Food Diary, Vol. 2: Day Two.

11.43 am: Way too much batter while making meringues.  I saved my unused egg whites from last night’s soup recipe, and at lunch yesterday Stephanie mentioned she wanted to make meringues, thus planting the seed of meringue-making in my head.  I love watching egg whites froth up and turn into peaks.  And I apparently also like using the words “making” and “meringues” as much as possible in a single sentence.

1.031.28 pm: Leftover soup plus the first of my beloved Coke Zeros for the day.  These things are seriously addictive.  I know this because I’m hooked.

2.22 pm: Warm milk and honey.

4.13 pm: Meringues!  I think I may have put in too much sugar, but this doesn’t stop me from eating three.

6.13 – 6.43 pm: Two slices pepperoni pizza at Keith’s Aunt Mary’s house, plus a Diet Pepsi.  It’s good, but it fails to hold a candle anywhere near my Coke Zeros.

7.34 pm: Coffee with cream and sugar, mostly because I am freezing.  That’s the thing about getting over being sick — adjusting to feeling normal again.  I’m wearing a T-shirt over a camisole, a cardigan and a scarf, and still I’m cold…

8.02 pm: …but not too cold to enjoy a piece of apple pie.

Chocolate Chip Meringues, from Martha Stewart
Makes 2 ½ dozen cookies

6 large egg whites
1 ¼ cups superfine sugar (see note)
2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting
Cocoa powder, for dusting

  1. Heat oven to 175°. Line several baking sheets with parchment paper or Silpats and set aside.
  2. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat egg whites until they form soft peaks. Sprinkle a few spoonfuls of superfine sugar over beaten egg whites, and whisk in on low speed.  Increase speed of mixer; whisking constantly, continue adding superfine sugar, a spoonful at a time, until all has been incorporated and mixture is firm enough to hold stiff and glossy peaks. Fold in chocolate chips.
  3. Pipe or spoon small mounds of mixture onto baking sheets, spacing mounds about 1 inch apart. Bake meringues until completely dry to the touch, about 3 hours.
  4. Transfer sheets to a wire rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight container up to 3 days. Before serving, dust meringues with confectioners’ sugar and cocoa powder.

Note: No need to buy special sugar for this.  Just measure out the amount you need into the bowl of a food processor and blitz.

Five Things About Me: 21 22 23 24 25.

(As promised, zombies.)

21. I love zombies.  Well, love isn’t the right word, because, when you think about it, zombies are totally gross.  They’re also utterly fascinating.  And scary.  And I can’t get enough of them.

22. I know I’ve mentioned my vivid dreams before but what I may not have mentioned is that I dream very frequently of zombies.  Sometimes I jerk myself awake in the middle of the night absolutely swimming in a pool of my own sweat, my heart beating like a hummingbird’s.  Those nights, I lie there trying to convince myself that zombies aren’t real, and then I wake Keith up to reassure me.  Other times, I wake up smiling and cheerful after a good zombie dream.

23. Yes, I do believe there is such a thing as a good zombie dream.  Here’s an example: it’s the end of the world, we’re all dead but we’ve come back as zombies and live happily in this nice zombie civilization.  I’ve got a live cooking show à la Emeril Lagasse, except I’m more like the zombie Martha Stewart and I’m teaching my audience where the best cuts of meat are on a person.  And I’ve a cage of free-range humans in the studio.  It’s a very informative show and I have very high ratings.

24. Most of my zombie dreams are bad dreams.  Here’s an example: it’s the end of the world, almost everyone is dead and I’m fighting for my life with two other survivors.  They’re heavily armed with guns and machetes, but for some reason all I’ve got is the hardcover edition of Harry Potter number five, which I’ve been swinging at zombies’ heads with surprising success.  (It’s a big book.)   Then, over the crest of a hill, we see a zombie swarm coming towards us, and leading the pack is a zombie Conan O’BrienHarry Potter number five is no match for his massive zombie head, and I wake up panicking just as zombie Conan O’Brien is about to take a chunk out of my neck.

25. I have a really hard time watching The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien because sometimes he makes this one expression that looks just like zombie Conan O’Brien did before he ate my neck and it really freaks me out.

A Mid-Afternoon Cold Weather Snack.

I’m not an optimist at heart, so when I complain of the cold and someone says something to me like “Believe it or not, spring is just around the corner,” it does not make me feel any better about my not-quite-waterproof boots and feather-leaking down jacket.  Seriously, whenever I take it off white feathers explode out of it, covering me in fluff — not chic.  But it is warm.

Anyway, my point is this: it is winter, so just deal with it.

Sorry for being so grumpy.  I’m trying very hard to smilingly follow my cold-weather mantra but it’s  difficult to do so when, while disembarking from the bus, I have no other choice but to step into a thigh-high snowbank, which is what I did on Monday.  But, as I waded my way out, I grimly grinned — winter isn’t going to get the best of me.  In fact, I’m going to take advantage of the freezing temperatures by making a batch of cookies perfect for snacking on the sofa with a blanket.

lemon-anise-sugar-cookies1I’m a sucker for sugar cookies, but what I had in mind was something with a little more of a tang and a lot less sweetness.  I had fooled around with an anise biscotti recipe not too long ago; the flavor was nice, but I’ve never been terribly fond of biscotti’s tooth-crushing crunch — dentists must make a fortune off of biscotti enthusiasts, don’t you think?

After pondering for a while, I decided lemon and anise would make a good combination; the citrus and licorice flavors wouldn’t be overly sugary, and besides, I already had a tried-and-true lemony cookie recipe that would be able to stand up to some tweaking. With some experimentation, and after eating a lot of dough, I found the ideal balance of lemon and licorice — though I should tell you that I do prefer food (and cookies) on the more lemony side of the spectrum.  All I can do is advise you to taste your dough along the way and add more or less flavoring as you see fit.  Just make sure that when the cookies are done you take a few to your favorite spot on the couch, along with a cup of tea and your warmest quilt.  Then you’ll be ready to wait out the winter ’til spring.

Lemon-Anise Sugar Cookies, adapted a bit from Martha Stewart‘s Old Fashioned Sugar Cookie recipe
Makes about 20 3-inch cookies.

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
1 ¾ cups granulated sugar
¼ cup packed light-brown sugar
zest of 1 good-sized lemon, plus 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon fennel seed
1 cup unsalted butter, (2 sticks), softened
2 large eggs

  1. Preheat oven to 350°. Sift flour, baking soda, and salt into a bowl; set aside.
  2. Put sugars and lemon zest in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on medium speed 30 seconds. Add butter; mix until pale and fluffy, about 1 minute. Mix in eggs, 1 at a time, and then the lemon juice and fennel seed. Reduce speed; gradually add flour mixture, and mix until just combined.
  3. Scoop dough using a 2-inch ice cream scoop; space cookies 2 inches apart on parchment-lined baking sheets. Flatten cookies with a spatula or bottom of a drinking glass.  Bake cookies until golden, about 15 minutes. Let cool on sheets on wire racks for 5 minutes. Transfer cookies to racks and let cool completely. Cookies can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature up to 3 days.

My Kitchen in Malden.

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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.

Ben’s Kitchen in LA.

Where do you live?
I live in Los Angeles, California — specifically Studio City.

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How often do you cook or bake?
Since I was laid off a month ago, I’ve been trying my hardest to conserve money and not go out for meals. So as of late: nearly every meal is a home-cooked one. (And when they’re not, I opt for the semi-cheap, entirely-delicious Hugo’s Tacos — Chicken or Al Pastor Bowl with Honey Chipotle.) As for baking? Uh, haven’t crossed that bridge yet.

What is your favorite kitchen utensil?
I’m a gadget nerd. (Latest love: the Kuhn Rikon Lid Lifter.)  But in terms of sheer practicality and overall use, I’ma go with the Pure Komachi stainless steel knife my mom gave me a couple years ago. She was at some cooking expo of some sort and I think it was given to her…  Anyway, it’s a ridiculous shade of purple but it’s incredibly sharp and lightweight. I tend to use chopped peppers and/or onions and/or garlic in about everything I make, so it’s in almost constant use.

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Which part of your kitchen do you like best and why?
My favorite part of my kitchen? I guess the piece of real estate to the right of my sink. There’s plenty of space to spread out supplies and room to chop & concoct and the window’s right there, so when the weather’s just right you can catch a nice cool breeze.

What was your biggest kitchen accomplishment?
This is a two part answer.

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A. When it comes to cooking regular meals, I’m not super adventurous. I go for maximum flavor from as few pots/dishes as humanly possible. For example, a few weeks ago  I made a really tasty soba dish from — cough — Martha Stewart. I highly recommend it.

Sautéed Chicken with Herbed Soba, from Martha Stewart

4 scallions, thinly sliced
1 cup packed fresh cilantro leaves, plus more for garnish
1 cup fresh parsley
1 garlic clove, chopped (But as far as I’m concerned, one clove is never enough. I used two.)
1 teaspoon peeled and minced fresh ginger (Again, I think I erred on the side of a wee bit more ginger.)
¼ cup rice vinegar
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
12 ounces chicken cutlets
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper (Oh and I didn’t have pure cayenne in the cupboard, so I used a cayenne-based spice rub that gave the chicken a really nice kick that was counterbalanced by the cool cilantro.)
Coarse salt and ground pepper
1 package (8.8 ounces) soba

  1. In a food processor, finely chop scallions, cilantro, parsley, garlic, and ginger with vinegar and 1 tablespoon oil. Transfer to a bowl.
  2. In a large skillet, heat 1 tablespoon oil over medium-high. Season chicken with cayenne, salt, and pepper. Working in batches, cook, turning once, until opaque throughout, 4 to 5 minutes. Transfer chicken to a cutting board; let cool 5 minutes, and thinly slice.
  3. Cook soba according to package instructions. Drain; toss with herb mixture. Serve chicken with soba; garnish with cilantro.

B. Here’s the real story about accomplishment that I wanted to tell. Roughly once a month, I have a bunch of friends come over for a ragtag, bourgie afternoon-into-evening of cooking, drinking, and eating. December’s dinner was based around the holidays (obvs) and nothing says the holidays like, uh, Moroccan Lamb Stew.  (To be fair we did have about 15 other courses that included more traditionally seasonal items like latkes and  Pimm’s Cup.)

Anyway, the purpose of this story: it wasn’t that the lamb stew was some impossibly difficult recipe — although none of us had ever made lamb stew — because it wasn’t. Instead, over the course of a couple of hours (and way too much alcohol) various factions and pairings would hover over the pot and finesse it, nudging it into the best stew I’ve ever had. That whole “too many cooks” maxim…? Yeah, that wasn’t in effect on that December night. So that’s our (Jill, Tim, Devereaux, and Tyler) accomplishment.

Moroccan Lamb Stew, from Bon Appétit
Makes four portions

¾ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground allspice
3 ½ pounds o-bone (round-bone) lamb shoulder chops, well trimmed, cut into 1-inch pieces, or 2 pounds lamb stew meat
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups chopped onions
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 ½ tablespoons minced peeled fresh ginger
1 1/3 cups water
2 large blood oranges
¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
1 tablespoon honey

Mix salt, pepper, cinnamon and allspice in medium bowl. Add lamb and toss to coat with spice mixture. Heat oil in heavy large pot over medium-high heat. Working in batches, add lamb to pot and sauté until brown on all sides, about 4 minutes per batch. Return all lamb to pot. Add onion, garlic and ginger to pot and sauté 5 minutes. Add 1 1/3 cups water and bring to boil. Reduce heat; cover and simmer until lamb is almost tender, stirring occasionally, about 1 hour 30 minutes.

Exactly how we veered away from this recipe is, alas, a little hazy. I do know that we chopped two big handfuls of really fresh mint and added it kind of late in the game. I also know that we amped the amount of blood orange used (plus zest) and added vegetable stock to the mix… But honestly, that’s all I remember at this late date.