I’m very suspicious of tomatoes. Even in July, I raise an eyebrow when I see a beautiful heirloom: “Nice try,” I’ll say. “But we all know you’re not at your best until August at the earliest, most likely September.”
But yesterday I journeyed to Cookbook in Echo Park (you’ll be hearing about that place a lot: it’s pretty much the best food store in L.A.), and there they were: tomatoes that seemed to be peak summer tomatoes. How did I know? The colors were bright, the textures had just the right amount of give, I popped a sungold into my mouth and it exploded with sunshine.
Confession: I’ve made ricotta at home before and found the experience underwhelming. True, the process couldn’t be easier, but after dumping a gallon of milk into a pot, adding some lemon juice, turning up the heat, waiting for everything to separate, and straining out the solid stuff in a colander, I wound up with the tiniest bit of lumpy homemade cheese. “Eh,” I said as I ate the fruits of my labor with a spoon. “I’d rather just buy it from the store.”
Then I read Molly Wizenberg’s new book Delancey and found myself totally intrigued by her ricotta recipe. Yes, there’s almost a gallon of whole milk but, instead of lemon juice, you use buttermilk for the acid and then you also use cream. Most impressive of all: the recipe promises to yield ONE POUND of ricotta. That final bit seemed too good to be true so I knew that I had to make it this past weekend.
Enchiladas have come into my life in a big way. It started when Craig talked about his mom’s enchiladas in the first episode of The Clean Plate Club. That inspired his mom, a week later, to make her famous enchiladas for dinner when we were all up in Bellingham. Her recipe is hand-written on an old, barely intact index card; bacon drippings are involved (though, in a pinch, she uses butter). Here’s a picture of the card.
Funny, I was running on a treadmill when this wonderful gut-bomb of a recipe came into my life. Naturally, I was watching The Barefoot Contessa and she was planning a romantic weekend with Jeffrey, prepping the meal ahead so they could spend the day at Sag Harbor and have a montage of Ina laughing (what a laugh!) while Jeffery awkwardly asks, as if it’s spontaneous, “How are you going to make dinner tonight if we’ve been running around all day?” Ina winks at the camera because we know, like she knows, that the mac and cheese is already made. It’s in the refrigerator next to the lemon curd for the lemon tart. Jeffery has no idea what’s coming and the whole thing is so riveting, I’ve gone three miles and don’t want to stop. Such is the power of watching Ina at the gym.
When I was in Birmingham for Food Blog South, I met a nice guy named Mat Willey who works for a company called Sweet Grass Dairy. “We make cheese,” he explained, “in Georgia.”
Cheese from Georgia? Even though I lived in Georgia for 7 years (Atlanta, to be exact), I wasn’t particularly excited about eating cheese from The Peach State. I mean, I wasn’t against the idea, but it wasn’t causing me to hop up and down with excitement. He kindly offered to send me some cheese in the mail (a risky proposition, but there are ice packs) and I almost forgot all about it until the cheese arrived at my door.
The ladies who lunch really exist. I saw them on the Upper East Side, where I stayed for several months recently, and they don’t necessarily wear hats anymore (“Does anyone still wear a hat?”) but they know how to command a room. Two women I sat next to at Maison Kayser completely ignored their bread basket, full of the city’s best breads, and complained that the iced tea wasn’t cold enough. You don’t see that in Des Moines.
Here in Los Angeles, I found myself alone one night and invited my friend Diana over for dinner. I decided that even though this was a dinner, I’d treat it like a ladies luncheon. I’d serve salad, a crisp white wine and a Roquefort Cheese tart from Simon Hopkinson’s Second Helpings of Roast Chicken.
Sometimes I write recipe posts where I share a recipe at the end and other times I write recipe posts where the recipe is embedded in the post itself. There’s a reason for that!
Recipe posts where the recipe’s at the end are the kinds of recipes where specific amounts matter; recipe posts where I just write a recipe as part of a larger narrative are recipes where you can just wing it. So, Sam Sifton’s Pear Cobbler? You need to follow those instructions. But my Butternut Squash Soup with Whiskey Ginger Cream? That’s a totally improvised recipe and I wanted to give you the power to improvise your own version. If I’d written that with specific amounts, chances are you would’ve just replicated what I did instead of doing it your own way. The soup will taste better if you do it your way.