May 2, 2013
As you may know, I’ve been hopping around a lot. My friends in Paris have a tendency to travel, and when they do, I’ve been raising my hand to volunteer to cat-sit/house-sit/whatever-sit for them. It’s a win-win: their pet gets fed, their house looks lived-in so it doesn’t get robbed, I get to see lots of different parts of Paris, and I leave freshly-baked chocolate chip cookies when I leave.
Chocolate chip cookies are my favorite thing to bake, so naturally I’ve gone through lots of recipes. But no matter how much I might mess around with ground oatmeal or brown butter or pumpkin purée or what-have-you, this is the recipe I go back to. Good ol’ Alton‘s got it right, as he so often has.
These cookies, like all chocolate chip cookies, are fantastic straight out of the oven. But the special thing about them is that they continue to be good, nay, I would even say better, for days after they’ve been baked. If you like a toothsome chew in your cookie, this is where it’s at.
I’ve recently learned that there are people in this world who will wake up in the middle of the night, hungry, and actually get out of bed searching for a snack. I have it on good authority that these cookies are excellent for those kinds of people, too.
March 17, 2013
I’ve been vagabonding around Paris of late, staying at one obliging friend’s apartment after another while they’re out of town, house-sitting or cat-sitting or what have you. It’s a great way to experience different parts of the city, to be sure, but it’s also a formula for feeling constantly not-quite-at-home.
There are things I do to make myself feel less like an interloper into someone else’s space: saturating the house with my favorite music; drinking inordinate amounts of tea while staring out of the windows, familiarizing myself with the view; making the kitchen smell like my kitchen.
One of the defining smells of the kitchen in which I grew up is sesame oil. My standard after-school snack when I was a little girl was a bowl of rice mixed with a bit of soy sauce and sesame oil, the distinct nutty smell of the oil amplified by the heat of the rice.
This bowl of greens and grains is like a grown-up version of my carb-bomb after school snack. Delicate Brussels sprouts leaves and crunchy coconut are tossed in an Asian-inspired vinaigrette, walked quickly through the oven just to get them toasty, and served over hot, fluffy brown rice. I know it sounds way too healthy to be exciting, but trust me: this is some seriously addictive stuff, friends.
February 9, 2013
I’ve been going out to eat a lot lately. I feel like I’m finally starting to figure out this Paris thing, and a big part of that is hanging out with friends at good restaurants… which means that I’m not cooking as much.
There’s this thing that happens when I eat a lot of restaurant food, though, where I start to crave the kind of thing that restaurants don’t tend to serve. Long-simmered, inexpensive cuts of meat. Saucy brown stuff. The kind of food that isn’t pretty on a plate, but sticks to your ribs.
This is what I want today, after several nights of restaurant food. Fork tender pork meets a nutty, buttery, oniony sauce that’s rendered rich and complex by a cajun-style, chestnut-colored roux. Plus pajamas, plus Netflix, plus beer, equals perfect night in.
January 20, 2013
It’s story time with Miss Diane! Gather ’round kids.
Once there was a little girl who was a very picky eater. She didn’t like spicy foods, she didn’t like foods that were “too green,” and was generally scared of foods she’d never tried before. Eventually, the little girl grew up to be a college student who, while still being a picky eater, loved to eat.
One day, the girl had a realization. If I get over my pickiness, she thought, I can eat more food! Maybe I don’t actually hate the things I don’t think I like… maybe I never gave them a proper chance.
And so she started with mushrooms. She took some plump, pretty mushrooms, and stuffed them with everything she liked: bacon, bread crumbs, cheese, garlic…
If I don’t like them stuffed with all these good things, she thought, then I probably actually hate them. She took a fat, juicy stuffed mushroom between her fingers and took a bite. She’s been loving mushrooms ever since.
January 15, 2013
I’m back from California to dreary, rainy Paris.
I know. I have no right to complain. But my two-and-a-half weeks in LA really highlighted the differences between my two cities, and what I had taken for granted while living in Santa Monica. Also what I have been missing here, more than 70° weather in January.
And but so I’ve decided (not resolved; I don’t do that) to do more things like this: invite a friend over for a simple lunch of roasted chicken, perhaps pepped up a bit with spice. Because what I’ve been missing here more than anything else is a sense of community. The kinds of friends who you don’t have to make elaborate dinner plans to see. Just come over. We’ll watch some things on YouTube and drink wine and eat too much.
December 18, 2012
Meet the new guy I’ve been obsessing over for the last couple of weeks.
He’s a sourdough starter and I raised him myself! Back in the old days, before you could get those packets of yeast at the supermarket, bakers would have to catch and raise their own yeast if they wanted leavened bread. The cool thing is that when you catch wild yeast, some beneficial bacteria get caught too; these are the bacteria that give sourdough that tangy flavor. And the combinations of yeast and bacteria are different in every region, which is part of the reason why a French pain au levain tastes different from San Francisco sourdough.
Raising a starter is as simple as mixing together some flour and water, then letting it sit in a warm spot for a few days. The yeast and bacteria in the air work their way into the flour and water slurry and start eating the carbohydrates in it. Then you “train” the little guy by discarding a bit, then feeding the rest with more flour and water. Eventually the culture grows, eats, and burps little carbon dioxide bubbles in a predictable manner, and that’s when it’s ready to use for baking. It really is very much like having a pet: daily feedings, a little warm corner for him to sleep in, and he has the potential to give you many years of joy.
His name is Jean-Bapyeast. I wanted a really French name, a friend suggested Jean-Baptiste, and Edna punned it into Jean-Bapyeast. Excellent, non?
There are a lot of things you can do with a natural sourdough starter, including, of course, making bread. I’ve tried my hand at a couple of loaves but haven’t quite nailed down my perfect recipe yet. The loaf above was my first, and unfortunately it deflated a bit while I was transferring it to the baking vessel, resulting in a denser loaf than I prefer. We’ll get there, and until then, try raising a sourdough starter for yourself. There’s really nothing cooler than making tasty bread out of nothing but flour, water, salt, and some microorganisms you gathered from the air.
December 13, 2012
This is one of the most versatile dinners I know. Basically, it follows the concept of “slather it in béchamel sauce and/or top it with pie crust and it’ll probably be delicious.”
Originally, I was going to call this “leftover pot pie,” because I took these photos around Thanksgiving when leftovers were all everyone was talking about. And honestly, the way I usually make it is with a mess of leftovers, but leftovers pot pie doesn’t sound that appetizing.
My point is that you can make this pie with pretty much any kind of vegetables or protein in the filling. Got some leftover chicken from that one you roasted earlier this week? It’ll work perfectly. A few herby carrot sticks that you didn’t finish from today’s afternoon snack? Chop ‘em up and chuck ‘em in. Some garlicky greens hanging out in your fridge? Naturally. You can also make this in almost any oven-safe vessel: a deep dish pie pan is traditional, but feel free to mess with individual mini-pies (like I did), 8-inch square baking pans, or cast-iron skillets.