When I looked up a recipe for black bean chili yesterday (spurred on by the odd can in our pantry), I only needed to glance at the ingredients to visualize how to cook it. Not because I’ve cooked this particular recipe before, or because I make chili frequently (I don’t—it’s not something Stephanie has ever really appreciated, until now), but I suppose just because I cook a lot in general. No humblebrag here, chili is obviously not rocket science. Most recipes consist of a simple 2-step algorithm: 1) brown protein in a skillet, and then 2) dump everything into a large pot and simmer for 2-3 hours. And I’m sure that would have rendered a perfectly serviceable chili using the ingredients below. Of course that’s not what I did, but what I did is based on my own personal relationship with each of the ingredients at this particular moment in time, and you might feel differently. So rather than try to codify what I did in prose, I’m just going to list the ingredients I used and leave the rest up to your interpretation and imagination. That said, the order in which I listed the ingredients is not by accident.
Due to the global coronavirus pandemic, only all-purpose and whole wheat flour are available at the supermarket (if at all). All-purpose is sold in 5-pound bags and whole wheat is commonly sold in 2-pound bags. The internet-famous no-knead bread recipe that everyone is making (in order to exert a modicum of control over something in their lives) calls for 400 grams of bread flour. One of the key differences in flour types (« though not the only! » interjects Alex, aka “frenchguycooking”) is protein content. Conveniently for us, The King Arthur Flour Company prints their flours’ protein content directly on the packaging. The all-purpose and whole wheat flour that we were able to buy are 11.7% and 14% protein, respectively. Furthermore, thanks to the internet, we discover that their bread flour, currently unavailable everywhere, is 12.7% protein. How many grams (rounded to the nearest integer) of all-purpose flour do we need to combine with how many grams of whole wheat flour to approximate the protein content of bread flour to use in the no-knead bread recipe?
While we were in France, eating and drinking with gusto, Stephanie started to pine for the lighter fare she hoped I’d make when we returned home…to Fresno! Of course the home we returned to has no kitchen—only a refrigerator (because renovations), so for the last four weeks (and likely three still to come), I’ve been making a sort of insalata caprese alla California for dinner almost every other night.
It starts with a handful of arugula (enough to mostly fill a small disposable paper bowl while our things are still in storage). Sure baby kale could work, but arugula is smaller and more flavorful, in theory (somewhere along the way, I feel like its peppery bite has been breed out; note to self: grow my own). Then I halve enough heirloom cherry tomatoes so there’s nice coverage in the bed of greens. I cut 10 small balls of fresh mozzarella (aka ciliegine) into eighths and divide them between the two bowls. The tomatoes and mozzarella get a healthy grind of sea salt before I halve and distribute 10 pitted Kalamata olives. Each salad gets half of a sliced avocado, sprinkled with a little more salt, and a generous broadcast of pine nuts. I garnish with several coarsely chopped basil leaves, and then the whole affair is drizzled with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. It’s basically all of our favorite things together in one bowl. And with so much in flux right now, it’s comforting to end our hot and occasionally hectic days with something so reliably satisfying.
Stephanie took this photo of me—well, more the burger I made for her—after we hiked 9 miles on the Dipsea Trail on July 4th. We’d intended to make it all the way to Stinson Beach for “halfway hamburgers” at The Parkside Cafe, but we turned around mid-way and headed back early—so I made them at home instead. But first I studied the advice in The Food Lab to up my burger-game. It worked.
Stephanie’s mom Chris has a childlike fascination with carrot cake. It’s a taste she associates with the United States, something she tried for the first time over 35 years ago while recovering at a hospital. Now, whenever she visits, carrot cake is on the itinerary. She’s not picky—a humble square from the grocery store will do. But this year, since she arrived from France on her birthday, I made her carrot cake cupcakes from scratch.