I Grew All This

Lemon Cukes and Notes from the Summer

Hello! As you read this, I’m driving south along the Pacific. We started in Seattle on Thursday, and we’ll make it to San Francisco before the week’s out. If you have recommendations for stops in Portland or along the Oregon or California coast, please share.

While back-to-school season always makes me wish I were a student again, the pleasure of a being able to take a vacation after Labor Day can’t be overstated. The summer’s just longer this way.

While I’m on the road, away from the kitchen, a little recap of what the season has brought to this small kitchen:

Growing in the garden:

CarrotsAfter planting our first few radishes in April, both our vegetables and the number of containers holding them multiplied. Gardening is addictive.

Here’s what we ended up growing: two kinds of little tomatoes (sun gold, red pear), two kinds of radishes, lemon cucumbers, green leaf lettuce, kale, habaneros, carrots and a bunch of herbs (tarragon, sage, dill, basil, Thai basil, and mint). We planted string beans but they petered out early. I also threw in some marigold seeds and some nasturtiums.

Kitchen Stuff: The Liquid Measuring Cup

Kitchen Stuff Liquid Measure

In a small kitchen, you don’t need a lot of equipment to cook great food. Still, you do need some pots, pans, utensils, and dishes–obviously. In the BGSK book, you’ll find a bare bones list of necessary equipment, but I’ve long wanted to bring you a similar resource on the web.

So we’re going one by one, stocking up our virtual pantries and maybe our real ones too.

Want to make pizza, perfect rice, and baked goods that turn out right every time? In order to do so, you’re going to want to bulk up your measuring kit with a liquid measure in addition to dry measures (those metal cups with handles you use to spoon out flour and sugar). Why?

Dry measures are simply designed for dry ingredients. It’s hard to pour out maple syrup or water and get it right to the top, but not over. Even harder is picking up that measure without spilling a drop–therefore screwing with your proportions. A liquid measure allows you to match your liquid to a horizontal line denoting that you’ve got the right amount, and to pour your water or wine out neatly, through a spout. I have a few measuring cups, but the one to start with is this Pyrex 2-cup glass measure, which is microwave safe, stackable, and easy to clean.

Here’s what deliciousness you’ll get when you measure water, stock, and vodka in your liquid measuring cup:

Sesame & Almond Cookies

Sesame Cookies That Go With Ice Cream

Summer may feel like it’s waning, so now seems the time to eat our absolute fill of frozen desserts–and the cookies that go with our ice cream.

On Friday, at the Dutchess County Fair, I ordered a root beer float instead of one of the other snacks in a long, long list. There were fried jalapeños, frozen chocolate-covered bananas, ribbon fries, maple cotton candy, freshly roasted peanuts, Polish-style hamburgers, footlong hot dogs, frozen lemonade, and funnel cake to choose from. But these are the last official days of summer, and so I had to pick the irresistible favorite from the country ice cream stand, the float.

Dutchess County FairDutchess County Fair

I’ve made that same choice–for ice cream–many times this summer. As a host, I love to figure out the best homemade dessert for a given crowd and occasion, but as an eater, I’ve been pretty single-minded: let’s have ice cream, I think, over and over, no matter what we’re having for dinner.

And so, for dinner guests who came earlier in the summer and feasted with us on roasted chicken, good bread with softened butter, and grilled romaine salad with lentils, we ended the meal not only with a selection of ice creams and sorbets but also with simple homemade cookies made only because they went well with the frozen sweets.
Sesame Cookies That Go With Ice CreamSesame Cookies That Go With Ice CreamSesame Cookies That Go With Ice Cream

These are cookies with almost no flour. They get body from almond paste and from eggs. They don’t have too many ingredients beyond that! To things finish off, you roll balls through a plate of toasted sesame seeds, coating every millimeter of the soft, sticky dough’s surface in the seeds. Baked, the cookies deliver the flavor of halva with the texture of almond macaroons.

What I’ve Learned About Making Fried Rice

Fried Rice Tips

I’ve always loved fried rice, but this summer it’s become a weekly staple. I try to cook a few cups of rice when I have a moment in the morning, and then we know we can get down the wok, chop up the garlic, and fry the already-cooked rice when we’re starving in the evening. Usually, there are leftovers of that, a repurposed repurposing which bodes well for at least one more meal.

I used to make fried rice the same way every time. Recently, I’ve varied my fried rice practice, thanks to inspiration from professional fried rice makers, like Jean-Georges Vongerichten and Andy Ricker. Because fried rice is such a cheap, quick, and filling dish, and a brilliant way to use up leftover grain, it makes sense to me that so many experts from around the world would have pioneering methods that they swear by.

Chefs may swear by single methods, but I’m much more fickle, likely to swear by them all, depending on the day. As I became enamored of one way and then another, I’ve gathered tips that inform the dish overall. Maybe they’ll inform your fried rice making too, whatever phase you’re in right now.

Vegetarian Fried Rice

You can make fried rice my old way

For a long time, I’ve made fried rice in the same way as any other clean-out-the-fridge stir-fry: cook onions, ginger, and garlic, add other vegetables in hot oil in a wok, add cooled white or brown rice, push everything aside to make room for a beaten egg, which I’d scramble egg, and add sauce. If I was using meat, I’d stir-fry it first and then set aside before returning it to the pan. For sauce, I’d go as minimal as nothing but salt, take a middle ground of pouring on soy sauce, or max out at soy sauce plus brown sugar and sriracha. This fried rice can be vegetable-rich or poor, it’s sometimes a bit clumpy, but most importantly it’s addictive and delicious.

You can use other grains

For a while, my biggest variation was what grain I used. In the name of eating a whole protein, I stir-fried quinoa in addition to or instead of rice. This idea lets you play around with the nutritional content of your dish, or use up what’s in the pantry.

You can caramelize your onion and garlic

Probably my first big departure from fried rice as usual happened after I read this Vongerichten recipe, which Food52 published three years ago. The ingredients were minimal, but the method was peculiar. You almost deep-fry minced garlic and ginger, strain the pieces out, caramelize some leeks, cook rice in the flavored oil with the leeks, and then top everything with a fried egg, soy sauce, and sesame oil.

You should cook in small batches and season with fish sauce

Here’s where I am right now, today: Andy Ricker’s recipe for khao phat muu from Pok Pok. You start with a crispy fried egg, which you roughly push to the side of the wok instead of treating delicately, because it doesn’t matter if your yolk breaks. You cook shallots and garlic. You make one serving at a time, so that every grain touches the pan. (While that means you probably don’t want to cook this for a crowd, you’ll find that for two or three the batches go so fast that you’ll follow Ricker’s direction.) You use bits of pork, or shrimp, or no meat at all. You season with a mix of fish sauce, soy sauce, and sugar. You garnish with something spicy–bird’s eye chilies in vinegar, or sriracha. Ricker calls for a garnish of cilantro, but this summer I’ve been sprinkling on both mint and Thai basil, because that’s what’s growing in the garden.

You can use freshly cooked rice

And here’s maybe where I’m going, at least in a pinch. In a recent Bon Appétit video, we witness Danny Bowien saying that he uses fresh Jasmine rice, straight from the rice cooker. Using a really hot wok means, I guess, that you can press out the lumps against the surface, and so the dryness and separateness of previously cooked rice isn’t at such a premium. 

Blackberry Fool

Blackberry Fool

A creamy sweet treat is hard to beat on a humid late-summer night. The cocktail-like flavors of this light-as-air dessert are even more attractive. Add in the fact that this is an easy dessert to make at the last minute, and it’s easily a go-to recipe for your backyard parties. A fool is a European dessert, similar in texture to mousse and usually flavored with fruit purees. It is so pretty served in glass cocktail glasses to show off its lovely magenta berry swirl.

Kitchen Stuff: The Scented Candle

Scented Candle2

In a small kitchen, you don’t need a lot of equipment to cook great food. Still, you do need some pots, pans, utensils, and dishes–obviously. In the BGSK book, you’ll find a bare bones list of necessary tools, but I’ve long wanted to bring you a similar resource on the web.

So we’re going one by one, stocking up our virtual pantries and maybe our real ones too.

Cooking is hardly low-impact. In fact, making dinner can be downright dramatic. Food sizzles loudly. Smoke explodes from your pan. Hot liquids splatter up from simmering pots.

And then there are the smells. Most of the scents that waft from pots and pans are delicious, at least before dinner. Afterwards, some foods give off odors that linger way too long. These include anything fried, fish, bacon, and broccoli. (Any other scents you hate? I can’t stand how caramelized onions smell, even though I adore how they taste!) I have a few methods for getting the smells out quickly from a small space, including closing the bedroom door before I start, opening a lot of windows, and pointing the fan outwards. The one that restores odor equilibrium best is burning a nice-smelling candle after dinner. I love the candles from Antica Farmacista, especially the grapefruit.

And, here are the very delicious foods whose not-so delicious after-scents you’ll burn off with your candle (pictured above).