Fresh Blueberry Brioche (photography by Matt Armendariz)

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Five Baking Lessons from Huckleberry’s Zoe Nathan

Fresh Blueberry Brioche (photography by Matt Armendariz)

Fresh Blueberry Brioche (photography by Matt Armendariz)

Huckleberry is a bakery and café in Santa Monica that is run by baker Zoe Nathan and her husband Josh Loeb. Although I’ve never had a chance to visit myself, I understand it’s a wildly popular place that has successfully disproven the nay-sayers who told Zoe Nathan that, “nobody eats bread and pastries anymore,” least of all in LA.

Earlier in the fall Zoe Nathan released her first book, published by Chronicle Books and also called Huckleberry, and after hearing her on the Good Food podcast I was very curious to see it.

It did not disappoint: it is a gorgeous book, with a sunny polka-dotted pattern printed on the edges of the pages that makes you want to place it backwards on your bookshelf, and Matt Armendariz’s delectable photography. Although the book was co-written by Zoe Nathan, her husband, and their long-time associate Laurel Almerinda, they have chosen Zoe Nathan’s voice to guide the reader through the book, in a day in the life format that starts at 3:30am (oy!) with “Muffins” and ends at 10am with “Coffee and other beverages”.

Nathan’s is an opinionated voice, too, one that does not mince words — considering the tone of Gabrielle Hamilton’s new Prune cookbook, could this be a trend? — and is pretty honest about the hard work and emotional roller coaster involved in running a successful bakery.

I’ve particularly enjoyed the general baking advice that she shares at the front of the book, and thought I’d share the five baking lessons that have stuck with me the most.

1. Color is flavor

Most bakers, myself included, are so afraid of burning things they usually take their baked goods out of the oven before they have reached the apex of their flavor.

It’s perfectly understandable — who wants charred cake? — but the fact is, a tart crust is much crispier and tastier if it is allowed get to the brown side of golden; a crumble or cobbler (Nathan’s example) needs plenty of time for the fruit to completely collapse and soften; a naturally leavened baguette or sourdough loaf expresses its full complexity when it is darker than we think.

Zoe Nathan says we should “treat [color] as another ingredient to be measured” and encourages us to “flirt with disaster” and push the baking time just a little more than completely comfortable. And in truth, there is often a lot more time than we think between underbaked, just right, and overbaked.

Black and Blue Oat Bars (photography by Matt Armendariz)

Black and Blue Oat Bars (photography by Matt Armendariz)

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“Cheesy” Kale Chips

I’ve recently set out on a mission to prune my cookbook collection, and it has felt wonderful.

It is not a quick process, but it’s a fairly straightforward one: every weekend I pick one book, two at the most, to go through carefully, leafing through its every page and marking the recipes that call to me. For some I’ve already done the work years ago when I first acquired the book, and I have been surprised to see that few of the recipes I had tagged then still do anything for me now.

Soon enough the kale and sauce relinquish all their moisture, leaving you with crisp pieces of kale generously coated with an ultra flavorful, cheesy cashew crust.

Often times it’s a type of recipe for which I’ve since found My One (say, my granola recipe or my chicken stock formula), and it feels great to sit back and cherish those without thinking I need to try every one else’s version. Other times it’s recipes that simply fail to spark the excitement of the cook I have become — and I have trouble even remembering what moved me to tag them in the first place.

Once I’ve marked the recipes I’m interested in, I decide if there are enough to warrant holding on to the entire book, or if I can just scan the corresponding pages and pass the book on to someone else. In the process I also take into account the non-recipe value of the book, of course: if it can serve as a reference book in my cooking and in my work, if it is particularly well written, or if I have an emotional draw to it (we’re allowed those, right?). And if I decide the book can stay, I create a quick index card to list the recipes I’ve tagged and the page number, and slip it inside for future reference.

Choosing RawGena Hemshaw’s Choosing Raw is among the ones that recently made the cut, and with no hesitation: it’s the first cookbook by the author of the same-name blog, and in it she shares her take on a vegan and (mostly) raw lifestyle. I admire Gena’s writing on her blog — she strikes a rare balance between informative, inspiring, and approachable — and her book is just as enjoyable, as she provides the reader with the thorough information and delicious building blocks essential to plant-based eating.

Among the recipes I enthusiastically tagged was the one for cheesy kale chips. I’ve made oven-roasted kale chips before, simply dressed with olive oil and seasoned with salt and pepper, but this was my chance to reproduce the more substantial “cheesy” chips I’ve bought (and scarfed down) at natural foods stores in the US and in the UK, which typically call upon cashew “cheese”.

It turned out to be one of the easiest and most rewarding recipes I’ve made in a while: you simply tear curly kale into bite-size pieces, dress them in a no-cook sauce whizzed in the food processor, and let the oven (or dehydrator) do the rest of the work. Soon enough the kale and sauce relinquish all their moisture, leaving you with crisp pieces of kale generously crusted with an ultra flavorful, cheesy cashew coating.

Join the conversation!

Do you like to make kale chips? What’s your favorite flavoring or technique then? And how do you manage (or attempt to manage) your cookbook shelf?

PS: How to make the most of your cookbook collection, Cucumber and avocado quick nori rolls also inspired by Gena, and 50 Things to do with kale.

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Vegan Quiche Filling

A few weeks ago, I had a special guest over for dinner: my American pen friend Amy, whose family hosted me in their Michigan home the summer I turned fifteen.

This was a life-defining trip for me: it was my first time in the US, a.k.a. the coolest country in the world in the eyes of this French teen, and Amy’s parents made it count in a way I’ll forever be grateful for, taking us on roadtrips in their minivan (with a television and VCR inside!) to Canada and to New York City (New York City!), and generally making sure I had a grand time.

Everything was a source of gleeful amazement to me, from the size of the backyard to the whole-house air-conditioning, from the gigantic malls to the extra frilly decorations in every girl’s room I visited, from the frozen waffles I was allowed to have every morning (every morning!) with bottled chocolate syrup to my first PB&J (which I did not “get” at the time), from the powerful smell of popcorn in movie theaters to the different kinds of fast food (burgers! tacos! pizzas!) Amy’s father picked up on his way home from work most nights.

Nobody would mistake it for the classic egg-and-cream quiche filling, but it hit all the right notes: creamy but pleasantly set, richly flavorful on its own but subtle enough to let the other ingredients shine.

Amy and I got along famously, but we lost touch as teenagers will — and probably did even more easily in that pre-Internet era. In recent years I searched for her on Facebook every once in a while, but turned up empty. Eventually it is she who wrote in, letting me know she’d soon be traveling through Europe and stopping for a few days in Paris. Would I be up for a little reunion?

The least I could do was invite her to dinner and she said yes, noting that she was now a vegan. I wanted to make her something homey and French, something I would serve to any of my old girlfriends, and decided on a quiche filled with greens, in the style of this greens and walnut quiche.

Obviously the egg-milk-and-cream filling would not do, so I looked for a vegan alternative and was intrigued by this idea of a filling based on chickpea flour, thickened to a custardy consistency on the stove, and flavored with spices and nutritional yeast, the go-to vegan ingredient when a cheesy note is needed.

The filling was very easy to prepare — I made it and my olive oil tart crust the day before — and it garnished the quiche in the most satisfying way. Nobody would mistake it for the classic egg-and-cream custard of course, but it hit all the right notes: creamy but pleasantly set, richly flavorful on its own but subtle enough to let the other ingredients shine.

Join the conversation!

Have you kept in touch with your foreign exchange friends, and what would you serve if you had them over for dinner now? Have you ever made a vegan quiche, and what type of filling did you use?

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Belgian Waffles (Liège-Style)

I spent my childhood eating Liège waffles we bought at the grocery store. Those thick and cake-like grids studded with sugar crystals seemed to me infinitely superior to the thin waffles stuffed with vanilla cream that my sister prefered and I ignored disdainfully.

I hadn’t eaten such waffles since my teenaged days — I stopped buying supermarket pastries years ago — but they made a major comeback into my life earlier this year, when a tiny Comptoir Belge opened a stone’s throw from my house, at 58 rue des Martyrs.

This stand offers Belgian waffles in the style of Liège, cooked fresh while you watch and sending seductive, buttery wafts right up to the little carousel on Place Lino Ventura, a powerful marketing ploy indeed. And the first time I tried them, you could have knocked me over with a feather.

The artisanal and freshly cooked Liège waffle is a study in contrast between the crisp shell, the tender and yeasty insides, and the thick sugar cristals that melt and caramelize.

A far cry from its distant plastic-wrapped and palm-oiled grocery store cousin, the artisanal and freshly cooked Liège waffle is a study in contrast between the thinly crisp shell, the tender and brioche-y insides, and the thick sugar cristals that melt and caramelize in the waffle iron.

And since I recently received from Cuisinart (see note at the bottom of this post) a fabulous griddler with waffle plates, it wasn’t long until I tackled this monument of Belgian gastronomy.

In my research I found dozens of recipes, with such widely varying proportions my head spun, and my solution was, as it always is, to draw up a spreadsheet comparing the different ingredient amounts in proportion to the flour weight (you can take the cook out of the engineer, etc.). This led me to formulate a recipe that would be best suited to my taste, i.e. less sweet and less butter-heavy than average, while still retaining 100% of its deliciousness.

The resulting waffles are an absolute delight, the recipe is easy, and the dough freezes perfectly well, allowing you to invite your sister over for an impromptu snack one afternoon and, with hardly a finger lifted, have her discover in turn how a Belgian waffle really should be eaten: still warm, caramelized, chewy, irresistible.

Transparency note : The griddler and waffle plates were sent to me to review by Cuisinart France through their PR agency. I will note that this was actually the model I had set my heart on and was about to get as a birthday gift from my parents when I had the opportunity to receive it for free. All opinions expressed here are my own.

Liège-Style Belgian Waffles

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October Favorites

An apple tree in the garden of La Grenouillère, where we escaped one sunny fall weekend.

An apple tree in the garden of La Grenouillère, where we escaped one sunny fall weekend.

A few of my favorite links and finds for the past month:

~ EDIBLE FRENCH was featured in the New York Times T Magazine.

~ I was also invited to talk about EDIBLE FRENCH on one of my favorite radio shows, Even Kleiman’s Good Food on KCRW.

~ A new photography book explores chefs’ favorite tools and what they mean to them.

~ Cooking smells as pheromones for the home.

~ What breakfast looks like if you’re growing up in Tokyo, Istanbul, or Reykjavik.

~ 25 Hindi expressions related to food.

~ If you’ve enjoyed my Parents Who Cook interview series, here are more words of wisdom collected by Leah Koenig.

~ An inside look at Trader Joe’s and its business practices.

~ Emily Blincoe’s color-coded food photography.

~ Mark Bittman on feeding children and creating a home where cooking is the norm.

~ Does it really make a difference if you use room-temperature eggs in your baking?

~ Who says French isn’t easy? Here’s a quick flowchart to decide whether you should use “tu” or “vous”.

~ Some of the biggest mistakes you may be making when baking cookies.

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