Wednesday, May 26, 2021


Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers wrote a number of excellent cookbooks. The one I use most often is the UK edition of The River Café Classic Italian Cookbook (2009). In its Introduction, Gray and Rogers write of their travels all over Italy and the friendships they formed.  They met Italian cooks who shared their passion for family dishes passed down from generation to generation. Based on this theme of timeless, local Italian fare, the book’s recipes produce straightforward, comforting food.


A favorite recipe from The River Café Classic Italian Cookbook is a simple ring cake (ciambella) that Gray and Rogers call a Marbled Breakfast Cake. I like this cake because it tastes great and yet not too rich or sweet. Here’s the recipe with my parentheticals notes. 


For 6-8; makes a 23cm cake


butter and flour for the tin

4 medium free-range organic eggs

200g caster (superfine) sugar

100g plain (all-purpose) flour

200g blanched almonds, finely ground

zest of 1 lemon

1 tablespoon baking powder

40ml extra virgin olive oil

1 medium free-range organic egg white

a pinch of sea salt

3 tablespoon 100% cocoa powder

2 tablespoons full-fat (whole) milk


Preheat oven to 180°C (350°F). Butter and flour a 23cm (9-inch) round ring tin or loaf tin measuring approximately 22 x 11 x 6.5cm (8.5 x 4.3 x 2.5 inches). Separate the 4 whole eggs, whisk the 4 whites until stiff, then whisk in the sugar and yolks until thick and pale. Sieve the flour into the mixture, fold carefully to combine, then add the almonds, lemon zest and baking powder. Finally, stir in the olive oil. Whisk the extra egg white with a pinch of salt.


Divide the mixture in half, then add the cocoa powder and the whisked egg white to one half. Fold gently to combine, then stir in 2 tablespoons of milk to slightly loosen this mixture. Both the mixtures should be of the same consistency.


Spoon half the pale mixture into the cake tin, blob the chocolate mixture on top, then cover the chocolate with the remaining pale mixture. This should fill your tin. Use a table knife to cut round the tin 3 or 4 times to marble the mixtures.


Place the cake in the oven and bake for 35-40 minutes, or until done. Test by inserting a skewer, which should come out clean. Turn the cake out of the tin on to a rack while still warm.


Apart from the awkwardness of coaxing a thick-ish batter into a narrow ring pan, this marble breakfast cake doesn’t take a lot of effort. The finished cake makes up for the trouble of using a ring (instead of a loaf) pan: The ciambella, although simple, looks special. If your marbling doesn’t turn out, take solace that the cake pictured in the cookbook doesn’t look very well-marbled either. 


One last note: To save time and for convenience, I use Bob’s Red Mill almond flour instead of grinding the blanched almonds.

I highly recommend taking a look at The River Café Classic Italian Cookbook if you want to add a volume to your cookbook collection. The chapter on Pasta & Gnocchi contains 23 recipes and this section, alone, warrants the book’s purchase.

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Pixar's Burrow: Easter Eggs

Who doesn’t love hunting for movie Easter Eggs, especially in a Pixar film? My youngest daughter, Maddie, works at Pixar and directed the animated short, Burrow. If you watched the film on Disney+ (or in a theatre overseas), you know that a lot goes on in the film’s cutaways and backgrounds.

Some of the Easter Eggs, like the stuffed Kitbull toy, fly by but are in plain sight. But others may not be as obvious and might be harder to spot. Want a few Easter Egg hints?


WATCH the TVs. Recognize the two scenes from a 2013 short film?


SEE the restaurant? It’s based on a real one and you can find a recipe from the restaurant’s cookbook on this site.

SPOT the Bedlington? Like Kitbull, it’s stuffed, but this dog is real.

Burrow contains a host of other references that have special significance. Many of Rabbit’s co-stars represent family members. The best Easter Egg is the hidden matriarch that doesn’t live in a burrow but makes a brief cameo appearance. And see those two mice jumping on the bed? Don’t ask about that….

Good luck with your Easter Egg hunting! And speaking of eggs, you need them to make pancakes (here) and, of course, an Omelette.


p.s. David Lally did not write Burrow's music. Mozart did (not counting the bossa nova tunes, of course). 

Saturday, May 1, 2021

Chickpea Stock

Ten Speed Press recently published David Kinch’s new cookbook entitled At Home in the Kitchen. Written with Devin Fuller, the book stays true to its subtitle: “Simple recipes from a chef’s night off.” Kinch, the executive chef at the Michelin 3-star Manresa, spends Tuesdays unwinding and cooking the comfort food featured in his new cookbook. Sourcing pristine ingredients, like sushi-grade fish for his Salmon Rillettes or Sashimi-style Raw Fish with Sushi Rice might prove a challenge depending upon where you live. But for the most part, the book’s 120 easy-to-make recipes are supermarket-friendly (even though my local market will probably never offer butter as deep yellow as the photogenic stick on page 12).


And speaking of butter, Kinch opens At Home in the Kitchen with a short observation called “Butter the Size of a Walnut”. He writes how recipes from his grandmothers and “some of the most austere French cookbooks I’ve studied as a chef” call for inexact quantities (e.g., butter the size of a walnut or half a glass of white wine). These descriptions forced him to cook with his eyes. Modern recipes, although often exact to the gram, still require cooks to adapt. Kinch writes: “[w]hen it comes to using [At Home in the Kitchen], everything is an estimate—albeit a thoughtful one. A potato will roast differently depending on how thinly you slice it and how hot 400°F actually is in your oven. So, if I say about 30 minutes, and the potatoes crunch when you take a bite, put the pan back in the oven and keep checking until they’re cooked through.”


This caveat came to mind after trying Kinch’s recipe for Mushrooms al Horno with Crusty Bread. He writes that the baked mushrooms “kick out their water, which combines with the wine, garlic, vinegar, and herbs to make a very flavorful sauce.” My mushroom medley must have attended the Garo Yepremian School of Kicking and Passing because the baked mushrooms came out of the oven stone dry—but still delicious. Next time I will try a different mushroom combination.


In keeping with Kinch’s theme of Tuesday is my night off, At Home in the Kitchen’s eight chapters focus on hospitality-friendly dishes. Chapter 1, entitled “Small plates to cover your table + condiments to fill your pantry”, stands out by offering outstanding stocks and other pantry items. I made Kinch’s Parmesan Stock recipe and used up all the leftover cheese rinds I had hiding in my refrigerator. I used the stock, which keeps for 3 months in the freezer, to make pilaf.


Another favorite recipe from this first chapter is one of the humblest. Kinch’s Chickpea Stock gives the cook both a flavorful stock and cooked chickpeas. Here are Kinch’s introduction and recipe, which makes about 8 cups of stock and 4 cups of cooked chickpeas.


“If you find yourself wondering why soups and sauces at restaurants taste so much better than the ones you make at home, it’s probably because restaurants use house-made stock. Stock is the foundation of a dish, and particularly good stock can be the jumping-off point that takes a home-cooked meal to the next level. This is a wonderful, versatile stock that happens to be vegetarian. Perfect for Date-Night Risotto with Crab (page 147) or Chickpea Minestrone, Genovese Style (page 214), this stock, in particular, can also be widely used in place of water for just about any recipe to add complexity of flavor. This recipe also leaves you with 4 cups of cooked chickpeas. I recommend using them for the Raw Fava, Chickpea & Tahini Hummus [on page 35].


2 cups dried chickpeas

1 bay leaf

2 pieces star anise

4 sprigs thyme

1 head garlic, bottom root trimmed, head halved horizontally, skin on

1 teaspoon black peppercorns

1 medium white onion, halved

2 carrots, ends discarded and peeled

1 teaspoon sugar



In a large pot, immerse the chickpeas in water and soak for 2 hours. Alternatively, you can soak overnight, but decrease the cook time to around 1 hour in total so as not to overcook the chickpeas.


Drain the chickpeas and discard the water. Wrap the bay leaf, star anise, thyme, garlic, and peppercorns in cheesecloth and tie shut with string to make a sachet.


In a large pot on high heat, bring the chickpeas and 10 cups water to a simmer. The pot will form a scum resembling soap suds. Skim off the scum and turn the heat to low. Add the onion, carrots, herb sachet, and sugar and bring the stock back to a simmer.


After 45 minutes, stir in a couple pinches of salt. Avoid the temptation to add salt at the beginning because this toughens the skin of the chickpeas. Continue to simmer, uncovered, until the chickpeas have cooked through, about 45 minutes more. The chickpeas are finished when they no longer taste dry but still remain some of their texture.


Remove the pot from the heat, cover, and let the chickpeas cool completely in their broth, ideally overnight. This allows the final extraction of flavor, and the results will merit the extra time.


Remove the herb sachet, carrots, and onions and discard. Strain the chickpeas over a large bowl to reserve the stock. Both the stock and the chickpeas can be used immediately or stored separately in airtight containers in the freezer for up to 3 months.”


One of the things I like about this particular Chickpea Stock recipe is what I like most about At Home in the Kitchen: the advice that Kinch shares throughout the cookbook. In the case of his Chickpea Stock recipe, I learned to infuse the cooked chickpea stock with its ingredients overnight to extract extra flavor. At Home in the Kitchen includes a treasure-trove of these culinary gems, especially on how to increase the flavor of a dish.


Of late I’ve noticed a number of cookbooks with some nice chickpea recipes. Jeremy Fox’s On Vegetables (2017) has a recipe for Chickpeas in Broth, Lots of Olive Oil & Black Pepper, Pan con Tomate. (Fox worked for Kinch at Manresa.) Nancy Silverton’s Chi Spacca (2020) includes a Whole Roasted Eggplant with Chickpea Purée and Zhug recipe. And Eric Ripert’s brand new cookbook, Vegetable Simple (2021), features a super simple Chickpea Salad (page 73). All these recipes start with dried chickpeas. A chickpea variety that I really like is called sultano. Gustiamo, an on-line retailer, imports these special dried chickpeas from Italy. Although pricey when compared to the dried chickpeas that often reside on the bottom shelf of supermarkets, these small, organic Italian chickpeas have a pronounced nutty flavor. They make great falafel, too. 


I religiously follow cookbook reviews and I am not sure why At Home in the Kitchen isn’t getting a lot more press: I think it is one of the best spring 2021 cookbooks along with Mister Jiu’s in Chinatown by Brandon Jew and Tienlon Ho. I have a long list of recipes from At Home in the Kitchen that I want to try: Farinata; Jambalaya, New Orleans Style; Roast Chicken; Oyster Stew; and Almond Granita. Adding to the entertaining/party vibe of At Home in the Kitchen, Kinch recommends a musical pairing with each of his recipes. What tune pairs well with Chickpea Stock? “Cadillac Lane” by Buck Owens.