Butter’s Rolls (and a few other things)

March 20, 2014


Can't stop thinking about these.  The Parker House rolls at Butter on 45th Street are good enough, all by themselves, to bring me back.  (They come with two kinds of butter – both fantastic – but the rolls are so tender, rich and delicious that I'd devoured an entire one before I even thought to look around for butter.)


This was fantastic too: chicken liver pate spread on matzo and topped with fried shallots. Everything tastes better with matzo, but this was an inspired combination.


Can't fault this enormous hunk of steak either.  Meant for two, the Tomahawk's easily enough for four.  Especially with the little pot of buttered grits (so good it was gone before I could snap a photo) and this very delicious kale and pear salad. 


Butter's a beautiful subterranean room with high, high ceilings and a wall of windows up above. Looking upward, it's as if the entire city is holding its breath, waiting for you to emerge into the night and join it. When I was small my father's office was right next door, and gazing through the window above us I couldn't help thinking how much the city has changed.

Back then the neighborhood had  no restaurants like Butter, and I thought how happy Dad would have been eating here.  Especially when we got to dessert and a plate of these warm, raspberry-filled bomboloni appeared.


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Kaiseki in New York

March 19, 2014

In this in-between season, with spring coyly hiding behind a recalcitrant winter reluctant to depart, the Kaiseki menu at Brushstroke is like a promise: the sun will come. It's a beautiful way to welcome change.

Had dinner there last night with the always inspiring Nancy Singleton Hachisu, author of  Japanese Farm Food. (If you don't know this book, you should.) Nancy's a forthright American who married into a Japanese farm family and seems to have absorbed the country into her pores.  I admire the way she honors her adopted country's food and rituals with none of the sentimentality of so many ex-pats. Reading her book, you want to cook everything – and you learn so much.

Dinner was a long, dream of a meal that began with this:


and went on to this delicate crab chawan mushi with bits of black truffle and tiny morels.


Then there was the gorgeous platter of sashimi at the top (my favorite was the fluke, bottom left, with a delicate ponzu sauce). And those sticks of yama imo. 

That was followed by this extravagant  little bowl of lobster and vegetables in white miso.

Crab, white miso


Next, the big presentation:


 which appeared on the plate like this:


octopus, smoked in hay and topped with a huge heap of golden osetra.  Underneath, a puddle of black sesame sauce enriched with squid ink.  On top, a wisp of fried burdock root. On the side, the prickly goodness of chrysthemum leaves.

Then there was this gorgeous little bit of squab, hiding its own swell secret: a slab of foie gras was tucked underneath.



Wagyu?  Of course there was wagyu:


The rice course: Dungeness crab with mushrooms, eggs and rice, presented in a crab shell, simmering over smoking bincho charcoal:


Dessert: Simple and very lovely: lime sorbet in a warm pear sauce with a froth of fennel.

A fitting ending, a little bit of sunshine sitting in snow.



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Why We Test Recipes

March 15, 2014

The Orange-Olive Oil Cake Caper

When you’re a houseguest, you try to be helpful.  So even though I was staying with one of the best bakers in the world, the night we had a dinner party I offered to make dessert.

“It would be great,” said Nancy Silverton, “if you’d bake Dario’s Olive Oil Cake. I want to put it in this book I’m working on, and it needs to be retested. They ran my recipe in the L.A. Times last year.” 

Cake #1

I retrieved the recipe from the paper, noting that it was one of the odder cake recipes I’ve encountered.  For one thing, it requires two angel food cake pans.  “Nobody has two of those things,” I told Nancy, “most people don’t even have one. 

“I’ll bring a couple home from the restaurant,” she promised. 

I studied the recipe. Strange in so many ways.  It calls for pastry flour, another thing that home cooks have a hard time finding in the supermarket. “Don’t worry,” said Nancy, “I’ll bring some pastry flour home from the restaurant too.” 

“While you’re at it,” I was having a hard time believing this recipe would actually work, “bring some Vin Santo too.” Who has spare bottles of sweet wine languishing in the cupboard?  “And some of that Italian leavening you call for. I’ve never seen it in the store.” 

I went back to the recipe.  “Three whole oranges?” I asked.  “What kind?” 

“Any kind you want.” Not very helpful. 

“Cara caras?” I pressed.  

“Sounds right.” She considered.  “But it would be helpful if you'd measure how many cups those three oranges give you."

I've never seen a recipe quite like this; it has no salt,  the procedure is unusual (add the oil, then let it rest for 10 minutes before putting it into the pan), and then you turn it right out of the pan while it's still hot. But I was game. 

I slavishly copied the recipe from the one below,  which was printed in the paper.  It was fantastic: crumbly, a bit bitter, but absolutely delicious.  By day two the bitterness had vanished, leaving a cake so seductive it was impossible to keep myself from snatching a bite every time I walked into the kitchen.


Dario's olive oil cake

Serves 20 to 24 (2 cakes)

1 cup (5 ounces) plump raisins (preferably flame raisins)

3/4 cup Vin Santo

3 whole oranges

3 extra-large eggs

1 3/4 cups granulated sugar, divided

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

20 grams Italian leavening (substitute: 10 grams, or about 1 tablespoon, baking soda and 10 grams, or 1 scant tablespoon, baking powder)

3 1/2 cups (14 ounces) pastry flour

2/3 cup toasted pine nuts

Fresh rosemary sprigs, for garnish

1. Bring the raisins and the Vin Santo to a simmer in a small saucepan, then immediately remove from the heat. Let stand at least 30 minutes, up to overnight.

2. Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Prepare 2 (10-inch) angel food cake pans by generously spraying with cooking spray and dusting with flour.

3. Halve the whole oranges through the stem and slice into one-fourth-inch thick sections. Remove any seeds and coarsely chop.

4. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, mix the eggs, the 1¼ cups sugar and the leavening over medium high speed until thickened, 3 to 4 minutes.

5. With mixer on medium speed, slowly add olive oil in a slow, steady stream down the side of the bowl until emulsified. Turn the mixer back down to low and add the flour and soaked raisins (with any remaining liquid) alternately in 3 batches, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. The batter should be thick.

6. Remove the bowl from the mixer. Using a rubber spatula, fold chopped oranges into mixture. Set the batter aside for 10 minutes, then distribute evenly between the prepared pans.

7. Sprinkle the pinenuts and the remaining one-half cup sugar over the cakes, then garnish with rosemary.

8. Bake the cakes for 10 minutes, then lower the oven temperature to 325 degrees and continue to bake, rotating the cakes every 10 to 15 minutes, until golden brown and a toothpick inserted comes out clean, an additional 30 to 35 minutes.

9. Run a knife around the inside of the pan and carefully invert it over a large plate to release the cake. Carefully turn it over and transfer it to a large serving plate or cake stand.


Cake Number Two

“But here’s the problem,” I said to Nancy.  “You’re calling for too many things that ordinary people don’t have.”

“Like what?” she said. 

“For starters, two angel food cake pans.”

“So do it again using a loaf pan for one of the cakes.”  

We went through the recipe, deciding to try it with all purpose flour instead of professional pastry flour, navel oranges instead of cara caras, and rum in place of Vin Santo.  I also decided to toss in a little salt – and to let the cake rest before turning it out of the pans.

The cake that emerged from the angel food pan was very good, but the loaf cake just wasn’t right: clearly this recipe requires the special kind of heat distribution that comes only from one of those pans with a hole in the middle. But even the cake baked in the angel food pan was slightly different than the first version I'd made; I was convinced this was because navel oranges have so much more pith than cara caras. Even on day two, the cakes retained their bitterness. 


Cake Number Three 

By now I was obsessed. I wanted to cut the recipe in half and use all supermarket ingredients. One problem: the recipe calls for 3 eggs.

“What are you going to do?” asked Nancy. 

“What if I used 2 small eggs?” I said. 

“Interesting,” she replied, walking out the door. "Let me know what happens."

At the supermarket, I discovered that small eggs no longer exist- at least not in conventional supermarkets.  I settled for medium.  There were no golden raisins, so I used “baking raisins” which turned out to be very moist and unpleasantly slimy.  I wanted to try juice oranges, but there were none, so I substituted tangelos. In place of pastry flour I bought Swansdown cake flour.  And instead of  the Italian leavening I used half baking soda and half baking powder. 

This cake was a total disaster.  When it came out of the oven all the pine nuts, rosemary and oranges had sunk guiltily to the bottom of the pan.  It was damp, dense, completely unappealing. It even looked awful.

I think four culprits were responsible for this failure.

  1. the slimy “baking raisins”
  2. The tangelos, which were much juicier than the pithier navels or cara caras.
  3. the cake flour, which was too fine
  4. and the leavening.

We threw that cake right into the garbage. And I went right to the supermarket. I was determined to reduce the recipe to a single cake – and get it right.


Cake Number 4 

This time around I looked at the list of culprits and made substitutions for three of the four.

      1. I threw out the “baking raisins” and replaced them with regular ones. 

      2. I used navel oranges instead of the juicy tangelos.

      3. I substituted all purpose flour for the cake flour.

      4. But I continued to use a combination of baking powder and baking soda.

The cake was fine. The three large eggs could clearly be cut down to two small ones in a halved recipe – so long as you use all purpose flour. Still, it was not  as good as the original recipe.  I was determined to do it one more time. I was intent on producing one perfect cake.


Cake Number 5

This time around I cut the original recipe in half, and baked the cake in a single angel food pan.

I used two small eggs in place of the three large ones.

I used 2 cups of finely chopped navel oranges (it was an orange and a half).

I used all purpose flour.

I used golden raisins cooked in rum instead of Vin Santo.  

I threw in a teaspoon of salt.  

And I let the cake rest for 15 minutes before turning it out of the pan (the result is a less crumbly cake.)

What was different, however, is that this time around I used the hard-to-find Italian leavening (you can easily buy it online).  I don't know what they put in that stuff, but it really made a difference.


The result?  An exciting cake – moist, tangy, not too sweet. A treat at any time of the day.

I’ll be making this again.

But probably not for a while.  




My Kitchen Year

March 13, 2014


On Sale September 29

About the Book Unnamed

In the fall of 2009, the food world was rocked when Gourmet magazine was abruptly shuttered by its parent company. No one was more stunned by this unexpected turn of events than its beloved editor in chief, Ruth Reichl, who suddenly faced an uncertain professional future. As she struggled to process what had seemed unthinkable, Reichl turned to the one place that had always provided sanctuary. “I did what I always do when I’m confused, lonely, or frightened,” she writes. “I disappeared into the kitchen.”

My Kitchen Year follows the change of seasons—and Reichl’s emotions—as she slowly heals through the simple pleasures of cooking. While working 24/7, Reichl would “throw quick meals together” for her family and friends. Now she has the time to rediscover what cooking meant to her. Imagine kale, leaves dark and inviting, sautéed with chiles and garlic; summer peaches baked into a simple cobbler; fresh oysters chilling in a box of snow; plump chickens and earthy mushrooms, fricasseed with cream. Over the course of this challenging year, each dish Reichl prepares becomes a kind of stepping stone to finding joy again in ordinary things. 
The 136 recipes collected here represent a life’s passion for food: a blistering ma po tofu that shakes Reichl out of the blues; a decadent grilled cheese sandwich that accompanies a rare sighting in the woods around her home; a rhubarb sundae that signals the arrival of spring. Here, too, is Reichl’s enlivening dialogue with her Twitter followers, who become her culinary supporters and lively confidants. 
Part cookbook, part memoir, part paean to the household gods, My Kitchen Year may be Ruth Reichl’s most stirring book yet—one that reveals a refreshingly vulnerable side of the world’s most famous food editor as she shares treasured recipes to be returned to again and again and again.




August 31—Palo Alto, CA

8:00 PM
Peninsula Open Space Trust

September 20-23—Mexico City

Mesoamerica Mesa Redonda

September 28—New York, NY

6:30 PM

September 29—New York, NY

8:15 PM

September 30 –Cambridge, MA

6:00 PM

October 1—Nashville, TN

6:15 PM

October 2St. Louis, MO

6:00 PM

Lunch at Herbie’s Vintage ’72, with Left Bank Books

5:30 PM
Dinner at Kingside Diner, with Left Bank Books

October 3—Kansas City, MO

6:00 PM

Webster House Luncheon, with Rainy Day Books

October 5— Seattle, WA

Signing at Book Larder

Dinner at Walrus and Carpenter 

Details TBA



October 6— San Francisco, CA


Bar Agricole, with Omnivore Books



October 7—Palo Alto, CA

12:00 PM
San Anselmo, CA 
6:00 PM
Insalatas, with Book Passage

October 8—Healdsburg, CA

Cocktail reception and signing at Copperfield’s Books
8:00 PM
Copperfield’s Books

October 9—Danville, CA

12:00 PM

October 10—Portland, OR

12:00 PM
Lunch TBA, with Powell’s Books

October 11—Los Angeles, CA

Dinner at Lucques, details TBA

October 14—Miami, FL

Lunch, with Books and Books 
Dinner, with Books and Books 
October 15—Raleigh, NC

1:00 PM
October 18—Washington, D.C.

3:00 PM
Busboys and Poets Takoma, with Politics and Prose

October 22—New York, NY

7:00 PM


October 27—Philadelphia, PA

7:30 PM




A Few N.Y. Flavors

March 13, 2014

Icy wind blowing off the river. So cold. In the kitchen testing recipes, thinking that even in this weather, it's great to be home.


Farotto with broccoli, cauliflower and cheese, at Verdure in Eataly. Truly delicious.


Found this puntarelle at Eataly too.  The first sign of Spring in Rome.  A bite of hope.


But the meal I can't forget was at Il Buco Alimentari, which just never lets me down.

We started with razor clam ceviche, went on to the fantastic seppia with beans (above), one of their always satisfying salads, and a shared bowl of spaghetti cacio e pepe.  Then a grilled branzino, the flesh soft, almost velvety, in a shower of caramelized lemon juice.  And finally, this balsamic-drizzled panna cotta, the vinegar edging along the sweetness of the custard to send us out the door with the flavor still singing in our mouths. 


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