Something Salty

March 19, 2018

Winter just won’t give up!  Woke to seven degrees this morning – and the piles of snow which feel like they’ll be here, swaddling the house, forever.  Will spring really come?  Are we ever going to look outside and see some green?  Even the birds have deserted us – which may have something to do with the fact that I just can’t face digging through these many feet of snow to fill the feeder. Tomorrow, I think, tomorrow I’ll get out the shovel.

But today, I’m making this wonderful snack.  Nothing tastes better at the end of the day with a good glass of wine.

Layered Anchovy Bread

¾ cup warm water, 90 – 100 degrees

2 teaspoons yeast

1 teaspoon sugar

1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided

1 cup pastry flour

1 cup semolina flour

3 teaspoon sea salt, divided

1 tablespoon paprika

1 tablespoon fresh oregano, chopped

6 anchovies, minced

1. Combine the warm water, yeast, and sugar in a bowl and wait for it to foam, about 5 minutes. If it does not foam, discard and start with over with fresh yeast. Either the yeast is too old, or the water may be too hot. It should be tepid at 90-100 degrees. Stir in 2 tablespoons of olive oil.

2. Whisk together the pastry flour, the semolina flour, and 1 teaspoon of salt. 

3. Make a well in the center of the flour and pour in the yeast mixture. Stir the flour into the liquid until it comes together in a ball. Knead for up to 5 minutes on a floured surface, and then place in a well-oiled bowl. 

4. Cover with a moist towel and set in a warm place to rise until it is doubled in size, about an hour.  Tip: If you want to hurry things up, place the bowl inside another bowl filled with very warm water and cover it up. 

5. Meanwhile, mix 1/3 cup of olive oil, the paprika, oregano, anchovies, and one teaspoon of salt and set aside until the dough has risen. 

6. Roll the dough out into a 15 inch round, and spread all but 1 teaspoon of the anchovy mixture all over, leaving a one inch border. 

7. Beginning with the side closest to you, roll the dough into a thin jelly roll, and pinch the edges closed. Starting at one end, curl the roll into a spiral (the sides can touch), and set onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. 

8. Brush the top with the remaining oil and sprinkle with a teaspoon of salt. Cover with plastic wrap and allow the bread to rise for one hour.

Bake for 35 minutes until crusty and golden. Remove to a rack and allow to cool completely. Cut into thin slices.

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The Perfect Fried Food

March 17, 2018

We’re coming to the end of the r months – which means this is the moment to be eating oysters.  I love them every possible way – raw, in stews, baked into Rockefeller.  But I really love them fried.

They’re easier than you think – and so much better than anything you can get in a restaurant because you can snatch them from the frier and eat them while they’re still piping hot.  Hard to think of a more delicious way to celebrate St. Patrick’s day.

 

Fried Oysters

Shopping list: 1 pint oysters, 1 pint buttermilk, 2 cups cornmeal

Staples: flour, salt, oil.

You could shuck your own oysters, but unless you’re really an expert that makes the entire process a whole lot harder.  I open my own oysters to eat on the half-shell, but when I’m frying oysters I buy them pre-shucked.

Carefully drain the oysters, and put them in 2 cups of buttermilk for about 10 minutes.

Line a baking sheet with waxed paper or a silpat pad. Mix 2 cups of cornmeal with 2 cups of flour and a teaspoon of salt.  Pick up each oyster, shake it a bit, allowing the buttermilk to drip off before plunking it into the cornmeal mixture; toss it about so it’s coated on all sides and place it on the lined baking sheet. Do it with the next oyster, and the next….

In a deep pot heat at least 2 inches of oil until it registers 375 on a thermometer. Pick up an oyster, shake it to remove excess breading and plunk it into the oil. Fry for about a minute and a half until just golden, then remove with a slotted spoon and set on paper towels to drain. You should be able to fry 6 to 8 oysters at a time.  Bring oil back to 375 before adding a new batch. 

Sprinkle with salt and serve with plenty of fresh lemons.  Some people like tartar sauce or remoulade with their oysters, but I think that masks the delicate flavor. 

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A Taste of the Past on a Snowy Morning

March 16, 2018

 

 

The sun is shining.  The cats are purring. Icicles hang outside the window. Mountains of snow are piled against the door.

Michael and I are both going slightly stir crazy and today we’re going to try and make it down the mountain.

But first, a little breakfast. I’ve made these because they’re such a classic city dish,  what I always ordered at the diner on the corner of Tenth Street and University Placer when my father took me out for breakfast.

New York diners are, sadly, disappearing, a victim of gentrification. But these corn muffins remain, a little taste of the past.

New York Corn Muffins
Makes 1 dozen muffins

Shopping List
1 cup cornmeal
1 cup buttermilk
1 cup corn kernels

Staples
1 cup flour
6 tablespoons white sugar
2-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
6 tablespoons butter
2 eggs

Mix the flour with the cornmeal. (I prefer stoneground.) Whisk in sugar, baking powder, salt and baking soda.

Melt the butter. Allow it to cool, then stir in buttermilk along with 1 egg and 1 additional egg yolk. Stir into the dry mixture. Toss in the corn kernels. (You can use frozen corn, and there’s no need to defrost it.) The dough will be lumpy; don’t worry about that.

Divide the batter into a well-greased muffin tin and bake at 400 degrees for about 20 minutes. Cool for 5 minutes before turning the muffins out.

I like these best served the way they are in old New York coffee shops: split horizontally, brushed with butter, and toasted on a griddle or in a pan.

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How to Cope with Too Much Snow

March 15, 2018

The snow is incredible.  Three feet and still coming down.  We haven’t been able to leave the house for days now – the driveway is impassable – and I’m feeling isolated and alone.

But lemons make everything better. On days like this I find myself going to the refrigerator, reaching for a lemon, running my fingers across the peel and allowing the fragrance to float into the air. It’s an instant reminder that this weather won’t last, that spring will come.

And then I make a lemon tart.

Begin by making the tart shell. If you have some nuts on hand – I like cashews in this crust but almonds or hazelnuts are also excellent – carefully toast a handful, then grind them up with 3/4 cup flour, 1/4 cup confectioners sugar and a pinch of salt. Cut half a stick of cold butter into the mixture with two knives, then stir in 3 tablespoons of olive oil and an egg yolk.  Press the mixture gently into a 9 inch tart shell with a removable bottom. Chill if you have time; if not, bake in a 400 degree oven for about 15 minutes and allow to cool.

 To make the filling, grate the zest from one lemon.  Then squeeze 4 lemons and mix the juice with the zest, 3/4 cup sugar, 2 teaspoons cornstarch, 2 whole large eggs plus 2 large yolks. Whisk over medium heat until the mixture begins to boil; keep whisking for a couple more minutes.  Remove from the heat, add ¾ of a stick of butter, cut into pieces, and whisk the mixture until the butter has vanished.  Spread into the tart shell, allow to cool, then chill for at least 2 hours.

 

 

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Is This the Most Beautiful Food in California?

March 3, 2018

The first thing you notice about the food at Mourad is how incredibly beautiful it is. Mourad Lahlou, doesn’t cook; in love with color, shape and texture, he paints each plate.  Something as simple as a turmeric and strawberry drink arrives looking like a southwest sunset, a crescent of blood orange slowly setting in the center.  A dish of olives is strewn with flower petals – instant party – and even though you didn’t mean to, you reach for one.

Chicken wings – chicken wings!- are the loveliest landscape, all soft mounds and melting colors, the tender meat glazed with lemon and burnt honey with broccoli flowers scattered across the plate.

Lahlou coaxes flavors you’ve never imagined out of the most ordinary ingredients, and suddenly you’re somewhere else, Marrakesh perhaps, hearing the muezzin calling in the faithful.

He even contrives to make luxury ingredients seem somehow new.  Caviar, snuggled beneath crisp curls of cucumber, is partnered with neither toast nor blini, but soft warm pillows of bread.

Salmon is very smoky, so smoky it is barely fish but some new substance surrounded by fennel and kissed with blood orange.

Kefta meatballs arrive looking like a St. Lucia wreath, the most delicate lamb you’ve yet encountered.

And Lalou’s version of b’stilla- which speaks more loudly to the mouth than to the eye- is irresistible. It is filled with duck, curry, almonds and…is that a touch of banana?

Desserts- well you have to try them. Pistachio cake, just a small sliver, is crowned with citrus.

And chocolate is a jolt, its dark side coaxed out beneath the sweetness.  It’s the perfect flavor to send you out the door.

 

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