Monday, April 10, 2017

Cheater Smoked Trout

There are some recipes I don’t think to share here, and this is one of them. I mean, it’s kind of peculiar—a recipe to satisfy the craving for smoked fish when there is no smoked fish in the house and the craver is usually too cheap to buy it anyway. But then, if I’m like that, isn’t it likely that some of you are too? That really, if you could, you would be eating passed hors d’oeuvres for every meal? Little wonderful things, little smoked this and that spread on a cracker, a savory filled little something, a delightful fried little something else? Do you know what I’m saying? That’s what I crave. Party food. Holiday food.
The rosemary lover.
And yes, it is a holiday! And no, this recipe is not strictly kosher for Passover, unless you source everything accordingly and feel okay about fish and dairy together. (When I Googled it, I came upon this little tidbit, which is too precious not to share: “May we remind you, banana chips require kosher supervision for year round use as they are sometimes fried in the same oil as unkosher cheese. They are not recommended for Passover use.” Yes, you may remind me, but that is kind of a lot to imagine, what with the supervision and the fried cheese a) That said, the fake smoked trout is delicious with matzo, gefilte fish though it is not.

Dude, where's the *trout*?
This recipe is totally a pull-it-out-of-the-pantry cheat, as well as totally delicious, and you will easily be able to imagine that what you are eating is smoked fish. You do need the liquid smoke, though! I’m sorry if that seems gross to you, but smoked paprika or chipotles won’t quite get the job done here, although they make something that is also good, just not quite hitting the same notes. Oh, also, if what you are actually craving is something more like *whitefish salad,* then you can stir in some finely chopped celery and onions here, and you will get a lovely approximation.

Pesach sameach. And lay off those treyf-ass banana chips!

Cheater Smoked Trout Mousse
Makes an amount that's just right, but easily doubled if you need twice that amount.

1 (5-ounce) can oil-packed tuna (I like the Italian brand Genoa, which I buy at the supermarket)
A big blob of cream cheese, whipped or regular (this is probably about 2 ounces)
1 tablespoon prepared horseradish, drained (scoop it up with a fork and press it to the side of the jar   to get the liquid out of it) (Also, this is optional; I use it because it's in my dad's smoked trout mousse,  which is what I'm trying to approximate here.)
½ teaspoon liquid smoke
The juice of half a lemon
A big pinch of salt
Crackers, matzo, or celery sticks for serving

Drain the tuna, then put everything in a food processor and whiz until smooth and fluffy and blended. Taste to correct the seasonings—it might need more salt or more liquid smoke—then scoop into a bowl and serve. Garnish with celery leaves because you’re too cheap to buy a whole bunch of herbs, and rosemary is not going to cut it here.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Brown-Butter Polenta

My friend Ali and I met when we were three. Then we were in kindergarten together, and then first grade, and then she switched schools and we only lived five blocks apart, but never got to be in the same class again. Until junior year of college, when we conspired to spend the same semester in Florence. And it was heavenly. Better, even, than Mrs. Houk’s first-grade class! Better than pretty much anything.

Mostly what we did, of course, was eat. We ate enormous, oily tuna and artichoke sandwiches at the Antico Noe hole under a bridge shop. We ate risotto ai fruiti di mare, filled with fat clams and chewy calamari, at the cheap and wonderful trattoria where we ended up dating the chef and waiter (long story short: a mistake—the boys, not the risotto). We ate dishes of ribolitta, dark with something called black cabbage that we would, years later, come to know at home as kale. We ate gelato every single day. We ate ravioli so freshly formed that we could still see the old woman’s thumbprints in the dough. We ate blood oranges and gorgonzola and gnocchi, and we gained twenty pounds each. We drank a lot of wine.

You have to look at cornmeal because I do not seem to have the emotional fortitude to get out my Italy photo album. Sigh.
Also, we ate polenta in a tiny cavelike trattoria run from the same kitchen as the city’s famous and expensive Cibrèo restaurant. You could not eat there and not feel like you were getting away with something, because while the chic Italian silk-and-suede crowd paid a small fortune get fussed over with white linen and crystal water glasses, we ate the same food out back, on long wooden benches at long wooden tables, and the dishes we ordered cost $5 each. One was a heap of clams the size of your fingernail that arrived in a garlicky, tomato-y broth with a hunk of charred bread. The other was the polenta, and this polenta no longer exists anywhere but in my memory.

The polenta associated online with Cibrèo seems to involve masses of herbs, and I’m sure it’s delicious. But the one we ordered (over and over again) in 1989 was simpler: a mound of tender cornmeal, a moat of melted butter, a shower of parmesan and—Ali, I need you—green peppercorns? Maybe it was just black pepper, but I think it might have been green. It was as perfect a dish of food as I’ve ever eaten anywhere, and Ali was the perfect person to eat it with. To spend my life being friends with. To shepherd out of life, even, because lying around with her was so great, even at the end. But she’s the worst person to be left by, because there’s nobody else who remembers the same thing as me, and everything I forgot to ask her I will now never know. And I kind of can’t get over how much that sucks.
Ali and Ben. 
 But at least this polenta is pretty fucking close. Ali would love it. Try making your polenta this way—in the oven—even if you’re using it for something else, because it is basically foolproof and incredibly easy and hands-off. But do use some milk in it, which makes it all the more fabulous, and do consider serving it with the brown butter, because you will swoon. Birdy eats hers with a poached egg, and although that is much more Instagram-worthy, as a dish of food, I am being a purist here.

Brown-Butter Polenta

2 cups whole milk (use at least a cup of milk to 3 of water, but half milk is even better)
2 cups water
1 cup coarse cornmeal
2 teaspoons Diamond kosher salt (or half as much table salt)
4 tablespoons butter, divided use
1 cup freshly grated parmesan
Freshly ground black pepper

Heat the oven to 350. Pour the milk and water into a deep, lidded oven-proof casserole (not a huge one), and whisk in the cornmeal and salt. Put the pot in the oven and bake for 50 minutes.

Remove the polenta from the oven and whisk it. If the cornmeal isn’t tender or there’s still liquid in the pot, put it back in the oven for ten minutes, but otherwise, whisk in half the butter and half the cheese, then cover the polenta and let it sit while you brown the butter.

Melt the rest of the butter in a very small pan over medium heat, then continue cooking it, swirling the pan constantly, until the butter gets golden-brown and smells nutty and insane, another 3 or 4 minutes. Remember that it will cook for a bit longer after you turn the heat off, so maybe err on the side of cooking it to short.

Divide the polenta into “4” (ahem, really only three) bowls and top each with a spoonful of brown butter, a flurry of parmesan, and a good grinding of black pepper.

A poached egg can be added!

Friday, March 17, 2017

One Mixed-Up Night

You guys! The middle-grade novel I wrote is available for pre-order on Amazon! Jakers! I'm crazily excited about this book. It's a book about friendship--about two best friends whose own favorite book is From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, so they end up plotting to spend the night at. . . well, IKEA. The friends are based on Ben and his lifelong Ava, and their big, big love of IKEA. In a pie chart of the way those two have spent the past fourteen years, I would have to say that lying on the couch / in a hammock / on the carpet with the IKEA catalogue is no small slice.

I don't want to give any spoilers, so I will just say that the book is also about a lot of other things. Like cats and recipe-testing and death and doorknobs, and oh, you know, some of my other fave topics.

My friend and neighbor Bestselling author Cammie McGovern says, "The mystery that propels these two wonderful characters onto their escapades is both heart-wrenching and (when we finally learn the whole truth) profoundly moving. A dazzling debut."

And my friend bestselling author Suzy Becker calls the book, "A hilarious, hair-raising page-turner, and an iconic portrayal of best friendship."

It comes out in September, in hardcover and on audio. Please pre-order it, if it sounds like the kind of book someone at your house would like! And/or tell all your (parent / kid / book reviewer / editor / teacher / librarian) friends about it! They're saying grades 3-7, but I think it could go a little older, personally. 

Anyhoo, in other news, I made these cookies after we ate them at the King Arthur cafe in New Hampshire, and they were nothing short of perfection. (I did not have poisonous almond resin or whatever that crazy ingredient is called, so I doubled the extract.) If you like a deeply almondy cookie with a crisp outside and a tooth-sticking center, like an Italian macaroon, this is your recipe.

Have a wonderful weekend. xo

Thursday, March 02, 2017

Double-Chocolate Meringue Fudgies

I feel like every recipe I post should be preceded by a colon and the word menopause. "Menopause: Homemade Chocolate Pudding." "Menopause: Double-Chocolate Meringue Fudgies." The turning and turning again towards chocolate feels a little suspect, no? I suppose there's also Trump, as far as explanatory words go. Sigh. But I'm telling you: eat one of these tender, velvety, black cookies still-warm from the oven, and you will forget that your vagina sweats all night in a really unusual way you've never heard about. At least for a moment.

Double-Chocolate Meringue Fudgies
Makes 2 dozen
Total time: 35 minutes

If you've been searching for a rich, chewy, dark, decadent chocolate cookie that's like a cross between a brownie and a black hole, look no further. These are really profoundly chocolatey, and you can even stir in an extra 1/2 cup of chocolate chips if you like, and if you want to call them Triple-Chocolate Meringue Fudgies! I like the smoothness of them without, though.

1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
3 large egg whites, room temperature
2 1/2 cups powdered sugar, divided use
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt (or half as much table salt)
1 teaspoon vanilla

Heat the oven to 375, and spray 2 large baking sheets with cooking spray, or line them with parchment. Melt the chocolate chips in the microwave, stirring occasionally, until they are mostly melted, about 2 minutes. Stir until fully melted, then leave them to cool.

Using electric mixer with the whisk attachment, beat the whites on high speed until they just form soft peaks. Gradually beat in 1 cup of the sugar, and continue beating until the mixture gets thick and glossy. Whisk together 1 cup of sugar, the cocoa, cornstarch, and salt in medium bowl to blend. On low speed, beat the dry ingredients into the meringue with the vanilla. Now, with a wooden spoon, stir in the lukewarm chocolate. The dough will be batter-like at first and then, as you stir, it will get very stiff.

Place the remaining 1/2 cup of sugar in a bowl. Roll 1 rounded tablespoon of dough into a ball, then roll it in the sugar to coat it thickly. (The dough can be sticky and awkward to work with, but it's not too bad. I use my cookie scoop to dump lumps into the bowl of sugar, then kind of roll and coat them at the same time, if I were to be completely honest.) Place on prepared sheet, and repeat with the remaining dough, spacing the balls 2 inches apart. Bake until the cookies are puffed and the tops crack, about 10 minutes. Cool on the sheets on a rack 10 minutes, then transfer the cookies to a rack to cool completely.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Chocolate Pudding (for No Whey Mama)

Luckily the children are still humanoid collages of berries and cream, sprinkled with freckles, scented with nectar, and just waiting for you to take a bite out of their little rosy cheeks.

Luckily, they're not made out of planes and angles, arms and legs stretched long and thin, jaws and cheekbones cutting into your palm when you try tenderly to cup a face that is on its way out the door to drive itself somewhere before leaving you forever.

Luckily, even if they were, I would be too busy calling my senators in an outrage, too busy watching our government unravel into a pile of dirty string bits, to notice. (Sob!)

Anyhoo. This pudding is an oldie, a goodie, and here by special request. You can make it with coconut milk, and it will be delicious. Weirdly, before this request even came in, I was in a pudding state of mind, having just stirred up a comforting pot of butterscotch My-T-Fine, since Birdy was sick, and I'd had an emergency three-hour root canal, the world was blanketed in snow, and we were in need of something soft and sweet to suck off of our spoons while we felt cozy and sorry for ourselves and watched Arrested Development, which we are watching again, for the same reason that I am recommending this utterly delightful book to you and also this obsessively delicious recipe, that reason being pure pleasure. Resist, resist, resist, enjoy, resist, resist, resist.

Chocolate Pudding
4 servings
Total time: 20 minutes, plus a couple hours for cooling

This recipe is adapted from the Enchanted Broccoli Forest cookbook. You will wish there were more, but don't try doubling it, as it tends to set erratically in larger batches. I once tried to multiply the recipe by six--back when Michael and I lived in our vegetarian co-op--and let me just say: first my arm fell off from whisking, and then the bottom of the pudding scorched. In that order.

4 ounces semisweet chocolate (chips are easiest, but we sometimes use a 4-ounce bar of Ghiradelli, broken up)
3 packed tablespoons light brown sugar
2 cups whole milk (or a combination of low-fat milk and either cream and half and half)
a dash of salt
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (or a little mint extract, if you want to make chocolate-mint pudding)

In a heavy saucepan, combine the chocolate, sugar, and milk. Heat very gently over low heat, whisking constantly, until all the chocolate is melted, and the mixture is uniform. This will take about 5 minutes, and then it will look like hot chocolate, which is what you're going for. It should feel hot to the touch, but it shouldn't boil.

Combine the salt and cornstarch in a small bowl. Pour about 3/4 cup of the hot mixture into it, and whisk vigorously until the cornstarch is dissolved, then pour this solution back into the pot. Keep whisking and cook the pudding over very low heat for about 8-10 minutes, or until it is thick and glossy. For some reason ours was done in 5 minutes this last time, which is funny because I have a note in my handwriting that says "Up to a half an hour!" next to "8-10 minutes." Cornstarch can be finicky stuff. You may want to switch from a whisk to a wooden spoon as the pudding thickens. Don't imagine it will thicken much as it cools: it will, but it won't thicken if it's not already thick, if you get what I'm saying. Also, once it starts to set, don't mess with it or it will liquefy. Honestly, it's easy though, I swear.

Pour into serving dishes and chill at least one hour before eating. A dollop of whipped cream wouldn't hurt.

Friday, February 03, 2017

That Thing

The original side eye.
What, do I seem like a crank because I'm against chronic traumatic encephalopathy and I begrudge a certain team their support of a white-supremacist regime? So sue me. "Please don't," the kids say, when their father and I enter into conversation about the Patriots, and what properly is the role of a responsible citizen who has the attention and devotion of the entire country focused on him. "Not again."  I'm never, like, in love with the Super Bowl. But this year? With the Muslim ban and Bannon and Sessions and the Dakota pipeline and no Jews on Holocaust Remembrance Day and fighting with Australia and with every allegedly American value, like the rule of law, just as a for-instance, hanging in the balance, or not even hanging in the balance as much as tipping, tipping, tipping us all, scrambling, like the Titanic passengers bouncing along the length of the ship on their way to the icy depths? I can't believe they're even following through with the stupid Super Bowl. Luckily Frederick Douglass is still alive. And luckily, the party I'm going to on Sunday has an upstairs group of cheering glazy-eyed concussion lovers, and a downstairs group of board-game-crushing nasty women who will boycott the thing until the Hamilton cast is on, and then our boycott will enjoy a brief hiatus, because we are only human, and we deserve a little pleasure. Also, snacking.

So. In the interest of everyone who's gotta eat, and who might as well eat delicious munching food, I offer you a few old favorites. I love you. xo

The best ribs.
The best chicken wings.
The best nachos.
The best crudites.
Vegetarian chili for a crowd.
People-pleasing enchilada casserole.
Comforting mac and cheese.
Dill pickle popcorn.
Fake, cheap DIY Boursin.
Obsessy edamame.
Crazily good deviled eggs.
Momofuku soy sauce eggs.
Buffalo cauliflower.
Jicama that will get finished before anything else.
Weirdly addictive tortilla pizza.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Creamy Tomato-Fennel Soup with Grilled Cheese Croutons

So. These are strange days—trying to balance outrage and action and also the joy in resistance, in daily life, without which what even is the point? 

We marched in DC, and it was magic. I can hardly even talk about it. It's like a beloved's photograph in the locket of my heart.

Our congresspeople’s numbers are all in my phone, and I am calling their DC and local offices to express concern about whatever feels most pressing on any given day. I am following the alternative Twitter accounts of our country’s custodians of science. Less nobly, I am hoping that this half an onion in a bag gets more Twitter followers than Trump.

I have never loved Michael more.
Also, we are laughing at every opportunity. We are sleeping with cats. I am putting down my phone to greet the children when they get home from school. We are eating warmly and well. Like this soup, which is extremely delicious. If butterfat troubles you, don’t make it, okay? I mean, if you’re vegan, feel free to swap in alternative products—you could definitely do something great with cashew cream at the end here. But if the fat itself is a worry, make something else, because the fat is necessary. We need to store up fat for the long winter of our coming discontents. This is the plan.

Birdy and I recently ate this soup at Duckfat in Portland, ME, and it blew us away. You can be confident that Duckfat is a wonderful place because, despite the fact that there is almost nothing on the menu our vegetarian girl can eat—there is duck fat in the French fries, in the doughnuts, in the caramel that goes into most of the milkshakes—Birdy always wants to go there. This soup would be reason enough. When we got home, I Googled around, and found the recipe online! I scaled it down a little, but it still makes a lot.

Prettier garnishes. But go with the grilled-cheese croutons, if you can.
Creamy Tomato-Fennel Soup with Grilled-Cheese Croutons
This recipe is adapted from Rob Evans, the chef of Duckfat in Portland, ME. The truth is that I’ve made it with his recommended amount of cream—which, in the scaled-down recipe below, is a full quart—and it’s fantastic that way, if a tad rich. Half that amount of cream is good too, but then the acidity of the tomatoes breaks through a little more, and I’ve found you need to add significantly more sugar to balance it—up to a tablespoon or two or more. Three cups of cream is pretty much the happy medium here. This is not a light soup. But oh, it is so comforting and good. (There are some process shots of soup-making, including quartered and cored fennel, below.)

1 large fennel bulb
4 tablespoons butter
1 medium onion, halved and sliced
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 tablespoon whole fennel seed
½ cup white wine
2 (28-ounce cans) peeled whole or crushed tomatoes (I use San Marzano whenever I can)
1 teaspoon (plus) sugar
2-4 cups heavy cream (Try 3 cups. See headnote)
Kosher salt and black pepper
A grilled cheese sandwich, cut into small squares, for garnish

1. Deal with the fennel: trim off the green tops (save some of the feathery fronds for garnish, if you like), then cut the fennel in quarters lengthwise and trim out the core. Now slice the fennel thin (crosswise or lengthwise—it’s all going in the blender later so it doesn’t really matter) by hand, mandolin, or food processor.

2. Melt the butter over medium heat in a heavy soup pot and add the fennel, onion, salt, and fennel seeds. Sauté for a minute our two, then cover the pot and “sweat” the vegetables, stirring occasionally, until they have given up a lot of liquid and that liquid has largely cooked off—about 10 minutes.

3. Add the wine and cook, uncovered, until the wine is mostly gone (another few minutes), then stir in the tomatoes and the sugar, bring to a simmer, turn the heat to medium-low, and cover the pot. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 20 minutes.

4. Stir in the cream, and simmer another 15 minutes, or until the fennel is very tender. Add a big grinding of pepper.

5. Now puree the soup in a blender, in batches. You know how to do this safely, right? Fill the blender jar only half full, remove the center of the lid and use a dish towel over the hole (this prevents steam building up and blowing the lid off).

6. Strain the soup if you like. This is kind of a fussy step, and it’s not strictly necessary, but it’s quite lovely to have a perfectly smooth puree without little fennely strings and bits of fennel-seed husk.

7. Return the soup to the pot, reheat gently, and taste. You are going to need to add more salt, maybe more sugar, and maybe more cream. You want the soup to taste balanced and delicious. Keep adding and stirring and tasting, even if it feels like it’s taking a long time to get it exactly right.

8. Serve the soup with the grilled-cheese croutons or with a drizzle of cream (or sour cream) and a sprinkle of chopped fennel fronds.