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Cooking for Hugo

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In early December I started feeding Hugo his first solids. Since then I've gotten so many requests to write about what I feed him that I started to realize that just one post to cover it probably wouldn't do. After all, what I feed Hugo changes every week and anyway, it turns out that the whole topic of baby food is way more complicated than I ever thought. There's a lot of ground to cover.

(Who knew? I didn't. Oof.)

It's been heartening, really - I've found navigating what to feed Hugo often very confusing, and all those requests clearly show that I'm not alone. So I've been thinking: how about a once-weekly post where I write about what I fed him this week, what's been working and what hasn't, what tips I might have figured out and what frustrations I'm currently dealing with? It would be lovely to hear what those of you with small babies are dealing with, too, as you navigate the world of solid foods with your little one.

I'll call the column, as it were, Cooking for Hugo and it'll show up here once a week. I'll hide most of it behind a jump so that those of you who are interested can click your way on in and those of you who aren't don't feel assaulted by mushy peas and carrots. It'll cover everything having to do with feeding babies, from recipes to gear to differing "philosophies" on how babies should be fed. I think it'll be fun? I hope it'll be helpful.

Let's get started. Come on in!

Continue reading "Cooking for Hugo" »


Deb Perelman's Intensely Chocolate Sablés

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This is just a little love note to the internet, which has been giving obsessives of all kinds an outlet for years and which has enabled the rest of us to shamelessly improve the quality of our lives by following the obsessives' lead whenever they say to. The obsessive I'm particularly grateful to today is Deb Perelman, who blogs at Smitten Kitchen, of course, and whose idea of a good time is tinkering with a recipe, like super-chocolately, not-too-sweet, elegant French sablés, over and over (for years, people!) until she gets it right. So right.

Thank goodness for people like Deb, because lord knows I am way too lazy for tinkering with recipes (and these days, far too tired) and yet I, too, often crave the perfect chocolate cookie, which, as serendipity would have it, Deb figured out last week, right in time for my own craving to strike.

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This is the kind of cookie - deep, dark, smoldering and melting and perfect - that you don't even need to go grocery shopping for. If your idea of a good time is keeping a well-stocked pantry, you can probably make these cookies right now, or at least tonight after work. I think you should.

You can do as Deb did and roll out the dough and then cut out little cookies or you can go the lazy woman's route and simple pack the blackish-brown dough into a roll, wrap it in cling film and stick it in the fridge until it's firm. Then all you have to do is slice off as many rounds as you need and bake them to order.

HA! There goes your January diet.

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As I munched on a few of these the other day, something was niggling at me about the flavor of the cookies. What I realized a few bites later was that they sort of tasted like Thin Mints but without the peppermint. Uh, in other words, they would be absolutely fantastic doctored up with a little splash of peppermint extract, if chocolate-peppermint is your thing (it is mine, but I know it's not everyone's jam). Luckily, as I am a pantry-stocking freak, I have a little bottle of peppermint extract and will be trying out this version soon soon soon.

A few notes on the recipe: My food processor gave up the ghost a few hours before I wanted to pulverize the chocolate, so I ended up having to chop the chocolate by hand. What this means is that my cookies were a little more chocolate-chocolate-chip-y than I was hoping for, but they were by no means less delicious. Just a little less refined. Also, I erred on the side of using less sugar rather than more and skipped the sugar sprinkle on top. If I had been making these for kids, though, I would have done the sprinkle. So pretty!

Deb Perelman's Intensely Chocolate Sables
Makes about 40 small cookies

1 cup (125 grams) all-purpose flour
1/3 cup (30 grams) Dutched cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup (1 stick, 4 ounces or 115 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 to 2/3 cup (100 to 135 grams) granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 large egg yolk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 1/2 ounces (100 grams) semi- or bittersweet chocolate, grated or finely chopped until almost powdery in a food processor

1. Sift together the flour, cocoa and baking soda together onto a piece of waxed paper or into a bowl and set aside.

2. Cream butter, sugar and salt together in a large bowl with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add egg yolk and vanilla, beating until combined, then scrape down sides. Add dry ingredients and grated chocolate together and mix until just combined.

3. Scrape dough onto a piece of plastic wrap, shape into a 2-inch wide log, wrap tightly and let chill in the frige until just firm, about 30 to 45 minutes, or up to a day.

4. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Unwrap the dough log and slice off as many 1/4-inch cookies as you'd like to bake. Space them an inch apart on the sheet. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes, then remove the sheet from oven. Leave cookies on baking sheets out of the oven for a couple minutes before gently transferring them to a cooling rack. Cookies can be stored in an airtight container for up to two weeks.


Le Grand Aïoli

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I'll bet you've been wondering where I've been, haven't you. Felled by the flu, perhaps, you think. Off visiting her husband in his faraway city, maybe. No, dear reader, I was right here the whole time, only instead of cooking and writing or cleaning up my desk space (urgh) during my spare time this past week, I was deep - deep - into Downton Abbey. Yes, it's true. I abandoned you for an English television show. Forgive me. I can't help it. It is just so good.

I'm almost at the end of Season 3 now (how, you fellow Downton freaks gasp? Right here. You're welcome, unless you want to get anything done again, ever, in which case, I'm sorry.) and am finally coming up for air and it occurred to me that it might be nice to, you know, get back to work again or at least vacuum the apartment so that my child doesn't start teething on dust bunnies, seeing as he's starting to learn how to scoot forwards and sideways all of a sudden. (And has two teeth! Two bottom teeth!)

I have cooked now and then in the past week, most notably last Sunday when I made my mother a birthday lunch consisting of salt cod (chewy!), a plethora of delicately steamed vegetables (pain in the necky!) and a big old bowl of mayonnaise (this one) that broke not once but twice before I found the best trick ever for saving broken mayonnaise. (There was a lemon tart, too, that was a disaster from start to finish, but I'm not going to dwell on that now, am I. Confectioner's sugar hid a multitude of sins and it was gobbled up in no time, thank goodness.)

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Salt cod, cooked vegetables and boiled eggs served with a big bowl of garlicky mayonnaise is called le grand aïoli in southern France and during this very cold, very gray January, it was a welcome change from the usual meaty stew I would have thought to serve for a lunch party. All complaining aside, it was actually quite fun to cook, too. The salt cod soaked on the balcony for several days before the lunch and then only had to be briefly boiled and skinned and shredded the day of the party. I prepared the vegetables the morning of the lunch, roasting the beets in the oven to concentrate their sweetness, while doing the rest - Romanesco, small, sweet carrots, tiny potatoes, golden-yolked eggs and fennel wedges - one after another on the stove. And Max was home to entertain Hugo, so all was right with the world.

Well, until that mayonnaise broke. The first time, I tried to save it with an additional egg yolk (put it in a clean bowl, carefully whisking the broken mayonnaise into it until it's nice and thick again). But then it broke again. This time, I had no more egg yolks to rely on. Our guests were arriving and things were getting very hot under my collar. (Did I mention the lemon tart from hell? It was staring at me balefully from the kitchen counter, under its blanket of powdered sugar.)

I ran to the computer for help and found this tip: instead of an additional egg yolk, put a spoonful of mustard in a clean bowl and whisk in the broken mayonnaise. (The genius tip comes from none other than Julia Child, goddess of frazzled daughters trying to cook their mother's birthday lunches everywhere.) Max handed the baby off to a pair of eager hands and came in to help. He whisked while I poured the broken mayonnaise (is there anything more hideous?) into the bowl and, lo and behold, a thick, glossy, delicious mayonnaise emerged (and it didn't taste like mustard, in case you were wondering). I practically cartwheeled with joy.

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Gently steaming the vegetables until they're just done ensures that they taste fresh and sweet - so good that they hardly need a thing to dress them except for a big dollop of mayonnaise. That mayonnaise ties all the things on the table together, the chewy cod and the rich, soft eggs, too. It's the base note of a delicious little symphony. I'd even go so far as to say that that it was a ray of sun straight from southern France on that cold Berlin day.


Nigel Slater's Chocolate Muscovado Banana Cake

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I know what you are thinking. You're thinking, does the world really need another recipe for banana bread (cake)? No, it does not. That is you answering, too. I know.

I know because those were my thoughts, too, when I first pulled the baking tin from the oven. Oh, sure, it smelled tantalizing and delicious. Oh, sure, it was all caramelized and softly pocked with melting chocolate. The crumb was soft and yielding. I didn't share it with anyone. But still, it was banana bread (cake). You know? Just a few months ago, wasn't I proclaiming that I had found my banana bread for the ages? Yes. And then I bought myself Nigel Slater's next Kitchen Diaries II, found this and was gone, hook, line and sinker.

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It's silly, really, that I alighted on this recipe, when there are so many other ones in this handsome, inspiring new book, with more interesting ingredients and flavors to fall over. But, people, this cake (bread, WHATEVER) was so good that I, I repeat, didn't share it with anybody. That never happens. Never ever. It was so good.

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What sets it apart from other banana breads is the huge amount of brown sugar in the batter. It entirely replaces the usual white sugar and adds not only to the appealing dampness of the final product, but it also gives the banana bread a depth of caramel flavor and a warmth that I wasn't expecting. It's not overpowering - molasses doesn't waft up from the crumb - but it's more nuanced and delicious. Also, you don't purée the bananas - you mash them with a fork, leaving little lumps and bumps in the batter that give each finished slice tenderness and cozy banana flavor.

The original recipe asks for four to five ripe bananas, to yield a whopping 400 grams of mashed banana, but I only had three bananas and the recipe was perfection. So it's forgiving, is what I guess I'm saying.

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The loaf kept for a good long while, at least a week, though I kept it longer, even snuck it to France in the carry-on and ate a big slice of it on the airplane when we flew down on Christmas Eve. By the time a week has gone by, the meltiness of the chocolate is of course long gone, but what you get instead are these nice little chewy surprises of chocolate while the cake melts away around them.

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I can't wait to get cooking from the rest of the book, which is truly stunning and wonderfully hefty and begging to be curled up in bed with. I just the love the concept so much, getting to accompany Slater as he journals his way through a year of cooking. It's so... satisfying somehow. I love how he thinks dinner can be as grand as a huge roast or as simple as rice and herbs forked together. His taste is always so spot-on. There is so much here to be inspired by:

Celery root salad with sour cream and mustard, threaded with orange zest, or a "little brown stew" of dried mushrooms and chewy spelt grains or beet fritters to be topped with shining shreds of smoked salmon.

Best of all, I like how Slater's emotional life lurks just below the surface. You're never quite let in all the way, but what's going on plays just at the edges of the meals he describes. It's the best kind of cookbook, for me at least.

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A note on the measurements: I usually post the recipes here in United States measures. Every once in a while, I post them in metric, because the particular recipe I've used was in metric. The fact that I don't do the conversions each time never fails to irk at least one of you, darling readers, but please understand that I simply don't have the time. If you like to cook, I highly recommend that you stock your kitchen arsenal with both a little digital scale (I've used one similar to this, purchased at Zabar's for less than $40, for over ten years now) and a set of measuring cups and spoons and a liquid measure (together, these will set you back less than $20) and then you can cook and bake whatever your heart desires without having to do any mathematics or being bogged down with annoyance.

And now I'm off to hunt for, wait for it, salt cod in this fair city of mine. More on that next week!

Nigel Slater's Chocolate Muscovado Banana Cake
Makes 1 loaf cake
From The Kitchen Diaries II

250 grams all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
125 grams softened butter
235 grams muscovado or dark brown sugar
3 to 4 ripe bananas
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs
100 grams dark chocolate

1. Heat the oven to 180 C (350 F). Line a standard-sized loaf pan with parchment paper. Sift the flour and baking powder together in a bowl.

2. In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Beat the eggs into the butter and sugar one at a time until fully incorporated.

3. Peel the bananas and mash them with a fork in a small bowl. When you are done, the bananas should still be slightly lumpy and not entirely puréed. Stir the vanilla extract into the bananas.

4. Chop the chocolate finely and and fold it, along with the bananas, into the butter and sugar mixture. Gently mix the flour and baking powder into the banana batter.

5. Scrape the batter into the loaf pan and bake in the oven for 50 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through, until the cake is browned and a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean.

6. Remove the cake from the oven and let sit on a rack for 15 minutes. Then, using the parchment paper as a sling, remove the cake from the pan and let it cool completely on the rack. When the cake has fully cooled, peel off the paper and use a serrated knife to slice.


Reading My Berlin Kitchen in...Berlin!

Okay, Berliners, this one's for you: What are you doing on Tuesday, January 22nd at 7:30 pm?

You're coming to Soho House to the My Berlin Kitchen event, of course!

Here's the skinny: My friend and Dialogue Books owner Sharmaine Lovegrove will be hosting me at Soho House's January Literary Lounge on the evening of January 22nd. I'll be doing a little reading and then Sharmaine and I will have a deeply illuminating literary chat and then there will be a Q&A so you can ask me anything your heart desires, and if the evening is anything like the book events I did in the US, it will be so wonderful I will not want it to end. I hope you come! All you need to do before that is rsvp to events@dialoguebooks.org. 

Soho House is at Torstrasse 1, 10119 Berlin. You don't need to be a member to come to the reading.

See you soon! xo


Tassajara's Cardamom Lemon Soda Bread

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Sometimes I think I feel about cookbooks the way other people feel about abandoned kittens or small dogs left by the side of the street. If I see one, neglected and forlorn, it requires real willpower not to take it home with me. I don't want to be found dead at an advanced age buried under an towering pile of cookbooks, but, I mean, what if there is some gem of a recipe buried deep within the yellowing pages of that book left in a box on the sidewalk? What if the world's most perfect chocolate cake hides just behind the greasy cover of that book that my dad wants to throw out? Or the very best egg salad sandwich the world has ever known? Could you really live with passing it by? COULD YOU?

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The other day, I was invited to my friend Leah's house-cooling party. Leah and her family are leaving Berlin to move to England in a few days and at her party she told me to go through the giveaway books on the shelves in the living room. I found a few books for reading, but of course, I was mostly just drawn to the cookbooks, particularly an old, paperback copy of The Tassajara Recipe Book. Back home, I started leafing through it with the hopes of getting a deep vibe straight to late 1960's northern California, but never got much past page 18, where the recipe for Cardamom Lemon Soda Bread was printed.

First of all, because any baked good with cardamom in it makes me pay attention, and second of all, because I had buttermilk in the fridge and needed a reason to use it, and third of all, because I knew we had nothing in the house for breakfast the next day.

And also because the headnote says that the recipe really just makes one huge biscuit. I know. I KNOW. HIDDEN GEM! Now, what if I hadn't taken the book home with me, what then??

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The recipe tells you, once you've made the dough, to knead it on a surface until it's smooth, but my dough was far too moist for any sort of kneading. Instead I decided to treat it the same way I'd treat biscuit dough, delicately and without too much movement. I piled it into the buttered cake pan, sort of tamped it down ever so slightly, and that was it. Into the oven it went.

What emerged was one, big, freeform biscuit emanating the most wonderful, lemony scent. I waited until it wasn't totally hot and cut myself a piece. The edges were slightly crumbly (in the most fetching way), but the crumb was super-delicate and light (I'd use whole-wheat spelt flour in place of the whole wheat). Every bite did actually feel like it was melting in my mouth. The cardamom was lovely, but what really made the bread shine was the fragrant lemon peel. (There's hardly any sugar in the bread at all, just so you're forewarned. In case you need your breakfast goods sweet, I'd recommend sprinkling the top with some demerara sugar.)

When the rest of the bread had fully cooled, I cut it into wedges, wrapped them individually in plastic and put them in a plastic bag in the freezer. Then, each subsequent morning, all I had to do was unwrap a wedge and stick it in a hot oven for a few minutes to have a special little breakfast awaiting me.

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Tassajara's Cardamom Lemon Soda Bread
Makes one 8-inch round
Original recipe here

1 cup white flour
1 cup whole-wheat flour (or whole grain spelt flour)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 egg
Grated peel of 1 organic lemon
1/2 cup buttermilk

1. Heat the oven to 375 degrees F. Lightly butter an 8-inch round cake pan.

2. Sift the dry ingredients into a bowl. Using your fingers or a pastry cutter, cut the butter into the flour mixture until it is pea-sized.

3. Combine the egg, lemon peel and buttermilk, then add to the flour mixture and stir just until all the ingredients are moistened and the dough has come together.

4. Place the dough into the prepared pan and bake in the center of the oven for 35 minutes, or until golden brown and firm to the touch. Remove from the oven and let cool on a rack in the pan for 10 minutes. Then remove the bread from the pan and serve in wedges.


New Year's Resolutions

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Resolutions! Are we doing them, people, or do we find them yawningly tedious?

I both make resolutions and sort of hate myself while making said resolutions. Because, on one hand, I like taking stock of the past year and thinking about things that I'd like to tweak, change or challenge myself to for the new one. But on the other hand, doing so makes me confront the fact that I'm not particularly good at making myself do things and that always makes me feel sort of bad about myself, which isn't really the point of resolution-making. Or shouldn't be, in my mind. And anyway, before I know it, the list of resolutions turns into a to-do list and who cares about those? But still, I can't bring myself to stop just yet.

So. My list?

1. Learn how to use a power drill. Because I'm sort of embarrassed by a. the fact that it deeply intimidates me and b. that I can't put up shelves without help.

2. Make actual albums of photos of Hugo instead of just letting them languish on the computer, so that he has a rich, tangible representation of his childhood. By the way, these photos are so inspiring.

3. Knit something complicated. Scarf? Can do it. Blanket? Ditto. Anything that doesn't involve knitting back and forth in a straight line, well, no. Time to attempt these or something.

4. Make a piece of art. I love doodling around with my dinky set of watercolors, but I always stash my creations where no one can see them. This year, I'd like to make something I can hang on the wall.

5. Edit my closet. I'd like to get to the point where I can open my closet and be sure to find a uniform to wear, but I'd also like to feel like I'm not always in some frumpy-mom special. Also, those sweaters from the early aughts need to go.

6. Transform a piece of IKEA furniture into something special. I am not powerless to Pinterest, folks. Plus, this would put those drill skills to the test. (Also, we need more storage.)

7. Do my taxes before May. This year, we barely squeaked by in December and hated every stressed-out second. Here's to no more last-minute deadlines!

8. Give myself an internet schedule and stick to it. As in, no going online when Hugo's awake. Or, no going online on weekends. I haven't quite figured it out yet, but now that I see Hugo peering at our smart phones with way too much interest for a 6-month old, I need to get on this quickly.

9. Decorate our bedroom. You know how it goes: you move into an apartment and while you get settled and decorate, one room ends up turning into a junky depository. In our case, it's the bedroom, a drab, brown jumble of all the things  I didn't manage to square away in our living room, which feels nice and homey, my office, which is light-filled and wonderful, or Hugo's room, which is cozy and cute. Thank goodness for Anna Beth's Design Camp in June.

10. Stop chewing my cuticles. Once and for all.

How about you, folks? What are your resolutions? Or do you steadfastedly refuse to participate in these types of things? Happy New Year to all of you!