Certain concepts seem to be stuck in another time. Egg salad always feels that way - a bit heavy and a bit basic with the tweaks in herbs or spices never feeling quite large enough to shift the genre. But that’s where Cal Peternell comes in. His recipes always have the feel of something you should have been making forever but are actually his own special spin. His newest book, Almonds, Anchovies and Pancetta, is a delight and is full of semi-vegetarian recipes that all fit that bill. I fell in love with his Salsa Rustica because it feels like a breath of fresh air to the egg salad mold. It serves the same purpose but without any mayo and ingredients to give depth and new life.
When I first moved to New York, my mother-in-law made sure to pass along a lot of her local ingredient knowledge. With seafood there was one constant: Citarella. She would travel over 20 blocks to get her fish at Citarella because to her there was nothing better.
So when Joe Guerrera- Citarella’s founder and original fishmonger - came out with a book, I knew it was going to be great. The title is succinct perfection: Joe Knows Fish. I had to have Joe over and he decided to share one of his easiest recipes, Spaghetti Vongole. It starts with good pasta and very fresh cockles or littleneck clams. But it’s one of those recipes that takes only a few ingredients and makes something magical.
I’m a little bit cookbook obsessed, to the point where I like to read them in bed like a good novel. And like a great narrative book, a cookbook can sometimes suck you in and make you want to revisit it over and over. Bottom of the Pot by Naz Deravian is one of those undeniable books. It recounts her Persian childhood and years of cooking her native cuisine in North America. And the recipes reflect that duality - traditional but all with swap-outs that make it accessible for finding ingredients here. If you have never tried Persian cuisine then you haven’t tried one of the best on the planet, but Naz’s book makes it feel like it is second nature. It is by far one of my favorite books of the year
Now that I’m done gushing, let’s talk about this recipe. Naz came over and we made one of her most vibrant dishes. Her yogurt beet dip, known as Borani-yeh Laboo, is worth it just for the color alone. But the simplicity of the recipe defies the depth of flavor that the beets and tarragon give to this appetizer. Make it yourself and then pick up the book. I promise it will become a favorite.
I think we are all suckers for Rice Krispie treats and I have certainly been known the cook with cereal before (if you haven’t tried the Sweet Salty Crunchy Steak you are missing out). But Duff Goldman is taking it to a whole new level.
He has a new menu at the Kellog’s Cafe where he is making every part of a meal with cereal. From Corn Flakes Mac and Cheese to a Fruit Loops pastry cream he has dreamt up every way you can add cereal to a dish. The key reason to do it, for him, is all about the texture. There’s just something about the crunch of cereal that can add an element into a dish.
People go to great lengths to save money on everything - except, it seems, on chicken parts. There is a great divide in our purchasing. We will buy and roast a whole chicken or we will buy pre-packaged parts, but so many people have an aversion to buying whole and then breaking it down at home. And yet, it is so much cheaper and gives you so many great extra parts for stock.
So what gives? I luckily had James Peisker and Chris Carter from Nashville’s Porter Road to showcase how easy it is. And that’s often the rub: everyone seems to think it is harder than it actually is. It requires no extensive skills and, unlike some other meats, no extra strength to pull it off. A chicken has natural areas that can easily come apart once you know the secrets.
Ok, yes, I did make the title of this post a Spice Girls lyric. But before you roll your eyes there is good reason for it.
I am a huge proponent of spices. They add a layer of aromatics and depth to whatever you are cooking that takes it up a notch. A lot of people have misconceptions here: that spices have to be spicy and that when you are using spices your dish is less fresh. The first is nonsense, because other than peppers and cayenne spices are only adding flavor. The second is really a sad result of the terrible and stale spices that most people use (yes, I’m looking at you with that cinnamon you bought in 2002). When my son was born everyone was shocked - SHOCKED - that he got curry powder or cumin in his purees. But why not? The more flavor we are exposed to the broader our palate will be. And by the way, that applies to adults too.
So Kanchan Koya’s book, Spice Spice Baby, was a breath of fresh air. She comes from a science background so she makes the case that, beyond being delicious, spices are actually an essential ingredient for your health. And so many of the recipes are really simple. She came over to the kitchen and actually showcased three recipes that require no cooking - so there goes the other myth that spices need to be complicated.
I hate to sound old enough to say I've enjoyed following someone's career, but apparently today I'm going to. I have loved watching whatever Eden Grinshpan does next. She is a barrel of laughs and a breath of fresh air wherever she goes. I first interviewed her when she had a show on Cooking Channel. She has since moved on host Top Chef Canada and now she has opened her first restaurant, Dez. It combines all of her Israeli, Middle Eastern and other travel experiences into one spirited and flavorful fast casual spot.
And since I can't possibly pick a favorite I decided instead to pick her brain about mezzes. It's an all-encompassing word but it can help outline one of the best appetizer plans possible.