I tried flammkuchen for the first time in Freiburg, Germany, at the edge of the Black Forest, in the dead of winter.
We were fleeing the city for the weekend, my friend Hillary and I. (No one tells you this, but Paris is dreadfully dreary in the winter, and sometimes in the spring, summer, and fall, too.) We rented a car, and drove a squiggly line eastward across France, pausing in Reims just long enough to see the grand cathedral, its two towers lit from below like some magisterial jack-o’-lantern. Hours later, on the outskirts of Strasbourg, it started to snow.
We’d made two decisions to save money: rent the cheapest car possible (a manual, which obligated Hillary to drive the whole distance) and take small highways, instead of the national road. The former allowed us to bypass toll fees; however, it also meant we relinquished certain amenities like wide lanes, and the illumination of highway lamps.
By the time we crossed into Germany, our single lane road was dark and slick with fast-falling snow. Wind rattled the bones of our small car, and the only light shone blearily through snow-hampered headlights. We slowed to a crawl. A trip that was meant to take six hours quickly lengthened considerably. Read more
I am swimming in apples.
I just can’t get ahead of them. The whole kerfuffle started when a friend went apple picking and brought me home a massive bag. Since then, my CSA has provided a steady supply, and well. My recipe-brain has been stretched this fall, trying to think of more and more creative uses for all my apples.
Most often, I eat them simply: to lend a sweet snap to a ham sandwich. Or alone, with cheese and charcuterie (goat cheese and triple-crème are special favorites). They are nice with soups, as the weather turns, like tomato, carrot, or squash.
You can bake them in a crisp until the apple melts into itself, stirred together with nutmeg and golden sugar. Or bake them as they are until caramelized, with butter and apple cider. Top with ice cream or Greek yogurt. Read more
I received a punnet of husk cherries a few weeks ago in my CSA box (their season is September-October around these parts), and I’ll be honest with you; upon first inspection, I didn’t really know what they were. I’d seen them a few times before, adoring desserts in European restaurants, but in those cases I’d pushed them to the side of the plate–surely they were meant more for decoration than actual consumption?
As it transpires, husk cherries (also know as Ground Cherries, Golden Strawberries, Chinese Lanterns, and in French as the very charming Amour-en-Cage, or ‘caged love’) are quite delicious. Read more
Like many Americans, I grew up eating seedless, thin-skinned grapes. It wasn’t until I visited the Frenchman’s family that I tasted my first sour grape, small and green as a jade bead, thoroughly packed with bitter seeds. Neither variety left me particularly inspired.
And then, and then. I received a punnet of Concord grapes in my CSA basket this week. Holy milkshakes. Are these ever game-changing grapes.
First of all, they are very nice to look at: inky in shades of dusty, Prussian blue, their skins lightly variegated like crushed velvet. But what really gets me is how they smell. There is no other way to say it–they smell like candy. They smell like grape Jolly Ranchers in perfume form.
My apartment is small. When I lay them on the kitchen table, I can smell them from almost every corner. I feel like some kind of crazed addict, pulling long, conspicuous sniffs as I go about my writing. Read more
As much as I would love you to think I spend my days folding compact butter into pastry dough, alternatively rolling and chilling until perfect pâte feuilletée emerges, this is simply not the case. I buy my puff pastry, because making it is simply too laborious to be worth it on a regular basis.
Shortcuts in the kitchen are useful and necessary, especially if you want to cook dinner on a weeknight and have it on the table at a reasonable hour. Full disclosure: I sometimes (fine, often) attempt ambitious projects on a Wednesday. In these cases, the Frenchman sneaks cheese from the refrigerator to stave off his hunger until I announce dinner at 10pm.
Canned beans and rotisserie chicken fall into the category of ‘kitchen shortcuts I rely on often.’ A well-made sausage cooks quickly, and is a meal after the addition of golden onions, roasty potatoes, and a lemon-dressed salad. Good canned tomatoes become a quick sauce, or shakshuka. While not technically a shortcut, an egg makes dinner shorter work, if you split the yolk and let it run. Read more
Cooking intrigues me for multifarious reasons, but chief among them is this: the learning process is endless. The opportunity for new challenges is endless. There will always a new ingredient to try, or a new technique to study. And even if you taste all the ingredients there are to taste, and try all the techniques there are to try (if such a thing is even possible), you would still be left with the enormous task of mixing and matching so many ingredients with so many techniques.
Learning to cook well takes time–this aspect of cooking at least is magic-less. The 700th clove of garlic you peel will naturally discard its coat more swiftly than the ones that came before it. You’ll sense vanilla custard is done now–right now, not thirty seconds from now, but now–without a thermometer only through exhaustive practice.
Writing a recipe requires imagination, yes, but imagination without context will lead you nowhere tasty in a hurry. The best recipes call upon knowledge assembled steadily over time. Like an unhurried braise, intuition in the kitchen is a gradually lacquered thing. Read more
I’ve known for some time that baking whole fish in a salt crust is a super-duper prize idea: It’s easy, it’s dramatic, and best of all, it results in foolproofishly (get it?) soft, tender fish. It wasn’t until I offered to write a recipe for these lovely people that I began to realize the sheer possibilities of salt crusts.
It’s really down to J. Kenji López-Alt, who knows what the fish fingers he’s talking about. His recipe series, The Food Lab, delves deeply into the chemistry of what makes a dish tick. He experiments with food from all possible angles, providing pictures along the way. In doing so, he illuminates the reasons why something works, and just as importantly, why something doesn’t work. I’ve learned a lot from this man.
In perusing an article he wrote on salt crusts, I came across his recipe for salt-crust chicken. It just makes sense. The salt traps moisture, and gently flavors the chicken in cooking. While you don’t achieve the crispy skin of a roasted chicken, you do come away with meat that’s impossibly soft and juicy, even the breast meat. You can basically use any herb/aromatic combination you like, so this preparation becomes endlessly adaptable as well. Read more
The Frenchman is gone on a two-week business trip, and I am restless. I walk to the market, to get out of the house, to take a break from writing. On a whim, I buy two punnets of raspberries, right out of the gate.
Consider folding them into cold cream. There are egg whites in the fridge which, stiffened with almond extract, makes a raspberry version of Eton Mess. Or, simmer the raspberries with honey until they collapse, swooning, into a syrupy jam. You could thin the cream with milk and make a posset. If you are charmed by old world, summer desserts, try a fool, a cranachan, a syllabub. Read more