037: Salt, Fat, Res Hits, Sleet
Hold the line with these energy boosting snacks from r/wallstreetbets
(JS) I know many of us have been at home for nearly a year now, but I gotta say that blizzard-induced isolation hits different. Snow days in New York really bring out the Scrooge in me, unable to enjoy a fleeting moment of beauty and instead immediately anticipating the salt and slush shitshow to follow. In a previous life I’d spin these conditions as ideal braising weather, but in my pan de muerto work from home world, any day can be a braising day with the right Zoom setup. Perhaps I could get a little more excited about the Winter of our Remotely-Produced Content if I had a cozy Off Hours homecoat to wrap myself in, but such is life. (SB: Sponsor us, Off Hours!!)
Rather than kvetch at length, I’ll do us all a favor and keep things extremely short and incredibly sweet. This week has been full of culinary disappointment. After a little tinkering though, most things turned out sort of ok:
Pre-Blizzard braised osso buco with fennel sofrito from Missy Robbins; decent but needed way more than two hours of cook time (I started it in the oven, deboned it, then moved it to a burner to simmer; if I were you I’d probably just do it all on the stovetop); unsurprisingly, it was better the next day
Half followed the directions for this chile-citrus chicken, a dupe for The Fly’s rotisserie bird (tbqh Alison Roman’s chile butter chicken is easier and better); leftovers made their way into a very good arroz caldo (or something like it), cooked in a turmeric and ginger heavy bone broth inspired by my co editor, topped with schug and pickled shallots
Dipped my toe in the matcha baking pool with this spelt matcha coffee cake with buckwheat cardamom crumble from Ana Ortiz; liked it overall but found it a little dense, and might consider subbing some spelt for AP in the future
(SB) Sweet Readers, I guess it’s been another weird week in this strange world. Everyone I’ve spoken to this week has echoed the fact that we’re all deeply over the isolated monotony of this pandemic. The northeast’s brief blizzard (which might return this weekend?) seems to have clarified, once again, that things feel really hard right now. I’m sad, I bet you’re sad, and we’re all inexplicably busy for people who are being advised not to leave our homes. I often realize I feel lonely, but simultaneously feel totally unable to socialize like I once did. In addition to the slushy conditions outside, I have also found myself increasingly tethered to my computer and behind on getting something to someone no matter how many hours I’m logging. Judging by a few informal surveys, this is a near universal experience: why do we have so much work to do, and why doesn’t it pay more?*
Once again, I’m fresh out of answers. There’s likely a book by someone with a highly secure and extremely rare faculty position out there with advice about slowing down and doing less, but I haven’t had time to read it. (JS: Cut to me multitasking while listening to the audiobook of Jenny Odell’s How to Do Nothing.) I have, however, had time to continue to explore the world of at-home bread making, and boy is it humbling. For those following along at home, I’ve moved my starter to the fridge for a weekly feeding schedule. I expect I’ll be trying my hand at a country loaf again this weekend. Here’s what else I’ve eaten:
My young and naive starter made its debut with a (disappointing and underproofed) country loaf (I used this recipe but likely won’t repeat) and two pans of focaccia (recipe from our friends at Sifted.) The first was turned into garlic breadcrumbs, the second turned out somewhat denser than I aspire to, but still tasty with a decent crumb. You spend countless hours scrolling obsessively through bread blogs and you pick up the lingo, I see. I topped one loaf with olives and garlic, another with potato slices and rosemary.
A extemporaneous pasta: I basically folded in some cream with cold-bloomed saffron strands into finely chopped cauliflower, garlic, and onions caramelized with some leftover bacon ends, tossed with pasta water and parm, and topped it with a lot of parsley and garlic breadcrumbs. I may or may not have been inspired by TikTok, but be assured I did not use avocado oil.
Frozen chicken pelmeni with a very spicy and simple adapted adkija sauce.
*Some of you are likely paid appropriately for your work.
(JS) A couple weeks ago while browsing the offerings at Greene Hill Food Coop, I happened upon a widely coveted milk bread from Tyler Lee Steinbrenner’s ACQ Bread Co. Our dinner plans were already well established (Claudette Zepeda’s Oaxacan chicken with salsa macha), but I simply couldn’t resist the gorgeously lacquered loaf poking out of its butter-stained paper bag. My boyfriend and I split the end slice, which we feverishly swiped through the aforementioned chicken drippings, while I took to my cookbooks for a quick(ish) dessert option.
I think of my pandemic cooking style as loosely-inspired by Chopped, seeking to creatively make use of an eclectic pantry and the indiscriminately acquired contents of my fridge. This allegiance to the Chopped model also comes with certain biases, namely: never rush risotto and French toast is not a valid dessert. Bread pudding felt silly given the freshness of the loaf, not to mention the fact that the bold, beautiful Barnard alumna Alex Guarneschelli would probably (rightly) clock it as pain perdu casserole. I suddenly remembered a recipe for bostock from the original Tartine book that had always intrigued.
The headnote explains bostock “can be served for dessert,” though Chad Robertson and Elizabeth Prueitt “think of it more as a decadent breakfast or brunch pastry, which is the time of day it is traditionally served in France.” Typically made with brioche, bostock is a preparation wherein thick slices of egg-rich bread are first painted with an orange-scented syrup and spread with a layer of jam, then covered in a rich frangipane and baked. The resulting treat is soft in the center like French toast (the Ted Allen in my head raises an eyebrow) but crunchy on the outside thanks to the caramelized frangipane and a sprinkle of sliced almonds. Think of it as the lovechild of a brioche and an almond croissant. (SB: I need this in my life, ASAP.)
I loosely followed the Tartine recipe, taking some hints from Martha and opting for their “cakier” frangipane variation instead of the one which required me to first prepare a whole separate recipe for pastry cream. I also omitted liqueur in the syrup and used peach jam instead of apricot – a stone fruit is a stone fruit, je suppose. As it turns out, my interventions were nearly paralleled by Chad himself in this reprint from the Breville blog, though I tucked a little malted milk powder into my frangipane to give it a little extra je ne sais quoi (is this annoying yet?). I served my bostock warm with unsweetened whipped cream and frankly it was a perfectly acceptable dinner dessert. I think you could absolutely play around with the jam and syrup flavors as well as the frangipane; I’ve been known to enjoy a pistachio variety, and hazelnut would probably work as well. (SB: Kaya Jam Bostock??!?!) Just don’t tell any staunch study abroad types.
TMYK: Atole de Avena
(SB) Atole is a Mexican drink that’s traditionally made by thickening milk or water with masa and any number of flavors: champurrado incorporates chocolate, atole agrio is made with fermented black corn dough, ayocomollatolli with cooked beans and epazote, atole de pinole with pine nuts, nequatolli with honey, atole de cacahuate with peanuts… the list really goes on. So far, my (non Mexican!) experience with atole has mostly involved relishing various versions spooned into styrofoam cups from street vendors in Los Angeles and New York; and, while I love the occasional champurrado as a treat, I am particularly fond of atole de avena, thickened with ground oats and fragrant with cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg.
Commonly sold during AM rush hours, atole de avena is an incredibly satisfying way to drink your breakfast. Though it is a Mexican mainstay, it has also always reminded me of my grandmother, who likes to drink her oats, sweetened with jaggery, often for dinner. This week, with a blizzard approaching and my desire for comforting milky drinks at an all time high, I couldn’t quite get atole de avena out of my head, and, after a few nights of obsessive googling, set about to make my own.
Using a IG highlight from Moni’s Kitchen, and recipes from both Fuertes con Leche and Muy Delish as guidelines, I began by heating about 4 cups of water with a few sticks of cinnamon, some highly sought-after cardamom pods from Diaspora, and the tail end of a knob of ginger. Once boiling, I steeped the mixture for about 15 minutes. After straining out the spices, I blitzed the water and some old fashioned oats in the blender.
Using a large stock pot, I returned the slurry to the stove and added in a couple of tablespoons of grated ginger, some nutmeg, a little more cinnamon, and about three cups of whole milk. (You can, of course, use something like almond milk here, or even… oat milk?) Stirring occasionally, I let this mixture reduce by about a quarter (about 45 minutes, for me) before adding in a heaping quarter cup of jaggery and stirring until fully incorporated. To cut down on cooking time, you could probably substitute a little condensed milk for some portion of the jaggery and whole milk. After ladeling myself a cup, I made the executive decision to leave my stock pot on the stove with no heat so that I could continue to refresh my glass throughout the day.
The results were everything I dreamt about, equal parts delicious and nostalgic in ways that transcended the milky sweetness of it all. It honestly felt like I just scored a cup of atole de avena before barely making it through the closing doors of a subway car in ice rain: reassuring in its promise that that even damp and frazzled, I’d be warm and full soon enough. (Remember consuming something on the train without feeling like a participant in biological warfare?) While not traditional in the Mexican preparation, the addition of jaggery, ginger and cardamom also made this experience a little bit like drinking a health payasam. Frankly, I needed it and perhaps you do too.
USE A CONDIMENT: TOUM
(JS) The food I grew up on lacked not for flavor, though my mom and aunt, probably the most formative cooks of my youth, remain... let’s call it “sensitive” when it comes to garlic. I rather enjoy the allium, though because of my upbringing I tend to think of a heavy handed approach as naughty, indulgent, or even sinful. (I’m reminded of a moment in Alice Waters’ memoir, when she recalls mid century American aversion to the stuff; watch whiteness work!) (SB: Jake the intuitive Ayurvedic) Never one to shy away from this potentially problematic category of foods*, allow me to introduce a second creamy off-white victual to this issue: toum, a Levantine spread which whips the heady essence of garlic into a delicious sauce you can slather or swirl into just about anything, and (in many cases) just so happens to be vegan.
In terms of ingredients, toum is a rather simple condiment: most recipes require only garlic, salt, lemon juice, and oil. These humble ingredients are blended in careful fashion to create an emulsion, or as queen Samin calls it, “a temporary peace treaty between fat and water.” The high quantity of fresh raw garlic should provide enough natural emulsifiers by itself, though some will add raw egg white, potato, or a pinch of xanthan gum to give their toum extra body. Some will supplement the liquid by adding a bit of ice-cold water, though others contend excess liquid will cause the sauce to break (FWIW, a broken emulsion can also be caused by too much oil, or even basic temperature changes).
Toum can be made with a mortar and pestle or using a food processor; I’ve only used the latter, and if we’re being completely honest my success rate hovers somewhere around 75% (or as my middle school would call it, a high pass). I’m not usually one to suggest cooking videos, but I find this one from Sohla El-Waylly over on Serious Eats to be especially helpful in explaining the process. She makes the case for de-germing your garlic; throwing whole cloves into the food processor is great for warding off vampires and garlic averse bedfellows, but taking a bit of time to remove the germ will yield a less biting result. Alternating lemon juice and oil in small amounts helps prevent your toum from breaking, but Sohla also generously and presciently offers advice for what to do when your emulsion does break: remove all but ¼ c of the toum-to-be, process with an egg white, then slowly add the remainder while the machine is running (a commenter suggested flax egg for a vegan fix). I can say with confidence that this is not a condiment you can easily scale down; most recipes will make a hefty quantity, and if properly stored it keeps in the fridge for quite a bit, mellowing with time.
Over the years I’ve tried toum recipe after toum recipe, doggedly seeking that white whale of garlic sauces, an elusive ultra thicc fluff. (SB: Who among us has not hoarded thee Toum from Zankou Chicken.) There are times when I’ve come close, but upon repeating the recipe I’ve been befuddled by a totally different result. I reached out to friend of the newsletter and trusted Lebanese cooking correspondent Natalie to inquire about her favorite version; the recipes she sent described the results as “a creamy mayonnaise irresistible for dipping” and “a smooth paste,” but she also sang praises of a remarkably fluffy toum from Kismet (“a scenario in which the gentrifier got it right; quote me and cancel me.”). Hearing her embrace such variety, I felt like I’d been missing out. And so I find myself a champion for toums of all textures; toums of all bodies are beautiful.
PERMANENT ROTATION: Natasha Pickowicz’ olive oil cake has everything we want in an olive oil cake and more; strong citrus undertones, a crispy crust, and a flexible glaze you can but shouldn’t skip. We could all take a hint from this cake, which gets a warm olive oil bath upon coming out of the oven, locking in moisture and boosting flavor, winter dryness be damned. Bake it in a loaf pan, a springform, a bundt, or even cupcakes. Bake the olive oil cake you wish to see in the world. Just follow Natasha’s directions.
(JS) Seeing as Off Hours has somehow still not contacted us about that sponsorship (is this subtle?), I suppose I can freely wish for another aspirational nesting accessory: the Bearaby napper, a knitted weighted blanket made from organic cotton and dyed to match your favorite fall produce (it’s the “cozy corn” for me).
(SB) What does it mean that I’m at a point where I think that these would be a chic addition to my spring wardrobe?
(JS & SB) Indoor dining inconceivably makes its deranged (and extremely corny) return to New York on Valentines Day. Truly the least the state could do would be to get its shit in order to ensure a timely and accessible vaccine rollout plan for essential F&B workers. Call your reps, troll DeBlasio and Cuomo, etc.