q&a vol. IV

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[Volumes I, II and III]

Stephanie asks: Does Alex have an accent? That would be so sexy. My husband is from New Zealand, but sigh, no sexy accent. But hey, at least both are men are super cute and handy in the kitchen!

Much to my disappointment, he does not. But, he does say certain Russian words in that way people do when they’ve grown up hearing it said authentically. Like “zdrasvuytye” and “pelmeni.” Sometimes I try to play along and say Alex like “Ah-lee-yeg” or Odessa like “Oh-de-yes-a” but he just smiles and shakes his head.

Jane asks: What would be your recommendations for eating out in New York? A couple of tips would be great.

Uuh… uuuh… You know, NYC has just a few places to eat out, from the super-posh to the 5-dumplings-for-a-dollar in Chinatown, so I am always loath to give suggestions to people visiting as what floats my boat my not float yours. We’ve had some fantastic meals at fairly expensive restaurants, but the thing is, in a city with a ton of household-name chefs, this seems less of a triumph. That said, Tabla’s Bread Bar and Tia Pol, both specializing in small plates at reasonable prices, are two of my favorite places to eat with no contest. Beyond that, my quintessential NYC food tour would include a knish from Yonah Schimmel, a doughnut from the Doughnut Plant, a pickle from The Pickle Guys, a bialy from Kossar’s (no link because their site crashed my browser!), bread from Balthazar’s next-door bakery, a croissant from the hole-in-the-wall Patisserie Claude and a visit to Murray’s Cheese. And yes, you have to walk to each of them or else is it is just gluttony.

Evil Chef Mom says: I hate when something just doesn’t hit the spot. It’s so frustrating! So what do you do then? Do you reach for a cookie, do you pout and think about what to do to make it better, or just give up?

It depends on how attached I was to getting it right. The cauliflower salad was no obsession: butterscotch pudding? Oh, it will be mine!

Mandy found the mac-and-cheese recipe on this site greasy and wondered if it was the cheddar that she used.

Actually, I’m glad you brought it up. When I posted what I thought was the easiest, awesomest mac-and-cheese recipe in the entire world over a year ago, I had only made it once, and that time had been splendid. What I’ve learned in the times I’ve made it since is that should you have leftovers–I’ve always served it to others, so we never do–it doesn’t keep perfectly. It gets somewhat solid and some of the oil splits off abit, which is just a shame. I am going to try a new mac-and-cheese recipe soon that I hear is much creamier and keeps better. In the meanwhile, the other mac-and-cheese is indeed delicious, but even better if you’re going to serve it to a crowd that will leave you with no leftovers.

Allie asks what to do with ramps; she bought a few bunches and need some ideas.

You’ve in luck (or so I hope)! I’ve bookmarked a few ramp recipes for the hopefully soon day that they make an appearance at the Greenmarket on a day I am actually there (unlike last year). Here are some that have caught my eye: Ramp Risotto, another risotto, this coming with the proud badge of having being cooked for the Pope last week, with a ramp pesto, a Ramp Soup from this month’s Gourmet
Don’t forget to check out foodblogsearch.com for ramp recipes, too. Food bloggers love ramps!

Stella says: Not food related, but would you ever live somewhere else besides NYC?

Yes, Paris. Beyond that, I don’t know… Alex and I both think that we would theoretically like San Francisco, but have no desire to be on the other side of the country from good pizza. Or our families. (In the other order, maybe.) I like Los Angeles, too, and we both agree that Austin sounds awesome. But yeah, none of them are New York, and we’re nowhere near tired of this place.

Kaitlin asks: How do you bookmark and organize recipes you find online?

For the longest time, I had The Biggest Bookmark Folder You Have Ever Seen, but it was kind of a mess and not in any way transferable from computer to computer. (I know del.icio.us is great for this, but I just can’t get into it.) Now, I’m a Google Docs junkie, and I save all of my bookmarks on a Cook This document that I save and share with Alex, who I frequently demand look at it and find something fun to eat for dinner. I can get to it from anywhere, and one day hopefully soon, from an iPhone at a grocery store. I cannot wait.

Renee asks: I would love to know if you scale down the recipes for two or if you make the entire amount? And if you do what do you do with the leftovers (Adrienne asked this, too.)

Yes, we halve dishes all of the time. We’re not great with leftovers. Unless the dish blew our minds, and even when it did, we rarely think to eat the same thing two nights in a row or, there isn’t enough left for two more servings, so we end up making or ordering something else and forgetting about the leftovers until one day we realize the fridge is so full, we cannot fit the Brita in there and discover some seriously awful remains are populating it and then we try to convince the other person that it’s their turn to clean out the “That’s not a kiwi! That’s a lemon!” (a gory outtake from a fridge-cleaning conversation with housemates eons ago). This is about twice a month.

Stacy asks: What are your typical weekday breakfasts and lunches? And do you and Alex snack a lot?

My weekday breakfasts and lunches are totally boring. In the winter, oatmeal with dried fruit; in the summer, yogurt with granola and banana–iced or hot coffee from the cart outside my office, depending on the weather. In my fantasy life–you know, the one with a ton of free time and the ability to manage it well–the granola would be homemade, the yogurt would be Fage and I’d get up extra early to have it at home with a cup of French pressed coffee. In actuality, it’s from a deli and I eat it while on a morning conference call. For lunch, usually a salad –I know, like whoa. I’m such a wild child–however, since I work in the neighborhood affectionately known as Curry Hill, and very close to the awesomeness that is Kalustyans, I do try to get Indian or Middle Eastern food (or street meat, always a sucker for that) from one of the ten thousand places around here about every couple weeks.

We do snack a bit, and probably more than we should, usually because I want to cook something for dinner and that always takes hours longer than I think it will. We usually have apples or whatever fruit is in season around, some sort of cheese, some sort of nut or nuts, something pickled and an occasional “flat meat” (sliced deli meat or salami, what I called them when I’d just started eating meat again and could never remember what each was called!)

Charlotte says: I also have a tiny kitchen and would love some tips on how you maximize on your space/organize? Pictures?!!

Not a whole lot has changed since I put up some pictures of our kitchen over a year ago: The pantry is still not as organized as it should be, the draw of kitchen tools and utensils is a mess and I’m still pushing the outer boundaries of what one can buy for the kitchen without having to move out or without the husband suggesting we annex some of the space in my closet allotted for my shoe habit to make space for my cookie cutter habit (It seems only moments before he goes there; in fact, I imagine him on the other side of a monitor somewhere thinking, “This is brilliant! I’ll make her choose!” Baby, don’t even think about it.) The only difference is that I, too, agree that we are At Capacity and what might have pushed us over the edge was a grill pan I ordered with Amazon rewards two months ago that fits exactly nowhere. So it lives under the single counter/cart, along with a whole bunch of things I don’t want to think about.

Marc asks: How many times will you make something before posting it? I’m always worried about writing a key measurement down wrong when I post, but I just can’t bring myself to cooking something twice to double check it.

Hee hee. Oh, you mean more than once? Right, then. But really: Rather than promising a perfect recipe every time, I simply tell you if I think it was worth repeating or not. Quite often, I’m not in love with the recipe, but I know there is enough good about it that I write it up honestly and make some suggestions of what I would do it differently next time (as I did with the Cauliflower, Bean and Feta Salad). Other times, I know the recipe is just right the first time I make it, and tell people so (such as with the Almond Cake with Strawberry-Rhubarb Compote). Once in a while I’ll be so frustrated with a recipe it will get stuck in my craw until I make it right, and I don’t want to tell you about it until I do (such as with my Butterscotch Pudding disasters, if you count “freezing it” as “making it right”). Those are posts where you’ll hear about the trial and error that came before the final recipe.

Angela asks: Do you use your Kitchenaid mixer to knead bread or pizza dough? If so, at what speed do you set it? The instruction manual says not to go over 2 but the dough doesn’t seem to really come together at that speed. Hmm, maybe this is the world telling me to knead my dough by hand?

Also, do you have a recipe for a sourdough starter?

Really? Not to go over two? Fascinating! I, er, totally knew that because I always RTFM. Alas, I don’t use the KitchenAid to knead very often, but I should because it’s really easy and does a great job. But, I kind of like working out tension (and, I’d like to imagine, toning my arms) by hand-kneading.

I have not made a sourdough starter but there are countless people who could guide you through it.

Krissy asks two questions: I’d be curious to hear about the latest lens addition to the family…I’d like to add a wide angle sometime this year.

After fawning over wide-angle lenses for some time, Alex and I found one so (relatively) inexpensive, we caved. I understand that this is not the best reason/rationale for buying something–you know, versus “does it work well?”–but the reviews were almost all good and every other wide-angle lens was prohibitively expensive, so this was going to have to do. Problem is, we haven’t been out and about much this winter, and I think that the wide-angle lens really excels in outdoor shots (or, you know, places where there is an actual wide angle to view). Nevertheless, this is due to change in about eight days, when we go on vacation and I promise to update with a fuller report then.

Krissy’s second question: And what happened to the tips section?

I’m glad you were enjoying them–I was too–however, they were becoming impossible to keep up (once I ran out of the 40 I had written at the outset of the year) and it was causing me a terrific amount of stress-slash-guilt to maintain them. I do hope–no, plan–to resume them at some point, but certainly not before I have, say, 365 written and can just plug them into auto-posts. Daily maintenance is not much of an option so long as I have a day job!

Myndi asks what my five favorite cookbooks are right now.

First, a little background: For the longest time, I’ve been really conservative about buying cookbooks for two reasons, one, our lack of space and two, the fact that when I’m trying to figure out what to cook for dinner or an event–typically at work, late in the afternoon–they’re never near me, and it depresses me to see them go unused. This is why you see such an overabundance of recipes pulled from the web on this site. Well, a couple months ago I had the biggest “duh!” moment when I realized that if I left some cookbooks I wanted to get through at work, I’d solve both dilemmas at once (or at least temporarily).

So, currently residing in a desk drawer are Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, Suzanne Goin’s Sunday Suppers at Lucques, Alice Water’s Chez Panisse Vegetables and Alice Mendrich’s Pure Dessert and they are, of course, my current favorites. Oh, and because it took me until the dead of winter to get on an ice-cream making bender, David Lebovitz’ Perfect Scoop seems to be permanently out at home.

Joanna says she recently moved to NYC and wants to know where do we shop, and how often? Do we plan a week’s worth of meals and buy everything on the weekends?

We shop at a mix of places: the Garden of Eden, Whole Foods and Gristedes in our neighborhood, one or two farmers’ markets when we can get to them and some specialty shops, as things are needed. I walk by more than one store on my way home from work and just pick up what we need, when we need it. We never stock the fridge and I rarely plan ahead; I think this is one of the ultimate freedoms of living in NYC, except for when you want to make eggs and toast on a Saturday morning and you have neither. I’m a master of the hodge-podge omelet (three chives, half a tomato, one minced cube of cheese we’d forgotten about)!

Celeste asks if I have a favorite food texture.

I’d have to say no. I really prefer contrasts above all else. I thought the Cauliflower, Bean and Feta salad was missing some crunch. I do tend to be more forgiving of things that are too coarse/crunchy rather than too soft. (I realized this when I made grits with chanterelles a while back: too soft, too rich for me).

Jessica asks if I have any suggestions for icing that is not too sweet?

I find the classic 7-Minute Frosting and it’s buttery counterpart, Swiss Buttercream to be much less sweet than quick buttercream, with just butter and sugar. I think they’re also pretty and shinier, so it is a win-win.

But wait! I have a question for you, too. Don’t hate us or anything, but we’re going on vacation again. We’re going to Prague and Vienna for a week and we’d love some suggestions. In each city, if you had to pick one ONE THING (please, no more; I get easily overwhelmed) that if we were to miss, it would be so very, very wrong, you’d feel it was practically a crime against travel in general (I feel this way about you eating a proper slice or bagel while in NYC), what would it be? I suspect that all of your “one things” could add up to a mighty awesome vacation for us.

Mostly unrelated: We’re having technical issues that nobody can figure out the cause of precluding us from putting all the links and photos in here that we’d like. If any of you know any WordPress geniuses for hire, I mean people who can fix high-level problems that might or might not be related to server issues, do shoot me an email. Thanks!

q&a vol. IV was originally published on smittenkitchen.com

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