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ispirazione

Pressure-cooked fresh tomatoes–even better than canned.

I’m finally finished with my cookbook project–after nine months and change, I’ve cooked or made at least one thing from every cookbook in our primary collection, all 105 of them. In retrospect it was a really valuable exercise, not only because it gave me a new appreciation for the recipes that I had at my disposal, but also in helping me develop some really helpful techniques. Had I not set out to do this I wouldn’t have tried Massimo Bottura’s method for making pasta completely by hand, or Alton Brown’s shrimp scampi, or Mimi Thorisson’s dry pan-roasted mushrooms. I’ve pushed myself in ways I wasn’t expecting, and because of that I feel like I’ve grown as a cook, and I feel better-equipped to improvise where necessary. Read More

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Massimo Botturra’s meat tortellini from Never Trust a Skinny Italian Chef, finished in sage and brown butter.

Can I take a moment and say how smitten I am with the newest episodes of Master of None? We’re slowly making our way through the season–just one new one a week–and as such I feel like we’re SO behind because the various pop culture blogs I follow have already moved on to a bunch of other shows, like The Handmaid’s Tale and GLOW. (Both are really good, and I’ll be writing about the former in this space relatively soon.) Such is the internet in the age of Peak TV, but I still prefer savoring each episode on its own especially since it’s not clear if we’ll see another season of the show, much less one anytime soon. And given the ambition Aziz Ansari and his team had with this season, I can only imagine how frustrating it must be to be incessantly asked when the next batch of episodes would be coming because so many people burned through the current set so quickly. Read More

Lemon-Lemongrass Drink

Thanks to the lasting influence of Good Eats, we really make a point of not trying to buy unitasker gadgets for the kitchen. Admittedly, I’m a bit more susceptible to doing this than Michael, but I usually see it as a challenge to explore other ways of using something. (On a related note, definitely watch this video of Alton Brown mocking unitaskers, even if you’ve seen it already because it’s so good.)

A perfect example of this is the iSi siphon. While I primarily use it to make creamy, foamy desserts, I’ve also made Albert Adrià’s famous sponge cake with it a few times in the summer to go with macerated strawberries. When I was poking around and looking for other ideas for applications I came across a recipe for carraway-infused whiskey from Richard Blais which completely piqued my interest, and subsequently decided to try a combination of strawberries and bourbon so we could make strawberry-bourbon juleps for a dinner party we threw a few months ago. Those came out remarkably well, and later I tried infusing strawberries with tequila and that came out OK, but my attention was drawn elsewhere and I didn’t really do much more with it. Read More

City Hall Subway station--probably the closest I'll ever get to it

City Hall Subway station–probably the closest I’ll ever get to it

A few days ago various sites were sharing photos by James and Karla Murray, authors of Store Front: The Disappearing Face of New York as they were doing a ten-year update in which they revisited several iconic mom-and-pop businesses in the city from their book to see if they were still there or had caved to the whims of modern New York and closed. Sadly, many are no longer there, either being replaced with banks and Subway shops (seriously) or sitting as unused and blank spaces. Change and gentrification, especially in a place like New York, are inevitable, but it always hurts a little more when something goofy and unique is replaced with another soulless corporate box of steel and glass.

I’m angry that the glass box that replaced the M&G Diner is still going unused. Read More

GIft Ideas 1 2013

(Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6)

With the gifting season in full swing (Happy Hanukkah to those who celebrate!), one of the most frustrating things I tend to encounter in shopping for gifts is finding things that stick to a certain budget. My team at work, for example, tends to stick to a $20 limit for its gift exchange, and it’s difficult to think of things that satisfy the following gift criteria that I have in my head:

  1. Relevancy
  2. Practicality/usefulness
  3. Unexpectedness (as in, it should satisfy the above two and also be a genuine surprise, if possible.)

So I’m going to share some of the things I really like and/or purchased and some of the things I think would make awesome presents for those who you want to provide something nice, but something useful. Read More

Fontana della Bollente, Acqui Terme, Alessandria.

Fontana della Bollente, Acqui Terme, Alessandria.

Nostalgia – it’s delicate, but potent. Teddy told me that in Greek, ‘nostalgia’ literally means ‘the pain from an old wound.’ It’s a twinge in your heart far more powerful than memory alone.

–Don Draper, “The Wheel,” Mad Men

It’s appropriate, I suppose, that I write this on the same day my madeleine mold tray arrived in the mail, if for the classic literature reference alone. But today isn’t one for cakes to be dipped into tea; no, it’s for listening to Nino Rota’s score for La Dolce Vita for the umpteenth time, and maybe drinking a nice glass of Barbera d’Asti with dinner. It’s about figuring out where in Stamford I can find the freshest eggs possible to make myself a plate of delicious carbornara and portioning out what is likely the last of the sage leaves from my balcony plant for some veal saltimbocca.

You see, our friend and innkeeper during our stay in Acqui Terme has formally announced that she and her husband are in the process of selling their B&B, and while I had a feeling that something like this was going to happen sooner rather than later, the finality of the news struck me with an overwhelming sadness that even threw me off-guard. We visited them just over five years ago on our honeymoon and spent an idyllic week there, walking around the northern Italian countryside, cooking little meals in their gorgeous kitchen, trespassing in their neighbors’ vineyards, and exploring the spa town that was a few kilometers down the hill from their property. I’ve written snippets about our trip over the years, but like most of our travels that have particularly resonated with me, I can never bring myself to write more than a few words at a time about how the trip affected me.

Forgotten Nebbiollo grapes.

Forgotten Nebbiollo grapes.

To be honest, I’ve struggled to understand this since-growing reticence of mine to write at length about these experiences, either here or even in my private journal; I mean, I’d assume I’d be just as quick to want to capture the words that described everything I’d seen and tasted and experienced in a place just as much as I whipped out my camera to photograph seemingly everything in sight while I was there. But I think there’s something to be said for not putting it to page, however private that page may be, because then perhaps once it’s released from the depths of both the heart and the mind, the urge, the yearning to revisit those feelings in person again could go away.

Or maybe I’m afraid of putting the experience into words lest they cause that experience to plummet from the profound into the trite. Isn’t that what can hurt about nostalgia the most—that our memories, no matter how fond we are of them, aren’t that special after all upon closer examination? Read More

Tortilla de patatas y finas hierbas/truita a patates amb les fines herbes

Tortilla de patatas y finas hierbas/truita a patates amb les fines herbes

I had high hopes for this tortilla, and while it was delicious and did a pretty good job of matching the idea of the final product that was in my head, there’s also much room for improvement. But that’s how cooking goes some days. The key is, of course, is to crack a few more eggs and try it again.

My initial vision was to make a Spanish-style tribute to one of the best omelettes I’ve ever had: the omelette aux fines herbes at Pastis.* It’s enormous and fluffy and comes with a side of frites, and paired with a good French 75 it’s my platonic ideal of brunch these days. While the dish as-is would be a wonderful dinner, I’m not one for making frites at home, much less on a weekday. Here’s where the Spanish inspiration came in: crumble in some high-quality potato chips (in our case, the house-made chips from Fairway) along with the herbs into the eggs, and cook it all as a tortilla, served with a big salad.

Pastis's omelette aux fines herbes with French Fries

Pastis’s omelette aux fines herbes with French Fries

Because really: if really tasty potato chips are good enough for both Feran Adrià and José Andrés to make the tortilla process a little faster, then they are good for all of us. While the resultant tortilla was tasty, it wasn’t perfectly cooked: the middle was a little runny while the exterior was just a touch too done. This didn’t bother me personally as I like runny eggs, but I’d really like to master the balance of exterior to interior doneness and make a tortilla that is as pretty as it is tasty one of these days. I’ve read that smaller pans are best, so I’ve placed a smaller nonstick on my birthday wishlist and hopefully in a few weeks I’ll be able to report on my success or lack thereof.

So let’s call this the “before” photo, and the “after” will come when I have less pan to work with and the same number of eggs. Pending that experiment, a recipe will soon follow.

Stay tuned!

*I wasn’t into eggs, much less an omelette, until a few years ago and therefore I have a very limited data set for reference. Feel free to instruct me on where to find better omelettes in the comments.

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