The first thing that hit me when I saw Mark’s recipe for No-Bake Fruit and Cereal Bars in his new book How to Bake Everything was that it sounded a lot like Rice Krispies Treats®, only with fruit and juice instead of the sticky marshmallow sauce for glue. If I went with a puffed whole grain—Khorasan wheat to be exact—the bars would have a similar texture and, with the fiber and small bit of honey for sweetener, they’d actually be a healthy and satisfying snack. Continue reading
In case anyone ever asks me what my favorite dessert flavors are (no one has yet), I have that answer ready, in descending order: lemon, caramel, almond.
If your list doesn’t look like mine, the Lemon Tart from How to Bake Everything is still worth trying. It’s also super easy to put together. It’s actually three different recipes from HTBE, which can all be made ahead of time and assembled right before you serve: Sweet Tart Crust, Lemon Curd, and Whipped Cream. Continue reading
How to Bake Everything—a five-year work in progress, a book that brings the spirit of How to Cook Everything to the generally most intimidating segment of life’s most pleasant “chore”—hits stores this week (you can obviously buy it online too, right now). In celebration, you can find me on TV, radio, and the Internet discussing the book and answering baking questions:
TODAY, 1 pm ET / Leonard Lopate Show, WNYC / (Streaming here)
ALSO TODAY, 2:30 pm ET /Live Q & A, Twitter
Wednesday, October 5th, 8:30 am ET / The Today Show, NBC
Thursday, October 6th, 4:30 pm ET /Facebook LIVE with Food52
Tuesday, October 11th, 6:00 pm PT / Interview, Tom Douglas Radio (available online) / Seattle, WA
Thursday, October 13th, 10:00 am PT / Interview, Forum on KQED (available online) / San Francisco, CA
And I’ll be signing books and answering questions in many cities, maybe even yours:
Wednesday, October 5th, 7:30 pm / In Conversation with Rick Nichols / The Free Library of Philadelphia, Philadelphia, PA
Thursday, October 6th, 7:30 pm / In Conversation with Peter Meehan of Lucky Peach / Words Bookstore, Maplewood, NJ
Sunday, October 9th, 2:00 pm / In Conversation with Amy Scattergood, LA Times Food Editor / Skirball Cultural Center, Los Angeles, CA
Tuesday, October 11th, 7:30 pm / In Conversation with Steve Scher / Town Hall Seattle, Seattle, WA
Thursday, October 13th, 7:00 pm / In Conversation with Margo True, Food Editor of Sunset Magazine / Jewish Cultural Center of San Francisco, San Francisco, CA
Friday, October 14th, 3:00 pm / Uncharted: The Berkeley Festival of Ideas / Berkeley, CA
Sunday, October 16th, 2 pm / Book Signing at Market Hall Foods / Oakland, CA
I may not have my facts perfectly straight here, but hey, it’s my site and the story is as true as I can make it.
Michel Richard, who just died at 68, was a friend of mine. We met in the mid-’90s, introduced, I imagine, by Jean-Georges Vongerichten, with whom I started working in the early ’90s. (A whole ’nother story, which I’ll get to sometime.)
Michel was a joyful character, perhaps a lousy businessman (until he opened Central, he complained to me about money whenever we saw one another), but a much-admired chef and a great lover of life, corny as that is.
Unlike most chefs, he knew how to enjoy the things he cooked. He also knew art, he understood politics, he could talk articulately about current events—he was someone you looked forward to hanging with. We taped together for Bittman Takes on America’s Chefs in 2002, and it was as good a time as I’ve ever had doing television; we spent two solid days together, morning until night, and I remember laughing nonstop. (We were with my producer and good friend Charlie Pinsky—who called Michel “The Elf”—which helped. Somewhere—I’m not looking for it—there’s a picture of us, three fat men blocking a doorway, grinning like fools.) We made insanely good lobster rolls (well, he did; mine were, I would say, pretty good); his “breakfast for dessert”— a variety of nonbreakfast foods shaped to look like bacon and eggs—was a ridiculously clever tribute to Ferran Adrià-type food, what idiotically came to be called molecular gastronomy.
Two other outstanding memories:
I was in Citronelle in D.C., shortly after it opened, so, 20 years ago. It was a stuffy, not-especially comfortable place, but Michel was at the height of his powers and the food was terrific. (Now we’d think it was too fancy, or at least I would.) As about half the room was on the dessert course—and the desserts were fantastic; more on that in a second—Michel appeared from the kitchen, bearing a brown cardboard box of Eskimo Pies, handing them out at every table. A small gesture, but in those days there was no other famous chef who would behave so playfully.
Two or three years later, in 1997, there was a fundraiser for the Beard Foundation run by Jean-Louis Palladin, the man who brought modern French cuisine to this country and almost unquestionably the most revered and perhaps most talented chef in the country in the early ’80s, when I began writing about food. Palladin was running a restaurant at the Rio hotel in Vegas (he was the first great chef to do that, too), and he was beginning to suffer from the illness that eventually killed him. (He died two years later, at 55; unbelievable to me now.)
There were two nights of festivities, one for chefs and hangers-on only, the other for a well-heeled public; I was there, as a sort of cook and as a reporter for Delta Sky magazine. (If anyone can find that clip, please post it or tweet it or something, but meanwhile, here is a link to my original, unedited piece, which I think is worth a glance. It’s slightly embarrassing, but remember that this was 1997. And it’s only slightly embarrassing.)
Everyone there—seven or eight “name” chefs (Ripert, Boulud, Vongerichten, Daguin), plus some helpers like me, under the supervision of Palladin—was responsible for a dish, but only Michel was in charge of desserts. He was an anomaly, a pastry chef who went on to become a head chef (still rare, but even more so then), and, as I recall (my piece doesn’t do it justice), his dessert was astonishing.
What didn’t make it into that piece—I’m not sure why—was a comment Jean-Georges made to me as all of the chefs gathered to watch Michel work: “Everyone is in awe of him,” Jean-Georges said. “He’s a wizard.”
He was. And he even looked like one.
Yes, beneath this mound of just-churned vanilla ice cream is a caramelized tomato. I am responsible for the missing bites but not for inventing such a remarkable dessert. That honor belongs to Guillermo Tellez and his wife Leslie, executive and pastry chefs for the magical restaurant at Flora Farms just outside San Jose del Cabo in Baja California Sur, Mexico. I couldn’t stop thinking about the place or the tomato so I wrote Tellez for the recipe, which he was generous enough to share.
Now, during peak tomato, let’s all make one. Or a dozen. Tellez says to start with large ripe specimens—any kind, any color—and remove the toughest stem end, leaving the rest intact. Put them cut side up in a roasting pan. Dissolve a little sugar in sherry vinegar and splash it around, then slow-roast in at 200° and don’t do anything but look at them and baste once in a while until they shrivel and release most of their liquid, about eight hours.
The tomatoes collapse as they cool, leaving behind a texture that’s part persimmon, part flan—in fact that’s how the waiter described it—but the characteristic caramel is enhanced in a way that defies explanation. Top them with a proportionate scoop of the best vanilla ice cream you know and spoon over the aforementioned nectar until the plate fills just shy of overflowing. And I bet you’ll take a bite before you take a photo, too.
– Kerri Conan
My new dream job is to get healthier food onto the plates of more Americans. See below for an excerpt from my recent story in Time.
Could there be a better week to form a company specializing in vegan meals? As everyone knows, the World Health Organization last week labeled processed meat a carcinogen and said red meat was probably dangerous as well. Not news, exactly, but a further confirmation that plant-based diets are where it’s at.
It was the determination to get healthier food onto the dinner plates of more Americans that led me to leave the New York Times, where I had what most people would think was a dream job: as weekly Opinion columnist and the lead food writer for the Sunday Magazine. But really: Not only was I ready for something new, it felt like it was time to put my boots on the ground.
So when David Mayer contacted me, I was primed. Mayer is the lead investor in The Purple Carrot, a plant-based meal kit company founded in Boston by Andy Levitt last year. Dave, who never uses 100 words when he can use 1,000, wrote me a long e-mail that said, among other salient things, that he wanted to build a company so people would “cook meals with real food, talk about it, show their kids what cooking is and connect on that and what it means. Imagine the implications … if we could help …. hundreds of millions of Americans to eat vegan at least two nights a week. Make it easy, really good and affordable.”
Get the full story here.
Romaine is fine, but dandelion, tender lettuces, chard, and arugula (real arugula, not the “baby” kind they sell in most supermarkets) can be as flavorful as the juiciest tomato. You can make a different salad with these greens every day for weeks without repeating yourself.
This week’s Matrix highlights twelve of the most available (and wonderful) greens, divided into four categories—tender, crunchy, sturdy, and bold—though the distinctions are often blurred. In any case, don’t be constrained by my recommendations; many other greens will fill in here just fine.
To learn how to prepare salad greens 12 ways, read this excerpt from my new book Kitchen Matrix here.
By now, you know the drill. Share one of these 12 salad recipes, or a favorite of your own using #MatrixChallenge. Celebrate these fresh leafy greens before the frost rolls in.
Nobody complains about having too many cucumbers, tomatoes, or eggplants. But zucchini, the most productive vegetable (yes, I know that technically it’s a fruit) of summer and early fall, does not get enough love. It’s so prolific! It’s so cheap! What are we going to do with all of it?
I suppose it’s not just zucchini’s omnipresence but also its mild flavor—and indeed, the difficulty of bringing out some of its character—that makes us feel challenged. But zucchini is a workhorse: tender enough to eat raw, and quick- cooking and amenable to all kinds of flavors. And there’s something else in zucchini’s favor: it maintains its firmness and freshness longer than any of the more beloved mid-summer vegetables.
When buying, look for the smallest zucchini and yellow squash; they don’t have to be designated “baby,” but something under 6 inches long and 1 inch or so in diameter will have better smaller, less cottony seeds. If a zucchini is tender enough, you can even eat the stem. You may also come across pattypan squash; their flying-saucer make them a bit trickier to cut up, but they can be used in any of the recipes here, as can yellow summer squash.
No doubt you have grilled and sautéed zucchini, and have probably also eaten it raw (even if it’s just a bite taken while chopping it to be sautéed), but it’s possible you’ve yet explored the wonders of zucchini in the microwave. Microwaving makes zucchini silky and tender with the push of a button. If you’re without a microwave, you can move those recipes to a saucepan over medium heat.
Appreciate the zucchini. In the scope of the season’s bounty, it may not steal the show, but you’ll miss it when it’s gone.
To learn how to cook zucchini 12 ways, read this excerpt from my new book Kitchen Matrix here.
This week, cook one of these zucchini recipes at home, or create a version of your own, and post to Instagram or Twitter using #MatrixChallenge.
I will be reposting some of my favorites, and one person will win an Inspiralizer from this week’s Challenge co-host, Inspiralized.com.
It’s the equivalent of jamming with the Stones or feeding a bounce pass to Michael Jordan. I’m in Las Vegas, where I’ve been invited to cook with not one, two, or three, but seven of the country’s top French chefs–the best in the business.
The seven-course meal, replete with suitable wines (including three first-growth Bordeaux and the renowned Chateau d’Yquem), is being held to benefit the New York-based James Beard Foundation, and is taking place in the Rio Hotel and Casino’s ultra-swank Napa Restaurant. Napa, the jewel of the Rio and one of the best-appointed restaurants in the United States, is run by Jean-Louis Palladin, former chef at the Watergate and generally acknowledged to be the guru of the current generation of French chefs cooking in America. More than 100 people have paid between $200 and $250 each for the meal of a lifetime; by the end of the evening, that seemingly steep price is generally agreed to be a bargain.
From my perspective, the event really began with the over-the-top meal prepared the night before by Palladin and his staff for the chefs and their hangers-on. To fully comprehend that meal, which began at about 11 p.m., after the restaurant had closed, you must understand that one top chef never hosts another without trying to blow him away. Since impressing a four-star chef with your cooking is not easy (note: don’t try this at home), and since among his guests were seven such chefs, even Palladin had been worked up for weeks in advance, planning the menu and procuring ingredients that you can’t find at Safeway.
The meal’s luxury level became apparent the minute the waiters began pouring a ’63 Port, generally considered the vintage of the century and almost never served as an aperitif. This accompanied a soup based on fresh porcini, the most coveted of the world’s wild mushrooms, and “garnished”—chefs use the term very loosely—with an incomparably creamy marrow flan. The meal went from there, with rare wines accompanying rare ingredients, such as a cold steamed Dungeness-like crab from Brittany that had the chefs in up to their elbows.
The piece de resistance was a pair of suckling pigs that Palladin had boned and stuffed with a mixture of porcini, $200-a-pound truffles, sweetbreads, foie gras (the liver of force-fed ducks), and other delicacies, then roasted to a perfect crispness. Slices of the pig were perfect mosaics, so beautiful it was difficult to mar them with a knife. We managed.
The chefs began to trickle in to work about six hours after dinner ended. They first checked in with their sous-chefs about the status of ingredients and any last-minute needs, then consulted with Palladin about the plate on which their given dish would be served. Since much of the food would be prepared a la minute (just before serving), the day would be spent in “prep”—washing, drying, cutting, peeling, dicing, shredding, boning, mixing, and so on.
For me, the morning work is straightforward; I can’t mince like Martin Yang, but I can get the work done. During these hours, I dice leeks with Jean-Georges Vongerichten, the chef at Restaurant Jean Georges, minced truffles and foie gras with Daniel Boulud (Restaurant Daniel), and assembled a sample plate of Spanish mackerel tartare with caviar with Eric Ripert (Le Bernardin). I am in good company: The restaurants run by these men comprise three-fifths of New York City’s four-star establishments.
After a quick break for lunch, the serious work begins. I check in with Michel Richard, the cherubic, ebullient chef of Los Angeles’ Citrus and a number of other restaurants. Richard had agreed to prepare the dessert, the most difficult dish at this event because, unlike the six savory dishes, it stands on its own. He had taken the challenge seriously, preparing an apple charlotte with poached pear and chocolate-Port sauce, along with a host of petits fours, each of which was a mind-blower.
Richard’s reputation precedes him; he’s known as a wizard of technique, able to create dishes that would not even occur to others. Incredibly, he puts me to work using beaten egg yolks as glue in cementing pairs of small pastry circles together. That done, he demonstrates how to deep-fry them, splashing their tops with hot oil until they puff into small balloons. (These, in turn, will be rolled in butter, sugar, and nuts, and baked until crisp. Impressive as they are, they are essentially another “garnish.”) Fascinated, I try a few, and although I screw up plenty, my success rate is evidently high enough, for he leaves me alone. I work at producing these small miracles for about an hour.
By now, some of the other chefs are being forced to apply themselves, and my labor—unskilled as it may be—is in demand. I join Hubert Keller (Fleur de Lys, San Francisco) in putting the finishing touches on his foie gras with herbs and black pepper. It’s a terrine, or loaf, that makes beautiful slices. Although the cutting could be done at the last minute, Keller prefers to do it in advance, so that he can spray each slice individually with a liquefied duck aspic; chilled, this will put a lovely glaze on the meat. I proceed to spray 130 slices (we’re making extra, figuring either the crowd will grow or the cooks will eat) while he turns to the garnish, a radicchio salad with truffle vinaigrette.
For some of the other chefs—Ripert, Vongerichten, Keller, and the lone woman, Ariane Daguin—most of the hard work is over by late afternoon. They walk around checking out each other’s dishes, and stand in awe as Michel Richard works his magic. Richard generously allows me to demonstrate how to make a few fried pastry balls, and for a moment I feel a bit like part of the gang.
At about 7 p.m., everything is calm. The chefs are joking and even the cooks—who do the real grunt work, who sweat and get yelled at—are relaxed. This is so brilliantly organized that momentarily there is little to do. Daguin sends out her assorted charcuterie; her company, D’Artagnan, supplies meats to many of the chefs here, and she specializes in the earthy cooking of southwestern France. Her platters contain all the parts of the duck on one plate: salt-cured duck, which is akin to prosciutto and taken from the breast; smoked breast; smoked wings; the meat from the legs cooked down to a rich spread called rillettes; and her showy specialty, the “French kiss”: prunes, marinated in Armagnac and stuffed with foie gras and truffles.
Since her food is served at room temperature, Daguin was ready hours ago and needs no assistance. But I have offered to help each chef finish his dish, and as we swing into action and the mood turns deadly serious, I realize this is no joke. (If I had not already realized it, the dressing down Palladin gives me after hearing me make a wisecrack—”You don’t make jokes during service”—clued me in.)
Perhaps, like me, you have never considered what it means to serve 120 plates containing the same food all at once. If you have, you certainly haven’t thought about what that means when all the plates must arrive hot and look beyond beautiful, all the way to perfect. This is not a school lunch assembly line. For the cold dishes, the plates are lined up on the tables in an unfinished cement-block room behind the kitchen; the hot ones will be dealt with right at the stove.
So, as Daguin’s charcuterie circulates with cocktails, I help Ripert assemble his small cylinders of Spanish mackerel. We have 125 molds, and fill them all with the mackerel mixture, top them with caviar, and place each on a tray. Then we move the trays to the back room and carefully plate each one, gently sliding it from its mold and topping it with a spoonful of the caper-laced vinaigrette known as ravigote.
Suddenly there’s a crisis: The food is ready but the waiters are still seating the guests. Since the tartare can’t sit even for a few minutes, Ripert begins to freak out. Fortunately, the quick-thinking Vongerichten seizes the day and announces that we—the two chefs, two sous-chefs, and me—should start carrying the dishes out. As each of the other four men grabs five or six dishes, I take two—there’s no way I can handle any more than that.
That crisis resolved, we immediately cover the long tables with another 120 plates and begin doling out slices of Keller’s foie gras terrine and garnish. Foie gras is so delicate that it begins to melt if you touch it with your warm finger, so you must slide it onto the plate with a fingernail. Like the mackerel tartare this cannot wait, but now the waiters are ready. Everyone–this includes Ripert and Keller, now done for the night–breathes a sigh of relief and moves over to the stove where chef Jean Joho is working.
Joho’s Everest Room is probably the best restaurant in Chicago, featuring his assertively personal but distinctively Alsatian style. He’s serving lobster with an intensely flavored meat, red wine, and marrow sauce–an unusual combination to say the least–on a bed of cabbage braised with bacon; it amounts to the most complex peasant food imaginable. Unfortunately, with its “garnish” of shallots braised in red wine, this dish is not easy to assemble.
The action becomes furious. There are two cooks working on each stage of Joho’s dish: plating the cabbage, adding the roasted lobster, saucing the dish, garnishing it and, at the end of the line, Joho and…me (!), making sure that each plate is properly assembled and that no stray drops of sauce land where they should not. At this moment, it feels like the most important job in the world.
Boulud’s magnificent dish—squab stuffed with foie gras, porcini, pig’s foot, and truffles, with a “garnish” of shallots, porcini, squab liver, truffles, and a touch of garlic—follows the same pattern, and, again, I find myself in the position of quality assurance.
At this point I have evidently gained some trust, so for Vongerichten’s elegant lamb loin dusted with black trumpet mushrooms on a bed of leek puree—a gorgeous combination of red, black, and green—I am given the job of “working the line.” This means searing each lamb loin, transferring it to the oven as it browns, and keeping an eye on it, while seasoning the garlic-scented meat sauce and heating the leek puree. I work with Vongerichten’s sous-chef Chris Beischer, while the chef himself explains the assembly of the dish to the waiting troops. Beischer, of course, is accustomed to moving searingly hot saute pans in and out of 700 degree ovens; I am not, and burn myself twice—once while rescuing the leek puree from scorching, another while frantically grabbing a pan to remove it from the oven while the lamb is still rare. In the heat of battle there is no time to dress wounds, so I do my best to ignore both.
When the lamb is done, Beischer and Vongerichten turn to slicing it and I am directed to the head of the serving line. Here, I am given the all-important job of saucing each dish, then sprinkling it with a tiny bit of fleur de sel—$50 a pound sea salt from France. (And, since you asked, yes—it is worth it.) Halfway through the service, the chef comes around the counter to check on the amount of salt I’m using. It makes me nervous; too little, and he considers the dish underseasoned. Too much, and the customers might begin to gag. Evidently he approves, because he gives me a smile and a pat on the shoulder. It’s all been worth it.
Technical wizard Richard needs no help; his team has been working steadily since early afternoon, and their plates, pastry balls and all, are ready to go. So as the last of Vongerichten’s lamb is being cleared, I wander out into the dining room to ask a fellow journalist how the meal was from the diner’s perspective.
He looks glazed, dumbfounded, starstruck. He sighs and says, “You guys did a great job.” Us guys. I love it.