 2Amys, best (not that I speak from experience) picked up at a vendor parked along a Palermo sidewalk. Continue reading
After a month of abstaining from serious dessert (inordinate amounts of dark chocolate, providing heaps of antioxidants, don’t count), a sugar craving and a magazine blurb had me unearthing baking pans and once again scribbling down butter, chocolate and brown sugar on my grocery list. The blurb described a treat offered at San Francisco’s Black Jet Baking Co — brown butter blondies made with Maldon sea salt — which I needed to have in my mouth immediately. Sorry, but I did. Continue reading
The unfortunate consequence of being deprived of chips and dip as a child is that I am the girl at parties (much to my husband’s embarrassment) hovering over the crock pot filled with queso dip, piling more than a manageable amount of hot crab spread into my Tostitos scoops, and destroying the poor bowl filled with spinach-artichoke dip.
In addition to childhood deprivation, part of my love for these sorts of dips, I suspect, stems from the fact that I never make them. As many of you know, so many of these most-adored party dip recipes call for opening a pack of soup mix filled mostly with dehydrated ingredients, two days worth of the recommended salt intake, MSG and a host of nitrates and preservatives. While this knowledge never seemed to prevent me from eating these dips — all willpower dissolves when confronted face to face — for many years it prevented me from making them.
With the recent success of a homemade sour cream-and-onion dip, however, I am hoping homemade queso dip along with a few other classics might be in my future, with any luck before the Super Bowl. Who knew that real sour cream-and-onion dip is astonishingly easy to prepare and far more delicious than its dried-soup variation? While caramelizing onions takes time — time, not work — throwing together this dip couldn’t be much more difficult than opening a box of instant soup. One bite of this sweet-and-tangy dip atop a salty Ruffles potato chip allayed my fears that my Super Bowl guests, upon observing the spread — my mother’s olivata, my aunt’s whipped feta with roasted red peppers, and not a crock pot in sight — might run out the door. If you feel like going this homemade-sour-cream-and-onion-dip route, rest assured that your guests will feel right at home watching the game. Just don’t forget the Ruffles… for some things there are no substitutes. 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
During my recent trip home to CT, my mother taught me how to make her homemade hamburger helper, a favorite of mine and my siblings growing up, a meal we thought the toddlers in the house would enjoy as well. While the children ate it without complaint, each favoring a different component — macaroni, hamburger, melted cheese — it was the adults who really went to town on it, in particular my brother and brother-in-law who polished off the leftovers after a late-night game of darts (and a few too many whiskeys).
I don’t know if it’s the need to feed the toddlers I suddenly find at my feet or the trip home or the winter weather, but recently I can’t get enough of these old family recipes. My mother learned this one from her aunt Rene, who has been serving it at dinner parties since the 1960’s. It is truly a crowd pleaser.
Now, a note, likely an obvious one: For those of you who like savoring the flavor of chicken in its most unadulterated form, perhaps roasted with a few herbs and maybe a lemon wedge or two, this one is not for you. It’s all about the sauce, a mixture of honey and mustard, curry powder and mango chutney, that thickens and concentrates during the hour or so spent in the oven. It’s the kind of thing that is nearly impossible not to pick up off the plate with your hands, gnaw at the bone, lick your fingers when you’re finished. Sorry for the image.
All of that said, the chicken cooks perfectly — the tender, moist meat, which retains its heat so nicely, falls off the bone with every prod of the fork, making a more civilized approach to its ingestion certainly an option.
My Great Aunt Rene would be so proud — my children gobbled it up, and for the first time in a long time, not a word about ketchup was uttered. Continue reading