Ricki Cooks the Book – Tender

IMG_1930So I got Tender: A Cook and His Vegetable Patch, by Nigel Slater, last year, and it is lovely. It’s divided into chapters by vegetable and has beautiful pictures of vegetables in and out of the dirt and in and out of their dishes. Each chapter opens with a little dissertation on the vegetable, and then there is a section on growing that vegetable, “A (vegetable) in the garden,” with helpful hints and annotated list of favored varieties, and a section on cooking that vegetable, “A (vegetable) in the kitchen,” with a few paragraphs on what to do with the vegetable, followed by a list of its best pairings, and then a list of helpful hints and suggestions. Then each vegetable gets a few recipes, and then on to the next.

But the best part about Nigel Slater is his prose. He’s so evocative, so delightfully descriptive, and so poetic, that it elevates even the concept of cooking and gardening, not to the latest third-wave feminist, privileged white girl trend (and look, I know, I AM  third-wave feminist privileged white girl), nor to some sort of quasi-libertarian hipster-mustache-tattoo-post-90s-masculinity thing (and I say this having eaten at Blokes and Birds on Friday), but to high art. Like, for instance, I have no love of the celery root, but here’s what he says:  “Knobbly, whiskery, and impenetrable, its roots curled around its feet like a viper’s nest . . .” Like, hot damn.

What about this comment on health-food stores?

To this day I wouldn’t go anywhere else for my lentils and beans, though I can live without the crystals and self-help manuals. There is something endlessly reassuring about their rows of cell0phane-encased dates and haricot beans, their dried nuggets of cranberry, and jars of organic peanut butter. And where else can you get a incense stick when you need one?”

Love, is what I’m saying. Love this man.

So what I ended up making, from this 600+ page tome, is:

A light touch for meatballs

That’s not a typo; all the recipe titles are like that.

Here’s how he starts:

Late spring, 2007. Six small beets, round as golf balls and not much bigger, arrive in a thick brown paper bag, its edges sewn together with string. The air of moist Riverford soil and sweet roots wafts up as the bag is torn open, but the day is leaden with damp and cold and I have rarely felt less like eating a beet salad.

Good lord, y’all.

So these are meatballs made of lamb, beets, and cracked wheat. Weird. And delicious. As usual, I offer the recipe, with my changes/commentary.

Ingredients:

fine or medium cracked wheat – 1/2 cup (75 g) (Available from bulk bins at Whole Foods as well as health food stores, I imagine.)

raw beets – 9 oz (250 g) (Don’t bother paying more for the pretty ones for this recipe. It’s all being grated up.)

a small to medium onion (I didn’t realize I didn’t have any, so I used some shallots.)

ground lamb – 14 oz (I might have gotten a whole pound; I can’t remember saying “14 oz” to the butcher, as that would have made me feel like an idiot.) (Oh, and don’t get to the store and be like, “That’s how much lamb costs?! Never mind, I’ll just make it with beef.” The lamb flavor is important here.)

garlic – 2 large cloves, or even 3, crushed (Seriously. 2-3 cloves? I put in a whole head. Maybe, like, 2/3 of head. Probably a whole one.)

chopped dill – 2 heaping tablespoons (Okay, so here’s what happened. I bought fresh dill from Whole Foods. Even though I don’t like dill. Because Nigel Slater said dill and I wanted to trust him. But I seriously hate dill. By the time I got it home, it had stunk up everything in my grocery bag. Then everything in my fridge. The smell was making me nauseated. So I tossed the dill. I feel terribly wasteful but I really couldn’t take it. So no dill in my recipe.)

parsley – a small handful, chopped (I always use flat-leaf. You can do as you see fit.)

a little peanut oil

For the dressing:

cucumber – about 1/3 of a medium one

mint – the leaves from 4 or 5 sprigs, chopped

capers – a tablespoon (He didn’t say to, but I chopped these, too. I thought that would be better.)

yogurt – 1/2 cup (200 g) (I hope I don’t need to explain, but this means plain yogurt. Greek or Finnish if you like. But no, like strawberry or banana.)

Directions:

1. Put cracked wheat in a boil, pour over enough boiling water to cover, then set aside to swell. (Okay, so, typing this, I see now that he did say “boiling”. My water was not boiling. Which is perhaps why my cracked wheat didn’t swell as prettily as it did in his picture. Maybe it would have tasted lighter if it had.)

2. Peel beets and onions and grate them coarsely into a large bowl. (So, a) You need to know that peeling your standard red beets is a messy business. Don’t wear white. Don’t smear your hands on your clothes. Wash your hands thoroughly afterwards. b) “Coarse grating” = “the large holes on the box grater”. c) I didn’t use onion, so I just chopped my shallots. But I like in general the practice of grating onions.)

3. Add ground lamb, dill (if using), parsley, and “a generous grinding” of s&p.

4. Squeeze water from cracked wheat with your hands (Yes, kind of gross) and add to meat. Mix everything thoroughly and then form into patties about the size of a flattened golf ball. Cover with plastic wrap and chill for 1 hour.

5. Preheat oven to 350F. Make dressing by grating the cucumber coarsely (big holes on the box grater). Leave in a colander for a half-hour, sprinkled with salt. Squeeze dry, then mix with mint, capers, and yogurt. Season with salt and pepper. (I’d totally add lemon to this next time. Just saying.)

6. Lightly brown the patties in peanut oil in a skillet on each side. (I may have over-browned some of them.) Lift into baking dish and finish in the oven for 15-20 minutes. (Mine took 20.) Note: The red of the beets will make it tough to tell if the meatballs are done by look. You’ll have to taste. Which will be such torture.

So then you serve the patties with the cucumber yogurt dip and it’s super-delicious. It’s a light meal or a heavy snack. I would totally make them again. And Jason loved them.

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Ricki Cooks the Book – My Father’s Daughter

Yeah, this is Gwynnie’s cookbook.

I know, I know, I had mixed feelings, too. She was on the cover of Bon Appetit the same month the new editor took over and my first thought was, if this is where Bon Appetit is going, I’m canceling my subscription.

Then I made her corn vichyssoise. You know what? It was really good. (And you know what else? The new Bon Appetit under Adam Rapoport is pretty sweet, too.)

Then I saw her cookbook on sale at the boardwalk for 25% off! How can you not?!

And then it sat on my shelf.

I wanted to do a post on it for a while, but I couldn’t decide what to make. Things were either too simple for a blog post, or they were things I already knew how to make, like puttanesca or panzanella, or they were fish, which Jason doesn’t eat, or they involved products like duck bacon. Duck bacon. I ask you.

But then I decided to do a whole meal of her recipes so that I could cover the meal instead of highlighting one individual, too-simple recipe. So here’s what I made:

Ten-Hour Chicken

Ingredients

1 organic whole chicken, (3-4 lb), washed and dried according to Gwynnie’s Salt Scrubs for poultry, in which you rinse the chicken in cold water, then scrub it with coarse salt, such as kosher, and then rinse it again and dry it thoroughly. Yes, I did this. Yes, I felt like a dipshit. Is there a reason I should continue doing this or was I right to feel like a dipshit?

1 lemon, halved

coarse salt

freshly ground black pepper

1/2 bunch fresh thyme (Unfortunately, I made this recipe a while ago, and I don’t remember if I used thyme or if I chose something else. I don’t really like thyme, so when a recipe calls for it, unless I really, really think thyme is the right thing, I usually pick marjoram or something.)

half a head of garlic, peeled (Do I need to tell you at this point, I probably used a whole head?)

1. Preheat oven to 200F.

2. Place chicken in rectangular roasting dish breast side down. Sqeeze lemon halves over chicken. Generously sprinkle with salt and pepper. Tuck thyme, lemon halves, and garlic in the cavity; place any extra garlic cloves around the pan. Wrap tightly with aluminum foil and put in the oven for, no joke, 9 1/2 hours.

3. Take chicken out and boost heat to 400F, on convection if possible. Unwrap, flip the bird over, and sprinkle with more salt and pepper. Roast for 15-20 minutes, until it’s nicely browned. Let chicken rest, then carve and serve.

Here is the thing about this one. You must cover the chicken in foil. I? I did not.

It actually wasn’t bad, just really very dry.

Oh, and I bought the super special chicken at Whole Foods, the kind that’s been given its own 2 acres to peck at and a lullaby sung to it each night. The kind that doesn’t grow to be 3-4 lb. So I bought two. And then I fucked them up.

Crispy Potato and Garlic Cake

Ingredients:

2 large baking potatoes, peeled (Do I need to tell you? I didn’t peel them. I don’t think.)

1/4 cup plus 1 tbsp duck fat (I just used butter. But then I discovered my Fresh Market does, in fact, sell duck fat. So, you know, next time.)

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

3 cloves peeled garlic, 2 crushed, 1 very finely minced

Coarse salt

1 tbsp chopped fresh parsley (I left this out)

1. Preheat the broiler

2. Boil the potatoes. Then let them cool. Then slice them in 1/8″ thick slices.

3. Heat a spoonful of duck fat/butter and a spoonful of oil in a large, non-stick frying pan over medium heat. Add one crushed garlic clove and as many slices as can fit in one layer. Cook until lightly browned. Remove to paper towel=lined plate and repeat, switching out garlic when it gets too brown.

4. Coat a small (6 – 8″) cast-iron pan with the tablespoon of duck fat/butter. Line bottom with single layer of potato slices. Sprinkle with salt. Add another layer. Repeat this process, pressing down each layer with the back of a spoon as you go. Don’t be gentle with the pressing. Stick cake under broiler until really browned and crispy, 5 minutes. Invert onto plate and scatter with minced garlic, parsley, and more salt as needed. Cut into wedges and serve.

Okay, so here’s the thing. I didn’t have duck fat. The smallest cast-iron pan Jason could find when I sent him to the store was 10″. So it didn’t cake like it was supposed to. And I think I threw some garlic in between the layers of potato cake. And it was an enormous pain in the ass from start to finish, oh, my God.

But it was still delicious.

Roasted Cauliflower

Ingredients

1 head cauliflower, core discarded, in smallish florets

2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil (Seriously, put your measuring spoon away and just drizzle)

pinch coarse salt

pinch fresh pepper

1. Preheat oven to 450F.

2. In baking dish large enough to hold cauliflower in one layer, toss all ingredients together. Roast 35 minutes, or until it looks delicious.

This recipe is sort of what this cookbook is mostly about. It’s simple to the point of “Duh” but it’s delicious. Seriously, when vegetables are this good, why am I fat?

Oh, right, because potatoes are good, too.

Bitter Greens Salad with Anchovy Vinaigrette

Dressing Ingredients:

6 olive oil-packed Spanish anchovies

2 tsp Dijon mustard

2 tbsp red wine vinegar

1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

freshly ground black pepper

Whiz all ingredients except oil and pepper n blender. Then with motor running, pour in oil. Then use pepper to taste.

Salad Ingredients:

1 large head escarole or puntarelle (what?) or 2 heads radicchio, washed really well and torn into small pieces (In fact, I think I mixed radicchio with some arugula and maybe one other green.)

Uh, serve.

Seriously, put lettuces and dressing together. Then eat it. I don’t know how to do instructions for salad.

Okay, this was super-unbelievably delicious. The dressing was to die. I haven’t made it since, but thinking about it now, my head is going, “Nom, nom, nom, give me MOOOOORE.”

Figures the best things Gwynnie could teach me how to make are vegetables.