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  • The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook
    The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook
    by Deb Perelman
  • Baked Elements: Our 10 Favorite Ingredients
    Baked Elements: Our 10 Favorite Ingredients
    by Matt Lewis, Renato Poliafito
  • Savory Sweet Life: 100 Simply Delicious Recipes for Every Family Occasion
    Savory Sweet Life: 100 Simply Delicious Recipes for Every Family Occasion
    by Alice Currah
  • The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Food from My Frontier
    The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Food from My Frontier
    by Ree Drummond
  • Bouchon Bakery
    Bouchon Bakery
    by Thomas Keller, Sebastien Rouxel


tuscaloosa tollhouse pie (from the Baked cookbook)

Let's cut to the chase.

Make this pie. Now.

If you were planning to go to bed... Or say loving things to someone... Or do your job... Put. It. On. Hold. You can sleep/love/work later.

You need this pie.

You know how much we love Alice's Chocolate Chunk Cookies? Right. This is a pie full of oozing chocolate cookie.

And it has whiskey in it. So that should pretty much sell it.

The recipe comes from the Baked cookbook. The recipes are the ones used in their bakery. We love that book. Our friend, Tod, bought it after we made him pumpkin whoopie pies from it. He loved them that much. I think he had a desire to have whoopie pies on demand. Now he can't stop baking from it. It's like The Red Shoes but with flour-based goodness.

Karen and I took the kids to Brooklyn this weekend to see the cherry blossoms. We stopped at the Baked shop in Red Hook before we saw the flowers. The kids ate monster cookies. I ate scones. Karen ate brownies. Pretty much the best breakfast ever. When we got home, we started looking at Red Hook real estate. That's how much we love them.

The recipe follows. Fair warning - we will feature a couple of more recipes from Baked in the next few weeks. I'd suggest you buy a copy and bake along.

baked’s tuscaloosa tollhouse pie
  • Pie dough (you live a life full of choices. Pie crust is another one. Decide for yourself what crust you want to make. I'm not the boss of you.)
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened and cubed
  • 1 T whiskey (or not)
  • 3/4 cup walnuts, toasted and chopped fine (You can buy them chopped fine. Move on.)
  • 8 oz. semisweet chocolate chips. Or chop some chunks.

Do your pie crust. You know I have issues making them. Karen does not. Do what makes you happy. Once you've got it in the pan, freeze it while you make the filling.

Get the oven to 350 degrees F.

Whisk the flour and sugars together. Put them in the corner and give them a pep talk. They're going to make something awesome.

With a whisk attachment, beat eggs on high speed until foamy. Maybe three minutes. Eject the whisk. Put the paddle attachment on the mixer. Turn it on low. Slowly, add the flour and sugars. Mixer on high for two minutes. Scrape down and throw in the butter. Beat on high until combined. Add the whiskey if you want it. Beat on high for one minute.

Use a spatula and fold in the walnuts and half of the chocolate. Note that you're not putting in all the chocolate. Yet.
Pour the filling into the pie shell. Throw on the rest of the chocolate. Bake for 25 minutes. The edges are going to be done before the filling, so fold up some foil so it looks like a belt, and then cover the edges of crust. You want to shield the crust from the heat, but don't shield the filling. Bake for another 25 minutes or so. It's done when a knife stuck in it comes out clean.

Cool completely on a rack (who are we kidding? You should wait a couple of minutes and then dig in) before serving. Reheat for a few seconds in the microwave if it cools completely before you get a chance to devour it.

Recipe from Baked: New Frontiers in Baking (Stewart, Tabori & Chang)


cod basquaise

I had a dream last week that I sat beside Eric Ripert on an airplane and brought him home to make him dinner. He played with our kids and changed their diapers. And he liked the dinner we made for him. At least he said he did.

That's the kind of chef that I love.

If you don't get Ripert's show, Avec Eric, you're missing something special. In each episode, he typically visits an artisan farmer of some sort (bee keeper, wine maker), becomes inspired, and then goes home to his Manhattan apartment and makes something based upon his inspiration. He's a chef who hasn't lost his sense of wonder about the world. His enthusiasm is infectious, and you think "I could make that, too." This is one of the best chefs in the world, and he inspires instead of intimidates. Maybe it's because he's a French Buddhist. Maybe it's because he's confident in his craft. Maybe it's because he's willing to change my kids' diapers.


Be inspired.

Try this one. It's quick, incredibly easy. Tastes spectacular. There's a tiny bit of chopping, but you can handle it.

The approach comes from Basque regional cooking. Slow-cooked peppers, tomatoes, onions, ham. Pefectly cooked fish. I get intimidated by fish, but following Ripert's instructions gives me confidence.

We made some changes to the recipe:
  • The "fresh" tomatoes at the market looked horrible. I used canned plum tomatoes.
  • Instead of Serrano ham, we used prosciutto. It's not the same. But it tasted great.
  • Instead of Espelette pepper, we used smoked paprika (maybe my favorite seasoning), but a lot less of what is called for in the recipe. Smoked paprika has an intense flavor that quickly overwhelms everything it touches. And you're using a beautiful bit of fish, so go easy.
  • Speaking of fish, we couldn't get fresh cod. We used halibut. Life goes on.
This is a non-fussy dish to prepare that looks like you spent hours making it. It will take you about 30 minutes. You don't have to tell anyone.

Recipe | Cod Basquaise


grom gelato

Here's what I remember of Florence, Italy...

Taking prohibited pictures of Michelangelo's David (without flash).

Being sonically accosted by the University of Southern California marching band playing Gwen Stefani's "Hollaback Girl" in the Pitti Palace gardens.

And gelato. Perfect gelato.

In 2006, we took a trip to Italy on a whim (thank you, Expedia, for your last-minute deal). Having never visited Italy, we didn't know exactly what we wanted to do, where to go, where to stay. But we had heard about Bistecca alla Fiorentina, and that seemed like enough to build a vacation around.

In the days before our trip, we came across some advice on gelato: if the pistachio gelato is bright green, run away (food coloring); and look for the gelatario that keeps its frozen fat hidden in canisters. I have no idea if the advice is more right than wrong, but it certainly served us well. Just steps from the Duomo, we found Grom gelatario.

Nearly every night during our stay, we stopped by Grom for a fix of extra-dark chocolate (cioccolato extranoir), hazlenut (nocciola), and cream with candied lemons, oranges, and citrons (cassata siciliana). One of my favorite memories of our visit is sitting on the steps of the Duomo at sunset, loving where we were right at that moment, and finishing off another cup of Grom.

I know foodies go on and on about how important it is to have high-quality ingredients (which typically means shelling out a bunch of money, which comes off feeling snobby and elitist). But for a couple of bucks, Grom gives you a cup of perfection with quality and craft that you can really taste.

Fortunately, Grom has opened up several locations in the States. We have two here in NYC, one on the Upper West Side that I could see from my office window if they would just relocate the Hearst building. The other one is down on Bleeker. And I just looked on their website to see where else they are in the US (hello, Malibu), discovering a new shop is opening up soon in NYC. Six short blocks from my office. Pure joy.

Also on Grom's site, they give careful attention to food allergies. They have a handy chart that shows which of their flavors will work with your allergies/dietary restrictions: gluten, eggs, milk, dried fruits and nuts, and vegan.

A few weeks after we returned from Florence, we discovered we were expecting our first child. I'd give at least a little bit of credit to the Grom.


ratatouille soup with tapenade

Our son said to me yesterday, "Daddy, I want to be a chef." Then he started calling me "Chef Daddy." I feel this is a ploy to get more Thomas the Tank Engine trains.

It will work.

It's funny when you (we) have children, you want to introduce these big "something specials" to them. For me, I can't wait for our kids to be old enough to read Roald Dahl's "
The Boy Who Talked with Animals," but I'd hate for them to get the idea I want them to runaway on the back of a giant sea turtle. It's a horrible balance, isn't it? "I want you to love this" vs. "don't embrace it too fully please, because I like you and would hate to see you go tumbling down a hill inside of a giant peach."

And so it was with
Ratatouille. I want our kids to love cooking. To love food. To find something new in creating, filling people up and making them feel better. To solve problems by looking at something and thinking "what could I make with that?"

Our son can't say "Ratatouille," so he calls it "The Rat That Cooks."

That seems like enough.

And his sisters are almost old enough to watch a little bit. I want them to see the joy of the whole thing.

I hope.

So. Ratatouille soup. We came up with this recipe (a term I use very loosely) when our good friend and theatre director, Jessi Hill, and her partner were set to come for a visit. Karen and I both did theatre with Jessi in Chicago, and then she got a fancy degree from Yale, and now she's doing her whole big thing here in NYC. She's one of those people that you cheer to succeed, and you know she will. 

On the day she was set to visit, we were deluged with horrible rains and wind, wiping out her visit. We had made a giant batch of ratatouille. We were flooded with roasted vegetables, and we couldn't bear to get rid of them. So we made soup. The soup was better than the actual ratatouille. Then we added dollops of tapenade, and the whole thing was brilliant. (We still owe Jessi dinner, and the flooding this week reminded me how much we miss her.)

Here is the so-called recipe. Improvise, please. It's very forgiving.

- Don't worry too much about perfect slices of the veggies. You're going to blend the whole thing. No one will know. 

Ratatouille Soup with Tapenade

  • Two onions, sliced 1/4 inch thick
  • 5 tomatoes, peeled (No good fresh tomatoes at the store, so I used canned. I know. I'm disappointed, too. We'll get over it. Dump out the juice if you feel like it. Keep it if you don't. It'll be fine. Relax.)
  • 4 small eggplant or 2 medium ones. (I don't like giant eggplant. It's funky in not a good way.) Slice these 1/4 inch thick right before you assemble everything. You don't need to salt them if you've done that with eggplant before. You're not frying them, so the liquid is good here.
  • 4 small green and/or yellow squash, cut 1/4 inch thick
  • Thyme. Or rosemary. Or both. Remove the thyme from the woody stems, but leave it on the green soft stems. Chop the rosemary after you've taken it off the stem. 
  • Add in whatever else you like. No one is looking.
  • Olive oil. Salt (Kosher, yes?) and pepper.
  • A quart of chicken or veggie stock, but probably less. Plan for 2 c. to start, but have the extra handy. Or use water. Really, current chicken stock from the store is pretty much water, so just do water if you want.
  • Tapenade, purchased or make your own by blitzing some pitted olives, capers, garlic, and olive oil.
Crank up the oven to 400-500. Just depends how you're feeling. 

Assemble all the ingredients together. 

You can layer them in a Dutch oven or throw them on a giant cookie sheet. Covered or uncovered (uncovered gets you some tasty browning, but watch that it doesn't burn).

Toss with olive oil. Thyme. Rosemary. Salt. Pepper. Bake for 45 minutes or so. Eyeball it.

Does it look done? No? Roast it some more. I've gone 90 minutes when I cut the vegetables too thick.

When you're good with the doneness (stick a fork in the veggies), take it out of the oven. If you have a stick/immersion blender, this will be easy. If not, use a food processor, but use caution with the heat. If you aren't careful with hot items in a blender (don't put the top on; cover it with a towel), it will explode, sending near-boiling liquid hurtling through space and time, and leaving you with some nasty face burns. I know from experience. 

Add in some stock to the veggie (figure out how much you need yourself). Blend. If too thick, add some stock. Taste. Salt and pepper until you're happy.

Scoop some soup into a bowl. Add a dollop of tapenade.

You're welcome.


cinnamon crumble apple pie

Let's talk pie.

I want it. Pretty much every waking moment. I think of pie as less of a dessert and more of a lifestyle choice. Some people have dogs. Or run. Or have a pied-à-terre in Paris. I have pie.

Unfortunately, I can't make a pie crust to save my life. I have tried repeatedly. My mom makes a great crust. She showed me how to do it. I failed. I followed the America's Test Kitchen recipe with vodka in it (bonus points for that). Failed. I tried the pie crust from the Baked cookbook. Failed. It's either too thick, too thin, or too warm while rolling it out and the butter melts, killing any flaky life left in it. Forget crimping the edges, that ribboned edge of crust poking above the edge of the pie plate. I think there's a gene for crimping, and apparently I am recessive.

Karen, however, makes a glorious cinnamon crumble apple pie. It is perfection, crust included. Heavy on the apples without cloying sweetness. A crunchy topping that makes you wonder why anyone would ever want a double crust. A test of a great pie for me is if I want to eat it for breakfast the next day. Whenever she makes it, I can promise I know what I'm eating in the morning.

I know it's almost Spring. But today's chilly and rainy, reminding me that March hasn't flipped the switch quite yet. And I really hope I'm having pie for breakfast tomorrow...

(Hint - if you are a recessive pie crust maker like me and you live near a Trader Joe's, get their frozen pie crusts. I'm not hating them at all.)

Recipe | cinnamon crumble apple pie [via]