A few years ago, I figured out how to make cream cheese and didn’t quite know what to do with this information. What kind of crazy person makes their own cream cheese, no matter how delicious it is? Then again, you could use that reasoning to reject almost anything here (looking in particular at you, marshmallows) and you’re still here. But I suspected this would be a bridge too far. Even food blogging grandmothers have to stay relevant and who has looked around [gestures to all of these things in this world right now] and said “What really keeps me up at night is the stabilizers in store-bought cream cheese”?
One of my most core cooking beliefs, cemented over 15 vegetarian years (that ended shortly before this site began) is that most, or at minimum, half of what we think we like about eating meat has absolutely nothing to do with meat, but the way it’s prepared, from the salt-pepper char on a steak to the layers of flavors in a long braise. It’s this logic that led me to mushroom bourguignon and pate and even pizza beans, where the beans take the place of meat and pasta in a ziti-like dish. And it’s what led me to drop my jaw at the brilliance of Molly Yeh’s 2018 “brisket-braised chickpeas” (cozy braised chickpeas with squash), a brisket-free, vegan dish that uses the flavors you’d put in your favorite brisket braise but with chickpeas and vegetables. My sister had recently gone vegan, and the timing was perfect for our new year meal.
[Warning! This post contains Top Chef Season 17 spoilers.]
I didn’t say it was logical, I think we know better than to expect clear, sound reasoning here, but when cookbooks decided that cauliflower could be pizza crusts or that black beans could go in brownies, I’m sorry, but I checked out. But this summer in particular, as plant-based diets are on evermore agendas, I’ve seen so many creative uses of corn — as ribs, twice, corn butter, and now, a surged interest in a longtime restaurant kitchen staple, corn stocks — and I love it; I’m all in.
Last week I childishly pouted that nobody really loves fennel salads and so many of you commented that you wanted one, I am delighted I’ve been given the external validation I require to share a new one here. This fennel salad is from Café Altro Paradiso, which shares a chef — Ignacio Mattos — with two other New York restaurants, estela and Flora Bar. What I love about the cooking at these restaurants is that there’s a quiet minimalism to each dish that belies the actual complexity of flavors. It’s particularly evident in salads. At estela, my favorite is this endive salad, which seems like the most plain pile of lettuce until you find the heap of loudly flavored texture and crunch below, for scooping onto the leaves. This fennel salad looks equally unassuming when it comes out: a mountain of shaved bulb. But it sits on a piquant medley of crushed olives, thinly sliced stems, minced fronds, sharp cheese, citrus zest, juice, wine vinegar, olive oil, and seasoning that I’m not sure I ever want to stop eating.
If you go way back in the land of Smitten Kitchen, you might know that one of my favorite restaurants of all time was called Tabla, specifically the more casual, heavier on the small plates, downstairs space called the Bread Bar. In my early years in New York, I went there as often as I could scrape the change together. I’m pretty sure we ate there for my 25th birthday. Alex met my parents there for the first time. We even put the (now discontinued) wine glasses on our wedding registry. I obsessed over every dish and can reel off the names of several just from memory — saag paneer pizza, potato apple chaat, black pepper shrimp, boondi raita, aloo kulcha, and the mango kulfi pops. The cocktails were also exceptional; Alex loved the Masala Mary, and I loved the Tamarind Margarita and the Kachumber Cooler; we drank them standing up, because it was always crowded, and snacked on my desert island favorite, the bar popcorn with ghee and chat masala, although we’d also never say no to the chickpea-battered onion rings with a spicy masala ketchup.
If you spend any time on Pinterest or Instagram food searches, and who that hangs out here does not, I bet at least once in the last couple years, your Explore tab led you to the photogenic, decadent world of chocoflans. If not, let this post fix your suggestions right now. Chocoflans, sometimes called impossible flan (pastel imposible), are one part flan (a sweetened egg custard with caramel or dulce de leche) and one part plush chocolate cake. They’re considered a bit magical, not only because they combine two of the most wonderful desserts in the world, but because of what happens in the oven. Even though it goes into the oven with the cake batter in first and the flan in second, as it bakes, the batters flip. Once you invert it out of the baking pan, you end up with the flan on top and the cake underneath. I’ve read that this is because the cake, as it rises in the oven, becomes lighter than the flan layer, so the flan sinks and I, a non-scientist, based on little more than liking the sound of it, have concluded that it makes total sense.
Welcome to the point of the summer when I don’t remember why I chose a career in cooking when I only want to eat about five things — tomatoes, melon, iced coffee and/or drinks, and popsicles — until the heat and humidity recede. The fifth, pasta with homemade basil pesto, is a craving that arrives like clockwork every July. It usually comes with very specific instructions, a list of everything I think tastes good with, near, or stirred into pesto pasta, things like white beans, grilled and marinated zucchini, halved cherry tomatoes, and bocconcini (or tinier!) mozzarella. And that’s it, that’s my whole menu for the rest of July. I’ll come back when I’m interesting again, okay?
One of my favorite cookbook purchases of the last year is Toni Tipton-Martin‘s Jubilee: Recipes from Two Centuries of African American Cooking. It’s one of those incredible books that even from the pages of the introduction quietly but irrevocably pivots some of the ways you think about food. Tipton-Martin talks about growing up in the Black Beverly Hills of Los Angeles, one of several communities in the U.S. that she says are rarely discussed in the media, “an omission of black middle and upper classes that serves to stereotype African Americans as poor, uneducated, and possibly dangerous.” Growing up, she had a diverse culinary upbringing, with her mother’s homegrown fruits and vegetables at the center, but she found that culinary heritage, and the larger story of the African American food that encompasses the middle class and well-to-do “was lost in a world that confined the black experience to poverty, survival, and soul food.” She found it frustrating. With this book, she hoped to tell a multifaceted story of African American food that includes, but also looks beyond, what people call Southern and soul. Read more »
I’ve apparently been wanting to make lemon meringue pie bars for at least eight years, as per my decade-plus log of everything I want to cook. Three different times I’ve tried to draft a recipe but I always got stuck on how much was involved, both in three separate cooking processes and eggs, just so many eggs. Whole eggs in the lemon portion, egg whites for the topping… it just felt like a lot, if not a dealbreaker, enough reason for me to pause on the idea until I had a more efficient way to approach it.