Getting a Microwave After Twenty Years
Plus: Dinner at Agnes, Smitten Kitchen's Apple Crumb Cake, and Vallery Lomas on Lunch Therapy.
Hey A.G. newsletter people,
Sometimes I get a bee in my bonnet, especially when it comes to cooking. I’m not sure where the bee came from this time around — maybe it was seeing a David Chang mashed potato recipe? Or this Tweet by Tejal Rao? — but last week I got it into my head that we needed a microwave.
Most of you will find it shocking that we didn’t have a microwave in the first place. But our kitchen’s relatively small, with little counter space, and while it came with a refrigerator and an oven, there’s no built-in microwave to speak of. That was fine with me: for the past twenty years, give or take, I’ve lived without one.
Truthfully, it never really bothered me. I can melt chocolate in a double boiler, I can melt butter in a a little skillet, I can reheat food in the oven. It’s that last bit, though, that was starting to weigh on me: I’m perfectly happy eating cold leftovers out of the fridge, but Craig likes his food hot. I’ve always felt like he would enjoy a microwave for the ability to pop in a square of last night’s lasagna instead of putting the whole 9X13 pan back into the oven and waiting 30 minutes for it to heat up (and dry out in the process).
Then, of course, there’s the fact of popcorn. Yes, I know, you can make popcorn on the stovetop and it’s ostensibly better, but there’s something comforting about making popcorn in the microwave (maybe it’s because that’s how I made popcorn growing up).
So, last week, I read this microwave ranking on Wirecutter and bought their pick for Best Microwave 2021: the Toshiba EM131A5C — only $130.
It arrived a day later, and I was pretty excited. A friend recommend that I also get the Hotpop, which allows you to pop fresh kernels in the microwave without having to use those chemical-laden bags. I bought an insane amount of fresh popcorn kernels and, once I plugged in the microwave, I immediately made the popcorn you see above. Reader, I forgot how good hot popcorn is: I ate that entire thing in like .3 seconds.
But that was just the beginning!
I was on a real microwave kick. That night, for dinner, I’d purchased chicken sausages from McCall’s and had some carrots from my CSA, but needed something starchy as a base. So I followed David Chang’s mashed potato technique: I peeled four large red potatoes (that also came in my CSA, but any potatoes would work here), chopped them into chunks, put them in a microwave safe bowl, seasoned them, covered them with microwave safe plastic, and zapped for 12 minutes.
When a knife went through them easily, I mashed them with my masher and then heated up some milk and butter in the microwave and mashed those in there. Then I roasted the carrots with harissa and seared the chicken sausages in the skillet. Dinner was a big hit.
(For smoother mashed potatoes, I could’ve passed them through a ricer, but didn’t want to dirty another dish.)
I have to say: these mashed potatoes were uniquely good. As David Chang says, doing them like this in the microwave, you don’t lose any potato flavor to the water you’d normally boil them in. And they were so easy and such a great base for a dinner like this.
The best part about having a microwave so far, though, is the most obvious: heating up leftovers.
On Friday night, we went with our friend Ben Mims to a hot new restaurant in Pasadena called Agnes.
Agnes is a Cheesery and some of the best things that we ate there featured cheese. You can’t skip the fried cheese curds:
They’re like tater tots but clean-tasting inside, and the cheese crumbled on top added a whole other dimension.
Of course, we had to get the cheese plate, which featured cheeses that had cool stories — including one made by a sixteen year-old female cheesemaker.
The non-cheese starter that we got was one of my favorites: chicken liver mousse on a fresh cornbread “eclair” with cherries.
That was out of this world.
But the real star was the pasta. Craig and I both got the honey nut squash cavatelli with sage sausage, king trumpet mushrooms, spiced ricotta, red walnut crunch, and fried sage.
This was wildly delicious — maybe a top five lifetime pasta? — because the cavatelli was so sweet with the squash in it and then the sausage was so earthy with the sage. And then the crunch from the walnuts and the fried sage and the creaminess of ricotta… all of it married beautifully.
It was so rich, though, we couldn’t finish our portions so we had them wrapped up and guess what we heated them up in the next day for lunch?
You guessed it!
On Saturday night, I made dinner for our friends Dom and Ben (different Ben; we’re only friends with people named Ben).
I did my usual dinner party thing — listen to my Anatomy of a Dinner Party podcast and I’ll walk you through it — of spatchcocked chicken, couscous salad, and salsa verde.
This time, I took the couscous in an autumnal direction and added roasted Delicata squash, along with some fresh dates, toasted almonds, caramelized onions, and golden raisins soaked in white wine. Plus Aleppo pepper and scallions to round things out.
For dessert, I knew I had to make Smitten Kitchen’s latest stroke of genius; her Big Crumb Apple Cake.
The cake combines two of my favorite things: apple cake + crumb cake. And the crumbs, as advertised, are enormous.
I loved this cake; it reminded me of the Entenmann’s crumb cake my dad and I used to eat together before work/school.
Then last night, Craig and I went to see James Bond, and when we got home, we were hungry. So we heated up leftover chicken and couscous in the… yup.
So we’re microwave converts and it’s only been a week. (I just bought an AnyDay microwave bowl, which is David Chang’s company, and also his upcoming cookbook with Priya Krishna about microwave dinners. So more microwave content to come.)
My Lunch Therapy patient this week, Vallery Lomas, is the author of one of the hottest cookbooks of the year:
Vallery has such a crazy story: she WON the first season of the Great American Baking Show, only to have it cancelled before it fully aired because one of the judges (Johnny Iuzzini) was accused of sexual harassment. But she had the last laugh because now she’s out with this book and it’s truly incredible.
In our talk, we cover the whole Baking Show experience: from what it’s like on set (which is the same set they use for the British version… she says the sinks aren’t real!) to having to use the metric system to how she took the news the day she found out her season wasn’t going to air.
CLICK HERE to listen. And if you like it, please leave a nice review!
Now for the links that caught my attention this week:
NYT lists the 50 American restaurants they’re “most excited about right now” (NYT);
Ben Mims gifted me with the best apple butter I’ve ever had and now he’s shared the recipe (LA Times);
I bookmarked this for myself, but you can have it too: Thomasina Miers’ Chicken Legs with Sticky Figs, Red Onions, and Oloroso Vinegar (The Guardian);
Eater seems to be down, but when it was up I liked this article about Rick Bayless’s immersive dinner theater experience in Chicago, and this fascinatingly disturbing story about cookbook plagiarism (Eater).
That’s all for this week!
In case you missed Thursday’s paid-subscribers only dispatch, I wrote a piece called Confessions of a Former Coffee Shop Squatter that walks you through my long, sordid history at coffee shops — from Caribou in Atlanta to Joe in New York to Dinosaur out here — and how the pandemic changed my attitude about squatting there while working all day. If you’d like to read that, and have access to my whole archives, here’s a discount code for 20% off!
Until next time….