On Links.

I’ve just re-organized my column of links and wanted to take you on a quick tour of my most-visited food-, book- and travel-focused sites.

A note: Coincidentally, alphabetically, the one Armenian-ish blog I read follows the one Filipino-ish blog I read.  Fate?  Or my genetics translated into the Internet?

30 Bucks a Week
Two Brooklynites spend $15 each on their week’s worth of groceries.  Then they write about it.

101 Cookbooks
Heidi Swanson collects cookbooks and recipes.  She also takes great photographs.

Alinea at Home
Carol Blymire is cooking every recipe in the Alinea Cookbook.

Burnt Lumpia
Marvin cooks Filipino food.

Cave Cibum
Fellow Armenian Pam eats out and cooks a lot.

Chocolate + Zucchini
Parisian Clotilde Dusoulier writes in French and English about recipes, cookbooks, idioms and kitchen tools.

Cooked Books
Rebecca Federman has what just might be one of the coolest-sounding jobs ever: culinary librarian at the New York Public Library.

CoverSpy
What New Yorkers are really reading.

David Lebovitz
The observant and funny cookbook author writes about life in Paris and what he eats there.

Diner’s Journal
New York Times
‘s one-stop combination of its three dining blogs.

Formaggio Kitchen’s Cheese Blog
This is pretty self-explanatory.

Frommer’s
Arthur Frommer talks (writes?) travel.

Fucshia Dunlop
The memoirist/cookbook author’s blog.

Grub Street Boston
New York Magazine ‘s up-to-date info on the Boston dining scene.

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall
A great source for recipes + cooking techniques.

In the Kitchen + on the Road with Dorie
The often-adorable and always informative Dorie Greenspan splits her time between Paris and the East Coast. Oh, she also bakes. A lot.

In Transit
Another New York Times blog. This one’s about travel.

the kitchn
Apartment Therapy‘s site for people who love cooking and don’t mind making a mess whilst making dinner.

Lois Lowry
I want to be just like her when I grow up. In the meantime, I’ll just read her books and blog.

Lottie + Doof
A pretty food blog with a funny name.

Michael Ruhlman
The author of The Making of a Chef + Ratio cooks too.

The Millions
One of the best book-centric sites out there.

The New Vegetarian
Yotam Ottolenghi ‘s weekly column for the Guardian.

Nigel Slater
Recipes and writing from one of my favorite authors of food-related books.

One Minute Book Reviews
Also pretty self-explanatory.

Orangette
Molly Wizenberg lives and writes in Seattle.

Paper Cuts
The editors of The New York Times Book Review blog too.

The Prognosticators
My friends Beth + Bob moved to Prague; these are pictures of their travels.

Reading is My Superpower
Annie Frisbie reads faster than I do. She blogs more often too.

Scanwiches
Sandwiches might be my favorite.

Smitten Kitchen
Good things come from small kitchens.

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Three Books, Two Days, One Lake.

This is what my summer has been like so far:  Maine, Maine, Maine, Maine.

See, we just got back from a weekend at Little Sebago Lake with Keith’s family; they’ve been renting the same house for the past thirty years, and I’ve been going up for the first week in August for the past nine years or so.  This year, Keith and I only stayed for a weekend, but that didn’t stop me from taking part in my favorite lakeside activity: reading.

Wanting to be prepared, I brought more books than articles of clothing — it wouldn’t be possible to get to each one during the stay, but I’m a really moody reader and knew I’d appreciate the variety, even if it meant I wouldn’t make my way through even half the stack.  Here’s what I read:

Those Who Save UsI am fascinated by World War II, and so will greedily consume any- and everything related to it — including, I’m not ashamed to say, Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds, which I’ll be watching later this summer.  Jenna Blum‘s debut novel Those Who Save Us both is and isn’t about the Second World War; it’s also about guilt, love and the relationship between mothers and daughters.

Since emigrating to Minnesota, Trudy’s mother Anna has never discussed her experiences in Germany during World War II with anyone, particularly her daughter.  Now a German history professor, Trudy begins interviewing other German Minnesotans about their lives during the 1930s and 40s.  What she records changes Trudy’s opinion of her mother irreversibly.

Those Who Save Us swaps its narrative back and forth between Trudy’s present-day existence and Anna’s past.  Normally, when I read a multiple-character stories I find myself drawn more to one individual than the other, but Blum writes both mother and daughter so compellingly that I’m unable to pick favorites.

It’s difficult to discuss much of the plot without giving everything away, but what I can elaborate upon is, albeit briefly, what Anna did to ensure she and young Trudy survived the harsh times of World War II Germany.  Unwillingly, Anna takes a lover: the Obersturmführer of Buchenwald.  To say their relationship is strained and tense is an understatement of absurd proportions — though the exact same words can be used to describe the dynamic between mother and daughter.  Happily, Blum allows her characters to earn their peace authentically; not once do their revelations — and, in time, the novel’s conclusion — seem forced.

The Best of EverythingI was talking on the phone with my friend Amee the other night; during our conversation I confessed that I’ve always wished I could stand on a street corner in New York during the late 1950s and early 60s, and just people-watch.

“Imagine,” I said dreamily, “women wore hats and gloves, and got their hair set…”

Women do all this and more in Rona Jaffe‘s groundbreaking first novel, The Best of Everything.  Published in 1958, the book is has influenced modern-day television shows as disparate as Sex and the City and Mad Men (a personal favorite).  Through the five fresh-faced secretaries featured in The Best of Everything, the reader gets an incredibly authentic view into a very distinct period of American life — especially considering Jaffe wrote the novel when she was in her mid-twenties and working as an associate editor at Fawcett Publications.

Under no circumstances would I call Jaffe’s work here literature, but I will enthusiastically refer to it as compelling and engrossing reading.  I will also say it was oddly prescient — the women in The Best of Everything find themselves embroiled in situations that my friends and I (and our friends’ friends, and theirs, and women everywhere) still encounter today: men issues, work issues, friend issues, parent issues.    Luckily, the creepiest part of the book — blatant, unabashed sexism — seems mostly outdated.

The Sweet Life in ParisOne day, hopefully in the not-too-distant future, I’ll have a little walk-up in Paris, except we’ll call it a pied-à-terre, where I’ll live with Keith and our two dogs named Virgil and Geraldine, and I’ll wear stripey bateau-neck tops with quarter-length sleeves and dart in and out of bakeries and market stalls with my basket of groceries, and each night Keith and I will walk the dogs along the Seine.

You know what they say about girls being able to dream.

In the meantime, David Lebovitz‘s anecdotal cookbooky memoir The Sweet Life in Paris: Delicious Adventures in the World’s Most Glorious — and Perplexing — City will have to tide me over.

If you’ve not read Lebovitz’s blog, start reading it now.  It’s funny, observant and full of fool-proof recipes — and his book is more of the same.  My only complaint, for lack of a better word, is that Lebovitz’s choice of chapter-concluding recipes don’t necessarily pertain to the tales he spends the previous pages telling, which isn’t a bad thing, of course.  I just wanted a bit more continuity.  Though with instructions on how to make a plum and raspberry clafoutis and pain d’epices au chocolat, I’m kind of a jerk for being so nitpicky.

Redoing a Classic.

Normally I don’t like to make anything from a recipe that requires special equipment.  I only have so much space in my kitchen cabinets, after all, so where am I going to store a pasta machine, panini press, a yogurt maker, a slow cooker, an espresso machine, a meat grinder, an electric slicer or a deep fryer?* I’m not exactly Ina Garten, with my own barn in the backyard specifically for cooking, baking and entertaining — no matter how appealing such a barn sounds.  I’m all for a room of one’s own.

And now I’ve gotten off topic.

blood-orange-madeleines2The exception I’ll make to my so-called rule, though, is the madeleine tray.  They stack right up, taking up practically no space, and it’s so easy to find an inexpensive mold that buying them in triplicate won’t break the bank.  Think of it this way: you’ll get reimbursed in flavor.  The intense citrus of these little cakes can’t be denied.

Traditional madeleines are made with lemon; each bite will also bring you the distinct luxury  felt only when eating something baked with a lot of butter.   Still, butter or no, as any Proust fan knows, having a madeleine is revelatory.  I’ve tried a few different recipes, and the one I’ve had the most repeat success with is David Lebovitz‘s, so when I got the idea in my head to make an orange-y madeleine, I didn’t want to mess with perfection.  Instead I went with a simpler recipe, but I decided to whip up an orange version of David’s lemon glaze to make my cakes as orange-y as possible.

In the end, I was happy with my experiment, but I’m thinking next time of how to possibly include some Cointreau or similar in there.  Also, I was pleased to see how astonishingly malleable a madeleine recipe can be, so now my mind’s buzzing with different ways to imbue various flavors into the batter.  I’ll keep you posted…

Blood Orange Madeleines, adapted from Bon Appétit
Makes about 25 cookies

2 large eggs
2/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
one blood orange’s worth of zest
pinch of salt
1 cup all purpose flour
10 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, cooled slightly

  1. Preheat oven to 375°. Generously butter and flour large madeleine pan.  Using electric mixer, beat eggs and sugar in large bowl just to blend. Beat in vanilla, orange zest and salt. Add flour; beat just until blended. Gradually add cooled melted butter in steady stream, beating just until blended.
  2. Spoon 1 teaspoon batter into each indentation in pan. Bake until puffed and brown, about 12-14 minutes. Cool 5 minutes. Gently remove from pans.

Blood Orange Glaze, adapted from David Lebovitz

¾ cup powdered sugar
1 tablespoon freshly-squeezed blood orange juice
2 tablespoons water

Stir together ingredients until smooth.  Dip each cookie into glaze and let rest on cool cookie sheet or cooling rack until glaze becomes firm.

* You’ll notice I left out an ice cream maker.  That’s because I’m certain I can squeeze one into a cupboard somewhere.

A Baking Weekend.

Marcella and I had A Plan for my Valentine’s visit.  For several weeks we had been swapping recipes, talking about kitchen tasks and asking each other questions about cookies, so it seemed only natural that we would have a baking weekend — in addition to our normal to-dos like catching up, gossiping and eating out.  Not too long ago, Marcella had purchased a new cookbook — Baked: New Frontiers in Baking — that was calling our names, and I had been wanting to try another madeleine recipe, so I packed my pans in my bag before leaving home.

browniesAfter thumbing through Baked (which, I should mention, is from the men at the eponymous Brooklyn bakery), we decided to make brownies, which apparently is one of Oprah’s favorites.  Since we didn’t have quite the right size pan, we doubled the recipe — big mistake.  Normally, having twice as many brownies is a scrumptious and wondrous thing, but in this case it was terrible.  You try dealing with two times as many fudgy-on-the-inside, crunchy-on-the-outside chocolate bombs and then tell me how you feel.  Honestly.  We cut them up into bitty bites for a reason.  These suckers are intense.

madeleinesAlso intense are David Lebovitz‘s madeleines: a lemony glaze amps up the sunny citrus flavor, and each little cake walks along, holding hands with her friends Moist and Dense, combining to make the most perfectly textured thing ever.

We gave a shell-shaped sweet to Marcella’s mother; not knowing what she was eating, Mrs. Hammer said, “I’m sitting underneath the Eiffel Tower.”  When we told her what she had in her palm was a classic French treat, she beamed.

Indeed, I can’t tout this recipe enough, though when I make them again I will omit the baking powder to compare the difference in its consistency.  I’m not worried though — like Marcella says, “You can’t go wrong with a recipe from David Lebovitz.”

So true.

“Baked” Brownies, from Baked: New Frontiers in Baking by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito
Makes twenty-four brownies

1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons dark unsweetened cocoa powder
11 ounces dark chocolate (60 to 72% cacao), coarsely chopped
1 cup (two sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 teaspoon instant espresso powder
1 ½ cup firmly packed light brown sugar
5 large eggs, at room temperature
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°.  Butter the sides and bottom of a 9-by-13 inch glass or light metal baking pan.
  2. Whisk the flour, salt and cocoa powder in a medium bowl.
  3. Put the chocolate, butter and instant espresso powder in a large bowl and set it over a saucepan of simmering water; stir occasionally until the chocolate and butter are completely melted and smooth.  Turn off the heat but keep the bowl over the water; add sugars.  Whisk until combined, then remove the bowl from the pan.  Cool the mixture to room temperature.
  4. Add 1 egg to chocolate, whisking to combine.  Repeat with remaining eggs, whisking each egg thoroughly into the chocolate before adding the next.  Whisk in vanilla.  Do not overbeat.
  5. Sprinkle the flour mixture over chocolate.  Using a spatula, fold flour into chocolate until just combined.
  6. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top.  Bake in the middle of the oven for 30 minutes, rotating the pan at the halfway point, until a toothpick inserted into the center of the pan comes out with only a few moist crumbs sticking to it.  Let cool completely before cutting into squares.
  7. When tightly covered with plastic wrap, the brownies will keep at room temperature for up to three days.

Lemon-Glazed Madeleines, adapted by David Lebovitz from his book The Sweet Life In Paris: Delicious Adventures in the World’s Most Glorious — and Perplexing — City
Makes twenty-four cookies

for the cookies
3 large eggs, at room temperature
2/3 cup granulated sugar
rounded 1/8 teaspoon salt
1 ¼ cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder (optional)
zest of one small lemon
9 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled to room temperature, plus additional melted butter for preparing the molds

for the glaze
¾ cup powdered sugar
1 tablespoon freshly-squeezed lemon juice
2 tablespoons water

  1. Brush the indentations of a madeleine mold with melted butter. Dust with flour, tap off any excess, and place in the fridge or freezer.
  2. In the bowl of a standing electric mixer, whip the eggs, granulated sugar, and salt for 5 minutes until frothy and thickened. Spoon the flour and baking powder, if using, into a sifter or mesh strainer and use a spatula to fold in the flour as you sift it over the batter. (Rest the bowl on a damp towel to help steady it for you.) Add the lemon zest to the cooled butter, then dribble the butter into the batter, a few spoonfuls at a time, while simultaneously folding to incorporate the butter. Fold just until all the butter is incorporated. Cover the bowl and refrigerate for at least 1 hour. (Batter can be chilled for up to 12 hours.)
  3. To bake the madeleines, preheat the oven to 425°.  Plop enough batter in the center of each indentation with enough batter which you think will fill it by ¾’s (you’ll have to eyeball it, but it’s not brain-surgery so don’t worry if you’re not exact.) Do not spread it. Bake for 8-9 minutes or until the cakes just feel set. While the cakes are baking, make a glaze in a small mixing bowl by stirring together the powdered sugar, lemon juice, and water until smooth.
  4. Remove from the oven and tilt the madeleines out onto a cooling rack. The moment they’re cool enough to handle, dip each cake in the glaze, turning them over to make sure both sides are coated and scrape off any excess with a dull knife. After dipping, rest each one back on the cooking rack, scalloped side up, until the cakes are cool and the glaze has firmed up.

Storage: Glazed madeleines are best left uncovered, or not tightly-wrapped; they’re best eaten the day they’re made. They can be kept in a container for up to three days after baking, if necessary.

Note:  If you use baking powder, they may take another minute or so to bake since the batter will rise higher. They’re done when the cakes feel just set if you poke them with your finger. Avoid overbaking them.

Our First Supper.

racletteHere’s a little secret: I wanted to host our first supper club not only because I desired so desperately to bust out my new raclette grill, but also because the only food prep I would have to do was slice up a four pound wedge of cheese.  It was very smelly work, but highly satisfying.

(And when I say that this was “very smelly work,” what I really mean is that this was very smelly work.  I love cheese — this is no secret, I would be so happy to have a trio of parrots named Fontina, Piave and Comté — but please know, my friends, that raclette is a stinker.  I broke a cardinal rule of cookery and went out to purchase scented candles; in my defense, I kept them away from the food.  I scattered them in every other room aside from the one we were eating in, however, and kept them burning throughout the night.)

table-setting1Oh, here’s another bit of dinner-prep that I took care of, though it didn’t include food: setting the table.  That doesn’t sound glamorous at all, I know, but as I was arranging the cutlery the night before, I decided to do something I don’t normally do when having people over for dinner, and that was make placecards.  I absolutely hate that moment when it’s time to eat and everybody stands around the table wondering where the so-called right place is to sit — so awkward.  Placecards, I thought, would eliminate that altogether… plus I did something a little sneaky and wrote ice-breakers on the inside of each card, just in case the conversation lagged a bit. They were each fill-in-the-blank sort of sentences, i.e. “If I were an article of clothing, I would be a —————”, “The room I liked best in my childhood home was —————”, and “My favorite smell makes me think of —————”.  It actually turned out to be a lot of fun, and was an interesting way to learn something we might not have otherwise about each other.

the-tableAnyway, onto dinner…!

Raclette is a Swiss cheese made of cow’s milk; traditionally it’s served melted onto steamed potatoes, caramelized onions and cornichons.  The group of us decided to stick mostly with tradition, though we added a few crusty baguettes, some sliced Gala apples tossed with lemon, and strips of red and orange peppers.  We placed the apples and peppers atop the grill to soften before smothering them with raclette — delicious.

Which is not to say the rest of our table wasn’t laden with less delicious fare, because that definitely wasn’t the case.  Personally, I couldn’t get enough potatoes onto my plate, or parsley, or pearl onions (though later, when we had consumed all but the bread, I poured my melty cheese onto a torn piece the size of my palm and chewed thoughtfully while I listened to an impromptu dinner-table debate).  That’s the best part about raclette: the mixing and matching of condiments and accompaniments.  If anything, it’s a total DIY kind of meal, and one that requires sharing, reaching over your neighbor, and a lot of talking.  In other words, it’s brilliant.

hot-chocolate-marshmallow

Another exciting part of the night was that my friend Marcella drove down from Saratoga Springs — through a snowstorm! — to join us.  She’s my closest friend, and we don’t get to spend nearly enough time together.  In spite of that, we somehow always seem to end up on the same sort of page, no matter how far apart we are.  (We’ve not only purchased identical underwear and books, but also wore and read them at the same time, in different area codes.)  That said, it wasn’t any sort of shock when we simultaneously suggested to the other that we should make marshmallows for dessert.  (I’m not kidding.  Simultaneous.)  It was surprisingly easy, making marshmallows, and unsurprisingly sticky — though it was sticky in the most beautiful way.  That night, we whisked ten ounces of melted semi-sweet chocolate into milk, and poured them into hot mugs.  Somehow, entire families of marshmallows ended up in mine.

the-morning-afterOf course, the night came to a close much too soon — but isn’t the always case any time you’re enjoying yourself a little too much?  The times that lag are only when you’re waiting in line at the post office, or staring at the clock during algebra, or tapping your fingers during a traffic jam of questionable origin.  The proof of our pleasure was in my kitchen the next morning, shining a little too brightly in the dazzling light spilling in between the horizontal blinds.

Marshmallows, from David Lebovitz

2 envelopes powdered gelatin
½ cup + 1/3 cup cold water
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup light corn syrup
4 egg whites
pinch of salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
about ½ cup powdered sugar and ½ cup cornstarch, sifted together

  1. In a small bowl, sprinkle the gelatin over the ½ cup of cold water to dissolve and soften.  In a saucepan fitted with a candy thermometer, mix the sugar and corn syrup with 1/3 cup of water. Place over medium-to-high heat.
  2. In the bowl of an electric mixer, pour in the egg whites and beat on low speed until frothy. Add the pinch of salt.
  3. When the syrup reaches between 210 and 220°, increase the speed of the mixer and beat the whites until they are thick and fluffy (do not overbeat).
  4. When the syrup reaches 245°, while the mixer is whipping, pour the syrup into the whites. Pour so that the syrup does not fall on the whip, otherwise much of the syrup will splatter onto the sides of the bowl, not into the egg whites.
  5. Scrape the gelatin and water into the pan that you used for the syrup and swirl it to dissolve (it should be hot enough from the syrup to dissolve it). Pour the liquified gelatin into the whites as they are whipping. Add the vanilla and continue to whip for 5 minutes.
  6. Dust with a sifter a 11x 17 (approximately) baking sheet evenly and completely with cornstarch mixture. Use a spatula to spread the marshmallows in a layer on the pan. Allow to dry for at least 4 hours or overnight, uncovered.
  7. Use a sharp knife or scissors to cut the marshmallows into pieces and toss in the powdered sugar and cornstarch mixture. Put the marshmallows in a colander or strainer and shake off the excess cornstarch mixture.  Store in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.