046: Like Lil Nas X, Digestivo hopes haters are sad
On this day in 2020: COVID deaths peaked in New York & Jake became a nonmedical doctor.
(SB) Hi, sweet readers, we’ve made it to a new week! This one has felt long to me already. Even in the best of times, I have the kind of brain chemistry that presents me with a sleep-garbled list of things to do as I wake up. When I have a lot going on, I even tend to dream about the work that is most consuming in mundane detail and fall into the habit of waking up every hour in anticipation of my alarm. During these times, when the low-level thrum of anxiety that powers my days encroaches into the realm of sleep, true rest feels elusive. These complaints deserve only some measure of sympathy, because I often have only myself to blame for them. For most of my life, I have heaped my metaphorical plate full of tasks, obligations, and opportunities as a way to ease bigger, more looming anxieties about the worth and meaning of life itself.
Recently, my whirring wheel of commitments has led me to Robin Wall Kimmerer’s truly restorative Braiding Sweetgrass, a collection of Indigenous wisdom about plants, nature, and humanity’s relation with the world we inhabit. While I cannot plant a garden (or allow myself to sign up for a community gardening shift until I take something else off my plate — one in, one out, that’s the new rule!), tap sap from maple trees, or restore a pond in my yard, I have spent the last few days heeding the teachings of Kimmerer’s ancestors (and my own) by thanking the sun for rising each morning. It might be short lived, but so far this small token of my appreciation for life has transformed my early wakefulness from anxious to intentional. I’m hopeful that with time, it might draw me into the carefree spirit of springtime joy and optimism that has felt more elusive this year.
Here’s what I ate this week:
After many recommendations, I finally began watching Nadiya Bakes and wasted no time (read: < 1 day) making my first desi toad-in-a-hole. Delicious.
It’s also been a big week for eating out in this household. Particularly memorable: an extremely delicious “we’re going long” lunch-turned-dinner meal of pho, banh mi, dau hu ky, summer rolls, and cha gio from Com Tam Ninh Kieu and another visit to Yellow Rose for mezcal margs.
(JS) I’m resisting the urge to pen a full Seasons of Love parody, but let it be known that it’s officially been a year since I defended my dissertation and I still am very much figuring my shit out. I briefly thought I could spin an entire introduction out of this fact, but it turns out that credentialism is no longer the selling point I once thought it to be. The doctor is out! I suppose there is perhaps something to be said about this weird moment we’re in that feels sort of like graduation, or at least some sort of semi-dystopian senior week: the weather is growing warmer, the days are growing longer, vaccine access is rapidly expanding, and weed is freshly legal here in the New York. The world is not quite my oyster, but I’m feeling just a little hopeful this week about the promise of summer in terms of both work and leisure. I’m eager to gather and feast and occasionally turn up to all of the incredible pop music we’ve been forced to endure largely by our lonesome this past year.
Despite these near-graduation vibes, I can’t help but imagine that vax girl summer will also have big freshman energy: I’m starting to forget what casual group socializing is really like, and fear that I’ll end up chronically overbooking and oversharing amongst newbs. You know what they always say: your first-semester-post-pandemic buds need not be friends for life; it’s just nice to have someone to drink with.
It’s been a pretty low lift week over here in terms of cooking, thanks to generous friends and weather ripe for outdoor dining. Some highlights:
Finally made it to Thai Diner for a late Saturday dinner of fried chicken laab, som tum, massaman disco fries, and a gorgeous coconut peanut sundae (RIP Uncle Boons); I want to go back for many reasons, but especially to work my way through their extended dessert menu
Friend of the newsletter and fellow chosen gourmand Rachel shared some torta pasqualina (mostly following David Tanis with some Saveur-inspired diversions)
I’ve been dipping into my frozen dumpling stash from Lunar New Year thanks to my new (!) nonstick, and an easy dumpling sauce recipe from Sandy Ho’s Pineapple Collaborative instagram takeover
PS: After 21 weeks of nonstop content, we’ve bravely decided to allow ourselves another brief break from the grind. Feel free to revisit any of the… wait for it… 138 (!) features in our archive over the next two weeks. We’ll be back with a fresh newsletter 4/21 (and some ~dank~ Instagram content the day before… sorry).
NAUGHTY FUSION: VODKA SAUCE
(SB) I have been on a little bit of a mission to find a go-to at-home vodka sauce recipe. Superfans of the letter will note that I recently subjected both Ina Garten’s recipe and this Claire Saffitz number to a forced marriage after making a very ill advised choice to get faded before cooking and chickening out of making the famed Grossy Pelosi sawce. It was nice, but I knew that there was still work to be done on my vodka sauce journey. This weekend, I decided to throw caution to the wind and add Marion’s Kitchen’s (naughty fusion) take on the sauce.
Marion’s vodka sauce starts in a familiar way: finely minced onion and garlic soften before being combined with tomato paste and a little vodka. Typically, flavor is built over time here, as the tomatoes caramelize and the vodka cooks off. Upon reaching satisfying flavor, one adds cream. (For Grossy, a whole two cups.) Instead, in Marion’s Kitchen, miso, soy sauce, and anise join the mixture and are simmered for about 5 minutes. (Marion’s regular interjections of “Don’t tell your Italian friends!” and “Italians, stop watching!” are one of the many charms of these videos.) You then blend this mixture with an immersion blender and add in some cream. Finally, temporarily stamp back your persistent self-doubt about your saucing technique (JS: that was way harsh, Tai), add in some cooked pasta and its water, and mix to emulsify. Depth of flavor, in a fraction of the time!
I made Marion’s sauce pretty much as written, and would do it again but leave the tomato mixture to cook down a little longer when time permits. Even with just a brief simmer, this sauce was delicious hot over some linguine and incredibly good a few days later, warmed over gnocchi.
SARDINES & BEANS: Name a more iconic duo
(JS) More and more hot girls are saying “tinned fish is actually really good” these days, but dedicated readers will recall that this newsletter has in fact gone hard for canned seafood for years: we’ve savored pan bagnat both above treeline and by the beach, sung praises of boquerones potentially past their prime on Instagram takeovers, and most recently found common ground with the *nt*n*n Sc*l** over a shared love of pasta con le sarde. This week I’m back at it with another tasty recipe that combines a couple of twee cooking internet’s favorite ingredients: tinned fish and beans.
Essentially a sort of fish-fragrant falafel (stay with me now), Maria Elia’s sardine keftedes are an easy entry point for those wary of the eponymous ingredient, and perhaps the best part is you don’t even have to deep fry them! They’re great fresh out of the pan (or room temperature) with a spot of dilly yogurt and whatever your fridge can muster in the way of a horiatiki, but Maria recommends serving them cold (!) in a sandwich with skordalia, vine-ripened tomatoes, and fresh basil. I would love to say I had a chance to sample the latter, but a couple bouts of late afternoon grazing led me to polish off the leftovers I had foolishly planned to save for the following day’s lunch.
Her recipe is pretty straightforward, with some room for variation (do I say this literally every week?). Begin by pulsing a rinsed can of chickpeas, chopped parsley and mint, and a dollop of tahini in a food processor to form a chunky paste. I suppose you could alter the herbs, but I quite liked this combo, especially the mint; I would, however, consider incorporating some fresh green chili for heat. Transfer this mix to a bowl and flake a couple cans of your favorite sardines into the mix – I opted for a piri piri variety by Bela this go around, but am eager to experiment with other flavors. Add a pinch of cinnamon, ground cumin, paprika, a beaten egg, and some cheese – I used pecorino, but Maria suggests an alternative preparation with crumbled feta and grated onion that I’m also keen to try. Season with salt and pepper, fold in some bread crumbs, then roll your mixture into twelve little balls and dust with flour. Pop these sweet baby kefteditos into the fridge to firm up for a couple of hours (or in my case, overnight; hunger called and I simply could not resist the siren song of my aforementioned frozen dumplings). Heat – and this is crucial – a little olive oil in a frying pan over medium heat and fry your keftedes, flattening them slightly so they’ll cook more evenly, until golden (around 3 minutes a side). A half recipe required maybe a tablespoon, if not less. Once again I must shout out my trusty Food52 x Greenpan nonstick (and I suppose, boyfriend of the newsletter David, who gifted it to me); there is a time and place for nonstick, and it is clearly sardine keftedes.
GLD: Turmeric Tea Cake
(SB) Several weeks ago, my Rancho Gordo Bean Club membership box (did you know I’m a member?) included a fun little bottle of Burlap & Barrel turmeric. Given that I am loyal to not just one (Diaspora) but two (Dr. Turmeric, I’m biased!) turmeric purveyors, I was at a loss with what to do to fully honor this offering. Luckily, friend of the newsletter and newly-knowledgeable chocolatier Alex – aka Lady ThisandThat – stepped in to sing the praises of Alison Roman’s lemony turmeric tea cake.
After some weeks of mulling it over, the emergence of the sun and my firm belief that I deserved a cake led me back to this vibrant looking and sweet little loaf. I largely followed the recipe as written, with a few minor substitutions. I share them with you to offer both a a jolt chaotic Spring energy and a vivid look into my truly reckless attitude towards baking. My first substitution occurred after mixing flour, baking powder, salt, and turmeric. Alison (henceforth, AR) instructs us to zest one lemon, juice half of it, and slice a second lemon. While AR managed to get two tablespoons of zest and two tablespoons of juice from one lemon, I fully zested and juiced two lemons, didn’t measure it, and didn’t regret a thing. The lemon zest gets gently massaged with some sugar (I used a hair less than the prescribed cup) until the mixture is yellow, then whisked with sour cream, eggs, and the lemon juice. Fold together the wet and dry ingredients before adding melted butter (I browned mine). Pour the batter into a buttered loaf pan fitted with a parchment-sling.
Here came my most significant modifications. AR recommends adding a thinly sliced lemon sprinkled with a little sugar to the top of this loaf. After reading several comments that described bitter, pithy rinds, I scrapped this plan in favor of placing some thinly peeled slices of a wan grapefruit and orange sitting in my fridge on top and soaking each with honey. (I imagine that candied citrus would also work well in this case; shoutout to friend of the newsletter Rae, raising the candied-citrus bar for us all). I sprinkled some Diaspora Co. pepper on top, in homage to haldi milk.
Aided by my new oven thermometer, I discovered too late that my oven does indeed have some issues making it over 400°F. While my cake took a little longer to cook, it more than made up for it with caramelized edges and an incredibly moist crumb. The turmeric made this cake bright enough to match its pleasantly intense lemon flavor. My toothbrush also turned yellow in the wake of my new pre-bed cake habit.
PERMANENT ROTATION: Greek style lemon potatoes. We’re not especially loyal to any particular recipe, so we encourage you to embrace your curiosity and follow your heart.
(SB) I know what you’re going to say when you see what I’m wishing for: “Salonee, why would you purchase even more plates that you can’t afford and do not need?” It’s an excellent question, and one I’ll be meditating on in advance of the East Fork taro special color release. I have a feeling the answer will be “because I deserve to eat cake from a purple plate explicitly designed for cake.”
(JS) Let my co-editor eat cake! *in my army pants and flip flops* I saw Katie Parla unboxing a weighty haul of Pantelleria’s finest capers packed in salt from La Nicchia on her instagram stories, so now I want to order a weighty haul of Pantelleria’s finest capers packed in salt from La Nicchia.
(SB & JS) Having ogled recipes from Melissa Weller’s A Good Bake for the better part of a month, we were pleasantly surprised to hear about the launch of cookie tins by Funk Foods Bakery. April’s selection features an alluringly browned pretzel shortbread, among other gems.
Until the 21st, sweet readers; let’s KIT on Instagram!