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Some time away

It feels uncomfortable for me to write this, since it’s not exactly good news, but here goes: I need to take some time away from this site.

As you’ve probably noticed, I’ve been struggling a bit here in recent weeks, trying to keep this blog sailing along at her usual clip, and it’s not working very well. Between helping Brandon with Delancey and meeting my own work deadlines, I’ve been stretched thin. I’m not doing a very good job of any of it. Actually, I’m doing a pretty awful job of all of it.

This site has always been about a kind of love - a love for food, namely, and for writing - but right now, that love is temporarily redirected toward some other, more immediate demands, like helping my husband to tile and grout the (ginormous) facade of a pizza oven. In the spirit of keeping it real around here, I have to admit that I need some time to focus on the restaurant - and, if we’re being deadly honest, to try to enjoy the process, rather than feel overwhelmed by it. I also have some work-related travel coming up, and it needs my attention, too.

I’ll be back in a few weeks with the well refilled, I hope, and with plenty of recipes and stories for you. In the meantime, I hope you’ll understand my silence. With summer so close, and barbecues and gin and tonics and whatnot, I’ll bet you won’t even notice.

P.S. If you’d like to follow the progress of Delancey, you should check out Brandon’s Twitter feed. And I’ll be posting photos on Flickr, too.


It really does help

A few evenings ago, I felt very uninspired about making dinner. This has been happening a lot lately, far more than I should probably admit, as someone who is supposedly crazy about cooking. I could attribute it to lots of causes, but I think these things go in cycles for all of us, these urges to cook or not cook, and no matter our individual circumstances, it’s only sane to acknowledge that. Sometimes I want to make two types of sauce gribiche, and other times, I want to claw my eyes out and then call for a pizza delivery. I know I should try to find some sort of happy medium in this, and maybe I will someday. But in the meantime, I have found that it’s useful to sit down and make a list. I call it The Crap I Like to Eat (CILTE) List, and it really does help.

Here is what I do: at the top of the sheet of paper, I write CRAP I LIKE TO EAT. You can write whatever you want, but I find this to be a crucial first step, especially the mild cussing. Cursing at your food forces it into submission, I find, and that’s very important in times like these, when you need to reassert yourself and your can-do in matters of the kitchen. Now, underneath that heading, you’re going to list dishes or recipes that you’ve made, and that you’re eager to make again. If you’re doing it right, this process should make you very hungry. If you can’t think of anything to write down, open up a cookbook, scroll through a blog, or take a bath and stare into space for a while. Basically, you’re looking to collect ideas, an arsenal of inspiration that you can visit whenever you feel inclined toward eye-clawing. Then you put this piece of paper somewhere prominent - on your desk, or the kitchen counter, or stuck to the bathroom mirror - and when you don’t feel excited about making dinner, you look at it until you do.

My first CILTE list was short and sweet: fake baked beans, chicken salad, and broccoli soup with lemon-chive cream. It may not sound like a lot, but it kept me away from scrambled eggs and salad, my default setting, for an entire week. I made another list yesterday, and I thought it might be helpful to share it, in case you’re considering making one of your own. I haven’t been trying many new recipes lately - trying to open a restaurant feels like experimentation enough - so the recipes on my list lean more toward the comfortable, well-worn variety. They’re old shoes. For some people, trying new recipes is relaxing, but much to my chagrin, I am not those people. I tip my hat to them, and then, for the millionth time, I make Marcella Hazan’s tomato sauce with butter and onion, item #1 on my list.

Also present on the current CILTE list is chickpea salad, and braised greens with chickpeas and garlic. There is also roasted broccoli with shrimp, with or without the shrimp - the broccoli goes with everything - and Brandon’s soba with peanut-citrus sauce. And yesterday afternoon, I made rhubarb compote. I ate some of it just now, as a snack with plain yogurt, and it would also be good with fresh ricotta, or Greek yogurt, if you’re fancy. Or straight-up, with nothing, if you’re not. I cut the sugar by a couple of tablespoons, and it tastes just right to me.

And last week, I made spinach and green garlic soup twice. Somehow, we still aren’t tired of it, so I bought another bunch of green garlic, the one in that first photo up there, and I’m making it again tonight. I am relentless.

If you make a list, and if you feel like sharing, would you tell me what goes on it? I would love to know.


Something called sauce gribiche

About five years ago, I think it was, I went out to dinner with my friend Keaton and ate something called sauce gribiche. I had never heard of it before, but it was a kind of coarse vinaigrette, with chopped cornichons and capers and hard-boiled eggs, and it was served over asparagus. I don’t know why I remember it so clearly, aside from the fact that I dripped some of it onto my pants, but ever since, I’ve thought about it sometimes, usually when I’m supposed to be thinking about more important things, and I’ve wanted to try making it. It took me a while, as you can see, but yesterday, I finally did. Twice.

The thing is, as I learned while tearing my hair out, there is no one sauce gribiche. Its origins are almost certainly French, but from there, it gets tricky. Look in one book, and you’ll be told - very authoritatively, of course - that it’s a mayonnaise with pickles and herbs, a close cousin of tartar sauce. Look somewhere else, and you’ll be told that it’s a vinaigrette with parsley and hard-boiled eggs. Apparently, it’s sort of like pizza: to one person, the word means a deep-dish pie with pineapple and Canadian bacon, while to another, it’s a thin crust dotted with fresh mozzarella. Am I right? Has Delancey fitted me with a permanent pair of pizza goggles? I can’t be sure.

Anyway, I don’t know what a proper sauce gribiche is, if there even is one, but I can tell you that I have now made two different sauces that go by that name. I can also tell you that it was very confusing, because neither tasted like what I had had before, but I liked them both. Either way, I thought you should know about them, because they’re good company for so many springtime foods, like halibut and new potatoes and asparagus, or cold roasted chicken. There is no time like the present to get confused about sauce gribiche.

The first specimen up there, in the bowl and on some boiled potatoes, is an adaptation of a recipe from The Zuni Café Cookbook. It’s essentially a mayonnaise with lots of Dijon mustard, shallots, fresh herbs, and capers, and it starts with a soft-boiled egg. You cook the egg for four minutes, so that the white is set but the yolk is still liquid, and then you mash it in a bowl with mustard and salt. It’s kind of ingenious: when you add olive oil, the yolk binds it to make a mayonnaise, while the white breaks up into little bits and nubs, adding texture to the sauce. To that you add the herbs and other seasonings. We tried spooning ours onto a few boiled potatoes, because that was what we had in the house, and it was nice enough. But when we chopped the rest of the potatoes into chunks, tossed them with more sauce gribiche, and let them sit in the refrigerator overnight, it made a bang-up potato salad, rich but bright, one of the best I’ve ever eaten. It’s bookmark-worthy.

The second gribiche, which comes from one of the Chez Panisse cookbooks, is more like the one I ate five years ago, a riff on vinaigrette. It’s kicky but sleek, a French translation, sort of, of chimichurri. It’s delicious. It has more herbs than the Zuni method, and its egg gets hard-boiled and chopped, and it calls for a few cornichons, which means that I got to buy a whole jar and eat them while I cooked, a plus in any category. We ate it on some steamed leeks, which I don’t actually recommend - turns out, sauce gribiche isn’t a great fit for oniony things - but when I go to bed tonight, I hope to dream of it spooned onto some blanched asparagus or a plate of leftover roast beef. I can hardly wait.

Zuni Café’s Four-Minute Egg Gribiche
Adapted from The Zuni Café Cookbook

This version is essentially a mayonnaise, and it’s particularly important to use a very mild-tasting olive oil. If your oil is at all bitter, or if you’re unsure, use a mixture of it and a more neutral-tasting oil, like canola.

2 medium shallots, finely chopped
2 Tbsp. sherry vinegar or red wine vinegar
1 large egg
1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
1 ¼ cups mild-tasting olive oil
2 tsp. thinly sliced chives
2 tsp. finely chopped parsley
2 tsp. finely chopped chervil
½ tsp. finely chopped dill
2 Tbsp. capers, rinsed and dried, coarsely chopped

Combine the shallots and the vinegar in a small bowl, and set aside to macerate while you prepare the rest of the sauce.

Put the egg in a small saucepan of barely simmering water, and bring it to a boil. Then reduce the heat and simmer for about 4 minutes. Drain, and put the egg in a bowl of ice water to cool completely.

When the egg is cool, crack and scrape it into a medium bowl. Add the mustard and a pinch or two of salt. Mash it all together, and then begin whisking in the oil, just a few drops at first, then gradually increasing the flow to a thin stream. Stop adding oil when the mixture is satiny and has lots of body, like – and I love that Judy Rodgers describes it this way – a hot fudge sauce. Stir in the herbs and capers. Add the vinegar and shallots, and adjust with salt to taste.

Serve with grilled fish or poultry, fried seafood, roasted potatoes, boiled shrimp, or asparagus, or - my personal preference - as the dressing for a fantastic potato salad.


Chez Panisse’s Sauce Gribiche
Adapted from Chez Panisse Café Cookbook

For this recipe, it’s important to use a big, fruity-tasting olive oil, because it will be the foundation flavor here. You want one with a round fragrance and as little bitterness as possible.

1 large egg
1 medium shallot, finely chopped
2 Tbsp. lemon juice, or to taste
2 Tbsp. finely chopped parsley
2 Tbsp. finely chopped chervil
2 Tbsp. thinly sliced chives
Finely grated zest of ½ lemon
1 Tbsp. capers, rinsed and finely chopped
3 cornichons, finely chopped
¾ cup olive oil
Salt, to taste

Put the egg in a small saucepan, and cover with cold water. Place the pan over medium-high heat, and bring to a boil. As soon as it boils, remove the pan from the heat, cover it, and set a timer for 12 minutes. When the timer goes off, drain away the hot water and rinse the egg under cold water until it is thoroughly cool.

Meanwhile, combine the shallot and the lemon juice in a small bowl. Set aside to macerate while you prepare the rest of the sauce.

Combine the parsley, chervil, chives, lemon zest, capers, cornichons, and olive oil in a small bowl. Whisk well. Peel the egg, and then finely chop the yolk and dice the white. Add the egg to the bowl. Add the lemon juice, shallots, and a good pinch of salt, and whisk well. Taste, and adjust with more lemon juice and salt, if needed.

Serve over asparagus, steamed or boiled potatoes, grilled endives, fish, cold roasted chicken, or other cold leftover meats.