It's giving "giving up", and other seasonal rallying cries
(SB) Welcome back dear readers! I’m writing to you after a day spent climbing up high on the hog of Fat Tuesday and full of Lenten resolve. No, that’s right, I’m no Christian, but I do love a themed reason to give something up (check out our recap of the Goop Detox, here) and mark the passage of time. With March rather abruptly upon us, I feel in the mood for some good natured growth and am resolving to forgo Instagram, Twitter and weeknight drinking until Passover Seder season. (Do you honor a religious tradition involving food, fast, and/or not working? I’m clearly interested.)
I feel like I haven’t been cooking anything too exciting this week, but some highlights include:
Hetty McKinnon’s tofu dan dan, which was a big hit. It’s quite adaptable: I didn’t have celery or tahini , so I subbed in jalapenos and cashew butter and was pleased.
Unable to get the melanzane at Camillo out of my head, I tried my hand at an eggplant and parmesan bake using my air fryer and a simple tomato sauce. It was nowhere as delicate and decadent as the version I’d fixated on, but I’ve never met a red sauce and cheese dish I didn’t like. We paired it with Dan Pelosi’s cauliflower mash and felt extremely virtuous.
I’ve been eating a lot of Sigdal Bakery crispbread topped with little cold salads, avocado and tajin, smashed eggs and kewpie mayo. The possibilities are endless.
(JS) Good morning sweet readers. ICYMI I’m also Not a Christian™ but you could say I gave up seeing Dua Lipa at MSG this year for Lent. The Kosovan queen of my Spotify 2020 Wrapped provided crucial musical healing during pandemic Q1, but I’m just not prepared to drop Beyonce money on Miss Peep just yet. Much like my co-editor, I too could likely benefit from a little online abstinence ahead of the paschal feast, but probably won’t (to thine own self, be true). Instead, I’ll likely give up my low-intensity Youtube fitness regimen, if only to spare my ever crumbling lower back, and may just seize the opportunity to ring in the next few Fridays with fish. Is this sort of mindless stream of consciousness a refreshing break from the world at large? Write in with your thoughts, because I clearly don’t have many!
It’s been a busy couple weeks in this house, and cooking has become a bit more utilitarian than usual, with the freezer and my sweet baby rice cooker doing some particularly heavy lifting. Honorable mentions include:
Fridge-cleaning pizza-ish tteok, sauteed with kimchi and lapcheong, sauced (tomato paste, gochujang, soy, honey), and broiled with a little mozzarella
I’ve been working my way through a frozen batch of Vallery Lomas’s olive oil chocolate chip cookies; truthfully they’re not my favorite CCC, but I’d be curious to mess around with adding rye flour and swapping the chocolate for something larger and richer than the refined sugar and dairy-free chips I had leftover from the Goop Detox 🙃
TRASH TALK: Spinach Pancakes
(SB) Longtime readers will remember that I’m not a huge fan of sweet breakfast. I like to make blueberry pancakes on just about two occasions annually (Willis’s birthday and somewhere around the holidays), but usually find myself called to the savories. Flipping through Dara Goldstein’s Fire + Ice cookbook this past weekend, I came upon some delightful looking Finnish spinach pancakes (Pinaatti-ohukkaat) that promised to satisfy my desire for something special while also using up some rapidly wilting produce in my crisper. The pancakes are traditionally cooked on a concave griddle pan (not dissimilar from an appam pan) on an open fire; thanks to Tik Tok, I can imagine this set up perfectly and was even more convinced to give it a go using my humble nonstick.
This recipe is charmingly simple and the use of a blender makes it particularly accessible on a bleary-eyed morning. Begin by blending together chopped spinach (Dara recommends frozen spinach thawed and squeezed-dry; as mentioned, I used some spinach that had lived to see better days in the crisper) and eggs until well mixed, then add in milk, flour, salt, white pepper, and freshly ground nutmeg. Blitz until the mixture is frothy and let sit for about ten minutes; the batter is pretty thin – think crepes, rather than flapjacks. Butter a heavy-bottomed skillet, let it get hot, and pour a scant tablespoon of batter onto the pan. Flip once bubbles begin to appear, then flip again.
Goldstein notes that the pancakes can be served hot or at room temperature as an appetizer. We ate them hot, but I plan to try my hand using leftover batter (Goldstein says it stores well!) as a vehicle for simple chicken salad later this week.
(JS) Have I reminded you all of my fishmonger past recently? Perhaps it was two summers of slinging Montauk’s morning catch to the moms of southern Westchester, or the fact that I’m generally a little snobbish, but the truth is, I just can’t get excited about tilapia. It reminds me of bad wedding food, a sad and easily batched (but more frequently overbaked) fish option that’s about as appealing as listening to cliche-laden speeches by less than charming relatives when you’re three martinis deep. That being said, I finally stumbled upon a tilapia preparation I can get behind, thanks to the Woks of Life (speaking of personal cliches, the well meaning lao wai is in!).
I’ve been on a real steamed fish kick lately, mostly using whole branzino to riff off this recipe, sometimes finished with a bit of hot oil to really bring out the aromatics. This weekend I was hoping to give this Hunan-style whole fish a try, but the market had sold out – warily, shaking my fist at the supply chain and contemplating what’s happened to the industry since my untimely departure, I asked my boyfriend to pick up some tilapia instead for a slightly less dramatic version of duo jiao yu, or Hunan steamed fish with salted chiles. The fish filets are nestled atop sliced tofu, bathed in a quick yet heady sauce of salted peppers, soy sauce, sugar, and fermented black beans, then steamed for a quick ten minutes. Steaming cooks everything gently while the sauce – a little punchy, but more funky than mouth numbing – permeates the fish and tofu alike. Finished with a flurry of fresh cilantro and chopped scallions, it’s a delightfully savory one pot dinner that has all the makings of a weeknight staple.
To be completely honest, the tilapia was a hit, but the steamed tofu was a revelation, so much so that I decided the dish again this week without the fish – you know, for science. I’d used firm tofu the first time around and was eager to try it with soft, but the market around the corner from me (crucially, not the coop; I’m a little snobbish, etc.) only had firm, “medium firm,” and extra firm. Closer inspection revealed that contrary to what the name might suggest, “medium firm” was in fact softer than “firm,” so I, medium confused, said fuck it and decided to give it a try. Three dollars and fifteen-ish minutes later, I gingerly pulled a saucy plate of tofu out of my jerry-rigged steamer setup and sampled a piece. 10/10, no notes. Once again, I find myself captivated by the bizarre way two versions of the same ingredient (soy) can come together to yield a third, better version. I enjoyed mine with a quick rice cooker lap cheong fan, but imagine this would be great with noodles, or even solo.
Fat Tuesday Spambalaya
(SB) For those who don’t know, Mardi Gras (or Carnival) is a roughly month-long period of celebration that begins at the feast of the Epiphany and culminates the day before ash Wednesday (today!). The last night of Mardi Gras – the eponymous Fat Tuesday – is traditionally celebrated with rich and fatty foods before the Lenten sacrifices begin. While I knew about Mardi Gras from being a sentient human being who watches television in the United States, I learned most of what I know about Lent from a friend of the newsletter (and ordained priest!) Eva. It was also really when I moved to New York some twelve years ago that I first began noticing the rhythms of the liturgical calendar in daily life: pedestrians coming from Ash Wednesday on the street, office workers holding Palm fronds – some beautiful texture in the rich tapestry of urban life, even if I had no personal connection to the theology. Ironically, I’ve also had the accidental good fortune of finding myself in more than one bar serving King Cake and chaos on a Tuesday that I hadn’t clocked as unlike other Tuesdays – most joyfully, perhaps, the Cubbyhole in 2012. (Pardon any excessive sentimentality, but writing that really me realize how much I miss life before this stupid pandemic.)
Anyway, it was in the spirit of all of this that I felt compelled to answer a particularly quixotic call from the universe to spend my Fat Tuesday making jambalaya and hosting a few friends for a small feast instead of working. (A big thanks to friend of the letter James, who generously allowed me to take the baton of his annual jambalaya tradition this year.) Since this was my first rodeo, I turned to Toni Tipton-Martin’s storied Jubilee for guidance, and was rewarded with a recipe that riffed on Austin Leslie’s jambalaya at the storied Chez Helene. The spirit of the dish clearly spoke to me: a creole fusion masterpiece, ready to stretch odds and ends of meat, seafood, veg, and rice. For the linguists in our audience (JS: hello), I’ll share Tipton-Martin’s note that the word ‘jambalaya’ is “pure Louisiana Creole”- made up of the French or Acadian ‘jamb’ (ham!), à la (of, or with), and ya, an African word for rice.
I made a few small substitutions along the way, but largely followed instructions. Tipton-Martin’s recipe begins by parching long-grain rice, spreading it in an even layer on a baking sheet and placing it in a 400° oven for about ten minutes. The rice browns considerably, emerging nutty and more likely to remain separate and light during the course of cooking.
Once the rice is parched, finely dice salt pork (I used bacon ends and pieces) is rendered and browned in a big dutch oven, then set aside. A mixture of peppers and onions (I also added celery) gets softened in the rendered fat before green onions and garlic are layered in with andouille sausage, diced ham (I used Spam 😇), some diced tomatoes and chicken stock. The crispy salt pork or bacon also rejoins the party here (this is a cheugy phrase, but it is Mardi Gras). I think you could use seafood stock here, if you were so moved. Simmer for ten-ish minutes, then add back your parched rice, cooked chicken (s/o to my rotisserie girlies), and aromatics (thyme, paprika, pepper, bay leaves). The pot then goes into the oven for about twenty minutes – remove to top with small, peeled and deveined shrimp, then finish in the oven for another three minutes. I took the small liberty of marinating my somewhat larger shrimp in berbere spice and garlic and giving them a brief moment in the grill pan before adding everything in there. The results were superb! You’ll simply have to make it next year!
PERMANENT ROTATION: These coconut milk braised collards are easy, delicious, Lent and Goop friendly. Let go and let Gwyn.
(SB) I’ve resisted for some time (why?), but I think I’m just about ready to invest in a pair of Blundstones. Do you have a pair? Do you love them? Do you regret them? Write in and let me know.
(JS) It’s been more than a year since I last formally wished for a wok and I think with my birthday around the corner I (or better yet, literally any of you) should finally do something about it. Eagerly seeking recs from stir fry gurus near and far.
(SB & JS) We don’t really think we have a ton to add about the Ukraine Discourse, save that we’re thinking a lot about unnecessary human suffering. Among many efforts to lend a hand, we noticed Sarah Karnasiewicz’s fundraiser raffle. Prizes include some beautiful Ukrainian textiles, honey, Olia Hercules’s Mamushka, painted pysanky eggs, flourless poppyseed cake, plum liquor, and two dozen pierogies.
Despite a lot of talk about being less on the gram, we wouldn’t hate it if you followed and maybe even engaged with us 👉🥺👈