August, 2011 Archive

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

naked tomato sauce

naked tomato sauce

Every year at just about this time I renew my obsession with tomato sauce. It’s late August, after all, and just about anyone who has ever gardened or knows people who garden is drowning in tomatoes and I am here, with my virtual bucket, eager to help you out. Don’t be too fooled by my so-called benevolence, however, as it’s really a selfish endeavor; I find spaghetti with tomato sauce to be one of the universe’s perfect meals, so I’m hardly kicking and screaming my way to the kitchen the next time the whim for a new one strikes me.

a basket of plum tomatoes
peeling tomatoes

But I always think that the new one will be the one that closes the book on tomato sauce, that it will be done, that I will be able to move on and find new codes to crack in the kitchen knowing that I’ve locked in my tomato sauce nirvana. Unfortunately, these moments of spaghetti calm are increasingly short-lived. This baked tomato sauce made me happy for a few years, before curiosity got the better of me and I fell for Marcella Hazan’s famous tomato sauce with butter and onions. Even then, I couldn’t leave well enough alone, and but seven months later was taking pity on the cheap buckets of “ugly but tasty!” tomatoes at the market, creating a heartier sauce that could be made with any tomato, whether a prom queen or not.

just tomatoes, cooked until saucy

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Thursday, August 25, 2011

zucchini fritters

impromptu zucchini fritters

Everyone’s got their superheroes; I’m sure when I was younger they were things like Super Grover and later, Jem but these days, they’re decidedly more humble: I admire the hell out of people who manage to put homemade meals on the table everyday, as this has never been my strong suit. It probably doesn’t help that I’ve spent the last year or so developing recipes for very specific things — a side dish, a salad, a tart — that don’t exactly add up to be a dinner, and that NYC makes it quite easy to order in whatever parts of your meal you haven’t made at home. I’m a terrible multitasker — really, no fan of it at all — and when I’m making brioche, I’m making brioche, and not brioche with a side of a pot of beans with something braising in the oven, no matter how much I wish I were.

humble servants
shredded

It also means that more often than not, I have a 4 p.m. panic as, whoops! someone will soon be hungry and I have no idea what’s for dinner and true to form, this happened last Tuesday. For the better part of two days, I’d been elbows deep in a truly epic cake I was making for the book but it turns out that even when you’re the grown-up in the house, cake does not equal dinner, which of course crushes all of my earlier hopes and dreams about adulthood. Often we’ll have something around that can become dinner — eggs for omelets, vegetables for salad or even flour for a quick pizza dough — but we’d just returned from vacation and the fridge was sparse. For once, however, what I scratched together exceeded my expectations, in the form of zucchini fritters from the zucchinis that seem to be growing in my fridge this summer; I never remember buying them but they’re always around.

so tiny once drained

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Sunday, August 21, 2011

hazelnut plum crumb tart

hazelnut plum crumb tart

There are few paths that led to this recipe but the main one is that it instantly reminded me of the kind of crumb pies I remember from bakeries growing up, not the kind with a crumble topping but ones with a crust also composed of pressed crumbs. And guys, I love a buttery, flaky, ethereal pie crust woven over cherries and bronzed in the oven as much as the next person, but the idea of choosing it over a crumbly composite of butter, brown sugar, cinnamon and sometimes nuts is pure madness. But the filling gave me pause — a custard? a custard that suspends fruit? How odd, right? Or delicious? I went back and forth over the odd-versus-delicious line for the better part of a decade before deciding to finally make it this week. A decade. This recipe was actually published in a 1999 Martha Stewart Living. I was living in Washington D.C., dating a terrible idea and trying to figure out how I could find a place in New York that didn’t charge more than $600/month rent. This recipe is ancient history, people.

toasted hazelnuts
cinnamon hazelnut brown sugar crumbs
how i like to do crumb crusts

So why this week? Like most things in my life right now, it relates to a still (yes, still) unfinished but imminently due manuscript, and my inability to think about much else, which has turned into a perfect time to outsource a bit, by dusting off recipes I’ve had on my To Cook list for eons — especially those that involve plums. I’m seeing plums everywhere these days, and I love them, but they’re always a little bittersweet to me, as they’re one of the last fruits to appear before apples, and everyone knows that while you munch through buckets of apples, late summer turns to fall and fall turns to winter and suddenly, they’re the last fresh fruit you see until rhubarb — which isn’t even a real fruit, but one that likes to pretend it is — appears in the late spring. Hm, aren’t I just a bundle of cheer today?

italian plums

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Monday, August 15, 2011

tomato salad with crushed croutons

tomato salad with crushed croutons

We spent the last week in what I call the vacation trifecta: among beaches, wineries and farm stands. The vacation was supposed to be a reward for getting my book finished by August 1st. Instead, I all but tried to cancel the vacation when I realized I wouldn’t be done. Despite all of my practice over the last few months, I’m not very good at not finishing things. I don’t like going to bed with dishes in the sink, I’d rather stay up until midnight getting something done than have to start the morning with an old item on my to-do list and I did not want to go on vacation until I finished my project. Oh no. I did not. I might have even dreaded it.

after the beach

everything is prettier on vacation

Thank goodness we went anyway as we had fantastic vacation, I dare say the best one we’ve had since adding another member to our family. As it turns out, when the baby sleeps (in a bed! in a strange place! like a champ! who is this child and what did he do with Jacob?) on vacation, everyone gets one and it also turns out, when you’re really on vacation, any and all promises you made to yourself to get some work done go out the window. Thank heavens for that too. Other signs of a good vacation: I didn’t take many photos. I ignored the stack of recipes I’d bookmarked for Ideal Summer House Cooking (yawn). We went to a different winery every afternoon. I fell asleep with saltwater in my hair on at least three different occasions. I discovered that when my son sings the alphabet, for the P, and the P only, he closes his eyes, reaches his arms wide, tips his head back and belts out a giant “PEEEEAA!” I splurged on local feta and started making crunchy summery salads every night tossed with it and whatever could be diced raw. We had countless ears of corn and at least one lunch of tomato-corn omelets (have you done this yet? Because I’m obsessed with them). There was a birthday breakfast for my husband of skillet baked French toast. There was an accidental recipe of what I’m now calling sugar steaks, and making intentionally. Two batches of dry-rub ribs (a twist on Molly’s rub, McGee’s technique) in the oven, because it’s so, so easy that way. And my future fall obsession came to me early at our daily jaunts to the North Fork Table & Inn Food Truck: chicken posole. It was amazing; I promise to try to recreate it soon.

lots of this

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Saturday, August 6, 2011

sugar plum crepes with ricotta and honey

sugar plum crepes, ricotta, mint

One of the things that has surprised me the most as I’m chugging my way along to my manuscript’s finish line is how little clear my vision was for it from the beginning, and how little I’ve erred from my original list of recipe ideas, as in real life, I am a bafflingly indecisive person. “What should we order for dinner?” can send me into a tailspin. “Which colander looks best from Amazon?” will lead me to read 30 minutes of reviews. And yet, half the recipes that are lined up for the book right now (except the breakfast section; we should definitely not discuss that again) are pretty much as I scribbled the ideas while my then-newborn was napping in the fall of 2009. It’s probably for the best I jotted it all down then because my brain has probably not been so centered for 5 minutes since.

measured
flipped

Outside of the book, however, I’m in a huge rut. The idea that I should still be clever, or have inspiration to spare or enthusiasm to return to the kitchen after finally getting it clean from the last cooking cycle (day 10 without a dishwasher!) after working on this book is well beyond my capability, as sadly evidence by the trickling pace of updates this summer. And when I do cook, I only want one of three things: 1. Dishes that involve corn (see also: corn pancakes, corn pie, corn popovers, corn tacos and that’s just the tip of the iceberg for my corn plans, so help us all), 2. Crepes and crepe family members. Did you know that popovers, Dutch babies, canneles and blintzes are more or less crepe batters at their base? So, yes, all those as well. 3. Things with ricotta. I’ll occasionally throw in cherries, stone fruit or tomatoes, but more or less, my brain is like that raven in Game of Thrones: “CORN! CORN!”

pom-pom plums

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