Back in my blogging bigshot days, publishers would send me free cookbooks. For me, that was better than having Ed McMahon show up at my door with a giant check. I love cookbooks. I have stacks and stacks of them in my kitchen right now because there’s not enough room left on my shelves. (“Maybe you should pull out the ones you don’t use and sell them?” says my well-meaning but delusional husband. “I USE ALL OF THEM!” I reply.)
So imagine my delight the other day when an advanced copy of Gregory Gourdet’s new cookbook, Everyone’s Table, showed up at my door. I’ve been a fan of Gregory’s since he first appeared on Top Chef, and I was really rooting for him when he came back for the All Stars season. Now he’s a judge — a much more comfortable role, I imagine — and it’s great to hear him thoughtfully and gently weigh in on everyone’s dishes.
Cinderella has to pick lentils out of the fireplace in order to go to the ball (at least in Into The Woods) and for a long time I thought to myself, “At least she doesn’t have to eat them!”
There are so many foods that people associate with “health food,” they’re anything but enticing. Lentils definitely have a prominent place on that list. (The guiltiest offender? “Nutritional yeast.” Can you think of a food with a more awful name? I can’t.) And yet, just like The Best Broccoli of Your Life changed the way we think about broccoli, Ottolenghi has a recipe for lentils that’ll shift them into the category: “Something I really want to eat!”
As much as I like cooking for other people, I REALLY like cooking for myself. It’s a chance to really tap into how I’m feeling in a particular moment, what I’m craving, and then to give myself exactly that.
There’s an actual an art to knowing what you want (believe me, I talk about it a lot in therapy). And one thing that I almost always want is pasta. If you’ve been following me for any period of time, you’ve probably noticed that I make a lot of it. Why pasta? Why is that my thing? I think it’s a blank canvas deal: you can dress pasta up any way that you want. Craving meat? Make a meaty pasta. Craving cheese? Make a cheesy pasta. And on Saturday night I was craving vegetables, so I decided to make a veggie-heavy pasta.
They say you’ve gotta know the rules before you break the rules and I think that’s true of cooking as much as it’s true of art or writing or any other discipline. Before you make deconstructed spaghetti and meatballs with foam and fruit leather and dehydrated beef essence, you should probably learn how to make the straightforward version. (Plus: the straightforward version is usually better.) Let’s say you’re hankering to be creative, though, and you want to flex your artistic cooking muscles. Then my advice is to master the art of blank canvas foods; the kinds of foods you can dress up however you want once you get the basic idea down. For me, that blank canvas food used to be pasta; but lately, on a California summer-is-coming health kick, I’ve been toying around with farro.
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.
There’s egg salad with mayo, which is just normal egg salad, and then there’s another kind of egg salad, a healthier person’s egg salad, an egg salad that may make egg salad traditionalists recoil in horror: egg salad with yogurt.
Well, think about it. Yogurt (especially low-fat Greek yogurt) is healthy. Eggs are pure protein. Combine the two and bam: you have a tasty alternative to the gloppy mayo-rich egg salad your grandmother used to eat by the spoonful. The yogurt adds a unique tang and binds things together in a way that almost makes you forget the mayo. Almost.
When you get back from a weekend of binging in Las Vegas, you might find that you really crave salad. Not the wimpy kind with delicate garden lettuces, but a big bowl of raw vegetables that promises to cure all your ills. If you were a cheffy chef your first instinct might be to go to the farmer’s market to gather up your vegetables. If it’s Saturday night, though, chances are you’re too late for a farmer’s market. So you have two options: go to a restaurant that serves a big farmer’s market salad or make a salad from supermarket vegetables. Me? I’m the master of the latter.
Last week I tried an experiment in Liveblogging that didn’t really work. I was really just fooling around, having some fun with my phone, but I can see why seeing pictures of bread arriving at a lunch table isn’t the most exciting thing in the world. Today, though, I bring you a different take on the same concept: a post about something I just made and ate. This all happened moments before I clicked “Add New Post” so I literally still have the taste in my mouth and can describe it to you in vivid detail. Are you ready?