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.

On Tomme Crayeuse.

There are times where I think I’m more of an old man than a young woman.  I can be very set in my ways and often display a ridiculous level of brand loyalty.  For example, I’ve been using Johnson’s Baby Shampoo since my mother first washed my hair (though, as an adult, I’ve upgraded to the lavender), and I want all pickles in the world to taste like Ba-Tampte Half-Sours.

Sometimes though, and I hate to break it to you, old set-in-their-ways men like the kind I often think I am — sometimes we stray.  The flip of a skirt or the curl of a ponytail catches our eyes, and before we know it we’re goners.

Tomme CrayeuseSuch was the case with me and a wedge of cheese called Tomme Crayeuse.

I’m normally a hard-cheese kinda gal (or old man, I suppose) so when a cheesemonger at Formaggio passed me a small plastic tasting spoon of this soft cow’s milk tomme, I wasn’t prepared for my body’s reaction.  My eyes popped open, then slit shut in sheer pleasure.  I think I even moaned.

This was all highly unusual behavior, and I knew right then and there, in front of the charcuterie case, that this cheese was coming home with me.

Don’t be fooled by Tomme Crayeuse’s vaguely masculine-sounding name; this cheese is, as they say, all woman.  And she’s not messing around with flirting or any sort of coquettish behavior.  She’s the type that — in the movies, anyway — takes hold of men by their neckties and leads them out of a crowded room to one that is far more intimate.

Texturally, Tomme Crayeuse is soft and creamy; if left at room temperature, it will eventually spill out of itself, exactly like a woman’s breasts will swell up over a corset.  I’m telling you, this is a sexy cheese, and one that tastes bold and rich and creamy, with a teasingly brief hint of citrus.  It’s absolutely amazing smeared liberally across a crusty baguette, and eaten on the sofa with your bare feet in the lap of a person you love.  In an ideal situation, you’d also have a bottle of wine nearby too, but it’s surprisingly not necessary.  All you really need is cheese.

My Kitchen in Malden.

nayiris-kitchen-5

Where do you live?
Malden, Massachusetts.

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How often do you cook or bake?
It’s funny because I never really used to be into baking; cooking was always much more interesting to me, and frankly, baking always seemed so girly.  That said, I’ve recently taken up baking, though I don’t do it that often.  I definitely cook more, probably four to five times a week, depending on the leftovers situation.  I’ll bake when the mood strikes me, or when I’ve got a craving, which is something like twice a month.  I definitely bake more around the holidays — everyone gets cookies.  I also bake for Keith more than I bake for me.  I’m nice that way.

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What is your favorite kitchen utensil?
I’m easy, man.  It’s my wooden spoon.  I wish I had a few more of them.  I use it to mix just about anything, and I love the way it feels in my hand.  Actually, now that I’m thinking about it a bit, I think I would say my chef’s knife instead.  I’ve used some awful knives in my day, the kinds that coerce an onion apart as opposed to chop it, and having a good solid knife makes all the difference.  In fact, if you’ve got one good knife — one really good one — you don’t need any more.

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Which part of your kitchen do you like best and why?
Having lived in many an apartment without one, I’ve got to say my dishwasher.  You know, I used to buy glasses based solely on whether or not I could fit my hand and a sponge down its mouth?  Now I can purchase any style that catches my eye, and that feels great.  I like glasses.

I also like the area that I call “the in-between” or “the pass-through.”  It connects the kitchen to the dining room, and we have it cabinet-ed out.  The bottom portion functions as a snack pantry of sorts, as well as storage for platters and my massive stand mixer.  Half of the upper cabinetry is devoted to storing Keith’s whisky collection; the other half holds my cooking magazines and cookbooks.

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Come to think of it, this is a tricky question for me to answer; we renovated the kitchen to best suit our needs and our aesthetic (on a budget).  There are so many aspects of this room that I love, like the countertops that look like oxidized metal, the unusual color of our cabinets, the soffits, the ceiling fan, my knife strip…  It would be the equivalent of asking me to pick my favorite dog, if I had lots of dogs.  Or any dogs.  Or a dog.

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What was your biggest kitchen accomplishment?
I would have to say it was the dinner I made for something like sixteen people last spring; at that point, the largest crowd I had ever cooked for was closer to eight, including Keith and myself, so doubling the amount of diners was a vaguely terrifying Big Deal.  I had invited my parents not only to the meal but also for the weekend; they drove in with the dog from New York a day early to spend some more time with us.  My mother and Keith volunteered to help me chop, sauté, mix, etc.  Whenever I asked him to do something, Keith would shout, “Yes, chef!”  It caused a lot of giggly delays.  Even funnier was when my mother — very polite, proper and petite woman that she is — wasn’t able to open something (what was it?  I don’t remember) and so, said very seriously to the object in her hand, “I think you must be retarded.”

In the end, we served the following:

Hors d’œuvres

  • bocconcini that I had marinated in herbs and olive oil few days prior
  • a selection of cured meats that Keith had picked out at Formaggio Kitchen

Entrées

Sides

Desserts

The leftovers lasted for days.

New Year, Old Thoughts.

I was walking down the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway not too long ago and found myself thinking again/as usual about Boston, and all the other places in the world where I could possibly be (Belize, Belarus, Belgium, Bahrain, Burundi, Bonaire).  Then I thought, The sun today is so pretty, shining just so, why can’t Boston be enough? So I decided, to keep me company as I warily made my way across the remaining patches of ice and snow, to make a list of things I love about this town (well, metro-area).   I came to Boston for a reason, after all, and have stayed for others, and when you’ve lived in one place for as many years as this it’s bound to leave its mark. I know that no matter where I go and where I end up, I’ll always have some sort of wanderlust hovering at the edge of my vision, almost the aura that zips along the corner of my eye just before I slip into a migraine — but without the pain.  Well, maybe not without the pain; it’s just different, when you long for something so much.  I just keep telling myself, Soon soon soon.  Hopefully it’s the truth.  Until then, this town is my home.

  • 90 Chestnut Street, my favorite building in all of Beacon Hill.  Next time I’m in the neighborhood (and when I have a working camera again) I’ll take a photo for you.
  • The back streets of Cambridge, and the literary history of the city.
  • Bloc 11, since it’s much easier to park in Union Square than it is when visiting its sister coffeehouse, Diesel Café, in Davis.
  • The Brattle Theatre, where I don’t watch movies often enough.
  • Commonwealth Avenue Mall, especially the portion between Exeter and Dartmouth Streets, where I shot my first student film with a 16mm Bolex.
  • The double-door brownstones in the South End, because they’re so stately.
  • Good, the gorgeous and pristine boutique on Charles Street selling such wares as John Derian découpage items and Satya jewelry.
  • Grub Street, where I’ve taken countless helpful and encouraging writing workshops.
  • Forest Hills Cemetery, which is both free to visit and incredibly beautiful.
  • Formaggio Kitchen, because — let’s face it — I just can’t live without cheese.
  • Janet Warner at Salon Marc Harris on Newbury Street, who has been cutting my hair and making me laugh since 2003, and doing a damn good job at both.
  • Porter Square Books, because sometimes it’s nice to actually buy a book in a store and not just at Amazon.
  • The view of the Charles from the roof of 132 Beacon Street, a sight I’ll probably never see from the same vantage point again since the building is currently being renovated into luxury condominiums.
  • Volle Nolle, the makers of the some of the best sandwiches in all of Boston.

Christmas Brunch + Happy New Year.

Ack, here I am on January first, having not written you all in quite some time.  I wish I had some sort of glamorous reason why — A surprise trip to Bonaire!  An unexpected delivery of Vizsla puppies!  A new pair of Frye boots to break in! — but the sad truth is that I was just plain sick (though I did recently get those boots and love them).  Keith and I spent Christmas Eve at his brother’s, and come the day after Christmas, six out of the nine guests were moaning on their respective sofas.  We were two of them.

Instead of telling you how I felt during the three days immediately thereafter (unhappy, unwell, unpleasant), I thought you’d rather hear about the Christmas brunch I put together before the sickness set in. Unfortunately I’ve got zero photographic documentation, so please just take my word on how great everything turned out.

Brunch, or breakfast, is a meal I’m pleased to say I can turn out both really quickly and really well, something I fully credit book group with as we mostly meet up at brunchy times.  In fact, I recycled two successful recipes from some of those get-togethers — a jam crumb cake and a citrus salad — that are easy to throw together.  They also seem more impressive than they are, and are definite crowd pleasers.

Since I like to have something savory at breakfast, I decided to also make a quiche.  I didn’t think it would be cheating per se to use a premade crust especially since I was extremely limited on time, but I wanted to make up for it by choosing a recipe full of decadent ingredients.  A trio of cheeses, chopped leeks, strips of double-smoked bacon and a more than generous dollop of crème fraîche fit the bill exactly.

In spite of my morning preferences, I knew that my guests tended to lean more towards the sweet; for that reason I chose to do a baked French toast.  When you’ve a group of people coming over for breakfast, the last thing you’ll want to do is stand over the stove, mechanically flipping slices of bread — it’s no fun for you and besides, your friends came over to see you, not your back at the cooktop.  I don’t care if your back is particularly lovely, or if you’ve got a spectacular neck tattoo you’re dying to share — I prefer having my conversations face-to-face, and that is why a baked French toast is perfect.  All you have to do is arrange your bread in an oven-proof dish, douse it with custard, refrigerate overnight and slide the whole thing in the oven about thirty minutes before you plan to eat.  It couldn’t be any simpler, and it will most certainly be a hit with those craving something sweet.  And best of all, you’ll be able to spend time with your friends.

Speaking of friends, I wanted to take a moment to thank you all for reading my sometimes rambling messages.  I really appreciate it, and am wishing you all the best year yet.

Jam Crumb Cake, from Gourmet
Makes six to eight portions.

For cake
1 cup all-purpose flour
½ cup sugar
1 ¾ teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
¾ stick unsalted butter, melted
½ cup milk
1 large egg
½ cup raspberry jam or preserves

For crumb topping
¾ stick unsalted butter, melted
¼ cup packed brown sugar
¼ cup granulated sugar
¾ teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

  1. Preheat oven to 400° with rack in middle. Generously butter a 9-inch square or round cake pan.  Whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt.  Whisk together butter, milk, and egg in a large bowl, then whisk in flour mixture until just combined. Pour batter into cake pan. Dollop jam all over surface, then swirl into batter with spoon.
  2. Whisk together butter, sugars, cinnamon, and salt until smooth. Stir in flour, then blend with your fingertips until incorporated. Sprinkle crumbs in large clumps over top of cake.
  3. Bake cake until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean and sides begin to pull away from pan, about 25 minutes. Cool in pan on a rack 5 minutes.

Note:  I’ve only got a ten-inch round cake pan, so I double the cake recipe but prepare just one recipe’s worth of crumb topping.  The cake then takes about thirty to forty minutes in the oven.

Boozy Baked French Toast, from Smitten Kitchen
Makes six to eight portions.

1 loaf  Challah bread cut into 1-inch slices
3 cups whole milk
3 eggs
3 tablespoons sugar
½ teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons Grand Marnier
zest of one orange

  1. Generously grease a 9×13-inch baking dish with butter.  Arrange bread into two tightly-packed layers in the pan.  Reserve one slice of bread to cut into smaller pieces to fill in gaps.
  2. Whisk milk, eggs, sugar, salt,  Grand Marnier and zest and pour over the bread.   Wrap tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. The bread will absorb all of the milk custard while you sleep.
  3. Bake at 425° for 30 minutes, or until puffed and golden. This will take longer if you have additional layers.  Cut into generous squares and serve with maple syrup, fresh fruit, powdered sugar or all of the above.

Note:  I used a deep 9×5 baking dish, so I made this with three layers of bread.  It still took only thirty minutes in the oven until the bread inflated and turned gold.

Citrus Salad with Mint Sugar, Bon Appétit.
Makes six to eight portions.

2 white grapefruits
2 pink grapefruits
6 large navel oranges
½ cup fresh mint leaves
¼ cup sugar

Cut peel and white pith from grapefruits and oranges. Cut between membranes to release segments. Combine fruit in large shallow bowl. (Fruit can be segmented 1 day ahead. Cover and refrigerate.)  Place mint and sugar in processor. Using on/off turns, blend until mint is finely chopped, occasionally scraping down sides of bowl. Sprinkle mint sugar over fruit; serve.

Note:  There were some really gorgeous-looking blood oranges at Whole Foods, so I decided to use 4 ruby red grapefruits, 3 large navel oranges and 4 good-sized blood oranges.  The combination of colors was fantastically pretty.

Ham, Leek + Three-Cheese Quiche, from Gourmet.
Makes six to eight portions.

1 round of refrigerated pie dough for a 9-inch pie (from a 15-oz package; not a preshaped frozen pie shell)
¾ pounds leeks (about 3 medium; white and pale green parts only)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
¼ pound thinly sliced smoked ham
3 ounces Gruyère, coarsely grated (1 cup)
3 ounces Italian Fontina, coarsely grated (1 cup)
3 ounces whole-milk mozzarella, coarsely grated (1 cup)
3 large eggs
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
¼ teaspoon black pepper
1 ¾ cups crème fraîche (from two 8 ounces containers)

  1. Prebake pie dough in pie plate according to package instructions, then remove from oven and reduce temperature to 350°.  Meanwhile, halve leeks lengthwise and cut crosswise into ½ inch pieces, then wash well in a bowl of cold water, agitating leeks. Lift out and drain leeks in a colander and pat dry. Melt butter in a 10-inch heavy skillet over moderately low heat and cook leeks, stirring occasionally, until very tender, 8 to 10 minutes.
  2. Line warm pie shell with sliced ham, overlapping layers as necessary to cover bottom and side of pie shell completely. Toss cheeses together and sprinkle evenly into pie shell (do not pack cheese), then spread leeks evenly on top of cheese. Whisk together eggs, nutmeg, and pepper until combined well, then whisk in crème fraîche until smooth.
  3. Carefully pour half of custard on top of pie filling, gently moving cheese with a spoon to help custard disperse evenly. Slowly add remaining custard in same manner. Cover pie loosely with foil, gently folding edges over crust (keep foil from touching top of cheese mixture) and transfer to a baking sheet.
  4. Bake until center of filling is puffed and set (center will be slightly wobbly but not liquid), about 1 ¼ to 1 ½ hours. Cool on a rack at least 20 to 30 minutes before serving (filling will continue to set as it cools). Serve warm or at room temperature.

Note:  I’m not a fan of ham, so I was really pleased to see a double-smoked bacon in the case at Formaggio Kitchen.  I mean, honestly — who doesn’t prefer bacon?

CSA 2008, Week Twenty.

The deeper we get into fall, the more our CSA box begins to consist more and more of items that have to be rooted out from within the earth.  Even thought this week’s haul included a few leafy items, I’m getting the feeling that they’re going to slowly disappear, replaced with more and more root vegetables.  This week’s box held the following:

  • Beets
  • Cabbage
  • Carrots
  • Celeriac
  • Garlic
  • Kale
  • Leeks
  • Lettuce
  • Onions
  • Pie pumpkin
  • Potatoes
  • Rutabagas
  • Spinach
  • Turnips

potato-leek-soup1Potato and leek is a fantastic combination, and one I decided to put to work in a soup.  Keith is particularly fond of soups, and they’re something I make very infrequently, so I started thumbing through my cookbooks for a recipe.  Tom Colicchio‘s Think Like A Chef has a straightforward one for a diced potato-leek soup; the recipe calls for a quarter-pound of slab bacon, and I can stress enough how important it is to get a nice piece from your butcher.  (In fact, I would even encourage increasing the amount of bacon maybe to three-quarters of a pound, but that might just be my bacon addiction talking.)  I had purchased a fat piece of Niman Ranch bacon from Formaggio Kitchen, so I was really looking forward to tossing it into the soup.

Something else to think about: Colicchio’s recipe calls for chicken stock, which I didn’t have on hand.  I’m with Michael Rulman on this; if you don’t have homemade stock, opt for using water rather than canned or boxed, both of which are basically salty, chicken-themed water.  Chicken stock is easy enough to make if you’ve enough time and bones, but if you don’t, just use water.  I wanted to richen things up a bit, so I used one and a half cups of milk (1%, since that was what was in the fridge) and one and a half cups of water instead of three cups of stock.

Diced Potato-Leek Soup, from Think Like a Chef
Makes four to six portions.

4 leeks, white part only, washed well and trimmed
¼ pound slab bacon
4 Idaho or other starchy potatoes (3 to 4 pounds), peeled
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 cups chicken stock
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives

  1. Split the leeks lengthwise, then slice into thin semi-circles.  Cut the bacon and potatoes into a small dice.
  2. Heat the oil in  large pot over medium heat until it slides easily across the bottom.  Add the bacon and cook until it is rendered but not yet crispy, about two minutes.  Add the leeks, salt and pepper and cook, stirring frequently, until the leeks just begin to soften, about three minutes.  Reduce the heat to medium-low and add the potatoes.  Cook, stirring frequently, until the potatoes soften slightly, three to five minutes more.
  3. Add enough stock to moisten the vegetables, about half a cup.  Bring soup to a simmer, then add another half cup.  Continue gradually adding the stock, half a cup at a time, until it has all been added.  Gently simmer the soup until the potatoes are tender (about ten minutes from the time you began adding stock), then stir in the butter and chives.  Add salt and pepper and serve immediately.

CSA 2008, Week Eighteen.

This week’s box was heavier than most, something that I suppose had to do with the monstrous butternut squash that was included in our haul.  Squash notwithstanding, I’m of the opinion that it was the sheer amount of potatoes weighing me down.  Aside from those two very autumnal items, our CSA box from The Food Project contained the following:

  • Beets
  • Broccoli
  • Cabbage
  • Celeriac
  • Cilantro
  • Eggplant
  • Garlic
  • Jalepeño pepper
  • Kale
  • Lettuce
  • Onions

I don’t know it it was those potatoes rolling around the box’s bottom like an assortment of oversize marbles, but as I scrubbed their uneven surfaces free of dirt the notion to make a potato pizza popped into my head.  I didn’t have a recipe, which I didn’t let dissuade me — normally I’m a bit hesitant to throw something together if I’m cooking for anyone other than myself; I know Keith doesn’t mind a bit of culinary creativity, but for self-esteem purposes I hate serving even him something that I’m not entirely confident in.  The pizza I was envisioning, on the other hand, was a different story.  I’ve always liked Cambridge, 1‘s potato and fontina with its simple and comforting flavors, and so I decided to try to channel my recollection of that pizza (which I haven’t had in years) while I made my own.

A note:  I am consumed with fear when it comes to yeast, so I use premade pizza dough.  I like Whole Food‘s and the dough Formaggio Kitchen stocks in its freezer (whose name, of course, I’ve forgotten, as I’ve already put out the trash to be collected).

Garlicky Potato Pizza
Makes one thin-crust pizza

3 potatoes, washed and peeled
2/3 cup shredded fontina cheese (generous)
2/3 cup shredded mozzarella cheese (generous)
About 1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, roughly chopped
About 2 tablespoons fresh sage, roughly chopped
5 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 pizza dough for one pie, whether it’s homemade or store-bought is up to you
Olive oil
Salt and pepper
Red pepper flakes (optional; I didn’t put them on my half but Keith did)

  1. Preheat oven according to pizza dough instructions.  While oven heats, sauté garlic in two to three generous tablespoons of olive oil, sprinkled with salt, until golden brown.  Drizzle almost half of garlic and oil on a baking sheet; spread over entire surface with the back of a spoon.  Roll out pizza dough directly atop garlic and oil, and shape into a rectangle of even thickness.  Drizzle remaining garlic and oil on top.
  2. Slice potatoes as thinly as possible so that you end up with several slim circles (if you have a mandoline this step goes by quickly; otherwise be patient, as it’s easy to slip up and cut yourself if you’re not).  Arrange potato slices across top of pizza, overlapping if necessary.  Sprinkle with both cheeses, herbs and red pepper flakes, if using.  Bake for fifteen to twenty minutes, or until cheese is a rich golden brown.