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September 2007
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November 2007

Potato Turnip Cakes


I am still flailing with the glory of it all, simply flailing. Do you have any idea what I did today, what joyous music and ethereal light broke forth from the heavens over the wondrous discovery I made within the four linoleumed walls of my little kitchen?

People, I shredded potatoes. With my food processor. For. The. Very. First. Time.

Take it in. Breathe deeply. Raise your arms and praise the heavens along with me. I know you want to. Do you feel a little victory jig coming on? Let it happen. I know I did. And if you start squealing, or maybe even hopping, well, you're in good company.

I don't know why this always seemed like such an impossibility. Oh sure, other people could shred cabbage and carrots in their food processor, but me, I just had to julienne the cabbage into tiny ruffly lines by hand until my fingers bled, because their machine was a fancy one that they registered for when they got married, or maybe because they were real food professionals, and me, well, I never even went to cooking school, or, or, I know!, it's because their parents taught them how to ski when they were little, and listened to rock music on the radio and let them eat chocolate every once in a while, that's it, I'm sure of it, I know. Knowing how to shred things with a food processor is, like, a genetic gift.

I can be so stupid. After all, when Ben's mother gave me her Robot Coupe two years ago, along with a set of extra grating and shredding inserts, I had such high hopes ("carrot salad!" dream on, girlie). And then I promptly put them into hiding in my cupboards and made sure they didn't see the light of day since. Oh sure, I made many a pie crust in that thing, and bread and hummus and pesto and meatloaf. But did I even grate a single potato? Nope, non, nein.

Tonight, home before nine for the first time in a week, and on a whim (I had turnips in my CSA delivery, and potatoes, and a recipe on the CSA handout from Martha Stewart for turnip-flecked potato latkes), I finally dug out one of those little metal inserts - so utterly unconvincing and yet also intimidating. Fully convinced it wouldn't even fit, I banged it around on the food processor and then, lo! It snapped into place. Still operating dully in disbelief, and with the motor on, I quartered a russet potato, and slowly dropped it in the feed tube.

That, my friends, is when the heavens opened with the voices of angels. Shredded potatoes! In my kitchen! Look!


Oh, the possibilities. I know, I know - admitting this discovery is probably like when I told you all that I had never really realized the location of my broiler: hu-mi-li-aaaaay-ting. Whatever. I'm over it. The victory jig ensued. There was squealing. And hopping. And more squealing (maybe even yelling). My food processor shreds things! It's a bloody miracle.

Oh, and the latkes? Eh. They were fine - a little sharp from the grated turnip, nicely crispy on the outside, and still soft on the inside. I added an egg to bind them, and kind of wished I could concentrate on something other than the miracle of grated vegetables to figure out what herb to liven these up with (Ben, later, had the genius idea of smearing them with a bit of apple butter, in lieu of apple sauce). If I'm totally honest, I'm not much of a potato pancake kind of girl.

But let's think about this for a second. Who really cares?

My food processor knows how to shred!

Gluten-Free For a Day

It's just past 7:00, the sky is still that grayish mauve, and I'm standing in the kitchen, rooting through our cupboards. A mug of milky tea, brewed by Ben for me while I still lay in bed, blinking away the fog of my final dream of the night, is on the counter next to me, steam twisting off of it like a gossamer scarf. I pluck a few dried figs from a plastic packet and chew them as I contemplate a can of oatmeal, a box of Grape-Nuts, a stale chocolate cookie meant for the trash. But none of them will do for my breakfast, you see, because today I'm going gluten-free. And I'm totally unprepared.

Never mind, I tell myself, and get ready for work. I pass a Whole Foods on the way to the office, and I'll just stop in there to collect my breakfast - after all, it's probably a mecca for someone who can't tolerate gluten because they suffer from celiac disease. I ride the train into the city, looking out at the passing neighborhoods, seeing the skyline grow closer. My stomach rumbles. Why am I doing this again?

Shauna, at Gluten-Free Girl, was diagnosed with celiac disease just a few years ago. After a lifetime of mysterious illness, she finally knew the culprit: gluten, those little strands of protein found in wheat and barley and rye and oats. All she'd have to do to feel better is cut out the gluten from her life entirely. No more bread, no more pasta, no soy sauce, no blue cheese. But instead of feeling deprived, like I'm sure I'd feel, Shauna was empowered by her diagnosis. She saw it as a new lease on life. With her first book now for sale, she's working tirelessly to make other celiac sufferers feel less alone, less deprived, less lost in this whole maze of labels and warnings and restrictions.

I can't really imagine life with a restriction like that. I have no food allergies and my pickiness is contained to a green herb or two. So I've decided to challenge myself, walk a day in someone else's shoes, and go gluten-free the whole day long. Easy-peasy, right? Well, I'm at Whole Foods, having walked past the display of fresh muffins and scones - all of them off-limits - and am standing in the cereal aisle, completely overwhelmed. Almost everything is off-limits. The things that seem like they might be okay don't explicitly say so. The one box that is gluten-free is Bob's Red Mill hot cereal, which I know Shauna's written about, but I can't fix hot cereal at the office. So I grab a yogurt (after staring at the label for what feels like ages) and a sweet bar of sesame seeds and quinoa and march off to work, feeling somewhat defeated.


My breakfast is odd - too sweet and too processed - and I can't help but feel a little resentful. Wasn't Whole Foods supposed to make this easy for me? Never mind - lunch will be different. I'm meeting a good friend at City Bakery, where the salad bar's panoply of fresh vegetables and interesting grains is certain to satisfy. Except once I get there and pace back and forth in front of the platters of food, I'm wracked with nerves. The chicken's off-limits due to the breadcrumb coating on one version and the soy sauce in the other. Ditto for the Chinese noodles, the quesadillas, the cornbread-crusted catfish. I ask about the King Ranch casserole, timidly volunteering that I'm gluten-free and feeling like an absolute fraud, but all I get is an apologetic shrug - no one knows if it's gluten-free and I'm not feeling brave enough to insist on an answer.

Eventually, I choose stewy red peppers, mushrooms with herbs, roasted Jerusalem artichokes and, after much deliberation, three rectangles of marinated tofu with chili sauce. I feel lost and ignorant and it frustrates me to no end. It's delicious, of course, but something else I hate to admit bubbles up inside me - it'd taste so much better with a piece of bread to mop it up. Two meals, and I'm already waving a white flag? Pathetic, I know. My admiration for Shauna's enthusiasm and gusto only grows.


Luckily, the afternoon is so busy with work that I entirely miss my usual four o'clock slump when I have to skulk to the vending machine for a packet of pretzels that get me through until dinner. After work, I walk over to Grand Central, where I've been invited to a private tasting event at Grand Central Market. (Which makes me wish I had my daily commute from there instead of Penn Station - Wild Edibles and Penzeys and Murray's Cheese and so many others under one roof? It's amazing.) I say no to caviar on blini, salmon on toast, delicate pastries, coconut-crusted chicken. A plate of antipasti rolls by and I snag a few sundried tomatoes, a mini ball of mozzarella and later on, a delectable slice of Constant Bliss. But I keep having to pipe up about the wheat and the gluten and no one seems to know - I get blank looks, apologetic shrugs, and well-meaning offers of "vegetarian meatballs, with breadcrumbs!". Eventually, it all gets to be too much, but before I leave, the kindly folks at Zaro press a plastic bag of fresh bread in my hands. I smile at the irony and say my goodbyes.

I call Ben from the station - he's at home with fresh fish that he bought for dinner. With me on the phone, he goes through our cupboards: two boxes of couscous (no and no), some pasta (no). I wonder, in irritation, if dinner tonight for me will be fish and nothing else. But then, Ben triumphantly announces the discovery of a few grains of wild rice mix - we're on. When I finally arrive home, the scent of fresh bread wafting tauntingly from my bag, I'm exhausted. We sit down to dinner - pan-roasted tilapia, more beet salad, and wild rice, nourishing and wholesome. But for some reason, I barely enjoy the meal.


It hasn't been so bad, my gluten-free day, if I'm honest, but the constant vigilance is what gets to me. Every day you have to be on your toes, aware, not afraid to ask or refuse or reorder. Your health and well-being is on the line and no amount of eye-rolling or dogged questioning can deter you. I will never forget Shauna's experience in the Atlanta airport after returning from Italy - and that's what's on my mind the most tonight as I chew. Because I take food for granted, I do. As well as my good health.

My eyes have been opened.

Chez Panisse's Butternut Squash Risotto


I've been reading Alan Weisman's The World Without Us over the past few weeks. Usually, I breeze through books in a few hours flat, but I can only take a little bit of this one at a time. I read part of a chapter each night before bed, then close the book feeling slightly wide-eyed and totally desperate. It's tough to read this book without feeling that life on earth really is rather futile and pointless, and I'm sure I don't need to tell anyone that this isn't exactly a helpful attitude to have if you're trying to be a normal, functioning human being with hopes and dreams and goals (who wants to end up like George Sibley, after all?).

We drove out to a nature preserve on Long Island yesterday, past empty strip malls and prefab homes, down winding lanes and old stone walls. We ended up in a tiny 6-car parking lot where the air was light and clean and almost entirely quiet except for the very gentle wind in the trees and the occasional bird calling out and the usual hustle and bustle of chipmunks skittering over the moist earth and softly rotting leaves. We sat in our car with the doors open and ate sandwiches Ben had made, chewing quietly in order not to disturb the aural peace, then made our way through the grassy paths - hot underfoot from the strange October sun - to the cooler, darker, sun-dappled forest. Fallen tree trunks, covered in moss and lichen, blocked our path now and then, and the crackling twigs and leaves that heralded our arrival made birds and smaller animals flit away in a small flurry of movement. The forest smelled fresh and piney.

Our winding path led us to a grassy bluff overlooking the Long Island Sound. We took our shoes off and walked up and down the beach, picking up opalescent rocks, creamy-white quahog shells, and weathered sticks of driftwood. We watched seagulls feast on their lunch, dashing mussels on the rocks, diving underwater and coming back up with their beaks smacking, picking at little and not-so-little crabs. Regular gourmands, those gulls. The Sound was a deep, dark blue - the color of my great-aunt Luisa's silk wedding dress - and lapped at the shore soothingly. We passed a lone couple splayed out on a blanket fast asleep and I could almost feel the cool, wet sand under my shoulder blades as I watched them out of the corner of my eyes.


On our drive back home again I tried hard to hold onto the sounds of the ocean and the forest. But it's harder than you think, once winding bridle paths give way to turnpikes and local highways. Plus, Led Zeppelin was on the radio, and I can't ever turn off Led Zeppelin - it reminds me of Berlin and the people I grew up with, 8th grade dances on a ski trip in Austria and the absolutely glorious awkwardness of youth. Those are memories I've always got time for. The nature preserve fell further and further behind us, and we daydreamed about the day when we'll live by the ocean full-time - writing, making music, sipping tea. It's mostly an illusion, but these conversations move life forward, I suspect, keeping our gears oiled and running.

Forgive me, readers, but at home I took one look at my newspaper recipe files and turned away. I've read them through one too many times lately, can't seem to find the enthusiasm right now to make my way through another one just yet. Instead, I went to the fridge and poked through the various bags of CSA produce sitting in the crisper drawers, finding half a butternut squash, some crusty-looking beets, limpish kale, a dusty-brown head of garlic (well, that wasn't in the fridge) and a bundle of soft sage. Ben wandered in and wondered out loud if we shouldn't just order. I shooed him out again.

With Chez Panisse Vegetables open on the counter, I started roasting the beets for salad (page 44), cubing the butternut squash for risotto (page 282) and gently frying rosemary and garlic for the beans and kale (page 40). The beets sweetened and mellowed in the oven. I slipped off their thickish skins and sliced them thinly, then dressed them with nothing but flaky salt, olive oil and vinegar. The cubed squash simmered gently in sage-scented broth, while rice toasted in oil and butter and the onions grew translucent from the heat. The risotto, green-flecked and squash-studded, was sweet and faintly chewy - the squash toothsome and yielding. The crispy, fried sage leaves broke with the tiniest of crackles under the tines of our forks. The beans, canned, because life is sometimes not ready for dried, grew melting and stewy in their rosemary oil bath, and the chopped kale cooked down silkily around them. Drizzled with a greenish thread of fresh olive oil, the greens and beans were pleasingly herbal and earthy.


It was a good dinner, after a good day, despite the pinprick of melancholy I couldn't shake. The routine of preparing a meal and feeding the people you love: it never really gets old. That's part of what keeps us going, I suppose, routines and love and stupid, foolish hope that we won't really destroy the very thing that enables our existence.

Butternut Squash Risotto
Serves 6 to 8

1 medium butternut squash (about 1 pound)
24 sage leaves
Salt and pepper
7 to 8 cups chicken stock
1 medium onion
5 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 cups Arborio rice
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup Parmigiano Reggiano, grated

1. Peel and clean the squash, then dice it into very small cubes. Put the diced squash in a heavy-bottomed pan with a few whole sage leaves, salt and 1 cup of the chicken stock. Bring to a simmer and cook until tender, but not too soft, about 5 to 10 minutes. Meanwhile, chop 6 sage leaves fine and cut the onion into small dice.

2. Heat the rest of the stock and hold at a low simmer. In another heavy-bottomed saucepan, heat 3 tablespoons of butter, add the chopped sage and cook for a minute or so; add the onion and continue to cook over medium heat until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the rice and a pinch of salt and cook over low heat for about 3 minutes, stirring often, until the rice has turned slightly translucent. Turn up the heat and pour in the white wine. When the wine has been absorbed, add just enough hot stock to cover the rice, stir well and reduce the heat.

3. Keep the rice at a gently simmer and continue to add more stock, a ladle or two at a time, letting each addition be absorbed by the rice. While the rice is cooking, saute the remaining sage leaves in butter until crisp.

4. After 15 minutes, the rice will be nearly cooked. Stir in the cooked squash, the rest of the butter and the cheese. Continue cooking for 3 to 5 minutes, stirring often. Taste for texture and consistency, adding more stock if necessary. Adjust the seasoning. When done, serve in warm bowls and garnish with crisp sage leaves, and more cheese if desired.

Regina Schrambling's Chicken and Orzo with Lemon and Olives


The block continues, I'll be honest, though at least complaining about it seems to have unleashed some crazy sort of energy in me. After my last post, I suddenly felt freed - marched myself over to the corner salon and got a pedicure (Essie Bordeaux - so hottt), then planted myself determinedly in front of the computer on Friday night, with two lukewarm, sweetish, perfectly chewy char siu bao for dinner. Two episodes of The Office and one of Grey's Anatomy (does anyone agree that this show has jumped the shark? I am losing interest, swiftly - or maybe it's just tough to follow the genius of Steve Carell) later, I felt somewhat renewed. The next day, using all this new-found energy, I scoured the apartment within an inch of its life - cable wires and armoire carvings and window ledges have never sparkled with such lustre.

I also cooked like a madwoman - applesauce (recipe here, sans meringue, and next time I'd use less vanilla or none at all - but other than that it was delicious, lip-smackingly so) and chocolate-chip cookies (these, which in my opinion are The Best, though I didn't have enough brown sugar or time, so they didn't turn out quite as perfectly as they usually do, but if you follow Debbie's instructions, you will be on Chocolate Chip Cookie Cloud Nine, I promise), and apple butter (much tested in the blogosphere, but originating here and oh-so-wonderful - especially in plain Liberte yogurt, try it if you don't believe me... it might be my best snack yet), but also this one-pot meal from the same article as the collard squares.

It was tasty and easy - who knew that oven-cooking orzo with chicken broth rendered the orzo practically creamy? The lemons gave the dish an interesting, bitter bite and the olives provided a pleasing, salty kick. It kept us fed for two days and is the kind of meal you can get on the stove while you simultaneously zip up and down in your building feeling a little bit like Eloise though minus the pet raisin-eating turtle and hardy English nanny, to get your laundry in and out of the machines while your boyfriend scrubs the tub and moans for respite every once in a while (oh please, like I'm taking pity on you, I scrubbed the cable wires, for crying out loud, though actually, after reading this, I've decided that's the last time we clean with our old, toxic cleaning supplies - it's Blog Action Day, people! I'm taking action.) which, if you think about, is a pretty good kind of dinner to have in your arsenal.

(Is anyone else wondering where I'm going with all of this?)

(Nowhere, is where! Absolutely nowhere.)

The best part of the weekend, which was already shaping up to be pretty great (apparently cleaning and television-watching is all I need for happiness - tragic, I know), was that Deb and Alex and Shauna and Danny and Shauna's sweet friends all trekked out valiantly to Forest Hills, where we had a completely delightful meal at danny brown Wine Bar & Kitchen and talked gluten-free flours and flopping flans until we were gently nudged out the door (not only was our waiter, Tim, so super-charming, but the staff let us linger far past their Sunday closing time and had nothing but smiles and thanks for us when we left - gracious and delicious, that place is a gem). There's nothing like spending time with your Internet buddies, really.

And with that, mercifully, this manic post comes to an end. Thanks for reading, everyone! Let's hope things improve soon. I'm off to eat my weight in chocolate-chip cookies. Maybe that will inspire me.

Chicken and Orzo with Lemon and Olives
Serves 4

8 chicken drumsticks (I used four whole chicken legs)
Salt, pepper to taste
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 cups orzo
3 cups chicken broth
1 large clove garlic, minced
1 small lemon, cut into 8 wedges
1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
3/4 cup pitted Kalamata olives
1 large bay leaf
3 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano, divided (I used 1 tablespoon of dried oregano)

1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Season the chicken legs well on all sides with 1 1/2  teaspoons salt and  1 teaspoon pepper.

2. In a Dutch oven or large stockpot, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Working in batches, brown the legs well on all sides, about 5 minutes. Remove from the pan.

3. Add the orzo, chicken stock, garlic, lemon wedges and juice, olives, bay leaf and 1 tablespoon of the oregano. Stir to combine all the ingredients, then return the chicken to the pan. Cover and transfer to the oven. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until the chicken is done (the meat will be firm and its juices will run clear). Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary, sprinkle with the remaining oregano and serve.

Regina Schrambling's Collard Squares


I don't know if it's the midweek blues or the threat of rain or just a cyclical thing that happens every now and again, but I've come down with a small case of blogger's block and while I know that there is nothing so uninteresting as listening to someone complain about the fact that they have nothing to write about, I figure we're all friends here and you won't really hold it against me. Will you?

Because, yeah, unless you want to hear me waffle about whether or not I'm contributing as much to my Roth IRA as I am to my winter shoe collection, or moan about how much it is irritating me that we seem to have some kind of mold situation in our bathroom (why, oh, why do domestic irritants have to exist?), or complain that I have been trying for a month to get a pedicure but cannot, for the life of me, seem to find the time to let someone else paint my toenails while I read a trashy magazine and just. let. go. for one blessed hour, well, then I'm not sure I've got much to offer today.

So before I bore us all to tears, I'll just quickly tell you about the one thing of interest I have to contribute today: the humble collard square. This agreeably chunky little thing really is worth mentioning, even amidst all the bellyaching, because it's just so unassuming and yet so delicious, too. There's not much to the preparation, but what you end up with is sort of a lightened, modern, crustless quiche, heavy on the vegetables and big on taste. I used a little less cheese than Regina calls for, and lessened the oven time a bit for a somewhat more tender and moist result. We ate our collard squares with a few roasted tomatoes alongside, which really was an inspired match (something about greens with tomatoes just makes my heart sing), and found it difficult to leave any leftovers.

The original recipe (for 12!) can be found here, the one below is amended for a smaller crowd. And with that I'm off to contemplate my navel. (To think that a day ago I was actually considering NaBloPoMo again. Ha!)

Collard Squares
Serves 3-4

1 large bunch collard greens
1/4 teaspoon hot pepper flakes
1 tablespoons butter plus extra for the baking dish
1 small onion, finely diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 pound shiitakes, stems removed, caps finely diced
1/2 teaspoon tamari or soy sauce
4 large eggs
2 ounces Comté or Gruyère cheese, grated
1/4 cup fine dry bread crumbs

1. Remove the tough stems from the greens and wash the leaves well in several changes of cold water. Place them in a large pot and add the hot pepper flakes and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Add water to cover by several inches and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook, uncovered, until the greens are very tender, about 1 hour. Drain well and cool slightly, then squeeze dry and finely chop.

2. While the collards are cooking, melt the butter in a small or medium sauté pan over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic, sprinkle lightly with one-fourth teaspoon salt and cook, stirring, for 5 minutes. Add the shiitakes and the tamari and sauté until they are tender, about 5-7 minutes. Remove from the heat and cool slightly.

3. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9-by-9-inch baking dish.

4. Combine the collards and shiitakes in a bowl. Add the eggs, cheese and bread crumbs and mix well. Spread into the prepared pan. Bake 20 minutes. Cut into squares to serve hot or at room temperature.

Deborah Schneider's Rajas con Crema


Some switch seems to have been flipped since I spent a few days in Mexico. Previously, I merely tolerated heat and hot peppers, craved them rarely - perhaps in the odd hot & sour soup or the bimonthly curry over on Lexington and 28th. I've never owned a bottle of hot sauce or spent time dreaming about making my own harissa. My father's the heat nut in the family, eating spicy food until he starts to sweat, shaking Korean pepper over his dinner plate every night. I've always preferred a milder meal.

But now? I seem to have been bitten by the same bug. It's all I can think about: how to make my dinner as hot as I can possibly take it. My pantry isn't up to snuff, though, with cayenne and a few dried chiles de arbol being the only sources of true heat in our home. That hasn't stopped me - I've been spicing up everything from pureed squash to collard greens like I'm making up for lost time. Which, I suppose, I am. Tingling lips, a runny nose, the flush of heat that starts around your jawline and works its way upward (or is it the other way around?), I love it all and I want more.

On the advice of the Internets and a commenter, we went to Taqueria Coatzingo in Jackson Heights for lunch on Saturday and I was actually pretty disappointed. Perhaps we didn't order well, but my two carne asada tacos were sort of limp and flabby and overfilled. Ben's enchiladas verdes looked just like they have in every other New York Mexican restaurant we've been to: pallid and oily and absolutely nothing special. But that's okay - I'm now even more motivated to just figure out Mexican food for myself at home.

Luckily, last week my CSA obliged, providing me with my first four poblano chiles. At home, I put them under the broiler and watched carefully as the dark green skin raised and blistered, turning black and wrinkly and fragrant. Working quickly, I deseeded the peppers (I didn't think I'd need gloves, after all, poblanos are really quite mild, but there was still some stinging, so I rubbed my hands with a cut lemon and that seemed to take care of things, even later when I had to remove my contacts) and cut them into strips.


The peppers weren't slick and oily like the roasted bell peppers that I've grown up making. They were drier and firmer, had more structure. Following a recipe in this charming cookbook, I cooked the poblano strips with onions until they were fragrant, then doused the pan with a bit of milk and turned the heat down low. The vegetables mellowed and softened even more and started picking up a deliciously brown coating from the evaporating milk.

A spoonful or two of creme fraiche swirled in at the end barely coated the peppers and onions with a thin, creamy film. The recipe says that you can eat these with scrambled eggs or in a taco, along with some other suggestions, but I found them so irresistible that I simply plopped a tangle of them on my plate along with a dollop of pureed squash (a Kabocha, roasted until dry and soft, then pureed with salt and more creme fraiche. I let the oven get a little too hot, so it burned in places and actually tasted sweet and caramelly next to the peppers).


Eaten in the office, with my feet propped up on the desk, looking out the window at the black and starry Queens night, I felt like I literally tasted my world expanding. And not to get too serious on you here, but this is really one of the reasons why I love food and cooking so much: a whole other world, a whole new culture opens up to you once you start exploring its culinary traditions. I don't know much about Mexico and I'm so impatient to get back there and learn more, but in the meantime, I'm going to get acquainted the easiest way I know how, through the recipes and stories I'll find in my kitchen. I can scarcely contain my excitement when I start thinking about the discoveries.

Oh, and I should let you know, since I started this post out on such a hot and spicy kick, this dish really is pretty mild, almost even soothing. Every now and again, you'll get a bite that warms the inside of your mouth, but on the whole this is a pretty easygoing dish. Just so you know. I'm sure I'll try to make this again and eat it with eggs or tortillas, but I'm not promising I'll be able to restrain myself from just eating them plain right then and there.

And now I'm off to daydream about hot sauces and dried chiles, cayenne and Aleppo pepper, capsaicin and the Scoville heat scale. My father will be so proud.

Rajas con Crema
Serves 4

4 fresh poblano chiles
1/2 white onion
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup milk
Kosher salt
1 tablespoon Mexican crema or creme fraiche
2 epazote leaves, chopped (optional)

1. Char the chiles over a gas flame or on a very hot grill until blackened. While still hot, wrap in paper towels to steam and cool. Remove the stem and seeds and rub off all the blackened skin and clinging seeds with the edge of a spoon or the paper towels. (Don't wash them; much of the flavor goes down the drain.) Don't worry if a little skin remains. If you want a milder taste, remove the ribs inside the chiles. Cut into lengthwise strips 3/4 inch wide.

2. Cut the onion into thin strips, from the stem to root instead of across (they hold their shape better this way).

3. Melt the butter over medium-low heat in a heavy frying pan and cook the onion and peppers together for 5 minutes, stirring often.

4. When the onion is softened, pour the milk over the vegetables and cook very slowly until it is evaporated. Season with salt to taste. (Can be made head to this point and refrigerated; reheat before serving.)

5. Just before serving, stir in the crema or creme fraiche and epazote, if using. Serve hot.

Molly Wizenberg's Slow-Roasted Tomatoes


Would you like to know how you, too, can eat 13 plum tomatoes in one sitting, aided only by a second dining companion who, let's be honest here, never actually gets his fair share because you are far too busy eating the tomatoes all by your greedy, greedy self? (Try to be gracious, really, and let the poor man stab a few onto his fork. He's had a long day.)

You take the plum tomatoes, you halve them, you sprinkle them with a wee bit of salt and ground coriander and then you let them go in the oven until they're shriveled and wrinkly and fragrant, and oozing oil and juices. If you're patient and easily distracted by television or books or good conversation, then do these the way Molly tells you to: in a low oven for close to 6 hours.

If you're anything like me, impatient, and positively bewitched by a roasting tomato (oh, I'm hopeless - by any tomato at all, really), make the oven hotter and then chain yourself to a sturdy piece of furniture for two hours, because otherwise you'll be absolutely compelled to continuously wrenching open the oven door in despair because it's not time to take the tomatoes out yet, but you're starving and they're gorgeous and that smell! God help me, I can't wait any longer.


The tomatoes on the edge of the pan get sort of barely leathery and the ends are faintly crisped and charred. The tomato taste is so concentrated that it almost turns into something else. These are the ones to be lifted off the pan with quick fingers, they're hothothot, and popped into your mouth while the table's being set. The tomatoes in the middle of the pan are thicker and filled with a delectable slurry of juice and oil. These are the ones to pile on a piece of good country bread along with a judicious drizzle of oil.

Of course, you could also plop them on your plate alongside whatever you're having for dinner or chop them up and toss them with freshly cooked pasta or stick them in a sandwich, even. With good manners and restraint, you could even store these in the fridge for a while. But I'll bet that most of them just get speared by your fork and popped in your mouth right then and there, hot out of the oven, and before anyone else gets wise and comes along to share in the bounty.

They taste best this way, I think.

Slow-Roasted Tomatoes

Ripe tomatoes, preferably Roma
Olive oil
Sea salt
Ground coriander

1. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees Fahrenheit. (If you're feeling impatient, preheat the oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit.)

2. Wash the tomatoes, cut off the stem end, and halve them lengthwise. Pour a bit of olive oil into a small bowl, dip a pastry brush into it, and brush the tomato halves lightly with oil. Place them, skin side down, on a large baking sheet. Sprinkle them with sea salt and ground coriander—about a pinch of each for every four to six tomato halves.

3. Bake the tomatoes until they shrink to about 1/3 of their original size but are still soft and juicy, 4 to 6 hours (at 300 degrees Fahrenheit, these are ready after 2 hours). Remove the baking sheet from the oven, and allow the tomatoes to cool to room temperature. Place them in an airtight container, and store them in the refrigerator.