Category Archives: Eating In

Gabrielle Hamilton’s Three Fats Sandwich

When I read the memoir Blood, Bones, and Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef by the chef Gabrielle Hamilton a few years ago, it spurred me to finally visit her restaurant Prune. I have been back a few times and hold it in high regard. It is one of the only places I would consider having a proper brunch at, and one of the few that I think that can pull off the too-tight, pseudo-bistro appearance and attitude that so many other downtown restaurants just cause me to roll my eyes at. When I think of that book now, it has nothing to do with food or restaurants. Something in the stories and details Gabrielle shared made me think of my own life, made me admire her, and made me wonder if I could similarly present as being resolved about who I am. With respect to her personal and professional choices, she strikes me as someone who DGAF what others think or say. But this not-caring is not combative, it just is; there is no need to prove anything with her honesty, she is just being honest. Or herself.  It is not hard to find less-than-flattering tabloid stories about her personal life, ones that question her scruples more than the indiscretions she writes about in the book. I don’t look up to a perfect person, but at one who doesn’t endlessly apologize for her imperfections.

A post on the blog Alexandra’s Kitchen about a sandwich inspired by the book really brought things close to home. Alexandra’s three fats sandwich—prosciutto, butter, and olive oil—was inspired by one made for Gabrielle by her ex-husband. As she wrote in the book:

I sat eating my sandwich, deep in my coat and sweater, thinking the oil tasted very good, buttery, and acidic at the same time, but wishing there was more meat and maybe a smear of cool waxy butter also. I love the perfection of three fats together—butter, olive oil, and the white fat from prosciutto or lardo.

“These could use one more slice of meat, maybe.”

He was silent.

“And maybe a little sweet butter.”

And he has made them that way ever since.

(Passage from here.)

Are you thinking, so what? When I read that passage again because of the blog post, I did think about how amazing those three fats would be together and subsequently made the sandwich, but I thought more on her subtle criticism and schooling. It felt like something I would do, like things I’ve already done. It felt like all the times I’ve suggested how something is good but not best, or how it could be better, often directing my comments at those who have done nothing but something nice for me, those who are closest to me. Yes, it’s just a sandwich, but it’s always just something small in our minds that cause large wounds for others.

I bring this up not because Gabrielle made me feel bad about myself or that she should feel bad about herself. These kinds of passages and the reveals about her personality raise that unapologetic attitude that I have trouble cultivating. I have hurt others, I do hurt others, I will hurt others. I admire Gabrielle because she does not appear to wallow in self-hatred. I know that she has to reconcile her sins, and she didn’t choose to do so necessarily on the pages of her book. I admire that she can separate that from a retelling of a story that’s ultimately about perfecting a sandwich. As I write that, I think, but you’re absolving her. I’m not. I just like that she can relate who she is, warts and all, without having to dissect each wart, and that you are to take her as she is. I am not able to do that in my own life. I want to be that way, but I feel too much guilt for my warts. I want to GAF less and just be, which is how I idealize Gabrielle. It’s why I have a crush on Prune. It’s why I relish the simplicity of this sandwich.

 

Three Fats Sandwich

It’s a perfect sandwich for the season. No cooking, all assembly, picnic-ready. Alexandra’s addition of a dark green like arugula or watercress is great if you would be into a bit more texture and the accompanying bitterness. Don’t be shy with the butter. You want to feel its waxiness between your teeth and its slick trace on your lips. Get your prosciutto shaved paper thin so that the only resistance is from the bread. Good olive oil only here, please. I just pick up a baguette, but I’m sure the airiness of ciabatta works better.

Semolina Gnocchi (Gnocchi alla Romana)

When oatmeal regularly serves as my main course for dinner and cottage cheese does for my #saddesklunch, you could say that beyond my love of creamy, I also have a thing for mushy. All manners of cooked porridge and soaked grains, muesli sludges and carb-based puddings have a place at my table. Sweet or savoury is good, and I like when they’re particularly stodgy—I like for my spoon to stand practically straight in my oatmeal, loosened only slightly with a pouring of cream.

 

I have a few bookmarks, then, on recipes for semolina gnocchi, or properly gnocchi alla Romana, because it is essentially a dish based on baked medallions of semolina mush. Having made ricotta gnocchi before, I know that “gnocchi” can mean more than ridged potato dumplings. Those ones that are easy to find and can be leaden and dense when you’re unlucky or pillowy soft when you’re batting 1,000. While I suppose you could bake potato or ricotta gnocchi in a sauce after they’re made, what’s unique about semolina gnocchi is that baking is part of their creation.

 


 

Once you’ve made a semolina porridge – probably the hardest part due to the constant stirring—you leave it to cool and firm up. The gnocchi are then formed, and they are baked until golden edges appear. They are more similar to making small cakes/medallions/fries out of cooked, cooled polenta that way. But the semolina does not firm up as much as polenta does. What you’re left with are dumplings that have a thin, crispy crust and a cream-of-wheat-like interior. Naked, more butter, or tomato sauce. I don’t think you can screw them up with how you choose to top them. The acid from a tomato sauce is nice, but the richness from butter makes them the indulgence you want on a cold night.

 

 

And in that respect, perhaps this post is a little late given the date on the calendar, but I am not one of those people who goes sockless in March. Having grown up in a climate where snow has been known to fall in June, I’m not giving up on warm, comfort food until I’m using my A/C.

 

 

Semolina Gnocchi
Apologies if what follows is confusing, but I pull from two sources when making this for myself, one from Jessica Theroux on Leite’s Culinaria and a Florence Fabricant/New York Times rendition I found on The Wednesday Chef. For the most part, they are quite similar, with the exception of the amount of butter and the way they are baked. Because I tend to eat my gnocchi with a brown butter and sage sauce, I follow the Culinaria ingredient list for the most part and use less butter in the gnocchi, but I add nutmeg like Luisa and do not top with breadcrumbs. If you followed Luisa by serving with tomato sauce, more butter in the gnocchi might be your thing. As for the method, I follow the Culinaria method up to the point of baking (the end of step 2), then Luisa’s for the baking (her step 4). This means that I start my dough with milk, nutmeg, salt, and semolina, adding the butter, egg, and cheese once it’s cooked. To bake, I follow Luisa and grease my pan, overlap my discs, then dot with more butter. I split the difference on baking temperature at 425 degrees for about 20 minutes. I like them just slightly crisp and brown.

For one serving of gnocchi, I use the following amounts. I have a scale, so measuring half an egg is not a problem for me. Luisa’s recipe uses only egg yolks, so you could use one yolk as a workaround.

  • 1 cup of milk
  • 1.75 ounces of semolina
  • 1/2 teaspoon of salt (heed Luisa’s warning about needing salt)
  • 1 ounce of parmesan cheese, grated, divided in half (about 2/3 for the dough, 1/3 for topping before baking)
  • pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
  • Approximately 1 tablespoon of unsalted butter (about 1/2 for dough, 1/2 for dotting tops)

As for the brown butter and sage, I would say I brown a couple of tablespoons of unsalted butter, adding the sage leaves just as the milk solids start to turn brown. I use a six-inch pie plate for baking and serving myself the gnocchi. No need to dirty up another dish, so I just pour the butter over the gnocchi and insulate my lap with a tea towel or two. The added benefit is that they stay nice and warm.

 

The Skillet-Broiler Neapolitan Pizza Hack

I’ve lied to myself in the past about making pizza at home. Despite acknowledging the limitations of pizza cooked at a temperature 400 degrees lower than it should be, even suggesting that homemade calzones work better than a round pie, I’ve still gone and done it. Real talk: Homemade pizza generally blows. It’s very hard to pull off, especially if you’re like me and prefer the chewy, pliable crusts of Neapolitan style. Crusts end up with the texture of cardboard, and baked calzones are really just big empanadas. I’ve never owned a pizza stone, but I’ve tried pizza made on them and haven’t been wowed, nor do I want to deal with finding room for another piece of equipment. My petite kitchen is already burdened when trying to accommodate a stand mixer and two Dutch ovens. No more heavy lifting, please. I also don’t want crunchy bar-style or pan pizza. I know success with a home oven is more achievable in those realms, but my ideal pizza has a crust that will fold without breaking, leopard spots, and a yeasty chew.

I can easily get that by putting on a jacket and going to one of many excellent Neapolitan pizza places that dot all corners of this city. Why do I lament making pizza at home, then? Because sometimes I just want to eat fresh-from-the-oven pizza in my PJs in front of Netflix. Delivery or frozen is not good enough. Serious Eats has heavily promoted the use of a baking steel as the at-home pizza solution, and while relatively affordable and lust-worthy, it is again a very heavy kitchen tool. To boot, it is also too big for my oven. Money saved but problem not solved.

While scrolling through the rest of the Serious Eats pizza posts, I came upon an older one from Kenji Lopez-Alt for Neapolitan pizza. Made in a cast iron skillet—I have one of those. Started on the stovetop—check. Finished under the broiler—I have one of those old-school broiler drawers, but okay, yes.  It was worth a shot. Having taken a pizza-making class from some Roberta’s chefs at The Brooklyn Kitchen and investing in their cookbook, I went with the Bushwick dough instead of Kenji’s.

The method is key, but so is the make-up of the dough. Both Kenji’s and Roberta’s recipes include “00” flour, which helps to make the crust less crunchy when baked. It’s a lower protein and more finely milled flour. Pasta is often made with 00 flour. Few at-home pizza recipes or refrigerated doughs are made with 00 flour, so I knew that if I was lazy at this step, the result would lean toward a conventional, crunchy, oven-baked pizza. Not what I wanted.

The adrenaline was pretty high on the trial night as I tried to get my round of dough into the skillet and then to top it quickly. The dough sizzled once dropped and as I hastily pushed it toward the edges to make a circle again. As I saw the dough begin to rise I knew I had to pick up the topping pace, the real cooking under the broiler was still to come. I shut the drawer and started the timer. How long before shifting the skillet? Kenji said it could be done in anywhere from 90 seconds to four minutes. My little clunker of a stove isn’t going to win any races, so I would give it a full minute before the first 90-degree turn. I got down on my knees, essentially praying, ready to open the drawer. My jaw dropped at that first reveal. Although nowhere near done, I saw what I never thought I’d ever see at home—baby leopard spots, bubbles starting to char, the puff of a cornicione. Time couldn’t stand still because I had to turn that sucker and close the drawer again.  But mere minutes later, I had the best pizza to ever come from my hands and an oven I rented. And so during polar vortexes, skint weekends, and lazy weekends, I’ve relied on the skillet-broiler method to get me through pizza cravings.

 

Calzone

   

 

Involto

I’ve experimented with calzone and Roberta’s involto shape and achieved the same level of success.  It is by no means equal to that which I eat when out, but it is a hell of a lot better than anything I’ve ever tried before in terms of at-home pizza. There is still some crunch, but there’s also considerable chew, softness, and blistering that can fool you into thinking the heat of a fire was at play. Bottom line, for a pizza-in-your-underwear kind of night? Better than good enough, dare I say, great.

 

Neapolitan Pizza Hack (Skillet-Broiler Method)

Serious Eats recipe/method minus discussion.

I start at step 5 because I do not use Kenji’s dough.  I have found that my pizzas take about three to four minutes under the broiler and rarely do I need to put the pan back on the stovetop to finish cooking. If anything, my bottoms can darken quicker than my tops, and that might be because I don’t top my pizzas fast enough. I turn the pan 90 degrees about two or three times.

By far the most difficult part of this method is getting the dough into the pan. A regularly shaped pizza is the easiest because you can quickly try to reshape it. The calzone and involto shapes require very quick lift-and-drop work of the hands.

Roberta’s dough recipe.

Yes, you have to let the dough cold ferment in the fridge for at least 24 hours (or only 8 for Kenji’s). It develops flavour and cuts prep time. Hands-on time for the dough is less than 10 minutes prior to shaping. I’ve always appreciated having the dough already made on the night I’m making the pizza. And remember, a crunchier (read: cardboard) crust if you skip the 00 flour.

The only scaling I’ve had to do is cutting the (Roberta’s) dough recipe in half. Beyond easy if you have a scale. And you should be using a scale! Otherwise, it’s already a small-batch recipe because you can only make one pizza at a time, and one pizza feeds one person.

Note that I make my pizzas in a 10-inch skillet, and the dough recipe is for two 12-inch pizzas. So, my pizza crusts end up being a bit thicker.

The involto shaping method is described here.

 

Paul Hollywood’s Scones

I hope that you have Netflix (or Amazon Prime or PBS) and watched the one season of The Great British Bake Off (strangely changed to “The Great British Baking Show” on the streaming services) that is available. I hope that you loved it as much as I did. If you did not, we probably can’t be friends, and I’ll just let you know that there’s a very good scone recipe at the bottom of this post. If you haven’t watched it, I strongly encourage you to do so if you have any interest in cooking shows, cooking competition shows, baking, or British culture. This is a great long read for getting into all the reasons why it’s worth your time.

But simply, it’s a baking competition that takes place in the English countryside, wherein each week one person gets kicked off until there’s a winner. Of perhaps nominal prize money. Each episode/week is a different baking theme (cakes, pastries, bread, etc), and three competitions or “bakes” comprise each episode. What pulled me in was how refreshing it was to watch a competition where people wanted to do well for the sake of doing well. Not for a large prize. Not for fame. Not to beat other people. The one incident where someone justifiably was angered by another’s actions turned into an incident where the competitor was regretful and remorseful for letting his anger get to him. You root for all of the bakers as you so happily watch them root for each other.

Top Chef, this is not. Especially because viewers have an opportunity to really learn a lot about baking techniques and history. And like most Old World baking canons, there are so many categories and types that we don’t see on this side of Atlantic and/or terminology we no longer use—although Harry Potter fans might recognize the names of many. My brain and heart gobbled it all up.

Likely related to all the lush English greenery and stately architecture seen on the show, I developed a craving for a proper cream tea. So began a Google rabbit hole to suss out a good scone recipe. A good British scone recipe. I’ve done afternoon tea at a few places here in the city, but I’ve never been anywhere worth falling for. Making my own scones would mean skipping the dry finger sandwiches and focusing on the main event of scones lavished with clotted cream. I would be able to eat as many  as I wanted to, while watching some bakes, and most importantly, in my pajamas.

I’ve previously fallen prey to believing American culinary sorts who will tell you that a British scone is similar to an American biscuit. That’s wrong. An American scone is similar to an American biscuit, just with more sugar. British scones rely more on baking powder for leavening and contain eggs. America’s Test Kitchen also points out that British scones contain less butter because they are meant as vehicles for things like butter and cream. Less butter also makes British scones less crumbly and flaky. They are more tea cake than tea (American) biscuit.

After confirming that my local grocery store sold clotted cream, I was all set on making the ATK recipe. That was until some lingering rabbit hole Googling brought me (full circle moment) to Paul Hollywood’s recipe. Paul Hollywood is one of the judges on The Great British Bake-Off. He’s the smarmy, bad-cop-style judge with the good poker face and air of skepticism. But underneath, he’s an accomplished baker who likes to be surprised and impressed by the Bake Off’s competitors. His recipe was quite similar to the ATK one, with the huge exception of using bread/strong flour. Whether British or American, scones, biscuits, pancakes—anything that needs to rise but without yeast—needs a light hand to ensure gluten formation is at a minimum. Gluten = chew and toughness to airy quickbreads and cakes. Smarmy Paul sets forth with flour that is extra high in gluten! WTF. I had to try. To prove he was a phony or a mad genius.

Mad genius. My scones easily doubled in height and revealed the risen break of a proper scone. They were light and a bit fluffy, yet had the sturdiness necessary to hold lashings of cream. They were just sweet enough to be worthy of teatime but were the ideal foundation for the fruity punch of my chosen jam and the richness of the clotted cream.

Some notes on the cream. I’m a believer in clotted cream over Devonshire cream. They are not the same. Clotted cream has a higher fat content (more than 50%) and there’s a stickiness to its texture. It’s got an undeniable dairy, almost metallic, tang, a unique product that straddles cream and butter, and one that I believe few people would enjoy eating straight. Seeing as how I used about 95% of the jar for only four scones, I might be one of those few.

Devonshire cream (less than 50% milk fat) has a lighter mouth feel and is milder in flavour, more reminiscent of thick whipped cream. I believe that most afternoon teas that claim to give you clotted cream (in North America) are actually giving you Devonshire cream. It’s easier to find, and it’s also easier to cut with the more economical whipping cream (which I think a lot of North American establishments are also guilty of doing). That being said, I’m a believer in the Devon method for cream and jam application: cream first, then jam. If you like the reverse, Cornwall style, well, again, we probably can’t be friends.

Paul Hollywood’s Scone Recipe

I followed the recipe exactly, including weighing all measurements, but I did halve it to no ill effect to get four large, round scones. The oddities to this recipe are the use of bread flour (which Paul calls strong flour) and his use of the technique called “chaffing.” The supposed golden rule of making scones (and biscuits) is that you want to handle the dough as little as possible to avoid gluten formation and keep the scones tender. Bread flour has a higher protein (gluten) content than all purpose flour and chaffing requires you to lightly fold, thus handle, the dough a number of times. Chaffing helps add air, but I have no clue as to how his use of bread flour avoids toughness. I have no need to question because they came out extremely tender.

If you want to try his recipe, I recommend you watch one of the videos where Paul makes the scones, so that you can see the chaffing technique. I found it helpful.

The recipe allows you to re-roll scraps once, but as I got the number of scones that I needed from the first cut, I decided to bake miniature scones cut from the scraps. They’re in my freezer waiting for inspiration, perhaps to be broken up into a soup, or to top a sundae a la Chikalicious.

As well, I baked off two large scones and the minis immediately, and I froze the two remaining large ones. I put the unbaked scones on a parchment-lined plate in the freezer until they were frozen solid, which takes about an hour. I then wrapped each in plastic wrap and placed them in a freezer bag. A few days later (clotted cream is only good for five days once opened), I baked those directly from frozen, adding maybe a minute or two of bake time. No difference in flavour, but they didn’t rise quite as high. I didn’t try this time, but I know a common workaround is to preheat the oven 25 degrees higher than stated, put in your frozen scones, then immediately turn down the oven to the regular baking temperature. That blast of extra heat is supposed to help kickstart the rise in frozen dough.

Pasta alla Norcina

You may have noticed that I didn’t keep up with last year’s resolution to practice new cooking techniques. Again, putting effort into myself, even if to one day have more success in putting effort into someone else, eventually lost its appeal. The time, the apathy, the dishes. I just cannot be bothered. I’m totally fine being able to talk endlessly about recipes and techniques without actually completing them. I’m not sure what that makes me, but I can live with the probable negative connotation.

But not wanting to practice roasting a turkey or searing a steak doesn’t mean that I don’t occasionally put more effort into dinner than a pot of oatmeal. I just don’t care to cook to become better at this juncture. I cook to fulfill a craving or bring comfort. And as with oatmeal, it is almost always in the form of a carbohydrate that can be eaten with one piece of cutlery from one dish in front of the television. So, as cold temperatures and the new year trend of reining in spending have me at home on weekend nights, I have more time to cook (weeknights get at most 15 minutes of dinner prep) right now. Recipes will return. Easy recipes. One-bowl recipes. All gluten-friendly recipes. Count on at least three… this is no resolution.

Speaking of television, today’s recipe comes from an episode of America’s Test Kitchen (ATK), from a season that is currently available on (U.S.) Netflix. I’m pretty dedicated to listening to the ATK podcast, even if the banter between Christopher and Bridget gets repetitive and expected. I love their knowledge! Like with The Food Lab of Serious Eats, I like the testing and science behind their recipes. They’re rarely creative or trendy, and everything seems very American even when they pull from elsewhere, but I can appreciate and like learning how they strive to perfect recipes that generally everyone enjoys eating. They are nerds, and as someone who is also a nerd, I identify with their motivation and approach.

A recipe for pasta alla norcina intrigued me one night enough to track down the recipe. While essentially just a sausage and mushroom dish, what makes it different is that you make your own sausage out of ground pork. Sausage from the town of Norcia does not contain fennel and red pepper like the Italian sausage easily found in grocery stores. So, to  recreate the flavours of the region, Chris and the gang have you quickly cure ground pork with baking soda, water, and salt, and infuse it with garlic, rosemary, and nutmeg.

It presents as a simple dish, but there are quite a few intermediary steps that require you to be conscious of the directions and your time. I wanted to do the recipe proud, so I meticulously prepped my mise en place and had all necessary equipment at the ready before starting anything. This of course meant that making the dish, just for myself, took much longer than it should have. Because of this, I won’t be making it again anytime soon. But don’t let that deter you. I’m sure it would be billed as an “easy weeknight meal.” I made no mistakes, I just left nothing up to chance. Slow and steady to win this race. And I did. Because despite the use of many ramekins, chopping mushrooms finer than seems necessary, and measuring out 1/8 teaspoons, I was left with one of the best tasting bowls of pasta I have ever made. The pork did transform to a savoury sausage, with the rosemary and garlic being identifiable but not overpowering. The finely chopped mushrooms melted into the sauce to function as an earthy background flavour instead of chewy chunks. The cream and parmesan (subbed for pecorino as I already had a hunk) came together with the pasta water to envelope everything in a silky sauce that had enough body to satisfy. My fears of stodgy richness were unfounded.

 

I’ll be funny and say that it tasted like it came from a (good) restaurant, because I find that homemade pasta never really does (extra funny now that I see the  posted recipe makes such a claim). I’ve had many delicious pasta dinners from my own kitchen and from others, but rare is the time when I thought any of those plates had the same punch and satisfaction that can come from a kitchen that inevitably takes a heavier hand with oil, butter, salt, spice, or rare ingredients. This pasta alla norcina doesn’t push decadence, but I wonder if because the testing and perfecting is what has been pushed, the harmony of ingredients enables an amateur like me to make something SO good she considers it could pass for professional. This is what endears ATK to me.

Even better is that I got to have something so good in one of my favourite places: my armchair, illuminated by the glow of the television, and with a tea towel as a place mat.

Pasta alla Norcina – America’s Test Kitchen

Unlike most from ATK, this recipe was made available for free. Perhaps because it was broadcast on public television.  Either way, I’m thankful that I didn’t have to go scouting blogs to see if someone else had made it. In fact, the entire episode is available, and if you skip to minute 14:22 in the video, you can watch the segment that outlines how you make the dish. I found it helpful.

The only changes I made were the shape of pasta used and adding extra grated cheese before serving. The recipe serves two; before adding the pasta, I removed half the sauce, stored it in the fridge, and used it as a subsequent homemade pizza topping. Note that the amounts listed in the video are for four servings/one pound of pasta.