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12.19.2013

From now on

Our friend Ben was here last week. He arrived on Thursday, just in time for lunch, and flew out early Tuesday morning.  Even June misses him, I think.  She got into the habit of standing at the top of the basement stairs - our guest room is down there, a dungeon with red deep-pile carpet and faux wood paneling and an enormous oil furnace that’s as loud as a train - and yelling, Beh! Beh! Beh! until he came upstairs. We all agree that his trip was too short, but he did stay long enough to play a ukulele duet with Brandon, to get a kiss from June, to make me a Boulevardier and a great steak, to help us host a giant holiday party at Delancey and Essex for a chef friend and the staff of her four restaurants, and to eat the majority of a quart of sweet-hot spiced nuts that I made the night before he arrived.




I wasn’t planning to post about these nuts. I figured you’re probably all Christmas-baking-ed out, or maybe you already have a spiced nut recipe that you like, or, I don’t know, who really eats spiced nuts? This admission will no doubt mark me as an empty, soulless person, but I always thought of spiced nuts as the kind of holiday gift you don’t actually eat.  Right? No? You admire the packaging, and you’re touched that someone gave them to you, but you never actually feel moved to eat them?  I only made this recipe because I did my holiday baking this year with my niece Hillary, and she suggested it. Hillary is an excellent cook and eater, and I knew she wouldn’t lead me astray. So we made a double batch, and a week later, my half has been entirely eaten. From now on, I defer to Hillary.




Of course, because I didn’t plan to write about them, I only thought to photograph the nuts once they were almost gone, at a moment when I was eating a fistful of them out of a plastic storage container while standing next to the sink piled with dirty dishes, drinking an afternoon cup of PG Tips. Still, I hope you get the idea: they’re toasty and crunchy, coated with a crackly layer of caramelized sugar and spices and just enough salt to land them on the savory side of the fence, and though they’re intended to be eaten with a cocktail, they go with anything. PG Tips. Plain water. Boozed-up egg nog. Saliva. Between me and Ben - I’m not sure Brandon even got to taste them - we ate so much that I could only give them to a couple of friends before they disappeared.

The recipe comes from the bar at Gramercy Tavern. Hillary lived in New York until recently, and she had eaten them there and remembered how good they were. So she dug up the recipe online, and between my spice drawer and a trip to the store for nuts, we pulled together the ingredients.  The nuts are easy to make: you stir together sugar, salt, cumin, cinnamon, cayenne, ginger, black pepper, and nutmeg, and then you stir that mixture into a bowl of almonds, pecans, and cashews, along with a little simple syrup, a little oil, and the smallest amount of corn syrup. (Not to be confused with high-fructose corn syrup - though if you don’t want to use corn syrup at all, I’ll bet honey would be a fine substitute.) If you taste the spiced nuts in their raw state, you will probably not be pleased: they are much spicier before you bake them than after. (And if anyone can explain why that is so, I would be grateful.) They are spicy(!!!) spiced nuts. But once the spices toast and meld with the sugar and the mixture turns to caramel, the heat fades to a humming warmth, and the sugar and salt strike an amicable balance, and then, boom, they’re gone.


Gramercy Tavern Bar Nuts
Adapted from Mix Shake Stir, by Danny Meyer

This recipe uses two different kinds of salt. I don’t know why, although I’m guessing that the different salts coat the nuts differently? In any case, my kosher salt is Diamond Crystal brand, and that’s important to note, because it’s significantly less salty than Morton brand kosher salt. If you have Morton (or another brand), you’ll want to use much less than the 1 tablespoon this recipe calls for. I’d suggest about 1 ½ teaspoons.

Also, to make simple syrup, combine equal parts sugar and water in a small saucepan, bring to a simmer, stir until the sugar dissolves, and then take it off the heat and allow it to cool.  (To be honest, though, I didn’t allow mine to cool; I made it just before using and only cooled it for a few minutes.)

Last, the original version of this recipe uses volume measurements, and I forgot to convert them to weight measurements when I made it.  I know, I know; I usually give you both types of measurements, and I, myself, prefer weight. I am sad. Apologies.

1 cup raw almonds
3 tablespoons turbinado sugar
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 ¼ teaspoons fine sea salt
2 ¼ teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
¾ teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
2 cups pecan halves
1 ¼ cup cashews
¼ cup (2 fluid ounces) simple syrup (see headnote)
1 ½ teaspoons light corn syrup
1 tablespoon grapeseed oil, or another oil with a similarly high smoke point

Preheat the oven to 300˚F.

Spread the almonds on a rimmed baking sheet, and bake until lightly toasted and fragrant, about 10 minutes. Immediately transfer to a plate, and set aside to cool.

While the almonds toast, make the spice mix. Combine the sugar, salts, cumin, cinnamon, cayenne, ginger, black pepper, and nutmeg in a small bowl. Stir to mix.

Reduce the oven temperature to 275˚F.  Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, combine the almonds, pecans, and cashews. Toss to mix. Add the simple syrup, corn syrup, and grapeseed oil, and stir to coat the nuts. Add the spice mix, and toss gently until the nuts are evenly coated.  Spread on the prepared baking sheet.  Bake until the spice mixture is caramelized and the nuts are toasted, about 25-40 minutes. To check for doneness, take a few nuts out of the oven and let cool for a few minutes; if done, they should be dry to the touch.

Cool completely; then store in an airtight container. (The original recipe says that the nuts should keep at room temperature for a week, but I’d guess that they’ll keep longer than that.  Two weeks, easy.)

Yield: about 4 cups

12.07.2013

Their good work

Hello again! If I don’t write a post tonight, I will have to do my real work, which is to read the final proofs of Delancey before it goes to print, and that is a terrifying prospect. So!  La la laaaaaaaaaaaaaaa




As it happens, combing through files of old film photos is also a great way to avoid work - and I can use the photos here! Behold: somewhat ancient photos that have nothing at all to do with this post!



But more to the point: as I wrapped some Christmas presents the other evening, I found myself thinking about how much I enjoy the gift guides that crop up online every December. I can easily feel overwhelmed by exhortations to BUY STUFF!!!, but I always appreciate helpful ideas and good things shared by people I trust. To that end, I sort of want to share my own small guide, something I’ve never done before.  Is it too late for a gift guide?  Maybe you’ve already checked off your entire list?  In case you haven’t, what follows is a selection of the things I am most excited about this year, many of them handmade - and some even made here in Seattle, by friends of ours. I hope you’ll find it useful. This time of year makes me feel very lucky to know so many creative, enterprising people, both in Seattle and through the Internet, and I feel even luckier to have this space to share their good work.


- A couple of months ago, I started taking pottery classes at Pottery Northwest, which I highly (highly!) recommend, and I noticed that some of the potters there were wearing fantastic aprons, Japanese-style aprons that criss-cross in the back and have nice, big pockets in front.  I asked one of them about hers, and she told me that she’d bought it on Etsy, from a company called Kanso Aprons. I came home and immediately ordered one in black denim, and I’ve worn it almost constantly since. (If you think I exaggerate, ask my spouse. I am INTO this apron.) It’s easy to put on - it slips over your head; no ties - and can be thrown in the washing machine with everything else, and it doesn’t pull at the back of your neck the way other aprons do.

- Over Thanksgiving, we visited my cousin Jason and his family in Tahoe, and Jason got me hooked on using an Aeropress to make coffee.  Now, listen: I have plenty of good ways to make coffee at home - a Chemex, a little pour-over dripper, even an old espresso machine that Brandon gave me a couple of years ago - but these days, I often find myself making coffee verrrrrry early in the morning, and with only one arm (while holding a certain June with the other), and I need it to be easy. Aeropress is easy. I love Aeropress. I find it more consistent, and more consistently delicious, than Chemex or pour-over. And if I try (and fail) to make a drinkable espresso one more time with a baby on my hip, one of us is going to cry. Actually, both of us.



- Our dearly dreadlocked friend Rachel Marshall makes the best ginger beer on Earth, and she’s just begun selling it online and shipping nationally. (!)  Rachel was once a server at Delancey, and before her ginger beer went huge, she used to make it in the Delancey kitchen on days when we were closed, using just fresh ginger, fresh lemons, organic sugar, and water.  It’s bright, lemony, not too sweet, and spicy enough to clear your sinuses, and I LOVE IT.

- Our friend Ricardo makes beautiful sea salt from water that he hand-harvests (!) from Strait of Juan de Fuca, off the west side of Whidbey Island. His salt, which he sells under the name Admiralty Salt, has a pure, clean flavor and is delicate and flaky the way Maldon salt is. Ricardo used to cook at Delancey, and we’re proud to use his salt. You can buy it by contacting him through the Admiralty Salt website.

- Our friend Megan makes Marge Granola, the best granola I know of. My favorite flavor is the Original, with pecans and cranberries, but you can’t go wrong with any of them.  And the packaging is nice enough to make a pretty gift. (Word up, Our Man Sam!) I gave Marge granola to a number of people on my list last year.



- June’s favorite book is currently Rah, Rah, Radishes, which was a first-birthday gift from the Amster-Burtons. Whenever she sees it, she says, "Rrrr rrrr ruh," and I take that as a strong endorsement. I should, however, warn you that, after reading this book only once, you will spend the rest of your life with "Rah, rah, radishes, red and white / Carrots are calling. Take a bite!" stuck in your head.

- I learned about TableTopics (Family Edition) from my friend Lecia, and I like it so much that I’m giving it to two families on my list this year.



- Once, while visiting a friend who was living in London, I bought a small white enamel saucepan at Labour and Wait, and even though it really is very small and is technically intended, I think, for warming milk, I use it nearly every day, for everything.  I use to to cook small amounts of pasta or frozen peas for June. I use it to warm soup for my lunch.  I use it to brown butter, because the white enamel surface allows me to easily gauge the butter’s color. It might be my favorite single piece of cooking equipment. And the other day, I saw one exactly like it (except pale blue, not white) at Provisions, Food52’s online shop. Wahooooo! Here it is, what they are calling a blue enamel porridge pot. Whatever you call it, it’s great.

- Last but not least, this year I’m giving a number of gift certificates to favorite restaurants, mostly small, independently owned places, the kind that I like best.  I like the idea of giving someone an experience, and who doesn’t want a nice meal out, one that’s already (at least partially) paid for? So far, our family and friends are getting gift certificates to Contigo, State Bird Provisions, Buvette, and Dirt Candy. (I should also add that Delancey and Essex now have a brand-new, fancy-schmancy, letterpressed gift certificate. Again, word up, Sam! And Lisa!)



And with that, I think I’m finished spoiling all of my holiday surprises.  I hope you’re having a great weekend.


12.05.2013

Approximately a soup

First: RING THE BELLS! I HAVE A NEW CAMERA! Here at Wizenberg-Pettit World Headquarters, we are excited. And grabby.


Second: we are also into soup, apparently, which is why I’m going to tell you about yet another, our third soup in a row. I am so, so sorry.



This particular soup, however, is only approximately a soup. I don’t know that I would have even thought to call it a soup, actually, except for the fact that its author, the wonderful, recently departed Marcella Hazan, called it that. She called it Rice and Smothered Cabbage Soup. To me, it’s closer to a risotto, a risotto that starts with an entire head of Savoy cabbage, shredded and cooked very gently in plenty of olive oil, until it gives up the fight and goes sweet and tender and limp as a rag. (I am simile-impaired tonight. Limp as... the arm of a sleeping person? Limp as... soft as... a pile of silk ribbon? Ribbon that you can cook with rice and broth and then eat?) This soup exemplifies one of the best lessons I’ve learned from Italian food: namely, that cooking vegetables for a long time, until they fall apart, or nearly fall apart - what we non-Italians might wrongly call overcooking vegetables - works like no other method to draw out their intrinsic sweetness and deepest, fullest flavor. (Another good example of this is my friend Francis’s eggplant pasta sauce, which, if you haven’t yet made, do.)



I first learned about this recipe almost six years ago, from Luisa, who posted it on her site.  I made it not long after, and I considered writing about it here, but I figured that was probably redundant.  So I quietly kept making it and not telling you about it.  I made it most recently last Saturday night, after a day spent traveling home from our family Thanksgiving celebration (accidentally leaving behind our stroller on the steps of my cousin’s house in California! Losing our off-site airport parking stub! Craning our necks to find our car as the kind, young shuttle driver made loop after loop after loop around the lot!), and Brandon and I sat on the living room floor after June went to bed and ate big bowls of it in front of our first fire of the season, and when we both went back for seconds, I thought, The people need to know.

You can’t really tell that it’s a soup up there under that small mountain of grated Parmesan, but that’s for the best, because it’s not the most handsome soup around. The cabbage is cooked for almost two hours, long enough that its color comes to approximate that of a canned pea. But. You take that cabbage and cook it some more, now with broth and rice. (This part only takes about twenty minutes, so if you made the cabbage ahead of time (it freezes well), it’s almost an instant dinner. Instant-ish.) And when the rice is tender and the soup is thick and steaming and has a bolstering, reassuring look about it, you stir in some butter and Parmesan, and then, if you live in our house, you eat it with more Parmesan on top.


Rice and Smothered Cabbage Soup
Adapted slightly from Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking

This soup is very thick, but not quite as thick as risotto.  You could, in theory, eat it with a fork, but you’ll want to use a spoon.

I should also add that I didn’t make my broth from scratch.  I used Better Than Bouillon Organic Chicken Base, my store-bought standby.

1 batch Smothered Cabbage (see below)
2 cups (475 ml) chicken or beef broth
1 cup (235 ml) water, and maybe more
2/3 cup (about 135 grams) Arborio rice
2 Tbsp. (28 grams) unsalted butter
About 1/3 cup (roughly 1 heaping handful) freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving
Kosher salt
Freshly ground lack pepper

In a good-size pot (about 4 quarts), combine the cabbage, the broth, and 1 cup of water, and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Stir in the rice, and then lower the heat so that the soup bubbles at a slow but steady simmer. Cook uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the rice is tender but firm to the bite, about 20 minutes. If you find that the soup is becoming too thick, add a little water. The soup should be pretty dense, but there should still be some liquid.

When the rice is done, turn off the heat, and stir in the butter and the grated Parmesan. Taste, and correct for salt. Serve with black pepper and more Parmesan.

Yield: 4 to 6 servings - and try to save some for later, because these leftovers make a lunch worth looking forward to.

***

Smothered Cabbage, Venetian Style
Adapted very slightly from Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking

1 small yellow onion, chopped
½ cup (120 ml) olive oil
1 (~2-pound / 1 kg) Savoy or green cabbage, quartered, cored, and very thinly sliced
2 or 3 large garlic cloves, chopped
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 Tbsp. white or red wine vinegar

Put the onion and olive oil in a Dutch oven (or another pot of approximately the same size), and set over medium heat. Cook and stir until the onion is pale gold, and then add the garlic. Continue cooking until the garlic is fragrant and looks cooked through, a few minutes, and then add the sliced cabbage. Stir a few times to coat the cabbage with oil; then continue to cook until it’s wilted. Add a couple of generous pinches of salt, a grind or two of pepper, and the vinegar. Stir to mix, and then cover the pan and reduce the heat to the lowest setting. Cook, stirring occasionally, for at least 1.5 hours, or until the cabbage is very, very tender. If the pan seems dry at any point, you can add a tablespoon or two of water. When the cabbage is done, taste for salt, and season as needed.

This cabbage can be made a few days ahead of the soup, if needed, and it also freezes nicely.