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I changed my mind

Two Mondays ago, the night before the moving truck was due to arrive at my mother's new (Seattle!) house with everything she owns, Brandon suggested making a celebratory dinner. My mother, it was agreed, would choose the menu. After a moment's hesitation, she requested steak and Caesar salad. We headed out for groceries.

I'm not going to go into great depth about the steak. I don't know. I feel bored just thinking about writing it. You know how to cook steak. Right? You don't need me. If you don't know how, or if you want to try another method, I can tell you that we use Renee Erickson's instructions (for indoor cooking, not grilling) on page 195-196 of her dreamy A Boat, a Whale & A Walrus, though we test for doneness by temperature (135°F for medium-rare; all hail the extremely not-cheap but worth-it Thermapen!), rather than by time. Thus concludes my discussion of the steak. Let's talk romaine.

Nobody talks about romaine. I too used to dismiss it, in as much as one might bother to formulate dismissive feelings toward a type of lettuce. But a few years ago, I changed my mind. Of the lettuces available at an ordinary grocery store, I now almost always choose it. It's not fancy, but it is consistently good, with its mild but unmistakable flavor and that juicy, resilient, water-chestnut crunch. I am not bored by romaine. I usually slice it cross-wise from tip to stem for salads, but sometimes I halve it lengthwise and roast it instead - thank you, Yolanda Edwards! - and sometimes, especially in the case of a Caesar, I just whack off the stem end, dress the leaves, and serve them whole, and we eat them with our fingers.

A couple of months ago, on a quick work trip to California, I was asked to make dressing for a Caesar salad, and I realized with a start that I didn’t know how. It’s not that I consider this a particularly glaring omission in the experience of being alive; there are a lot of things more important, starting with access to affordable housing and clean drinking water and the right to vote and believe me, I could go on, could I ever, but there I was in California, and it was dinnertime. I was at my cousin Katie’s house. Her husband Andre was grilling burgers, and Katie was getting their son ready for bed. My assignment was Caesar salad. Katie is a confident, no-recipes-needed kind of cook, and by the way she mentioned it, I knew she could make a Caesar dressing without much thought. So I did the part that I knew how to do, prepping the greens and putting them in a bowl, while I waited for Katie to finish the job.

As I expected, she had an easy way with Caesar dressing. She assembled it in a half-pint Mason jar, entirely by eye: the juice of a lemon, maybe a couple tablespoons of mayonnaise, maybe a teaspoon of Dijon mustard, maybe a quarter cup of olive oil, a little vinegar, and black pepper, shaken to mix. We tossed it that night with torn-up kale and some farro that she had cooked earlier and stashed in the fridge. (Katie is full of good ideas like that - fleshing out salads with a handful of toasty cooked grains in lieu of croutons, putting a seven-minute egg on top, etc.) But when I came home, I was faced with that regrettable cosmic phenomenon familiar to all cooks, the phenomenon that makes the same dish taste better when someone else makes it than it does when you make it yourself. I decided to forge my own way.

I took down The Zuni Café Cookbook, my own personal Southern Oracle of cooking, and asked Judy Rodgers, RIP, to teach me. What follows is her recipe. It's not much more complicated than Katie's, except the chopping of garlic and anchovies, which I guess is a little complicated. Instead of mayonnaise, it uses egg, which is more traditional but just as easy. Judy Rodgers's version is what we made for my mother that Monday night, and we all pawed at the salad bowl. But if you're turned off by using a raw egg, or if you'd just rather use mayonnaise, I'm also including a second recipe, a tweak on Katie's recipe, a version that Brandon and I have worked up over the past couple of weeks. I happen to like both, and much to my surprise, the mayonnaise-based version has even made a salad-eater out of June, an avowed lettuce-dismisser. We've been on a Caesar bender, and I see no reason to stop.

P.S. Re: the Southern Oracle, here we go again...
P.P.S. A particularly great This American Life: "The Problem We All Live With."
P.P.P.S. Interesting - and, in my experience, accurate.

Zuni Café Caesar Dressing
Adapted from The Zuni Café Cookbook, by Judy Rodgers

Rodgers calls for salt-packed anchovies, but I use Scalia brand oil-packed, which I steal from Delancey. They’re not cheap, but they keep in the fridge for a long, long time, and they have wonderful flavor. Before using, I rinse them well and dry them on paper towels. And about the quantity of kosher salt: a three-finger pinch is the amount you pick up when you pinch with your thumb, index finger, and middle finger.

Oh, and a tip for applying thick dressings, and for applying any dressing to whole leaves of romaine: keep a box of powder-free latex gloves in your kitchen. Spoon some dressing into the bowl of lettuce, slide on a pair of gloves, and use your hands to gently rub the dressing onto each leaf. You could also do it without gloves, if you don't mind smelling garlicky for a bit.

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
2/3 cup mild-tasting olive oil
About 1 ½ tablespoons minced and mashed anchovy fillets (from about 6 to 9 fillets)
About 2 teaspoons minced garlic
2 large cold eggs
About ½ ounce (15 grams) grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
Freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Kosher salt

For serving:
Romaine or other greens of your choice
Croutons or cooked farro, optional
Freshly ground black pepper

In a small mixing bowl, whisk together the vinegar, olive oil, anchovies, and garlic. Add the eggs, the cheese, and lots of black pepper. Whisk to emulsify. Add the lemon juice, and whisk again, just to emulsify. Taste, first by itself and then on a leaf of lettuce, and adjust the seasonings to taste. I add a three-finger pinch of kosher salt, if not a little more than that.

Spoon as desired onto romaine or other greens, and fold and toss carefully to coat. Add croutons or cooked farro, if you want, and more grated cheese. Serve with a final dusting of cheese on top and some freshly ground black pepper.

Yield: about 1 ½ cups of dressing


A Caesar Dressing Sans Raw Egg

Unless I’m going to make my own mayonnaise, which I don’t do in most everyday instances, I use Best Foods (which is also sold as Hellmann’s).

½ cup (105 grams) Best Foods / Hellmann’s mayonnaise
2 ½ tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 to 5 oil-packed anchovy fillets (see note in top recipe), minced and mashed to a paste
2 cloves garlic, pressed or minced
½ teaspoon Dijon mustard
½ teaspoon Worchestershire sauce
Three-finger pinch of kosher salt

For serving:
Romaine or other greens of your choice
Croutons or cooked farro, optional
Freshly ground black pepper

Combine all ingredients in a small mixing bowl. Whisk to blend well.

Spoon as desired onto romaine or other greens, and fold and toss carefully to coat. Add croutons or cooked farro, if you want, and more grated cheese. Serve with a final dusting of cheese on top and some freshly ground black pepper.

Yield: about 3/4 cup of dressing


July 29

Today is our eighth wedding anniversary. It's also the 11th birthday of this blog, the first day of our first-ever corporate tax audit, and the day that my mother officially moves to Seattle. It's a lot of Big Adult Stuff, and I have lots of feelings, including immense gratitude for our accountant. But most of all, I'm glad that these two wide-eyed pups, the ones in this shot circa 2007, decided to take the great leap that is marriage, that they've kept at it, showing up, cooking, eating, building, building some more, figuring it out, duking it out, and loving, loving, for eight whole years. And I'm glad that this blog made it all happen. Thanks for being along for the ride, everybody.

And now, for a properly celebratory cocktail:

Campari Granita
from Bitter, by Jennifer McLagan

The world does not need Campari Granita. It is enough, I think, that Campari exists, and that we can mix it with soda water and drink it. But the instant I saw this recipe in Jennifer McLagan's excellent book Bitter, I knew I had to make it, because the only thing better than straight-up Campari and soda (or a Negroni, or an Americano, or a shandy), is Campari and orange or grapefruit juice and the smallest splash of lemon juice, frozen and forked to the texture of a snow cone and eaten with a spoon on a sticky July evening, while you make dinner. Or more succinctly, in the words of our friend Michael Riha: this stuff is great. Cheers.

For the orange version:
1 cup (250 ml) freshly squeezed orange juice
½ cup (125 ml) Campari
½ teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice


For the grapefruit version, which is more bitter, and which I prefer:
1 cup (250 ml) freshly squeezed grapefruit juice
½ cup (125 ml) Campari
2 tablespoons (25 grams) superfine or caster sugar
½ teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

Stir the juice, Campari, and lemon juice (and sugar, if using grapefruit juice) together. Pour into an 8-inch square metal pan (or another pan of similar volume). Place in the freezer. Stir the mixture with a spoon every hour or so, to break it up into large ice crystals. I used a fork for the last stirring, to make the ice crystals finer and fluffier. It took about three hours for my granita to be fully frozen and to the right texture. If you forget to stir the mixture and it freezes solid, don’t panic: just break it into chunks and pulse briefly in the food processor. To serve, spoon the granita into chilled glasses.

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

P.S. A wonderful, and relevant, episode of On Being.
P.P.S. Pavement's Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain in the car on a hot, sunny day, with the windows down!


We'll go from left to right

I promised cookbooks, and I shall deliver cookbooks. No more nostalgia! No more old photographs! No more zoning out with Danzig videos on YouTube because a man in a Danzig t-shirt just walked into the coffee shop where I am writing and reminded me of the song "Mother '93"! I will be useful.

Four years ago, when we moved into the house where we now live, I started keeping a small collection of cookbooks on top of the refrigerator. Most of our books live in June's room, on the wall of shelves there, but that's down the hall from the kitchen, and I wanted to have my most-used, best-loved, most-consulted books within reach.  I rotate them as new books come out and others fall out of use, but a few never leave.  I wrote about last summer's collection on Serious Eats, but the fridge looks decidedly different now, so here I am, not watching Danzig videos and recoiling in horror from Glenn Danzig's pectorals, nope nope nope.

We'll go from left to right, and I'll try to point out recipes that I particularly like or make often.

- Seven Spoons, by Tara O'Brady. I hope you know about Tara's wonderful site. Her book is even better, if that's possible. The first time I picked it up, I thought, This book is going BIG. It's full of food I want to eat, food that feels doable but also thoroughly inspired, and the whole package is lit from within by Tara's writing.  Hummus with White Miso (page 112), Za'atar Chicken and Roasted Vegetable Salad (page 170), Coconut Kheer (page 230), and with the kheer, Pickled Strawberry Preserves (page 111)

- My own books! So embarrassing! I keep them up there because I am suuuuch a jerk because the best part of having your recipes printed and bound is being able to dog-ear them, write notes in the margins, and muck them up with butter smears. From A Homemade LifeBuckwheat Pancakes (page 68), Banana Bread with Chocolate and Crystallized Ginger (page 26), Ed Fretwell Soup (page 156), and Scottish Scones (page 174); and from DelanceyMy Kate's Brownies (page 183) and Sriracha-and-Butter Shrimp (page 88)

- River Cafe Pocket Books Pasta & Ravioli, by Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers. I have three River Cafe books, and I've come to believe that their recipes aren't meant to be followed to the letter; they're best used as treasuries of good, simple ideas. I've been meaning to make the Penne with Zucchini and Mint, which I think my friend Gemma once recommended, and in which the zucchini gets cooked until mashable and enriched with an amount of butter that might best be described as swashbuckling. Also, Penne with Sausage and Ricotta.

- Every Grain of Rice, by Fuchsia Dunlop. I LOVE THIS BOOK. Luisa does too, and I'll just let her speak for me, because she gets it so right. I requested the Sichuanese chopped celery with ground beef (pictured above) for my birthday dinner last year, and I may well request it again this year. Red-Braised Beef with Tofu "Bamboo" (page 108), Bok Choy with Fresh Shiitake (page 180), Sichuanese "Send-the-Rice-Down" Chopped Celery with Ground Beef (page 194), and Fish-Fragrant Eggplant (page 210)

- Parisian Home Cooking, by Michael Roberts. I bought this book on a whim when I was 22, living alone for the first time, and at the height of my Francophilia. (When I opened the front cover just now, a flier fell out from an anti-Front National rally on May 1, 2002, with a headline reading, "Nous Sommes Tous des Immigrés." Ouaaaaais!) Michael Roberts taught me a lot about French home cooking, and though I don't use this book as much as I used to, I like to keep it around. Perfect Mustard Vinaigrette (page 69), from which I took the proportions for "my" everyday vinaigrette; Scrambled Eggs the French Way (page 50); Whole Roasted Cauliflower with Vinaigrette (page 92); Glazed Brussels Sprouts and Shallots (page 96); Green Beans and Morels (page 110); and hey, whoa, I just noticed Plums Baked with Marzipan (page 344), and now I want to eat it.

- The Grand Central Baking Book, by Piper Davis and Ellen Jackson. I put this one on top of the fridge a couple of months ago, after eating a piece of Irish soda bread at the Grand Central on Eastlake. It was incredible, and I really need to hurry up and make the recipe, because I want to hurry up and eat it. Irish Soda Bread (page 25)

- Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, by Marcella Hazan, as pictured above. A classic. Marcella makes me a better cook. Tomato Sauce with Onion and Butter (page 152); Pesto by the Food Processor Method (page 176); Bolognese Meat Sauce (page 203), though I can't decide whether I prefer Marcella's or Luisa's; Smothered Cabbage, Venetian Style (page 479); and Rice and Smothered Cabbage Soup (page 94)

- Chez Panisse Vegetables, by Alice Waters. My sister gave me this book for my birthday in 2002 - just found her tiny gift card wedged inside the book, aww - and I've consulted it often. Like Nigel Slater's Tender, it's organized alphabetically by vegetable, though the dishes are more spare, more basic, more Chez Panisse-y, than Slater's. Honestly, I'm torn on which I prefer. But this book taught me how to make lots of staples, and how to make them well: braised chard, roasted potatoes, and the simplest Tomato Salad (page 290), which, in the summer of 2004, moved me to write the word "Heaven" in the margin.

- Beyond Nose to Tail, by Fergus Henderson and Justin Piers Gellatly, pictured above and below. I've cooked very little from this book, and I cannot speak to the reliability of its recipes. I love this book instead because it is the most irreverent, beautiful, ugly, unnerving, and personality-filled cookbook I know. From its elegant white cover with tidy type to a black-and-white shot of a cook face-down in a bowl of what appears to be Apple and Calvados Trifle and a full-color centerfold of a Pot-Roast Half Pig's Head, it is stunning.  Plus: Henderson's writing, of which a favorite passage, from the recipe for Pressed Pig's Ear, is below. Campari and White Wine (page 3); Bacon, Egg, and Bean Salad (page 20), Orbs of Joy (page 74), What a Baked Potato (page 76), Quince and Prunes (page 153), and You Fool (page 156)

- Hungry Monkey, by Matthew Amster-Burton. Matthew is one of my closest friends, so bias bias bias, but: this book is a funny, smart, and very very useful account of feeding a young kid. I credit Matthew with the fact that I really enjoy cooking with and eating with June, mostly because I refuse to get worked up about it. Also, his recipes are great. Sour Cherry Shake (page 103), Chicken and Spinach Meatballs (page 140), Potstickers (page 239), Cumin-Ginger Carrot Coins (page 90), Gingerbread Cupcakes with Lemon Glaze (page 101), Larb Gai (page 53)

- Super Natural Every Day, by Heidi Swanson. I love Heidi. We all love Heidi. This is my favorite of her books, though I have a feeling that her newest, Near & Far, is also going to join the fridge-top collection shortly.  Baked Oatmeal (page 44), White Beans & Cabbage, which I finish with a squeeze of lemon and more olive oil (page 86), Hard-Cooked Eggs with Dukkah (page 106), and Macaroon Tart (page 192)

- Bitter, by Jennifer McLagan. This book has the sexiest cover in the history of the written word. I may, or may not, have sat around stroking it for fifteen minutes before taking the above photograph. It also happens to pay tribute to several things that I love: chicories, Campari, beer, grapefruit, rutabaga. And Campari Granita, ding ding ding!  Will be posting about that shortly. Belgian Endive Salad with Anchovy Dressing (page 19), Sugarloaf Chicory Sautéed in Duck Fat (page 34), Tea Custard with Poached Fruit (page 67), and Campari Granita (page 86)

- Good to the Grain, by Kim Boyce. I have loved, currently love, and will probably always love this book. I'll even call it a classic. I wish it had measurements by weight, but now I'm just being grouchy. Chocolate Chip Cookies (page 41), Oatmeal Sandwich Bread (page 130), Crumble Bars (page 156), Banana Cereal Muffins (page 157), and I've been meaning forever to make the Figgy Buckwheat Scones (page 80)

- Plenty More, by Yotam Ottolenghi. Of course. Saffron, Date, and Almond Rice (page 49), which I like to eat with harissa and with a salad of cukes and feta; Thai Red Lentil Soup with Aromatic Chile Oil (page 89), Green Beans with Freekeh and Tahini (page 110), Honey-Roasted Carrots with Tahini Yogurt (page 163), Curry-Roasted Root Vegetables with Lime Leaves and Juice (page 177), Baked Rhubarb with Sweet Labneh (page 291), Bitter Frozen Berries with White Chocolate Cream (page 295), Stewed Blackberries with Bay Custard and Gin (page 305), Walnut and Halvah Cake (page 315), and Meringue Roulade with Rose Petals and Fresh Raspberries (page 332)

- Genius Recipes, by Kristen Miglore. I'm going to let this Instagram shot speak for me. From Shirley Corriher's Touch-of-Grace Biscuits (page 6) to Judy Rodger's Roasted Applesauce (page 12), Marion Cunningham's Raised Waffles (page 29), Moro's Warm Squash and Chickpea Salad with Tahini (page 70), Marie-Hélène's Apple Cake (page 221), and Marion Burros's Purple Plum Torte (page 217), this book compiles and houses a substantial fraction of my cooking repertoire. Next I want to try Diana Kennedy's hunky, dead-simple Carnitas (page 120).

- The Kitchen Diaries, by Nigel Slater. This is my favorite of his books, because the format is so inviting, so functional. I love being able to flip open to a date close to today's - July 24th, let's say - and imagine him hustling together a dinner for six: French beans and goat cheese, cold wild salmon with mayonnaise, boiled new potatoes, a green salad with warm peas, and a trifle so good, he writes, "that I wish I had made two, the last one to eat alone, in my bathrobe, at breakfast." I get the sense that Slater's recipes, like those of the River Cafe ladies, are meant to be used as springboards, not as hard-and-fast recipe-recipes, and I've been meaning for a while now to play around with the Pork Burgers with Lime Leaves and Cilantro (page 79), Thai Fish Cakes (page 113), Mustard Chops (page 127), An Almond and Greengage Crumble (page 280), A Quick Ham and Mushroom Supper (page 305), and Baked Onions with Parmesan and Cream (page 336).

And there is one more book that isn't in the photo up top, a book that I added to the fridge only last week, and that is Rachel Roddy's Five Quarters: Recipes and Notes from a Kitchen in Rome, which will soon be released in the US under the title My Kitchen in Rome: Recipes and Notes on Italian Cooking. I have long been a fan of Rachel's writing, and let me just say: Rachel, THIS BOOK! You nailed it!  This is one I'll have forever.

Well, that was fun.  Happy week, everybody.

P.S.  Most of the book links in this post are Amazon Affiliate links - you know, FYI and so on.


July 10

My mother tells me that she had always loved the house. She used to drive by and admire it. When I was thirteen, it came on the market, and she and my dad snatched it up. The house was built in 1948, old for Oklahoma, painted brick with wrought iron and ivy. It needed a lot of work, and they tore out walls and opened it up, changed everything. It was their biggest, finest collaboration, and they made it exactly what they wanted. It was weird in ways, or maybe quirky is the better word, with a mirror on the ceiling of the downstairs bathroom and Pepto-Bismol pink wallpaper in the dining room. But mostly it was beautiful, obscenely beautiful, full of books and art and small fragile things that my dad collected at estate sales and antique malls. He got to live there for less than ten years before he died, but my mother is still there, or will be for another two weeks, when she moves to Seattle.

This move has been a long time coming, and I've been waiting impatiently for the house to sell. When she called me up in mid-June to tell me that she'd gotten an offer, I nearly shrieked. But then a different thought came, and I stopped nearly-shrieking, because that thought was, I will never see that house again. So on Wednesday, I got on a plane and flew here to do just that, and to help my mother clear twenty-plus years of living from the various cabinets, closets, and shelves. If you had asked me fifteen years ago, even ten years ago, if I'm a sentimental person, I would have denied it. Now there is no doubt. Between loads of books - 295 donated to the library thus far - and trips to Goodwill, Mom and I get lost in piles of photographs; her old jewelry box, with its collection of scarabs and giant costume earrings from the '80s; the box of poems my dad wrote to her before they were married.

We moved into the house when I was a freshman in high school, and I lived there for barely four years, plus a couple of summers in between other places. It wasn't long. But I can still hear the creak of the stairs when my dad went down to make coffee in the morning, and the shhhh of his hand sliding along the banister. I know the smell when you walk into the front hall, and the smell of the living room, and the smell of the kitchen, all of which are different. I know the hiss of the air conditioner. I can find all the light switches and lamps in the dark. I dyed burgundy streaks into my hair in my bathroom there, put on the long black net skirt that was my favorite article of clothing at age sixteen, and listened to Minor Threat on vinyl that I mail-ordered from Washington, DC. I had the hots for Guy Picciotto in that house. I sat on the floor of my bedroom and typed out college applications on an electric typewriter. In the laundry room, my first dog had her last seizure. My mother and I carried her to the car on a beach-towel-turned-stretcher, and not long after, she was gone.

I made my first pie with my mother in that kitchen, a blueberry pie from some Martha Stewart book. High on our victory, we attempted a towering lemon meringue pie that wept uncontrollably onto the counter. Later that same summer, on that same counter, my dad and I rolled out fresh pasta. He liked to grill burgers out back, the burgers that I ate all through my so-called vegetarianism. He sat by the window in the kitchen to enjoy his Saturday egg salad and beer. Upstairs, in my bedroom with the stereo cranked up, I daydreamed (for years, years) about what it would be like to make out with someone but never actually did - until, VICTORY, shortly after high school graduation, I had my first kiss in the front hall and, hopped up on elation and pure cold terror, grabbed the doorknob to keep from passing out.

It was to that house that I returned the summer after college. It was in that house that I woke up on September 11, 2001 and, along with everyone else alive that day, watched as the World Trade Center fell. I read a lot of Frank O'Hara in that house, and I wrote a lot of poetry that I do not plan to ever read again. I attempted and abandoned Henry Miller. I once folded myself into the biggest chair in the living room and spent an entire weekend reading The Fountainhead. It's the house where my dad spent the last weeks of his life, on a hospital bed in the den. It's where, Brandon likes to say, he first knew that he wanted to marry me. It's where we found out, over dinner in the dining room, that my cousin Sarah's first daughter had been born, my "niece" Mia. Five years later, in the living room across the hall, Mia's grandmother, my aunt Tina, spent her last night on this earth. And the following night, at 26 weeks pregnant, I hid with my mother and three cousins in a closet as a hailstorm knocked out more than half of the windows in the house and sent shards of glass flying into the remains of our Thai beef with chiles and basil, still in a wok on the stove. We lived a lot in that house, and I probably don't even know the half of it.

Brandon sometimes tells me that he misses places, physical spaces like rooms and sites and buildings, after he leaves them. I've felt the same way occasionally, about a house where I often played as a kid, the amphitheater at Quartz Mountain, or apartments where friends have lived. But I never really missed this house until now. I'm glad I do.


June 26

I am feeling profoundly (or, as my fingers tried to put it, "feely profounding") inarticulate today in the wake of the Supreme Court's ruling on same-sex marriage. I keep thinking of my uncle Jerry, the first gay person I ever knew, whose death to AIDS in 1988 spurred me to activism as a young kid with moussed bangs and a Silence=Death sweatshirt, and in whose memory June carries one of her middle names. I wonder what he would say today. I'm grateful, relieved, elated, and beyond, that June will grow up in a world that's very different from what I knew in 1980s Oklahoma.

It also feels like a fitting time to reread John Birdsall's whip-smart Lucky Peach piece, "America, Your Food Is So Gay," which was originally published a couple of years ago, I think.

And given that it's a Friday in late June, it would also be a fitting time to make watermelon popsicles.

June would eat popsicles, also known within our house as "popsissles," for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and in truth, I can't argue with that, especially if I exercise my parental privilege to decide what goes into said popsissles.

In this case, I used David Lebovitz's simple and brilliant watermelon sorbetto recipe as a template. It starts with watermelon juice - just watermelon, zizzed in a food processor until liquefies - and then you take a little of that juice and warm it with sugar to make a watermelon simple syrup. [So smart, David! So smart.] That syrup then gets stirred into the remaining watermelon juice, along with lime juice and, if you want, a tiny splash of vodka, to help make the popsicles less ice-y. (I skipped the vodka, because I didn't have any, and if you don't want to use it, don't.) In any case, the mixture was bright and big-flavored, and I was halfway inclined to pour it over a glass of ice and down it. But June's breakfast, lunch, and dinner needs prevailed. We made popsicles.

Happy weekend.

Watermelon Pops
Adapted from David Lebovitz’s The Perfect Scoop

These popsicles will only taste as good as the watermelon you start with, so start with a sweet, flavorful one. Oh, and you can omit the vodka, if you want.

A roughly 3-pound (1.5-kg) chunk of watermelon
½ cup (100 grams) sugar
Big pinch of kosher salt
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice, or to taste
1 to 2 tablespoons vodka (optional)

Cut away and discard the rind of the watermelon, and cut the flesh into cubes. Chuck the cubes into a blender or food processor, and process until liquefied. Pour through a strainer (to remove seeds) into a large measuring cup. You should have about 3 cups (750 ml) of watermelon juice. (If you have more, well, drink up! Or freeze for future use.)

In a small, nonreactive saucepan, warm about ½ cup (125 ml) of the watermelon juice with the sugar and then salt, stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Remove from the heat, and stir this syrup into the remaining 2 ½ cups (625 ml) watermelon juice. Mix in the lime juice and vodka, if using. Taste, and add more lime juice, if you want, or more salt. You shouldn’t taste the salt; it’s just there to intensify the watermelon flavor.

Chill the mixture thoroughly - if the watermelon was refrigerator-cold when you started the process, this won't take long - and then pour it into your popsicle mold of choice. (I used this.) If you have more mixture than will fit in your popsicle molds, drink it, or for mini-pops(!) and other fun stuff, freeze it in ice-cube trays.

Yield: about 10 pops


One Tuesday, late-morning

I come to you today, June 13th, a fine summer’s day on which you probably have no desire to turn on the oven, to talk about roasted chicken. More specifically, I want to talk about Thomas Keller’s Favorite Simple Roast Chicken, which I prefer to call TK’s Hot Buttered Chicken.

I have long been a devotee of the Zuni Cafe recipe for roasted chicken. I imagine many of you feel the same way. Zuni’s recipe, which Judy Rodgers wrote with a rare and reverential thoroughness - may she rest in peace, and may more cookbooks be written like hers - relies on three things: using a small-ish bird, salting it a day ahead, and cooking in a crackling hot oven, first breast-up and then flipped breast-down and then breast-up again. It was the first roasted chicken I ever made, and when I get all the elements right, it is the best roasted chicken I will ever make. However. I forget to salt the bird ahead. Or I put it off, because getting involved with raw chicken takes resolve. Or I don’t plan dinner until the afternoon of, and then it’s too late for advance salting. Or maybe I manage the advance salting, but then I don’t feel like messing with the beast once it’s in the oven - remembering to flip it and flip it again, dodging splatters of hot fat, etc. Roasting a chicken the Zuni way is not hard, but sometimes I want to make easy things easier.

Thomas Keller’s chicken recipe has been floating around for more than a decade, but I first tried it only last month, after two different friends in two different cities happened to mention it to me within a week of one another. Both are energetic cooks, not likely to balk at a complicated recipe, so when they recommended something so straightforward, so lazy, even, I went out and bought a chicken.

Like Rodgers, Keller calls for a small-ish bird, two to three pounds, and he too cranks up the oven. But he salts the chicken just before cooking, and once it’s cooking, he leaves it alone. And when it’s done, he slathers the meat with butter and serves it forth, with Dijon mustard* on the side. Slathers it with butter and serves it with mustard! SLATHERS IT WITH BUTTER! SERVES IT WITH MUSTARD! I will make TK’s Hot Buttered Chicken.

I’m rarely at home for lunch, and if I am, I’m a sandwich-or-leftovers-lunch cook. I am not a hot-lunch cook. But one Tuesday, late-morning - because Tuesday is my Sunday - I salted a chicken, TK-style, and put it in the oven. While it quietly roasted - so independent, this chicken! - I managed to yank up a bunch of weeds in the yard-slash-jungle out front, and June played in the car, her favorite activity, flicking switches and turning nobs and stealing the emergency animal crackers I keep in the glove compartment, eating half of three of them, and hiding the remains in the console. When the timer went off, we went inside, and I carved and buttered the chicken. I steamed some broccoli and squeezed a lemon over it, and we sat down to lunch.

The chicken was golden and taut-skinned, juicy and glistening. June picked at it, because that’s what she's doing this week - toddlers! Always doing toddler things! I scooped mustard onto my plate, and we sat and talked, eating and not eating**, and one of us sang, because when you’re not eating, you sing. I wiped up the last smear of butter with a fingertip, cleared our plates, and then Tuesday was already halfway over, easy, and there were leftovers for tomorrow.

* Any mention of mustard always reminds me of this. And while we’re on the topic of Karl Lagerfeld, this this THIS.

** Talking, and not talking...

TK's Hot Buttered Chicken
Adapted from Thomas Keller, Bouchon, and Epicurious

One 2- to 3-pound chicken, at room temperature for an hour or so, if possible
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper (optional)
2 teaspoons minced thyme (optional)
Unsalted butter
Dijon mustard

Preheat the oven to 450°F.

Dry the chicken very well with paper towels, inside and out. Salt and pepper the cavity, then truss the bird with twine. Trussing is not hard, and you really can wing it - or you can watch the videos here, or elsewhere on the Web. In any case, the idea is that the wings and legs stay close to the body, and the meaty part of the drumsticks cover the top of the breast and keep it from drying out. I am not a pro trusser, but as long as I tie the legs together and keep them tucked up tight, I figure I’m fine.

Now, salt the chicken. Thomas Keller likes to "rain" the salt over the bird, so that it has a nice uniform coating that will result in a crisp, salty, flavorful skin. He uses about 1 tablespoon of kosher salt. I didn’t measure mine. You should use enough that, when it’s cooked, you should still be able to make out the salt baked onto the crisp skin. Season to taste with pepper, if you want. I don’t usually pepper my roasted chickens.

Place the chicken breast-up in a sauté pan or roasting pan. Slide it into the oven. Keller says to leave it alone — no basting, no added fat. Roast it until a thermometer stuck in the meatiest part of the thigh registers 165°F, 40 to 60 minutes. (I use a Thermapen: not cheap, but a little bit life-changing.) Remove it from the oven, and add the thyme, if using, to the pan. Spoon the juices and thyme over the chicken, and let it rest for 15 minutes on a cutting board.

Remove the twine. Carve or cut into pieces, however you like. The preparation is not meant to be fancy. Slather the still-hot meat with butter. Serve with mustard on the side.

Yield: enough for 2 to 4 people


Here was an opportunity

One evening last week, my friend Sarah sent me a sudden text that said only, "Yotam Ottolenghi. Carrot and Mung Bean Salad from Plenty More. Just do it!" These kinds of vital communications are why humans need one another: so that we know what to eat next.

I was skeptical about the mung beans: I know they’re used to great effect in many cuisines, I know, I know, but a certain aura of patchouli and tie dye hangs over them. Still, I was willing to reconsider. I took down my copy of Plenty More from the top of the refrigerator, where my favorite and most-used cookbooks live. (Hey: another time when I mentioned this fridge-top collection, one of you asked if I would consider writing a post about the books I keep there. Does that still interest you? I’d forgotten about that request until now, but really, I’d be very happy to do it. Update: I am an idiot. I forgot about this post on Serious Eats! That said, the top of the fridge looks quite different today, with new books coming out, and I would be happy to tell you about it.) I turned the book over and flipped to the index, looked up the page number (169) for the recipe, and proceeded to thumb backward toward it, but I overshot the mark and found myself on page 163 instead, looking at a recipe for Honey-Roasted Carrots with Tahini Yogurt.

I paused long enough to skim through the ingredients. I had everything, as it happened, including a fresh bag of carrots and a newly opened container of tahini left over from another recipe and now waiting to be finished. I am famous within the four walls of my house for buying tahini, using approximately two tablespoons, and then entombing the remainder at the back of the fridge for a couple of years. Here was an opportunity to do something different. The mung beans could wait. (They’re still waiting, and waiting, and waaaaaaaaiting...)

You do not need me to tell you how smart, how good, and how necessary Yotam Ottolenghi’s Plenty More is. Plenty was seminal, and I think Plenty More is even more important. This particular recipe reminds me a lot of Casa Moro’s Warm Butternut and Chickpea Salad with Tahini, but maybe better. Ottolenghi uses carrots instead of squash and, instead of allspice, freshly toasted coriander and cumin seeds. His spicing feels more special as a result, more fragrant and beguiling, and the carrots get sticky-slick with honey, and the yogurt in the tahini sauce gives it both lightness and heft. To be totally honest, Ottolenghi did call for a little too much coriander for me - coriander seed, like marjoram, can start to taste the way potpourri smells - so I scaled it back when I typed up the recipe below, and I think it’s just right. Next time, I might add chickpeas and red onion, à la Casa Moro, and make a great thing greater.

In any case, I made it for lunch on a day when I had the house all to myself - and had celebrated having the house all to myself by eating a gigantic slice of cinnamon-custard twist from Larsen's for breakfast - and it was exactly what I wanted. It’s more than the sum of its parts, by far: one of those things that you can zap together without a trip to the grocery store and, afterward, makes you feel like putting on the Chariots of Fire theme and taking a victory lap around the table. That night, Brandon and I ate the leftover carrots and sauce with hot Italian sausages and a cucumber salad, and he liked the tahini-yogurt sauce so much that, after we’d eaten all the carrots, he went to the cupboard, took down a box of Triscuits, and used the crackers to scoop up the last of the sauce from his plate and then the jar I’d made it in.

Honey-and-Spice Roasted Carrots with Tahini Yogurt
Adapted from Plenty More

This recipe halves easily, and I’ll bet it also doubles well. And if you use a scale to measure the ingredients by weight, it comes together very, very fast. Oh, and though the original version calls for Greek yogurt, I prefer regular plain yogurt, so that’s what I keep around, and it worked just fine.

To toast the coriander and cumin seeds, put a small skillet over medium heat, add the seeds (only one type at a time; they’ll probably toast at different rates), and stay nearby, shaking the pan occasionally. They’re ready when they smell fragrant. Remove them from the heat immediately, and crush them coarsely in a mortar and pestle or under the side of a knife. Repeat with the other type of seeds.

For yogurt sauce:
Scant 3 tablespoons (40 grams) tahini, such as Joyva brand
2/3 cup (130 grams) plain whole-milk yogurt or Greek yogurt
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 garlic clove, crushed
Generous pinch of kosher salt, such as Diamond Crystal brand

For carrots:
Scant 3 tablespoons (60 grams) honey
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 ½ teaspoons coriander seeds, toasted and lightly crushed
1 ½ teaspoons cumin seeds, toasted and lightly crushed
Leaves from 2 sprigs fresh thyme, or a generous pinch of dried thyme
3 pounds (1.3 kilograms) carrots, peeled and cut into index-finger-sized batons
1 ½ tablespoons cilantro leaves, chopped or not
Kosher salt
Black pepper

Preheat the oven to 425°F, and line a large rimmed sheet pan with parchment paper.

Combine the sauce ingredients in a small bowl, and whisk well. Set aside while you roast the carrots.

Combine the honey, oil, coriander and cumin seeds, and thyme in a large bowl. Add 1 teaspoon kosher salt and a few grinds of black pepper. Whisk as well as you can; the honey might make it pretty goopy. Add the carrots, and mix until well coated. (I found it easiest to do this with my hands, since the honey wanted to clump instead of coat the carrots.) Dump the carrots onto the prepared sheet pan, and arrange them evenly in a single layer. Roast, stirring gently once or twice, until they are cooked through and glazed, 30 to 40 minutes.

Serve the carrots warm or at room temperature, with a good spoonful of sauce on top or smeared on the plate underneath them. Scatter with cilantro.

Yield: 4 servings