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One year, for my birthday, I bought myself a suit. It was the first designer anything I had ever purchased and, with its lovely pattern, its boucle texture, its leather trim, it made me feel very special. Every time I wore it, I told people I was wearing my birthday suit.

This year, on my birthday (December 8th, in case you want to mark your calendar for next year) there was no designer suit, but there were cookies. Whole wheat chocolate chunk cookies.

whole wheat chocolate chip cookies

Now, there are two types of cookie people: the chewys and the crispys. (Or is that the chewies and the crispies?) I am squarely on team crispy and that’s where the cookies pictured above fall. If, however, you root for team chewy, stop reading right now and head over to the original recipe. According to Jess, who introduced me to this recipe, the cookies have an interior that is “soft, even borderline flakey.”

The first time I baked them up, I followed the recipe to a T and, well, I didn’t like the cookies very much. They were big – three tablespoons of dough big – and puffy and, if you can imagine this, sort of fluffy in the center. And yet, flawed as their texture was, the nutty-without-nuts taste was intriguing, and I couldn’t stop thinking about them.

One year went by, two years, then three, the cookies almost forgotten, until a big bag of whole wheat flour called to me from the cupboard. I played around with the recipe, making batch after batch and tweaking flours (2:1:1 whole wheat to graham to white makes a nice combo but is too fussy), sugars (less brown sugar equals less chewy), cookies size (I like them small), and baking temperature and time (lower the temp and bake for longer). Finally, finally, five batches in, I nailed the recipe.

I send to few dozen cookies to a few friends, including Meira and Caroline, as a hey-I’m-just-thinking-about-you kind of surprise. Two days before my birthday, their mother Monica emailed me: “Did you send Meira cookies because it was your birthday?” I hadn’t, but I liked that she thought of me as someone who takes care of other people as a way to celebrate.

So I baked another batch of cookies and invited friends over for an impromptu evening of birthday nibbles and bubbles. More on  what I cooked in a bit, but for now, the cookies.

Whole wheat chocolate chunk cookies

Adapted from Kim Boyce’s Good to the Grain, as published on Food 52. I made a few changes to keep the cookies crisp, and in case you’re curious, here’s what I did, using using The Food Lab: The Science of the Best Chocolate Chip Cookies article to guide my experimentation.

1) Most importantly, I replaced half of the brown sugar with Demerara sugar. Using a crystalized sugar instead of brown helps the cookies crisp, and Demerara retains some of the molasses and toffee flavor of brown sugar. You could also use white sugar, so 1 1/2 cups white sugar, 1/2 cup brown sugar. 

2) I increased the amount of chocolate by 50%. Because, chocolate.

3) Rather than three tablespoons of dough per cookie, I used one tablespoon. After scooping the dough onto the cookie sheet, I smushed them with the palm of my hand so they would bake more evenly, eliminating that chewy center. The consistency ends up on the denser side, almost shortbread-like.

4) I lowered the temperature and increased the baking time to encourage the cookies to spread as much as possible, which isn’t very much.

5) I only bake one sheet of cookies at a time. I don’t like to fuss with rotating trays from top to bottom, front to back. 

6) The original recipe has you cool the cookies on parchment, which I assume encourages them to retain a bit of moisture – not what I want at all. Instead, when the cookies are cool enough to touch, I transfer them straight to a cooling rack.

Makes 7-8 dozen small cookies

- 12 oz bittersweet chocolate

- 1 C (2 sticks) cold butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces

- 1 C white sugar

- 1/2 C Demerara sugar (or turbinado or sugar in the raw)

- 1/2 C brown sugar

- 2 eggs

- 1 T vanilla extract

- 3 C whole wheat flour

- 1 1/2 t baking powder

- 1 t baking soda

- 2 t kosher salt

Prep. Preheat the oven to 325ºF. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Chop the chocolate into 1/4-inch chunks.

Mix. Add the butter and the sugars to the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. With the mixer on low speed, mix just until the butter and sugars are blended, about 2 minutes. Use a spatula to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing until each is combined. Mix in the vanilla. The batter might look curdled at this point, but don’t worry.

Keep mixing. Whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add this mixture to the bowl and blend on low speed until the flour is barely combined, about 30 seconds. You’ll probably find some extra flour lurking at the bottom of the bowl, so scrape down the sides and bottom.

Keep mixing. Add the chocolate all at once to the batter. Mix on low speed until the chocolate is evenly combined. Use a spatula to again scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl, and use your hands to fully incorporate all the ingredients, kneading lightly.

Scoop. Scoop dough onto the parchment-lined baking sheet, using a 1-tablespoon ice cream scoop, at 2-inch intervals.

Press. With the palm of your hand or a wooden spoon, press the cookie dough until it’s about 1/4-inch thick.

Bake. Bake the cookies for 16 to 20 minutes until the cookies are evenly dark brown and dry to the touch. Allow the cookies to cool on the sheet for about 5 minutes until you can pick them up and transfer them to a cooling rack. Repeat with the remaining dough – you can re-use the parchment.

Store. While for many cookies, I like to scoop out the entire batch and then freeze the scooplets so that I can bake up a half-dozen or so when the mood strikes, it doesn’t work as well for these cookies because of their crumbly dough. So, just bake all of the cookies and store them in an airtight tin or in the freezer. If you’re afraid you’ll eat them all … well, that’s when you give them away as gifts.

open all hours

I woke up to a white sky this morning and, while it will no doubt further complicate my travel plans above and beyond the usual pre-holiday Manhattan exodus traffic, I just love the first snow of the season. I trekked through the light storm, one that fluctuated between gentle flakes and stinging hail, to Adeena‘s place to pick up peanut butter brownies to support Sharsheret‘s annual Pies for Prevention sale. (Check out this post for a bit more about the pie sale, Adeena’s mom Steffi, and a recipe for pumpkin cranberry bread.)

I felt a little sheepish showing up in Adeena’s apartment where nearly every surface was covered with pumpkin or pecan or chocolate chip pie having just outed myself as a pie hater. But I brought a piece of cake as a peace offering.

The cake is an Italian olive oil cake strewn with shredded pumpkin (or in this case, kabocha squash) and studded with toasted cashews. I recently transferred from Union Square Cafe to Marta — the newest restaurant in our family and inspired by the uber-thin crust Roman pizza — and was editing our menu a few weeks ago when I noticed a new dolci item: torta di zucca. I snagged a slice, downed it a few bites, and started to plot a way to get the (parve!) recipe.

Plotting wasn’t really necessary as all I had to do was ask our head baker, Chef Pat Clark. We chatted for a bit in the prep kitchen while he stirred a huge pot of marmalade over a low flame, and then he emailed me the directions he wrote out for his team.

all manner of pumpkin

I spent a day tweaking the recipe, converting the gram measurements to cups, trying a few different winter squashes, testing different-sized pans, and tracking oven time like a hawk. By evening, I had reproduced the torta in my own kitchen.

The torta bakes up tall and proud. Due to its long time in the oven, the edges are thick and golden brown — a crust that pie wishes it had. The cake interior has a tight crumb punctuated by delicate squash ribbons and cashew nubbins. Its top is slick with a burst of citrus. Day two cake can stand on its own, but throw a slice in the toaster and smear it with a little butter or marmalade for a real breakfast treat. The freezer is kind to this cake, so, please, double the recipe. Or triple it.

Marta's torta di zucca

Now, earlier this month after a particularly bad day, I was speaking to my aunt Leslie, the one who always hosts Thanksgiving. Sessie is a great listener and had some helpful advice and when I thanked her, she said, “call me any time. As Bubbie used to say, ‘open all hours.’”

As I walked home from Adeena’s today, ducking beneath the shelter of scaffolding wherever I could and ticking off a mental packing list, that refrain kept interrupting my thoughts. Open all hours.

So, as we approach Thanksgiving and we get together with people we love, people we like, people we like a little less, people who drive us crazy, people we’re crazy for, I consider myself blessed to have a handful of people in my life who are open all hours for me. They live in my neighborhood and downtown, have moved away or have been far away for years, reside in the US and out. Luckily, they understand when I only bring three-quarters of a cake to dinner.

Marta's torta di zucca

Here are a few more stories of Thanksgivings past

2013: Cornbread apple stuffing

2012: Applesauce (with our without cranberries)

2011: Pumpkin cranberry bread

2010: Chocolate chip pound cake and wild mushroom soup

And now, the recipe.

Marta's torta di zucca

Marta’s Torta di Zucca (Roasted Pumpkin and Cashew Olive Oil Cake)

Adapted from Marta’s Torta di Zucca by Chef Pat Clark.

I tested this cake with kobucha squash and butternut squash, and both worked well. A 1 ½ pound gourd has about 1 pound of usable squash which, shredded, yields 2 ¼ very tightly packed cups. Use what every squash you like, just make sure to watch carefully while it roasts so that it doesn’t burn. You can substitute any nut for the cashews – I think almonds or pecans would work nicely. While Clark’s original recipe called for hand-grating the squash, I used my food processor which yielded slightly thicker pieces of squash.

The bake time for this cake is quite long and will vary depending on your oven and the type of pan that you use. I used a 9-inch round springform pan with high sides and the total bake time was one hour and ten minutes. For the first 30 minutes or so, cover the pan with aluminum foil that you’ve poked holes in – this will allow the cake to bake without letting the top burn. The holes prevent the cake from steaming.

The cake will indeed soak up all of the lemon-orange glaze, just keep at it. 

Serves 8 to 10

For the cake

- 1 ½ lb kobucha squash (or 1 lb pre-peeled and cut butternut squash)

- ¾ C cashews

- 2 ½ C all-purpose flour, plus extra for preparing the pan

- 1 t baking powder

- ½ t baking soda

- 1 ½ t kosher salt

- 3 large eggs

- 1 ¾ C white sugar

- 1 C less 1 T extra-virgin olive oil

- 2 t vanilla extract

For the citrus glaze

- ½ C orange juice

- ¼ C lemon juice

- ¼ C sugar

- ¾ C confectioner’s sugar

Preheat the oven to 425°F.

Grate. Cut the squash into quarters. Remove the stringy bits and seeds. Use a vegetable peeler to remove the outer layer of your squash. Grate the squash using the large holes on a box grater or a food processor.

Dry. Spread the grated squash out on a baking tray and flash in the oven for 8-10 minutes to remove excess moisture from the squash (a little color is okay, but don’t let the squash burn).

Toast. Turn the oven down to 350° F. Toast the cashews for about 5 minutes until just slightly browned. Allow the nuts to cool and then coarsely chop.

Spray and dust. Prepare a 9-inch springform pan with high sides by lightly spraying with oil. Dust the greased pan with flour, covering all surfaces and tapping out the excess flour.

Sift. In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

Mix. With a stand mixer on medium to medium-high, paddle together the eggs, sugar, olive oil, and vanilla until light and creamy. Turn off the mixer and scrape down the sides with a rubber spatula.

Mix, more gently this time. Add the dry ingredients all at once. Mix on low until just together. Use a rubber spatula and scrape down the mixing bowl again. Add the squash and toasted nuts all at once, mixing on low until just incorporated. Don’t overmix.

Bake. Poke a few holes in a piece of aluminum foil large enough to cover your cake. Lightly tent the top of the cake, leaving room so it won’t touch the surface of the cake as it rises. Place the pan on the middle rack of the oven. Bake for 30 minutes. Remove foil tent, rotate cake, and bake for 35-45 more minutes. Toothpick test the dead center to make sure your cake is fully baked.

Whisk. While the cake is baking, whisk together the citrus glaze ingredients and leave on top of the stove to fully dissolve sugar. Whisk again prior to use.

Brush. Cool for 15-20 minutes and de-pan onto a cooling rack. Immediately use a pastry brush to coat the top and sides with glaze, making sure to use all the glaze. You will think it’s too much, but it’s not. Allow the cake to completely cool before cutting.

I never expected to publish this chili.

Vegetarian chili

It’s the clear-out-the-cupboard no-recipe recipe I’ve been making for years. You know the kind. Its starts like any soup or stew with the holy carrot-celery-onion mirepoix trinity softening and slumping in a slick of oil. The vegetables dance with a handful of spices, swim in a tomato sea, and cozy up to some beans. A sprinkle of cheese and you’re ready to face the cold.

Back when I was just starting to cook, I was pretty timid with my chili: the spices came pre-mixed in a seasoning envelope. Gaining confidence, I started to doctor the mix. A little extra chili powder. A sprinkle of coriander. Ooooh, red pepper flakes.

Pretty soon I did away with the mix altogether. There were failures, one so spicy it left me crying but, too stubborn to throw away the batch, I ate the whole pot, tears and all. There were success. But most of all, there were decent versions, good enough for sustenance and warmth against a winter’s day, but nothing particularly remarkable. With each batch, I dutifully jotted down my steps, my ingredients, my quantities. And then that sheet of paper sat on my desk or my coffee table or my kitchen counter, eventually drowning under a pile of other recipes that were more likely to make it onto the blog.

But this year, just as the November air grew brisk and I switched over my closet, I happened upon a spice combination that made this memorable enough that I wanted to remember it. The scribbled notes stayed at the top of the pile. And then I made it exactly the same way a week later. There are three different heats – chipotle in adobo sauce, cayenne, and hot paprika – that build on one another. With a nod towards the Middle East I added sumac, which gives the chili a sourness to counteract the sweetness of the tomatoes. While we’re on the topic of tomatoes, don’t skip the tomato paste. Its concentrated flavor adds a meaty, or dare I say umami, quality to the chili, especially if you add it early on with all the spices and allow it to cook for a few minutes before adding the liquid ingredients.

Two hours later (most of the time is simmering), you have a simple, but perfectly simple dinner. And lunch. And lunch again. And dinner the next night.

Vegetarian two-bean chili

The starting point for this chili was a recipe from Whole Foods. It’s worth it to buy a whole can of chipotles in adobo sauce – chop up the whole can and then freeze in ice cube trays whatever you have left over. I do the same with tomato paste. I like to serve this chili over brown rice or whatever grain I have in my pantry (these days I’m into freeke), and to top it with aged cheddar. This recipe makes a lot of chili, but it freezes really nicely. 

Makes approximately 12 cups

3 tablespoons olive oil

2 medium yellow onion, chopped

2 large carrot, chopped

3 stalk celery, chopped

4 cloves garlic, finely chopped

2 T finely chopped chipotles in adobo sauce

2 T tomato paste

2 t ground cumin

1 t chili powder (I used cayenne)

1 t hot paprika

1 t sumac

1 1/2 t salt

1 can (28-ounce) diced tomatoes, with their liquid

2 cans (15.5-ounce each) red kidney beans, drained

2 cans (15.5-ounce each) black beans, drained

Stir. Heat the oil until shimmering in a medium heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat. Add the onion, carrots, and celery and cook until soft, stirring, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and stir for 2 more minutes, being careful not to let the garlic  burn. Add tomato paste, chipotle, spices, and salt and stir to blend, cooking for another few minutes.

Simmer. Quickly pour in the tomatoes and then one tomato can of water. Using a wooden spoon to scrape up any bits and pieces stuck to the bottom of the pot. Simmer uncovered for 45 minutes. Add beans and continue to simmer for another 30 minutes. If the chili gets too thick, add some extra water and cover the pot.

Serve. Serve over rice or another grain (I used freekeh) and top with shredded aged cheddar.

to share

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I am a very, very lucky girl. Remember when I spent a day with Dorie Greenspan? Well, I met up with her again and then I wrote about it for The Forward.

See, she just published a cookbook, Baking Chez Moi, and kicked off  her book tour at the 92nd Street Y where we were able to gab for a bit before she climbed onto a tall stool (she’s quite petite, so it was a bit of a climb) and chatted with Julia Moskin from the New York Times in front of a packed room.

Dressed in a royal blue tunic with black leggings and ballet flats, her bright scarf draped loosely around her neck, Dorie greeted me with one of her fabulously warm hugs.

Here are a few of my favorite Dorie-isms.

Dorie defined quality in baking as “ingredients and the care with which you make things.”

When asked whether she believes in such a thing as a “white thumb” for pastry, she responded with a resounding no. “My father couldn’t even find the kitchen and my mother made shopping lists instead of dinner. [Dorie’s father owned a supermarket in Brooklyn, and her mother would organized her grocery list by aisle]. Baking is like playing piano. At first you just make noise. But you work on it every day and you see yourself getting better. I taught myself to bake from books, learned that it takes desire to do it.”

On baking versus cooking: “I love baking. I always return to it when I’m stressed out. It’s the process, the ingredients, getting dirty, everything under my nails. I love the magic of it… You cook for yourself and other people, but when you bake, you don’t bake for yourself, you bake to share. You bake for love and for people you love.”

Reflecting on her entertaining style, Dorie said,  “I’m a higgledy piggledy, loosey goosey cook at home and I think that’s how you should be!” She likes to invite people over on the spur of the moment, and even on New Year’s Eve, she rarely finalizes a menu until the day before.

I found this wildly reassuring and, when a friend told me she’d be in town visiting, I offered up chez moi for a spur-of-the-moment potluck lunch with a couple of our friends. Though my Manhattan apartment is small, can feel cramped when my hair frizzes up, and never seems tidy enough for company, I decided to make one of Dorie’s treats to share. I baked a batch of fruit-and-nut croquants, adding a handful of chocolate chips to these mandelbread-like cookies for good measure. One friend brought wine and challah. Another made meatballs. I tossed together a few small salads. We whiled away the cold rainy afternoon, catching up, sipping tea and nibbling on croquants.

Dorie Greenspan's fruit and nut croquets

I’ve copied from Baking Chez Moi Dorie’s recipe for Fruit and Nut Croquants, but have a few notes of my own. First, I skipped all of the optional flavors, so no almond extract, orange zest, nutmeg, or cloves. I made two batches and forgot to sprinkle the second pair of loaves with sugar – no biggie. I couldn’t resist a little chocolate, so for the 8 ounces of fruit and nut mixture, I used 4 ounces whole almonds, 2 ounces dried tart cherries, and 2 ounces bittersweet chocolate chips.

Dorie Greenspan’s fruit and nut croquants

The word croquant can be both an adjective and a noun. As an adjective, it’s easy: It means “crunchy.” As a noun, it can be confusing: It usually refers to a cookie, but there are bunches of cookies that carry the appellation and, depending on who’s making them and where, the cookies can vary in size, shape, flavor and degree of croquant-ness. Say croquant, and most French cookie lovers think of the ones from the south of France, which are usually studded with whole almonds and flavored with orange-flower water

However, the croquants that really caught my attention came from a small bakery in Lyon. The Lyonnaise cookies weren’t flavored with orange-flower water — in fact, I didn’t detect any flavoring at all — and in addition to lots of almonds, they had other nuts and dried fruits. They looked similar to biscotti or mandelbrot, the Eastern European version of the double-baked sweet, and while they were called croquant, they didn’t quite live up to their name (or their nickname: casse-dents, which means “tooth breakers”) — they were crunchy on the outside and just a little softer and chewier on the inside.

I’ve flavored these with vanilla, but if a whiff of orange-flower water appeals to you, go ahead and add it. When I’ve got oranges in the house or, better yet, tangerines or clementines, I add some grated zest whether I’m using vanilla or orange-flower water, or a combination of both. As for the nuts and dried fruits, I leave their selection up to you, although I think you should go heavier on the nuts than the fruit. For sure you should have whole almonds (preferably with their skins on), but you can also use cashews, walnuts, (skinned) hazelnuts, macadamias or pistachios. Similarly, while I often add golden raisins, there’s no reason not to consider dried cherries, pieces of dried apricots or even slim wedges of dried figs.

Makes about 30 cookies

2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 large egg white, at room temperature
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon pure almond extract (optional)
Finely grated zest of 1 tangerine or orange (optional)
¾ cup (150 grams) sugar
2 cups (272 grams) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg (optional)
Pinch of ground cloves (optional)
8 ounces (227 grams) dried fruits and whole nuts (see above)
Sugar, for sprinkling

1) Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350˚F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.

2) Put the eggs and egg white in a liquid measuring cup, add the vanilla and the almond extract, if you’re using it, and beat the eggs lightly with a fork, just until they’re foamy.

3) If you’re using grated zest, put it in the bowl of a stand mixer, or in a large bowl in which you can use a hand mixer. Add the sugar and, using your fingertips, rub the sugar and zest together until the sugar is moist and fragrant (or just add the sugar to the bowl). Add the flour, baking powder, salt and spices, if you’re using them. Fit the stand mixer with the paddle attachment, set the bowl on the stand and turn the mixer to low, just to blend the ingredients. If you’re using a hand mixer, just use a whisk to combine the ingredients.

4) With the mixer on low, steadily pour in the eggs. Once the dough starts to come together, add the dried fruits and nuts and keep mixing until the dough cleans the sides of the bowl. You’ll probably have dry ingredients in the bottom of the bowl; use a flexible spatula to stir them into the sticky dough.

5) Spoon half the dough onto the lined baking sheet a few inches away from one of the long sides, and use your fingers and the spatula to cajole the dough into a log that’s 10 to 12 inches long and 2 to 2½ inches wide. The log will be rectangular, not domed, and pretty rough and ragged. Shape a second log with the remaining dough on the other side of the baking sheet. Leave space between the logs — they will spread as they bake. Sprinkle the logs with sugar.

Dorie Greenspan's fruit and nut croquants

6) Bake the logs for 45 to 50 minutes, or until browned and firm to the touch. (If you want the croquants to be softer and chewier, bake them for 40 minutes.) Place each log on a cutting board, wait 5 minutes and then, using a serrated knife and a gentle sawing motion, cut into slices about ½-inch thick. Transfer the slices to a rack and allow them to cool to room temperature.

Dorie Greenspan's fruit and nut croquants

Serving: It’s hard to resist dunking these cookies, so don’t. They’re great with coffee, tea, red wine or dessert wine.

Dorie Greenspan's fruit and nut croquets

Storing: Moisture and crunch don’t mix, so find a dry place for these; a cookie jar, tin or storage tub works well, but because they’re meant to be hard, I just keep them in an uncovered bowl or basket. Yes, they get firmer, but I’m fine with that. If your cookies lose their crunch, heat them in a 350˚ F oven for about 10 minutes.

Dorie Greenspan's fruit and nut croquets

 

 

Like a dog with a bone, this fattoush is a salad that I just can’t drop.

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It started with all that flatbread that a guest gave me one evening. Squirreled away between layers of parchment, wrapped in a big plastic bag, and secured with several rubber bands, it taunted me from my freezer. Armed with Einat Admony’s green fattoush recipe and a  sumac dressing, I devised a plan to free up valuable ice cream space: every week, I  pull out a floppy lavash square, douse with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and sumac, and brown to a crisp. I smash those now-brittle squares with the palm of my hand and the satisfying crackle of bread shattering onto the baking sheet. A nice pile of crackly crushed flatbread shards is what makes fattoush fattoush, the salad’s name derived from Arabic fatta - to crush.

And so began my addiction.

The first fattoush I made was fairly traditional and felt like a romp through the garden, or as close to a garden romp as you can get in the middle of the city — the Union Square greenmarket for vegetables and greens and even some weeds.

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Now, eating weeds is a new thing for me, but when I couldn’t find the watercress called for in Einat’s recipe, I grabbed purslane because it  looked similar. Sort of. Before you think I’ve gone all urban forager on you, no, I didn’t yank up leaves sprouting from sidewalk cracks. Instead I picked up a large bundle, roots still attached, at the greenmarket near work and dropped it right into my canvas tote. At home, I washed the purslane thoroughly – soak, swish, drain, repeat, repeat, repeat – and released the leaves by holding each stem from the top and running my fingers down to the bottom, knocking each delicate bundle off in quick succession.

Purslane is a succulent and tastes similar to baby spinach, but its leaves are a little thicker and spongier, its bite a bit sour. I found that after three or four days, purslane can get a little slimy, as if you were biting into a very young jade plant (not that I’ve done that, but you get what I mean, right?), so use it up quickly.

Fattoush

To the weeds and greens, for that first fattoush, I added large handfuls of herbs, peeled cucumbers, and thinly shaved radishes, all straight from the market. To give the fattoush a bit more heft, I added feta. The next time I made it, I added grilled chicken breast.

As the summer’s slipped away and the weather’s turned downright blustery, my salad has evolved. I’ve noticed that as the temperatures outside have dipped, I’ve been toasting the flatbread in the oven a little longer, relishing the extra heat in the kitchen, relishing the even crispier crisps. I’ve swapped out delicate greens for hardier ones, skipped the herbs, and added some of my favorite orchard fruits.

This weekend, while the oil-slicked, sumac-sprinkled lavash was browning, I massaged a pile of kale into wilted submission, sliced an Asian pear, and mellowed half a red onion with a brief soak in white vinegar. I whacked the seeds out of a pomegranate and shook together some dressing. I nearly burned my hand as I pressed down on the straight-from-the-oven sheet of lavash, crushing it to shards.

fall fattoush

This fall fattoush is not nearly as dramatic as I’m making it sound, but it does have more of an in-your-face quality than the summer version. Here’s a closer look.

Autumn fattoush

After two seasons of fattoush under my belt, I’m down to my last three lavash squares. I’m hoping they’ll last me through Thanksgiving.

Fattoush

Fattoush is the Middle East’s answer to panzanella, with croutons made of crispy toasted lavash. The inspiration for this salad came from Einat Admony’s version published in the Wall Street Journal. I based the salad dressing on the one in this fattoush recipe in Bon Appétit.

My favorite feta is a Bulgarian sheep’s milk one from Pastures of Eden- it’s delicate and less salty than Greek feta; you can find it at Trader Joe’s. Or skip the feta and slice up a grilled chicken breast or two. Make sure not to dress the salad until right before serving. 

Makes 4 servings, give or take

- Summer version:

- 3/4 lb purslane (2 C picked leaves, loosely packed and overflowing)

- 2 C roughly chopped arugula

- 1 C roughly chopped parsley

- 1 C roughly chopped mint

- 8 French breakfast radishes, thinly sliced (I use a mandoline)

- 2 large cucumbers, peeled, seeds scooped out and cut into half moons

- 6 spring onions, thinly sliced

- Fall version:

- 6 C roughly chopped kale

- 2 T olive oil

- 1/2 red onion, thinly sliced

- 3 T white vinegar

- 3T  water

- 1 t kosher salt

-1 pomegranate

- 3/4 C roasted, salted almonds

- 2 apples, Asian pears, or Bosc pears, thinly sliced

- sumac dressing (recipe below; you will not need all of it)

- 3/4 C crumbled feta (optional)

- lavash crisps (recipe below)

Summer version:

Toss: Mix together the greens, herbs, radishes, cucumbers, and spring onions and toss with 1/2 cup of dressing. Taste and add more dressing if necessary.

Top. Crumble the feta over the salad and sprinkle with lavash crisps.

Fall version:

Massage. With your hands, massage the kale with olive oil and let sit for at least 15 minutes until the kale starts to soften.

Soak. In a small bowl, mix the red onion, vinegar, water, and salt and let soak for at least 15 minutes until the liquid turns light pink and the onions are pickled enough that you can eat them straight from the bowl.

Whack. Cut the pomegranate in half lengthwise. Hold one half in your palm, skin side up. With a wooden spoon, whack the skin over a large bowl until all of the seeds fall out. You will make a mess. Pour water into the bowl over the seeds – any membranes will float to the top and you can easily skim them off.

Chop. Roughly chop the almonds.

Toss. Mix together the kale, drained red onion, pomegranate seeds, and apples or pears with 1/2 cup of dressing. Taste and add more dressing if necessary – because of the kale, you might need up to 2/3 cup of dressing .

Top. Crumble the feta over the salad and sprinkle with chopped almonds and lavash crisps.

***

Sumac dressing

Adapted from this fattoush recipe in Bon Appétit. This dressing is delightfully puckery and helps tie whatever vegetables you use with the sumac-dotted lavash crisps. You might be tempted to use it as a marinade for chicken and I wouldn’t blame you. 

Makes approximately 1 1/4 cups

- 4 t ground sumac, soaked in 4 t warm water for 15 minutes

- 1/4 C fresh lemon juice

- 2 T  pomegranate molasses

- 2 t red wine vinegar

- 3/4 C extra virgin olive oil

- 1 1/2 t kosher salt

Shake. Pour all ingredients into a jar and shake.

 ***

Lavash crisps

The trick here is to toast pieces that are crispy enough to stand up to the dressing without getting soggy. Some recipes have your fry the lavash, but I prefer to generously (generously) brush it with oil and and them bake until quite brown. I’ve found myself eating these out of hand, so you might want to make more than you’ll need for your fattoush. 

Makes 1 1/2 cups

- 2 large lavash (approximately 12×12) or 3-4 pitas

- 2-3 T olive oil (or more)

- 1 t sumac (or more)

- 1 t kosher salt

Brush. If using pita, split each into two thin rounds. Brush olive oil on both sides of the bread – this is not the time to be stingy with your oil. Sprinkle one side with sumac and salt.

Bake. Lay the bread out on a baking sheet. Bake at 350 for 10-12 minutes, or until the bread browns. Pita might take slightly longer because it is thicker.

Break. After it cools, press down on the brittle bread to crush it into bite-sized pieces.

Store. The crisps will keep for several weeks in an airtight container. If they start to go stale, just pop them in the oven for a few minutes to crisp them back up.

This year has felt like a series of beginnings. New city, new apartment, new job, another new apartment. So I’m especially excited to spend Rosh Hashanah with Meira, who herself is having a year of beginnings. An engagement, a wedding, an expanded family, a house. I’ve often celebrated holidays and shabbat with her family in Atlanta. I  believe this will be Meira’s first time hosting Rosh Hashanah outside of Atlanta, and I’m thrilled to be starting off the new year with her and Alan, Alexa, Samantha, and my sister Robyn.

I’m picking up challah from Breads and will be baking apfelstrudel with the girls. Robyn is in charge of selecting a few new fruits.

I decided to also bake something special to commemorate this year. I wanted to come up with a new recipe rather than relying on my tried and true honey cake or apple cake. Because while there’s comfort in the familiar, we’re all navigating uncharted territory these days and I wanted to come up with a treat that would reflect that.

At 8:32 am on Tuesday, I sent Meira a text: “I just had an ammmmmmmaaaaaaaazzzzzzzzzing idea. Honey. Coconut. Macaroons.” My mind was made up. This would be the new dessert for 5775.

honey macaroonns

Note, however, that Meira didn’t actually say she thought honey coconut macaroons were an amazing idea. Nor did she say they weren’t. So, I went ahead and made them and am keeping my fingers crossed that she likes them.

I came across a few recipes online for paleo macaroons that replace all the refined sugar with honey. And I did some reading about how to substitute honey for sugar in baking. Here are the basics:

1) Most sources claim you can substitute one cup of honey for the first cup of sugar. After the first cup, you should use a 1/2 to 3/4 cup honey for each cup sugar.

2) For each cup of honey you use, reduce the liquids in the batter by 1/4 cup. Unfortunately this becomes impossible when the only liquid in your recipe is 1/4 cup of egg whites which is the binder keeping everything together.

3) Honey browns faster than sugar. To avoid burning, lower the oven temperature by 25ºF and reduce baking time.

4) Honey is acidic. To counteract the acidity, add 1/4 – 1/2 teaspoon baking soda (a base) for each cup of honey.

For my first batch, I used this macaroon recipe as a base since it has always served me well. I replaced all the sugar with honey, increased the amount of coconut to counteract the additional moisture in the honey, and added some baking soda. The batter never really came together. It had the strange quality of sticking to everything else except itself. I did what I could to gather the coconut bits into a scoop, pack them in really tight, and then drop them onto parchment paper. I wet my fingertips to wrangle each scoop into a manageable clump. In the oven, out of the oven, and the macaroons never set, they just fell into a sweet soggy mess with browned edges.

Luckily I had a few pounds of coconut in my pantry, so I started over. I used the same base recipe, but this time only replaced some of the sugar with honey and used less total sweetener. I added just a half-cup extra coconut to counter the honey’s moisture. And, as before, I added a smidge of baking soda. The macaroons scooped out nicely, just as they have in the past. They baked up crispy on the outside, moist on the inside. They are a little more delicate than their all-sugar cousins. They brown more quickly, so you need to keep a close eye on them. And because of the moisture added by the honey, they do soften a few hours  out of the oven.

I can’t wait to bring them to Meira’s.

honey coconut macaroons

I always feel the need to offer up some sort of benediction before Rosh Hashanah, maybe some words of wisdom for the new year, perhaps a reflection on the previous year, if only because on the best of days, one could call this medium a publication and on that same best of days, one could call me a writer.

So here goes. 5775, the new year, is a palindrome. I find it soothing – the knowledge that we’ll live day to day, month to month, season to season, and eventually be welcomed back by something familiar. They say that you have to push yourself out of your comfort zone in order to grow. This year I feel confident that when I’m out of my comfort zone, when I’m growing, when I’m unsteady on my feet, I’ll always have something, someone, some place familiar to keep me grounded. And I wish the same for you.

L’shanah tovah u’metukah! Have a wonderful and sweet new year!

Honey macaroons

I modified this tried and true macaroon recipe, reducing the sugar and adding honey at the end. Since the honey is the whole point of these macaroons, use something at least one step up from the squeezie bear. Here I used sunflower honey. Orange blossom honey would be amazing as well. I’d stay away from darker honeys such as buckwheat. 

Out of the oven, the macaroons have a lovely crisp shell, but they do soften after a few hours. I recommend storing them in an airtight container in the refrigerator or freezer  (keep them cold so they don’t squish), and then popping them in a 300ºF oven (or a toaster) to crisp them back up before serving.

On a related note, I’m looking forward to Joanne Chang‘s next cookbook about baking with less sugar and hope she has an all honey macaroon to try.

Makes 4 dozen

- 3 1/2 C unsweetened shredded coconut

- 3/4 C sugar

 – 5 egg whites

- 1/4 t baking soda

- pinch salt

- 1/2 C honey

Heat. In a heavy-bottomed pot (I use a Le Creuset; you can use a double boiler if you think your pot won’t be thick enough), combine all of the ingredients except the honey.  Stir with a silicone spatula over low heat, scraping the bottom to prevent burning. Continue to stir for about 5-7 minutes until it’s very hot to the touch. Remove from the heat and stir in the honey.

Cool. Refrigerate the mix until cold, approximately 30 minutes.

Prep. Preheat the oven to 300ºF. Line a cookie sheet with parchment.

Scoop. Once the mixture is cooled, scoop level tablespoons of  it onto the parchment, leaving about an inch between (they won’t spread). If you want your macaroons to be smooth, you can roll the spoonfuls into balls, but I prefer to leave them a little shaggy.

Bake.  Bake for 20 minutes until the coconut toasts and turns a golden brown. Take a peek at 10 and 15 minutes to make sure they’re not browning too quickly, particularly around the edges. When you take the macaroons out, they should still be a little soft. As they cool, they’ll harden a bit.

Store. Keep the macaroons in an airtight container in the refrigerator or freezer. They’ll soften a bit, but you can perk them up with a few minutes in a 300ºF oven – let them toast and then they’ll harden as they cool, good as if just baked.

On Labor Day, a bunch of us from the restaurant went to Sycamore Farms.

Sycamore Farms

We toured the land on a tractor.

Sycamore Farms

Our guide, Kevin, let me drive the tractor. Everyone on board survived.

Sycamore Farms - another tractor

Just barely.

Sycamore Farms

We picked corn.

corn at Sycamore Farms

That’s Chef Carmen*.

Chef Carmen picking corn at Sycamore Farms

We picked tomatoes.

Sycamore Farms - tomatoes!

Lots of tomatoes.

tomatoes at Sycamore Farms

We cooked together.

We ate together.

Then I went home and turned our torn-from-the-stalk corn into soup.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

* A special thank you to Krishna Kinsey, Union Square cook and one of the best pasta makers I know, for the photo of Chef.

Farm-fresh corn soup

Improvised after consulting David Lebovitz’s recipe for fresh corn soup and Dorie Greenspan’s for summer corn soup in Bon Appétit. 

Makes 8 cups

- 6 ears of really fresh corn, shucked (I like the microwave method)

- 6 C water

- 2 T olive oil

- 1 large onion, chopped (approximately 1 C)

- 2 cloves garlic, minced

- 1 red poblano pepper, seeded and finely chopped (approximately 1/2 C)

- 2 t hot paprika, plus extra for garnish

- 1 C cream

- 1 T salt

- 1/4 C chopped parsley for garnish

Slice. Slice the corn off the cob into a large bowl. This should yield about 6 cups total. Reserve the naked cobs.

Boil. Cut the reserved cobs into 3 – 4 pieces. Bring water and cobs to a boil in a pot. Lower heat, partially cover the pot, and simmer for 30 minutes to extract the flavor from the cobs. Remove the cobs. Some of the liquid will evaporate, so you should be left with about 4 cups of corn stock.

Saute. In the meantime, in a larger pot (the one you plan to make the soup in), heat the oil and saute the onion over medium heat until soft and translucent, but not browned, 5-10 minutes. Add the garlic, pepper, and paprika, continuing to saute for another 5 minutes until the pepper starts to soften. Stir in 4 cups of corn kernels, reserving the remaining 2 cups.

Simmer. Pour the corn stock over the vegetables. Bring to a boil, then lower heat and simmer, covered, for 20 minutes. Stir in the cream.

Puree. Using an immersion blender, puree the soup until it is as smooth as possible. If you want the soup to be perfectly smooth, strain it, pressing hard on the solids, but it will be a bit on the thin side. I didn’t bother straining.

Serve. Divide the soup among bowls, garnishing with corn kernels, parsley, and a sprinkle of paprika.

Well. Where were we? Oh yeah, so after I met Dorie (!), my sister and I went to Norway and Spain, and then I moved from Boston.

Wait, you say. What? you think. Didn’t you just move? you shake your head. Well, yes. Yes, I did just move. But it’s been a complicated multi-stage move and I’ve had a hard time cutting the cord. I sublet a place in Brooklyn for three weeks and then went back to Boston. I returned to Brooklyn to another apartment, for 5 weeks this time. Then I took over a friend’s lease in my old Upper West Side neighborhood, happily living mere blocks from my support system of friends. That lasted four months. The apartment, not the friends. And finally I moved to my current place. And earlier this month, I let go of my lease in Boston and transported the remainder of my belongings – furniture, books, pots and pans, scuba gear, and all – into my place in New York.

In case you’re counting, it’s been a year since I made those first tentative steps away from one career towards the uncertainty of another.

For most of my life, I’ve known what I was going to do next. There was always another school. A better job. A promotion. And now, I’m starting from scratch and for the first time ever, I don’t know what’s coming next. Will I eventually open a cafe? Write a cookbook? Work on the corporate side in a large restaurant group? Teach the principles of hospitality to other industries (healthcare, I’m looking at you!)? Cook for my family? There are all things I’m considering. And in the end, it will probably be a combination of several of these options. Which ones? I have no idea.

I met with a colleague and mentor the other day and we spoke about uncertainty. She encouraged me to just be. Or, in her words, to “grow where you’re planted.” I find myself repeating this phrase to myself multiple times a day. When I question what I’m doing. When other people question what I’m doing.

So, I’m going to make a deal with you. For a little while, I’m going to just be. To grow where I’m planted. To be OK with it. To be happy with it. Now here’s where you come in. Please believe me when I say that I’m happy being where I am right now. Please trust me when I say that I don’t yet have a clear vision for where I’m headed but that everything will work out. Please gently push me out of my comfort zone. And with your help, I’ll continue to believe in myself and trust my instincts and push my own limits.

And in return, I will give you the gazpacho recipe I picked up in Barcelona. How’s that for a win-win?

gazpacho

In Barcelona, my sister was in charge of directions and getting us where we wanted to go, and I was in charge of food. We saw a lot of Gaudí, ate ice cream at least once a day, and took a cable car across the port. We took the elevator to the top of Sagrada Família and wound our way down a narrow seashell staircase. We spent a day at a beach just a half hour outside Barcelona by train. We spent evenings by the pool on the roof of the hotel that we splurged on.

The only traditional tapas bar I went to was on a food tour the first night. The tour was enjoyable if unremarkable until I asked our guide for his favorite place to eat gazpacho. With this question, his eyes lit up. I make the best gazpacho, he said. Before I could ask him for his recipe, he started enumerating on his fingers. Take four tomatoes – make sure they’re really ripe. And then one cucumber. Remove the peel and the seeds. One pepper. Red. Or green. But red is best for the color. Use red. Then one onion, about this size, holding up a clenched fist. And garlic. One or two cloves. Maybe three. Yes, three. And one-third of a baguette. Or half of a small one. It should be the size of the cucumber. Put it all in a blender. Add olive oil and vinegar. Sherry vinegar, of course. But the secret, he leaned in for effect. The secret, he beckoned, is cumin.

Just two days after returning from Spain, I gathered gazpacho ingredients, threw them in a blender, measured and tweaked and substituted. I stuck a pitcher in the fridge, and then I left to pack up the apartment in Boston that I had called home for five years. When I returned to New York, furniture and books and pots and pans and scuba gear in tow, the gazpacho was waiting for me.

Gazpacho

This recipe is based on the one given to me by my tapas tour guide in Barcelona. Here I use cucumbers with thick waxy skin as he recommended. You can use “seedless” Persian or English cucumbers if you prefer. The raw onion and garlic give the soup quite a bite, but it does mellow out after a day or two. Make sure to serve the soup with some chopped vegetables and croutons for garnish and crunch. 

Makes approximately 2 quarts

- 3 lbs ripe tomatoes

- 2 cucumbers, peeled, seeds removed

- 1 1/2 red pepper, seeds removed

- 1 small yellow or red onion

- 3 cloves garlic

- 1/2 stale baguette (approximately the same length as the cucumbers laid end to end)

- 1/4 C olive oil, preferably arbequina

- 2 T sherry vinegar

- 1 T cumin

- salt

- Optional garnish: diced tomato, cucumber, and pepper; small croutons

Chop. Roughly chop all the vegetables.

Soak. Tear the baguette in small pieces and cover with warm water until very soggy.

Blend. Add all of the vegetables to your blender and go to town until very smooth. Drain the water from the bread, reserving it for later. Add the bread and continue to blend until very smooth. Add oil, vinegar, cumin. Add 1 tablespoon of salt and then keep adding it by the teaspoonful until the gazpacho tastes good to you. If the soup is too thick, thin it out with the reserved bread water.

Strain. If you want your gazpacho to be silky smooth, do like most restaurants and push it through a cheesecloth lined strainer. I don’t bother.

Chill. Let the gazpacho chill for at least 2 hours or ideally overnight.

Serve. Serve in wide bowls with small plates of diced tomato, cucumber, pepper, and croutons. Drizzle with olive oil.

***

Here are some of the restaurants that my sister and I enjoyed in Barcelona. I tried gazpacho at nearly every single one of them.

Bar Mut
Sam (the General Manager at USC and my boss) sent me here, referring to it as Balthazar meets tapas bar and recommending we show up in the late afternoon after the lunch rush. Beneath a  an unassuming corner in what can only be described as the urban equivalent of the middle of nowhere (particularly in comparison to the bustle of las Ramblas), Bar Mut is truly a hidden gem. There are no menu. The website is little more than an address, a phone number, and a 17 minute video called Intereses Mundanos (Mundane Interests) that gives the restaurant an air of mystery. Daily specials are scrawled on a blackboard above the bar,  but the best way to order is to engage your server in a dialogue about your hunger, mood, likes and dislikes, and let him guide you. Some of the fish entrees can get quite pricey.
Address: Carrer de Pau Claris, 192 (at Diagonal)
Area: Eixample

Cornelia and Co.
Cornelia and Co is part restaurant, part gourmet take-away.
Address: Carrer de València, 225
Area: Eixample

Els Quartre Gats (4 Gats)
Go here for the art work and history as a modernist salon of sorts. The food is decent enough, but overpriced. That said, I had amazing pan con tomato.
Address: Carrer de Montsió, 3
Area: Barri Gòtic

Teresa Carles
Just a few blocks from La Rambla and on a quiet pedestrian street, this vegetarian restaurant is a nice break from meat-heavy menus. You can design your own salads and get a juice fix. My sister particularly enjoyed the seitan and tofu sliders.
Address: Jovellanos, 2
Area: Las Ramblas

Torre d’Alta Mar
This restaurant can be a bit confusing to find. It’s located at the top of the tower from which the Telefèric del Port cable car launches. While quite pricey, we had some of the best and most interesting food of our trip here and the view of the port is spectacular. 
Address: Passeig Joan de Borbó, 88 (take the elevator up)
Area: Barceloneta

 

On the third Friday in July, I met Dorie.

Dorie Greenspan

I want so badly to tell you all about it. About how, at a fundraiser for Cookies for Kids’ Cancer, my friend Ruby won a high-stakes bidding war to spend a day baking with Dorie in her Connecticut home. How she asked Adeena and me to join her.

About how Dorie bounded out of her house when we arrived, a scarf tied just so and a dark denim-colored apron wrapped around her spotless white oxford shirt. How she greeted me with one of the warmest, tightest hugs I’ve ever received. How her husband proudly showed us the collection of cars that he and his son have restored together over the past several years. How their house is more French than if it were in the middle of Paris, its walls covered with iconic vintage French posters, an entire corner dedicated to Gallic roosters, a farm table set with a purple and red jacquard tea towel and spread with rich yogurt, berries, and granola.

About how my pâte sucreé crust fell apart as I tried to roll it over the pan. How Dorie helped me patch it into a piecemeal press-in crust that she said even Martha Stewart would be proud of. How, when she realized that we had left out the butter, Dorie quickly scrapped our biscuit dough and started a new batch without missing a beat. How her assistant Mary taught us to pour cream over a spatula into a pan of near-boiling sugar to make caramel without vigorous bubbling and scary splattering.

About our alfresco lunch of simple vegetable salads, salmon smoked then baked, ricotta-herb dip, generous pours of rosé, and loaves of bread baked by Michael.

I want to tell you about the cookies we made. The two tarts we made. The strawberry shortcakes we made.

But mostly I want to tell you about the friend that I made, a friendship that developed over the course of the afternoon. About Dorie and Michael’s genuine invitation to come back to spend the day with them again. About Dorie’s goodbye hug that was even warmer and even tighter than the one she greeted me with just hours before.

Dorie and me!

There’s so much more to tell, but I’m on a brief layover at the airport in Vienna typing on a QWERTZ kezboard, er keyboard, and my flight’s about to board, and I can’t in good conscience leave you without the recipe for plum and rose shortcakes, adapted from Dorie’s one for double strawberry and rose shortcakes.

Dorie told us she had the idea to marry rose with strawberry when she learned at the Driscoll’s farm that the fruit is a member of the rose family. Strawberry season is short in my neighborhood and when I went to the greenmarket just a few days after our visit, the farmers told that the local harvest had ended. But stone fruits were – and still are – in their prime. Turns out, plums and other drupes are also roses, as Robert Frost knew:

The rose is a rose,
And was always a rose.
But the theory now goes
That the apple’s a rose,
And the pear is, and so’s
The plum, I suppose.
The dear only knows
What will next prove a rose.
You, of course, are a rose -
But were always a rose.

I’ll leave poetic analysis to the experts, but I guess that I, perhaps subconsciously, have always made the connection between plums and roses: exactly two years ago, I added rose water to Dorie’s dimply plum cake.

Dorie – the strawberry’s a rose and the plum is a rose. You, of course, are a rose. With toes, I suppose. And now I’m just being plain silly.

I’ll see y’all when I get back from vacation with my sister. Until then, I give you plum and rose shortcakes.

Plum and rose shortcakesPlum and rose shortcakes

Makes 12 – 20 servings, depending on the size of the biscuit cutter

Adapted from double strawberry and rose shortcakes recipe that Dorie developed for Driscoll’s, as taught to Ruby, Adeena, and me by Dorie herself. I replaced Dorie’s rose extract with rose water which is a bit easier to find and found that you need about four times as much rose water as extract.

For the plum compote:

Makes about 2 cups

I’ve started adding this compote to my morning yogurt and granola. Also, ice cream.

- 1 1/2 lb sugar plums, roughly chopped (about 3 cups)

- 3 T sugar

- 1 T rose water (or 3/4 t rose extract)

Cook. Toss the chopped plums in a small saucepan with the sugar. Put the pan over medium heat and cook, stirring, for 10 to 30 minutes, depending on the ripeness of your fruit, until the plums soften and slump into a thick sauce. Scrape the compote into a bowl, stir in the rose water or extract, and cool to room temperature. You can make the compote up to 3 days ahead and keep it covered in the refrigerator.

For the lemon-buttermilk biscuits:

Makes 12-20, depending on the size of your biscuit cutter.

Dorie prefers petite biscuits about 2 inches in diameter.

- 1 1/2 T sugar

- freshly grated zest of 1 lemon

- 2 C (272 g) all-purpose flour, plus more for sprinkling

- 1 T baking powder

- 1/2 t fine sea salt

- 1/4 t baking soda

- 6 T (3/4 stick; 76 g) cold unsalted butter, cut into small cubes

- 3/4 C (180ml) cold buttermilk

Preheat. Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 425ºF. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.

Rub. Put the sugar and lemon zest in a large bowl and, working with your fingertips, rub the ingredients together unit the sugar is moist and fragrant. Add the rest of the dry ingredients to the bowl and whisk to combine. Drop in the pieces of cold butter and, again using your fingertips, crus rub, and blend the butter in. You’ll have flakes of butter and small pieces and this is just right.

Stir. Pour the cold buttermilk over the mixture, switch to a fork and toss and stir everything together until the milk is absorbed. Your dough might look like curds, but that’s fine. Don’t stir too much, too vigorously or for too long, and if there ar a few dry spots in the bottom of the bowl, ignore them. Reach into the bowl and knead the dough gently, folding it over on itself and turning it over 6 to 8 times.

Roll. Dust a work surface lightly with flour, turn out the dough, and still using your hands, pat the dough out until it is 1/2-inch thick. (The thickness sis what’s important here). Using a high-sided 2-inch cutter, cut out biscuits and place them on the baking sheet. Make sure to push the cutter up and down without twisting or turning so as not to crush the layers that you’ve worked so hard to create. Pat the scraps together until they’re 1/2-inch thick and cut out as many biscuits as you can. (The leftover dough can be cut into biscuits, but they won’t wise as high or as evenly ad the others – you can keep them as your baker’s treat.)

Bake. Bake for 15-18 minutes, or until the biscuits have risen gloriously and their tops and bottoms are holder brown Transfer the baking shed to a cooling rack and allow the biscuits to cool until they reach room temperature. (The biscuits can be made up to 6 hours ahead; keep them uncovered at room temperature.)

For the whipped cream:

- 1 C (240ml) very cold heavy cream

- 2 T confectiners’ sugar, sifted

- 1 t pure vanilla extract

- 1 T rose water (or 3/4 t rose extract)

Beat. Working with an electric mixer, theta the cream just until it mounds softly. Still beating, add the sugar, followed by the vanilla and rose water until the cream is fully whipped and holds firm peaks. The whipped cream can be made up to 3 hours ahead and keep tightly covered in the refrigerator; whisk a couple of times before using).

For the topping:

- 1/2 – 3/4 pound sugar plums

Slice. Just before you’re ready to put the shortcakes together, use a sharp knife to slice wedges of plums.

For assembly:

Split the biscuits and set the tops aside. Spoon compote in the center of each biscuit bottom followed by a scoop of whipped cream. Balance the biscuit top on the whipped cream and serve with plum slices.

Plum and rose shortcakes

 

In case you’re wondering, no, I’m not ripping apart pieces of cold roast chicken and dipping them into a jar of mustard vinaigrette, licking my fingers before swiping them on my pants and reaching for another key stroke. No. No, I’m not.

Ok, I am.

But hear me out. It all started with a date that never was.  It was a blind one, and we had planned to meet at Buvette for coffee. I waded through the humidity from Union Square, and just a few blocks from the gastrothèque, I received this text: “This is too far west. Can we meet at Starbucks in Union Square instead?” Um, no. And I politely replied, “Let’s do it another day.” We rescheduled.

By this time, I was at Buvette’s door and, date or not, I wasn’t going to pass it up. Taking refuge from the swamp called July in New York, I pulled myself up to the bar for a glass of bibonade, Jody Williams’ rosé infused with fruit – in this case plums – poured over ice and topped with champagne. As I tried to find a comfortable perch on the wobbly wooden stool, a plate of bread doused in olive oil was placed in front of me followed by a fresh salad of lettuces, watercress, radishes, cucumbers, potatoes, and thin haricot verts (both ends snipped as only the French do) liberally drizzled with a mustard vinaigrette.

I set to work on the salad, pushing vegetables onto the oyster fork-sized fork with the butter knife-sized knife. Everything is diminutive at Buvette, from the name itself to the menu booklets that fit in your palm to the tables for two that encourage knee bumping and hand grazing. (I’ll have to come back with a date who actually shows up.)

The heavy cooking takes place downstairs, and as the menu shifted from lunch to dinner around 4 pm, a parade of aprons ascended with large bowls of prepared ingredients that were passed over the bar to white oxford-clad ladies and gents. As I nibbled with abandon with my mini-silverware, I watched servers thinly slice piles of translucent Prosciutto onto toast, grill croques of all types, and scoop lightly marinated shredded carrots onto a plate.

There was no dessert menu – just a glistening tarte tatin and a bowl of chocolate mousse. I love a good tatin (be it apple or pear or tomato or, well, tomato), but some days, only chocolate will do. Amidst the silver platters, below the pressed iron ceiling times, just a little too close to my neighbors, I nursed my coffee along with a plate of nearly-noir haphazardly-heaped mousse topped with whipped cream. As I lingered, I flipped through a copy of the Buvette cookbook and within minutes, had it added to my bill, paying extra for the immediacy, a signature, a hole drilled through the nearly 300 pages, and a leather strap laced through.

On my way out the door, I said au revoir to no one in particular. A bientôt. I’ll be back soon. 

Inspired by my visit, I invited friends over for dinner later in that week. On Friday afternoon after work, I filled my canvas bag with greenmarket goodies, stopped by Breads, and felt like a Frenchie with the crisp pointed edges of a pair of baguettes threatening to poke someone if I turned around too quickly. I snapped off a quignon as I walked to the subway, gnawing away at the crust as I dug for my metrocard. When I got home, I roasted the chicken that the night before I had seasoned with herbs and salt, washed some leaves, sliced some vegetables, grated some carrots, and rolled out dough for a rhubarb galette (based loosely on Alice Water’s recipe). We drank a delicate rosé from France (Olga Raffoult Chinon Rosé). And then a more assertive one from South Africa (Mulderbosch Cabernet Sauvignon Rosé).

And I left the dishes for the morning and the bottles on the table, and I ate leftover salad for breakfast in the middle of the mess.

Buvette Roast Chicken Salad with haricots certs and mustard vinaigrette

If you want to hear Jody Williams speak about her cookbook and restaurants (she opened a Buvette in Paris too!), listen to her interview on Radio Cherry Bombe. And just a few days ago, Sam Sifton published in the New York Times a few more recipes from the cookbook – here you go. You’re welcome!

Roast chicken salad and haricots verts with mustard vinaigrette

Adapted from Jody Williams’ Buvette: The Pleasure of Good Food. The only change I made was to add cucumbers (the photo above doesn’t have potatoes). I used a variety of lettuces that I found at the greenmarket – I think that a little endive or radicchio would be really nice too.

Serves 4 (you may have some leftover chicken)

- 8 small waxy potatoes

- coarse salt

- 3/4 lb haricots verts or regular green beans, both ends trimmed

- 4 large handfuls of salad greens – I used Boston/bibb, red leaf, and some watercress micro greens

- freshly ground pepper

- 1/2 C mustard vinaigrette (recipe below)

- 3 Persian cucumbers or one large English seedless cucumber, thinly sliced

- 4 radishes, thinly sliced

- 1 small roast chicken, still warm (recipe below)

Boil. Place the potatoes in a saucepan, cover with cold water, and add a spoonful of salt. Bring to a boil and cook until the potatoes are tender, around 20 minutes. Check for done-ness with the tip of a sharp knife. Using a slotted spoon, remove the potatoes from the cooking water and set them aside to cool. Keep the cooking water at a boil for the haricots (see below). When cool enough to handle, break the potatoes in half and set them aside.

Blanche. Add the green beans and boil until they are just tender, about 5 minutes. Drain them and transfer to a bowl to cool.

Put it all together. Arrange the greens on a large platter and sprinkle them with salt and pepper. Drizzle the greens with one-third of the dressing. Toss the potatoes and green beans with another third of the dressing and lay them on top of the dressed greens. Tear all of the meat and skin from the chicken in largish pieces and scatter over the vegetables. Drizzle the whole thing with the remaining dressing, scatter the cucumbers and radishes over the top, and serve immediately.

***

Poulet rôti (roasted chicken)

Adapted from Jody Williams’ Buvette: The Pleasure of Good Food. This is the simplest way I have ever made a chicken and the last three sentences of the recipe capture the essence of the process: “No need to truss, baste, anything. Just season and cook. End of story.” Just make sure to leave enough time for the salt and seasoning to really sink into your chicken – I rubbed my chicken down on Thursday evening and let it sit in the fridge for about 16 hours before bringing it to room temperature for an hour and then roasting. 

- 1 T herbes de Provence

- 1 T coarse salt

- 1 3- to 4-lb chicken, patted dry with paper towels

Pound. With a mortar and pestle or coffee grinder, coarsely grind the herbs de Provence and salt.

Season. Evenly season the chicken with the mixture, inside and out, really massaging it into all the crevices. Let the chicken sit for at least one our at room temperature or in a sealed plastic bag in the refrigerator for up to three days.

Roast. If you have refrigerated your chicken, take it out and let it sit, uncovered, at room temperature for about an hour. When you are ready to cook the chicken, preheat the oven to 425ºF. Place the room temperature chicken in a skillet or a roasting dish and set it in the oven. Roast until the thigh registers 165ºF on a meat thermometer, about 1 hour and 15 inures. Let the chicken rest at least 10 minutes before carving (ripping) and eating it.

***

Buvette mustard vinaigrette

Mustard vinaigrette

From Jody Williams’ Buvette: The Pleasure of Good Food. OK, so this vinaigrette makes everything taste French. And by French, I mean good. And by good, I mean dip a piece of chicken in it and lick your fingers good. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

- 2 large shallots, peeled and very finely chopped

- 1 t fresh thyme, finely chopped

- 1 small garlic clove, finely grated on a Microplane grater

- 3 T sherry vinegar

- 1/3 C extra-virgin olive oil

- 1 T water

- 2 T smooth Dijon or whole-grain mustard

- pinch sugar

- 1/2 t coarse salt

- a few grinds freshly ground pepper

Mix. Shake all the ingredients in a jar until they’re well combined. Store in the refrigerator for up to a month.

 

 

 

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