035: To the Left, to the Left (Fingers Crossed)
There can no longer be a hundred people in a room, but we do have Chromatica Oreos
(JS) We did it, Joe. We made it to the final newsletter of the Tr*mp era. I have no clue what this strange ass day has in store for us, but suffice it to say today marks a pivotal moment for Italian American representation and the validation of nonmedical doctors throughout this crumbling nation (although I technically only fall into the latter category, I’m excited to announce I have big Covid-compliant ideas for my next installment of Italian summer cosplay). Paws up, little monsters, we’re crushin’ the pizzelles tonight! Anyway, I’m off the deep end, what with the capital in a state of occupation and all, but I’m crossing my fingers that things move forward without a hitch so next week we can get back to our regularly scheduled programming of local drags and niche memes (I recognize I am violating a core tenet of the Dorinda doctrine here). Where’s everyone watching the inauguration today? What else is everyone watching these days? I just started Bling Empire and aspire to Anna Shay’s unsurpassed level of detachment. It’s like I always say: you cannot be what you cannot see.
Here’s what I ate last week:
Emboldened by some helpful hints from dedicated readers (start in a cold pan with a bit of water), I faced my duck breast fears for a hearty fesenjoon, served with Naz Deravian’s sabzi polo
An impulsive khachapuri adjaruli attempt, stuffed with feta and queen provolone; I followed this chaotic recipe from Saveur, yielding a nearly 100% hydration dough that tasted pretty good but was a real pain in the ass to maneuver
(SB) Back in April 2020, as I cast my frenzied energy about town trying to make sense of the world, I donated my way into an envelope of sourdough starter from the good Dayna Evans, of Permanent Bakesale fame. Traveling to my humble home all the way from Paris, the dried starter arrived just around the time I had lost all desire to nurture anything, let alone a bacteria-rich dough. It sat on my shelf, untouched, for the better part of a year. I rediscovered it this week in a heroic attempt to clean out my tiny kitchen and felt, for the first time in months, the smallest stirrings of desire to care for something once again. Was it the assurance of a more reasonable COVID policy on the way in? Desperate desire to recreate Sifted’s favorite focaccia? Relief at having sent off a massive chapter? Hubris? I’ll never really know, I suppose. In any case, a few days ago I began my rehydration process (using this fun guide) and am now attempting a daily feeding schedule. I’m not sure how things are looking, and am already becoming acutely aware of how this starter could come to function as a damning indictment of my lifestyle (“be sure to use really CLEAN jars and spoons!”). I’ll keep you all posted and would appreciate any tips, tricks, thoughts, and prayers you may have on offer.
In the interim, here’s what we ate this week:
Taking a cue from Jake, I too made the five spice chicken from Lucky Peach atop a bed of cabbage. Leftovers went into a loaf of Apt. 2 Bread sesame focaccia, which had a Vanessa’s sesame pancake vibe I was not mad about.
Hopped up on Seinfeld reruns, I also made a lazy and improvised egg salad and then felt deeply disappointed by it (JS: I’m so sorry)
Black bean soup, improvised with a can of hatch chiles and Rancho Gordo midnight Beans. I still eagerly await my rightful place in the Bean Club FB group.
GLD: Orange Almond Cake
(JS) Long before this newsletter in the earliest throes of isolation, Salonee and I participated in an old fashioned recipe exchange. The goal was not to agonize over impressing your recipient, but rather to send something familiar and comforting to switch up their home cooking routine, ideally a reliable recipe floating around in your head that you could type out on a whim. More practically, it was to meant be “something quick, easy and without rare ingredients.” The responses I received were… well, varied, to put it gently, but there were a few diamonds in the rough, recipes with deep provenance that provided some much needed relief during the pandemic’s most unsettling weeks here in New York.
This orange almond cake came to me from friend of the newsletter Rattan, though he got it from his friend Zette, who in turn learned it from her father. I’d come across a similar recipe by Claudia Roden last winter but never got around to trying it – FWIW, this version is quicker, without (according to Rattan) a notable difference in taste. Both make use of the entire fruit and contain no flour, crucial details for folks who were still figuring out biweekly Misfits Market produce deliveries and facing unforeseen flour shortages as everyone and their mother decided to try their hand at sourdough cultivation (SB: some of us are late bloomers). For the best results, choose citrus with thinner skin and less pith – I’ve had better results with navel oranges than cara cara, but I’m keen to try it with blood oranges. Rattan’s planning to test it with kinnows, a juicer orange hybrid now in season in Northern India.
To begin, place a couple oranges in a saucepan and add water to cover. Cover and bring to a boil, then simmer until the oranges are tender when pierced, between 30 and 45 minutes. I’d err on the longer side to decrease bitterness – plus, your kitchen will smell amazing. Drain the oranges and once cool enough to handle, quarter and seed them. Grind almonds in a food processor, then add your oranges and pulse to nearly a puree. In a separate bowl, beat eggs with a hand mixer on medium speed until light, then add sugar and continue to beat until pale and thick. Gently fold in your orange almond puree alongside a pinch of salt and baking powder, then scrape your batter into a prepared springform and bake at 375°F; the cake is ready when the top is firm to the touch and the sides begin to pull away from the pan (about 37 minutes for me, though my oven runs a bit hot). Finish with a dusting of powdered sugar, or glaze it if you want to double down on the citrus.
TRASH TALK: Curry-ess Me Down Broth
(SB) Unfortunately, one of the ways that my body lets me know that I am anxious or stressed out is by producing a powerful and persistent nausea*. Quick to onset and eager to linger, it can be set off by any number of things: a night of poor sleep or excessive drinking; a looming deadline or unpleasant task; a piece of rancid departmental gossip; thinking about Indira Gandhi — really, take your pick. Often, I have no choice but to power through the discomfort by eating whatever’s around. Luckily, this particular season has been so persistently stressful that I have begun to plan ahead by keeping some particularly gentle foods on hand. On the top of the list is some good ol’ Instant Pot Bone Broth. You can definitely make this with a stove top pressure cooker, a slow cooker, or, rumor has it, on the stove.
Recently, while perusing Chandra Ram’s Instant Pot Indian, a chicken-based bone broth fortified with curry leaves, serrano chilis, lemon, turmeric, coriander, cumin, pepper, and ginger in lieu of the usual aromatic suspects caught my eye (onions, unsurprisingly, also made the cut). I immediately knew the fate of my next roast chicken carcass. Famously bad at planning and following directions, I found myself both fresh out of chilis and skeptical about the hefty 2 tablespoons of turmeric and coriander prescribed by Ram. Rationalizing that I was splurging with high quality Diaspora Co. spices, I began by toasting the full amount of pepper and halving turmeric, cumin, and coriander before throwing in a little more ginger than written, a large diced onion, and a heaping tablespoon of ghee that was nowhere to be found in the recipe. Then, in went in a frozen chicken carcass and enough water to cover the mixture without overwhelming the Instant Pot, and the juice of a large lemon. Once my chicken had thawed enough to be fully submerged, I sealed the whole thing and set it to cook for two hours under high pressure.
The resulting broth smelled more like a full chicken curry dinner and has since proven to be a welcome and hearty intervention to the delicate profile most bone broth creations cut. After a night in the fridge, it also proved to have a nice thick layer of collagen… the gold star of success in this business. While I often add in a little miso to a simpler broth, this one feels like something close to a “real” meal with just another squeeze of lemon. More significantly, it has opened my eyes to the thought that the world of vegetarian sambars and rasams may be ripe for a little bone-based disruption (sorry to my ancestors). I also, inexplicably, liked that this broth unapologetically stained my cups haldi yellow and was unapologetically pungent. It would definitely raise eyebrows in an office. And you know what? I like that!!!
*BTW, as one ex-boyfriend’s mother once told me: saying “I’m nauseous” means you are the agent of nausea. It’s “I’m nauseated.” Just thought I’d pass that one along. (JS: Sounds like someone else in this story was, in fact, nauseous.)
The Pasta at the Center of My Venn Diagram with Scalia
(JS) Previously in this newsletter I’ve alluded to a heretofore unexplored hangup about preparing pasta at home. Further contemplation has led me to the conclusion that my fear is more precisely rooted in the act of saucing pasta, a seemingly simple gesture requiring both delicate choreo and a discerning eye for emulsification. Perhaps I’m too hard on myself, but I’m usually displeased with both the distribution and adherence of my sauces. For this reason, when I make pasta at home, it is most often baked (frequently with an indiscriminate number of cheeses), allowing the oven to do the work my anxious hands cannot; otherwise, I’ll make pasta con le sarde.
As pasta dishes go this Sicilian staple is rather light, yet the flavors are complex, a tasty testament to an enduring Arab influence on the island’s cuisine. Sardines and anchovies are sauteed with raisins or currants rehydrated in white wine for a sweet and salty base, enriched by floral aromas from coriander, fennel seed and fronds. An optional pinch of saffron adds top notes and visual allure, while toasted pignoli offer a bit of richness – feel free to omit both, or sub in your preferred toasted nut (slivered almonds are delicious and cheaper). A generous sprinkle of bread crumbs toasted in olive oil provides both crunch and golden color. Traditionally pasta con le sarde is prepared with fresh sardines and wild fennel, but you can easily sub in tinned fish and conventional fennel for a flavorful and largely pantry-based meal (that said, if you know of a fresh sardine purveyor in Brooklyn, please be in touch). I like bucatini (if you can find it), but spaghetti will work in a pinch. As for recipes, I usually follow David Tanis, who flavors the pasta water with chopped fennel fronds which later get added to the final dish, but otherwise his take is not so different from the versions on Serious Eats and Food52.
PERMANENT ROTATION: Gabrielle Hamilton’s finocchio al forno, also known as fennel baked in cream. This is the gratin you didn’t know you needed.
(JS) This week I am resisting the urge to cop a deeply discounted Levo infuser from vapor.com (interested parties may use the inventive promo code LEVO50) and instead am plotting ways to spruce up my bedroom as we transition into the post-Trump era. Perhaps a fresh coat of Instagram-friendly paint from a millennial-targeted DTC producer?
(SB) Some chic and totally unnecessary containers for my sourdough starter and discard. Maybe I’ll treat myself to one of these if my starter makes it past the weekend.
(JS & SB) Ever the joiners, we’re excited to learn about Demi, a new digital platform connecting communities through food. We’re especially keen to join chats moderated by our faves Natasha Pickowicz and Lucas Sin.
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