If you’ve given me a hug over the past few weeks, there’s a good chance you got a whiff of onion and potato and secretly said to yourself: “He smells like a Jewish grandma.” That’s because, since early December, I’ve become a one-man latke factory. It started when I read this post by Kim Severson all about making latkes ahead. Apparently, they freeze very well. Then I read a similar piece on Bon Appetit about making 400 latkes for a latke party. The strategy was the same: make them ahead, freeze them, then bake them for 20 minutes right before serving. Which is how I found myself inviting friends over for a latke party on the first night of Hanukkah and making 300 latkes to serve at said latke party.
We got a tree, a Christmas tree, and it’s my first one–Rabbi Schlomo, plug your ears–and it’s making our apartment seem so festive. Somehow I thought getting a tree would be a big ordeal: with the lights and the stand and the balls and the baubles. But, actually, it was a totally easy process. On the advice of my friend John, we went to the Target in Eagle Rock where we stocked up on all the tree necessities (a tree skirt, to attract male trees; lights, balls, etc.) and then we bought a tree right outside at a pop-up tree farm. The tree came on a stand so we just carried it through the door, stood it up, and started wiring the lights. Voila. Now all we had to do was to have people over to enjoy the tree, which is why I spent some time figuring out the perfect December menu.
Here was the deal: my favorite roast chicken recipe is this one from Thomas Keller. (Sidebar: I’m currently in San Francisco and last night I ate at Zuni, and as I was leaving the bathroom who did I lock eyes with? Thomas Keller. Turns out he goes to the bathroom too; food gods are just like us!) The problem, though, is that the Thomas Keller roast chicken with root vegetables is an event. It requires that you use your roasting pan; it involves a shopping-cart full of turnips, rutabaga, carrots, onions, and potatoes. It’s not really practical for a weeknight. As for my usual weeknight roast chicken, I’d normally wind up putting the chicken in my All-Clad metal skillet so that I could make a sauce in there afterwards (see here), roasting the vegetables separately. That was OK. Then I remembered my trusty friend the cast iron skillet. What if I did the Keller thing in there? What happened next will astound you (how’s that for an UpWorthy paragraph ender?).
Talking about the best way to cook farro is a bit like talking about the best place to have a colonoscopy; useful information, perhaps, but not anything to get excited about. Hey, I shared your feelings until I had the privilege of cooking with the great American chef Suzanne Goin at the LA Times Book Festival last April. Right in front of my eyes, she prepared a farro salad with a garlic and parsley dressing that wasn’t punishing in any way; in fact, it was quite the opposite: light and herbal and fluffy and fragrant. The most shocking part? The highlight was the farro itself; each grain stood apart and was both tender and toothsome in a way most farro isn’t. I knew I had to learn the Suzanne Goin method for making it.
This morning I decided to treat myself to a blueberry muffin from the Village Bakery right here in Atwater Village. As I began to eat the muffin, it occurred to me that there’s a right way and a wrong way to eat a muffin. For example, if you were new to America and you’d never experienced a muffin before, you might unwrap the whole thing, unlock your jaw, and attempt to take a top-to-bottom bite similar to the bite the shark takes out of the ship in Jaws. That’s the wrong way to eat a muffin. Let me show you the right way.
My usual dinner party process goes like this: a day or two before a dinner party, I grab a handful of cookbooks off my towering cookbook shelf and casually thumb through them. The goal is not to frantically search for the perfect recipe, it’s to let the perfect recipe come to me. Usually that happens best when, while flipping, I meditate on who my dinner guests are going to be and, also, what foods I’m most excited to make. Which is why, on Wednesday of last week, a certain recipe from Michael Symon’s Live To Cook positively lifted itself off the page and smacked me in the face. It was a recipe for an indoor clambake and considering that I was going to be cooking for seven hungry guys for my friend John’s birthday on Friday, a more perfect recipe couldn’t have existed at that particular moment. Now all I had to do was ready myself to make it.
A few weeks ago, for the Golden Globes, I did something I’d never done before: I served health food to a crowd. Now when I say “health food,” I don’t mean the punishing kind that makes you weep with displeasure (tofu on a bed of undressed arugula or something like that); I mean the kind of food that actually makes you feel good, light, refreshed, well-fed but not sick. In other words, the total opposite of the kind of food I normally serve to a crowd (see: chili, lasagna, Sunday gravy, etc). How did this all come about? It started at the farmer’s market.