All posts in Salty

Brown Sugar Brined Pork Chop

My birthday was a couple Mondays ago, and instead of having a “Mondays suck” pity party, I had a pork chop party! After a weekend of celebrating in the park with friends and dining out at the v-hypeworthy Petit Crenn, I was ready for a low key night that still kept the birthday spirit alive.

fennel pork chop

Enter the Brown Sugar Brined Pork Chop! It’s brined overnight, then cooked in a low oven and finished with butter in a screaming hot cast iron skillet. Juicy on the inside with a crisp crust. Perfect for a special occasion. Just like a steak, only better.

The apartment was buzzing with energy (and smoke alarms(?)) as Andrew and I danced around the kitchen basting the chop with butter, setting the table, assembling the salad and pouring the wine.

cast iron t-bone pork chop

Once it all came together, we sat triumphantly at our wobbly flea market table and carved bites off our shared masterpiece, exchanging weekend memories and sipping a juicy wine from Martha Stoumen, the natural wine world’s current luminary. The meal ended with near-plate licking and some shameless fat nibbling experiments. It was an intimate, cozy meal – exactly what I was looking for to cap the birthday festivities.

serious eats pork chop

I’d always thought of pork chops as a corrugated cardboard meatstuff until I moved to San Francisco and discovered Nopa, the OG Divisadero Corridor fine dining destination. If it’s not for an impulsive late night burger run, I’m ordering their famed pork chop. The towering cut is served medium rare with an expert sear that will have you swearing off steakhouse beef. Nopa’s magic is in its versatility, consistently providing a menu and space that’s just as suitable for a reservation with parents as a raucous bar drop in with friends. This birthday, I was after Nopa-level vibes at home.

To help me out, I turned to the ever-reliable and precise Kenji Lopez Alt, author of The Food Lab, an encyclopedia of all things cooking. In it, he explores the chemistry of cooking, grounding his recommendations for the perfect anything in science—(I recently got to see him speak about his very personal journey of opening his restaurant, Wursthall, at the Real Food Real Stories Story Slam, which I think is just the most magical event series ever. This Freakonomics podcast features Kenji and covers similar material.) The recipe below is based very closely off of his, with a couple Pantry Raid adjustments for #flare.

But before we dive in, let’s cover some fundamentals of cooking the perfect birthday-worthy pork chop.

  1. The thicker the better. Buy the thickest friggin’ chop you can find. Your local butcher should be able to cut a special one for you if you call ahead. This ensures you’ll end up with a juicy (not dry) piece of meat.
  2. Bone in chops only! The bone adds a ton of flavor and helps the meat stay moist. You can use a porterhouse/center-cut chop (with the T-bone running through the center) or a rib chop (with a long bone running along one edge). I liked porterhouse because there’s more meat-bone contact, guaranteeing plenty of super juicy bites.
  3. Brine that baby! Pork tends to expel lots of moisture during the cooking process, but brining it makes sure this doesn’t happen. This recipe calls for a stupid simple dry brine (salt n’ sugar), while other recipes call for wet brines.
  4. Fat is phat. When you sear this bad boy on a piping hot cast iron skillet, some of the fat will melt away and help caramelize the chop; whatever is still attached to the chop will then crisp up on the outside and get buttery (like, spreadable buttery) in the middle. These are THE most decadent bites.

Ingredients (serves 2)

  • 1 super thick bone-in porterhouse or loin pork chop
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • Seeds of ½ a pomegranate
  • 2 bulbs fennel, thinly sliced
  • 1 shallot, thinly sliced
  1. Pat chop dry with a paper towel. Combine salt and sugar in a small bowl. Rub the mixture all over the pork chop, ensuring the brine has covered the entire chop. Place the chop on a wire rack over a rimmed baking sheet. Place in the fridge 8-24 hours.
  2. Preheat the oven to 250°F. Place the baking sheet with the wire rack and pork chop on it in the oven. Cook until a meat thermometer registers 100-110°F, about 30 minutes.
  3. Heat oil in a cast iron skillet over high heat until nearly smoking (apartment dwellers, open a window!). Place chop in skillet and cook, turning occasionally for about 1 ½ minutes. Add the butter, shallots, most of the pomegranate seeds and fennel and continue cooking, basting the chop with the melted butter and turning occasionally. Do this until the chop has formed a dark golden crust, about 2 minutes. Pick up the chop with tongs and sear the fat caps. Transfer chops to a clean rack and let rest for 3-5 minutes.
  4. While the chop rests, continue to cook to fennel, shallot and pomegranate until the fennel is tender and caramelized.
  5. Serve the chop whole and garnish with fresh pomegranate seeds. Serve with caramelized fennel.

Crunchy Asian Salad

crunchy asian salad

My half-hearted new year’s resolution to “eat more salad” was admittedly in direct response to the weeks of gluttony that preceded it, but was also a personal challenge to explore beyond the bounds of my weeknight dinner mainstays (I’m lookin’ at you, pesto pasta).

It began just as soon as the holiday remorse set in, on my cross-country red-eye that topped off a rather indulgent Manhattan day. We’re talking Russ & Daughters, Eataly and $1 pizza slices over the course of eight hours. Yeah, I’m impressed with me too.

As I sat on the plane, loopily searching for inspo on my favorite food blogs, I began to compile a Pinterest board: Salad For Dinner. On it, you’ll find hearty, seasonal, droothworthy photos that make (mostly) raw stuff look pretty damn good.

I’ve been working my way through the recipes, picking out my favorite elements of a few and throwing them together for dinner and next-day lunches. The rules are simple:

  1. The fewer the leaves the better. For a girl whose former salad expertise topped out at Kale Caesar, this one is tough.
  2. It’s gotta have protein. What are we, bunnies?! This is dinner we’re talking about! Beans, nuts or quinoa do the trick for vegetarians, but juicy shredded chicken adds an unparalleled texture to an otherwise crunchy pile of goodness.
  3. Cut wisely! An interesting salad means lots of fresh ingredients so what you see is what you get. Pay extra special attention to the way you cut everything for maximum prettiness.
  4. Dress to impress. Pick a theme, and run with it. Here, I was going for sweet and nutty. Creamy and herbaceous is another good one. I like to make dressings that are light in color, so the ingredients don’t all turn brown.

chinese chicken salad recipe

The rest is up to you! But, if you’re like me, you are a creature of habit, and by habit I mean comfort. Eating salad for dinner is already a little….progressive, so I’m totally on board with finding a go-to and sticking to it.

asian sesame slaw recipe

This Crunchy Asian Salad is just about perfect in every way a salad can be perfect. It’s hearty (you won’t be hungry again in an hour), it’s healthy (cabbage! green stuff! chicken breast! oh my!) and it’s even better the next day (hellooooo lunch). Plus, these ingredients are pretty much available year round and are the perfect vehicle for practicing your knife skills.

Shout out to rule #1 – this salad is leaf-free, making it more of a slaw without the “side dish” reputation. Finely shredded cabbage is crinkly, sweet and crunchy but is totally ready to share the stage with scallions, celery and jalapeño. The juicy shredded chicken adds a different texture, giving the salad some heft that makes it feel dinner-y. The dressing is sweet and nutty, but not too intrusive. It just provides a slick coating for the salad and gives it a discernibly Asian flavor. Salty peanuts and toasted sesame seeds finish it off, adding earthy, salty and a different kind of crunch.

cabbage slaw asian

The result: a full meal that’s easy, healthy, fridge-friendly and ready to make you forget that you ever dismissed salad as a main dish.

Ingredients (serves 3-4)


  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 2 teaspoons vinegar
  • ½ inch ginger, skinned and finely grated
  • 1 tablespoon Sesame oil
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • ¼ lime


  • 1 ½ pound boneless, skinless chicken breast (or cooked chewy grain!)
  • Canola oil
  • Kosher salt & pepper
  • ½ head green cabbage
  • ¼ head purple cabbage
  • 2 stalks celery
  • 3 scallions
  • ½ large jalapeno
  • 10-ish mint leaves
  • Handful salted, roasted peanuts
  • Toasted sesame seeds



  1. Combine ingredients in a small, sealable container and shake it up!

Salad & Assembly

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees. Prepare a small baking dish by lining with tinfoil with excess on either end.
  2. Heat some canola oil in a cast iron skillet until shimmering hot. While it’s heating up, season chicken breast with salt and pepper. Sear chicken breast for 2-ish minutes on each side, until a nice brown crust has formed on each side. Transfer to baking dish and wrap the tinfoil around the chicken to seal in moisture. Bake at 375 degrees until a meat thermometer reads 165 degrees, about 15-20 minutes. Remove from oven, unwrap, and let cool.
  3. Cut the half green cabbage into two quarters. Slice the cabbage very very thinly, with the base of the cabbage facing you. Discard any overly large, chunky pieces. Repeat with purple cabbage.
  4. Slice both the celery and the scallions very thinly, on the bias. You’re trying to make the slices as long and thin as possible.
  5. Remove jalapeno seeds, and chop into small pieces. Taste it first to gague spiciness!
  6. Chop the mint.
  7. Once the chicken has cooled enough to handle, pull it apart with your fingers to create shreds.
  8. Add vegetables, herbs, chicken and peanuts to a serving bowl. Give the mixture a toss to combine before adding dressing. Add half the dressing and toss to coat. Taste it! If it needs more, you know what to do.
  9. Serve immediately or store in the fridge for a less crunchy, but even more juicy version that will last up to two days.

Silky Garlic Soup with Poached Eggs & Breadcrumbs


garlic soup recipe

Soup is binary. At its best, it’s the ultimate comfort fare – a mystifying combination of flavors and textures that spoon-feeds its eater pure unadulterated warmth and nourishment. At its worst, it’s a sloppy sludge of lopsided flavors and offensive texture destined for the compost bin.

Adding lots of random things to a pot and heating them up is a risky move. Sure, some combos are as old as time (we’re looking at you, butternut squash and green apple), but the more complex creative stuff takes a real kitchen maverick to not screw up. You’ve gotta have an intimate understanding of flavor combinations and an acute textural grasp to master the art of soup making, and let me tell you, I am no virtuoso. Yeah – we can all follow a recipe, but give me a farmers’ market and a pot to work with and you’d better find an excuse to cancel our dinner plans.

Perhaps it’s the past few unfortunate batches of botched broth that’re tearing into my ego, but I’ve been feeling pretty down and out about this whole soup thing. Then, I found this recipe and all hope was restored.

poached egg soup garlic

With relatively few ingredients and a short to medium cook time, it’s nearly impossible to fuse flavors that aren’t meant to be. And because it’s blended, you can always add more broth as a Hail Mary if your soup looks more like concrete than dinner.

So, how about all the garlic?? Yes, this recipe uses A LOT of that stuff. Slow sautéing all those cloves catches garlic’s sweet spot – right between its raw spicy moment and its toasted nutty one. Sautéing them until they’re super tender but not browned reveals their velvety, confit-like texture and mellow aromatic sweetness that sets the tone for the rest of the dish. The result is a savory, silky smooth soup that’s completed with a runny poached egg and some crispy breadcrumbs.

bon appetit garlic soup

Unlike other soups, I find this one is best eaten right after blending. Add a little extra broth if/when you heat up the leftovers to avoid sloppy (not silky) seconds.

*Recipe adapted from Bon Appetit

Ingredients (serves 2)


  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • ¼ baguette
  • Kosher salt


  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 ½ heads garlic – cloves, peeled
  • ½ large leek, halved lengthwise, very thinly sliced (white and light green parts only, dark green parts discarded)
  • ½ tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
  • 4 small-medium Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut into small pieces
  • 2 cups vegetable broth (or Better Than Bouillon and water)
  • 1 tablespoon sour cream
  • Kosher salt


  • 2 eggs
  • 1 drop distilled white vinegar


  • Fresh flat leaf parsley
  • Flaky sea salt
  • Black pepper


  1. Tear the baguette into pieces and place in a food processer. Pulse until bread has become chunky (not dusty) crumbs.
  2. Heat 3 tablespoons olive oil in a skillet. Add the breadcrumbs and salt to taste and toast, stirring often, until golden brown. Remove from skillet and set aside.

*Make ahead! These last one week.

* Variation: Use ½ regular olive oil and ½ roasted garlic infused olive oil


  1. Heat olive oil and butter in a small-medium pot over low-medium heat. Add garlic, leeks and thyme and stir often until the garlic is super soft. If the garlic starts to brown, turn the heat down.
  2. Add the potatoes and broth and bring pot to a simmer. Cook until potatoes are very tender, about 20-25 minutes. Add the sour cream.
  3. Using an immersion blender, puree the soup until the texture is uniform. Add salt to taste and some extra broth if the soup is too think for your liking. Cover and set aside.


  1. Fill a skillet with water and a drop of white vinegar and bring to an almost-simmer.
  2. Crack each egg into a separate ramekin or small bowl.
  3. Gently slip each egg into the water with enough room between each one. Use a rubber spatula to coerce the dancing wisps into the center of the egg. Once the yolks have set (about two minutes), lift each egg out with a slotted spoon and gently transfer to a paper towel.


  1. Ladle some soup into a bowl. Top with one poached egg, a sprinkle of breadcrumbs, some fresh parsley, flaky sea salt and fresh cracked pepper.

Curried Snacking Chickpeas

curried chickpeas

Run, don’t walk, to your nearest bulk bin section. That’s what I did on a last minute beer run to Berkeley Bowl the other day. While my friends were deciding between one craft beer and another, I was wandering – eyes wide and jaw dropped – through the sprawling mecca of bulk goods in the back of the store. This is a place devoid of flashy packaging, suggested serving sizes and cringe-worthy markups. It’s just stacks on stacks of plastic cases filled with nuts, grains, flours, seeds, beans, lentils…you name it, they got it. Pick your poison, grab a scooper, and go wild. No ones looking, so go ahead, take an extra scoop of chickpeas…treat yourself!

Such was my inner dialogue on that afternoon in Berkeley, and before I knew it I was headed to a house party with a backpack full of chickpeas, chickpea flour and raw almonds. Never show up empty handed!

Like the overzealous cook I am, I boiled every last chickpea, despite the recipe I was following only calling for half. Left with a boatload of the starchy spheres otherwise destined for the compost bin, I made these!

crispy chickpeas

To be honest, these Snacking Chickpeas turned out better than the original dish I made. They’re seasoned with smoky, spicy, aromatic stuff and roasted until crispy all around, but still a little creamy on the inside. You’ll ask yourself, “Are these fried?” as you shovel handful after handful into your face. I urge you, whether at the bulk bins or huddled over a bowl of these chickpeas, to not ask questions and just keep shoveling.

You can use canned chickpeas, although I’ve tried this recipe both ways and the self-boiled variety has a much better texture. These are perfect for an afternoon snack, cheese plate accouterment, or even on top of a simple salad. I like the spices listed below, but you can get creative with whatever toasty, roast-worthy spices you’ve got on hand. Snack away, chickies!

roasted garbanzo beans


  • 1 -2 cups dried chickpeas
  • Salt
  • Olive oil
  • Cumin
  • Smoked paprika
  • Garlic powder
  • Onion powder
  • Cayenne powder
  1. Soak the chickpeas in a large bowl of water overnight.
  2. Drain and rinse the chickpeas. Add them to a large pot of salted water. Bring to a boil and then turn the heat down until the water simmers. Cook like this until the chickpeas are cooked through with creamy, not chalky insides. Drain and let cool to room temperature.
  3. Preheat the oven to 350.
  4. Pour the chickpeas onto a baking sheet. Drizzle with enough olive oil to coat and go crazy with spices. I recommend going heaviest on the smoked paprika, but turn up the heat with more cayenne if that’s your style.
  5. Use your hands to get the spices all up on the chickpeas. Spread out the chickpeas so the all have enough personal space on the baking sheet. Depending on how wild you went at the bulk bins, you may need to use two baking sheets.
  6. Bake for 20-30 minutes, shaking the sheets occasionally to rotate the chickpeas. If they’re not getting crispy like you want ‘em, turn up the heat to 400 for the final 5 minutes.
  7. Let cool for a sec and serve hot or room temperature. Store extras in an airtight container, though let’s be real, there will be no need for that.

Salt-Baked Trout

Mckenzie river oregon trout

Earlier this summer, I spent a week fishing for trout on the McKenzie River in central Oregon. The days were simple: wake up, row, cast, eat, row some more, cast some more, watch the sunset, sleep. I was with my family, generally reputed as a feral bunch of intrepid extroverts ranging in age from 16 to 80. On the McKenzie, we were forced to ditch our antsiness and discover an unknown peaceful, still group dynamic.

helfrich mckenzie river fly fishing oregon

Fishing is about patience. As my dad says, “it’s called fishing, not catching.” Lucky for us zealous city folk, the McKenzie River lends itself to a life of plenty. With a little finesse and the right fly, you’d have a trout on your line more times than not. The slightest flick on the surface of the glassy water would send them zipping toward your bait in no time, and you’d be set for lunch way ahead of schedule.

fly fishing trout oregonmark mintz sydney mintz

Lunch was a hedonistic mess of butter, cast iron and rainbow trout. We’d dock on the river’s edge, stoke a mighty fire and nestle a behemoth of a skillet right in the flames. Then, in went the pound of butter with the cleaned fish following close behind. We were each allotted three trout a day, each one flaky and soaked to the bone with nutty, rich brown butter and simply seasoned with some unidentified spices our guide brought along.

cast iron trout

Day one was a dream. I sat hunched in my sun-faded camping chair over a greasy mess of fish meat, forgoing my fork for some griddled bread used to scoop up every last bite. It wasn’t my prettiest moment, but I enjoyed every bit of it.

As the days lingered on, I settled into the quiet of the river, the meandering conversations, and the routine repetition. But as my tranquility improved, my hunger for trout waned. Five days of pan-fried, butter blasted fish will do that to a person.

Back home, I didn’t dare look in the direction of a single fish for weeks. Eventually, I dipped my toes back in by way of sushi, grilled salmon, and only now, trout.

If there was one recipe ideal for trout reintegration, it was this. Salt-baked fish is at once a science experiment, magic show, and performance art. Since salt has a crazy high melting point, it can withstand super high heat, so packing it around anything creates an airtight oven without permeating whatever it’s encapsulating. It’s also a preservative, so though the fish inside is fully, perfectly cooked. It looks like it just hopped out of the McKenzie when you crack that salt shield open. Oh yeah – and that’s the most impressive part. Prying that sucker open is just about the most dramatic, eye widening party trick in the book.

salt baked recipewhole foods trout

Tldr: Packing your fish in salt keeps it super moist. No, it doesn’t make the fish really salty. I stuffed mine with thyme and lemon, which was yummy. Trout is crazy cheap, so the real magic trick is eating fish without breaking the bank.

lemon thyme trouthuckberry salt baked trout

Due to the showy, salt-hogging nature of this recipe, it’s not necessarily a weeknight quickie, but if my past experience with trout means anything, this fish is best filed in the delicacy department. I’m back on track day dreaming about riverside trout, but this recipe will keep me busy until next summer in Oregon.

sienna mintz pantry raid

Ingredients (serves 2)

  • 1 1-1.5 lb trout, cleaned (pick the one with the clearest eyes)
  • 4 cups coarse kosher salt
  • 5 dried bay leaves, torn
  • 1 tablespoon whole peppercorns
  • ½ lemon, sliced
  • 4-6 springs fresh thyme
  1. Preheat oven to 500 degrees.
  2. Line a baking sheet with tinfoil.
  3. Place the cleaned fish on the baking sheet and stuff the belly with lemon slices and thyme.
  4. In a large mixing bowl, combine salt, bay leaves, and peppercorns. Slowly pour in some water, mixing as you go, until mixture feels like damp sand and vaguely holds its form.
  5. Tightly pack the salt mixture onto the fish, leaving the head and tail exposed, but not letting any air in.
  6. Bake for 10-12 minutes. Remove from oven and let rest 1-2 minutes.
  7. Crack the salt casing open and push aside. Serve straight up, or chop the head off and easily peel off the skin to reveal the meat.

Summer Panzanella

summer panzanella

Panzanella is Italian for “bread salad,” and there’s nothing wrong with that! Swap out a few of the traditional ingredients with their better-tasting contemporaries and things are looking too good to be true.

There’s just about nothing better than a simple arugula salad. Crunchy, peppery greens are cut with lots of sour lemon juice, grassy olive oil and flaky Maldon salt. It’s my favorite lazy side dish – the perfect accompaniment to just about anything I tend to cook.

Heirloom tomatoes are summer’s candy. The heavy, gnarled fruits are literally bursting at the seams with juice, the ultra-thin membrane just thick enough to contain the outrageous flavor within. They’re good enough to eat like a peach – standing over the kitchen sink with the juices running down your wrist.

There’s almost no feeling more satisfying than that which is experienced upon piercing a shimmering, delicate ball of burrata cheese. The stringy, salty outer layer contains light, unbelievably creamy curdles of nearly liquefied mozzarella. If eating an entire ball is sinful, I hope they have burrata in hell.

I’ll never forget the pungent, porky smell of my neighborhood grocery store in Italy, where entire legs of cured pig dangled from the ceiling. Prosciutto is a delicacy both bold and versatile – thinly sliced, fat-laced pieces drape gracefully on a cheese plate but a quick pan-fry brings out smoky, salty notes and crumble without hesitation for a crunchy finish on any dish.

crispy prosciutto

The transformation that flour, yeast and water undergo to create bread is both magical and mysterious. A fresh baked loaf of thick-crusted, fluffy sourdough or ciabatta needs no dressing up and is perhaps best eaten torn with nothing added (though a smear of butter never hurts). Though the half-life of this euphoria is short – as soon as it’s out of the oven it begins to go stale – a toss in olive oil over a hot stove breathes new life. Fresh croutons bring out the best in bread – its crater-like crumb allowing oil to moisten the inside and crisp up the outside.

panzanella salad recipe

Separately, these foods reach unparalleled heights of perfection – obvious winners in their own categories. Each ingredient is self sufficient, needing no accouterments to bring out their best. Typically, ingredients like this are attention hogs – they need to be the stars of the dish they’re a part of – the flavor centerpiece that the rest of the meal is built around.

It seems sacrilegious, almost, to take that away from them. But together, these ambrosial ingredients create a powerhouse of flavor and texture that is so complete and diverse that there’s no turning back. The impossibly creamy cheese cuts the acidic tomatoes. That indulgent, velvety burrata is challenged by salty, crunchy prosciutto and crispy, jumbo croutons soak up every flavor without giving way to the juiciness surrounding them. Last but not least, arugula gives a burst of verdancy that keeps the whole thing tasting fresh.

arugula burrata salad

This Summer Panzanella is the kind of dish that arouses and challenges the taste buds – rock star flavors enhance one another without losing their own identities, resulting in an experience that’s at once encompassing, indulgent, and seasonal.

Ingredients (serves 2-4)

  • 2 cups arugula
  • 1 ball burrata
  • 2 cups day-old bread, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 1 large heirloom tomato or 2 handfuls heirloom cherry tomatoes
  • 4 slices prosciutto
  • Olive oil
  • Flaky sea salt
  1. Heat a non-stick skillet. Lay the prosciutto pieces flat in the skillet and flip once or twice until slightly shriveled. Set aside to cool. Once cooled, chop into bite size pieces.
  2. Make the croutons. Add a few glugs of olive oil to the skillet. Once hot, add the bread pieces and toss to coat. Continue turning until bread is toasted on all sides and still soft in the center.
  3. Chop the tomato into bite size pieces. Add to a large serving bowl with arugula and croutons.
  4. Cut the burrata into pieces. Don’t worry if it’s gooey!
  5. Add burrata to the serving bowl and toss with a some olive oil and sea salt. Top with crumbled prosciutto and serve!

Ricotta-Stuffed Squash Blossoms

stuffed squash blossoms

Squash blossoms are to summer produce what ricotta is to cheese – humble and subtle characters in a cast of bold-flavored knockouts. Separately, there’s not much to them, but together, they steal the show.

ricotta cheesestuffed sqush blossomseasy summer appetizer recipe

In this classic Italian recipe, the super delicate flowers are stuffed with a lemony, minty ricotta filling, lightly coated with seltzer-spiked batter, and shallow fried until the petals are crispy crunchy and the inside is warm.

lemon ricotta recipesummer squash recipestuffed12  fried squash blossoms

It’s the perfect beginning to a long summer night and a refreshing break from the heirloom tomatoes and peaches that are reigning supreme these days.

ricotta stuffed squash blossoms

Make some raw tomato sauce for dipping or dig in straight up!

Ingredients (serves 2-6)

  • 6 fresh squash blossoms (the larger the better)
  • 1 cup fresh ricotta
  • Handful mint, chiffonade
  • 1 tablespoon lemon zest
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 3/4 cup Parmigianino Reggiano, grated
  • 1 cup flour
  • ½ cup seltzer water
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 cups canola oil
  1. Make the filling. In a bowl, mix the ricotta, mint, lemon zest, parmesan and egg yolk until consistent.
  2. Make the batter. In another bowl, combine flour, seltzer, salt and pepper. Add more seltzer until consistency is similar to pancake batter.
  3. Stuff the blossoms. Delicately peel back the petals just enough to create a small opening. Gently (using your fingers, a tiny spatula, or a butter knife), fill the blossoms all the way up with the ricotta mixture. Once filled, carefully twist the ends of the petals between your index finger and thumb to seal.
  4. Batter the blossoms. Place a blossom in the batter bowl and gently rotate until blossom is completely coated. Repeat with remaining blossoms, and set aside for frying.
  5. Fill a heavy bottomed skillet ½ an inch high with oil. Heat until small bubbles form. To test the oil, drop a tiny bit of batter in the oil. If it sizzles and floats, it’s go time!
  6. Place the blossoms in the oil, but don’t crowd them! Fry for 1-2 minutes, until the bottom side is brown and crispy. Gently flip them over and repeat on remaining exposed sides until blossoms are universally golden. Remove from oil and place on a paper towel lined plate to drain.
  7. Sprinkle with a little salt and enjoy right away!

No-Knead Bread

sullivan street bakery

The bread of my childhood was nothing to write home about. Like most American kids, I was on Team White Bread, calling upon persuasive rhetoric in grocery store aisles to convince my parents to choose Oroweat Country Potato over that stuff that’s mostly seeds and nuts and not really bread at all. Blech. That is to say, bread was always more a vehicle for stuff – peanut butter, bologna, you know…kid food! As I got older, not much changed. Bread was a necessary evil required for soaking up olive oil or spreading cheese. It wasn’t until I arrived in San Francisco, the bread capital of the country, that I learned that bread was much more than a host – it’s a centerpiece.

First, there was Tartine Bakery. I’d heard tales of around-the-block lines made up of dedicated (see: desperate) acolytes waiting patiently till the clock stuck 4pm for their chance at fresh-out-of-the-oven loaves. When I first completed this civic duty, I scored a sesame encrusted still-warm loaf. One bite in, I was on the bread-obsessed bandwagon San Francisco is riding. The crust was crunchy firm, the inside dense, a little doughy, and slightly sour. It needed nothing, but we still smeared it with butter and Maldon because #yolo.

Soon, I was buying $8 loaves weekly. There was Acme and Semifreddi’s, Arizmendi and Josey Baker Bread. Each loaf, more perfect than the last. Each bite, a reminder that I’d hit the jackpot when I moved to San Francisco.

This all, I understand, sounds pretentious. And I’m with you, it is pretentious. But hear me out. Bread doesn’t get enough credit. For all the time and labor and extra special attention it needs (and kneads), it really deserves way more praise than it gets. And now, having made some myself, I can tell you for certain that it’s no easy feat.

Baking is science. You have to get everything just right or the whole thing is wrong. Cooking is more in my wheelhouse, where I can add a little of this, skip that, and combine these until it tastes the way I want it to. But bread baking is a whole different ball game. Not only does everything need to be just right, but also you’re working with time, with live cultures, and with big shoes to fill.

Luckily, baking bread isn’t always as high maintenance as the classic Tartine recipe. My co-worker, desk frenemy, and dear friend Gina embarked on this glutenous voyage, bringing me along for daily starter feedings. The resulting loaves spawned from her starter have been deliciously sour, moist, and begging to be slathered with butter and salt or devoured straight up. I’ve loved being a bystander in this process, but the whole thing seemed like a lot of responsibility (this, a great reminder that despite every bone in my body telling me otherwise, I’m not, in fact, ready for a dog).

I like to keep things pretty low maintenance, so when Gina told me about this No-Kneed bread recipe from Sullivan Street Bakery in New York, I perked right up.

easy dutch oven bread recipe

All you need for this recipe is a 4 ½ – 5 ½ quart Dutch oven (buy one cheap on Amazon!) and a basic ability to plan a little ahead. Over the past month, I’ve gotten real into this recipe, each batch emerging from the oven just a little bit better than its predecessor. And even though baking requires precision, I’ve managed to get a little creative, adding Kalamata olives and fresh rosemary from my garden. Despite my perpetual need to break the rules, the recipe really is perfect without any additions. The loaf is ideal for morning toast (butter will do but avocado is the way to go) on the side of dinner (think soup!) or really any occasion that calls for gluten, which is pretty much always in my book.

My Bread: The Revolutionary No-Work, No-Knead Method

Note: This process takes about 20 hours all-in, so you’ll need to make sure you’re home at the right times. My strategy is this:

  1. It’s Friday night. Do your thing! Come home around midnight, preferably a little tipsy. Follow step 1 of the recipe and head to bed.
  2. Happy Saturday! It’s good to be alive! Around noon, remember that you’re a brilliant genius who had the forethought to make dough last night. Retrieve it from its hiding place and follow steps 2 through 6.
  3. Sit in or near your kitchen while the bread is baking. Think deep thoughts or watch some Broad City while waiting for the bread to finish.
  4. Remove the bread from the oven. Smile big at your creation and hold your ear close to the loaf to listen to it “sing” as air escapes and anticipation builds.
  5. Dig in! Share it only if you must.

no-knead bread recipe

Sound like something you can handle? Of course it does! Then get ready to impress your friends, save a lot of cash on the store-bought stuff, and become as obsessed with this new ritual as I am.

olive rosemary bread recipe

Recipe taken from My Bread: The Revolutionary No-Work, No-Knead Method with some tweaks.

Ingredients (makes a 10-inch round loaf)

  • 3 cups bread flour + a little extra for dusting (I use King Arthur brand)
  • 1 ¼ teaspoons table salt (I actually use Kosher)
  • ¼ teaspoon instant yeast
  • 1 1/3 – 1 ½ cups cool water
  1. In a medium bowl, combine flour, salt, and yeast. If you’re adding mix-ins like Kalamata olives & chopped rosemary, now’s the time to do it! Add the water and use your fingers to combine. If dough seems dry, add more water a tiny bit at a time until you have wet, sticky dough. Cover the bowl with a tea towel and store at room temperature out of direct sunlight for 12-18 hours to begin the first fermentation!
  2. Dust a cutting board or work surface with flour. Carefully remove the dough from the bowl in one piece. As you begin to pull it away, the dough will still in long thin strands. That’s the developed gluten! With floured hands, lift the edges of the dough toward the center. Tuck them in to make the dough ball round.
  3. Dust a tea towel (not terry cloth as it may leave lint on your dough) with flour. Lift the ball onto the towel, seam side down. Fold the towel over the dough and place it in a warm, draft-free zone for 1-2 hours. The dough is ready when it has almost doubled. If you poke the dough with your finger making a ¼ inch deep impression, it should hold. If not, cover and let rise for another 15 minutes.
  4. Half an hour before the second rise is complete, preheat the oven to 475 degrees with the rack in the lower third position and the covered Dutch oven on the center of the rack.
  5. Unfold the tea towel and dust the top of the dough generously with flour. Use potholders to carefully remove the Dutch oven and take off the top. Gently, but quickly, invert the dough into the Dutch oven, seam side up. Put the top back on and bake for 30 minutes.
  6. Remove the lid and continue baking until the bread is a deep chestnut color, about 15-30 minutes more. Use a heatproof spatula to lift the loaf out of the Dutch oven and place on a cooling rack. Let cool for as long as possible, but about 30 minutes should do.

Mastering the Art of Grandma’s Cooking

mastering the art of french cooking

“People who love to eat are always the best people.” – JC

Everything I know and love about cooking, I learned from my grandma. I’m not talking knife technique or how to make a brisket. She taught me the fundamentals, like making a mess, licking the spoon, using all the butter, and not losing your shit when the sauce doesn’t come out quite right. She didn’t mean to make me fall in love with cooking, but then again Julia didn’t mean to either.

A couple months ago, I was visiting Los Angeles and my grandma pulled out a dusty copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking. It was her 1964 copy, with a weathered spine and pages brown the way only loved books can be. Bookmarked were some of her favorite recipes, the red-edged pages of which were scribbled with her notes in curly, barely legible cursive. She said I could keep it – she’s been making these recipes since the 60s and hardly needed a guide anymore – so I did.

julia childs cookbook

“Once you have mastered a technique, you barely have to look at a recipe again.” – JC

I read the book cover to cover, feeling a strange sense of familiarity with the recipes, the asides, and Julia’s overall approach to cooking and entertaining. Considering I knew shamefully little (bordering nothing) about Julia Child, this simpatico seemed odd. But then I realized that I had known Julia as long as I’ve been cooking with my grandma. My grandma’s playful, creative, make-it-work approach to cooking is a ricochet of learning to cook the Julia way. While I can’t say I’m nearly as graceful or intuitive as either of them are, the book – scribbled notes, splattered pages and all – pointed out that the cook I want to be is the one I grew up watching.

“The only real stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking you’ve got to have a what-the-hell attitude.” – JC

“You’ll never know everything about anything, especially something you love.” – JC

When I started talking to people about Julia, everyone was shocked and appalled that I hadn’t ever seen Julie and Julia – the Amy Adams/Meryl Streep film that tells the side-by-side stories of a quirky panicked blogger and an American living in Paris learning to cook. I watched it while pathetically nibbling on overcooked gnocchi during tooth-pocalypse 2016 and haven’t stopped doing the Julia Child voice since.

Conveniently enough, my turn to prepare team dinner was around the corner. I consulted the cookbook, recruited a squad of fellow Chewse chefs, and planned a menu that required more butter and fat than I’ve consumed in the past year. The ingredients were few – French cooking isn’t much more than carrots, onions, mushrooms, beef, wine, herbs, and butter – but the quantities were large.

pearl onionsfresh pearl onionsbraising beefmushroom bourguignon

“You don’t have to cook fancy or complicated masterpieces – just good food from fresh ingredients.” – JC

My first attempt at these long winded recipes was for a group of 25. What’s more, we had a few vegans in the building, which is probably the dirtiest word in the dictionary according to Julia. As I ordered the margarine on Instacart, I could practically feel Julia turning in her grave. Alas, we altered a few recipes to keep our vegans far from animal products but still damn close to the indulgence we all enjoyed.

smitten kitchen mushroom bourguignon

“The only time to eat diet food is while you’re waiting for the steak to cook.” – JC

“If you’re afraid of butter, use cream.” – JC

chewse syssitia

The recipes I chose are a mix of my grandma’s favorites and French classics. We cooked nearly all day, first getting the mise en place assembled, then browning the meat and caramelizing onions, and finally assembling everything at the last minute. We had French Onion Soup with Gruyere toast, Niçoise salad, scallion mashed potatoes, Boeuf Bourguignon, and mushroom bourguignon.

Boeuf Bourguignon is a hearty, wine saturated braise, so while drinking at work is generally frowned upon, Julia’s orders to always cook with a glass of the wine you’re using took precedence over the rules.

i love to cook with wine

“I enjoy cooking with wine, sometimes I even put it in the food…” – JC

The night before, I was telling my grandma about my master plan to bring her old cookbook to life. Her only concern was that I wouldn’t have time to work all day (she was right) with my ambitious menu and instructed me to save time by caramelizing the onions with the boeuf in the oven, where they would “simmer and make love to each other all day.”

The meal came together perfectly – plates were full and then empty, full and then empty. The soup was sweet and comforting, infused with the flavors of day-long caramelized onions, cooked in white wine. The salad was fresh, herby, and simple – great balance for the Boeuf Bourguignon. Speaking of which, the boeuf was fall apart tender and the sauce, brilliantly silky and rich – perfect for a side of creamy mashed potatoes.

Salade niçoisenicoise dressinghard boiled eggs

“Everything in moderation…including moderation.” – JC

I introduced the meal in my best Julia voice and passed out hearts for everyone to wear a la the film’s portrayal of Julia and Paul’s Valentines Day party. Lucky for me, my company loves to eat. There were firsts, then seconds, more wine, and plenty more after that.

The meal we ate tasted like something unique to that evening – the amalgamation of hard work (damn you, pearl onions) and local ingredients – but it also tasted nostalgic. These recipes belong to my childhood – the flavors and smells bring me back to my grandmother’s house, to dinner parties where she cooked and I baked Hershey’s chocolate cake, to each special moment we’ve shared where she, without really meaning to, has helped me master the art of French cooking.

julia child valentines day

“Find something you’re passionate about and keep tremendously interested in it.” – JC

Recipes as they appear in Mastering The Art Of French Cooking, with a few adjustments from Grandma, and a few more from me:

Soupe À L’Oignon (serves 6-8)

  • 1 1/2 pounds thinly sliced yellow onions
  • 3 tablespoons butter or margarine
  • 1 tablespoon oil
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 2 quarts beef or vegetable stock
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • Salt and pepper
  1. Cook the onions slowly with the butter and oil in the covered saucepan for 15 minutes.
  2. Uncover, raise heat to moderate, and stir in the salt and sugar. Cook for 30 to 40 minutes stirring frequently, until the onions have turned an even, deep, golden brown.
  3. Sprinkle in the flour and stir for 3 minutes.
  4. Off heat, blend in the liquid. Add the wine, and season to taste. Simmer partially covered for 30 to 40 minutes or more, skimming occasionally. Correct seasoning.

Salad Niçoise (serves 6-8)

  • 1 cup vinaigrette with herbs (combine the following ingredients)
    • 1 tablespoon wine vinegar
    • Salt
    • 6 tablespoons olive oil
    • Tarragon, chopped
    • Chives, chopped
  • 3 cups French potato salad (combine the following ingredients)
    • 3 cups Yukon gold potatoes, boiled and quartered
    • 2 tablespoons wine vinegar
    • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
    • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 cup pitted Niçoise olives, halved
  • 2 or 3 hard boiled eggs, cold, peeled, and quartered
  • 1 head Boston/butter lettuce, separated, washed, drained, and dried
  • 3 cups cold, blanched, green beans, halved
  • 1 cup halved cherry tomatoes
  1. Put it all in a bowl and toss it!

Boeuf Bourguignon (serves 6)

  • 3 pounds chuck roast beef, cut into 2-inch pieces
  • 1 sliced carrot
  • 1 sliced onion
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 3 cups full-bodied red wine
  • 2 to 3 cups beef stock
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 2 cloves mashed garlic
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 18 to 24 pearl onions, braised in beef broth
  • 1 pound quartered crimini mushrooms, sautéed in butter
  1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
  2. Dry the beef in paper towels; it will not brown if it is damp. Sauté it, a few pieces at a time, in hot oil in a cast iron dutch oven, until nicely browned on all sides. Remove from dutch oven.
  3. Brown the vegetables in the dutch oven with the leftover oil.
  4. Return the beef to the dutch oven and toss with salt and pepper. Sprinkle on the flour and toss again to coat the beef lightly with the flour. Set dutch oven uncovered in middle position of pre-heated oven for 4 minutes. Toss the meat and return to oven for 4 more minutes. Remove the dutch oven and turn heat down to 325 degrees.
  5. Stir in the wine, and enough stock so that the meat is barely covered. Add the tomato paste, garlic, and herbs. Bring to simmer on top of stove. Then cover the dutch oven and set in lower third of preheated oven. Simmer in the oven for 3-4 hours. The meat is done when a fork pieces it easily.
  6. While the beef is cooking, prepare the onions and mushrooms. Set aside until needed.
  7. When the meat is tender, mix in the onions and mushrooms and serve!

Mushroom Bourguignon (directly from smitten kitchen)

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons butter or margarine
  • 2 pounds crimini mushrooms, quartered
  • 1/2 carrot, finely diced
  • 1 small yellow onion, finely diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 cup full-bodied red wine
  • 2 cups vegetable broth
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves (1/2 teaspoon dried)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup pearl onions, peeled
  1. Heat the one tablespoon of the olive oil and one tablespoon of butter in a heavy sauce pan over high heat.
  2. Sear the mushrooms until they begin to darken, but not yet release any liquid — about three or four minutes. Remove them from pan.
  3. Lower the flame to medium and add the second tablespoon of olive oil. Toss the carrots, onions, thyme, a few pinches of salt and a several grinds of black pepper into the pan and cook for 10, stirring occasionally, until the onions are lightly browned. Add the garlic and cook for another minute.
  4. Add the wine, scraping any stuck bits off the bottom, then turn the heat all the way up and reduce it by half.
  5. Stir in the tomato paste and broth. Add back the mushrooms with any juices that have collected and once the liquid has boiled, reduce the temperature so it simmers for 20 minutes, or until mushrooms are very tender.
  6. Add the pearl onions and simmer for five minutes more.
  7. Stir the flour into the stew. Lower the heat and simmer for 10 more minutes. If the sauce is too thin, boil it down to reduce to the right consistency. Season to taste.

Plantain Tacos with Spicy Crema

healthy fried plantains

“Number six, no beans, extra rice, extra sauce.” Such was my mantra, spoken in a perpetually raspy voice on each occasion when my parents brought me to my favorite restaurant – Versailles.

Some of my earliest memories belong to that no-frills strip mall restaurant – The rotund waiter looking down at me in my high chair with the biggest grin I’d ever seen, the white bread slathered in garlic butter we could never get enough of, the speedy service that left us waiting never more than five minutes for our food, and the cheesy décor alluding to a place I’d been told we couldn’t visit.

versailles cuban food

Cuban food is something I know about only through the lens of Versailles. What’s more, the Number 6 is all I’ve ever ordered there. The half chicken gives “garlicky” a new meaning. Marinated in Versailles’ signature Mojo sauce, a happy marriage of garlic, onion, and don’t-ask-don’t-tell spices, it’s then twisted and turned on a rotisserie until the skin is crispy and the meat falls off the bone. Alongside it come rings of almost raw onion, soaked below the rotisserie in Mojo drippings, buttery rice, and the piece de resistance – fried plantains.

versailles fried plantains

If Versailles is my favorite restaurant, plantains are my favorite food. The three piece rationing of sweet, smooth, fried perfection were never enough. When prompted to order more, my parents would suggest that we’d “See how I’m feeling” after we finished the Number 6. Sure enough, I was always stuffed, thoroughly garlic-breathed, and already dreaming of our return.

Today, eating at Versailles is of the highest priority whenever I visit home. The ambiance has been classed up a bit and I don’t quite fit in the high chairs any more, but nothing else has changed. Not the staff, not the white bread, not the speedy service, and definitely not the plantains.

spicy crema recipe

If I still lived in Los Angeles, that frying oil would course through my veins. Luckily, San Francisco is a place where, if you want something done, you do it your god damn self. And with that, I was on a mission to make my own plantains.

mission market sf

Gathering supplies in The Mission.

Hesitant to buy out Costco’s vegetable oil supply, I turned to my handy friend, coconut oil. With its high smoke point and mild flavor, it seemed like it just might be the perfect companion for my high maintenance plantains. Sure enough, it was. This recipe for fried plantains forgoes saturating the stuff in oil, manages to get the inside nice and smooth, and gives the outside a caramelized crunch. The best part is that there’s no three-piece limit in my house. No parents, no rules!

vegetarian taco recipe

Ingredients (serves 2-3)

  • 4-ish tablespoons coconut oil
  • 2 very ripe plantains (they should have lots of brown spots on the outside)
  • Salt
  • 1 can black beans
  • 1 avocado
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1 lime
  • Your favorite hot sauce

Sautee the plantains:

  1. Peel the plantains and slice them on an angle, about 1-inch thick each.
  2. In a heavy-bottomed skillet (I use cast iron), heat the coconut oil until melted.
  3. Once the oil is melted, add the plantain slices. Season with a little salt. Flip over after a few minutes, once the undersides have begun to brown. Continue sautéing until plantains are tender on the inside. Set them aside on a paper towel lined plate.

Make the Crema:

Combine sour cream, lime juice, and as much hot sauce as you can handle.

Prepare the Tortillas:

If you have a gas stove, turn a burner on low. Place a corn tortilla directly on the grate and use a spatula to flip it after 30-ish seconds. Repeat with remaining tortillas.

Taco Time!

  1. Drain and rinse the beans. Mix in a small amount of cumin and heat up in a small pot or in the microwave.
  2. Slice the avocado.
  3. Put it all together: taco, plantains, beans, avocado, crema and voila!

P.S. San Francisco does have some plantains that rival Versailles. My favorites are Limon’s fried plantains and Little Chihuahua’s plantain and black bean burrito. Even still, you never forget your first!

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