I was riffling through my closet this past week looking for something with a sleeve. It’s been three degrees less than a million degrees here in New Orleans which means Autumn is upon us.
Every season I go digging through my closet hoping to assemble some sort of haphazard capsule wardrobe for the coming months, hoping that I have enough classic and and comfortable clothes to keep any shopping to a minimum. It’s all fine. This Autumn, like last is all about a straight jean, a silk button down, and flat a boot and a coat. Keep it simple.
This is also the second Autumn I’ve had lived in this little house in New Orleans. Learning the rhythms of a little piece of ground with a house on it has felt good. The leaves are falling and I’m still pulling weeds. My young fig tree is trying to figure out its life, and the magnolia tree is ready for another bird to come nest.
The best housewarming present I received last year was a mostly out of print book called The Home Almanac. It’s divided into months and has a list of tasks and chores to keep your house up and running for the year. This book is more about prepping your house for actual (what I might even call extreme) seasons, but it’s really helpful to think through things like when to get your air conditioner looked at, and radiator know-how… wait, do I even have a radiator (actual question I asked myself this morning).
What the book hasn’t talked me though is things like… how to effectively throw a giant cookbook at a flying cockroach, or how it’s smart to text a friend that you’re home alone and taking boxes up to the attic because the last thing you want is to be alone with bats or murder or ghosts or whatever else you might come upon in an attic.
Suffice it to say, this transition of seasons, and the prospect of cooling temperatures and less summer rain, has me thinking about some of the Autumn projects I’d like to accomplish for myself and for my house. The big task this season is to spray seal all of my fences and I think I’m about 5 more youtube videos and 2 more Home Depot visits away from figuring that out for myself.
Here are some other things I’d like to do (besides spray the fence with sealer) . What’s on your Fall Project list?
• Because I’m always making new recipes, I don’t often go back and revisit. This Fall, let’s revisit these Fresh Herb and Gruyere Puffs. They’re easy and cheesy!
• Get a bird feeder. Any suggestions?
• Plan Spring garden! Have you done this? Where do you start?
• I can’t wait to put up a Christmas tree – this year with big paper flowers! So… I’m going to make paper flower poinsettias. I’ll share my own tutorial once I figure it out!
• I want to show you how to make my very favorite chocolate layer cake! I made a cake (several, actually) for an event in Portland a few weeks ago and it was absolutely my favorite chocolate cake. The secret ingredient is black cocoa, get ready.
• Make bagels – get it down. I’m currently looking for the right book to really guide me through the process, though I may just need to get a job at a bagel factory for a hot minute.
• Make bay leaf ice cream. Let’s steep green leaves in cream.
What are your plans this season? Are there any recipes you’d like me to explore and share here? Let’s make a plan. Also, I think you’re wonderful.
Risotto is a fine dining staple that, for too long, has been confined to restaurants. The creamy, comforting dish is often thought to be inaccessibly difficult for home cooks. But the truth is that, with the right technique, risotto is easy enough for any cook to make on a weeknight. It comes together with shockingly little effort in a pan, and a pressure cooker makes it even easier.
Once you’ve realized just how simple it is to make amazing risotto, you’re going to want to put it into your standard rotation. You’ll never get bored, either, because risotto is a perfect canvas for all sorts of flavors. You’ll find we have plenty of variations to keep you satisfied, from saffron-scented risotto alla milanese to vegan miso risotto and a make-ahead baked risotto casserole.
Despite its reputation for being a fussy, laborious dish, risotto is actually easy to make at home. Forget everything you’ve heard about adding the liquid slowly and stirring constantly—as long as you use a shallow pan you can add all the liquid at once and make perfect risotto with virtually no stirring at all.
Risotto alla milanese starts simply—just rinse and toast the rice, then cook with wine and stock before finishing with butter and Parmigiano Reggiano. What really makes the dish special is the addition of a couple of pinches of fragrant, vibrantly colored saffron. Saffron is an expensive spice, but you just need a small amount so it ends up only costing about a dollar per serving.
While we often finish risotto with dairy to make it extra creamy, vegetable purees also do the job wonderfully. This vegan risotto is thickened with a flavorful spinach-and-herb puree, which has the added benefit of giving the dish a beautiful green color. To make the risotto a more complete meal, we serve it with sautéed mushrooms.
This risotto gets its color from radicchio—which we cook right in with the rice—and a cup of red wine. The radicchio adds a slightly bitter flavor, which we complement with funky blue cheese. Risotto can be a one-note dish textural, so we top it with crunchy crushed walnuts.
You won’t be able to make this recipe for quite a while, but it’s worth keeping in your back pocket until ramp season. We maximize the vegetable’s flavor by incorporating it three ways—we replace the typical aromatics with ramp whites, mix in a puree made with the ramp greens, and top with whole sautéed ramps.
By this point I hope you’re convinced that cooking risotto in a pan is easier than you might have thought, but if you want an even easier method then you need to break out the pressure cooker. The pressure cooker makes perfect risotto—like this one flavored with fresh and dried mushrooms—almost foolproof.
This pressure cooker risotto is packed with fall flavors: butternut squash, sage, brown butter, apple, and maple syrup. The recipe can’t be made entirely in the pressure cooker—you need to roast the squash in the oven to properly bring out its sweetness—but it still comes together in about an hour.
Our last two recipes used a little miso paste as a flavor enhancer, but here it’s the star of the dish. High in glutamates, miso gives this vegan risotto tons of savoriness. You can use whatever miso you’d like, but we prefer the more subtle flavor of light yellow or white. Replacing the traditional white wine with dry sake (plus a squeeze of lemon juice for acidity) keeps the Japanese theme going.
You don’t need a pressure cooker to make mushroom risotto—the recipe can be easily adapted for a pan. We handle the mushrooms the same way, using a combination of fresh mixed mushrooms and dried porcinis or morels. Rehydrating the dried mushrooms in the stock used to cook the rice infuses the entire dish with mushroom flavor.
Here we pair seared scallops with a leek risotto and brown butter sauce. Cook the rice first—the risotto can be held while the scallops sear and thinned out just before serving. We like the firmer texture of Carnaroli rice, but use whatever long grain rice you’d like.
As a general rule, risotto needs to be eaten immediately after cooking for the best texture. We have some tricks to let you make it ahead of time, but another option is to bake it into what is essentially an arancini casserole. The result is thicker than a traditional risotto, but no less delicious.
Blender soups are great because, often, you just need a few ingredients. Start with one all-star, seasonal ingredient like winter squash, broccoli, tomato, or asparagus. Beyond that, perhaps an onion, some broth or water, some herbs or spices, boom – you’ve got what you need to make a beautiful, silky blended soup. A soup like this can come together in under fifteen minutes – you cook the aromatics, add the main vegetable with some broth or favored liquid, and let simmer until the vegetable(s) are cooked through. Then you go to town with more spices and toppings. I throw the term blender around loosely here. A hand blender is fine, and works great, particularly if you’re one of those people who avoids dealing with a blender because of the clean-up. 😉 A high-speed blender can give an extra smooth, beautiful texture, but I used an immersion hand blender for years, making soups like these, before taking the high-speed plunge. Still delicious.
1. A Simple Carrot Soup – (101 Cookbooks)
This simplest carrot soup! Carrots and onion form the base, it’s spiked with dollop of red curry paste, and then pureed into silky oblivion. Get the recipe here.
2. Turmeric Carrot Ginger Soup with Coconut Almond Streusel – (Cheeky Kitchen)
If you’re up for a more complex carrot soup, here’s where it’s at. Lemongrass, coconut, ginger, garlic, and tahini come together in this beauty. it’s a blended carrot soup with a coco-almond streusel topping. Right? Get the recipe here.
3. Alkalizing Green Soup – (101 Cookbooks)
Ten ingredients in a blender, this soup is a potent jolt of alkalizing vegetables and herbs, made with a protein-rich split green pea base. This is great when you need an anti-dote to and overly indulgent week. Get the recipe here.
4. Stinging Nettle and Spring Garlic Soup – (Hungry Ghost)
With their abundant vitamins and minerals, I’m always looking for ways to work more nettles into my diet. Andrea always inspires, and this is the perfect soup for springtime or if you come across nettles at the market (or out on a hike!). Use a veg broth if you’d like to keep it vegetarian / vegan. Get the recipe here.
5. Roasted Tomato Soup – (Sprouted Kitchen)
When you’ve had your fill of the seasons best fresh tomatoes, and when you’re ready to transition into fall, this is the soup to make. You still want to use great tomatoes, and you can easily make this vegan by using coconut milk or a thick nut milk in place of the heavy cream called for. Get the recipe here.
6. Julie Morris’s Cumin Beet Soup – (Julie Morris / Jenni Kayne)
From Julie’s Superfood Soups book, this vibrant blended stunner includes power ingredients like cumin, turmeric, and maca. It has a coconut milk base, nut milks will work as well. Get the recipe here.
7. Cauliflower Soup with Lemon Zest – (The Thinking CAP)
Sometimes simple is best, and that what you see here. A recipe by nutritionist Dana James strong on the cauliflower front, with a hint of lemon. Five ingredients (aside from water, salt). Get the recipe here.
8. Warm Almond, Garlic, and Parsnip Soup – (Green Kitchen Stories)
A (remote) riff on Spanish gazpacho. I love the use of underutilized parsnips here, and the red grape and thyme finish. Get the recipe here.
10. Pumpkin and Rice Soups – (Local Milk)
Brilliant use of smoked salt here adding depth to a winter squash and apple blended soup base. Also, an herby kiss of fresh time counters the natural sweetness here. To make this vegan, swap in your favorite non-dairy milk for the cream – a thick homemade cashew nut milk works great – (1 cup soaked nuts blended w/ two nuts, strained). Get the recipe here.
11. Coconut Broccoli Soup – (101 Cookbooks)
A simple broccoli and spinach affair, made with coconut milk broth, double greens (broccoli & spinach), and topped with good stuff like pan-fried tofu cubes, lots of toasted almonds, and shredded scallions. Get the recipe here.
12. A Simple Asparagus Soup – (101 Cookbooks)
Spiked with a dollop of green curry paste, this is a springtime favorite. Just a handful of ingredients, and you can use cashew nut or almond milk in place of the coconut milk if you like. Get the recipe here.
13. Pumpkin and Rice Soups – (101 Cookbooks)
Ginger-spiked pumpkin (or winter squash) soup. It calls for fresh ginger juice, pressed from grated ginger, and a kiss of serrano chile. Just a short list of ingredients come together beautifully here. Get the recipe here.
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Hello my dear friends! Welcome to this Sunday. I hope the weekend is treating you well. This week was plenty. The world is plenty, you know? In the news we know that Trump is picking thin-skinned and unpresidential fights with professional athletes, North Korea thinks it’s time to flex its muscles and we’re all like… REALLY?, the earth is shifting and shaking and collapsing buildings and lives, wind and island destruction, displacement in Myanmar, UN business, Facebook political ads… it’s all very much.
The list this week reflects that you know what’s going on and maybe need an apple pie bar about it.
Here we are:
• I’m going to leave these hard truths right here for you because GIRL (I mean that in a non gender specific way)- this is some real real: I’m terrified of getting married.
• Is there a single food that we can survive on forever? French Fries!!! Sort of, because… potatoes. In a related, not very important story, I watched The Martian with Matt Damon on the plane yesterday. Here’s the plot (with a spoiler): Matt Damon is an astronaut that gets left on Mars by other astronauts who had to scoot because shit was going down and they thought he was surely dead. He’s not dead. He’s alive. He has to figure out how to survive and part of that is growing potatoes in poop in a tent on Mars alone. Yadda yadda yadda. He goes back into space, Jessica Chastain catches him in a space chair and everyone cries because they literally caught Matt Damon in the middle of space. The end.
• SPEAKING OF MARS! Did you know that 6 people are living under Mars-like-conditions on a remote volcano in Hawaii to figure out if we can live anywhere besides this beautiful planet we’re destroying? This is bonkers. Do read.
• This recipe has re-entered my mind this week. From the Queen: Ina Garten’s Apple Pie Bars.
• VERY IMPORTANT: The Battle of the Real Housewives Cookbooks. Also, Carole and Adam just unfollowed each other on Instagram so there goes the neighborhood.
• Nigella Lawson says what we’re all thinking about Instagram food. Instagram can make a cook disappear. Food is brown sometimes… can we just go with it?
• Outside of New Orleans you might know Big Freedia as the voice of “I did not come to play with you hoes, I came to slay, bitch” in Beyonce’s Formation. Here, we know what’s up with the corn bread and collard greens. Adding this to my reading list – Big Freedia: God Save the Queen Diva.
• Let’s watch Lady Gaga, ya know? Five Foot Two.
• We’re just going to prance around the topic of death real quick. What Your Future Burial Outfit Says About You. Mmmmkay. I swear to god if you put me in my church clothes in a wooden box I will haunt you for all of your days. Please cremate me in my yoga pants THANK YOU.
• In a bout of wishful, staying-out-of-the-grave thinking… I already bought a set of flannel sheets for this winter. I. Am. Ready.
• Very into Carhartt-chic this Autumn.
Above is a picture of my friend Suzonne‘s paper rose mantle. Today we’re going to work on olive branches and brainstorm poinsettias. I’m all the way into it and I’ll show you soon (as soon as I sort of know what I’m doing).
Enjoy this day,
This is a quick write-up of the color fantastic tacos we had for lunch recently. So simple, so good! Homemade tortillas (worth the effort) get slathered with a layer of roasted, smashed sweet potatoes which are topped with a sprinkling of black beans. From there it’s all about the extra toppings like sliced avocado, quick pickled red onions and/or serrano chiles, and a bit of cheese – I used Bulgarian feta, but cotija would be good, or skip it altogether if you’re vegan. A squeeze of lime, and some sliced scallions are the finishing touch!
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Look for orange or purple-fleshed sweet potatoes. They’re packed with anti-oxidants, and phytonutrients, and are extra good for you!
2-3 sweet potatoes, scrubbed
1/4 – 1/3 cup of almond, cashew, or rice milk
10-12 tortillas (homemade tortillas are a breeze to make), warmed
1 14-ounce can black beans, or equivalent cooked from dried
Quick pickled red onions* and or serranos**
Scallions, thinly sliced
Crumbled feta or cotija cheese, optional
Preheat your oven to 400F / 200C degrees. Prick the sweet potatoes all over with a fork, and sprinkle generously with sea salt. Bake the potatoes until tender throughout. This can take an hour for large potatoes. Less for smaller spuds. Remove from the oven, and allow to cool long enough to handle safely, cut in half, and scoop the flesh into a bowl. Smash with a generous splash of milk, roughly 1/4 cup, and season with salt to taste.
To assemble each taco, slather each tortilla with a generous dollop of smashed sweet potato, top with a spoonful of black beans, and then some sliced avocado. Add some onions* and chiles**, and finish with a sprinkling of scallions, and a bit of cheese.
*Quick Pickled Red Onions: Combine the juice of 1 lime, 1 small chopped red onion, 1 teaspoon sugar, and 1/4 teaspoon salt in a small bowl. Set aside for 10 minutes.
**Serrano Chile Vinegar & Chiles: Combine 8 serrano chiles, sliced 1/8th-inch thick with 2 cups white vinegar in a Mason jar, and refrigerate. Use the chiles w/in a week or two. You can use the vinegar for weeks after that in dressings, etc.
Prep time: 10 min – Cook time: 60 min
It’s been a goofy month. I don’t know if the word “goofy” exists or translates into French, but c’est comme ça, as they say, or “that’s how it is.” It seems like everything got discombobulated; even my vacation plans were thwarted by a server outage and a nasty jellyfish sting, whose only upside was that it was on my thigh – near, but not on, my génitaux. (I’ll spare you the details, but you can look that one up if you want.)
My iPhone also mysteriously died one night, which I discovered the next morning and I couldn’t get an appointment at the Apple store for a week. When I went in to the store in Paris, they told me the wait to speak to someone was three hours. (!) And when I went to put up a new recipe on the blog, I realized that I didn’t write down the baking time. Zut.
Fortunately I’m not a total nitwit, and had this recipe waiting in the wings. I had made it because I wanted to feature balsamic vinegar, which I have to admit, isn’t one of my favorite ingredients to add to a salad. The sweetness, to my taste, doesn’t enhance a salad, although it’s not bad with bitter greens like radicchio. Still, I’m more of a red wine vinegar or sherry vinegar kinda guy and prefer a bit of sharpness in my salads. But I found a bottle of balsamic vinegar lingering in the back of my cabinet and wanted to use it up.
In addition to doing my best not to let anything go to waste around here, another thing I’m fanatical about is collecting condiments. I think half of my refrigerator is filled with them, everything from a few types of mustard, harissa (North African hot sauce), chipotle sauce, Sambal Oelek (which I’m not sure how it got in there since I don’t remember ever using it), Char Siu sauce, jars of tahini that I bought in Lebanon, and a miscellaneous things that I forgot to label and have no idea what’s in them, and will probably remain in there until the day I move, and either use ’em…or toss ’em.
I’m also really into honey and have a cabinet full of jars, ranging from bitter chestnut honey to a lovely Meyer lemon honey given to me by my pal Casey, at Bushwick Kitchen. Needless to say, I also have a sterling collection of zip-top bags for transporting everything in.
The oven-roasted pork loin is a terrific way to use balsamic vinegar, which reduces to a lovely syrup, which you bathe the pork in while it’s cooking. It’s also got plenty of fresh ginger to give it some zing, along with a soupçon of honey, soy sauce, and hot sauce, to balance out the flavors.
So I’ve got a few things to do before the next blog post shows up, including trying to figure out if my aging eyes will appreciate one of those oversized iPhone Plus phones, and if so, will I need to start toting around a man purse to carry it around in? And helping my pharmacist decipher my doctor’s handwriting so he can fill my prescriptions for the antidote to that oddly shaped red swipe across my thigh, courtesy of a Mediterranean meduse. While I wait, here’s a recipe for richly glazed roast pork, that anyone should be able to understand.
|Balsamic Glazed Roast Pork||
2/3 cup (160ml) balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup (60ml) honey
3 tablespoons (45ml) olive oil
3 tablespoons (45ml) soy sauce
2 inch (5cm) piece fresh ginger, peeled and minced
4 to 5 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
2 teaspoons hot sauce
freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon fish sauce (optional)
2 to 2 1/2 pounds (1-1,25kg) boneless pork loin roast
1. In a zip-top freezer bag, or a bowl, mix the balsamic vinegar, honey, olive oil, soy sauce, ginger, garlic, hot sauce, a few generous turns of black pepper, and fish sauce, if using. Add the pork. If using a freezer bag, press out excess air and seal. Refrigerate the pork loin for 24 hours, turning it a few times in the marinade during that time.
2. To roast the pork, preheat the oven to 375ºF (190ºC).
3. Place the pork roast in a shallow baking dish. Pour enough water (or leftover white wine, if you have any) into the bottom of the baking dish, so it’s about 1/4-inch (1cm) deep.
4. While the pork roasts, liberally baste the pork loin with the marinade every 10 to 15 minutes, and spooning liquid that’s pooling in the bottom of the baking dish over it as well. Be very generous with the marinade, as you go.Note: If the liquid on the bottom of the pan threatens to dry up, add more water (or wine) to the pan. (Do not add water to a dry baking dish if the dish is made of glass or ceramic, as it can crack.)
5. Roast the pork for 50 minutes to 1 hour. (You can check it using an instant-read thermometer, as indicated by the headnote, if you wish.) Remove the pork the oven, let rest 10 minutes covered it with foil, basting it with sauce a few times as it’s resting, before slicing.
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This post is all about putting your waffle iron to use. We have a really great waffle maker, and I use it regularly, but pretty much only for my favorite waffles. It’s the most egregious example of a single use appliance. So! I was chatting with a friend the other morning about the clever menu at The Riddler. It’s a chic, little Champagne bar on a sunny corner in the Hayes Valley neighborhood of San Francisco. They don’t have a traditional kitchen, but they do work wonders with a waffle iron and hot plate (w/ a glass of bubbles in hand). They make a now-famous Tater Tot Waffle, which got me thinking about all the other ways to use a waffle maker. Apparently I’m quite late to this party, because there are already tons of brilliant ideas out there. I’ve included a few that caught my attention here. Lastly, it seems like the trend is a lot of junk food meets waffle maker, so I tried to focus on more healthful (and savory) ideas! Let me know (in the comments) if you make anything clever in yours 🙂 -h
1. Waffle Frittata with Tzatziki – (supergoldenbakes)
Making frittatas in your waffle maker is a thing. And, there are a lot of examples out there. That said, this is the one that caught my attention. Lots of herbs, cooked potatoes, chopped spinach – look at the color! Get the recipe here.
2. Pizza Waffles – (Jeff Garroway / Bijoux & Bits)
I came across this incredible photo (below) by Jeff Garroway. It’s a decadent tower of crispy crusted, herb-flecked, cheesy pizza waffles. In the comments Jeff notes that he used the recipe from Bijou & Bites. I appreciate the idea that, like regular pizza, you can incorporate all sorts of seasonal sauces and ingredients, and keep the technique consistent. Get the recipe here.
3. Leftover Stuffing Waffles – (Just a Taste)
So, Thanksgiving is right around the corner, and everyone ends up with extra stuffing. Here’s what happens when you put stuffing in your waffle maker. Use veg-broth / stuffing to keep them vegetarian. I’m thinking you also might be able to get away with a vegan version using flax eggs & vegan stuffing? Worth a try! Get the recipe here.
4. Crispy Sesame Waffled Kale – (KCRW Good Food)
Featured on the KCRW Good Food site, kale chips. But the twist here is, guess what? They’re made in your waffle iron. Faster than doing an entire batch in the oven. Get the recipe here.
5. Waffled Polenta – (Julie’s Jazz)
We’ve talked before about what to do with those tubes of polenta nearly everyone has in their pantry. I came up with this Lentil Polenta Casserole, but these Waffled Polentas blow that idea out of the water! Imagine all the different toppings you can deploy. Get the recipe here.
6. Leftover Mashed Potato Waffles – (Just a Taste)
Love this idea! I’d likely scale way back on the cheese, and use leftover mashed sweet potatoes for the added nutrition boost. Of course there are a thousand ways you could play around with the seasonings, and stir-ins as well! Get the recipe here.
7. Kimchi Fried Rice Waffles – (Miss Hangry Pants)
I often have left-over cooked rice & grains on hand. Check out this kimchi fried rice waffle. Such a smart idea, and would make a great component in a quick lunch. Get the recipe here.
8. Sarah Fit Healthy Waffle Iron Recipes (video)
Sarah talks through all the different ways she uses her $10 lil waffle iron. Some super fun ideas here – apple chips!?!
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For the first episode of the new season of Special Sauce I invited on a very special guest: the brilliant, original, and always thoughtful Adam Driver. We talked about his unusual path to an acting career, which took him through the Marines. His time in the armed services had a profound influence on his life and work, which he talks about in poignant detail. And we talked about Arts in the Armed Forces, the extraordinary non-profit he and his wife, Joanne Tucker, founded. The organization puts on performances of monologues and music for military personnel and their families both domestically and all around the world.
Adam and I spoke about a range of other topics, including how he managed to lose 50 pounds for his role in Martin Scorsese’s “Silence,” and how he has taken up cooking—he admits to not being very good at it—on his infrequent breaks. I also got the opportunity to ask about the dinner Kenji had recently cooked for Adam and Joanne:
Ed: And is it true, he told me this, that you had a bowl of cereal after the dinner of fish tacos while Kenji did the dishes?
Adam: That’s probably true yeah, which is…I hope it wasn’t an insult, I just eat a lot of food.
Ed: No, he didn’t take it as an insult because I think he asked your wife and she said, “He does that frequently.”
Adam: Yeah. All the time. Just eat a dinner, then eat a dinner after the dinner because it’s usually not enough.
Ed: Does it matter what the second dinner is? Is it usually cereal?
Adam: I think yeah, just whatever’s in the house.
Ed: Got it. So cereal’s easy.
Adam: Yeah, cereal’s … and plus I’m not a very good cook. It’s something I’m been working on the past couple months, but it’s like that Jerry Seinfeld thing that he says about cereal, where you feel like you’re eating and drinking at the same time. The multi-tasking of it, it’s so easy. You know?
Adam Driver is funny, smart, thoughtful, and loves to eat and cook. In short, he’s the perfect Special Sauce guest, as you’ll find out when you check out Part 1 of his visit to the Special Sauce studios.
Want to chat with me and our unbelievably talented recipe developers? We’re accepting questions for Special Sauce call-in episodes now. Do you have a recurring argument with your spouse over the best way to maintain a cast iron skillet? Have you been working on your mac and cheese recipe for the past five years, but can’t quite get it right? Does your brother-in-law make the worst lasagna, and you want to figure out how to give him tips? We want to get to know you and solve all your food-related problems. Send us the whole story at [email protected].
My sister in law made these for a family picnic last weekend and Hugh hasn’t stopped talking about them. You know how Lara bars taste reminiscent of real food but they are just too sweet? Personal opinion. Too many dates! Dates are cheaper than nuts per volume, it’s business, I digress. For maximum snack staying power we want fat and protein, less sugar, so these are basically a mash of nuts, coconut, coconut oil, and the teensiest bit of maple to gild the lily. Yes, these are super high fat but it’s good fat and we got mixed messages about all that too many years ago. Especially if you’re active or nursing or in school or diabetic or vegetarian or alive! You need good fats! Speaking of health, the chocolate here is very optional, but I was aiming to make them more attractive for a photo and use them as currency to get my children to eat vegetables. I know you’re not supposed to do that, negotiate with toddlers, but I can’t help myself sometimes. It seems the only way some nights. ANYWAY. So easy. Two dirty dishes and at least a few days of on-the-go snacks covered.
NUT BARS // Makes 12
Adapted from Kitchen Stewardship
The coconut oil here acts as glue for the whole situation, therefore, they hold together better when refrigerated, to remain in a more solid, bar-like state. They are fine at room temperature, but note they will be more delicate and not travel as well.
2 cups raw almonds (or other crunchy nuts)
1/3 cup flaxmeal
3/4 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
1/2 cup almond butter
1/2 cup coconut oil, warmed if it’s rock solid
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. sea salt
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
3 Tbsp. maple syrup
chocolate drizzle, optional
(melt between 2-3.5oz. (to taste) of dark chocolate, drizzle over the top of the bars. Refrigerate until it hardens. Cut the cold bars into squares)
Into a food processor, add the almonds and flaxmeal. Pulse a few times to chop the almonds well, Add the coconut, almond butter, coconut oil, vanilla, sea salt, cinnamon and maple and pulse until the mixture forms a coarse paste. If the mixture looks to dry (it should look, add another spoonful of coconut oil and/or maple.
Transfer the mixture to an 8×8 baking dish (lining it with parchment paper will make it easier to pull the whole square out and cut them for portability, but this is not crucial) and press the mixture down into an even layer with a large spoon. If you are doing the chocolate drizzle (note above) you can do that now, and then chill the entire situation. Refrigerate them to solidify (about 1 hour).
Cut the bars with a clean, sharp, knife, and store covered in the fridge.
I’m not sure whether it’s the taste that comes first when the memory hits me, or the sense of place. I do know that it usually happens when there’s a threat of rain, and particularly when I’m walking. All of a sudden, for a moment, I’ll feel as if I’m on a humid sidewalk in Hong Kong, and I’m about to eat the best bowl of pho in the world.
Taste memories can be maddeningly unspecific. Sometimes it is the taste itself that is muddied; other times, the taste is clear but its context is blurry. I’ve wondered for years about the location of a superlative meatloaf masquerading as a burger that I had in the summer of 2000, somewhere within an hour’s drive of Amherst, Massachusetts. But my memory of that pho is impeccable in the moment it hits me.
There is a hint of clove, the musk of black cardamom, and the distinct whiff of star anise and cinnamon near the top of my mouth, toward the back of my throat; there is, of course, a little of that minerality so characteristic of raw beef, a bit of sweetness from rock sugar, a little swell of savor from fish sauce and MSG. Think of the scent of shaved onion and cilantro wilting in hot broth; think also of the dark, caramel notes of charred ginger and onion skins. Think of the best pho you’ve ever had, but imagine it better, much better. Then imagine that you’ve eaten that bowl for 25 years. Then, finally, imagine that you’ll never eat it again.
I used to think of the memory as being a bit like déjà vu, since part of its effect depends on my realization, midway through an instant, that I have experienced it before. Yet I’ve come to compare it instead to seeing a ghost of a loved one, or some other crippling manifestation of grief: a brief presence, made all the more keenly felt, and more missed, by its sudden disappearance. There is an element of grievance, too, since I know by now that the taste cannot be replicated. In some ways, it feels as if I’ve been denied an inheritance.
It may seem odd for a Japanese-American expat to claim a Vietnamese bowl of beef noodle soup, served in Hong Kong, as his birthright, but I do. Our family lore is very clear about this pho’s importance. My mother downed two bowls before going to the hospital where she gave birth to my brother, and repeated the process a couple years later when I came due. And even though we left Hong Kong when I was six months old, only returning to live there 17 years later, we’d make the pilgrimage back to the same restaurant every time we passed through the city. Sometimes my mother would insist on taking a cab there straight from Kai Tak Airport, with all our bags in tow. The restaurant staff would invariably recognize us—or, rather, they’d recognize my mother—and our order never changed: a bowl of beef pho each and a side order of cha gio, or spring rolls, to share.
The pho would come out first: a clear, thin broth, filled with submerged banh pho noodles, obscured by raw beef slices haphazardly arranged, like lotus leaves on a pond. Translucent arcs of shaved raw white onion and a few leaves of cilantro were the only garnish. Instead of the plate of bean sprouts and herbs commonly served at other Vietnamese restaurants, the bowl was accompanied by a small plate of chopped red chilies and a little lime wedge. The spring rolls would arrive a bit later, remarkable for both their craggy crusts and the similar restraint shown in their accompaniments—they were served with nothing more than a little green leaf lettuce, which you’d use to wrap the rolls up before dipping the whole thing in the nuoc cham.
I’ve been inside that restaurant so many times that its layout is indelibly imprinted on my memory: the squat wooden tables and their squat backless stools, lined up like pews, fanning out from a central throughway, down which the servers would rush to greet us as we entered; the bad oil-painting prints that lined the walls, all of them depicting Vietnamese rice farmers; the two-top in the back where the owners sat, smoking cigarettes and calculating the bills, which they’d write out by hand.
Of the many memories of my mother in that place, a few stand out. I remember being a child and running toy cars along the wooden table’s edge as she explained to me how the hot broth cooked the raw beef. I remember, as an adolescent, making fun of her as she expertly wrapped a piece of spring roll in lettuce using her chopsticks, to avoid getting her fingers greasy. I also remember coming home from college to her joking about how the steroids she’d been taking for an autoimmune condition had led her to change up her usual order, tacking on fried chicken doused in a garlic-butter sauce.
One summer, home from college, I ate that pho every weekday for two and a half months. I was interning at a magazine, and I figured out that if I walked quickly and ate fast, I could ride the four subway stops there, eat two bowls, and get back in under an hour. After the first week, the servers and I figured out an efficient system. I’d sit down, and they’d come out with the first bowl of pho and one of those small plates of chili and lime. Just as I finished the first bowl, the second one would arrive, along with more chili and more lime. When I was done, I’d leave enough cash to cover the bill and tip and nod a good-bye before rushing out the door to return to work on time.
There are a couple of mystifying elements to my family’s obsession with the place. For one, there was another Vietnamese restaurant next door, which we never entered—my parents claimed to have tried it before we were born and come away unimpressed. For another, we never really called it “pho” until much later; for close to two decades, we referred to it as “beef noodle soup.” I also didn’t eat another bowl of pho until I was 20 years old, when I worked for a summer in Cambodia, and I don’t think my parents ever strayed from their beef noodle soup until that same year, when they stopped in Vietnam on their way to visit me.
In the years since, I’ve eaten bowls of pho from all over the place, and none of them can compare. I don’t mean just the terrible ones I’ve had here in New York, where, for the most part, pho is a joke. I also mean the ones I’ve enjoyed, in places with significant Vietnamese immigrant communities, like Northern Virginia and San Jose, California. Even the best pho I had on a brief trip to Vietnam didn’t come close.
In 2008, just before she died, my mother told me that the restaurant had moved. The owners had merged with the neighboring Vietnamese place, and, while the new place wasn’t too far away from the original location, the pho recipe had been changed. “It’s not as good,” she said, warning me to temper my expectations for my next visit, whenever that would be. She had asked one of the owners, who happened to live in the same building as my parents, why they’d changed it, and he’d said that the other restaurant’s recipe was more popular with their combined clientele. “But the spring rolls are the same,” she said.
When I finally got a chance to taste the new restaurant’s pho, I couldn’t help but feel disappointed. The broth was more fragrant, but cloyingly so, with a heavy dose of cinnamon and anise; the taste was all perfume and very little beef, and it was also too sweet. The staff were completely unfamiliar to me, save for one of the original owners, who nodded hello, though it wasn’t clear she recognized me. In place of squat wooden tables and squat wooden stools were tables of a standard size, with high-backed chairs, in the middle of the room, and booths with tables along the room’s sides. It was entirely foreign.
I’ve tried to replicate that original pho many times at home—I tried for around six years before I gave up. No matter how I altered the ratios of bone and meat for the broth, it always came out too insipid or too strong, too thin or too viscous, and the flavor invariably came out too muddy. No matter how I fiddled with the spice mix, there was always something off. And every time I thought I’d gotten close, I’d eventually get hit by the taste memory while walking down a street just before a storm, and I’d be back on Cannon Street in Hong Kong, and realize I was still getting it wrong.
Nowadays, I make a pretty decent chicken pho regularly. I rarely attempt beef, and even when I do, I try to tamp down my expectations, in order to stave off my inevitable disappointment. All of which is to say that it is not a fond taste memory so much as a haunting. It holds no promise for better pho on the horizon; it is, like any memory of my mother, only a reminder of loss.
If you’re curious, that Vietnamese restaurant is still open. It’s called Green Cottage Yin Ping Vietnamese Restaurant, and it’s in Wan Chai, on Jaffe Road. The name is a combination of the names of the two neighboring restaurants from the old days—Green Cottage was the one we never tried. It has generally positive reviews, so the food probably isn’t half bad. At least, I know the spring rolls are good.