You’ve heard of one-pot meals, but have you heard of one-cake desserts? That’s not a thing, but it should be. Here’s the idea: instead of an elaborate cake that you have to frost or decorate or slice in half, a one-cake dessert is one where a batter goes into a cake pan, the pan goes into the oven, and whatever comes out an hour later is what you serve for dessert (sprinkled, perhaps, with powdered sugar). In my years of dinner party-throwing, I’ve been a big champion of one-cake desserts: Al Di La’s pear and chocolate cake, for example. Or my favorite dinner party dessert of all time: Amanda Hesser’s almond cake. Now a new cake comes along to join the pantheon; this raspberry ricotta cake from last month’s Bon Appetit.
Some food people are real sticklers for words and what they mean. For example: pizza. I consider the pizza at Pizzeria Mozza (developed by Nancy Silverton) to be some of the best pizza I’ve ever had, but there are detractors out there who call it focaccia because it’s so puffy. I’m pretty sure it’s pizza for a few reasons: 1. it’s round; 2. it’s cooked in a wood-burning oven; 3. the name of the restaurant is Pizzeria Mozza.
Still, even I had to raise an eyebrow at the pizza I just made from the cover of this month’s Bon Appetit. The dough is a clever riff on Jim Lahey’s no-knead bread. Though this one you knead, for 12 minutes, and then let it rest–and ferment–overnight in the fridge.
Imagine being 27 years old and on vacation in Martha’s Vineyard when you find out that your relatively new restaurant in downtown L.A. has just been named by Bon Appetit the “Best New Restaurant in America 2013.” That’s precisely what happened to Chef Ari Taymor in August and his restaurant Alma is now on the lips of every food-obsessed person in the city (maybe even the country).
Being the wily person that I am, I immediately reacted to the news of Alma’s award with a jaunt over to OpenTable where I booked the earliest reservation I could: dinner for 4 on Saturday, September 7th at 9:15 PM.
Spring peas require patience. You have to take the time to go to the farmer’s market to find them and then you have to remove them from their pods. If you have a lazy afternoon ahead and you want to sit on your front porch rocking in a chair and chatting with neighbors, by all means, shell a bunch of peas. Me? When a recipe calls for fresh peas vs. frozen peas, I always opt for frozen peas. Because they’re always so good and sweet. And because I don’t have a porch. And because I’m lazy. Stop judging me.
Several years ago (in 2008, to be exact), I covered Vegas Uncork’d, Bon Appetit’s Las Vegas food festival, for the Food Network. That was a whirlwind of a trip; I interviewed so many chefs and attended so many meals, it felt like I ran a marathon. The nice people there invited me back many times but I was never able to justify the flight from New York. This time, though, I realized I could go just by driving. So I said “yes” and brought along my friend Diana.
Last week something unprecedented happened. I was having a new friend over for dinner and, after shopping at 3 o’clock and starting to cook at 4 o’clock, I found myself at 8 o’clock holding my cellphone and a text message from this new friend saying that he had a work emergency and wouldn’t be able to make it. I was left with a giant bowl of couscous, a whole roasted chicken, vanilla bean pudding (which I’ll blog about later this week) and, lucky for me, two undressed heads of radicchio that I’d sliced and refrigerated in anticipation of making a salad. Now that it was just Craig and me, we wouldn’t need the salad and that undressed radicchio would survive the night in the fridge and become next day’s lunch. As it turned out that lunch–a purple salad that I concocted with leftover chicken, red onion, raisins and toasted walnuts–was almost better than the dinner.
Here are your tools–black pepper, spaghetti, water, salt, butter and cheese–now make something delicious. Ok? Go.
Maybe it’s because these ingredients are so unglamorous that I shied away from spaghetti cacio e pepe for so long. Sure, it’s a classic Italian spaghetti dish, but I’ve always favored the ones with garlic and anchovies (see my Weary Traveler’s Spaghetti, for example) over this one made with cheese and black pepper, regardless of how much my friends rave over it.
Yesterday on Grub Street, Josh Ozersky called Bon Appétit magazine “the most boring” of the food rags, “an ad-packed Nembutal calling to mind the ‘women’s pages’ where newspapers used to publish their party recipes.”
It was his ultimate conclusion, though, that really caught my attention: “Once a magazine is a repository for recipes, it stops being exciting, unless someone figures out a way to attach it to the outside world. Bon Appétit is for people who eat in. No new typeface is going to fix that problem.”
Ozersky’s statement is certainly incendiary–the comments on his post reveal a spark of outrage. Personally, I see some truth to what he’s saying: cooking at home isn’t as exciting as going out. Sure, there’s the excitement of “oh, I almost burnt my house down” but you’re not engaged with the outside world the way you are when you wait two hours in the cold for your table at The Spotted Pig. I rarely spot celebrities at my kitchen table, but today at Brooklyn Fish Camp I saw Maggie Gyllenhaal eating with her mother. At home, you can sink into complacency–why sit at the table when you can eat in front of the TV? Out to dine, you’re on your game: chatting with the host, charming the waitress, discussing the dessert options with the next table. I get why going out is exciting.
And yet it’s not nearly as rewarding as cooking at home. Given a choice–home cooked meals forever, or only dinner out–I’d absolutely choose the former. There’s nothing that beats the joy of removing a slow braised pork shoulder from the oven while your friends await it, forks aloft (even if there’s melted plastic in it). Home cooked food at its best is infinitely more intimate, infinitely more loving than anything you can get at a restaurant and that’s as it should be: at the end of the day restaurants are businesses, they want your money. A home cook, on the other hand, just wants to make you happy.
And that’s why the recipe blogs I read, which comprise 90% of the food blogs out there, feel so sunny and warm and why the restaurant industry blogs that I read often feel so hostile and snarky. These are two worlds: the world of eating in, and the world of eating out. These worlds aren’t mutually exclusive and I certainly straddle both. But as my blog moves away from restaurant reviews and focuses more on cooking, it’s grown less exciting, sure, but it’s also grown more happy. I used to get the nastiest comments when I reviewed restaurants, now that I don’t the comments are almost entirely positive and constructive. And that’s a key word, “constructive”: cooking is a constructive act, eating out is passive. It’s easier to be reactive than proactive and that’s why, I think, food industry blogs are so sensational whereas home cooking blogs are often more honest, feeling, thoughtful and, ultimately, more human.
Which isn’t to say that industry blogs aren’t fun (double negative!). I love me the snark, I love me the gossip the same way that I love sneaking a peek at the People and the Us Weekly at the checkout. I simply wanted to offer a retort to Ozersky’s dig at “people who eat in.” You may not find us in the glossy pages of New York Magazine, but you will find us at our kitchen table, laughing with friends, and digging into a slice of homemade apple pie. I don’t know where you’d rather be, but I know where I’ll be tomorrow night.
I’ll get my recipe from “Bon Appétit.”