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December 2014
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February 2015

Things That Made Me Happy This Week

Rice with ketchup
Sometimes blogs are accused of peddling an unrealistic, gauzy version of life that makes readers feel inadequate over time. I'd hate to think of that happening here, not when I indulge in culinary confections such as this - cold, day-old rice dug out of the rice cooker and topped with a squirt of Heinz ketchup and toasted sesame seeds for lunch yesterday - on a regular basis.

(There was a whole dill pickle, too. Beforehand.)

(Those sesame seeds were totally inspired, though, right?!)

(I also am still wearing my workout clothes from this morning. I have not yet worked out. It's 2:07 pm.)

(Keeping it real!)

Today I'm only linking to things that just plain old made me happy this week:

We have all been despairing a lot about humanity lately, but help is here! If you also need your faith restored or want a quasi-religious joyous experience, you need to check this out. You probably alllllll know about Humans of New York, but on the off-chance you do not, you're welcome - it is possibly the very best thing on the entire Internet.

Catherine's 10-year-old (!) post on homemade hot chocolate. This blog may be the second best thing on the Internet.

Quietly freaking out about the concept of roasted shallot, tomato and pickled jalapeño quesadillas for dinner.

This video on creativity, which has made the rounds many times over, but which I stumbled upon again recently at a very opportune moment.

This is how masterful food blogging is done! Sometimes all you need are a few sentences. (And roasted onions.)

This video on...fatherhood? made me laugh so hard I cried. Tears rolling down my cheeks, gasping, etc. It's old (sorry!), but hysterical.

See you next week!

How to Make Ciambellone

Listen to this: My editor at Bazaar took me out to lunch before the holidays and congratulated me for eating the bread out of the bread basket that was placed on the table while we waited for our meal. (The chewy, delicious bread, I might add, though I would have eaten it even if it hadn't been good, because I am a human and it was lunchtime and I was hungry.)




She ate the bread, too, mind. It's just that she's the only person she knows - besides me now, I guess - who still actually eats bread. And pasta. And springs for two courses on a business lunch. Sigh.

You all know I like a good New Year's resolution as much as the next person. I'm all about fresh starts and good intentions, I really am. Why, just the other day I ordered a ginger-apple-carrot juice with breakfast myself! But when congratulations are offered on eating a piece of bread, for the love of Pete, I feel like this whole cleanse/no-carb/juice/detox mania has officially reached crazy-making levels. (Exhibit A: Elevating Adaptogenic Latte. What?) And while I'm at it: can we once and for all get rid of the term "clean eating"? It makes my head hurt.

So, in light of all of this, I've decided to post a second recipe for cake in one week. I feel like it's my civic duty or something.

Without further ado: Ciambellone! (chahm-bell-ohn-eh) Also known as the only cake my mother knows how to make. (More or less.)

Ciambellone is a sunny, simple tube cake made with yogurt and lemon peel. It's tender and fragrant, has a good, sensible crumb, lasts for a few days on the kitchen counter, is not-too-sweet, easy to make, and very nice for breakfast (with a glass of green juice or without). It's also good at teatime and as a snack for little children. In other words, it's a perfect everyday cake.

(Other perfect everyday cakes: Catherine Newman's Donut Cake, Deborah Madison's Poppyseed Cake and Alice Medrich's Kamut Pound Cake, all of which I adore passionately and do not make nearly enough. I blame that thing I'm working on. On my to-make-soon list, though, is Molly's whole-wheat riff on an Edna Lewis cake, which looks right up my alley. Consider it my New Year's resolution!)

I suspect you will be relieved to know that ciambellone does not require confectioners' sugar on top or an icing of any kind or new-fangled additions to the batter. It is simplicity itself, wholesomeness incarnate. But most of all, it's just a happy-making little thing. Which makes it just right for gray, old January. Or any other month out of the year.

Three cheers for cake!

POSTSCRIPT: In the most thrilling news ever (to me, obvs), precisely 9 years, 5 months and 1 week after I started this blog, I can finally offer you a printable recipe! I apologize deeply for it having taken  so long. Now, when you get to the bottom of the recipe, you'll see a little Print this recipe link. Click on that and you'll get the recipe in PDF form. Which means that when you print, all you'll get is the recipe itself. No post, no pictures and no pesky comments. Hooray! This feature is - for now - only available on recipes starting from today.

Makes one 9-inch tube cake
Note: The original recipe calls for 1/2 packet of Pane degli Angeli, which is Italian vanilla-flavored baking powder. If you have access to that, use it - it's lovely - and leave out the vanilla extract and baking powder below. If you don't have access to Pane degli Angeli, follow the recipe below.

3/4 cup minus 1 tablespoon (150 grams) sugar
2 large eggs
3.5 ounces/7 tablespoons (100 grams) unsalted butter, melted
1/2 cup (125 grams) plain whole-milk yogurt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Grated peel of 1/2 organic lemon
1 2/3 cup (200 grams) all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder

1. Heat the oven to 350 F/180 C. Butter a tube pan.

2. Place the sugar, eggs, melted butter, yogurt, vanilla extract, and grated lemon peel in a bowl. Beat with an electric mixer until smooth. Then slowly beat in the flour. Finally, beat in the baking powder. Scrape the batter immediately into the prepared cake pan, even the top and bake for 30 minutes, until a rich golden-brown.

3. Let the cake cool on a rack for 15 minutes, then turn the pan upside-down and unmold the cake. Let cool completely before serving. Loosely covered with plastic wrap, the cake will keep at room temperature for 3 days.

Print this recipe

Ashley Rodriguez's Bittersweet Brownies with Salted Peanut Butter Frosting

Bittersweet brownies with peanut butter frosting

According to the internet, the East Coast of the US is about to be swathed in an apocalyptic amount of snow. Meanwhile, over here, it's just miserably gray, as it always always always is this time of year. I can't remember the last time I saw the sun. Hugo, who is really into SAAHN! and MOOOON! and DAHK! and LIGHT! and COWDS! is very confused.

Luckily, I have just the thing for all you over there and all of you over here to make while the winds howl and the sun remains stubbornly behind that impenetrable bank of clouds: Brownies. Bittersweet ones. With SALTED PEANUT BUTTER FROSTING. (If you can, imagine me yelling those last four words, getting increasingly louder with each word.)

Bittersweet brownies

For the past five years, I've been loyal to one single brownie recipe: Alice Medrich's Cocoa Brownies. They're easy, they're fudgy, you don't need a single special ingredient and everyone who eats them falls instantly in love with them. Why, even my husband now knows how to make them. (This, my friends, is saying a lot. Ahem, Mister Instant Mashed Potatoes, ahem.) I was pretty happy with my one single brownie recipe! It felt pretty good to have found The One. After all, at least on the brownie front, I didn't have to do any more looking.

But. Then. Along came Ashley Rodriguez of Not Without Salt and her beautiful, vulnerable, touching first cookbook called Date Night In (more on that in a second). In one flip of a page, her recipe for bittersweet brownies with a salted peanut butter frosting very unceremoniously kicked those sweet little cocoa brownies right off the ledge. Pow!

Ashley used to have her own custom cake company, and before that she learned the tricks of the trade at Spago, working under pastry chef legend Sherry Yard, so when it comes to sweets, she's a voice of authority. In Ashley's brownie recipe, you build layers of rich flavor by first browning the butter and then using a combination of chocolate and cocoa. She also gives you tips on how to get the fudgiest brownie possible (just use 2 eggs instead of 3) and that lovely crackly top, but the salted peanut butter frosting is really the, uh, icing on the cake, the cherry on top, the gilding of the lily. It's the whole raison d'être of these brownies (though they are pretty fabulous on their own, too).

Salted peanut butter frosting

You whip peanut butter, butter and confectioners' sugar together, beating them together at high speed until the mixture gets lighter and lighter, and then spread great swoops of it onto the cooled brownies. Ashley has you sprinkle the pan with flaked salt at the end, but I happened to have some of this fancy French butter with salt crystals hanging around and used that in the frosting instead, eschewing the salt sprinkling at the end.

But whatever path you take, definitely include salt. It's an essential finishing touch that keeps all the flavors together, that cuts the richness, that makes you sit up and take notice. It's no coincidence that Ashley's blog is called Not Without Salt. These aren't just any old brownies, no sirree. These are paradigm-breakers.

Bittersweet brownies with salted peanut butter frosting

As for Ashley's book, which is a collection of seasonal menus (from cocktails to dessert) that she's made for a weekly date night at home with her husband Gabe, it really is so lovely. Each menu is preceded by a little story she tells about her marriage and its natural ups and downs. With busy jobs, three children, and 10 years of marriage under their belts, several years ago Ashley and her husband found themselves drifting apart. Determined not to slide into a deeper hole, they started going on dates at home every week. Gabe would mix cocktails and Ashley would create a restaurant-worthy menu just for the two of them, no kids allowed. Through this very purposeful, conscious way of approaching their marriage and their need to connect again, they created a whole new level of commitment to each other. It is, to say the least, inspiring.

Also mouthwatering, because Ashley really knows food. A few of her menus are ambitious (for a tired working mother, at least), but that's sort of the point. It's her way of showing her husband her love and commitment and she expects no less from her readers. And there are plenty of menus that are more straightforward. I've already earmarked the recipes for their perfect burger, the French 75 cocktail, salted toffee popcorn, a pickled vegetable salad and salmon cakes with chiles and fresh herbs. (Plus, thrillingly, Ashley includes a recipe for pickled peppers in the style of Mama Lil's, which Molly sent me for Christmas once and which I haven't stopped thinking of since!)

Now all I have to do is get my husband to mix me a cocktail...

Ashley Rodriguez's Bittersweet Brownies with Salted Peanut Butter Frosting
Adapted from Date Night In
Makes 16 square brownies
Note: The original recipe calls for unsweetened chocolate, which isn't available in Germany. Instead I substituted an equal amount of 70% chocolate and then reduced the sugar from 300 grams to 175 grams. I was thrilled with the result, especially paired with the sweet-salty frosting. Depending on your taste, though, if you go this route, you may want to up the sugar amount to 200 grams.

3/4 cup (170 grams) unsalted butter, plus more for the pan
3 ounces (90 grams) bittersweet chocolate, chopped
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons (175 grams) granulated sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
3 eggs
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (40 grams) cocoa powder
1/2 cup (70 grams) all-purpose flour

6 tablespoons (85 grams) butter with salt flakes, at room temperature
3/4 cup (100 grams) smooth peanut butter
1/3 cup (40 grams) confectioners’ sugar

1. For the brownies: Preheat the oven to 325 F (160 C) degrees. Grease an 8-inch square pan. Line the pan with parchment paper so that a couple of inches hang over the edge. Then grease the parchment.

2. Place the butter in a medium saucepan and melt over medium-high heat. Allow the butter to cook until the milk solids bubble up and then settle into the pan and caramelize. Swirl the butter in the pan in order to see the color of the little bits on the bottom. As soon as the milk solids are golden and the butter smells nutty, about 3 to 5 minutes, remove the pan from the heat.

3. Pour the browned butter into a medium bowl and add the chopped chocolate. Let stand for 1 minute to melt, and then whisk together. Whisk in the sugar and vanilla while the butter mixture is still warm. Stir in the eggs, and salt until well blended. Sift in the cocoa powder and flour. Fold the ingredients together until just combined using a spatula.

4. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the middle pulls out clean. Let cool to room temperature.

5. For the frosting: With an electric mixer, whip together the butter, peanut butter, and confectioners’ sugar in a large bowl. Continue to mix until everything is well combined and the frosting has lightened in color. Frost the cooled brownies, cut into squares and serve. Brownies can be made 1 to 3 days in advance. The frosting can be made up to 1 week in advance.

Getting Back in the Saddle

Dear Readers,

I have fallen and I can't get up. I took a little break over the holidays, just a little one, I thought, and now I cannot for the life of me figure out how to get back in the blogging saddle. I keep sidling up to it, but I can't even get a foot in the stirrup! I just stand there, staring at the horse and its big, glossy-black side, and then leave again because I'm so intimidated. And tired. Gah. (In case you were wondering, the insomnia continues unabated. But I am seeking professional help, starting this week. Cross your fingers.)

So today I'm going to make a list, because list-making soothes me. And perhaps by making said list I can actually pass along some kind of interesting content to you? We'll see. Let's take it slow. Thank you.

1. The hilarious Amelia Morris of Bon Appétempt is about to publish her first book, a coming-of-age story with recipes. It is, as I said in my blurb, wry and touching (I still feel the same way!). It made me laugh out loud (no joke) and also kind of broke my heart. Plus, on page 230 of the book, Amelia shares a recipe for potato, corn and chile soup that we declared the best soup discovery of 2014. It's exciting (chiles! avocado and cheese topping!) and comforting (potato soup with corn thrown in, enough said) at the same time, plus you get to crumble tortilla chips on top of the soup, which is at the top of the list of reasons why being an adult can be, at times, a lot of fun. Thank you, Amelia!

Action shot of adult tortilla-crumbling:

Potato, chile and corn soup

2. We got the keys to our new apartment on Friday. Renovations start today (we are replacing the electrical system, having the walls painted, and installing a kitchen). The process of finding and buying this apartment has been so smooth and uncomplicated thus far that my level of terror regarding the renovations has reached DEFCON 3. Something has to go wrong at some point with this whole endeavor, doesn't it? What will it be? Black mold in the walls? Murderous, chain-smoking neighbors? A hidden World War II bomb lodged in the ceiling? (As you can imagine, my lack of sleep is totally helping me out on this one.) Here's a picture of the kitchen, in all its dingy glory. We are keeping the 105-year-old tiles, which I am thrilled about, and the 105-year-old floor, which I am less thrilled about, and will finally have a gas stove again, for which I give thanks every single day, forever and ever, amen.

We will not, for the record, be keeping that stove. Hallelujah, praise be.


3. From June 15-20 this year, Rachel Roddy of rachel eats and I will be hosting a food writing workshop called The Language of Food at the Anna Tasca Lanza Cooking School in Sicily. For five days, we will read, write, explore and cook together, with the flavors and fragrances of Sicily as inspiration. Fabrizia Lanza, the owner of the school, will take us on excursions throughout the region, from Agrigento to Polizzi Generosa, as well as introduce us to local winemakers and food artisans. It will be fun and delicious, but more than anything I hope it will be an inspiring and productive week for anyone who can join. (There are 10 to 15 spots available!) I cannot overstate how thrilled I am to be co-hosting it with Rachel, whose writing fills me up with contentment and joy every time I read it. For more information, click here.

Here is a picture Rachel took at dusk last June at the school during aperitivo hour. Aaaahhh...

Case vecchie

4. The one thing I have made three times in the past month has been this chili, but with beef instead of turkey and with twice as many beans and half as much meat. The first time I made it, it was actually to use up a batch of stale cornbread (Edna Lewis's sour milk cornbread), but we loved it so much that I can't stop making it. I have no idea if it is authentic, nor do I really care. It's very delicious, very easy and can be easily doubled to feed a crowd, with leftovers to boot. It even pleased every single member of my book club recently. You should know about it.

Behold the cubed stale cornbread:


And that's it! That wasn't so hard after all, I guess. Happy New Year, everyone, if it is still acceptable to say so on January 19th. I'll be back soon, after trying this milk-roasted chicken and making something from this beautiful book (I am still waffling between trying the salted chocolate chip cookies and the bittersweet brownies with peanut butter frosting - have a preference?).