Samin Nosrat's Kimchi Pancake

Kimchi Pancake

Everything is terrible, but this kimchi pancake, this chewy, spicy, wonderful kimchi pancake was a bright light in this shit basket of a week. I made it on Shrove Tuesday, the same day that I attempted a software update on my laptop without backing it up first. Cardinal sin, I know, I am aware! I have wrapped myself up so tightly in the shroud of my mistake that I am completely numb!

The recipe comes from Samin Nosrat's favorite Korean restaurant, a restaurant in Oakland called Pyeong Chang Tofu House and it is perfect perfect perfect. I followed the recipe almost exactly (substituting a gluten-free all-purpose flour blend for the all-purpose flour), using a 12-inch non-stick skillet so that I could just make one enormous pancake instead of two slightly smaller ones. The kimchi I used comes from Korea and was a particularly pungent batch, almost too pungent for our straight-up consumption. But in this pancake, the other ingredients smoothed out some of the kimchi's aggressive bite and made it delectable.

I made a batch of English pancakes for the boys, whipped the kimchijeon up as they ate their pancakes with applesauce and cinnamon sugar, and then the two of us demolished the kimchi pancake all by ourselves. We loved the crisp edges, the funky flavor, and especially the gorgeous chew punctuated by the crackling sesame seeds in the dipping sauce.

To sum up my week, I have lost six years of photos and the revisions of my manuscript that I worked on this summer, as well as untold other things that I can't allow myself to list here, but I also learned how to make delicious kimchijeon at home, so really, what's there to complain about?

(Sob.)

Kimchi Pancake (Kimchijeon)
Makes one 12-inch pancake
Print this recipe!

For the dipping sauce:
¼ cup citrus ponzu sauce
1 tablespoon toasted white sesame seeds
1 scallion, thinly sliced

For the batter:
½ cup potato starch
½ cup all-purpose flour or gluten-free all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon garlic powder
½ teaspoon baking powder
Pinch of sea salt
1 heaping cup kimchi (about 10 ounces), plus 1/4 cup kimchi juice
2 scallions, chopped
2 tablespoons gochujang
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 teaspoon fish sauce
3 tablespoons neutral oil, such as canola

1. Make the dipping sauce: In a small bowl, combine ponzu sauce, sesame seeds and scallion. Set aside.

2. Prepare the batter: In a large bowl, whisk together potato starch, flour, garlic powder, baking powder and salt. Set aside.

3. Dice kimchi into 1/2-inch pieces. In a medium bowl, stir together kimchi and kimchi juice, scallions, gochujang, sugar, fish sauce and 1/2 cup water. Add kimchi mixture to flour mixture, and stir to combine.

4. Set a 12-inch non-stick skillet over medium heat and add 1 1/2 tablespoons oil. When the oil shimmers, add the batter and spread it from the center out to the edges of the pan. After a minute or two, when the pancake is setting, shake the pan a little to make sure the pancake isn't sticking. When the bottom of the pancake is brown and the top fades from glossy to matte, after another 30 to 60 seconds, carefully flip the pancake or slide the pancake onto a rimless plate and flip it back into the pan. Continue cooking for another 60 to 90 seconds on second side until set, then carefully slide pancake onto a plate.

5. Cut into wedges, and serve hot with dipping sauce.


Focaccia ai Quattro Sapori

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I am in Italy at my mother's house for three weeks. It is beautiful here, and hot, and I am stuck indoors most of the time, writing recipe headnotes for the German baking book, which is due to the publisher on October 1st.

Gulp.

The good thing is that this means that soon - soon! - we shall have a title. Maybe even a subtitle. I am so ready to give this baby a name. Also to stop baking cake every other day, but that is a story for another time.

Back to Italy: As I have mentioned too many times to count, my mother is not a big fan of, um, cooking. She mostly just endures it, though a few recipes have managed to rouse some enthusiasm out of her, like Deb's carrot-harissa salad that I think she makes at least once a month. With gusto! Go figure.

Since we are here for three whole weeks and both Max and Hugo require more at mealtimes than a green salad snipped from the garden and the closest grocery store is a 15-minute car ride and every time one of us mentions having to leave the inflatable kiddie pool because we need more groceries another certain someone starts screeching and yelping like some sort of mortally wounded small mammal and it's just easier for everyone to keep that kind of nonsense to a minimum, I started meal planning when we got here. I work 4 to 5 days in advance. We're not talking complicated stuff here - oftentimes meals are just pasta with a sauce (spaghetti with clams, or gnocchi with butter and sage, for example) and a boiled vegetable, but it helps so much to have it written all down and shopped for. In fact, I'm not sure who's more pleased with this development, me or my mother.

To fill in a few holes here and there in the menu planning (we can't, after all, eat pasta every day, though my husband and child would be thrilled if we did), I went through a few of my mother's random recipe booklets that she tucks inside a cupboard. In one of them, I found a very promising recipe for something called Focaccia ai quattro sapori. I promised the good people on Instagram that if it turned out to be any good that I'd blog about it. And guess what.

IT'S REALLY, REALLY GOOD.

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What it is is a big square piece of plain dough topped with sautéed Swiss chard, halved cherry tomatoes, sliced mozzarella and anchovies. It helps, of course, that the chard came from the garden and the tomatoes taste like candy and the mozzarella is soft and funky and the anchovies rich and meaty, but something tells me that even with less-than stellar ingredients, this will still taste pretty darn good.

So here you go, no more dilly-dallying:

Focaccia ai quattro sapori
Serves 6 as an appetizer or 4 as a meal with a salad

1 batch pizza dough*
Olive oil
Salt
2 big handfuls Swiss chard (unless the stalks are quite thin, strip the leaves from the stalks and use the stalks for something else)
1 ball of mozzarella, halved and sliced
2 handfuls cherry tomatoes, halved
4-5 anchovies in oil, halved

1. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Pat and pull the prepared dough out onto the sheet until relatively even and thin. I made a crust, but next time I wouldn't. Do as you like.

2. Heat the oil in a small sauté pan and sauté the Swiss chard leaves until dark and wilted, 3-5 minutes. Season with salt.

3. Distribute the sautéed chard evenly over the crust. Distribute the mozzarella evenly over the chard. Distribute the cherry tomatoes and then the anchovies evenly over the pizza. Drizzle with a little extra olive and sprinkle with two small pinches of salt. Set aside while you preheat the oven to 190C/375 F.

4. Bake for 30 minutes. Remove and let cool at least 5 minutes before slicing into squares and serving. My mother and I liked this best as an aperitivo before dinner and ate a couple squares apiece. My husband liked it best as dinner and basically housed the rest.

*If you are lucky enough to live near a pizzeria or store that sells freshly made pizza dough, just buy that. Otherwise, make your favorite pizza dough. If you don't have a favorite pizza dough, try this: Measure out 300 grams of flour (about 2 1/2 cups) and put in a bowl. Add 1 teaspoon instant yeast (not active dry!). And about a 3/4 teaspoon of salt. Then add about 2/3 cup of water (160 ml) and stir with your fingers. Add 1-2 tablespoons of oil and keep stirring. You may need a little more flour or a little more water, it sort of depends on where you are. When the dough is shaggy but holding together, dump it out onto your work surface and knead. You can use some flour to keep the dough from sticking too much as you knead, but try not to add too much, which will make the dough stiff. It's always best to make a slightly looser dough than a too-tight one. When the dough is no longer sticky and is nicely smooth, put a drop of oil in the bowl, return the dough to the bowl, rub with a little more oil and cover with a cloth. Set it aside in a warm, draft-free spot for an hour. Then proceed with the recipe above.


This, That and The Other Thing

Imagine, if you will, your heroine (may I be so bold?) going on the 10th day of a sinus infection that surely originated in the nether regions of hell. Her husband and young son have decamped to the family seat in the east of the country to allow her to recover in peace. She wanders from room to room in search of a clean tissue, forgetting the ones stuffed into her pyjama pockets and sweater sleeves earlier, and burning her tongue repeatedly on hot herbal tea (for everyone from the doctor to her husband has impressed upon her the importance of the tea being HOT HOT HOT if it is going to do ANYTHING at ALL to relieve her symptoms). Bathing has become, in the parlance of the day, optional. Her mind is a foggy swamp. Her blog, a neglected lot overgrown with kudzu.

However! There are a few things of note.

1. The baking book is coming along swimmingly (more photographic evidence of such available on Instagram), although the author is very happy indeed that plum season in Germany is over because one more Pflaumenkuchen and she was going to throw the damn thing straight out the window.

Marcella Hazan's stuffed eggs

2. If you are in need of a delicious hors d'oeuvres that does not involve bread of some kind (toasted, dipped, spread, etc), Marcella Hazan's "Hard-Boiled Eggs with Green Sauce" (on page 52 of The Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, if you own it) are very fine indeed. You boil, cool, shell and halve six eggs, then mash the yolks with an approximated salsa verde (2-3 tbsp olive oil, 1/2 tbsp capers, 1 tbsp minced parsley, 3 anchovies fillets, 1/4 tsp chopped garlic, 1/4 tsp mustard and some salt) and spoon this savory, salty, creamy mess back into the halved egg whites. One would not be remiss in renaming these Italian Deviled Eggs, but one should do as one pleases.

Popeye pie

3. Jim Lahey's (he of no-knead fame) pizza topped with an unorthodox mix of spinach, garlic, Gruyère, pecorino and mozzarella cheese, also called the Popeye Pie, is probably the best way to use up that bag of spinach currently rotting in your crisper. It shall be noted that the pizza, reheated, also makes an excellent breakfast in a pinch, even if you are not usually the type to eat pizza for breakfast and in fact find it slightly barbaric.

What else? A jumble of disparate thoughts and anxieties and to-do lists, stacks of cookbooks to work through, invoices to send, a little boy's toys to put away, a rumpled bed calling seductively, ten more gallons of herbal tea to burn a mouth on. For now, though, nothing more than that bed, some silence, a good book and rest.


Martha Stewart's Hot Crab Dip

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Thank you, darlings, for all your lovely comments and well wishes. It did me good to crawl off and act like a wounded animal for a bit. I took lots of hot baths, baked a bunch of delicious, comforting things and read all the back issues of the New Yorker I had lying around the house. It was very restorative and I'm happy to say that besides a sore chin and a few remaining issues with my jaw, I'm feeling back to normal.

As for the delicious baked things, I will tell you about all of them, I promise, but first things first: This hot crab dip, which comes from the pages of Martha Stewart's Hors d'Oeuvres Handbook, was the Number One Most Delicious Thing I made over the holidays (we had it for our Christmas Eve appetizer) and while I realize it may be snooze-y for you to read the words "Christmas" and "holidays" in February, please trust me. You need to have this in your repertoire.

Hot crab dip was one of those things I'd vaguely heard about but had never actually seen in the flesh. I always assumed it had been very trendy and hip mid-century, but had gone the way of the three-martini lunch as the decades passed. When I was trying to think of what to serve to our guests on Christmas Eve (we always do a pretty simple fish-based meal that evening), I pulled down the Hors d'Oeuvres Handbook for inspiration. While much of the book's recipes are for much fussier (and more elegant) things than I'd ever have the energy to recreate, there are so many fantastic ideas for entertaining a crowd packed within its pages. Case in point, this hot crab dip.

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It's a silly-easy recipe and can be made in advance of serving, both big pluses for cooking for a crowd. You can make it with frozen crab meat as well as fresh, which is a boon to those of us who live in countries where fresh crabmeat is unheard of. (Berliners, I bought mine here.) And most importantly, of course, it is drop-dead delicious.

This is not diet food or temple food or whatever you're going to call it. It's rich with butter and cream and cheese, but a little goes a long way and it is guaranteed to please the people you're feeding. I'd go so far as to say that as long as the days are short and the weather biting, you owe it to your friends to make them hot crab dip. Not to overstate things, but it's the kind of food that make you feel all is right with the world as you eat it. The rich savoriness will warm your bones and the conviviality of scooping and dipping bits of toasted bread into it while clustered around a table together will warm your soul. Just the thing to keep us going through this next gray month.

(The Amazon links are affiliate.)

Martha Stewart's Hot Crab Dip
Adapted from Martha Stewart's Hors d'Oeuvres Handbook
Serves 8 as an hors d'oeuvres

3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 medium shallots, minced
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
3/4 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning
1 1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
3/4 cup half-and-half
8 ounces cream cheese, cut into small pieces
4 ounces sharp white cheddar cheese, grated on the large holes of a box grater (about 1 3/4 cups)
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
10 ounces lump crabmeat, picked over for cartilage
1/2 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
2 slices white bread, crusts removed, torn into 1/4-inch pieces
1/2 teaspoon paprika
Toast points, for serving

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees with a rack in the center. Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add shallots and cook until soft, about 2 minutes. Add 1 tablespoon water and simmer for 30 seconds. Stir in the cayenne, Old Bay, and dry mustard until well combined. Pour half-and-half into saucepan and bring to a simmer. Slowly whisk in the cream cheese, a few pieces at a time. When the cream cheese is fully incorporated, whisk in the cheddar cheese, a handful at a time. Stir the mixture for 2 minutes. Remove from heat. Add lemon juice and Worcestershire sauce; stir to combine. Stir in crabmeat and half of the parsley.

2. Transfer mixture to an ovenproof baking dish and sprinkle with bread pieces. Dot top of bread pieces with remaining tablespoons butter; sprinkle with paprika. Bake until bread pieces are golden and dip is hot, 18 to 22 minutes. Garnish with remaining 1/4 cup parsley and serve with toast points.


Jean-Georges Vongerichten's Squash Toast

Squash toast

A little update on the state of affairs over here: I am sick, felled by the flu. Hugo is in the full throes of cranky, screamy toddlerhood (so soon? help!). It is my birthday, but because of the aforementioned germs I had to cancel every fun thing I had planned for the day. And I am up to my eyeballs in unanswered emails and stacks of work and to-do lists and backlogged posts and every time I think about all that stuff, my stomach does this ugly little flip, it's very disconcerting, and then to make it stop I have to burrow my face into my sick bed and breathe deep and tell myself to stop worrying, which of course does absolutely nothing to stop me from worrying, and anyway, it's all rather unpleasant.

And yet!

Despite this pathetic litany of complaints, I am in pretty good spirits. It is December, which is one of my favorite months. I just bought How The Grinch Stole Christmas to give Hugo on Christmas. Our Christmas Eve menu is coming together in my head. (Salt-baked whole fish? Chocolate soufflé? What do you think?) We have a roof over our heads and food in the pantry and I have a mother who drops everything to take care of my kid while I recuperate, even at 6:00 in the morning. Honestly, the only thing I wish I had right now were a few more hours in each day - say, three? I'm not greedy! - to get things done. Who's with me?

(Which leads me to a quick interlude: Dearest readers - sometimes, when I'm forced to lie in bed and think about thrilling things like organization and staying on top of things and other areas in which I find myself, at times, failing miserably, I wish there was some kind of textbook or curriculum on how to organize your life that could be passed around once you have a child and then go back to work. I'm not talking about having it all or balance or any of that, at least I don't think I am. It's more that I find myself wondering what little tips and secrets there are to running a household, working and parenting and staying marginally sane throughout. Then it occurred to me that I could just ask you wise people, because you've always come through in the clutch for me before. Right? So, tell me, give it to me straight: what is one piece of advice you'd give a frazzled lady such as myself if you could? You know, like, only buy socks in one color so you never have to worry if you lose one in the washing machine! Or...cook all your vegetables on Sunday and then use them up over the week! You know what I mean? Go!)

Raw squash

In return, I will tell you about this roasted squash business, which I made for the first time a month ago and have cooked every week since then and have decided is my favorite food discovery of 2013, which is no faint praise when you think about all the delicious things I wrote about since the beginning of the year: Orange marmalade, broccoli soup, French chocolate cake, porridge, for Pete's sake, homemade saag and THE BEST ROASTED VEGETABLES EVER, to name just a few.

It comes from Jean-Georges Vongerichten, which should already tip you off somewhat, since that man is a cooking genius and one of the only chefs I know who can successfully translate his insane restaurant kitchen chops into doable home cooking. This particular recipe shows up on ABC Kitchen's menu as Squash Toast and you can see adorable Mr. Vongerichten himself cooking it with Mark Bittman right here (if that video doesn't make you want to get into the kitchen right this instant, then I don't know what to tell you). And the first time I made it, I followed it pretty precisely and had myself a fabulous little lunch - the spicy squash and the sweet-sour onions are fantastic layered with the cooling ricotta, the crunchy bread, and the mint. But it was just me for lunch, which meant that I had a good amount of the roast squash mixed with vinegary onion jam left over. I figured I'd eat the leftovers for lunch the next day, stuck them in the fridge and forgot about them.

Then, a few days later, my mother was over and we needed lunch, fast. I put water on to boil for pasta, rummaged around in the fridge and found the mashed spicy squash. I thinned it with some starchy pasta water, dressed the boiled pasta with it and topped it with a big mound of grated Parmesan cheese and, lo, it blew our minds. I've made the squash and onions and used it for pasta every week since then. No joke. Everyone who eats it (my mother, my husband, my friends) goes quiet and makes that wide-eyed face, you know which one I'm talking about, as they work their way through their plate. It's magical and delicious and perfect and I love it.

Roasted squash

Jean-Georges Vongerichten's Squash Toast
Adapted from the original recipe
Note: I usually use less oil than called for here, reducing the amount by a tablespoon here and there.

1 2 1/2- to 3-pound kabocha or butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into pieces 1/8- to 1/4-inch thick
3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon dried chile flakes, more to taste
3 teaspoons kosher salt
1 yellow onion, peeled and thinly sliced
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup maple syrup
4 slices country bread, 1-inch thick
1/2 cup ricotta
Coarse salt
4 tablespoons chopped mint

1. Heat the oven to 450. Combine the squash, 1/4 cup olive oil, chile flakes and 2 teaspoons of salt in a bowl and toss well. Transfer the mixture to a parchment-lined baking sheet and cook, stirring once, until tender and slightly colored, about 15 minutes or a little longer. Remove from the oven.

2. Meanwhile, heat another 1/4 cup olive oil over medium-high heat, add the onions and remaining teaspoon salt and cook, stirring frequently, until the onions are well softened and darkening, about 10-15 minutes. Add the vinegar and syrup, stir and reduce over medium-low heat until syrupy and broken down, 10-15 minutes; the mixture should be jammy.

3. Combine squash and onions in a bowl and smash with a fork until combined. Taste for seasoning.

4. Add the remaining oil to a skillet over medium-high heat. Working in batches if necessary, add bread and cook until just golden on both sides, less than 10 minutes total; drain on paper towels. Spread cheese on toasts, then top with the squash-onion mixture. Sprinkle with coarse salt and garnish with mint.

4a. Alternatively, boil penne or rigatoni in lightly salted water, setting aside 1-2 cups of starchy pasta water towards the end. Toss the cooked pasta with the squash-onion mixture, thinning it with pasta water until you get the desired thickness and top with grated Parmesan cheese. The amount of squash and onions above will make enough "sauce" for 4-6 portions. If you go the pasta route, you can leave off the ricotta and mint.

 

Ricotta and Roasted Pepper Tartine

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Exhibit A:

Exhausted woman's attempt at fancy girl food after putting baby to bed, cleaning kitchen for the third time in one day (what the hell, baby?), answering one percent of the emails glaring at her in her inbox and putting fourth coat of paint on New Year's Resolution No. 6.

Required:

Slices, as needed, of nice, toastable bread.

Ricotta (the plain old grocery store stuff, because I am only human).

Roasted peppers (bossy instructions here), torn gently into shreds.

Olive oil, flaky salt, dried oregano.

Execute:

Toast bread and put on plate.

Spread with ricotta.

Top with roasted pepper strips, entwined artfully.

Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle liberally with salt and oregano.

Eat, then repeat with remaining ingredients until full or asleep at the dinner table, whichever comes first.

...

Speaking of which, how early is too early to go to bed at night? Is 8:30 pm pushing it? Asking for a friend.


Kale Chips

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The other day I was reading one of those year-end round-ups of annoying things that food bloggers do and halfway down the list was this (paraphrased):

STOP TALKING ABOUT KALE CHIPS OMG.

This made me laugh out loud, because just that morning I had practically dragged my mother into my kitchen to show her how to make kale chips, aren't they amazing, OMG and I couldn't wait to blog about them. I'd made my first batch the night before and they had blown my mind. Then they proceeded to blow hers. So, of course I couldn't wait to tell you all about them, even if I was the last one to the party, by, like, two whole years. And now here someone was telling me to stop talking about them already! They were so over kale chips and these overly enthusiastic food bloggers and their stupid kale!

In case you, like me, have been living under a rock or have just never really trusted that rubbing kale leaves with olive oil and sticking them in the oven would result in something irresistibly delicious OMG I'm not even kidding, then this post is for you.

KALE CHIPS ARE SO DELICIOUS YOU GUYS.

(Is this the best food blog post you have ever read, or what?)

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First thing you have to do is buy really nice, fresh kale. (Incidentally, it's the one leafy green that is not hard to find here in my beloved city because Berliners love themselves some curly kale. In winter, it's all over the place here, packaged up in 5-kilo bags to be stewed for hours along with coarse sausage called Pinkel (which also means to urinate? Which, uh, is neither here nor there.)) Back home, you strip the leaves off the ribs and discard the ribs. Then you wash the leaves and dry them carefully (I use the salad spinner and then I dab the remaining moisture off with a paper towel or two). You put the dried leaves on a sheet pan in a single layer, scatter some fine salt over them and drizzle them with a tiny bit of olive oil. Then you get your hands dirty, massaging the olive oil into the kale so that every square millimeter of leaf glistens darkly.

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Then you stick the pan in the hot oven and set the timer for 10 minutes, checking every once in a while to make sure that the leaves aren't going black. When they're ready, the kale chips will still look mostly like they did before, albeit a little more cooked. But when you put one in your mouth, it will shatter like a potato chip! A virtuous potato chip, though! And it will be delicious! All roasty-toasty and nutty, salty and delicious! You will probably eat the entire pan clean before your cohabitors even get wind of what fantastical treat just passed them by. And then you will spend the rest of the day dragging people into your kitchen to show them the kitchen magic you know how to do.

KALE CHIPS FOR EVERYONE, NOT JUST ANNOYING FOOD BLOGGERS!

I used this video and the accompanying comments for guidance on making them.


Stephen Williams's Salsify in Black Forest Ham

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You know, most days I think I'm a pretty good catch. I have all my teeth, I earn my own keep, I speak four languages and I can cook (at least perfect spaghetti, a decent loaf of bread and poached eggs the old-fashioned way). Then along comes one man and cooks me a dinner made up of a few different root vegetables, for Pete's sake, and a simple roast chicken and I realize that I am a hack and a fraud and I might as well be serving cold cereal every night for dinner.

I guess I should explain. Stephen Williams is no ordinary man, you see: he's a Michelin-starred gastropub chef and the friend of a friend of mine who very kindly invited me over to dinner the night that Stephen was in town and cooking for her.

Now, I don't know if you know this about me, but I do truly believe that fancy food is sort of wasted on me. Give me a plate of spaghetti over a seven-course tasting menu any day. It's not that I don't appreciate the skill and artistry that go on behind that seven-course menu. It's just that I really kind of prefer, say, a plate of boiled vegetables and a good olive oil. Let's call it the Italian peasant in me.

But.

I am not entirely a Philistine. Because as I sat at that dinner table, chewing on a stub of ham-wrapped salsify (oh, fine, five, no, seven of them), I distinctly felt the earth move.

My goodness, it was good.

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And also slightly terrifying. If such glory was lurking behind a black-peeled root, what on earth else had I been missing my whole life? What other kind of magic was Stephen able to practice, if given a home kitchen and, say, a cabbage or a pound of carrots or celery root or a hulking rutabaga, for crying out loud?

(Only a few of us will be able to find out - Stephen's leaving the Harwood Arms and traveling in Australia for a while before going to work at the Auberge de Chassignolles this summer. In other words, you must go to there.)

It's too upsetting to comtemplate, really, so instead let's just get down to what actually matters: How to cook salsify yourself.

First of all, find the salsify. Not such an easy task! You're looking for what basically look like black carrots. Black as night, with little white roots emerging from their spindly ends. Here's a visual aide, since I wasn't able to find any to photograph for you (the season is ending, even in Berlin, but remember this for next year!). Buy four or five or six salsify roots. Go to the butcher and get some real Black Forest ham, which should be the cured and smoked German kind, not the cooked American kind you see in sandwiches. You could also use prosciutto or jamòn Serrano, I suppose, though those are sweeter, unsmoked hams.

At home, take out a pot with a lid and pour a couple of inches of water into it. Add a splash, just a splash, of white wine vinegar. Next, peel the salsify. This is a little unpleasant. The salsify, upon peeling, excrete the oddest sort of goo that makes your hands rather tacky and can be a little tough to wash off (though using the scrubber side of a sponge did the trick for me in a matter of seconds). The second you've finished peeling a salsify root, cut it in half and drop it in the pot of water. When you're finished, the salsify should be entirely submerged in the water.

You parboil the salsify, then wrap them in the Black Forest ham you've painstakingly sourced. (You won't regret it, I promise you!) These little packages are laid lovingly in an oil-smeared baking dish (does the oil actually do anything here? I'm not entirely sure) and then roasted for about 20 minutes, until the ham has crisped and the salsify is satiny-fudgy in texture.

Good luck plating these: I guarantee at least three of them will not make it from the dish to the plate. Somewhere in mid-air, you will swoop in, your mouth agape. You will chew and taste sweetness and salt and the faintly mysterious flavor of the salsify, balanced somewhere between this world and the next. You will, quite unlike you, not offer anyone else the last one, but take it as your divine cook's right to finish it.

And then you will give your inner Italian peasant a hard look and contemplate attending cooking school, if only to learn what Stephen knows.

Salsify in Black Forest Ham
Serves 2 as a side

5 salsify roots
1 glug of white wine vinegar
5 slices real Black Forest ham
1 teaspoon olive oil

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Fill a saucepan with a few inches of water and add the vinegar to the water. Peel the salsify quickly, cut each root in half after peeling and drop into the acidulated water.

2. Bring the pot to a boil and simmer, covered, for 15 minutes. Drain the salsify. Oil a baking dish large enough to fit all the salsify in a single layer. Cut the ham slices in half lengthwise. Wrap each piece of salsify in a slice of ham and place, seam-side down, in the prepared pan.

3. Roast for 20 minutes, or until the ham has crisped and the salsify are entirely tender. Serve immediately.


Akhtar Nawab's Pork Meatballs with Yogurt Dressing

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Five weeks and counting. Five weeks and something like two days, I think. Oh, who am I kidding, like I don't know down to the minute. To be precise, 37 days. 37 days as of tomorrow. 37 days and one more evening, I guess, if I'm going to be totally exact. Is what I've got left in New York, of course.

I've been doing this thing which is totally maddening and kind of makes me want to smack myself gently in the face to snap out of it, but I can't seem to help it, this thing where I'll be somewhere, not even somewhere special, maybe just on the corner of 7th Avenue and 28th Street, which is sort of Nowheresville compared to other glimmering parts of this city, but who cares, I happen to love it. Anyway. The light will fall just so on that random little corner while the strangest accumulation of beautiful creatures will emerge from the subway moving like jungle cats and some cab driver will be screaming epithets from three lanes away while leaning on his horn and the cars will be moving along gracefully in this perfect symphony and a homeless dude will smile at me sweetly and I'll see the Rafiqi's cart guy pulling into his regular space and the wind will whip through my hair and suddenly I'll just lose my breath, it'll just get caught in my throat and my heart will stop and I'll find myself thinking This is it, this is the last time I'll ever be on the corner of 7th Avenue and 28th Street when the light falls just so with that crazy cabbie yelling over the din and the Rafiqi's guy setting up his cart, The Very Last Time, OMG, I must be crazy if I think I can leave, how on earth can I ever leave? Help.

And because I'm sentimental and in love with my city, the kind of love that I don't think will ever die, this happens to me on almost every street corner, at almost every moment. Don't get me started on when I see my friends. Let's just say I'm walking around with a perpetually clenched heart these days.

Which is all sort of ridiculous, of course. First of all, my reason for leaving is the kind of thing that still has me waking up with a disbelieving grin on my face most mornings. And second of all, New York is not exactly going anywhere. As most kind people tell me these days, I can always come back. I can always come back. I can always come back. Thirdly, while New York is without a doubt the Greatest City in the World, fully deserving of every tear I shed for its wondrous, sparkling, incredible self, I think I tend towards the slightly hysterical when it comes to saying goodbye, no matter where I am, let's be honest.

Anyway.

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One of the loveliest things to happen in these last few weeks was finally seeing what my friends Francis and Ganda were like in real life. Which just makes me laugh, really, since I can still remember those Stone Age days when I thought that people who made friends online were just totally strange and definitely a little suspect. And now I'm the kind of person who has dinner with her friends from the Internet, and it's practically like we've known each other for years. Which we have! Sort of. You know what I mean.

Anyway.

Francis made his famous koshary, Ganda brought positively addictive French Mint Bars from Li-Lac, so good they inspired a surprise visit from my strange disappearing sweet tooth (let me tell you about that unnerving phenomenon another time), and I made Akhtar Nawab's pork meatballs, finally, after hoarding the recipe carefully for two years.

Don't wait that long, is all I can tell you. These meatballs are wonderful. Even better, they come with two little sauces that catapult the meatballs from Very Tasty into Totally Delicious. Two sauces may seem like overkill to you (well, they did to me in any case), but I say think of them as a reason to pull out those adorable sauce dishes you might have been given as a wedding present, or the little bowls you bought at a flea market in Paris years ago and never seem to use.

The meatballs are flavored with everything from ground coriander to minced oregano. Interestingly, instead of mixing soaked bread into the raw meat in clumps, Akhtar has you sweat an onion until it's soft and translucent, then purée that onion with milk-soaked bread into a fragrant paste and mix that into the raw meat. Clever! The meat is shaped into balls and then fried in butter and oil until browned on all sides (mine went from rounds to triangularish domes in the pan, but no matter, they still tasted good). They're savory and herbal and crunchy and deeply wonderful.

The sauces are meant to be drizzled and dripped on the meatballs - first the yogurt sauce, which is so thick it can only be dolloped, and then the mint sauce, which is so good I could have sat down on the floor with a spoon and made it my dinner. (I'm having this weirdly intense thing with vinegar lately. I can't get enough of it. Even pickles don't seem to cut it. Maybe it's related to my disappearing sweet tooth? I don't know, I don't even care. I just want more vinegar, please. Straight from the bottle is fine, too.) If you're serving these as an appetizer, I think it'd be cute to arrange the meatballs on a platter, each stuck with a little toothpick, then drizzled and dolloped in advance by you before your guests set themselves upon the toothpicked meatballs like hungry Visigoths. If you're serving these as part of a meal, then pass the sauces in their bowls and let your guests dress their meatballs as they wish.

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(Look at these sweethearts, would you?)

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Pork Meatballs with Yogurt Dressing
Yields 50 1-inch meatballs (serves about 12 as an hors d’oeuvre)

For yogurt dressing
1 cup high-fat Greek yogurt
1 1/2 tablespoons ground cumin
1 tablespoon sugar
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

For mint dressing
1/2 cup finely sliced mint leaves
1 1/2 teaspoons minced shallots
1 1/2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

For meatballs
1 cup crustless country bread, torn into pieces
2 tablespoons milk
3 tablespoons olive oil
Half a large onion, peeled and thinly sliced
2 teaspoons coriander seeds
1 tablespoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1/2 teaspoon hot red-pepper flakes
2 1/2 pounds ground pork, chilled
1 tablespoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons finely chopped parsley leaves
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh oregano
4 tablespoons butter

1. For yogurt dressing, combine yogurt, cumin, and sugar. Slowly whisk in oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper, cover and refrigerate.

2. For mint dressing, combine mint, shallot and vinegar in small bowl. Slowly whisk in oil. Season with salt and pepper to taste, cover and refrigerate.

3. For meatballs, combine bread and milk in a bowl, and stir until bread has absorbed milk.

4. Combine 1 tablespoon of oil and onion in a saucepan over medium heat. Stir until sizzling, then cover, reduce heat to low and cook until onion is softened but not colored. Transfer to food processor, add bread mixture and purée.

5. Combine coriander, cumin, fennel and hot red-pepper flakes in small skillet over medium heat and stir until lightly toasted and fragrant. Remove from heat and grind to a powder in a spice grinder.

6. Mix meat, the bread mixture, spices and salt in a large stand mixer with paddle attachment. Add parsley and oregano, and mix again. With wet hands, roll into 1-inch balls.

7. Place large skillet over medium heat. Add butter and remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil. When butter has melted, reduce heat slightly and begin adding meatballs, allowing them to brown on the bottom, then turning gently to continue browning on all sides. Work in batches, transferring meatballs to a platter when they are cooked. To serve, drizzle with yogurt dressing and sprinkle with mint dressing.


How to Fry Zucchini Blossoms

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You know what's disappointing? Clipping a recipe Nine Whole Years Ago (9!), saving it meticulously for Just The Right Occasion, finally getting to That Blessed Moment, and realizing that the recipe is A Total Dud. D. U. D.

Oh! There was so much potential. First of all, the recipe came from Molly O'Neill, back when she had a column in the New York Times Sunday Magazine. Illustrious provenance, for sure. Second of all, it involved whole fish, Greek yogurt, red lentils, and marjoram, roasted in the oven. I know! Does that sound good, or what? Third of all, I'd been saving it for nine years. That's practically a third of my life! That number alone should have guaranteed deliciousness, I think.

But instead, after smearing yogurt all over a bunch of fish (red snapper because there was no striped bass to be found), stuffing them with marjoram and garlic, salting and peppering them well, arranging them on a (perplexing) bed of cooked red lentils, and roasting those suckers until they were crispy and browned, all they ended up tasting like was...nothing.

Now if you know anything about red lentils, you'll know that once they're cooked, they look nothing like their cute, coral selves from the package. They turn into a pallid yellow mush that one of my friends kind enough to share the meal last night actually likened to baby poop. (Oops! I swore to myself last night I wouldn't reference that on this website. I think I might have had too much to drink last night, too.) Now, of course, they can taste rather nice, provided they've been cooked with something, like minced onions and tomatoes and curry powder, or, I dunno, a few sweet potatoes and ginger. But just boiled? Boiled red lentils? Taste like nothing. Roasted in the oven at 500 degrees Fahrenheit? Nothing, crisped.

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Then there's the matter of the Greek yogurt. What on earth did smearing it on and in the fish do? I still don't know. The fish sure didn't taste like the yogurt. In fact, once the fish were done, you could barely even see the yogurt anymore. It's like it evaporated into thin air! Or into very hot oven air. As for the eight whole garlic cloves and twelve sprigs of marjoram? I don't know if you'll believe me, but you must: I couldn't taste any of it. And I don't have a cold, either. The fish tasted like...red snapper. Roasted in the oven. Plain. As in, PLAIN. So it was edible, I guess, but oh, so disappointing.

Very luckily for all of us at dinner last night, my friend Betsy had the eminently sensible idea of overruling me at the market a few days earlier (I said they'd be too much work. Readers, I am a fool!) and buying a big package of zucchini flowers, which she stuffed with mozzarella and a dab or two of olive paste and fried into crispy, crunchy, golden deliciousness. With a cool glass of Sancerre, they made for a far better dinner.

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Okay, so a quick recipe for those of you who have yet to fry your own zucchini blossoms:

Buy a bunch of fresh zucchini blossoms from an organic farmer so you don't have to worry too much about washing off chemicals. They should not be wilted or browned, but rather look like they were just picked, all vibrant with color. Buy a nice, firm mozzarella. This is not the time for bufala, which is too wet and milky. If you want to be totally traditional, buy some salted anchovies. If not, get a bit of olive paste, also known as tapenade. Oh, and you'll need some nice flaky salt, a few eggs, a plate of flour, and a couple of inches of frying oil (you can use olive oil, but not extra-virgin, or just regular vegetable oil).

Pour the oil into a saute pan with sides, like this one, to the height of one or two inches. Check the blossoms to make sure they're clean and brush off any dirt you might see. Cut the mozzarella into little batons. Rinse the anchovies and cut them in half, if you're using them. Beat 2 eggs in a shallow dish, and pour flour into another dish. Working with one blossom at a time, gently open the blossom end and push in a baton of mozzarella. Then slide in half an anchovy, or a small spoonful of olive paste. Twist the top of the blossom shut. Repeat with the remaining blossoms. Turn the heat on under the pan and while the oil heats up, dip each blossom in the egg to coat, making sure the top of the blossom remains twisted shut, and then dip it in the flour to coat. Repeat with as many blossoms as you'd like to prepare (as an appetizer, consider two or three per person).

When the oil is hot but not smoking (you can gently drop something into the oil to test if it's hot enough - if it is, it'll start fizzing and frying), gently slip the battered blossoms into the oil. Don't crowd the pan (the 10-incher we used last night fit five blossoms at a time). Fry for three to four minutes on each side, turning only once with tongs. While the blossoms fry, line a few plates with some layered paper towels. When the blossoms are golden brown on both sides, remove them to the paper towels. Sprinkle them with flaky salt and eat them immediately. Well, wait a minute so you don't burn the roof of your mouth, but not more than that. (Oh, and make sure you have a glass of nice, cold white wine nearby.) I think you'll find they're difficult to stop eating and not nearly as much work as you think they are.

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There! I've already forgotten about that silly fish and those silly, silly lentils. My work here is done. Have a lovely evening, folks!

Oh, wait, one more thing. If you often find yourself wondering (which I'm sure you do, right?) what on earth I eat on those days when I'm not slaving away in the kitchen or munching on fried zucchini blossoms, head on over to Gourmet.com (!), where I talk with the lovely Sari Lehrer about rancid butter, Canadian yogurt, the glory that is Mexican salsa verde, and the cheapest meal in New York City.