Newletter #2

Food, book photography, Alsatian cuisine, dishes we love, great links to what we'er loving, and more ...

In October, 2019, my editor at Abrams asked if I’d be interested in working with Gabriel Kreuther, chef and co-owner of the eponymous New York Michelin-starred restaurant. The co-author of the book he was working on, the journalist and food writer Genevieve Ko ( all-around good egg, now, happily with The New York Times, yay!), had to relocate, to my good fortune. Just that month, Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s book, JGV: A Life In Twelve Recipes, which I’d written with this protean chef, had been published. Both chefs are from Alsace, the territory at the very eastern edge of France bordering Germany and Switzerland.

JG had spoken at length about his homeland and its food—JGV was a memoir, not a cookbook, but with twelve emblematic recipes (one with ketchup!)—but we cooked very little of the food from his youth (one memorable dish, though, was his roasted goose, in the book and fantastic). But dishes such as Beackeoffe, the Alsatian meat and potato stew, were only described, never prepared, let alone tasted. This was a memoir, not a cookbook. A full year discussing Alsatian cuisine but scaarcely an actual taste. Kugelhopf, what?! Want!

Now, thanks to my editor, I would be able to cook these dishes alongside Chef Kreuther, as well as the Michelin-starred food he serves at this restaurant, and also explore how he translates the farm cooking he grew up with into fine dining dishes.

We got all the recipes tested just before the pandemic shutdown. Now the photography has at last begun by Evan Sung.

Because Alsace is landlocked, their fish dishes tend to be fresh water fish, crayfish, trout, eel, and so forth. In the book, the whole first section is devoted to rustic Alsatian cuisine (such as Apple Cider and Cumin Pickled Rainbow Trout); the second half is Restaurant Gabriel Kreuther fine-dining (aided by his his talented CDC Joe Anthony).

Chef and his whole team have been amazing people to work with. And I’m wishing them luck as they weather this horrible time in the lives of all restaurants. Surviving the oncoming dark winter as well as finishing the book!

Related, from The New York Times: Pandemic Closures Devastate Restaurant Industry’s Middle Class.

Yesterday, Governor Cuomo announced the end of indoor dining throughout the city.

Support your local restaurants, please.

I urge you, wherever you live, to support the independent restaurants in your area, whether by dining outside or ordering out. If you don’t, they may not be there come summer. Our neighbors, Tripp and Ed, dined in their car last night, tacos from La Lupita’s in lap, wine in the cup holders, and the movie on a great big screen thanks to Waterfire Theater Under the Stars . A brilliant idea to mix things up safely! We had taco’s too, from the restaurant Delores, on Hope Street here in Providence. Talulah’s Taqueria also makes killer tacos.

Turkey leftovers…

My turkey pot pie was only so-so, alas, the stew a little on the thin side, but the flavor excellent and the crust was fantastic! I should have followed a recipe, like the one in my last cookbook, From Scratch, recipe to post soon.

Breakfast: 1/2 package of ramen cooked in the turkey stock, with an egg. Scrumptious, nourishing.

Also for breakfast: a disc of leftover stuffing as the base (upper left) for a poached egg, in lieu of the toast or English muffin (Bays English muffin, of course).

But the real winner was Ann’s version of Giada’s chicken tetrazzini, using turkey of course. Highly recommend with any protein.

One thing I’ve learned about myself throughout all this, though, is that I love having leftovers for dinner, but I have an impossible time eating the leftovers of leftovers.

Game changer technique…

Other standout meals from the past couple weeks were slow-roasted duck legs from Amanda Hesser at Food52, a steak and cabbage stir-fry, from Sue Li at The New York Times, and traditional French Onion soup from my own book Ruhlman’s Twenty. What I love about my rendition, is that it stays true to the very economical nature of the original dish: a French farmhouse wouldn’t use beef stock, or any stock at all, as most restaurants do. The dish needs only water and onions, some vinegar to balance the sweetness and wine for a little flavor. Here’s a link to the recipe on my site.

Gertrude inspects the asparagus, which we ate with broiled lamb chops (using a Jimmy Bradley marinade, curry powder!) and roasted new potatoes buried in salt thanks to Gabrielle Hamilton.

But the real game changer this week is what we decided to serve with the above slow-roasted duck legs: the Joan Nathan recipe for potato pancakes. Explaining that she got the tip from a restaurant on Martha’s Vineyard, she instructs us to bake the potatoes first, till they’re hot all the way through but still hard, 45 minutes in a 350˚F oven. This dries them out substantially. You can then quickly grate them (the skin comes off on its own as you grate), shape them, and fry them.

The result was a super crispy crust, and a fluffy interior. I will never make potato pancakes any other way. Thank you, Joan! Fabulous technique. And happy Hanukkah! (Cook these in schmaltz and they will be out of this world!)

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Birthday Week: Ann Hood!

What does one do on a birthday during a pandemic? Drink champagne on your favorite beach. And make a cocktail video! Windy! Ann Hood, above, with said cocktail, more of which below.

Many readers here are aware of Ann and her work, as a writer and teacher (she runs a stellar low-rez MFA program in Newport at Salve Regina). But for those who don’t, I thought a more complete, or actually incomplete, intro is in order here as she will appear regularly here. Because we’re married. And because we can only rarely, actually almost never, cook together. She has her way, I have mine. And we are both right.

Born in 1956 and raised in West Warwick, Rhode Island, Ann wrote her first novel, Somewhere Off the Coast of Maine, 1987, while working as a TWA flight attendant. Her strategy of plying first-class passengers with plenty of cocktails and wine gave her hours of uninterrupted time over the Atlantic to compose. (She’s actually at work on a memoir about her years as a flight attendant, which I can’t wait to read.)

Ann (wiki page here) went on to write several more novels until , in the spring of 2002, her 5-year-old daughter, Grace, broke her arm in ballet class and died two days later in the hospital from a virulent form of strep. Unable to read or write from grief, Hood learned to knit, and this saved her life, she said (thank you wonderful Jen Silverman). In 2006, Ann published the novel The Knitting Circle followed in 2008 by the Comfort: A Journey Through Grief, both issuing from the loss of her daughter. Hood recently created an imprint, Gracie Belle books, for Brooklyn publisher Akashic, to publish true stories about grief.

Another thing you do on a birthday during a pandemic is bake your own cake! This is a lemon-cream cake from my book, Egg: A Culinary Exploration of the World’s Most Versatile Ingredient. The great thing about cakes is that you can make their components days ahead. On Monday I made the sponges and froze them. On Tuesday I made the lemon curd and French buttercream. And on the birthday, the chantilly cream and put them all together.

Ann’s most recent novels are The Book That Matters Most, the YA novel She Loves You, about a teenager’s quest to meet Paul McCartney, and a book of food inspired essays on life and love, called Kitchen Yarns. Happy birthday-during-Covid, Ann!

What we’re drinking…

Because I’ve put on 25 pounds during quarantine (with great pleasure I should add), I have determined to cut back on needless calories. I have no intention of giving up a nightly cocktail at the end of the workday—one of the few reliable, unalloyed pleasures in these troubling times—but I’ve eschewed my favorite cocktails, whiskey sours, negronis, gimlets (simple syrup and Campari double the calories), for the steely pleasure of the martini, the perfect cocktail, as perfect as a sonnet according to HL Menkin. But I’ve come to adore the enhanced martini recommended by David Lebovitz and others. My version is this: 3 ounces gin from the freezer in a frozen martini glass, a capful of dry vermouth, 2 to 3 dashes orange bitters, and not a twist but rather the slenderist wedge of lemon.

One commenter on the video I posted about this recommended a dash of peaty single malt instead of the vermouth. I tried it and think this is excellent variation. There should be a name for this one. Suggestions welcome! Maybe the Shuggie Bain?! Our preferred Islays are Laphroaig and Lagavulin.

But the cocktail I want to recommend here, and which I will indulge in on special calories-be-damned occasions, is the Spagliatto. A broken negroni. It’s absolutely one of the best cocktails I’ve recently encountered (thanks to a twitter commenter).

The Spagliato:

  • 2 ounces Campari

  • 2 ounces sweet vermouth

  • 2 ounces dry sparkling wine

  • Orange twist

Serve in a wine goblet over ice. (Noisy video here, it was the beach after all, but if you’re an aspiring writer I hope you’ll stick around for the last, quiet, minutes and reading.)

A great entertaining cocktail (physically distanced and outside). Delicious and festive. Can’t recommend it more highly.

And while we’re talking cocktails, on to holiday snacks …

Years ago my beloved mom, Carole, found Whitley’s peanuts. These are far and away the BEST peanuts ever. They are incredibly crunchy and flavorful. So astonishing in fact, I called the company to find out how they made them. Besides sourcing great nuts, they have a way of drying them, and then frying them. Why just have them holidays? They’re expensive, as peanuts go, $21 for a 20-ounce can. A special treat. (This is not a paid endorsement, for the record, for either of these. I actually love them and buy them and give them as gifts.)

The other treat Mom turned us on to is Sander’s salted caramel chocolates. Nothing better at the end of the evening with a glass of excellent whiskey. Highly recommend, and a great gift for friends.

What we’re reading …

By far the best summer readings I enjoyed were Hamnet, by Maggie O'Farrell, which imagines the life of William Shakespeare’s wife before and following the death of their young son, Hamnet. Several years after, WS would write the play Hamlet.

The second is Shuggie Bain, by first time novelist Douglas Stuart, the autobiographical story of a boy in Glasgow and his alcoholic mother, devastating and beautiful. It just won the Booker Prize. Thank you both. Great gifts for the readers in your lives.

Ann turned me on to both. I’ll let Ann weigh in on her top recent picks:

“For pure charming escapism, a perfect cozy, The Thursday Murder Club, by Richard Osman. By the way, it sits right beside Shuggie Bain on the NYT bestseller list! And Actress, by Anne Enright, an Irish writer of sheer beauty and brilliance.”

What we’ve been watching …

How To with John Wilson, one of the most quirky and original documentaries, well, ever. How does he do it? Make scaffolding both hilarious and fascinating? Bring small talk to an almost Seinfeldian levels of analysis? Watch on HBO and try to figure it out. I am. And loving every moment.

We’re always fascinated by Hollywood stories, so we couldn’t wait to watch Mank, Gary Oldman’s portrayal of playwright and screenwriter Herman Mankiewicz creating the script for Citizen Kane, undisputedly one of the greatest films ever. It was beautifully filmed by Erik Messerschmidt in a way that echos Citizen Kane itself. Performances were great, Oldman especially, and as ever. But over all, it was, well, a little boring, with a distracting sub-story about the election of a California governor over the writer Sinclair Lewis. A pleasure to watch for the performances and visuals. On Netflix.

Hamilton. For, um, the sixth time. Disney+. I never tire of it. Nor do the women I share this loft with. A visual representation:

Knitting, cats, Gilmore Girls, theater nerds both. Delightful all. And frankly, we all, me included, are crushing hard on Daveeed Diggs (sorry Lin). As the hard rapping Lafayette in Act 1, and the high stepping fop, T Jefferson, in Act II, he is the definition of absolute charisma on, and control of, a broadway stage.

Somebody tell a joke ….

A Cannibal has a belly ache. Doc says, “What have you been eating?” 

“A guy walking in the woods.”

“How did you cook him?” 

“Boiled him.”

“What did he look like?” 

“He was wearing a burlap robe with a rope for a belt.” 

“No wonder you have a belly ache, that was a friar.”

This from @jrrussell36 (Jeff Russell) on twitter in response to NPR’s Ari Shapiro’s brilliant Twitter thread asking for jokes for his father, Len. Read them all here. I don’t remember jokes—congenital defect, but I’m trying. Thank you wonderful Ari (did you know Ari makes cameos singing with the group Pink Martini? We love love Pink Martini).

Links we’ve loved reading and watching…

—Jan Morris, born James Morris, among the first people to undergo sex reassignment surgery and write about it in a book called Conundrum should really be remembered for her intrepid reporting and many books. Read about her life in The Guardian. She died on 11/20/20. aged 94. NYT obit.

—In to the bizarre world of art heists? Here’s how the Mona Lisa became famous.

—This is a great interactive study by Jason Farago of a 1770 painting by Benjamin West in the NYTimes. “The Death of General Wolfe” was one of the first paintings to document a historical event (as opposed to an ancient or religious one). It was a sensation and made the aritist famous and wealthy. If you love art history, Farago’s analysis and the Times’s graphics are great.

—And finally a couple of videos.

When I was growing up in Cleveland, squirrels were an issue. But we never found a Koala bear in our Christmas tree.

And if there has ever been a more impressive screen test I haven’t seen one. Would you give him the job?

That’s all for now. See you in two weeks Never stop cooking! And if you like this news letter please subscribe or share!


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