In the Wall Street Journal

 
From left: Pickled grapes, pickled cantaloupe, pickled watermelon rind. Ted Cavanaugh for the Wall Street Journal. 

From left: Pickled grapes, pickled cantaloupe, pickled watermelon rind. Ted Cavanaugh for the Wall Street Journal. 

Refrigerator pickles: Summer fruit, all sealed up

AUGUST 3, 2016

Cookbook author Ted Lee doesn’t like green Thompson seedless grapes. It’s nothing personal, but by the time they make the flight from California to the market where he shops in Brooklyn, they seem to have lost some of their flavor. So he pickles them, along with red seedless grapes, because to him a jolt of vinegar and garlic and chili flakes and rosemary is just what a jet-lagged grape needs.

Pickling is so virtuous: It not only revives fruit but uses up things like watermelon rind that would otherwise go to waste. It also means that you can buy up all the summer produce you want, right now, and what you don’t eat can be brined and refrigerated to see you through the lean months.

Refrigerator pickles reward patience—their flavors improve after about a week—but they demand no particular expertise. I stumped Jean-Paul Bourgeois, executive chef of New York’s Blue Smoke restaurants, when I asked how long his watermelon-rind pickles last. The refrigerator protects them like canning does, so they’re good for months, maybe a year as long as they’re submerged in liquid—though Mr. Bourgeois always uses them up sooner than that.

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Liz Kuball for the Wall Street Journal. 

Liz Kuball for the Wall Street Journal. 

Master the art of the sandwich

MARCH 31, 2016

Travis Lett, chef-owner of Gjusta in Venice, Calif., takes the sandwich seriously. His meats and fish are house-smoked, the condiments made from scratch; in the early days, the breads kept him and his bakers up late, playing with sourdough starters.

He strides into the kitchen and hesitates—not because he’s unsure but because he’s running options in his brain. I’ve asked him to construct a customized sandwich for me, and the build-your-own list at Gjusta includes six meat and fish options, three cheeses, seven spreads and nine vegetables on any of 11 breads. Or four bialys. You do the math.

Los Angeles has always been a sandwich town, never mind the carbs and the fact that the camera adds 15 pounds. The city’s culinary endowment includes French dips at Philippe’s and Cole’s, hamburgers at the Apple Pan or Cassell’s, hot dogs at Pinks, pastramiat Langer’s, the Godmother (a virtuosic take on the Italian sub) at Bay Cities Italian deli and on and on.

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Spring pea salad. Victor Prado for the Wall Street Journal. Victor Prado for the Wall Street Journal. 

Spring pea salad. Victor Prado for the Wall Street Journal. Victor Prado for the Wall Street Journal. 

Build a bolder salad: recipes that pack the punch of bitter greens

APRIL 19, 2016

Now that even McDonald’s offers a baby kale salad, forward-looking diners and innovative chefs face a quandary: Which green is the new black? The answer—on menus and at farmers’ markets from coast to coast right now—is an array of strong, bitter and peppery leaves that make kale seem more like the milder salad greens it shouldered out of the way.

Chef Paul Kahan, whose eight-restaurant Chicago empire includes Blackbird, Avec and Dove’s Luncheonette, doesn’t even include kale on his list of bitter greens. It’s a “green green,” he said, a gentler variety, not as forceful as the greens he’s gravitating to currently. Chef Jody Williams, who owns Buvette and, with partner Rita Sodi, Via Carota in Greenwich Village, calls kale an “entry-level bitter green, a gateway green.”

Just past that gate, a collection of bigger, bolder leaves awaits, most of them of Italian heritage, almost as much fun to pronounce as they are to eat. 

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Tarted Up: This rice cake packs a bracing lemony punch. James Ransom for the Wall Street Journal. 

Tarted Up: This rice cake packs a bracing lemony punch. James Ransom for the Wall Street Journal. 

Recipe for a cake with sunshine baked in

Updated JANUARY 20, 2016

Like everyone else, I went to Phoenix’s Pizzeria Bianco for the pizza, but the dish that stuck with me was the dessert. Torta di riso is a common enough Italian sweet, but this particular rice cake was harmony on a plate: rich custard balanced by vibrant lemon, dense with rice that still had some bite to it. A lot was going on inside that unassuming slice, and I was not going home without a road map back to it.

I walked right up to the chef-owner, Chris Bianco, to ask for the recipe. He was at the oven, mid-pizza, but he said sure, write down your email address and I’ll send it.

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Europe (finally) wakes up to superior coffee

SEPTEMBER 29, 2015

Morning coffee, Florence, Italy: I planned to head for one of the espresso bars where elegant people toss back a dark brew in a tiny cup. I knew to pay first and hand the receipt to the barista. I knew to drink fast, on my feet, because only tourists pay extra to linger at a table. I knew not to drink anything with added milk after 11 a.m., noon, tops. If I ever felt close to sophisticated, it was in an Italian espresso bar.

I mentioned a favorite destination to my 25-year-old daughter. “We are not drinking that coffee,” she said, her tone compassionate but firm. I followed her and her GPS out the door.

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Whole-grain desserts for the hedonist

Updated JANUARY 4, 2017

Multigrain desserts (don’t wince) are no longer the leaden-but-virtuous pastries of yesteryear. A new generation of bakers is using whole grains innovatively—not in place of white flour as a statement of nutritional piety, but in the very same mixing bowl, with delicious results.

Think hybrid; think enhanced classics. Oatmeal cookies, cranberry tart and pear pie aren’t exactly new ideas, but the iterations under consideration here...

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A celebration-worthy bread pudding

Updated NOVEMBER 8, 2016

It was my daughter’s first birthday, 27 years ago, and two couples, serious eaters, were coming by with their kids for lunch. I needed a dessert that could both convey the depth of my happiness and satisfy my guests.

So I turned to the most challenging cookbook I owned: “Desserts,” by Nancy Silverton of La Brea Bakery in Los Angeles, where I lived at the time. Normally I read this book the way non-travelers read novels set overseas.

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