Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Looks Can Be Deceiving

This cake
smelled so good when it was baking. The combination of fennel seeds, cinnamon, cloves and honey gave our house that toasty, cozy, wintertime smell. It rose beautifully, the top shiny—I couldn't wait to cut into it.

Well, you know where this is going, don't you? It just wasn't that delicious. Oh, it was fine and all—mildly sweet, mildly spiced, mildly moist, but it wasn't all that I was hoping it would be, which was a quick-cooking alternative to the laborious pain d'epices I so enjoyed in Burgundy, France, a bread particularly well-suited both to tea time and as a transport vehicle for thin coins of foie gras torchon.

So no recipe, today, either. Not because I don't care about all two of my readers, but because I simply can't bear to disappoint you. And, to show you that to err is human—sometimes I make crappy food, and we use the remaining loaf to hide pills for the dog. I'll be back soon, with something you can cook.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

In This I Believe

I think I've told some of you about this book project I'm working on with Charles Phan, chef-owner of the Slanted Door here in San Francisco. It is taking up a lot of time and brain space, but in the most excellent way. I'm so happy to be here. I'm learning so much (although not all lessons are good ones--yesterday I popped a cube of fermented red tofu into my mouth, having never tried it before. For others unfamiliar, I caution you--bad idea).

Once or twice a week, I head down the Slanted Door kitchen, where we work on recipes, shoehorning our Dutch ovens filled with sizzling pork belly right next to the pastry cooks and their nice, polite, coconut tapioca. I think they love it. Yesterday we worked on this recipe, above, for beef stew fragrant with lemongrass and star anise. We used brisket, cubes of carrot and daikon, and a knob of smashed ginger.

Some of our recipes fail on first attempt. Some fail on the second. Some we decide aren't worth the work necessary to make them great, so we replace them with something better. But sometimes, when the Gods of recipe development are shining brightly upon us, a recipe works brilliantly the first time around. I get so happy when that happens, not only because it means we'll have less work to do but also because I imagine someone cooking the recipe and making a really great dinner and feeling pleased as punch. And this stew will do that. We tasted it, and we loved it, and then we topped it with Thai basil and minced Thai chilies and I loved it even harder.

When this recipe debuts in the fall of 2012, people will be so glad. And there is no sweeter reward for all this work.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Darkness in the Kitchen, Lightness on the Plate

Is it dark in your kitchen by dinner time? We're getting there. It's feeling less and less like summer, though there are still some tomatoes, peppers and eggplants at the market, and more and more like early winter. For some reason, I'm not minding the change of seasons this year. I feel ready to hibernate.

The next few months are going to be busy, but I love the bustle and excitement of a year winding down. I've got tons of projects going on, and this dish—a modern take on a root vegetable salad—is for one of my assignments. To make it, I combined shaved fennel, leaves of variegated radicchio, fingerling potatoes, radishes, blanched carrots and super sweet golden beets, along with a handful of chopped parsley. I made a warm dressing that is basically bagna cauda, the Italian "dip" for vegetables that is comprised of good olive oil, garlic (sliced Goodfellas thin), a pinch of red pepper flakes and some mashed anchovy filets. It's a nice (and pretty) antidote to all the roasted root vegetable salads that debut this time of year.