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.
I found it in Susan Spungen’s (who you might remember from this Perfect Tarte Tatin) latest cookbook, Open Kitchen, which focuses on cooking for casual entertaining, a distant memory these days but I do love the breezy-feeling recipes here. Spungen is a recipe developer and food stylist and I know that the latter connotes images of a person moving parsley around with tweezers or using dental grip to keep a cookie in place on set, in reality, most food stylists I know arrive at work and are handed a stack of recipes that may or may not even work, which they have to cook and plate them in a very short window of time. The food stylists I know are very good cooks, skilled at cutting to the chase of a recipe. Spungen’s book benefits from this.
One of the reasons it’s been relatively quiet here is because as meaningful (okay I’m being sarcastic) as it was when a shampoo brand I ordered from five years ago sent me an email last week about their support of the Black Lives Matter movement, I’m wary of using my platform in a way that places more value on the performance of allyship than the practice of it. If you’re concerned about what my values are, I spoke about them in greater detail in last week’s newsletter. It would ring hollow to pivot away from what I love the most in June — grilled vegetables, summer salads, icy drinks, and birthday cake — for a detailed look at, say, bail funds only to pivot back two days later because I wanted to make lemon bars. But it would have been disingenuous to feign interest in berry shortcakes as usual while my head was everywhere else. So, I’ve been taking some time offline to process, learn, plan, and parent, until I could find a way to move forward in a way that feels authentic to my values and where I’m at, and to what this site has always been, a place where I hope you’ll find your new favorite thing to cook.
Considering that bean salads — a can of beans, a Good Season-ish dressing, whatever chopped vegetables struck my fancy — were a fairly significant staple of my diet in my post-college years, I was shocked, absolutely shook, to realize how sparsely they’re represented here. In fact, there’s onlytwo and they’re among the oldest recipes on this site. Let’s fix this right now. I spotted Alice’s Rosary Cannellini Salad at the end of a Stained Page newsletter last month — a wonderful newsletter if you’re interested in following cookbook news and gossip. The recipe is from a new, charming cookbook called A Good Meal Is Hard to Find: Storied Recipes from Deep South, by Martha Hall Foose, with original paintings throughout from Amy C. Evans in which each recipe tells a story from a quirky Southern character who shares a beloved recipe. I don’t usually look at bean salad recipes because I don’t need a recipe, I stubbornly insist, I can create my own on a whim whenever I want, but a few days after spotting this one — with an intriguing combination of roasted bell peppers, a sherry vinaigrette, and radicchio — a voice within me that said “maybe you can but what if you didn’t have to” grew ever-louder and I succumbed.
The days are getting longer, fruit that has recently emerged from the earth, rather than cellophane, is showing up at markets and in CSAs, and you know what this means, right? It’s time to resist the siren call of pie season and make a galette instead. Galettes are the very best way to bring pie into your everyday life — and yes, I believe your everyday life deserves baked fruit in a buttery, flaky shell — because everything about them is easier. A single crust requires less time and less work. Because it doesn’t have the responsibility of keeping pounds of fruit from soaking into a pie plate, a more tender and flaky dough can be used. The filling uses less fruit and requires less of a shopping commitment. There’s less flavor-occluding sugar and thickeners because galettes are more forgiving of messiness. You don’t need a particular pan or even shape; oblong blobs taste as good and work exactly as well as circles.
The very first thing I cooked in our Inside Days was ragú bolognese. Previous to having all of the time in the world, I didn’t make it very often; we were too busy during the week and on the weekend, I preferred to be away from the stove. But that weekend! Our apartment smelled phenomenal as it gently bubbled on the back burner all afternoon, and I realized it had been way too long since we’d had the luxury of a multi-hour buildup to an anticipated meal.
My friend David Lebovitz, OG food blogger and nine-time author, wrote a book on the iconic cocktails, aperitifs, and cafe traditions of France, including 160 recipes, that came out in March. It’s the kind of book that makes you feel like you’ve hopped on a plane to fly to Paris to spend long, leisurely afternoons-into-evenings wandering, sipping and tasting this and that, something I had the delight to do almost a year ago in person. The circumstances might be terrible, but it feels like a bit of luck that he’s created a book that allows us to recreate these tastes and the feeling, as best as possible, at home.
For many years I’ve been fascinated by variations on yeast-free yogurt flatbread recipes (sometimes called yeast-free naan) that follow a loose formula of a cup of yogurt, a couple cups of flour, some salt, fat, and water. Sometimes there’s baking powder, sometimes there’s not. It’s kneaded together as you would a yeasted bread dough and left to rest for about 30 minutes, sometimes an hour, during which a transformation occurs and the dough becomes springy and smooth and very lovely to work with, like a freshly-opened can of Play-Doh. Once rolled thin, they’re pan-fried, and look, they’re fiiine. But they’re never as good as I want them to be.
It’s true: I’ve dragged my feet over writing a guide to what I keep in my “pantry” (I don’t have a pantry) and fridge for 14 years now. I have my reasons, primarily that I’m not sure I know what your kitchen needs. I mean, shouldn’t you stock the stuff you need for what you’ll want to cook and not some arbitrary list from a lady who loves Triscuits? Maybe you don’t love Triscuits! (Sorry you’re so wrong.) The idea of buying a kitchen full of someone else’s groceries is very much against the way I think anyone should shop. I know your kitchen will grow organically, and accurately reflect what you need if you buy things for what you want to cook as you want to cook them. Second, due to the nature of my work here I have an absolutely unusual amount of stuff in my kitchen cabinets and fridge. It’s totally justified for me, while making little sense for others. On the flip side, I live in NYC and have grocery stores and Greenmarkets quite close, but also as a small kitchen with very few cabinets, meaning that not only can I not stock very much at a time, I don’t need to — I can always dash out for vinegar or dried pasta. This is not the way most people shop.
I didn’t know I needed a new roast chicken in my life when Helen Rosner, the New Yorker’s roving food correspondent and all-around fascinating person, posted on her Instagram a few weekends ago that she didn’t have her usual vegetables to put under her roast chicken so she was using cabbage instead. Yet the very next evening, so was I, plus twice since then, and likely one more time before this week is out and I have a hunch I will not be alone. Rosner won a James Beard award for an essay I still routinely quote from to my kids (“but chicken tenders have no terroir!” because we live in opposite land where they don’t like them but I do — but that’s a whole other blog entry) because it delights me so much. A year ago she nearly broke the internet when she said she likes to use a hairdryer to get the crispiest chicken skin. All I’m saying is that when Rosner talks about chicken, I find good reason to tune in.
My love of french fries is vast and well–documented — preferably in a golden, crisp and glittering-with-fine-salt heap with some aioli, an artichoke or oysters and ice-cold, very dry champagne, outside at a bustling cafe in a life that seems a bit distant right now — so I hope you will take this statement with the utmost gravitas when I say that these crispy potatoes are as good as, if not better, than fries.