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September 2014
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November 2014

On Cooking for Others


My darling child, who, given the choice, would rather eat raisins than anything I cook for him.

I read this sensitive, intelligent piece last week by a woman who doesn't like to cook or, perhaps more accurately, doesn't like how cooking makes her feel, and it really stuck with me. What she wrote was funny and touching and and interesting, because it made me really stop and think about how I feel about cooking and specifically how I feel about cooking for other people like my husband, my child or my friends these days. Like most of us here, I imagine, cooking is a pleasure for me, not a chore, so I feel differently than she does on a lot of the points. (As far as I understand, she doesn't have children to cook for, so writes more about her memories as the child of a mother who felt obligated to cook and slightly oppressed by it.) But the truth is that in my current role as the resident cook for a picky toddler and a man who really doesn't have the time to share the chore, I have recently found myself having more moments of resentment about cooking each week and it was sort of eye-opening to read a daughter's perspective on the whole thing.

And because it seems to be in the zeitgeist right now, along came Virginia Heffernan's caustic piece on a similar subject, namely what to do if, in this day and age where the family dinner is held up as a glowing signpost of successful motherhood, you simply hate to cook. I say caustic because it felt sort of gratuitously cruel towards the writers and books it was skewering, as if it was easier for her to accuse these women of sanctimony instead of just accepting that she just doesn't dig the same things they do and that that's okay. I found myself rolling my eyes at her, even though the previous article really touched me, and I guess I wonder what that's about. Why did one piece strike such a chord with me and the other piece seem so curmudgeonly? She does also make some good points and, as the comments show, her feelings really resonate with a lot of people.

Have you read the pieces? Did you have a strong reaction to either? I would absolutely love to know what you think, not just on the pieces, but on the subject of the duty of cooking in general, especially if you happen to be the cook in the family.


Oooh, cake.

Happily, I'm abandoning my cooking duties this weekend and spending a few days with a couple of my best friends in town for the book fair. Oh man, girlfriends make the world go round. I can't wait.

But before I go, one more thing. Max introduced me to the band London Grammar a couple weeks ago (Max is my music guru - if I lived alone I'd just listen to the same three classical CDs plus The Weavers because Pete Seeger's voice completes me) and I kind of can't get enough of it, especially this song:


I hope you have a great weekend, folks.


Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner and Dessert


My favorite kind of pancakes are buckwheat pancakes; my dad used to make them for us when I was little and I've loved their haunting, stoney flavor ever since. I introduced Max to them several years ago. He fell instantly and madly in love, and of course Hugo likes them, too, but my suspicion is that Hugo would eat most anything in pancake form as long as it held the promise of a drizzle of maple syrup. ("May-ah, mama, may-ah?")

But last weekend we were out of buckwheat flour, so I got to wondering if rye pancakes would be any good seeing as I had just a little bit of rye flour leftover from some long-ago experiments in German bread (no, the experiments did not go well, sigh, gnash, etc.). I used equal amounts of rye and white flour in a pretty standard pancake batter and lo, it was a huge success! The pancakes were fat and puffy, glorious to behold, and the rye flavor was delicious - wholesome and nutty and very, very nice paired with the maple syrup. I don't usually put butter on top of my pancakes when I serve them, but in this case I did, because the pancakes were so thick and fluffy that they needed some moistening. Now I think the butter is essential. It melts and combines with the maple syrup and soaks the pancakes just right.

So, the recipe is as follows: Whisk together 3/4 cup white flour, 3/4 cup rye flour, 1 tablespoon baking powder, 1-2 tablespoons sugar and 1/4 teaspoon of salt in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together an egg and 3/4 cup of milk. Pour the liquid ingredients into the dry ones and mix until combined; try not to overmix. The batter will be relatively stiff. Fry as usual in a buttered pan and serve with a pat of butter on top and maple syrup.

Eggplant meatballs

Amelia recently raved about meatless eggplant-porcini meatballs that sounded (and looked!) so delicious that I had to try them. And, woah, yes, they are pretty glorious - richly flavored, with a wonderfully springy, chewy texture. They are more than a bit of work (you have to roast eggplant, soak porcini, make breadcrumbs, fry the polpette (I can't call them meatballs!) and make tomato sauce to cook them in), but I still managed to get all of this done on a weeknight, so go figure. As Amelia says, it's pretty much all enjoyable kitchen work and I sort of squeezed it in and around Hugo's dinner, bathtime and then that quiet, wonderful stretch just after he fell asleep, when the evening still felt new and full of promise.

The recipe is here. It's a keeper.

Creamed spinach on toast

On book-testing days, I'm always in a bit of a scramble to think of something light and vegetable-based for our lunch. We just need a little something savory in our bellies to be able to evaluate the cakes without feeling ill and it needs to be quick and easy to put together since we need to be mostly focused on measuring and converting and baking and cleaning. I've been loving the challenge; it's made me more creative than I'd usually be on my own. (Oh helloooo, cheese sandwich, you again?) Liana Krissoff's dead-simple, nearly instantaneous tomato soup was a recent hit, but the other day I made a sort of ersatz creamed spinach on toast and ooh, that was very nice, too.

I fried a diced onion in some olive oil (or was it butter?) until it was fragrant and translucent, then dumped in a whole bunch (3/4 pound?) of chopped fresh spinach and let it wilt down. I added salt and hot pepper and then cooked the spinach until it was silky and most of the liquid had boiled off. At that point, I added just a few spoonfuls of crème fraîche and let them melt and mix in with the spinach. You could hardly tell that there was anything creamy in the spinach, but it added some welcome body and richness. I toasted two slices of white bread (peasant would have been even nicer), then piled a fat amount of spinach on each piece of toast. A few microplanes of Parmesan cheese on top and that was that.

Nothing more than a silly little fridge-cleaner, but it hit the spot.

Millionaire's shortbread

Finally, dessert. I apologize for the photo, which looks a bit picked-over, right? I have a good excuse: namely, those very squares. So irresistible, I couldn't even get out my camera in time before a bunch of marauding dinner guests fell on the pan and made quick work of it. What you're looking at is a batch of Jane Hornby's salted caramel shortbread bites (also known as millionaire's shortbread, but doctored with flaky sea salt on top). The recipe comes from Hornby's latest book, What to Bake and How to Bake It. Millionaire's shortbread is insanely good, sort of like a very fancy Twix bar, but even better? (Way better, says Max.) Imagine: a vanilla-flavored shortbread base, baked until crisp, a thick, salted butter caramel poured on top and finally a dark chocolate layer sprinkled wth a few flakes of salt to offset all the sugar and butter. In the immortal words of Osgood Fielding III, zowie!

With no further ado, the recipe (I didn't have time to convert it to US measurements, apologies to those without a scale. You should be able to do all of the conversions using Google):

Jane Hornby's Salted Caramel Shortbread Bites
Makes one 8-inch pan

For the shortbread:
110 grams unsalted butter
50 grams sugar
Pinch of flaky salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
140 grams all-purpose flour

For the caramel:
110 grams unsalted butter
200 grams dark brown sugar
4 tablespoons golden syrup (or corn syrup)
1/2 teaspoon flaky salt
400 gram can of evaporated (condensed) milk

For the topping:
200 grams dark (70%) chocolate
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon flaky salt

1. Line an 8-inch square pan with parchment paper; set aside. Beat the butter until creamy and very pale. Add the sugar, salt and vanilla and beat until very well-combined. Sift the flour over the butter mixture and gently work into the butter until you have an even dough that clumps together.

2. Press the dough into the prepared pan (you may have to flour your hands for this part) until it's level. Prick it all over with a fork, then chill for 10 minutes. Heat the oven to 160 C. Bake for 25-30 minutes, until the shortbread is golden all over. Let cool completely.

3. Melt the butter, sugar, syrup and salt together in a saucepan, then stir in the condensed milk. Bring the mixture to a simmer and let cook, stirring constantly, until it thickens. This will take about 20 minutes, give or take a bit. Don't let the caramel burn. At the end, it should be thick enough for the spoon to leave a trail in the caramel for a few seconds. Pour the caramel over the shortbread and let cool completely.

4. Melt the chocolate in a microwave or double boiler, then stir in the oil and pour the chocolate evenly over the caramel. Use a spatula to smooth out the chocolate. Sprinkle with the salt and let cool completely, either at room temperature or in the fridge. When the chocolate has just set, mark it into squares, then chill until completely firm. Cut into squares to serve. For a very clean finish, wipe your knife blade with a damp towel between each slice. The squares keep for three days in an airtight container.