cleaning out the cobwebs

new
Hi. It’s been a long while.

I’m not sure what the blog equivalent of cleaning out the cobwebs would be, but this seems as good a start as any. Since we last spoke, I’ve been here, editing, and writing, maybe garnishing a little; getting lost in book tournaments, and resurfacing from them.

Waterforweb

Then I went to Maine, breathed a little fresh air, and now I’m back. I’ve loved every minute.

Maine2forweb

The whirlwind is still at it, whipping and whirling and doing whatever it is that a whirlwind does, but I’m getting better at knowing how it works. Much more to come.

Polaroids by the boy with the shoes 

sheer coincidence

In the past few weeks, I’ve eaten prettier than I have in the whole month of April put together.

I keep finding myself arranging avocado slices just so, or hulling a strawberry more carefully than usual, or attempting to make my morning breakfast dishes look like they could be straight out of Canal House Cooking.

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Last time I was here, I told you about these lovely folks and my new gig writing these lovely things.  Aside from the enormous perks of getting to read about food all day, every day, and the leftover goodies from the test kitchen, Food52 makes me want to eat beautifully, all the time.

 

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And it also makes me link happy, evidently.

I meant to bring you this granola a while ago, which, of course, is my justification for the recipe coming from Food52. It is sheer coincidence, I promise you. We can reasonably assume, by this point, that I am biased (totally, completely, down to my shoes), but really, this granola could stand alone.

 

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The recipe comes from Early Bird Foods, whose best-selling granola has taken over the dry cereal market here in New York. It’s most appropriately described, in the words of an f52 editor, as “museli after a vampy makeover.” If that doesn’t make you want to try this, I don’t know what will. This granola is sweet from the maple syrup, a touch savory from the olive oil, and best eaten straight out of the bag. Or, if you can’t wait long enough, do as I do, and eat it straight off the sheet pan minutes after it comes out of the oven. It’s good that way too.

 

Nekisia Davis’ Olive Oil and Maple Granola

Adapted from Food52

Yield: about 7 cups, minus the handfuls you steal before it’s cool

Note: I swapped out nuts and seeds in this recipe with reckless abandon, and it still came out wonderfully. Feel free to do the same. The original recipe calls for coconut chips, which I didn’t have, but I think would make the mix that much better.

3 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1 cup pepitas
1 cup sunflower seeds
1 cup raisins
1 1/4 cup raw pecans, left whole or coarsely chopped
3/4 cup pure maple syrup
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup packed light-brown sugar
coarse salt

Heat oven to 300 degrees.

Place oats, pepitas, sunflower seeds, raisins, pecans, syrup, olive oil, sugar, and 1 teaspoon salt in a large bowl and mix until well combined. Spread granola mixture in an even layer on a rimmed baking sheet.

Transfer to oven and bake, stirring every 10-15 minutes, until granola is toasted, about 45 minutes.
Remove granola from oven and season with more salt to taste. Let cool completely before serving or storing in an airtight container for up to 1 month.

in which my life is a whirlwind

and now involves Food52. And Feed52. (My first post is about PB&J. A little appropriate, no?) And this lovely group of people.

More soon, dear readers.

I’m coming to you briefly to print a correction.

Correction: As an addendum to that last post, in which I instructed you (in a revolutionary, eye-opening way) to grate cheese on vegetables, I am saddened to say that I left out an ingredient imperative to your success in my rough blueprint. Just in case allium isn’t inherent to your roasting process, I’m supposed to tell you to add copious amounts of garlic to your vegetables mid-roast. That’s right. Because roasted vegetables sans garlic? Disgusting. I might go as far as to say inedible, borderline toxic. But add the garlic, and your dish will come together harmoniously, turn your world upside down. It may even stop wars. If you take anything away from this blog in its entirety, let it be that garlic is a peacemaker. Add it to your vegetables.

I think my work here is done.

dreadfully behind the curve

My current food daydreams consist of German soft pretzels – even better than the Lancaster version I once told you about – and homemade mustard. This needs to happen soon.

But while I sit here scheming about how to acquire food-grade lye and mustard seeds soaking in a bath of imperial stout, I will share with you a quick revelation that I can take exactly no credit for. Ready? Here it is:

Hard, salty cheese, on anything green. More specifically, if that wasn’t enough for you, Pecorino Romano on asparagus. Or brussels sprouts. Or, as it happens, kale.

I was dreadfully behind the curve on this one. Since this glorious combination is probably not news to any of you, let it serve as a healthy (salty? cheesey?) reminder. Off with you, grate cheese.

These are some pictures of the evening this vegetable alchemy was brought to my attention. This hardly requires a recipe, but since we’re so into rough blueprints around here, here’s one to bend your mind around (and to tirelessly scrawl down, lest you forget):

Hard, salty cheese, such as Pecorino Romano or Parmesan

Asparagus

Roast asparagus as you normally would. Acquire microplane, or other grating device. Hold in dominant hand. Grate cheese, carefully and at the appropriate angle (I like the classic 180), over said roasted vegetables. Plate while still warm. Watch for pedestrians. Enjoy.

more like a film

And by soon, I clearly meant sometime in the distant future, approaching never.  Let me explain.

Almost a month ago now, I got a note on moleskine paper from a handsome boy with handsome shoes. It began with dearest, in the way every good letter should, and it referenced amazingly strange happenings. That, it seems, is the best way to describe where I’ve been all this time. It sounds a bit like a film noir title (Strange Happenings, coming to you February 2012) which may actually be fitting; the past month has felt more like a film and less like reality, minus the black and white cinematography and the Dutch angles.

There were trips back east: I spent more than the majority of my time back east at a delightful new friend’s house, oddly enough. We made omelets (Julia Child style) banana bread, and skillet cookies, the last of which was my first experience with the most beastly undertaking of a baked good to exist. He, in a trademark not unlike Julia’s voice, folded omelets over in the pan while pointing a toe and lifting his left leg. It was lovely. And effective, as it happens; Julia may have been wrong when she said it was all in the wrist.

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Christmas came and went, New Years came and went. There were love affairs with a certain Big Apple, ones that are persistent and unrelenting, and that grow ever so slightly in the back of my mind, like ivy would on a wall. And then there was the film noir.

  ***

There is this strange place, floating in some inexplicable other dimension, where time moves very quickly, sleep becomes a waste of time, and lucid thoughts become as common as cups of coffee. In it, descriptions of people become best communicated through anime characters and as wielding bows and arrows.

There, the hands are ambient, the dawn drives are plentiful, and there are ornery one-eyed ponies perched on roadside hills. And then, in a brief foray into the classiest normalcy imaginable, nights belong to oyster-shucking and gin martinis.

It’s confusing at best, and fleeting. It feels similar to waking up, fuzzy and your eyes at half-mast, from the best dream you’ve ever had.

***

Now that I’ve typed this out, I realize I’m beginning to sound as though I’m teetering on the edge of insanity, which, I suppose after this little sleep and this many oysters, isn’t all that far off. I will tell you more, about the place, the boy, and the shoes, as soon as I can. For starters, I can tell you that he took these polaroids. Does that tide you over? It certainly works for me.

I hope you all have the pleasure of making it to this strange happening/film noir of a place one day very soon. If I could, I’d give you directions and perhaps even a ride. But in the meantime, while you wait, here’s a recipe for mignonette that might help to summon it your way. Make this, shuck a whole lot of oysters (in my theory, the more oysters, the better your chances), and pour yourself a martini, up and with a twist. Best of luck to you, dear readers.

Mignonette

2 teaspoons Champagne vinegar

1 ½ teaspoons finely chopped shallot

pinch of salt

¼ teaspoon honey

Stir all ingredients together, and let stand for 30 minutes. Eat with a whole lot of freshly shucked oysters.

like a waltz

I have found my kitchen match.

For those of you who have ever cooked with me, you know that I always like to have my hands in everything, that I’m always –unintentionally or not—looking over your shoulder into your stock pot, just to check. For those of you who’ve never had that pleasure, you can take this statement as an absolute truth: I am a bit of a kitchen control freak.

There, I said it.

But somehow, I have found someone who I cook almost seamlessly with. With me, she takes on half of a twenty-person dinner party, navigates our smallish kitchen, and shares our one oven without much of a hitch. It’s like a waltz, except at a faster, more frenzied pace and with only minimal stepping on toes. Together, we did this:

It was the first year I wasn’t home for Thanksgiving. No one rehashed old family jokes, or payed homage to certain melodic family traditions, but our family at 537 Blackhawk did just fine.

We improvised the turkey cooking in a method I like to refer to as ghetto sous vide, complete with all of the fixings, and everything made it on to the table–only an hour late, and at least slightly warm. Maybe more importantly, we’re the only Thanksgiving table I can think of that sported gravy elephants instead of boats. So there’s that. I’m afraid it may all require its own separate story, but for now, here are a few shots of the calm before the storm, the storm, and the storm continued, respectively.

Be back soon.

 

**Many thanks to mountain man for aiding in that evening’s photography crusade.

the cycle of things

The loveliest thing happened to me yesterday, on my bike ride to work.

First, I’ll say that the weather for biking in Colorado isn’t much different from an evil stepmother, at times: sunny and gorgeous on first glance, but bitingly frigid when you really get going – deceptive in all of the worst ways. And so it was, again, on yesterday’s ride. I was atop my wobbly, sky-blue little schwinn, and was wearing equally ill-equipped gloves. (They have no fingers. Not my strongest purchase.)

Needless to say, I was frozen to what felt like deeper than my core. Each stoplight, instead of a nuisance, presented itself as an opportunity to blow hot air furiously into my hands. At the last one before the restaurant where I work, I felt a tap on my shoulder.  Standing there was a bundled man, waiting at the crosswalk next to me – he peeled his gloves off, burly and fleece and wildly appealing, and handed them to me in one fluid motion that seemed nonchalant, instinctive.

I smiled at the way he kicked my cynicism in its teeth a little bit, just like that, so easily and without a thought. I didn’t take them, but in that moment, those gloves were the best kind of offering. Kind of like someone else’s jacket draped over your unadorned shoulders.  Or a bowl of soup offered after a treacherously cold bike ride.

Which leads me to this: I’m on a soup kick. (As a side note, my brain can’t help but bellowing this sentence in a contrived, fairground-announcer voice: “step on up to the Soup Kick!”) But really, I cannot be stopped. Last week, it was carrots. This week, golden beets. I mused to you once about how I thought blended soups were more convalescent home than home-cooked dinner; it was a marginally creative way to talk about gazpacho, maybe, but it was totally off base.

We all may start life, and likely end it, toothlessly slurping our food. But for now, I’ve made peace with my regression back to a love of pureed vegetables. They’re restorative, and if eaten with crusty bread instead of a spoon, they’re even better. It’s an interruption of the cycle of things, perhaps, but for now I don’t care. You won’t either, once you make this.

I’ll do my best to approximate my latest recipe below, but I’ve basically been taking the same basic cooking principles, and applying them to every root vegetable known to man. If ever a root vegetable can stick to ribs, this makes it happen. I’ve yet to have one of these creations disappoint.

Here’s to nice gestures, and bowls of soup. Stay warm.

Golden Beet Soup

Note: this is a rough blueprint of a recipe (which is the best kind – remember this, way back when?), so feel free to adjust the amount of stock for consistency, the type of dairy for flavor – I use sour cream for beets, but cream or milk for carrots – and even the root vegetable. The important thing is the technique, really.

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, sliced
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
1 pinch crushed red pepper flakes
Salt and pepper
1 pound golden beets, peeled and finely chopped
3 cups chicken stock
In a saucepan over low heat, melt butter. Add onion, garlic, thyme leaves, red pepper flakes, and a good pinch of salt and pepper, and sweat on low heat, about 15 minutes with the lid on. (You want to avoid browning the onions.) Add the beets and continue cooking on low to medium-low for another 15 minutes, until beets (or your comparable root vegetables) are quite soft.

Pour in stock and simmer until everything is very soft – test for softness with a fork. Add a healthy splash of cream or milk, simmer for another 5-10 minutes, and remove from heat. Slowly stir in 1/3 cup of sour cream. Puree the soup in batches (a blender, a hand blender, or a food processor will all work). Adjust seasoning to taste. Serve warm, with crusty bread.

let’s get to the sauce

The recipes I have to tell you about are piling up around here, similar to, well, the clothes on my floor. I mentioned that I had a bunch saved up in my back pocket, but for lack of space in there, they may soon require their own room. Which is why, today, I’ll be giving you sauce gribiche. More on that later.

Between not blogging (or folding laundry), I’ve been trying my hand at byline writing and editing. You are now reading the ill-attended-to blog of Backpacker Magazine’s newest editorial intern.

It’s a whole different writing character over there: pared down, tricked out with adjectives. It’s got an entirely different voice, a different style. The personification of it, in my mind, is a bearded man who wears cords and bright red sneakers – functional, logical, never more layers than necessary, but in spite of that, somehow not boring.

Those of you who’ve been reading for a while know that I’m not really sparing when it comes to words. Which makes this new gig, and adjusting to this new voice, a bit difficult. It’s an unfamiliar distillation process of writing, the filtering upon filtering until what is left is the purest, most economical version of what you started with. I guess in that way, magazine editing can be like cooking. Or at the very least, straining.

But you and I both know that if my writing style were a recipe, it would be one with too many steps to fit on a page, too many pans to fit on the stove, and a technique you’d need one (or three) other books to help explain.

Which is why this space may just become more important than ever: after long days of cutting out words, compressing sentences, I will need a place to be verbose. A place to string words along with many too many comma splices, and to litter recklessly with adverb upon adverb. To find three ways to say the same thing, and to write them all. (Case in point.)

I hope you stick around for that.

Ahem. Let’s get to the sauce. This stuff is everywhere; there are versions from Chez Panisse, from Zuni Café, it’s on blogs in this little world far and wide. It’s really more of a summer dish, which makes an October 9th blog post on it a bit untimely, but that shouldn’t stop you from making it. It’s bright from vinegar, herbed like crazy, and is out of this world on roasted potatoes. (It also makes fantastic company for roasted poultry, and other roasted vegetables, like asparagus.) Maybe now that the colder winds and the clouds have set in, it will remind you a little bit of the summer, which, in my verbose, comma-spliced book, is never a bad thing.

Sauce Gribiche

Note: this is adapted from the Zuni Café Cookbook version. The recipe is basically for an herbed aioli, so the herb amounts and varietals are a bit flexible here. Have fun with it (read: feel free to substitute what you have on hand).

2 medium shallots, finely chopped
2 tablespoon sherry vinegar or red wine vinegar
1 large egg
1 tablespoon dijon mustard
salt
1 ¼ cups mild-tasting olive oil
2 teaspoons thinly sliced chives
2 teaspoons finely chopped parsley
2 teaspoons finely chopped chervil
½ teaspoon finely chopped dill
2 tablespoons capers, rinsed and dried, coarsely chopped

Combine the shallots and the vinegar in a small bowl, and set aside to macerate while you prepare the rest of the sauce.

Put the egg in a small saucepan of barely simmering water, and bring it to a boil. Then reduce the heat and simmer for about 4 minutes. Drain, and put the egg in a bowl of ice water to cool completely and to stop the cooking.

When the egg is cool, crack and scrape it into a medium bowl. Add the mustard and a pinch or two of salt. Mash it all together, and then begin whisking in the oil. Start with just a few drops at first, then gradually increase the flow to a thin stream. Stop adding oil when the mixture is satiny and has lots of body. Stir in the herbs and capers. Add the vinegar and shallots, and adjust with salt to taste.

Oh hey, right, food

I should probably give you recipes.

I still have a bit of a recipe arsenal saved up from spending time at home, where I didn’t have to foot the grocery bill and therefore had a multitude of things to cook, always.

I’ll start with this recipe for ratatouille, because it’s time sensitive. Since it’s September (how is it already September?), all of the ingredients here will slowly disappear from farmer’s markets, making way for apples, and squash, and root vegetables. So make this while you still can.

This is an adaptation of an Alice Waters recipe, and the best part about it is that, unlike traditional ratatouille, it’s done in about a half hour. French purists probably wouldn’t agree with the lack of simmering time, but this recipe doesn’t suffer, I promise. And besides, who asked them, anyway?

Ratatouille

1 medium eggplant, cut into 1/2-inch dice

4 tablespoons olive oil, divided, plus more to taste

2 medium onions, cut into 1/2-inch dice

6 garlic cloves, chopped

pinch of dried chile flakes

1 tablespoon herbes de provence

2 red peppers, cut into 1/2-inch dice

3 medium summer squash, cut into 1/2-inch dice

3 ripe medium tomatoes, cut into 1/2-inch dice

Salt, to taste

Toss the eggplant cubes with a teaspoon or so of salt. Set the cubes in a colander to drain for about 20 minutes.

Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a heavy-bottomed pot. Pat the eggplant dry, add to the pan, and cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until golden. Add a bit more oil if the eggplant absorbs all the oil and sticks to the bottom of the pan. Remove the eggplant when done and set aside.

In the same pot, pour in 2 more tablespoons olive oil. Add onions and cook for about 7 minutes, or until soft and translucent. Add the garlic, herbes de provence, chile flakes, and a bit more salt. Cook for about 2 minutes, then stir in peppers. Cook for a few more minutes, then stir in summer squash. Cook for a few more minutes, then stir in tomatoes.

Cook for 10 minutes longer, then stir in eggplant and cook for 10 to 15 minutes more, until all the vegetables are soft. Adjust seasoning and stir in a bit more olive oil to taste.

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