There are times when I really have to pinch myself and ask, “Is this really my life? How the heck did I get here, to this place, with these people… how the heck did I get so lucky?”
This past Thursday was definitely one of those times.
When I heard Amanda Hesser would be speaking at the Boston Athenaeum as part of her book tour for The Essential New York Times Cook Book, Mike and I knew we’d want to attend. When I got an email that Amanda would like to share a post-event dinner with us and a few other Boston-area food52 folks (Dave and Mary Reilly, Peg Loftus, and our wonderful coordinator Steven Dunn), I was even more excited. I had met and even gotten a chance to cook with Amanda (and Merrill Stubbs, her food52 co-founder) a little over a year ago at the food52 launch party, and though I was nervous as could be about meeting someone I so admired, I found her to be incredibly warm, funny, and totally down to earth, so I was thrilled to have another chance to spend some time with her.
What made this dinner extra special was the venue, Chef Jason Bond’s not-yet-open restaurant Bondir in Cambridge. Jason and his staff greeted us warmly, handing us flutes of bubbly as we gathered around a roaring hearth, and then proceeded to treat us to a wonderful feast. There was cheese, heirloom apples, and tiny sweet carrots draped in tissue-thin sheets of house Mangalitsa pork guanciale which we nibbled on in front of the fire, then once seated in the dining room, we were each presented with a pair of sweet tender scallops harvested that morning from waters off Scituate, Mass.
Also from those waters, beautiful lobster tails, poached in Vin Jaune and served with buttercup squash, crosnes, Roxbury russet and onion greens. Chef brought out a beautiful copper roasting pan with racks of roast Tamworth pork next, the aroma of succulent meat and bronze fennel filling the dining room before he returned to the kitchen to carve and serve it forth. The finale was probably the biggest revelation, a tart of Jerusalem artichokes enrobed in a black pepper caramel and served with a cardoamaro cream. As I’ve said many times, I’m not big on desserts, but this one hit all the right notes.
The food, drink, and conversation flowed, the cozy space was filled with laughter, and though we were there for hours it felt all too brief as Mike and I bid our farewells and headed back to South Station to catch the last train back to Providence. I felt more than a little zombie-like on Friday as I struggled through my workday on just a few hours of sleep, but it was so worth it.
Huge thanks to Amanda, to Chef Jason and Monica and the staff at Bondir, and to my wonderful food52 friends. Evenings like this are truly what community, what gathering around a table and sharing the gift of a good meal, what savoring life, is all about.
We love a good pot of chili, and our kitchen has turned out dozens of variations over the years. Mike is partial to a meaty, Alton Brown-style version, while I tend to favor a chili with lots of beans and sometimes no meat at all. With the weather turning colder I decided to make chili my next project, and set out on Sunday to come up with a version that would satisfy both of us.
For the meat, I used Aquidneck Farm beef short ribs, boned out, trimmed, and cut into chunks. I made a puree of chiles and spices, added fire-roasted tomatoes and some rich dark beer, and let everything cook low and slow for the better part of the day. I added some crushed tortilla chips for texture and a hint of toasty corn flavor, and a hit of fresh lime juice at the end for brightness and balance. And after my pot of chili had cooked for the better part of the day, I cooled it down and let it sit overnight. We ate it on Monday with a bevy of garnishes, and I have to tell you, it was so worth the wait. You can get my recipe at food52.
I won’t go into the multitude of things that have been keeping me away from this blog, but I did want to stop in and let you know that despite the lack of posts here and my nearly four day twitter blackout (what on earth did we do before twitter? thank goodness my account came back last night), I haven’t actually dropped off the face of the planet. However, life has gotten even crazier than it was a week ago, and it likely won’t slow down any time soon.
On top of all that, we have a dear friend coming to visit for a few days and we’re looking forward to eating and drinking our way around town, but with my usual great timing, I seem to be coming down with a cold. I made this soup a few nights ago, and Mike packed some for my lunch today. I used fresh cranberry beans instead of cooked dried beans, and since we were fresh out of potatoes I added a little extra pasta to the mix. I’m hoping the one-two punch of the leeks and garlic confit will chase any bugs away.
One of the very best things I did this week, one of the best moments of my life, was to call my beloved Grandma on Wednesday evening. I called to tell her that her name, and my recipe that was inspired by a dish that she has made countless times over the course of her 89 years, a humble pot of beans, no less, was featured in the New York Times. Those beans, those beans that I *had* to figure out how to make for myself years ago, those beans that she makes as effortlessly as breathing, no measuring, like all of her beloved dishes, they just come together, perfectly, every single time. My spin on my Grandma’s borrachos, with her name-checked as inspiration, is in the New. York. Times.
When I ask my Marina in person (way, WAY not often enough), or on the phone (also not often enough), how she makes X, or Y, or Z, there are never measurements. It’s just How We Cook. Handfuls and pinches, and “a leetle beet” – “everybody’s hands are different,” she always, always says. She is WHY I cook, she is my star, she is my heart, and if you could have heard how this amazing 89 year old woman giggled when I gave her the news that these beans, OUR beans, hit the big time, it would have made your heart grow about three sizes. And then melt. It did mine.
So check out this awesome interactive feature which highlights not just our beans, but 19 other amazing potluck-friendly recipes curated by (food52 Team Awesome) Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs. And if you live in Providence, don’t be surprised if you can’t find a copy of the Sunday NYT – Amanda’s got an incredible piece in the Magazine about her new book, and WOW, I’m in that piece too, and Mike and I will be up bright and early tomorrow to buy up copies of the paper to send to our people back home. Most importantly, to my Grandma Marina, mi Abuela, my heart, my biggest inspiration.
Mike dubbed this Curryflower Surprise. I was just happy he liked it, so I kept the goofy name. Get my recipe at food52.
It all started with these.
I’m not a huge fan of eggplant, and Mike’s even less so, but when I saw the big bags of tiny, shiny-skinned eggplant at the Arcadian Fields table at last Saturday’s farmers’ market, I couldn’t resist. With cold, rainy weather predicted for this week, I knew I wanted to do something similar to eggplant parmesan, though I didn’t want to fry the eggplant, and I also wanted to incorporate a bit more vegetable matter into the dish. Mostly, I wanted to come up with an eggplant dish we’d really love.
I ended up borrowing a technique from Nancy Jo’s winning Eggplant Parmesan recipe from food52, salting my eggplant slices, drying them, then tossing them with flour and oven-frying them on sheet pans. When my eggplant coins were crisp and browned, I layered them in a baking dish with a mixture of slow-roasted plum tomatoes, frozen chopped spinach, thawed and well-drained, and the same blend of cheeses Mike’s been playing with for his pizzas.
What we ended up with was a very unpretty, but surprisingly tasty eggplant casserole, so good, in fact, that my eggplant-averse husband went back for seconds. As did I.
I’m on a mission now: Mike and I are both generally good about eating our favorite seasonal vegetables, but as we enter into the cooler months of the year, I want to work with as many of our lesser-loved vegetables as possible and try to find at least one way to cook them that leaves us wanting more. I think we’ve found our new favorite way to eat eggplant.
After Mike’s 40+ mile bike ride yesterday morning, he was craving a hearty dinner, and in looking at the recipes I had bookmarked for my week of food52 dinners, I had just the thing in mind.
First up, my friend Marie‘s Caesar Salad with Pancetta, the runner-up in the somewhat controversial “Your Best Caesar Salad” contest. This salad has everything I love in a Caesar – rich egg yolk (in this instance, gently coddled), lots of garlic and anchovy, and crisp homemade croutons. Marie’s additions of pancetta and lime juice are what make this salad really special – we loved the crisp bits of pancetta in the salad, as well as the flavor the rendered fat gave to the croutons, and we could have eaten the lime-spiked dressing by the spoonful.
For our main course, I went with The (Not Barefoot) Contessa’s Fish Pasta, an early food52 recipe challenge champ, and a really delicious dish. The olive and caper-spiked tomato sauce is evocative of a puttanesca, and the chunks of meaty white fish (in our case, halibut) give the sauce heft without heaviness. We would have liked a little more salt and acid in this dish (and perhaps a pinch of red chile flakes), though that’s totally a personal preference – this is a wonderful seafood pasta dish that we’ll definitely make again.
We love farro around here. As a side dish or the base of a hearty grain salad, it’s a staple in our pantry, so when I saw Jennifer Perillo’s recipe for Summer Farro Salad, a finalist in this week’s best fresh mozzarella recipe contest, I knew I’d have to try it.
I’ve made similar farro salads before, but Jennie’s recipe includes some great little grace notes that make this dish sing: cooking the farro with aromatics infuses the grains with flavor, and the vinaigrette combines both sweet and tart flavors that marry really nicely with the other flavors in the dish. I thought the chopped olives were a particularly nice touch.
The mix of textures was probably what I loved the most – the soft mozzarella chunks playing against the tender bite of the farro and the pop of my little cherry tomatoes made for a really enjoyable dish. I’ll admit I was worried that the honey in the dressing would be just a little too much for my taste when I tasted it on its own, but every time I got a spoonful of the dressed salad loaded up with each element, I couldn’t believe how well balanced it all was. This is a delicious dish, great as last night’s dinner, and as today’s lunch. Thanks, Jennie!