Hacking Ina's Lemon Bars

Plus: Black Bean Secrets, Bucatini Cacio e Pepe, and A Sausage Party

Hey everyone,

Before we get to this week’s newsletter and the best lemon bars I’ve ever made, some administrative stuff first.

I’ve been trying to figure out the fairest way to set up paid subscriptions here on Substack. Many of my food world colleagues — including David Lebovitz, Illyanna Maisonet, and Paula Forbes — have figured out reasonable subscription plans for their readers.

So here’s mine! If you’d like to keep getting this newsletter for free, you don’t have to do anything: you’ll get a free edition on the first Monday of every month. That’s right, this week and next (February 1st) will arrive to you free of charge.

After that, if you’d like to keep getting the newsletter every week (Feb 8th, 15th, 22nd and so on), you can pay the very reasonable fee of $5 a month or $30 for a year’s subscription. That’s less than movie theater popcorn a month for a newsletter chockfull of recipes, restaurant reviews, stories, pictures, Winston (the dog), and awesome links. I think it’s a steal.

And right now, I’m offering 20% off forever if you sign up before February 1st:

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So sign-up to stay in touch with me every week. Hope I’ve proven my worth to you over the years… I put a lot of love into this newsletter!

Okay, now on to regular newsletter content….

I’ve humblebragged to you before about the fact that we have a Meyer lemon tree that we share with our neighbors here in Atwater Village. So on Friday, I took a bunch of those Meyer lemons and made Ina Garten’s lemon bars.

It’s a terrific recipe with one major problem: Ina calls for six extra-large eggs. Who has six extra-large eggs lying around? So here was my hack: I used seven regular-sized eggs and guess what? These were the best lemon bars I’ve ever made. I cut back on the sugar a little (Meyer lemons are sweeter than regular lemons); truth be told, I did the original 3 cups of sugar and then spooned out a few spoonfuls. If you want to copy me, use 2 1/2 cups sugar… that should work great.

Last week, I promised my Instagram followers that I’d give you my recipe for black beans in my next newsletter. So here’s what I do:

In a large pot, put a bag of rinsed Rancho Gordo black beans, cover with lots of water, and add a yellow onion (skin-on), sliced in half, a head of garlic, sliced through the middle, 2 tablespoons salt, a dried red chili (whatever you have around), and if you have them — though they’re not necessary — a carrot and a stick of celery. Oh and a splash of olive oil.

Bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer, and cook for at least an hour, until the black beans are creamy (you can only know by tasting). You may have to replace with more water, so get a kettle to a boil, then set it aside.

Here’s what it’ll look like eventually:

After that, I use tongs to remove all of the aromatics: lift out the onion, the garlic, the chili, the carrot, and the celery. It’s okay if some garlic skins stay behind or some bits of carrot. It’ll make your beans more interesting.

Now for the grand finale: in a large skillet, pour in some olive oil and sauté a chopped yellow onion and some sliced garlic with a pinch of salt. You can add other things here; chopped peppers, for example (yellow and red are pretty). When the onion’s translucent, ladle in the beans with some of their liquid. Add enough bean liquid to cover the beans and bring to a simmer.

Stir all around and cook, tasting as you go for salt. When the liquid is pretty thick and the beans are properly infused, take it off the heat and add a splash of vinegar (Sherry vinegar is a good choice here). Taste taste taste, then serve over rice. I added a quick salsa of cherry tomatoes, lime juice, cilantro, onion, and olive oil. And some grated smoked gouda.

See, that wasn’t so hard was it?

Last week, I attempted intermittent fasting and went for six mile walks in Griffith Park.

I was trying to lose some Covid/holiday weight and made fish for dinner two different times. The first time, I slow-roasted salmon (250 degree oven, cookie sheet, a little olive oil, salt and pepper, for 25 minutes) and served with cabbage that I wilted down in a pot with olive oil and cooked until golden brown, then doctored with fish sauce, soy sauce, and rice wine vinegar. Craig loved it.

On another night, I seared tilefish that I bought at McCalls and served it with roasted broccoli tossed with Ponzu and fish sauce.

By Friday, though, the health kick was over (liked the walks and the healthy dinners, hated the fasting, so no more fasting this week) and I cooked up some bucatini cacio e pepe using this technique from my blog.

I’ve been interested in bucatini ever since I read this article, and it did not disappoint. Craig described it as a “meaty pasta” and I think that’s right on the nose.

I also treated us to smoked salmon toast this weekend with cream cheese, pickled onions, capers, and lots of dill. Don’t tell my Jewish ancestors, but I’m starting to prefer smoked salmon toast to a smoked salmon bagel. It’s a little lighter. Forgive me!

Last night, Craig and I did another cooking demo and this one went a little off the rails. I was making braised sausages over polenta (recipe here) and added too much liquid to the tomato sauce, so had a lot of time to kill… ended up playing Billy Joel and Stephen Sondheim on the piano. We also made a lot of irreverent sausage jokes. Watch the whole thing here:

A post shared by Adam Roberts (@amateurgourmet)

Now for stuff that caught my attention on the web this week:

Okay, that’s all for this week, folks!

We’ll see you back here (for free) next week.

Until then….

Your friend,