One of the biggest clichés in food writing is the idea of cooking with love. It’s abstract, vague, overly sentimental.
And yet, there’s something about it that makes sense to me, especially when I’m making soup. You can cook with a lot of love when you’re making soup. You can take the time to strain it, for example, to make it extra smooth. You can take the time to make stock from scratch, instead of using stock from a box. Most people won’t notice the difference, but you’ll know that you took the time to do it. So what else to call that except cooking with love?
As a person who’s devoted most of my life to food, I have certain beliefs that I fervently hold on to. One: never grill chicken breasts for a dinner party. That’s depressing. Two: When baking with chocolate, it’s important to eat a quarter cup of the chocolate in its raw state. Quality control. And three: there’s absolutely no reason to make pizza at home. Order in, it’ll be better.
Nicholas Bergus had a point. I never quite got the dough thin enough, giving up on stretching it while it still looked rather puffy. The resulting pizza was, as Nicholas Bergus says, “more like focaccia than pizza.” When the internet trolls are right, you know you’re doing something wrong.
I own a dangerous book called By The Book. It’s a collection of the By The Book column from the New York Times; a column where artists, musicians, and writers talk about their favorite books and what’s currently on their nightstand. It’s dangerous because any time someone sings the praises of a book, I immediately want to own it. (See: the stacks of books currently on my desk, coffee table, and nightstand.)
A year or two ago, though, I developed a dinner that feels like a pasta dinner that isn’t a pasta dinner, it’s a polenta dinner. I take whole sausages, brown them in olive oil, add onions and garlic to the pan, make a quick tomato sauce, and braise the sausages in there. Meanwhile, I cook a pot of polenta at the same time.
On Monday and Tuesday of this week, we had toast for dinner. Now when I say “toast for dinner,” you may be imagining a stale piece of bread, smeared with a little butter and jam. That wouldn’t be a very filling dinner, now, would it?
No, the toasts that I made for dinner were hearty affairs; so filling, in fact, we almost couldn’t finish them. Consider them close cousins of bruschetta; they’re the kinds of toasts that you see sometimes at trendy restaurants, like ABC Kitchen in New York which serves a famous butternut squash toast. The premise is simple: a very thick slice of bread, toasted until very dark around the edges, and then topped with something rich and decadent.
My dad has a joke he makes whenever someone his age has a birthday: “Don’t buy any green bananas.”
I buy green bananas every week, but I’m only 41. The thing about buying green bananas is that eventually they become yellow bananas, perfect for snacking or slicing on to your yogurt and granola. And then those yellow bananas become speckled bananas, perfect for making banana bread.
I get so annoyed, sometimes, watching America’s Test Kitchen. As I’ve mentioned before, my Saturday ritual is to watch all of the PBS cooking shows and America’s Test Kitchen is the one that took me the longest to warm up to. Whereas Lidia’s Italy lets you peer over the shoulder of a real Italian grandmother cooking for her family with a pinch of this and a pinch of that, cooking from the heart and not the brain, America’s Test Kitchen is as antiseptic as a science lab. In fact, the set feels like a science lab and that’s intentional. The whole concept of the show is that everything is tested scientifically. “We did it five hundred times and after creating flow charts and factoring thousands of equations, we determined this is the best way to make a corn muffin.” It’s so dry and sexless.
And yet, there are so many reason to watch. I do love Bridgett and Julia, I do love Adam and the enthusiasm he musters for measuring cups. And then there’s Elle Simone, my favorite of the many chefs who pop up now and again. Elle seems to be just as wary of the show she’s on as I am of watching it. Yet she has such a gleam in her eye when she’s sharing one of her techniques that it’s hard not to want to make exactly what she’s making after she makes it. Which is why I knew I had to make her fingerling potatoes after seeing her make them on Saturday.
Speaking of being shattered, did I tell you that I shattered my favorite Italian pasta bowl a few weeks ago? Well, someone suggested I go on Replacements.com to find its doppelgänger. I looked at the name of the designer, Richard Ginori, and didn’t find my beloved bowl, but I found so many cool ones, including the one you see above. So I ordered that, and a Pinocchio bowl (you can see it on my Instagram) and last night I decided to cook something to go into it.
One day I’m going to tell you about all of the plates that I buy on Etsy and Ebay. It started a few years ago, after I finished my first TV job, and I was feeling a little flush with cash and instead of buying a new car or a gold watch, I bought a vintage pasta bowl from Italy. That led to the French bread plates with the orange rims, the dessert plates with hot air balloons on them, and then a set of Italian clown plates that arrived shattered. I was shattered too.