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.
I consumed more breakfast burritos and fish tacos in my first month in California than in the remaining three years combined that I would live there. It just seemed impossible not to wake up every morning, pick up breakfast to-go and find a spot on the beach to enjoy it. Once I accepted that these little shacks weren’t going anywhere, I started exploring other spots in town and came to love one bistro in particular, Cafe Mimosa, which served the most delicious leek and goat cheese omelet.
You know what I hate? When I stumble upon this line in a recipe: refrigerate overnight.
‘Stumble upon’ being the key here. As in, surprise! Gotcha! You thought you’d have me in your belly this morning? Ha! Nice try. Let’s reconvene tomorrow, K?
This past Sunday I was expecting my Auntie to arrive in the early afternoon. She was making a special trip to help me out with the kids, and I wanted to welcome her with something extra special. Nigella Lawson’s cheese Danishes, a recipe I had spotted in How to Be a Domestic Goddess the night before, sounded ideal for a number of reasons: the pasty is made in the food processor; the filling contains lemon zest and ricotta cheese, two of Auntie’s favorite ingredients; and at one point in the recipe Nigella notes that the cheese Danish is her all-time favorite.
It was the intro to the recipe that got me. Nigella describes the practice of making this sort of pastry dough in the food processor as revolutionary not only because the dough comes together in seconds but also because it produces an authentic Danish pastry. She even includes a word of encouragement from Beatrice Ojakangas, the Scandinavian chef who taught her the method via Dorie Greenspan: “Don’t think you’re cheating by taking the fast track — this is how it’s done these days all over Denmark.”
Fast track. I never suspected the phrase ‘refrigerate overnight’ to be in a ‘fast-track’ recipe. Lesson learned. And truthfully, I should have known better — these sorts of recipes almost always require a lengthy rest period.
Or do they?
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.
Observing that the twice-a-week broiled-burger-topped-with-cheddar routine was leaving everyone at my dinner table a little wanting, I decided a change was in order. Lamb burgers seasoned with oregano and feta would do just the job, but when I reached for my favorite recipe (from an August 1990 Gourmet), a different recipe on the same page caught my eye: curried lamb burgers with chutney mustard.
The recipe, which called for deep frying onions and mixing them into the ground lamb, sounded fabulous if a little fussy — deep-frying certainly wasn’t going to happen. And as it turns out, deep frying wasn’t necessary. Caramelized onions, while offering little by way of crunch, provided wonderful flavor and sweetness in addition to keeping the burgers incredibly moist.
In the spirit of old-fashioned, unsubtle, crowd-pleasing recipes, I offer another oldie but goodie from The New New York Times Cookbook (Craig Claiborne, 1979), a recipe my mother pulled out for nearly every cocktail party she hosted and attended for at least two decades. The original recipe calls for wings, which people go gaga over, but the sauce and cooking method work just as well with drumsticks and thighs, if you’re looking for a super-easy dinner adored by children and adults alike.
While the chicken bakes for a fairly long time — an hour to an hour and 15 minutes — in the brief time it takes for your oven to preheat, your chicken can be prepped and smothered with the magic sauce, a mixture of honey, soy sauce, ketchup, garlic and oil, leaving you with an hour of freedom, perhaps to prepare a simple salad or side dish, perhaps to sit down with a good book and a nice cocktail. As with the honey-baked chicken legs, it’s hard not to play caveman while eating these drummies — a fork and knife just can’t get the job done. What can I say? This is not gourmet cooking, and it’s not gourmet eating — you might just want to break out the moist towelettes for this one.
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.
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