I find myself living in a Potemkin village, my cookbooks — clutter! — hidden away, my stand mixer — clutter! — stashed in the hutch, my pots, pans, utensils, teapot — clutter! — boxed up in the garage. Staged by the realtors, our house has never looked cleaner, prettier, or more color coordinated. It also has never been more unlivable.
Even so, today I discovered that with little more than a knife, a cutting board, and a large bowl, a beautiful whole grain salad can materialize in no time. Determined not to eat takeout for the fourth night in a row, I made a big bowl of tabbouleh, a dish my mother made for us all summer long for as long as I can remember, a dish that feels at once light, satisfying and nourishing. With some warm pita and a block of feta, dinner was served.
Unlike many grains, bulgur requires nothing more than cold water — yes, cold! — to fluff up and become edible. You can’t mess it up. There are no grain-to-water ratios to remember; there are no cooking times to adhere to. After an hour of soaking, the cold water is drained and the bulgur is ready to be dressed in olive oil, freshly squeezed lemon juice, salt and pepper.
Last week, while packing away a few cookbooks, an old newspaper clipping tucked between two books slipped off the shelf and swooped into my lap, opening as it landed to reveal a photograph of a mouth-watering spread: a bowl filled with herb-and-olive oil topped ricotta, a few slices of grilled bread, and a handful of halved black mission figs. A quick glance through the article led me to discover that this appetizer, described as “stupid simple” by the chef of A Voce at the time (2008) was the most popular appetizer on the menu.
With the task at hand long forgotten — I’ve always been a hopeless packer — I made my way to the kitchen, hoping to find cheesecloth and heavy cream, making ricotta the order of the hour. And thirty minutes later, the stupid simple appetizer had materialized: creamy curds seasoned with sea salt, fresh thyme, dried oregano, and a drizzling of olive oil.
A few days ago, Ben came home from work to be greeted by shrieks of joy from the children. They lept into his arms, then immediately threw themselves to the ground in the living room where they began their usual game of “tackle.”
And then it struck me: those were the first giggles I had heard from the children all day. Oops. Note to self: Try to make the children laugh at least once before Ben gets home from work. And maybe try not to be so wretched all day long. Oiy. It’s sad but true. I have been such a terror lately. Ben often consoles me by reminding me of something Amy Chua says to her husband in her Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother book: “You can be the one they adore because you make them pancakes and take them to Yankees games.” This always makes me laugh, but as I have no aspirations of being a Tiger Mom, I think I have some things to work on.
Anyway, for Ben’s Father’s Day gift this year, I made him a big batch of waffle mix to facilitate his breakfast making for the children and decorated an empty Quaker Oats canister with a personalized label, which you can download and use, too, if you are still looking for a Father’s Day gift. (Materials and instructions are below.)
Happily Ever After: or so ends the tale of so many kitchen accidents, this story of a batch of past-prime Jim Lahey pizza dough being no exception.
Once upon a time, an avid admirer of the Lahey pizza recipe opened her fridge to discover two rounds of several-days old dough, their plastic-wrapped seams bursting with nubs of desiccating dough. Not wanting to see the dough go to waste, the girl began experimenting, first in the form of focaccia. After letting the two rounds of dough rest briefly in a well-oiled 8×8-inch pan, she stretched it gently, using all ten fingers to create dimples, then sprinkled the surface with sea salt and rosemary. In no time the dough, with oil pooling in its myriad craters, began looking like a pretty decent focaccia, and it ended up baking off even more beautifully. Later that evening, the girl split the focaccia lengthwise and served roasted red pepper and herbed goat cheese sandwiches to some friends, none of whom would have suspected they had a batch of tired pizza dough to thank for their delectable dinner.
And that’s just the beginning of this tale’s happy ending. About a week later, the girl visited her family in CT, where the familiar sight of days-old pizza dough in her mother’s basement fridge — it turns out her mother’s planning is sometimes just as poor as hers — sent the girl scouring for other leftovers. When she found some caramelized onions, a tub of salt-packed anchovies, and a jar of olives, an impromptu pissaladière began to materialize.
The trouble with homemade ice cream, in my experience at least, is its half-life: what tastes smooth and creamy, light and airy on day one, becomes icy and hard, choppy and crystalized on day two. The texture after a day in the freezer just doesn’t compare to the best store-bought varieties.
So when I tried Jeni’s Splendid ice cream recipe for the first time a few weeks ago, what struck me more than the flavor — dark chocolate heightened by coffee — was the texture: dense and creamy, almost chewy, a consistency that persisted for days. Jeni’s ice cream scoops as well as the big dogs even after a week in the freezer.
For those unfamiliar with Jeni, let me fill you in: Jeni Bauer opened Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams in 2002 in Columbus, Ohio, and her company now operates nine shops in Ohio and one in Tennessee. In her book, Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams at Home, Jeni shares her ice cream base recipe, which can be transformed however your heart desires. So far, I’ve made the darkest chocolate ice cream in the world, a recipe from Jeni’s book, and this rhubarb ice cream, a combination of Jeni’s base and a vanilla-bean flecked rhubarb jam, which I only wish I could can by the barrel-full before rhubarb season passes.
When I saw this post on Apartment Therapy a few weeks ago, I knew exactly how I would repurpose the empty anchovy tin that’s been cluttering my kitchen counter for months. A quick run to Home Depot followed by a couple of blown fuses and my anchovy tin lamp (thanks to some guidance from Ben) was proudly standing atop my living room side table illuminating a stack of my favorite books below.
Perhaps not quite as beautiful as Apartment Therapy’s, my anchovy tin lamp makes me very happy. Next project: anchovy tin clock using the remaining face from the tin, which, based on this this AT tutorial, looks pretty straightforward.
When I think of summer dinners growing up at home, I think of this meal. I think of the smell of charred garlic and basil; I think of my stepfather sweating at the grill, a slave to his stopwatch, the wrath of my mother should the chicken be the slightest bit overcooked driving his utmost concentration; I think of sitting at the table in our screened-in porch with my brother and sister and eventually Ben, too. I think of eating for hours, a time of considerably faster metabolisms. I think of the candles melting into the tabletop, the humidity just beginning to subside and the buzz of the crickets as we clear the table at the end of the night.
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.
I have yet to hear of a tofu preparation touted for allowing tofu’s true flavor to shine, lauded for not overpowering tofu’s delicate nature. Subtlety is not the name of the game when it comes to dressing up tofu. Domination is more like it. It’s all about the sauce.
This principle holds true with the two tofu recipes I make with some regularity. In the first, a block of tofu that has gently simmered in water bathes in a scallion and garlic soy-based sauce; in the second, cubes of crispy sesame-coated tofu plunge into nuoc cham, a pungent spicy, sweet, and sour Vietnamese dipping sauce.
And this principle holds true as well for marinated tofu, a preparation I have only just discovered. I hadn’t really given marinated tofu a thought before last month, when I was on my soba noodle salad with peanut sauce binge, and a variation I had made with tofu left me unsatisfied. Even when tossed with that yummy peanut dressing, the cubes of tofu I had pan-fried tasted bland, and they were a pain to prepare to boot.
Suspecting that marinating might be the best preparation for tofu in these sorts of salad, I tried a few recipes, all of which I really liked. You see, what’s great about this treatment for tofu is that if you like the marinade, you’re going to like the tofu. There are no surprises. A tofu marinade won’t ever behave like cake batter, tasting delectable unbaked but inedible baked. The only trick is to use firm or extra-firm tofu and to drain the tofu for as long as possible — an hour at least — before marinating. The longer you marinate, too, the more flavorful the tofu. It’s completely straightforward.
On one Mother’s Day many years ago, my sister and I ordered our mother a beautiful bouquet of flowers. Although unoriginal and basically thoughtless, the idea might have been somewhat good had we not used mom’s credit card to pay for the transaction. Oops. Let’s just say once the details of the purchase surfaced, mother was less than pleased.
“Have I taught you nothing?!” she cried. “All I want is a card! All I EVER want is a card! It’s so simple. A handmade card!”
While I likely knew all of that back then, over the years I have learned that I can’t go wrong on gift-giving occasions when I keep in mind the things that truly make our mother happy, namely said handmade card, photos, phone calls, tins of sardines, cold beer, popcorn, Jack Black, tea (preferably PG Tips served in thin-thin porcelain cups), an extra pair of scissors… simple things, really.