Russian Black Bread

DSC_0878bBread-baking is the antidote to everything that people find frustrating about pastry. Measurements are imprecise and dependent on variables such as ambient humidity and elevation. You can be messy and aggressive; bread dough responds to abuse rather like a particularly eager masochist. Bread dough likes being slapped and pounded, and “rustic” is an aspirational term, rather than a euphemism.

I first started baking bread when I was about 11. A snarky, competitive, and somewhat fatalistic child, I decided to become a bread baker because it was the only type of kitchen craft that my mother did not execute impeccably; I didn’t want to cook things that she would always do better. Continue reading

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Lemon Almond Poppy Seed Cake with Lemon Crème Fraiche Glaze

DSC_0855aHappy New Year everyone! Here’s a sweet treat to send you into 2013, a virtual hug from me to you. This is a very easy, very delicious cake. My oven’s finally been repaired (hurrah!) and I wanted to test it with something fairly forgiving. It’s the perfect “I want cake right now!” or “Crap! I’ve got company coming and nothing to feed them!” cake, since it’s ready in 75 minutes or less. Continue reading

Spicy Cantonese Pork and Jellyfish with Celery

DSC_0795aI had all sorts of grand plans for this to be the year that I posted wonderful holiday-themed recipes and tips in time for Christmas. Unfortunately, between work, illness, and an oven that was broken until yesterday, I just haven’t gotten around to making my holiday dishes. Instead, as usual, I will be making edible holiday gifts on Christmas eve, cursing myself for being a procrastinator, and probably blogging whatever works sometime next week. Thus today, instead of nutmeg and allspice scented fantasies, boozy dark chocolate and eggnog, I bring you … jellyfish. Continue reading

Ma Po Tofu

DSC_0775aMy friend Nayan is a talented polymath who claims that he can cook anything. A professionally-trained chef turned itinerant winemaker, Nayan professes to have perfect palate memory: that he can taste something, identify its components, and duplicate it. On Sunday, for the first time, we cooked together. We were both craving spicy food. What started as a vague idea to cook something with chillies turned into a foray into regional Chinese cooking. Continue reading

Spicy Brussels Sprouts with ‘Nduja Sausage and Mushrooms

DSC_0665The benighted Brussels sprout is finally having its day. It used to be quite fashionable to detest Brussels sprouts; now the momentum has shifted in the other direction and is gathering speed. As a descendant of cabbage-eaters on both sides of my family, I suppose it was inevitable that I would be a Brussels sprout lover. (Research shows, in fact, that our palates are most influenced by the foods our mothers consumed during pregnancy.) Previously, in order to induce friends to consume them, I had to cleverly disguise my Brussels sprouts with things like nuts and dried cranberries. The last time I did that, my friend Jess remarked, “I think you should have let the Brussels sprouts be Brussels sprouts.” Let the age of the Brussels sprouts begin. Continue reading

Lamb, Mint, and Almond Meatballs with Saffron-Almond Sauce

Life in the new flat is not all wine and roses. Since my move in early October, I’ve been contending with the Never-Ending Kitchen Remodel. You know, that delightful pastiche featuring those charming rascals, the Slapdash Contractors, with supporting roles played by the Goddamn Shitty Appliances. The first time I attempted to use the oven I turned on the timer rather than the heat, and couldn’t figure out how to turn it off. It ticked loudly tick-tick-tick-tick-tick-tick-tick-tick-tick-tick until I worked out how to get the heat on and blew all the fuses in the kitchen. Sarf-East cockney contractor Del-boy came round an hour or two later and put the oven on its own fuse. Once the oven was reconnected the timer started ticking again tick-tick-tick-tick-tick-tick-tick-tick-tick-tick. Del-boy scratched his head, muttered something about not being boffered, and skulked off. Saturday I brought home beef bones to roast for stock, at which point I learned the oven doesn’t actually work, as in doesn’t get hot. I stomped around crankily and may have whined a bit about wanting to roast things. Lovely Flatmate called the truculent nameless Polish contractor, who looked in the oven and said, “I can’t fix. You need specialist.”

So, still no oven. The timer works though. There it is now, tick-tick-tick-tick-tick-tick-tick-tick-tick-tick. Continue reading

Cranberry-Plum Coffee Cake with Ginger and Macadamia Streusel

I’m back in Seattle in the fall, which is one of my favorite times of the year here. Since I arrived last week, at least four separate people have told me that I just missed one of the most spectacular summers in Seattle, but I don’t mind; the skies are dramatic, the leaves are turning, and the Puget Sound and lakes reflect the changeable light so beautifully. I am also house-sitting for a co-worker who has a GORGEOUS home, with incredible views, and a newly remodelled kitchen. Sometimes I love my life.

A friend visited me from Portland this weekend, and on Friday night she tipsily said, “Let’s bake something tomorrow.” (When my friends drink they fantasize about cooking.) Saturday was properly chilly. We went to the farmers market in the morning in search of inspiration and found it in just-picked greengages, damsons, and cranberries. And – in the most beautiful fresh ginger, which was green, rose-pink, and bone-white, and looked like living coral. I’ve never seen anything like it. Continue reading

Cheddar, Cider, and Leek Soup

Why is it that when it’s cold and icky outside, hot food tastes so much better in liquid form? When I say it’s “soup weather’, what I really want is to be enveloped in soup. I want a soup hug. I told my father on a particularly gray and unpleasant day last week that I was making a cheddar, cider, and leek soup. He said it sounded “disgusting.” My father is wrong. This soup is GREAT – it’s like a lazy afternoon in a warm pub when it’s chilly outside, in a bowl, for lunch. Continue reading

Garlic and Puy Lentil Soup with Smoked Paprika and Spicy Greens

There are few flavour combinations that I like so well as garlic and paprika. Married to one another, garlic and paprika have a greater-than-the-sum-of-their-parts appeal, a briny, lingering, and distinctive aroma and flavour that work equally well with seafood and meat, with pulses and with vegetables. I am, of course, immensely fond of Spanish food, which some might say has its foundations in this happy union. Paprika, or pimentón, supposedly was brought to Spain from the Americas by Christopher Columbus, and it has become such an integral part of Spanish food that in Spain, paprika is rigorously regulated for quality, with denominations of origin, like wine and olive oil. When cooking with paprika, invest in high-quality Spanish paprika (it makes such a difference), and keep both sweet and smoked in your cupboard – you’ll use both. Continue reading

Roasted Beets with Homemade Ricotta, Crispy Bacon, and Basil

I’ve been fascinated lately with the idea of making everything – including those ingredients we are accustomed to buying ready-made from the shops in convenient plastic tubs – from scratch. In this respect, of course, I’m about 30 years behind Alice Waters and 15 years behind most of Brooklyn. Also, although I’d like to try making my own goat cheese, for example, the unfortunate truth is that when all is said and done I’d probably prefer a nice Rocamadour or something equally French and delicious. Ricotta, however, is another story. It’s possible to find really good fresh ricotta in a supermarket, but more often than not good ricotta is the only thing you can’t find – everything else is laden with stabilizers and sugars and mystery additives. Also, everyone says making ricotta is really easy. What I’ve learned is that (1) making ricotta is easy, and (2) it really does taste better. Much, much better. Continue reading