Earlier this summer, in Sun Valley, Idaho, I burned two racks of ribs. I’d made a dry rub with lots of brown sugar and cayenne pepper, sprinkled it all over the ribs, wrapped them in aluminum foil, and placed them in the oven for low-and-slow cooking. This, however, was an unfamiliar oven in an unfamiliar kitchen (we were staying with our friends Harry and Cris) and when the ribs came out, hours later, they bore a closer resemblance to King Tutankhamun than anything you’d actually want to eat.
Thankfully, there was coleslaw. Not just any coleslaw: my coleslaw. What can I say? I’m something of a coleslaw whisperer. It’s something that I ate often, growing up. My mom would buy cartons of coleslaw from the deli, along with macaroni salad (remember macaroni salad?) and she’d keep them both in the refrigerator next to a pitcher of Crystal Light lemonade.
Many moons ago, a man in Paris wrote me an e-mail and told me about his food blog with a link at the bottom. I clicked it dubiously–we food bloggers get e-mails like this all the time–only when I clicked, the blog it took me to was unusually impressive. More importantly, the man behind it wasn’t just some striving up-and-comer, he was the former pastry chef at Chez Panisse and the author of several books. His name, as you are all aware, was David Lebovitz and soon after that early exchange we became friends: I visited him in Paris, he visited me in New York. We figured out food blogging together. And then a funny thing happened: he become wildly famous. People line up around city blocks to meet him and the David who was relatively obscure ten years ago is now an international phenomenon. What’s so great about it is that David is so deserving of his success; he’s a terrific cook, yes, and a wonderful writer, but what makes people love him so much, I think, is his heart. You can feel it beating in all of his work–on his blog, in his recipes, even on Twitter–but never has it been better represented than it is in his new, absolutely stunning cookbook My Paris Kitchen. It’s the kind of cookbook you need to rush out and get right now.
There are many cheesy, self-helpy things to say about going outside of your comfort zone and eating unfamiliar foods from unfamiliar cuisines as often as possible. Lately, though, I’ve come to realize that adventuring on the scale of Jonathan Gold and Robert Sietsema or, for that matter, Anthony Bourdain and Andrew Zimmern has to be in your blood; as much as you might push yourself, if you’re not drawn to experience new and exotic taste sensations, there’s not much that’s going to change that. Me? I’m somewhere in the middle. I like to break out of my routine, for those cheesy, self-helpy reasons, but would I prefer to eat a good roast chicken instead of drinking cobra blood in Indonesia? Why yes, yes I would.
What’s the heartiest dish you know how to make? Chances are, this is heartier.
Picture it: a pestata (or paste) is made with lots of garlic, sage, rosemary and olive oil. That paste is used to flavor sliced red potatoes and cubed beef shoulder which get layered in a giant casserole with cabbage. Then the remaining pestata is mixed with white wine, poured over the mix, which has been dotted with butter. Into a hot oven it goes for 2 1/2 hours, after which the whole thing is topped with grated Fontina cheese and returned to the oven for it to bubble and brown. I told you this was hearty.
I’m kind of digging this L.A. winter. I was worried it’d be too hot and that I wouldn’t be able to cook my cold weather comfort food. Instead, it’s just cold enough to make a big pot of soup–like this Italian cabbage soup called Ribollita–and to feel good about it. Served up with lots of Parmesan cheese and toasted bread rubbed with garlic, this makes for a cozy, cheap and relatively healthy weeknight dinner regardless of your coast, east or west.
At that same Jewish dinner where I made the chopped liver, I decided to try my hand at stuffed cabbage. Over Thanksgiving, my brother’s wife’s sister’s boyfriend’s grandmother (did you follow all that?), a Holocaust survivor named Anka, told me her recipe for stuffed cabbage. “The secret,” she let me know, “is raisins in the tomato sauce.” After that, stuffed cabbage was on my mind and when I started planning this dinner of Judaism I knew it would be my entree.
Let’s face it, cabbage is a tough sell. Even though it’s what makes coleslaw coleslaw and it’s a crunchy companion to a fish taco, most people associate it with their grandmother’s boiled cabbage fouling up the air with its death-like aroma. That’s why I’m titling this post Sexy Cabbage Sexytime because the other night, I came up with a way to cook it that’s so terrific, so genre-shifting, it’ll forever change the way that you think about cabbage.
This morning I tweaked a recipe and I wasn’t even cooking. I was reading Twitter (as I do every morning after reading The New York Times, Google Reader, and checking Facebook) and I saw my friend EliseTweet about her beet hummus. I clicked to the recipe (see here) and then I Tweeted to her: “Have you considered adding horseradish to your beet hummus? I wonder if that’d work?” She Tweeted back: “love the idea of adding horseradish to the beet hummus. yummmmmmm.” That’s what’s known as a Tweet tweak and it’s just one example of the many tweaks I’ve been tweaking, lately, in my newfound life as a recipe tweaker.