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Somewhere in the midst of traveling back to Kentucky, taking on a new job, and performing in my best friend’s wedding, I also turned 27. My wife and I had agreed that, though we would certainly celebrate, she was not allowed to shower me with presents. She broke her promise, and when I came downstairs in the late morning, bleary-eyed and a little woozy from a night of shenanigans on the town, the counter was covered in brightly colored packages, the table festooned with fresh flowers, warm biscuits, strawberry scones, coffee, and orange juice, and the room strewn with a hand-made sign declaring “CELEBRATE!” And indeed we did.

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Before we dressed up fancy and made our way to City House for their beloved Sunday Supper, we had work to do: it was time to make a birthday cake. But not just any birthday cake. If you’re familiar with my and my wife’s culinary habits, you know that we’re always evaluating what we eat. Please don’t misunderstand us for a few militant, soulless critics. Instead, while we relish the food in front of us, we still consider what could be done to make the delicious the ethereal. Which is why, after three years of toying with more chocolate cake recipes than I can remember, we’ve come to a place of dessert bliss.

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A good chocolate cake should be moist, rich, and not overly sweet. It should have the deep, earthiness of good cocoa, rounded out by subtle sweetness, and fortified with rich, orange-yolked eggs and high-fat butter. It should be dense. You should be able to pick it up by piercing it with a fork and not scooping it up with a spoon. It should be kissed judiciously with a thin layer of mildly sweet frosting, spiked with dark-roasted espresso and oaky, spicy bourbon whiskey. It should get better with age, maturing to its best self on the third day. If you’ve done it right, in a house of two, it should be eaten in less than a week.

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Chocolate Cake with Bourbon-Coffee Buttercream Frosting

Ingredients

For the frosting:

3 cups powdered sugar, sifted

1 cup butter, room temp.

1/4 cup bourbon–you can use whatever bourbon you have around.

1 tablespoon milk

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla

1/2 teaspoon espresso powder

pinch of salt

 

For the cake (from Rose Levy Beranbaum’s The Cake Bible) :

1/2 cup plus 3 tbsps unsweetened cocoa powder

1 liquid cup boiling water

3 large eggs, room temperature

2 1/4 tsps vanilla

2 1/4 cup plus 2 tbsps sifted cake flour (we used AP flour)

1 1/2 cup sugar

1 tbsp baking powder

3/4 tsp salt

1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature

 

To make the cake, preheat the oven to 350. Additionally, prepare two 8 or 9-inch cake pans by greasing them with oil and lining them with parchment paper. Grease them once again and lightly flour each pan.

To begin, whisk together the cocoa and the boiling water until smooth and let it cool to room temperature. Then, in a separate bowl, combine the eggs, a quarter cup of the cocoa mixture, and vanilla. In a larger bowl, combine the remaining dry ingredients and mix it on low speed for 30 seconds to blend. Add the butter and the remaining cocoa mixture. Using a hand mixer or a kitchen-aid, mix it on low speed until moistened. Then, increase to medium speed and  beat for 1 1/2 minutes to aerate the batter. Scrape down the sides and begin to add the egg mixture, beating for about 20 seconds after each addition.

Scrape down the sides once again and pour the mixture into the two prepared pans. Place them in the oven for 20 to 25 minutes. A toothpick inserted into the middle of the cake should come out clean. Once baked, let each cake cool for 10 minutes on wire racks. Loosen the sides with a small metal spatula and invert them. Let them cool another 20 minutes before frosting them.

To prepare the frosting, add the sifted cocoa to a large bowl. Cream together butter and cocoa powder until well-combined. Add the sifted powdered sugar, a pinch of salt, and milk to the cocoa mixture. Turn the mixer onto high speed for about a minute. Add the vanilla, espresso powder, and bourbon, and mix to combine.

When the cakes have cooled completely, place one onto a large serving dish and frost it lightly. Then, place the other cake on top and frosted the remainder of the cake.

 

Enjoy!

 

 

 

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I should start with an apology. There’s something that I’ve been keeping from you. This blog exists so that I can share all the incredible things I have the chance to make and eat in my kitchen. But I kinda, sorta haven’t told you about what is, undoubtedly and without opposition, the greatest hamburger the world has ever known. It doesn’t really make any sense. I’ve been consuming this burger for years now, and every time I hold it before me, my eyes light up like those of Gollum’s, tightly clutching his ‘Precious’. I suppose, though, that I’ve come to the realization that sharing the recipe with you will not mean that I can have it any less. Sure, perhaps if my friends and loved ones know the secret, I might no longer be held in such high culinary regard. But I’m a generous man. I think it’s good to help others. And so…

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You might be wondering about the origins of a burger that makes such lofty claims. Surprisingly, the recipe (as supernatural as it is), does not come from an antiquated and esoteric companion piece to the Bhagavad Gita or from a forgotten manuscript to one of David Chang’s cookbooks. It comes from my brother. Yes, years ago, life brought him to Santa Monica, California. He schmoozed with the Hollywood elite, lived in big houses, and ate a hamburger. Though his time there provided him a chance for solitude and independence, some time to grow up, it provided me with a vision and a taste of the best damn burger I’ve ever eaten.

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If honesty is our daily focus, I should also tell you that the recipe for this burger is, in all likelihood, quite different from the one he first had in Santa Monica at a place called Father’s Office. But the basic building blocks are there. And while I’m sure that the burger they serve up is nothing short of heavenly, I stand firmly by my burger all the way.

Can I tell you just a little about it? This burger is all about contrasts in flavor and texture. There’s sweetness from things like ketchup and dark brown sugar, brightness from dijon mustard, a deep salty twang from worcestershire, perfectly paired with the rich smokiness of bacon and aggressively charred beef, the funk of gruyére cheese, and the peppery and herbaceous bite of fresh arugula. And let us not forget the ever-important vessel whereby these ethereal flavors will make their way to your mouth: a soft and toasty brioche bun.

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Let’s do this…

 

The Best Burger

makes 2 burgers

Ingredients:

1/2 lb super-smoky bacon, diced

1 very large yellow onion, thinly sliced rounds

1 tbsp dijon mustard

1 tbsp ketchup

2 tbsps brown sugar

1/2 teaspoon worcestershire sauce

2 brioche buns (you could use this recipe)

a couple handfuls of baby arugula

Le Gruyere Cheese, about 6 oz, sliced

1 lb high-quality ground beef, 75/15

Butter, for the brioche buns

 

To start, dice your bacon and place it into a medium-sized pan on medium heat. Once the bacon is cooked, scoop it from the pan with a slotted spoon. Set them aside to use later. Leave the drippings, as they are a godly elixir. To the dripping-polished pan, add the thinly sliced rounds of onion. Give the pan a good shake to distribute the bacon fat and let the onions cook, undisturbed for about 10 minutes. The goal here is to allow the onions to cook down until they become incredibly soft, sweet, condensed, and brown. If you’re worried about them burning, turn down the heat and be patient. This can take an hour if you really want to do it right.

When the onions are browned and highly reduced, add the mustard, ketchup, worcestershire, brown sugar and bacon to the pan. Stir to mix well and let these ingredients mingle and cook for another ten minutes or so. Meanwhile, get a charcoal grill roaring hot. You could also use a cast-iron skillet on a super-high setting, but prepare for some histrionics from your smoke alarm.

Each burger gets two patties. This is not overkill. The point here is that by taking what would normally be an incredibly large 1/2 lb patty and splitting it in two, we’re allowed better distribution of glorious cheese and condiment. That means with your 1 lb of beef, you’ll form four patties in total. Be sure that these patties have a diameter slightly greater than that of the brioche buns. They will shrink as they cook. And no one likes those stodgy, hockey pucks served at backyard barbecues across the nation.

Once formed, salt and pepper both sides of each patty. Place it on the grill or in the very hot cast-iron pot. Let it cook undisturbed for 2 minutes. Once you flip it, cover it with cheese and close the lid. If you’re using a cast-iron pan, cover it. Let the patty cook 2 more minutes.

Meanwhile, butter the brioche buns and give them a quick toast under the broiler. When 2 minutes are up, place one patty on the brioche bun, cover the entire surface area with bacon-onion jam, then repeat this with the second patty. Grab a large handful of baby arugula and place it on top. Cover that delicious thing with it’s toasty, golden crown.

Rejoice!

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Despite all the gluten-bashing and the recent glamorization of gluten intolerance, bread is still a big part of my life. I understand, of course, that all bodies are different and that not every food is good for every body. But because I have never found myself crumpled in a corner, stomach in knots, distended and gassy after eating a biscuit or a slice of toast, I obviously don’t have any plans of cutting bread out of my diet. On the contrary, I find myself adding to the list even more delicious reasons not to give up gluten: like this brioche.IMG_7667

This recipe comes from Chad Robertson’s Tartine, the one book that revolutionized the way I bake, eat, and think about bread. Three years ago when I purchased the book, I did not expect that the recipes and the techniques within it would plant the seed of one day opening my own bakery. The preparations were by no means simple or at all quickly executed. In fact, they required I begin the night before, mixing up the starter just before bed, so that I could rise early to mix the dough. But the results were always forgiving: on my worst days, I would still open up the oven to find something chewy and warm that could be served alongside just about anything. My hope is that, in my frankness about just how difficult and time-consuming this is, you might still find the courage inside yourself to set aside some Saturday soon. Other than a few eggs, butter, milk, sugar, and flour, (all of which will cost you no more than about $5) what have you got to lose?

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To make this brioche, you’re gonna need bread ‘starter’. Before you could every buy a jar of active yeast, there was starter: an equal mix of water and a 50/50 white-wheat flour blend. As the flour and water sit at room temperature, the fermentation process begins. Here’s how to cultivate your own starter:

wheat flour,50 grams

white flour, 50 grams

lukewarm water, 100 grams

Mix together the flour and water in a small bowl, cover with a clean towel, and let sit at room temperature for 2 to 3 days. After 2 to 3 days, check to see if any bubbles have formed around the sides of the bowl. The mixture may have formed a dark crust and it might smell highly acidic. These are all signs that fermentation has begun. You’re now ready to feed your starter.

To feed your starter, discard about 80 percent of it. Replace this with equal amounts of water and the 50/50 flour blend and mix well. To keep your starter active and alive, feed it every 24 hours, always remembering to discard 80 percent and replenish with the flour blend and water.

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Brioche Buns (Recipe from Tartine), Makes 4 to 6 Brioche loaves, or a ton of buns

Poolish:

200 g, ap flour

200 g, water (75 degrees)

3 g, active dry yeast

 

Leaven:

1 tbsp, mature starter

220 g, ap flour

220 g, water (80 degrees)

 

Ingredients:

Bread Flour, 1,000 g

Salt, 25 g

Sugar, 120 g

Active Dry Yeast, 10 g

Large Eggs, 500 g

Whole Milk, 240 g

Leaven, 300 g

Poolish, 400 g

Unsalted Butter, 450

 

To make the poolish, in a bowl, mix the flour, water, and yeast. Let stand overnight in the refrigerator. To make the leaven, place the mature starter in a bowl. Feed with the flour and water, cover with a dish towel, and let sit overnight.

The poolish and the leaven are ready when they pass the float test. Drop a small amount of the poolish and the leaven into water. If either sinks, it is not ready to use and needs more time to ferment.

About 30 minutes before you’re ready to mix the brioche dough, remove the butter from the refrigerator and let soften at room temperature until it is pliable but still cool. TO mix the brioche dough, attach the dough hook to a stand mixer. Place the flour, salt, sugar, and yeast in the mixing bowl. Add the eggs, milk, leaven, and poolish and mix on low speed until combined 3 to 5 minutes; stop the mixer halfway through and scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Let the dough rest in the bowl for 15 to 20 minutes.

After the dough has rested, mix it on medium to high speed until it releases from the sides of the bowl, 6 to 8 minutes. This indicates that the dough is sufficiently developed to begin incorporating the butter. Make sure the butter is soft and pliable but still cool and not melted.

Cut the butter into 1/2-inch pieces. With the mixer on medium speed, add the pieces of butter one at a time to the middle of the bowl where the dough hook meets the dough. Though Tartine doesn’t mention it, you might have some trouble placing the cubes of dough in the center of the bowl as the dough hook spins vigorously. Many of the cubes might be thrown toward the outside of the bowl, by way of the wonders of physics. If this is the case, no worries. Simply turn off the machine and place the cubes of butter where the dough meets the hook. Continue until the butter is incorporated. The dough will be silky smooth and homogenous, with not visible bits of butter.

Transfer the dough to a bowl and set in a cool place (around 70 degrees) for 2 hours for the bulk fermentation. During the first hour, give the dough two turns. In the last hour, give it one turn. To turn the dough, pull one quarter of the dough upward and fold this quarter onto the rest of the dough. Complete by doing the same with the three remaining quarters.

When you’re ready to shape the dough, use a dough spatula to cut it into pieces about the size of a medicine ball. The dough will be incredibly sticky, but do your best to form it into something mildly spherical. Place the formed dough onto a few parchment-lined sheet pans, making sure to space them at least 3 inches apart. You will likely have more dough than what would ever fit on the sheet pans. Here, you have a choice. You can freeze the dough and use it when you’re ready. Or, you could place it into a couple loaf pans, heavily greased with melted butter or olive oil (to prevent sticking) and bake it up for a friend (or just eat all of it on your own). Once shaped, let the dough rise at room temperature for 2 hours.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

To make the egg wash, in a small bowl, stir together two egg yolks and a teaspoon of heavy cream or milk. Brush the top of the buns with the egg wash. Bake the buns for 15 minutes. Bake the loaves for 30 minutes.

Enjoy!

IMG_7548We have a tradition in the Koontz-Bostow family: on the first day of fall, regardless of the temperature or the day of the week, we roast a pumpkin for pie and wash it down with cool pumpkin beer. There’s something special about this season, some secret hold it has always had on my heart. Sure, every season brings the promise of renewal or change. But Fall seems, somehow, more familiar. Even if you can’t identify with this deeper connection, I’m sure you can understand the more obvious perks: Like sweater weather. Or big warm bowls of stew. Or the fact that you can now justify listening to Vince Guaraldi’s Charlie Brown Christmas album with a little less shame than when you were blaring “What Child is This” in mid-June. My gratuitous use of the second-person is serving as a means to distribute the shame, which is unfair. Unless, of course, you too have been marking off the days in Autumnal anticipation. I know we have.IMG_7517

To give you an even better sense of just how giddy we were about it, I can tell you that after reading dissenting reports on the actual “first day of fall,” we sided with the one article that declared it to be Monday September 22nd, even though there was a wealth of information which suggested otherwise. This would not be the first time I’ve used shoddy information to support my own selfish aims. Like the time I approved of the daily consumption of Nutella because the label claimed “as much calcium as a glass of milk.” Whether we celebrated the season a day early or not, it certainly felt right.

IMG_5409In the late afternoon, I made a run to Midtown Wine & Spirits, a liquor store whose vast bourbon collection always astounds me. Though I am wont to stake out in the bourbon section for a half hour, I was there for something else entirely: Pumpkin beer. In the picture above, though the sun shines bright on the Kentucky Pumpkin Barrel Ale, my taste buds favor the Schlafly. It’s complex and robust with just the right amount of spice and balanced sweetness. Once back home, the beer went for a chill while I carved and roasted the pumpkin. By the time the pumpkin had softened, Raquelle had made it back home to put the finishing touches on the pie. As it went into the oven, we sat down to the table for dinner. We filled our glasses with the cool, deep amber ale and toasted to the new season. We toasted to all the seasons we’ve spent together. We toasted to the unbelievable realization that this Thursday, September 25th marks 9 whole years of loving and learning another.  And with the pie out of the oven, we found ourselves impatient again. Sure, it needed time to cool, time to set, time to meld. But with the kitchen door ajar and a brisk breeze rolling through the room, this tiny bit of warmth was just what we needed. It seemed all of the night was a smile, and all of the season was a song.

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Roasted Pumpkin Pie with Bourbon Whipped Cream

Ingredients

For the filling(from 101 cookbooks):

1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon pumpkin pie spice blend(predominantly cinnamon, with clove, nutmeg, and allspice)
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 1/2 cups of roasted pumpkin puree
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 extra large eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup full-fat coconut milk(the kind you get from a can)

For the crust(from the Les Halles cookbook):

9 oz AP flour
pinch of salt
1 1/2 tbsp sugar
1/2 cup butter, well chilled and cut into small cubes
1 egg, beaten
1 1/2 tbsp cold water

For the bourbon whipped cream:

2 cups heavy whipping cream
2 tbsp powdered sugar
2 tbsp bourbon whisky
pinch of salt
1/4 tsp vanilla extract

Note: If you’d like to make your pie with real roasted pumpkin, you’ll need a 4 pound pie pumpkin. Chop it into the quarters, clean out the seeds and other junk, and roast it on a well-oiled pan for 1 hour in a 400 degree oven. When soft, scoop out the tender flesh and puree it with a hand mixer or a food processor.

Let’s get started by making the pie crust. In a large mixing bowl, mix the flour, sugar, and salt. When the butter is well-chilled, add it to the flour mixture. You can incorporate it using a pastry cutter. Or, you can use your hands. Whatever the case, be sure to work quickly. The butter must stay cold to preserve the flaky quality of the crust. When the flour-butter mixture is about the consistency of very coarse meal, add the beaten egg and water. Stir to bring together. Form into a disk, wrap in plastic, and let chill for an hour.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

To make the pumpkin pie filling, whisk together the brown sugar, pumpkin pie spice blend, salt, and cornstarch. Stir in the pumpkin puree, and vanilla. Now stir in the eggs and coconut milk until just combined. Set aside.

On a well-floured surface, roll out the chilled dough. Flour as needed. Be sure to roll it out so that it will be large enough for the crust to come all the way up the sides of your pan. The easiest way to move the dough round into the pan is to fold it into a half moon and to lay this half-moon into the pan. You can then gently unfold it and press it gently into the pan. Then, use a fork to prick the pie dough a few times to prevent air bubbles. Fill the pie crust with the filling and bake for about 50 minutes – the center of the pie should just barely jiggle when you move the pie – the edges should be set.

Let the pie cool in order to set. Meanwhile, with a handmixer or a whisk and some determination, agitate the heavy whipping cream until it forms soft peaks. Add the sugar, whisky, salt, and vanilla. Stir to mix. When the pie has cooled, serve it with a dollop of the bourbon whipped cream.

Enjoy!

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Hello, world! It’s good to be back. For the past week, my computer has been undergoing some repairs. Just two weeks ago, I tried turning it on without success. There was the familiar boot-up chime and the soft clicking communication with my external hard drive, but the screen stayed dark. My initial worry was that all of my data had been lost: all the pictures, the music, the writing, the entire Bread+Bourbon website. In saying this, I am of course revealing to you just how irresponsible and lazy I am. Aside from a few songs and a hundred or so pictures, nothing was backed up. A quick check-up revealed a faulty video card, a $180 fix for parts and labor. This was a relief, as I worried that the monitor had gone kaput and that I’d be down $700.Just to be clear: I’m not under the illusion that you find my technological woes at all interesting. After all, that’s not why you’ve come to visit Bread+Bourbon. My techno-lament was simply a necessary prelude to pasta. But how? you ask. Is there some connection I have missed? you wonder. No. I don’t expect for you to know that when I find myself worried that I immediately turn to the joys of food. But after dropping off the computer for repair, I came home and pulled up a recipe for fresh pasta. If you’re a human being, you understand well the warmth and simple comfort of a bowl of buttered noodles. With no more than a few eggs and some flour, the pasta came together beautifully.

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For the uninitiated, fresh pasta might seem like an ordeal, a labor that yields something no better than what you’d find in a box. And sure, when cooked and dressed correctly, boxed pasta is delicious. But fresh pasta, made with good local orange-yolked eggs, is something altogether different. The flavor is richer, the texture is at once springy and tender, and the starchiness makes for a more luxuriously creamy sauce. If the benefits in flavor and texture aren’t convincing enough, fresh pasta also allows for infinite variations. With little practice, you can experiment with different blends of flour, you can flavor your pasta dough with fresh herbs, you can shape it any way you like. In no time, you’ll be making your own whole-wheat ravioli with sage-brown butter, roasted pumpkin, and fresh goat cheese. Your significant other will love you more, your close friends will hold you in higher esteem, you might even become a local hero.

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Fresh Pasta

Ingredients:

400 grams flour(or 14 oz)

4 eggs, room temperature

If you have a stand mixer, pour the flour into the bowl and, using the paddle attachment, pour in one egg at a time while the machine is on low. Let the machine run just until the dough comes together. Otherwise, measure the flour and pour it onto a clean surface. In the center of the flour, make a well. Beat all four eggs and pour them into the center of the well. Little by little, use your hands to incorporate the flour into the eggs. The dough will be very shaggy and may not want to come together. Despite this, do your best to work in all of the flour.

Once the dough has come together, knead the dough with the heel of your hands for minutes. As you continue to knead, the dough will become smoother and more elastic. If the dough does not come together,wet your hands and continue working it for another minute.

After kneading, place the dough in plastic and let it sit at room temperature for one hour. This wait time is essential. The dough continues to hydrate and it eventually relaxes. Without this, it would be impossible to roll it out.

At this point, you’re ready to shape the pasta however you desire. All you need to know is that fresh pasta (more than boxed) swells dramatically. That means that whether you use a pasta machine or simply roll it by hand, you must try to roll it out as thinly as possible. If you’re using a pasta maker, consider yourself far more privileged than I. As a means to express my jealousy, I’ll allow you to look up how to use it on your own. But if you’re like me, your “pasta machine” is one part rolling pin/one part brute strength.

Place the dough on a lightly-floured work surface. Roll it out little by little, bearing down with your full weight. This could also double as a workout, and if you’re so inclined, you can place a large cutting board on the ground and go into a plank pose while holding the rolling pin in your hand. When the dough is very thin, you can cut and shape it as you please. When you’re ready to boil it, remember that fresh pasta takes just about  3minutes in boiling water.

The bowl of pasta you see above couldn’t have been easier. Once cooked, I threw it together with peas blanched in the pasta water, torn basil, olive oil, parmesan cheese, and some hot chilies.

Enjoy! 

 

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We had a birthday here at the Koontz-Bostow household! My wife, Raquelle, turned 25. Surprising, I know. Though she has the grace, wisdom, and patience of an older soul, she’s been here on Earth for a mere quarter-century. You would guess correctly if you imagined that all kinds of incredible eats played a starring role in the celebration.

On Thursday night, we hopped over to Mas Tacos Por Favor (my vote for the most satisfying restaurant in Nashville!). With a super-chilled bottle of Rosé we brought from home, we shared crispy fish tacos with crunchy-sweet cabbage, spicy red onions, and dill crema. Not to be forgotten was a bowl of the smokiest black beans with sweet caramelized plaintains. With stomachs full, we drove back home for presents.

Aside from a few more functional gifts (a hair dryer, a raincoat), the rest were food-focused: a bottle of shochu (a japanese spirit distilled from barley), a bottle of Ricard (an anise-flavored liqueur from the south of France), and various utensils for at-home sushi making (a bamboo mat, roasted seaweed, hardwood chopsticks, and handmade shochu glasses from Japan). We stayed up late, making David Lebovitz’s Absinthe Cake.

The following night we had reservations for Husk, Sean Brock’s oft-mentioned, southern-inspired restaurant. By 7:00, we were seated and placing our drink order. Raquelle began with the Spanish cava, and I the Rittenhouse rye.  I ordered the crispy chicken skins served with a smoky white BBQ sauce. They were surprisingly light, like a richly satisfying potato chip, the perfect bar food. Dinner itself, however, was a let-down. The vegetable plate, at $25, was fine. For such common flavors, I half-expected that the entire dish would be showered in a chiffonade of crisp dollar bills in order to warrant the high price tag. The catfish I ordered, a fish so commonly accused of being a muddy bottom-feeder, did not shed its bad reputation. Instead, it was served alongside an insipid eggplant puree and topped with an excessive amount of what appeared to be green onions.

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Let me say that I was not at all upset by the experience. Any food outing is a gamble. In truth, I appreciate Sean Brock’s regard for local foods. The service was warm, the whisky was cool, and if I’d only been served a big plate of the pillowy-soft sesame seed rolls with butter, I’m sure I might try this place again. Most importantly, Raquelle’s birthday was filled with smiles, and laughter, and joy.

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As Raquelle and I were busy celebrating, it’s clear that my tomatoes were not at all threatened by last week’s post, when hordes of their brethren were roasted and then hastily consumed in a french-inspired tarte . Instead, as if to taunt me further, they have continued to thrive, some so plump with sweetness that the weight of their own goodness pulls them to the ground. But what to do with them? I swore off gazpacho. And not because it isn’t delicious and perfectly satisfying for these hot and muggy days, but because it’s been done before.

As a rule, any time I have way too much of one ingredient on hand, I consider how that flavor could be concentrated. And that often means roasting or slow-cooking. I considered the matter over a sip of pastis, the anise-flavored liqueur of Aix-en-Provence. My mind was awash with memories of its endless cobblestone streets, one leading to the market, another la boucherie, le fromager, et le reste. I was reminded of a tomato tapenade sold there, an incredibly savory flavor bomb that is as perfect on a cracker as it is on a bed of pasta. I quickly cranked the oven to 425 and stepped into the garden to reap the bountiful harvest.

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Multi-Seed Crispbreads with Tomato Tapenade

Ingredients

For the crispbread:

200 grams wheat flour

300 grams white flour

2 teaspoons salt

1/4 teaspoon yeast

About 1 1/2 cups water, room temperature

1/2 cup sesame seeds

1/2 cup pumpkin seeds

1 tbsp crushed fennel seeds

For the tapenade:

1 pound cherry tomatoes, whole

handful of fresh oregano

handful of fresh basil

1/2 cup grated parmesan

5 anchovy fillets, in olive oil

1 head of garlic

1/4 cup olive oil

salt and pepper

To make the crispbread, mix the first four dry ingredients and then stir in the water. Mix until no dry bits of flour remain. Let stand, covered, for 12 to 18 hours at room temperature. When ready, pour the dough onto a lightly floured work surface. Flour the surface, gently shape it into a rectangle and slice it evenly. Each piece of dough should be about the size of an unleavened biscuit.

Preheat your oven to 425 degrees, and prepare a baking sheet line with parchment paper. Roll out each piece of dough, one at a time. When you think it can’t be rolled any thinner, drape it gently over your hands, allow it to stretch further. The dough should be translucent. Don’t worry about it tearing. These large rounds of cracker will eventually broken by hand at the table. Once thin, spread it on the baking sheet, and brush it lightly with water. This will help the seeds to adhere. Cover it generously with the sesame, pumpkin seeds, and fennel. Bake for about 10 minutes, or until golden and crisp. If you don’t want to cook them all off at once, the dough can be wrapped and refrigerated for up to a week.

For the tapenade, preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and cover it with the tomatoes. Oil them lightly. Let them cook for 1 hour or until they’ve become soft, wrinkled, and richly sweet. In the last 30 minutes, wrap the head of garlic in some foil with a little oil and let it roast in the oven.

Once cooked, place the tomatoes in a food processor. Carefully squeeze the roasted garlic from its skin into the food processor. Put all remaining ingredients in the food processor and pulse until smooth. And there you have it. Serve this with a glass of cold red wine.. You’ll thank me.

Enjoy! 

 

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We have moved yet again. After two months of house-sitting in an urban oasis, we packed up our things and said our goodbyes. We took the dog out for one more walk. We cooked one more dinner. We slept one more night. And then we left.

The next morning, our belongings were jammed into a U-Haul and shoved into storage. We found ourselves in domestic limbo. Thank the universe for the kindness and goodwill of friends, for without them, we would’ve likely filled up a cooler and pitched a tent somewhere in Centennial Park. Instead, for one week, we had the great fortune of staying in our friends’ guest room. They opened up their kitchen to us without judgment of our homemade and highly aromatic kimchi or the bubbling bread starter left out on the kitchen counter. We played board games, had a fish fry, built a bonfire. 

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But we couldn’t stay there forever. After a week, we traveled north to our heimat. Welcomed by rolling hills of bluegrass and thick, hearty green forests filled with birdsong, we saw family once more before summer’s end.

And so begins our next assignment. Four months in a charming home in Sylvan Park. Built in 1918, with original hardwood, the floor plan seems almost labrynthine, each room like a reverie that leads to the next. Outside the house, the plants seem to wander and thrive just as the rooms. Tomato plants climb 12 feet up into the trees, some bearing bright yellow, sweet fruit. Others recline rangily, spreading themselves across the lawn. The harvest has been so fruitful, in fact, that each day yields a heaping bowlful of plump, red fruit. And as I have had my fair share of gazpacho and herbaceous tomato salads, I searched for another route. I first considered cooking them down and making a homemade pasta sauce with lots of garlic, fresh oregano, and anchovy. But I found myself wandering out of Italy and into France, which led me to this classic tomato tarte.

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It starts with an ultra-buttery dough, the kind perfect for quiche or quite literally any pie you can dream up. But to make it even more comforting, I added a small amount of wheat flour to the dough. The result is an intensely rich, flaky crust with the warm flavors of toasted wheat. As for the filling, it began with deeply caramelized onions and dijon mustard, covered with a layer of blistered, sweet cherry tomatoes and fresh thyme. Served with a green salad and a glass of good red wine, it’s hard to beat.

Classic French Tomato Tarte

For the dough:

1 1/2 cups white flour

1/2 cup wheat flour

1 teaspoon salt

2 sticks VERY COLD butter (225 grams), diced

1/4 cup ice water

1 egg yolk (for egg wash)

For the filling:

1 pound cherry tomatoes, whole

2 yellow onions, sliced in rounds

3 tbsp dijon mustard

neutral oil, canola is fine

salt and pepper

To make the dough, dice the butter and allow it to chill in the freezer for about 10 minutes. Meantime, in a large bowl, mix the flour and salt. Add the butter to the flour and, with a pastry cutter (or another fancy device like a stand mixer), mix until the butter is incorporated into the flour. The butter should break into small pieces about the size of mustard seeds, but should not be any smaller. These pea-sized bits of butter will melt luxuriously into the dough when it cooks for great effect. Add the ice water, a little at a time, until the dough just comes together. Form it into a rough disk, wrap it in plastic, and let it chill in the freezer for 45 minutes to an hour.

As the dough chills, heat a large pan on medium heat with a bit of oil. Slice the onions and let them cook for about 5 minutes without stirring them. The idea is to allow them to sit so they caramelize. Give them a stir and repeat the process. Over time, you’ll notice that the onions will begin to turn a rich golden brown. They should not burn. They should, however, reduce considerably over the course of an hour.

As the onions cook, heat another pan on medium-high heat with a bit of oil. Wash the tomatoes and throw them in the pan. Let them sizzle, blister, and burst. Every once in a while, give the pan a little shake to move them about.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

Once the onions have caramelized deeply, add the 3 tbsps of dijon mustard. Stir to mix and then taste. If your dijon mustard is considerably salty enough, don’t add any more. Otherwise, add salt as needed. Likewise, season the tomatoes with salt and fresh black pepper.

Remove the dough from the freezer and place it onto a clean, floured surface. With a rolling pin, roll it out to a circle about 18” in diameter. It will initially be difficult to roll out, but will become easier as it warms up. Be sure to flour it as you go so that it doesn’t stick. Once rolled out, place the dough onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. 

Spread the onion-mustard mixture over the dough. Leave about 2 inches at the edge to be rolled over as the crust. On top of the onion mixture, pour the tomatoes. Fold the edges of the dough over to form a crust. With your thumb and index finger, crimp the dough where it folds over upon itself.

Bake it for 1 1/2 hours, or until the crust has brown. In the last 10 minutes, rub the outer edges of dough with the beaten egg yolk. Let cook until it has a burnished sheen.

Enjoy.

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Macaroni and cheese comprised a large part of my childhood eats. And chances are, if you were born in America, the stuff made its way to your dinner table (or couch) every once in a while. Little wonder it’s long been the reigning king of weeknight meals, backyard barbecues, and church potlucks. After all, there is pasta and cheese involved.

Here recently in Nashville, we’ve had the unique joy of 60 degree mornings. Just yesterday, I stepped out for a walk and found myself in need of a sweater. It got me thinking of fall. In turn, it got me thinking of all kinds of warm, rich, comforting foods. At the top of the list was mac n’ cheese. 

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While mac n’ cheese is certainly a stalwart offering in the American comfort food canon, it’s been around in some form for quite a long time. In fact, the Forme of Cury, a 14th century English cookbook had a recipe for something called makerouns (as in macaroni), a casserole of hand-cut pasta with butter and cheese. For your fascination, I’ve included the recipe in the original middle English below:

“Take and make a thynne foyle of dowh. and kerve it on peces, and cast hem on boillyng water & seeþ it wele. take chese and grate it and butter cast bynethen and above as losyns. and serue forth.”

While I have a special place in my heart for Velveeta Shells and Cheese, the recipe I’ve included below hearkens back to the middle ages. In other words, this dish is not for the faint of heart. It is, of course, creamy and decadently rich. But standing at the forefront is a bold, earthy funk, thanks to the clothbound and washed-rind cheeses. Yes, you could certainly substitute these for a mild, classic cheddar. But if that’s the case, save yourself the time and trouble and let Velveeta do the work.

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For those of you still with me, tantalized by the prospect of something funky and intense, I salute you.

14th Century Mac n’ Cheese

Ingredients:

3 cups shells or conchiglie pasta, uncooked

2 oz tallegio cheese

3 oz Neal’s Yard clothbound cheddar

4 oz cave-aged Gruyére

1 cup milk

3 tbsp flour

2 tbsp butter

1 cup bread crumbs

black pepper

Before we begin, fill a large pot with hot water and place it on the boil. Season generously with salt.

To make the bread crumbs, I suggest using rustic, days-old bread. If you’re in a pinch, toast up whatever bread you have under the broiler and then throw it into a food processor. Or, if you want to keep it even more rustic, chop it finely with a knife. I can’t stress just how delicious the bread crumbs are in this dish.

Today, we’ll be making a béchamel sauce. If you’re a Southerner, I’m talking about gravy. All of those intense cheeses need a form of transport. And by adding them to a cream sauce, they’ll melt down and effectively cover every nook and cranny of the pasta. So, the béchamel.

In a medium-sized pan, melt your butter on medium heat. To the butter, add the flour and stir to mix well. This is a roux, and it serves to thicken sauces, gravies, soups, etc. Let it cook, stirring occasionally, until the color just begins to change and it smells like roasted almonds.

A little at a time, we’ll add the milk to the roux. Have a whisk ready so that you can incorporate the milk into the roux. You don’t want any lumps. Little by little, add the milk, whisking gently but constantly, until a gravy forms. Lower the heat to a gentle simmer.

As the béchamel simmers, let’s cut the cheese. Consider this practice for what might come hours after eating this dish. For the softer tallegio, which might not cut well, don’t worry about it. Be sure to reserve a small handful of cheese, which will be used later to melt onto the top of the pasta. Raise the heat slightly and pour the cheese into the béchamel a little at a time, stirring well to incorporate. Lower the heat once again, being sure to stir occasionally.

When the water boils, cook the pasta until al dente. Drain and pour into a mixing bowl. Pour the cheesy béchamel sauce over the pasta and stir so that the pasta is completely coated.

Turn on the broiler to its highest setting. Into small ramekins, place a generous amount of the pasta and cheese mixture (it should rise well above the rim of the ramekin). Layer the reserved cheese on top of the pasta and cover generously with the bread crumbs. Place the ramekins on a sheet pan and place them under the broil. Let cook until the bread crumbs begin to darken and char and the cheese begins to bubble and crisp.

Though you may sense a strong and immediate urge to dip your face into the ramekin, allowing a molten-hot, rich, creamy cheese-lather to drip down your chin, it’s better to wait a minute or two.

For the full effect, this 14th century mac n’ cheese is best enjoyed while wearing a woolen cloak and complaining of chills and fever.

Enjoy.

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Hard to believe, but this is the first dessert recipe I’ve ever posted. Up until recently, I was staunchly opposed to writing about sweets. Something about it seemed almost gimmicky. In truth, I’ve never been, by any means, innovative when it comes to making desserts (unless you count the time I tried to surprise my wife by making a cake, substituting olive oil for butter and cherry juice for granulated sugar–I’m sure you have a good sense of about how successful that was).

But before you start calling me a sell-out, complaining that this cookie post is a cheap way to garner millions of views on Pinterest, just hear me out. I’m doing this because I love you.

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What I’m trying to tell you is that I’ve found the perfect chocolate chip cookie recipe. This is probably the moment where you begin to wonder how many times you’ve heard such an empty promise. I understand your reservations and your doubts. Your fears and your tired years of longing. I too have been let down by many a cookie recipe. Like bad relationships, a lover’s empty promises (“baby, I’ll be so good to you”), once I warmed their dough in my oven, I saw them for what they were all along: fakes, phonies.

Most were on the cake-y side of the spectrum, like little chocolate chip muffin tops. Others, meanwhile, could have been suitably repurposed as hockey pucks. With cookies, it’s all about the texture. And that’s why, when I came upon David Lebovitz’s recipe for Salted Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies and found them to be everything I could ever want in a cookie, I had to share them with you. The salted butter, which has become ubiquitous in recent years, adds to the savor of these cookies, but it’s the technique and preparation that elevate them to celestial climes.

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The Recipe

Salted Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies (from David Lebovitz)

Ingredients:

4 ounces salted butter, at room temperature

2/3 cup dark brown sugar

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1 large egg, at room temperature

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 1/3 cup flour

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon sea salt or kosher salt

1 1/3 cups coarsely chopped bittersweet chocolate

1 cup toasted walnuts, coarsely chopped

In a large bowl, beat together the butter, brown sugar, and granulated sugar until smooth. If you don’t feel like using a stand mixer, a spoon works just fine. Now beat in the egg and the vanilla.

In a separate bowl, mix the flour, baking soda, and salt.

Stir the flour into the beaten butter until you no longer see any dry bits of flour. Now stir in the chocolate and the toasted nuts.

Form the batter into a somewhat circular disc, wrap it in plastic, and let it chill in the fridge. Lebovitz suggests to let it chill overnight, but I’ve found that an hour in the freezer works just fine.

When you’re ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350 degrees, and line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Lebovitz suggests shaping the dough into “rounds about the size of a large unshelled walnut,” but I must admit that after searching back in the vault of my subconsciousness, I held no memories of mid-september days, crouched down on sodden dirt beneath a black walnut tree, filling up pails of the smoky, meaty fruit.  And so, for your sake, dear reader, I’ve used a US quarter cent piece for scale because, unfortunately, our society has become more familiar with the specific size and weight of currency than of the fruits of nature.

Alas.

Place the mounds on the baking sheet and flatten them just so the dough is even and no longer domed. Bake the cookies on the center rack of the oven for 10 minutes. Halfway through, turn the baking sheet so that every cookie bakes evenly. After ten minutes, remove them from the oven. With a spatula, gently flatten them and place them back in the oven.

Let them cook about 3 minutes more. But keep a close eye on them. Once they are a light golden brown, remove them from the oven and take them off the hot baking sheet. Flatten them lightly once again, and resist your urge to eat two or three right out of the oven.

I know we all understand the joy of a warm cookie, but my wife, who is something of a sucrose connoisseur, introduced me to well-chilled chocolate chip cookies. After some time in the refrigerator, the butter and sugar firm ever so slightly and the cookies take on an almost caramel-like chewiness. Think about that for a minute.

You’re welcome.

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Let me start with some honesty: my wife’s eating habits are by far more nutritious and healthy than my own. If I lived alone, I would be a very unhealthy man. I would make very poor choices. I would not clean my room. This becomes strikingly and (sometimes) sickeningly obvious when she’s traveling and I’m at home.

Take her recent trip to Switzerland, for example. While she hiked the alps, drinking in the beauty of the landscape and dining on fresh vegetables and grains, I was at home, trying to think of new and different ways to cook organ meats. And though I spent some time working on a peasant’s version of foie gras (basically, smooth chicken liver pate cooked down with shallot and–because I did not have any cognac–you guessed it, bourbon), I was completely contented with a very large plate of fried chicken livers dipped in sweet ketchup and washed down with some cheap, very cold beer.

But because Raquelle is not always traveling, we find ourselves bumping heads over what we should cook, or buy at the grocery, or eat out. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not some kind of infantile weirdo who refuses to eat anything that is not either fried or called a “Chick’n Tend’r.” I eat my greens. I have a garden. I do yoga. I know what spirulina is.

What I’m trying to say is that dinners at our house are about compromise. If I can’t convince my wife that we haven’t had burgers in a long time (and so it wouldn’t be that bad to indulge ‘just this once’), we have to find a way to come up with a meal whose healthfulness doesn’t detract from it’s deliciousness. In other words, a vegetable stir-fry is great, so long as I’m allowed to use soy sauce for seasoning and toasted sesame oil for some ‘oomph.’

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Recently, she made a very simple soup from coconut milk, broccoli, onion, and finely chopped hot pepper. She had picked up the recipe from 101 cookbooks, a very beautiful and extensive food blog with lots of good ideas on how to cook grains and greens. I must say that I watched in doubt as the soup cooked on the stove, a stockless broth, comprised of nearly 4 cups of tasteless tap water. I expected it to be thin, lacking in complexity, in dire need of salt, oil, anything…but I was wrong.

The coconut broccoli soup was simultaneously rich and light at the same time, like an elevated and complex version of a broccoli cheese soup, sans le fromage, bien sur.  While it was certainly a welcome surprise, it stood in my mind as a kind of first course food. Served in a small ornately beautiful bowl at the beginning of the meal, it would be a sort of prelude to a culinary suite.

But then again, I considered how I could fortify the soup, what I could do to turn it into something more substantially delicious. The coconut milk, of course, was reminiscent of Thai and Vietnamese cooking. Which meant that it could be paired with lemongrass and cilantro and lime. And as for protein, I had seafood in mind: a couple enormous and spicy prawns or soft and sweet seared scallops (how’s that for unintentional alliteration?!). In the end, I went with a beautiful piece of atlantic salmon, seasoned well with salt and pink peppercorn and seared aggressively on both sides.

As for the baby carrots you see below, well, they don’t have anything to do with this dish. They were just beautiful and happened to be posing quite well on the day I was working on this very post. If you can’t stop thinking about carrots now, here’s a thought: roast them in the oven with olive oil, cumin, salt and pepper, and then finish them with good local honey and a generous squeeze of grapefruit or orange.

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Here’s how you make this:

Coconut-Broccoli Soup with Seared Salmon (adapted from 101 cookbooks)

Ingredients:

1 14-ounce can of full fat coconut milk

3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped

1 large yellow onion, chopped

1 small serrano chile, chopped

2 stalks lemongrass, stubs removed, split lengthwise

2 teaspoons salt

4 1/2 cups water

3 large heads of broccol, cut into small florets

2 wild-caught salmon filets, about 6-ounces each

2 limes

1 bunch green onions

Put a large pot on med-high heat and into it add a dallop of the thick cream from the top of the can of coconut milk. Once warm, stir in the garlic, onions, lemongrass, chile and salt. Let the veg sauté for a couple minutes until they begin to soften. Now add the remaining coconut milk and the water. For a richer soup, you can decrease the amount of water to 3 1/2 cups. Bring the soup to a boil, then add in the small broccoli florets. Let the broccoli cook just long enough for it to be tender, about 4 minutes. Remove the soup from the heat and let sit.

Meanwhile, heat a good glug of safflower oil in a pan on medium-high. Season the salmon liberally with salt and pepper on both sides. Just before the oil reaches the smoke point, carefully place the salmon into the pan, skin side down. Give it a gentle nudge to be sure the skin doesn’t stick. Let it cook for 4 minutes. After, 4 minutes, turn the salmon and let it cook 4 minutes more. The high heat and the quick cook time will yield a mélange of textures, from salt-crispy outer skin, to soft and tender inner flesh. Once out of the pan, spoon out a ladle-full of soup into the bowl and place the salmon on top. Season it generously with chopped green onion, fresh lime, and spicy red chili oil.

Enjoy!