Threw a rather insane party the other night here in LA. Tiny rented house. Five chairs. Five plates. Five forks. But people who’d said they couldn’t come kept texting to say their time had suddenly freed up, and before we knew it a dozen of us were gathered in this little bungalow.
I told everyone to bring a plate and fork, and that we’d manage. It was, maybe, the best party I’ve ever given. About as un-Martha Stewart as possible. Totally mad. And somehow liberating.
I’d ordered a prime rib roast from Snake River Farms. It emerged from the oven all crisp, brown and fragrant and I prayed it was going to be rare. (No meat thermometer.) As it rested, I realized that a sharp knife is another thing this rented kitchen lacks .
“Do you have a saucer?” asked Hiro. “I’ll sharpen the knife.” And as you can see, that’s exactly what he did!
By the time he was finished that knife was really sharp.
And the prime rib? Excellent. (Snake River, incidentally, has a sale through the end of the month.)
This isn’t my recipe; it comes from my friend Sukey, but it's so delicious that I'm passing it on.
Sukey prefers orange to cinnamon, and when she discovered candied bergamot in an Armenian grocery store, she was inspired to create this recipe. They're extremely citric; the floral orange filling perfumes every inch of this dough.
Beware: this is a recipe for when you feel like tackling something special. There are no shortcuts here.
If you can track down the candied bergamot, you’ll be glad you did. But it’s not necessary. Same goes for the anise seed. And the glaze is so light, you could make it with any tangy dairy product you happen to have on hand: yogurt, sour cream, even thinned down labneh.
Sukey's Orange Sweet Rolls
1 1/4 cups milk
1 package active dry yeast
1/3 cup sugar, plus one pinch
2 tablespoons melted butter, plus one stick
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 egg, beaten
4 cups flour
1/4 cup brown sugar
zest of 4 oranges
1 teaspoon orange flour water
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 1/2 cup powdered sugar, divided
3 tablespoons finely chopped candied orange peel
2 tablespoons finely chopped candied bergamot (not critical; just add more orange peel if you can't find it.)
1 teaspoon anise seed
1 tablespoon buttermilk
Lightly heat the milk in a saucepan (it should be about blood temperature, but no more than 110 degrees). Pour yeast, warmed milk, and a pinch of sugar into the bowl of a stand mixer and allow it to sit about ten minutes, until the yeast begins to foam.
Fit your mixer with a dough beater. (You can make the dough by hand, but fair warning: it requires quite a bit of kneading.) Add the sugar, 1 teaspoon of the salt, 2 tablespoons melted butter, and the egg; mix to combine. Add the flour, cup by cup, and mix on medium-speed for about eight minutes. (If you’re doing this by hand, you’ll need to knead the dough for about 15 minutes, or until it takes on a smooth elastic sheen and can be stretched so thin it's transparent but does not tear.) Place the dough in a clean, well-oiled bowl, cover, and let rise in a warm place for an hour and a half.
Meanwhile, make the filling. Mix one softened stick of butter with 1/4 cup light brown sugar and the zest of 4 oranges until the mixture is light and creamy. Add 1/2 teaspoon salt, orange flower water, vanilla, and 2 1/2 cups of the powdered sugar. Stir in the bergamot, orange peel and anise seed.
When the dough has nearly doubled in size, roll out into a large rectangle, around 11 x 18 inches. If the dough is too stretchy to roll out, let sit for 10 minutes. Spread on filling, leaving 1/2 inch border. Roll into a tube, lengthwise, and cut into 12 buns. If you have un-flavored dental floss it makes a great dough cutter: run the floss under the roll and cross the ends to get a clean shear. Arrange buns in an oiled 9 x 13 pan, and chill in the refrigerator for at least five hours – or overnight.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and allow the buns to come to room temp. Cook for 25 minutes; they should be golden.
Make the glaze by mixing a tablespoon of buttermilk into the remaining cup of powdered sugar. Add a splash of orange juice. Brush glaze over warm buns and serve immediately.
These are best just after they're baked. If your household can't finish a dozen rolls in a day, bake six and freeze the rest for another time.
Some people say New York has no good Mexican food. Those people are wrong.
But it can't compare to LA, where the Mexican food is so rich and varied I dread the thought of returning back east. The bar is high here: great tacos are everywhere. The only reason to make your own salsa is to avoid the traffic; getting to East LA can be a challenge. And so, even here I sometimes build my own tacos.
I get good tortillas, add beans and melt some cheese. I make a quick salsa by chopping fresh tomatoes, chiles and onions, then squeezing in a bit of lime. Then I add this extremely easy no-frills cooked salsa which I try to keep on hand. Guajillos aren't very hot, but they have a wonderfully fruit flavor with great depth. One warning: this recipe isn't worth your time unless you can find fantastic chiles that have been dried in the not-so-distant past.
Easy Guajillo Salsa
12 dried guajillo chiles
1 large can whole peeled tomatoes
1/2 onion, peeled but not chopped
3 cloves garlic
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon vinegar – white or apple cider
Wipe your chiles (they tend to be dusty). Remove stems, seeds and veins.
Gently toast them in a cast-iron skillet over medium heat until the aroma fills the kitchen. Be careful not to let them get too brown.
Throw the chiles, tomatoes, whole onion and garlic into a saucepan over high heat, breaking up the tomatoes on the side of the pan. If the mixture seems too thick, add a little water. When it begins to bubble rapidly, turn the heat to low and simmer for 20 minutes. Add salt, sugar and vinegar, and cook for another minute.
Let the mixture sit for a few minutes, then transfer to a blender and blitz until smooth. Cool and refrigerate.
If I'm not adding a layer of fresh salsa, I like this seasoned with finely chopped cilantro and fresh lime juice. You will undoubtedly have ideas of your own.
What I stupidly neglected to take a picture of was the truffles themselves – huge, gorgeous black diamonds, just a day or two out of the earth, and so fragrant one whiff was enough to make me dizzy. I've never had truffles this good outside of France.
This is the peak moment in black truffle season. My friend Samir Arora invited a group of us to share his bounty, showcasing his truffles in a truly spectacular kaiseki-like meal, and pairing them with an array of Rhone wines.
We began with a thick slab of truffle on a buttered slice of toasted brioche. Eaten slowly, while sipping Condrieu, the presentation emphasized the earthy taste of the truffle. I could have stopped here and gone home happy.
But there was so much more. This is truffle in an entirely different mood. Served in a clear and extremely delicate dashi with a tender ricotta dumpling, the truffle shed its earthiness, becoming a gentle whisper of flavor.
Is there anything better than truffled scrambled eggs? Probably not, although Samir gave these a Japanese twist, scrambling the eggs in dashi. And then, moving back to France, he added a crips little bit of truffle butter toast.
Truffle and artichokes. They were born to be together.
Truffled poached salmon. We were drinking a Clos des Papes with this, which is about as perfect a pairing as I could possibly imagine.
A medley of truffled vegetables (the celery root was especially felicitous). Beneath that truffle hat hides a plump seared sea scallop. Truffles love seafood, and they seemed especially happy here.
A simple arugula salad.
How do you end a truffle feast? With a few truffled cheeses of course.
My friend Laurie Becklund passed away the night before last, after a heroic struggle with cancer. I admired her so much; she refused to accept the definition of herself as "a sick person," doing more in these last few years than most people manage in a lifetime. She outlived the experts' predictions by so long that those of us who loved her kept expecting one more miracle.
Alas, even miracles come to an end.
People react to death in different ways. I cook. And so last night, as people gathered to remember Laurie, I made a meal.
It was a very last minute decision. How do you feed a crowd on the spur of the moment? You go for easy. You go for comfort. You go for a big piece of meat and a heavy load of carbs.
Macaroni and Cheese
Macaroni and Cheese to Feed Twenty
1/2 pound butter, melted
1 cup flour
2 tablespoons salt
7 cups to 2 quarts milk, warmed
1 pound sharp Cheddar, grated
1/2 pound grated Pecorino Romano
2 pounds elbow macaroni
1 1/2 cups panko
Make a bechamel by whisking the flour and salt into the melted butter, over low heat, and slowly whisking in the warm milk. Keep whisking until you have a thick white sauce.
Meanwhile, cook the macaroni until just al dente, about 6 minutes. Drain.
Stir the cheeses into the bechamel. Add pepper to taste. Stir the macaroni into the cheese sauce.
Butter a large flat casserole or baking dish and spill the macaroni mixture into it. Top with panko, dot with a bit of butter and bake in a 400 degree oven for about half an hour.
This is very American, comforting and rather bland. Which seems like perfect funeral food to me. But should you want to jazz it up, you could add any of the following: