By Ann | May 16, 2013
I arrived in New York City in 1998 (or was it 1999?), a girl from a sleepy Southern California suburb with literary stars in her eyes. I should have been intimidated by the place — with its dirty streets and jostling subway, the hushed calls of “smoke, smoke, smoke” that followed me across Washington Square Park, the bike messengers who spat millimeters away from my sandaled feet, the cat burglars, one of whom ransacked my Alphabet City studio apartment — but I wasn’t. I loved it. I loved it for all the cliché reasons — the vibrancy, the bookshops, dive bars, and all-night Ukrainian diners, the intricate carpet of languages. I loved working in book publishing, loved watching books emerge from an idea and a handful of paper — I even loved (or found quaintly charming) the stories of old-school editors who typed their letters on typewriters and had their assistants transcribe them into that new-fangled system, email. “Ann was born a New Yorker,” my dad once said. It was one of the nicest compliments I’ve ever received.
I would have been content to live in New York and work in book publishing forever. But if you read this blog, you know what happened: I fell in love with a diplomat, got married and moved to Beijing. I had grown up in New York, and then I did the unthinkable — I left.
At first I tried to believe that my departure was only temporary. I would always be a New Yorker, I vowed, and that proved partly true. The city had changed the way I walked (briskly), ate (ethnically), and read (widely). But the years flew by and one day I realized that more time had passed since I’d left the city than I had spent actually living in it. I learned a new language, lost my heart to another place, found another home in the City of Light. Meanwhile, New York transformed itself again and again in its inimitable way and my nostalgia became stronger than reality. Yes, New York would always be a part of me, but in another, more fundamental way it was lost to me.
I thought I had crossed the Rubicon. But what I am trying to tell you, friends, is that I was wrong. Because ten years after our departure, we are returning. This summer, my husband will begin a new assignment at the US Mission to the United Nations and for the next three years we will live in the city that we called home before we ever met.
For me, New York will always be a place of transformation. It helped me negotiate that murky transition between college student and adult; it taught me how to be comfortable in my own skin. I loved the city’s energy and sense of possibility — it helped me then — and I hope it will help me now as I negotiate another transition, perhaps life’s biggest. Because, dear readers, there will be three of us living together in New York. Yes. My husband and I are planning to welcome a baby in September. A new baby — parenthood! — and, if you’re keeping track, a new book a few weeks later (I feel like I’m having twins), a new city, a new job for my husband… we like to do everything all at once (or maybe we are clinically insane). I am crossing the Rubicon once more and, I have to admit, peering with a fair amount of trepidation at the other side. Life is unpredictable and rich, beautiful and scary, and then there is New York, our home, past and future.
By Ann | May 14, 2013
Our nieces came to visit a couple of weeks ago — they are eight and four — and my husband and I planned a weekend of activities: zoo, pool, playroom. We scouted out the best kid-appealing food, including Shake Shack, Sweetgreen (they loved it), and pizza delivered right to our apartment door. And to seal my husband’s reputation as the Best Uncle Ever, we baked a batch of chocolate cupcakes.
The recipe is from the Barefoot Contessa and it’s perfect. The cake is moist with a light crumb, chocolaty, faintly bitter, not too sweet, dolloped with soft clouds of chocolate frosting. I’ve been making this as a layer cake for years, most notably last Christmas when my dad and I transformed it into a souche de Noël, or yule stump, complete with frosting bark and meringue mushrooms. (Behold.) But when you’re a kid, everything tastes better in tiny form (is this true, actually?) and so we decided to turn my trusty chocolate cake recipe into cupcakes.
The recipe is a snap to mix together especially when you forgo sifting the dry ingredients like I do (though I do sift the cocoa powder to remove lumps). The resulting batter is thin and soupy, which makes the task of spooning it into the cupcake liners a bit tedious. I recommend firing up NPR and doling it out as patiently as you can. Instead of baking for 35-40 minutes as the recipe indicates, start testing the cupcakes after 20 minutes. This recipe makes two layers for a cake, or enough cupcakes to feed a small army of nieces (seriously, it’s a lot of cupcakes — around 32 or so).
The Nieces loved the cupcakes and we loved watching them eat them. (Other highlights of the weekend included seeing a giant panda gorge on bamboo (me), wheeling toy cars in the playroom of our apartment building (the four year old), and swimming timed laps in the indoor pool (the eight year old). But after The Nieces and their parents had gone, we found ourselves with armfuls of leftover chocolate cupcakes. It turns out even the most enthusiastic chocolate cupcake consumers can only consume so many. What to do?
Thus began the great chocolate cupcake giveaway, as my husband and I walked around the lobby of our apartment building on a Saturday night handing out dessert. The driver idling in his taxi outside? Yes. The doorman? Yes. A woman walking her dog? Yes. The guy at the front desk? He ended up with four of them. Never have I seen so many happy smiles. Never have I felt so popular. I urge you to try it. Win a few friends and influence a few people yourself with this recipe for Beatty’s Chocolate Cake, straight from the Barefoot Contessa.
By Ann | May 7, 2013
Pasta is the ultimate weeknight meal, but if you’re like me perhaps you’re a little tired of your old spaghetti standards. Good news: today’s recipe for pasta with walnut sauce is just the thing to break you from your rigatoni rut. It blends crushed nuts with garlic, parmesan and milk-soaked bread into a lovely, textured, creamy-crunchy purée, sort of like a hearty pesto. The recipe comes from Rachel Roddy of the exquisite blog Rachel Eats, who is based in Rome and therefore an expert on all things noodle.
I discovered Rachel’s blog one day while Googling for “pasta e fagioli” and promptly fell down a rabbit hole of gorgeous writing and recipes for Italian food. Though Rachel is from London, she moved to Rome several years ago, where she now lives with her small, half-Roman son, Luca, and works as a teacher. I’m so thrilled to share her cooking tips for simple food (and equally delighted to learn we share an enthusiasm for toast).
by Rachel Roddy
Tuesday is probably the quietest night of the week for me (not that my life is ever particularly rowdy these days.) Once I have convinced my little boy that it is time to go to sleep and calmed the chaos he has caused, I want nothing more than a large glass of wine and some thing outrageously quick and minimally invasive (but tasty) to eat.
My absolute favorite standing supper is butter and anchovy (mashed together) on toast. If there is some salad ready and washed I might have a handful or a few tiny tomatoes.
I am not a particularly organised or forward thinking cook, but I almost always have a pan of cooked beans in the fridge. Once cooked I use them throughout the week: in soup, with sausages, with tuna and red onion, straight from the pan with a spoon. If have mozzarella I will do another favourite supper, a River Café idea: warm white beans with salty black olives and milky mozzarella. It is a glorious combination.
I am a real “on toast” woman at solitary suppertime: fried egg, poached egg, a tin of sardines with loads of black pepper, sliced tomato with too much salt.
Staples. Packets of pasta, pasta and pasta which I eat at lunchtime. Bread and butter. The pan of beans. Eggs and more eggs for omelet, poached, fried. Tins of anchovies, sardines and mackerel. I feel extremely happy and reassured if I have a pan of tomato sauce in the fridge waiting to be ladled out and used on pasta, or to bake eggs in. Since having a baby who is now a boy who loves making a red mess, I have really got into the ongoing/ everlasting pan of sauce habit. I try and have salad washed and ready. Wine and a lump of Parmesan are always present and often provide my supper.
As you know I am from London but live in Rome. I am a single mum of a little boy. I was an actress but I now teach theatre and music to kids, a job I love nearly as much as anchovy and butter on toast.
Salsa di Noci/ Walnut Sauce
by Rachel Roddy
Note from Ann: Rachel suggests initially crushing the walnuts by hand, either with a mortar and pestle or a ziplock bag, meat pounder and bit of elbow grease (I used the latter method). Indeed, this gives the sauce a delightful nubby texture.
80 grams (4 oz) crustless, coarse country bread
200 ml (1 cup) whole milk (plus a little extra to loosen the sauce)
150 grams (5 oz) shelled walnuts
1 clove garlic
40 grams (2 oz) grated parmesan
5-7 tablespoons light extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper
In a small pan warm the milk gently until it is tepid and then remove it from the heat. Tear the bread into smallish pieces and add it to the pan. Leave to soak for 10 minutes.
In a pestle and mortar crush the walnuts. Peel the garlic and crush it with the back of a knife.
Tip the crushed walnuts, milk sodden bread and garlic into a bowl. Using an immersion/stick blender blitz everything into a thick coarse cream.
Add the olive oil and gated parmesan to the bowl and then – using a wooden spoon – beat the mixture firmly. Taste and season to taste with salt and freshly grated black pepper.
With pasta and green beans
For four people as a main course, I’d suggest 500 grams (about 1 pound) of pasta (spaghetti, tagliatelle or fettuccine) and 300 grams (about 10 0z) of fine green beans. Bring a large pan of well salted water to the boil. Add the beans and pasta to the pan and cook until the pasta is al dente. Meanwhile put roughly 3/4 of your walnut sauce in a warm bowl and thin it slightly with a little of the pasta cooking water (use a ladle to scoop some out while the pasta is cooking). Drain the pasta and beans, saving a little more of the cooking water. Mix the pasta and beans with the walnut sauce, adding a little more cooking water if you feel it need loosening even more. Divide between four warm bowls and serve with more freshly grated parmesan.
For other quick meals, Rachel also suggested the following:
–Vignarola, a Roman spring stew of fave, peas, artichokes and spring onions. It is a preparation heavy dish, but then super simple supper to cook.
–Green sauce is nice at this time of year (can be spooned onto or into so many things).
–Pasta e broccoli is a nice supper.
(Photo of Rachel and Luca courtesy of Rachel Roddy.)
By Ann | May 1, 2013
Before I tell you about my favorite chocolate tart, I want to talk about Ricardo. Who is that? I wish I knew.
Here are some Ricardo facts:
- He has a skin condition.
- He has foot pain.
- He is on prescription medication.
- He has a telephone number very similar to mine.
Somewhere, somehow, Ricardo switched a few digits of his cell phone number and started giving out mine instead. The result? Hardly a week goes by without a message for him. They pour in: from his dermatologist’s office, his podiatrist, his pharmacist. Friends, I am embarrassed to tell you that Ricardo gets more calls than I do.
An older friend told me recently that my generation doesn’t like to talk on the phone; if Ricardo is any evidence, she is right. I feel more comfortable communicating via text and email — or even Twitter, Facebook, or blog comments — than I do chatting on the phone. When my mobile does ring, I think: “Oh no, bad news!” And when it turns out to be a call for Ricardo, I feel simultaneous relief and irritation.
Anyway, the other day I was making this chocolate apricot tart from the brilliant Moro cookbook. I love this recipe. It combines a top layer of creamy, melty chocolate fondant with a secret, hidden tangy skin of apricot purée. The contrast of deep chocolate and bright fruit is refreshing, a tart burst against a rich, seductive backdrop. After years of making this tart for dinner parties, preparing it has become relaxing, the closest thing I have to meditation. So, there I was, happily listening to NPR while pressing pâte sucrée into my tart pan, simmering dried apricots in a bit of hot water, and melting chocolate over a minute flame on the stove (I live on the edge and forgo the double boiler). My mind was filled with plans for my upcoming trip to France, ideas for articles and blog posts. And then the phone rang. I won’t keep you in suspense. It was for Ricardo.
“It’s the dermatologist’s office,” said the voice on the other line.
“You know what?” The words burst from me. “You have the wrong number. I get calls for Ricardo all the time but this is not Ricardo’s number.”
“I’ll make a note of it,” said the voice.
That was almost two weeks ago. I haven’t had a single call for Ricardo since. I can’t help but wonder how things are going with his blemishes, his foot problem. Did he pick up his prescription at CVS? Ricardo? Are you okay? Are you reading this? Call me. You know the number.
Chocolate apricot tart
Adapted from Moro, The Cookbook by Sam and Sam Clark
Pâte sucrée pastry:
4 oz butter, melted
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/4 cups flour
Pinch of salt
7 oz dried apricots
4 tablespoons water
Juice of one lemon
5 oz butter
4 oz dark chocolate (70%)
2 grams sugar
Preheat the oven to 425ºF. Butter the bottom and sides of a tart pan. In a large bowl, combine the butter and sugar. Add the flour and salt and stir to form a soft dough, adding an additional tablespoon of flour if the pastry seems too wet. Transfer the dough to the center of the buttered tart pan. Using your fingertips, press the pastry into the bottom and sides of the pan, forming a thin, even layer. Prick the base all over with a fork and chill for about 30 minutes. Bake on the top shelf of the oven for 10-12 minutes until light brown. Remove and cool and a rack.
Reduce the oven to 350ºF. Make the filling. Roughly chop the dried apricots and place them in a saucepan with the water and lemon juice. Simmer over low heat for about 5 minutes, until soft. Purée in a blender (I use my immersion blender) into a smooth paste. Spread the mixture onto the base of the cooled tart shell and allow the paste to dry and form a slight skin.
In a double-boiler or saucepan, melt the butter and chocolate over low heat. In a bowl, whisk the eggs and sugar together until light and pale. Fold the chocolate mixture into the eggs. Pour the mixture over the tart shell and smooth with a spatula. Bake on the middle shelf of the oven for about 25 minutes, or until the filling jiggles slightly when you shake the tart pan. Cool and serve at room temperature.
By Ann | April 26, 2013
I’ve been fascinated by Thomas Jefferson ever since I wrote an article following his 1787 visit through the vineyards and cellars of Burgundy. Four years as envoy to France had made Jefferson quite an oenophile — or, perhaps I should say, oeno-fanatic. When he returned to the United States in 1789, he received regular shipments of French wine and grapevine clippings at his Virginia plantation.
Last weekend in DC, I rented a car and followed Jefferson full circle. I visited Monticello, the home of the gentleman farmer.
Jefferson built his beloved house from the wine cellar up, hiding a dumb waiter in a side pocket of the dining room fireplace, which allowed for a smooth, unjostled passage of bottles. He planted a small vineyard on a southeastern slope of his garden, though he never succeeded in producing Virginia wine. Instead, he drank imported vintages from Italy and France, as well as North Carolina scuppernong.
I loved visiting the grand, gracious house: the wide hall, with its Great Clock displaying the time and day of the week; Jefferson’s library, with his evolving collection of volumes, sold to pay off debt and immediately collected again– “I cannot live without books,” he wrote to John Adams; his sunny study and alcove bedroom; the parlor decorated with portraits of his heroes; the dining room where he and General Lafayette (and assorted pals) drank over 300 bottles of wine during Lafayette’s week-long visit.
But the basement rooms and passages below the house — the kitchens and storerooms, the ice house and stables — portray a different life, one of, quite literally, slave labor. Jefferson’s enthusiasms are evident everywhere at Monticello, even in the smokehouse, where he devised a special shelf to keep mice away from the hams. Equally visible is the evidence of his slaves, who built that special shelf and smoked those hams, toiled in his greenhouses, tilled his garden, served his food — and so much more. When Jefferson died in 1826, a man in debt, he emancipated 10 slaves, including his alleged mistress, Sally Hemings, and two of their children. The rest of them — hundreds of men and women — were sold at auction to resolve his debts. Of course I’d known about Jefferson’s slave ownership, but our candid guide helped me fully realized the extent of it (I thought he’d freed all his slaves at death). It altered my perception of a man I greatly admired — but you can’t change history, I suppose. Jefferson thought so too: “I like the dreams of the future better than the history of the past,” he said.
Anyway. One of the last questions asked on our tour was what Jefferson and his friends ate to accompany their wine. Lots of vegetables, our guide said — Jefferson considered meat a condiment — some pork and chicken, wine-rich stews or daubes — prepared à la française — by Monticello’s French-trained chef. But as we headed out of Charlottesville, we kept passing horse farms, rolling hills contained by white fences, columned houses with deep porches. They made me crave Southern food — biscuits and chicken, tall glasses of iced tea. Alas, we didn’t pass anything resembling the Virginia road-side bakery of my dreams. So when I got home, I made the biscuits myself. Ah, self sufficiency. Jefferson would have approved.
Makes 8-10 biscuits
1 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
2 oz cold butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
3/4 cup buttermilk (shaken)
Preheat the oven to 425ºF.
Stir together the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and baking soda. Blend in the butter with your fingertips until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Add the buttermilk and stir with a fork until the dough comes together — it will be sticky, with bits of flour on the side of the bowl. I like to knead the dough a couple of times in the bowl to bring everything together.
Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface. With a rolling pin (or your hands) pat out the dough into an 8-inch x 10-inch rectangle, about 1-inch thick. Cut the dough into 2 to 3-inch squares (or use the rim of a 2-inch juice glass). Place on a parchment-lined cookie sheet and bake for 12-15 minutes, or until lightly golden.
By Ann | April 23, 2013
There are few things I find more satisfying than creating a brand new meal out of leftovers, transforming the uninspiring contents of my fridge into something exciting — it’s like cooking magic. That is why I am so delighted by this week’s Tuesday dinner of stuffed vegetables, from the blogger Thyme (aka Sarah Kenney). She’s gathered a bevy of bits and pieces, added a few fresh vegetables, and voilà, whipped up a bright, fast meal that whispers of Provence.
Sarah grew up in southern Louisiana and, after stints in Missouri, Michigan, New York, Japan, and Kansas, she and her family now live in Houston, Texas. Her blog features her beautiful photography (I want to live in her pictures) and recipes for home-cooked food with a global flair. Sarah is also an intrepid home-school instructor to her teenage son, which means she’s an expert at juggling time. I’m delighted to share her tips for quick meals!
“Rarely do I go to the market during the week and meals are usually pulled together ‘on the fly,’ especially dinners when we are all pretty tired,” says Sarah. “When I know that nothing is going to be whipped together for dinner that looks even remotely fancy it is often a piece of toast with a egg over easy and side salad. Sliced fruit or berries will probably be added in too. Oh, and there is always fig preserves to go with that bread.
“If I am having guests, I typically make a big pot of soup ahead of time and keep it in the refrigerator. I have also learned (the hard way) that dough takes a long time to thaw. Now, I make my tart, quiche, or any sort of dough ahead of time and put it in the freezer and try my darnest to remember to take it out in plenty of time to thaw. These days, I also tend to rely on Whole Foods’ fresh side dishes to help me out. I’ll spend more energy and time on the main course and pick up a delicious side dish that I don’t have to pull together on my own.
“This zucchini recipe is a ‘quick weeknight’ type of meal. Literally this dish came about by pulling the last of anything fresh from the refrigerator. What was nice about it is that everyone really liked it so we call that a ‘do again.’”
Stuffed Zucchini with sharp cheddar
by Thyme (Sarah)
Note from Ann: You can put almost anything into the filling — I mixed raw beef with a scoop of leftover mashed potatoes and an egg white, but I’ve also used leftover crumbled sausage, stale cubes of bread, rice, quinoa, etc. I served this with the tail end of a box of fusilli to round out the meal a bit, topped with the tomato sauce from the baking dish.
1 medium zucchini, 1 yellow squash, 1 baby eggplant (I used three zucchini and a tomato)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, chopped (about 1 cup)
1 medium carrot, diced
1 cup cooked ground beef, or brown rice (I used 1/2 lb. raw ground beef)
1 1/2 cups tomato sauce
1/4 teaspoon dried or fresh basil (I used oregano)
1/2 cup cheddar cheese, grated
Preheat the oven to 400ºF. Cut the vegetables in half lengthwise. Using a spoon or melon baller, scoop the pulp out of each vegetable half, leaving an 1/8-inch shell. Dice the pulp.
Heat the oil in a 10-inch skillet over medium heat. Add the onion, carrot and vegetable pulp and cook until the vegetables are tender, stirring occasionally. Stir in the ground beef and 1 cup tomato sauce and cook until the mixture is hot and bubbling. (Note: I removed the cooked vegetables from the heat and mixed them with the raw beef, an egg white, leftover mashed potatoes, pinch of oregano, salt, and pepper.)
Mound the vegetable mixture into the zucchini shells. Place the filled shells into a shallow baking dish. Top with the remaining sauce. (Note: I spread about a cup of sauce in the bottom of the baking dish.) Sprinkle with the basil (or oregano) and cheese. Bake for 30 minutes, or until the zucchini shells are tender.
(All photos courtesy of Sarah Kenney, except for the top photo.)
By Ann | April 16, 2013
There are some days when we are the best version of ourselves, and so it was for Washington last Wednesday. The weather — a raging 85 degrees F — said summer but the cherry trees insisted it was spring, bursting forth in clouds of pale pink, adorning the Tidal Basin in frills.
The first time I experienced the magic of cherry blossoms — and I don’t mean just one flowering tree, but an unfurling of soft petals en masse — was in Japan. My first visit to Tokyo coincided with
sakura “hanami,” the period of peak blossom-viewing. In the parks that dot the city’s concrete jungle, I watched crowds of ecstatic locals gather to picnic under branches draped in voluminous blooms. I spotted women decked out in traditional kimonos wandering amid petal-strewn paths. Schoolgirls toted sacks of McDonald’s to eat beneath the trees, alternating bites of Big Mac with squeals and sighs. The entire city seemed to burst forth in joyous celebration — of nature, of beauty, of life.
In Washington last week, I felt that same palpable joy — perhaps no coincidence since the original cherry trees here were a 1912 gift from Japan. Crowds of locals and tourists circled the Tidal Basin, making it difficult to walk. But we were a happy and patient group, offering to take photos of one another, strangers united by a heady burst of sunshine, and heat, and nature (and, happily, no pollen — yet — to torment allergy sufferers). I wish I’d had the time to make a picnic; instead, I ate a store-bought sandwich in a shady spot and admired the ruffly ring of pale pink against the distant monuments.
“When the first rain comes, the petals fall and sakura is over,” a Japanese friend told me all those years ago on my first visit to Tokyo. On Wednesday, the flowers were lush and full, the petals scarcely fluttering from the trees. Two days later, a thunderstorm hit and the peak blossoms were finished. It was proof of nature’s beauty — so vibrant, so ephemeral — just like life itself.
Alas, I didn’t have time to pack a picnic. But I’m eyeing these recipes for next time:
Fantastic sandwich-building tips (Bon Appétit)
Ugly but completely delicious spinach tikkis (Miss Masala)
Panzanella salad, broken down (Misanthropic Hostess)
Edamame and pickled veg sushi (Art & Lemons)
By Ann | April 10, 2013
And with a grand voilà, here it is: I am so thrilled to share with you the cover of my new book! Isn’t it gorgeous?
Just gazing at those café tables makes me want to hop on a plane to Paris to sip wine and eat cheese. I especially love that the photo was taken at Le Petit Zinc, a gorgeous Belle Epoque café not far from my old apartment in the Sixth.
As you might know, the book is a food memoir, about the year I spent in Paris while my husband was in Baghdad. I traveled throughout the country discovering the best of French regional cuisine, from andouillette to Breton crêpes. (For a detailed description, check out Viking’s Fall catalog.) The book will hit stores September 26 and is already available for pre-sale here and here – I hope you’ll hop over and reserve your copy, and also add it to your list on Goodreads. I’m honored that it has already received kind words from two French cuisine experts I admire very, very much:
“Whether you’re French or Francophile, a long-time connoisseur of French food or someone who’s just figuring out the difference between frites and frangipane, feasting through France with Ann Mah is a delicious adventure. Ann’s writing is lovely, her curiosity boundless and her good taste assured. Spending time with her in Mastering the Art of French Eating is a treat.”
–Dorie Greenspan, author of Around My French Table and owner of Beurre & Sel Cookies
“Ann Mah dishes up a welcoming concoction, a good dose of French history, a personal, vibrant, enthusiastic picture of life in a country she adores, without apology. I am hungry already!”
–Patricia Wells, author of Salad as a Meal
In honor of the book, I’m delighted to be giving away a four-hour French market tour and cooking class from La Cuisine Paris (which I have always wanted to take myself). You can find out more details here. Good luck!
By Ann | April 2, 2013
I don’t normally associate the words “salad” and “hearty” but maybe I haven’t spent enough time in the French Alps. Happily, Meg Bortin from The Everyday French Chef has enlightened me. Her recipe for Salade Savoyarde combines potatoes, country ham and — genius touch — melted Gruyère cheese into a warm, nourishing main dish that can be prepared in 20 minutes.
Meg is an American journalist, writer, cooking teacher, and fantastic home cook (with brief experience as a professional chef). She regularly hosts lucky friends (like me!) for delicious dinner parties in her Paris apartment, whipping up fabulous French cuisine (without spending hours in the kitchen) and sharing the recipes on her blog. Meg lives with her 13-year-old daughter and their cat, Fifi; she also gardens and cooks gorgeous seasonal produce at her country home in Burgundy.
“I love putting together a simple three-course dinner in 20 minutes,” says Meg. “When friends drop by, it knocks their socks off – and can be easily done. For example, peel and grate a couple of carrots, spritz on some lemon juice, add salt and olive oil, and you have your starter: carottes rapées. Then make something pan-seared – fish, scallops, steak, chops – with steamed green beans or some such. For dessert, cheese and fruit. Et voilà.
“When I want to make something effortless for myself, a favorite choice for winter – and this harks back to the days when I was working in Russia as a reporter – could be smoked salmon with boiled or steamed potatoes with crème fraîche and fresh dill and cilantro. Or I might do something similar with cheese ravioli. Or sometimes just a green salad accompanied by Wasa rye crackers with melted cheese. Or, in summer, that old favorite, tomatoes with mozzarella and basil. And wine, of course.
“My 13-year-old daughter usually gets home around 6 p.m. on Tuesdays. The French school day is very long – the kids start at 8 a.m. and finish at 4 or 5 pm., and then get together at one or another’s home for a little decompression time. She has lunch at the school cafeteria but it’s not always great, so she’s often ravenous by the time she arrives. And I head straight for the kitchen. If I have the ingredients on hand, a salad is often her first choice, with salade savoyarde at the top of the list. This is a great salad for school nights because I can throw it together in no more than 20 minutes – the time it takes to boil the potatoes. And it’s more or less a balanced meal in one dish.”
Salad with country ham, melted cheese and warm potatoes
“This is called a salade savoyarde because it comes from the Savoie region in the French Alps,” says Meg. “And in fact we first encountered it while on a ski trip in that area. The recipe calls for reblochon cheese, which is made in Savoie. It’s a pungent soft cheese that may be hard to find outside of France. But not to worry. You can substitute other cheeses – for example, French comté or Swiss gruyère. Or use your imagination. As for the ham, go for an unsmoked, cured variety – prosciutto for example, or, if you can find it, jambon de savoie – sliced thinly, but not paper-thin.”
Note from Ann: I chose to melt the cheese on top of the cooked potatoes, raclette-style, and sprinkled them with a bit of piment d’Espelette (because we’re out of black pepper).
For the salad:
1 head of romaine or Boston lettuce
2 medium potatoes
2 slices cured country ham
1/2 pound (220 g.) reblochon, comté or gruyère cheese
For the vinaigrette:
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
1/2 tsp. red wine vinegar
2 tbsp. sunflower oil or another vegetable oil
1 clove garlic
salt and freshly ground black pepper
Wash the potatoes, place in a pot of cold water, bring to a boil and cook until tender, about 20 minutes – or, if you have a steamer, cut the potatoes in half lengthwise, place in the steamer over boiling water, and cook until tender, about 10 minutes. Drain. You can peel the potatoes or not, according to taste.
While the potatoes are cooking, preheat your oven to gas mark 6 (400 degrees F., 205 degrees C.).
Wash the salad and spin it dry. In the bottom of a large salad bowl, combine the mustard and vinegar. Add the oil gradually, stirring constantly to make a thick emulsified vinaigrette sauce. Peel and halve the garlic and add it to the sauce. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Cut the ham into ribbons about 1/3 inch (1 cm) wide and 1-1/2 inch (3.5 cm) long. Set aside. Cut the cheese into slices about 1/4 inch (1/2 cm) thick and place in a pie tin. Set aside.
When the potatoes are cooked, cut them into slices about 1/4 inch (1/2 cm) thick.
Pop the cheese into the oven, and while it is melting assemble the salad.
Remove the garlic from the vinaigrette. Add the lettuce, ham and potatoes to the bowl and toss to coat with the sauce. When the cheese has melted – five minutes or less, depending on your oven – pour it over the salad. Serve immediately with fresh bread and, if adults are present, a bottle of hearty red.
(Non-salad photos from Meg Bortin.)
By Ann | March 26, 2013
I felt sure spring was coming because when I went to the Farmer’s Market this weekend I noticed the carrots had disappeared. True, there were Brussels sprouts, Swiss chard, and other winter vegetables that don’t hail from Europe. True, I saw nary a flutter of asparagus, or strawberries, or — that American peculiarity — ramps. But the bright piles of my favorite snacking vegetable were gone. “It’s a sign!” I told my husband.
It was not a sign.
Yesterday it snowed in Washington — snow! — and it’s the last week of March. This weather-seasonal disconnect calls to mind another post from my first weeks in this town, which documented 86 degrees in October. Though I’m more settled here now — an official cell phone owner with a full cabinet of Indian spices — this place still doesn’t really feel like home. Perhaps that’s because I know we’ll be moving again, sooner rather than later (my husband’s career as a diplomat transfers us often) — or maybe I just need to accept that DC is not my soulmate, as much as I appreciate its locavore salad bars, earnest plastic bag fees and independent bookstores.
So, there. I’ve finally got it off my chest: I have not yet fallen in love with my new town. (That’s okay, right?) I have, however, fallen in love with the health food store down the street. It has a funny patchouli smell, and packages of earnest-looking food, and bulk bins of nuts, grains and dried fruit. I know you’re probably thinking: she loves the bulk bins? But I do, I really do. I love how you can scoop out the exact quantity you need — a half cup of pine nuts, a cup of quinoa — no waste, no leftovers. This weekend, I eyeballed out a cup of walnuts and a half cup of dried cranberries. Then I went home and unearthed the bag of wheat germ leftover from this salad, and set about making my favorite cookies.
The recipe comes from Once Upon A Tart… (ellipses not my own), a Soho café I once frequented as an impoverished New York editorial assistant. Back then, splurging on a lunchtime sandwich or slice of quiche from Once Upon a Fart… (as I like to call it) felt like a celebration. And the giant cookies, oh, the cookies — those were reserved for very special occasions, like Saturday afternoons after my husband (at the time my, um, boyfriend?) got his hair cut and we would meet at the café to share one. I loved almost everything about those cookies — the bits of tart cranberry and chunks of chocolate, the marvelous airy, chewy-crunchy, oat-y texture. But I didn’t love the size. They were too big. I like having my own cookie.
When I left New York, a friend gave me a wonderful present: Once Upon A Tart…’s cookbook. Over the years, I’ve adapted the carrot-chick pea salad and ginger peanut sauce into kitchen staples, but for some reason I’ve only made My Favorite Cookie once before (mainly because it calls for dried cranberries and wheat germ, both rather particular ingredients). But this weekend, when I saw the array of dried fruit in the bulk bin and remembered the nearly-full bag of wheat germ in my cupboard, I knew what to do. The cookies turned out just the way I remembered, satisfyingly chewy and crunchy at the same time, thanks to the wheat germ. (They burn in a flash, however, so be careful not to singe a batch like I did.) Best of all, I made them in my favorite size — small enough so you can eat them two at a time.
Cranberry-chocolate chip oatmeal cookies
Adapted from Once Upon a Tart…’s Cookbook
Makes 5 dozen cookies
“A great way to tell if cookies are done is to lift one up with a metal spatula,” the book says. “If it’s brown underneath, it’s done.” I wish I’d followed this advice.
2 sticks butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons flour
1/2 cup wheat germ
3 cups rolled oats
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup chocolate chips
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
With a hand mixer, cream the butter and sugars together until combined. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, and the vanilla.
To the wet ingredients, add the flour, wheat germ, oats, baking powder, baking soda and salt, mixing them in a bit at a time. With a wooden spoon, stir in the chocolate chips, cranberries and nuts.
Drop 2-inch scoops of cookie dough onto a baking sheet, about 2 inches apart. (The dough spreads quite a bit.) Bake for 10-12 minutes, until the cookies are golden brown all over, and on the bottom. Don’t undercook, as they’re better crunchy. Don’t overcook, as we’ve discussed. Remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack.