July 6, 2013 Comments Off on fourth

We live in an immensely practical state.  Fireworks for the 4th of July get spread out over three days in our little corner of the place–the big city politely gets theirs out of the way on the 3rd, leaving the suburbs to fire all of theirs off on the 4th.  This means the smaller towns get to go on the 5th–Friday this year.  The result?  Everyone gets to see two or three fireworks displays, and none of the small places get abandoned by people looking for bigger and better shows.  

I got the kids back on the 3rd, leaving my folks to go see the ones in the big city.  There was a concert beforehand, and my folks, being my folks, left before the fireworks started to beat the traffic.  We went there on the 4th to watch all of the suburbs fire theirs off–from the condo balcony we counted five major displays, plus uncountable backyard pyrotechnics that barely made it above the tree line.  My mom made brats for us and turkey burgers for her and L, and while O went straight for the brats, she did point out that I’d never grilled turkey burgers for them before.

“And with good reason,” I told her.  “The reason people eat turkey burgers instead of beef burgers is to cut down on fat.”  And the way you make delicious stuff on the grill is to make sure whatever it is comes loaded with fat–either in the grillable itself, or slathered on to the outside of it.  Turkey?  Skinny stuff–fine for the oven if properly basted, but death by dryness on the grill.

Still, O persisted, and I looked up as many hacks as I could.  Ricotta cheese?  Bacon?  I went with a couple of egg yolks and a miso and mirin paste folded into ground turkey.  And the other strategy, which I figured was foolproof, was to make sure the burgers came loaded with toppings.  That way, if the meat ended up dry, at least there’d be some crunch and juiciness on top of it.


And were there toasted brioche buns to go with them?  There were.  This is the Jeffrey Hertzberg/Zoe Francis “Five Minute” brioche formula, albeit a little wetter and, therefore, a little bit puffier.  Brioche is a kid-week-only affair; even lightened up, the stuff has enough butter and egg yolk in it to quickly chew up a whole morning workout’s worth of calories.  Just the thing for two scrawny teenagers, though, and the leftovers will make for good grilled cheese sandwiches.

The results?  Fair.  The kids plowed through them and pronounced them fine, I thought they were still turkey burgers–a bit on the dry side, and even with the miso/mirin flavor bomb they still ended up tasting like toppings.  Which, given some organic tomatoes, bean sprouts, and blanched red onions, were hardly bad–just not the beefy hit that a good burger would give you.

The fireworks last night in our fair city were spectacular, of course.  O spent most of the display texting best friend A, who’s in town visiting for the week.  But C and I had a good time discussing the sublimity of the whole experience.  Fireworks, like Roman ruins or the Sears Tower, are very good at reminding you how very small you are, and I think C likes the idea that really, really big things put everyone–small people included, on a more or less even footing.


kung pao tacos, pizza night…

June 13, 2013 Comments Off on kung pao tacos, pizza night…

IMG_6196“Kung pao tacos?” asked O the other night after I’d told her what was for dinner.  “That sounds kinda…I don’t know…racist.”

“That sounds kinda…delicious,” I told her.  “It’s a thing.  New York is full of Korean taco trucks.”

The verdict was that corn tortillas and our new favorite Cooking Light kung pao chicken recipe were best kept separate.  And they weren’t wrong–cold kung pao for lunch today was pretty outstanding even without the trans-pacific influence.

“But it totally works,” I argued with her.  “Every culture has a taco.  America?  Hamburger.  China?  Pork bun.  Or wonton.”

“Mexico?” she asked.

“Ha,” I told her.

We’ve started doing taco night about once a week, ever since the tortilla press came into our lives.  It takes about 20 minutes to make a full stack of nine or ten corn tortillas, and they can get heated back up anytime by wrapping them in a dish towel and steaming them.  The best so far has been the pulled pork–I mean, come on–but the options seem limitless.  OK, ok, maybe the kids aren’t quite up to food truck fusion, but with pork, beef, and fish already successfully in the taco department, there’s got to be a good chicken recipe that isn’t boring.

IMG_6202Italy has a taco, too.  It’s just called a pizza.  But still–meat, sauce, and a carbohydrate delivery device.  And that, right there, is the best pizza I’ve ever made, according to O.  After two and a half years of making these, I’ve got the choreography down pretty pat.  And C’s pepperoni pizza I nailed a long time ago, at least according to him.  But O and I have been trying to replicate the potato pizza in Rome, and that’s a tough one.  A few months ago, we tried smashed potatoes, and got close.  Tonight?

“This is it,” she said.  “This is the ultimate potato pizza.”  It’s not what she had in Rome, but it is smashed Yukon golds–roasted for 45 minutes, smashed and doused in olive oil, and then roasted at high heat for 15 minutes before being introduced to the crust.  Labor-intensive?  Sure, but the oven has to heat up anyway–might as well do it in stages and use the energy to make something delicious.  They were pretty good–crispy edges and oil-soaked potato middle.  And I’m not going to lie–I figured out last year when I went back to Rome that like all good restaurant meals, salt is pretty key.


And those potatoes went on a crust that was one of our best yet.  Pure 00 flour, super-high hydration, and (again) a fair glug of olive oil, plus a really long final rise.  Good hole structure in the cornicione, though I went with straight yeast and I missed the sourdough flavor that’s been in almost everything these last few months.  I’ll fix that next time, and maybe throw in a little sugar to get some better color.  But still, check that hole structure out, man.

The kids have spent basically the last three days at the pool–first string of nice weather we’ve had since it opened.  And while we were devouring these pies, O looked over at C and pointed out that he was slowly turing lobster-red.  “Oh, man,” he said.  “I put on sunscreen, I swear!  Every hour I went back and put on another coat!”

O was convinced that someone had secretly replaced his sunscreen with olive oil.

jokes, veggie burgers

May 21, 2013 Comments Off on jokes, veggie burgers

IMG_6134“What did one wall say to the other wall?”  C is assigned to keep me up to date on the latest middle school jokes.  I have a feeling that the ones about anatomically unusual gentlemen from Nantucket are self-censored.

“No idea.  Go on.”

“Meet you at the corner!”

Ugh.  “OK, ok, what did the piece of paper say to the pen?”

Cringe.  “You’re write!

“C, these are even more terrible than usual.”

“Wait, wait, wait…one more…what did the refrigerator say to the mustard and ketchup?”

“No idea.  I don’t even want to guess.”

NOTHING–kitchen appliances can’t talk!”

OK, ok, you got me.  Just like the one about ducks on two legs.  The kiddos are back, the weather has been that nice combination of sunny and stormy, and they’re starting to relax as the school year winds down.  It’s the best time of the year, if you discount the occasionally damp basement.

And I have what passes for an academic summer underway.  Teaching one class, which feels enough like a vacation.  So there are grilling plans afoot.  Ribs.  Chicken.  Brats.

Burgers should be on that list, but there’s a problem here.  C loves hamburgers, but what he really loves about them isn’t the burger, of course.  It’s the ketchup.  And O doesn’t like beef.  So there’s a split-the-difference approach here that involves veggie burgers.  Like everyone else on the planet, we think the store bought veggie burgers taste like, well, store bought veggie burgers.  We’ve done a couple of different black bean-based versions, and they’re fine.  But when Bon Appetit runs one?  We’ll try it.  For sure.

This month’s version mixes black beans with cooked rice instead of bread crumbs, and it uses a ton of spices, some pickled jalapeños, and an egg white to give it flavor and to approximate a burger-like consistency.  Throw those onto some freshly made and toasted brioche and you get not quite a hamburger, but (with enough tomato and onion on top) a reasonably good sandwich.  And if you throw the Alice Waters potatoes on the plate next to them (best recipe in the world–boil some new potatoes, then dry them, throw them into half a cup of hot olive oil and fry them for fifteen minutes.  Add salt) and you have two virtually guaranteed clean plates.

O had a chorus concert last night, so we did the dishes and scrambled.  And they got fro-yo for dessert, partly because after seeing the news from Oklahoma yesterday every parent in the world felt like indulging their kids a bit, and partly because I never got around to turning those fresh strawberries into ice cream.  That will happen today, though.


The best part of burger night?  If you happen to over bake?  And there are leftover brioche buns?  Breakfast.

fast break birthday party

April 7, 2013 Comments Off on fast break birthday party


Jeepers.  That’s a 13-year old spud.  I am the father of two teenagers.

C mentioned several times that he didn’t want/need a birthday party this year.  Thirteen years old, yadda yadda, birthday parties are for little kids, blah blah blah.  I had asked him a good eight times already, but earlier this week I mentioned it again, just to make sure, and in addition to his denials he said something about me and K being really busy, and how he understood.

Wait a minute.  Back that up, I told him.  “It’s no big deal,” he said.

C is one of those people who absorbs a lot of chaos around him.  He wants things to go smoothly–doesn’t want to rock the boat, willing to be flexible if it means other people get their way and are happy (like, oh, I don’t know, maybe his sister?).  So I know he’s taken a lot on board these last couple of years.  I know where he gets this from. Usually I’ve been the first to give him a quiet high five when he compromises, and I’ve tried to see to it that he gets something out of it.  But this one kind of broke my heart.

“Dude,” I said.  “I should never be too busy to get a birthday party organized.  If you want to have one, let’s have one.”

“Hm.”  He thought for what I’m sure he figured was a reasonable amount of time.  OK, he said, it would be kind of fun.  But no big deal–just a few friends over to play the latest zombie role playing card game.  Presents?  Yeah, sure, he said.  But nothing out of control.  Cake?  Ice cream?  Well, if it isn’t too much trouble….

“IT IS NOT TOO MUCH TROUBLE,” I told him.  Make some invitations!  Ask some people!  We’ll do it Sunday.

IMG_5976And so we did.  Having never made a cake before, I tried out a sponge cake yesterday.  My oven has been on the fritz, though, so I had to use the warming oven, which doesn’t fit a full cake pan.  So I tried a loaf pan.  Know what?  A sponge cake cooks through very slowly.  To the point where the liquid middle can’t support the weight of the heavy crust on top of it if it’s 3″ thick.  Ka-boom.  No pictures of this one.  (O tried to console me as we munched our way through the wreckage.  “It’s another tastes great, looks awful Dad baking experiment,” she said.  “Of course it tastes great,” I told her.  “It’s eggs, sugar, flour, and butter.”)  So I did some more research, and finally figured that a pound cake was the closest thing we were going to get to birthday cake.  Foolproof, not un-yummy, especially with a toupee of chocolate frosting.  Homemade frosting, you have to ask?  Yep.  And this was a revelation.  Why anyone buys frosting is beyond me–heat up some cream, pour it on bittersweet chips, add some vanilla and a little corn syrup, and stuff it in the fridge.  Appallingly delicious.

The ice cream was the by-now-standard 2:1 cream to whole milk ratio, with half a cup of sugar, 1/4 cup of corn syrup, vanilla, and bittersweet chocolate added right at the end of the mixing cycle.  Simple but I haven’t yet made a batch of this magic formula that didn’t come out with a perfect texture.  And to drink?  Um, guess who forgot to buy soda.  But guess who had three lemons?  Simple syrup, lemon juice, done.

Five guests, five clean plates.  And so many Yu-Gi-Oh cards that the house may not support their weight.  “Let me know what I need to do,” I told C as guests pulled up.  “Um, Dad?  You should just hang out in the kitchen.”  Point taken.  And there was a happy, constant stream of dishes to do anyway.  The grandparents came up to take him and his sister out for dinner, leaving me time to finish cleaning and go for a glorious spring run, which (I hope) burned off the significant taste testing that’s gone on the last two days.

Happy birthday, kid.


March 22, 2013 Comments Off on Tartine

In San Francisco for a conference, and colleague R’s wife suggested Tartine, the legendary Mission bakery run by Chad Robertson and Elizabeth Prueitt. She was the force behind our evening at New York’s Prune last year, so I’m inclined to listen to her suggestions for bakeries.


That was their special this morning–a brioche bread pudding, soaked in baked apples. Bowl or cup? I ran this morning, so bowl. I’m normally not much of a sweets person for breakfast, but I am all about baked apples. And this was perfect–spongy brioche that soaked up every bit of liquid and turned into a little custard-y cloud of apples and bliss. There were tea cakes and morning buns, too–R’s two growing children joined us and allowed us to think, for a minute, that all of that was just for them.

Tartine Bread and Tartine come in a slipcover end boxed set. And while I’m working slowly through Bouchon Bakery, I couldn’t resist adding that to the collection. And bread pudding is now officially on the morning to-try list…

lovely bits’o’crumpet

March 17, 2013 Comments Off on lovely bits’o’crumpet


After a few rounds we’ve pretty much got the waffle thing down to a science.  We needed a new breakfast challenge.

English muffins?  Whaddya got?  A poached egg on an English muffin is about as good a post-run breakfast as you can get, and having made one round of rolled and cut muffins a couple of weeks ago, I was ready to try a more authentic method.  The rolled ones were fine, but they were dense and they lacked the really loose crumb (OK, that’s ‘nooks and crannies’ if you’re not a baking nerd) that you really want in these.

Peter Reinhart has a full-bore recipe in Artisan Bread Every Day, but it comes with a warning–these are difficult, he says, so don’t expect too much on the first try.  Real English muffins (or, as they’re known in England, crumpets) get made with a super-loose dough that gets griddled, not baked.  The dough is almost a batter, so they need rings to keep them from becoming pancakes.  In addition to getting the timing and temperature right–on a griddle–you need to get the portioning right.  Too much and the dough rises up out of the rings, meaning they splat when you flip them, and the center never gets baked.  Too little and the dough firms up before it spreads to fill the whole ring, and you’re left with amoeba-shaped muffins instead of perfect circles.

Still, the upside is tremendous.  A bit of cornmeal, a buttered griddle, and you get a big crunch on the outside.  Time things right, and the inside is just cooked, so you get a soft crumb and plenty of butter-holding power.  The dough itself is full of oil, eggs, and milk, so it’s a rich, pillowy bread between those crusts.  And, if you run out of milk and happen to, um, use some cream instead?  Breakfast nirvana.

Those are, admittedly, two of the better outcomes.  It took a few tries to get the portions right–especially since I haven’t yet invested in a set of genuine crumpet rings and have been making do with egg rings instead, which are a bit small.  But they make a good size of muffin, not quite big enough to soak up a poached egg but right-sized for O and C to each have a pair for breakfast.  I kept the finished ones in a 200° oven to make sure they baked through, sort of a backstop.

Good fun, these.  And delicious with butter or an egg.  We’ve burned through a whole batch of these over the weekend, and while I suspect the waffles will still win out.  But these make a nice change of pace, and they apparently freeze up nicely.  So alongside the gallon bags of frozen waffles, these will be worth keeping at the ready, too.



And the real beauty of crumpets is that they get made on the stovetop.  So the oven’s free to bake up another pain au levain.  Which is also disappearing quickly.  Spring break in these parts, so there’s a good market for homemade carbs.

14 march

March 15, 2013 § 1 Comment


As groan-inducing internet memes go, pie day comes with dessert, at least.  (Talk like a pirate day?  Ugh).

C had the day off from school.  The middle school gets a whole ten days off for spring break (and he needs it–the last week or so has brought with it a norovirus that wiped him out for the better part of four days, and since recovering he’s been eating everything in sight).  “What do you want to do with your day off,” I asked him.

“Watch old Star Trek reruns.”  Cool.  “And it’s March 14.  Pie day.  We should bake a pie.”

Nooooo problem.  What kind?  Apple, of course.  The kid’s a traditionalist at heart.  “You have to help,” I told him.

Four pounds of apples, peeled, thin-sliced on the mandoline, and drained religiously.  That part I took care of.  He mixed up the now-patented C-and-Dad magic formula of spices, starches, and sugars (OK, it’s just J. Kenji Lopez-Alt’s Perfect Apple Pie recipe from Serious Eats…), we par-boiled the apples and let them sit, taunting us, while we baked up my grandmother’s infallible shortening-based crust.  Well, almost her crust.  I add the now-standard shot or two of vodka to the dough, which makes it more malleable to roll out but leaves the crust drier and flakier once it’s evaporated in the oven.  I am absolutely sure that my grandmother never tried this, because I cannot imagine her buying vodka–ever–in public.

Anyway.  We still haven’t got the whole sizing-the-crust-right thing down, quite.  There was some patching, some frantic re-rolling, and that piece there is one of the better-looking ones.  C and I have decided that for the moment we will specialize in delicious but ugly, which isn’t that hard.  The good news was that the filling came out perfectly.  The par-boiled apples have just enough bite to give the pie some heft, but they’re mostly soft, and they’re coated in a light but sweet syrup.  None of the jelly-like ooze that comes with a restaurant pie–the apples are what you taste.  Both he and I think that’s right.  (Half Granny Smith, half Braeburn, for the record, so lots and lots of pectin helping things out, here).

We polished off almost half of this last night, and my grandmother would be proud to know that we all sat there mashing the crust crumbs with our forks to get every last bit of flakiness.  The thing is likely to be even better tonight, having macerated in the fridge.

So, dumb internet meme?  Sure.  Awesome excuse for dessert?  Yup.  It’s not molecular gastronomy, but I think that between the two of us we’ve mastered the classic homemade apple pie.  We’ll make another one on 31 April.

Which is pie day in Europe.

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