What I Cooked for a NYT Food Critic
Plus: Recipe Testing, My Fall Fruit Bowl, and Cacio e Pepe and Cake.
Guess who I cooked for on Saturday night? Oh just the California food critic for The New York Times, Tejal Rao!
As intimidating as that might sound, I met Tejal and her husband years ago at a Gourmet Magazine party (RIP, Gourmet) and they were so lovely, the second that I heard that they were moving to L.A., I wanted to cook them a “welcome” dinner. Then the pandemic happened and that idea got shelved.
Fast forward to two weeks ago when I thought to reach out and Tejal responded enthusiastically. Hence the dinner was set and I had to plan the menu. I have to admit, as approachable as Tejal is in real life, she also single-handedly took on The French Laundry and The Restaurant at Meadowood in her game-changing review of the Napa Valley’s finest. (“At times, overwhelmed by the opulence, I felt like a character in a sci-fi movie who had sneaked onto a spaceship for the 1 percent, now orbiting a burning planet.”)
Luckily, I’ve cooked for food critics and chefs before, and the lesson that I’ve learned: homey and comforting is the way to go. No showing off.
So, the night before the dinner, I seasoned four pork chops with lots of salt, toasted and ground coriander seeds, fennel seeds, and black peppercorns. When it came time to cook them, I started them in a cold skillet fat-side down, and slowly rendered them. Then I finished them in the skillet, flipping every two minutes, until they were golden brown and had an internal temp of 135.
Meanwhile, I also made Brussels sprouts using a Nancy Silverton technique where you heat the cookie sheet on the bottom of the oven (basically, directly over the heat source), toss the Brussels with olive oil, salt, and pepper in a big bowl, then pour on the scalding hot sheet, shaking so they all lie flat. Roast on the bottom of the oven but really keep an eye on it: with so much direct heat, they char really quickly. (It tastes like it was charred in a fancy chef’s wood-burning oven.) Then you can finish on a higher oven shelf to soften and season with more salt, pepper, and lemon juice.
It’s also a good trick for Thanksgiving: char the Brussels before everyone gets there, set the pan aside, then, when you’re ready to heat them up again, pop them in a 425 oven until soft.
To go with the pork chops, I made Ina Garten’s apple chutney, which is such a winning recipe. Not only does it elevate pork chops, I served it with cheese the next night to huge huzzahs.
As for dessert, I made my favorite almond cake (I know, boring Adam, but Tejal and her husband loved it), this time really making a point to bring the butter, eggs, and sour cream to room temperature. Consequently, the cake baked up much lighter and was the best one I’ve ever made.
So while I wait for the review to drop (just kidding, Tejal wasn’t reviewing my dinner party… OR WAS SHE?), I’ve been testing recipes for a secret project that hopefully will come to fruition.
So I can’t tell you how I made this chicken with potatoes and salsa verde…
…but if all goes according to plan, you’ll be in possession of this recipe someday down the road. (God, I’m such a bad newsletter writer: you want recipes you can use now! You better unsubscribe.)
Let me distract you with my fall fruit bowl:
Check out those pomegranates and permissions: they were purloined on a trip to the farmer’s market yesterday, where I also stocked up on herbs.
And I didn’t use a single one of them at last night’s dinner for our friends Ryan and Jonathan.
Instead, I made my favorite Cacio e Pepe recipe — a recipe that you can have, it lives here.
I made a quick salad using winter greens from the farmer’s market and a quick Caesar dressing (3 garlic cloves, 4 anchovies, a dollop of Dijon, lemon juice, and olive oil in a food processor). Ryan and Jonathan were very pleased.
But the REALLY indulgent part came at the end.
Ryan brought two cakes that he bought from Hannah Ziskin’s House of Gluten. So we had a cake tasting:
Needless to say, I’m still very full. But that’s my kind of Sunday night.
Hey, guess who’s on Lunch Therapy this week?
None other than Carla Lalli Music, author of the NYT bestselling cookbooks Where Cooking Begins and That Sounds So Good.
We had such a good talk about recipe developing, how the pandemic changed her approach, how her journalist parents informed her career, her rise to fame on YouTube, and what her kids have learned from her at home.
CLICK HERE to listen. And, as always, if you can take 0.5 seconds to write a nice review on Apple Podcasts, I’d so appreciate it.
Didn’t collect enough links to share this week, but I did write an essay for paid-subscribers only last Thursday called “Is There Really Such a Thing as an Original Recipe?” If you’ve ever thought about getting into the food writing business or writing your own cookbook, this essay will clear a few things up for you and hopefully give you the courage to take the leap.
If you’d like to read that and have access to my entire archives, here’s a special discount code that makes it so affordable, it’s more ridiculous NOT to become a paid subscriber than just to click and get it over with:
That’s all for this week folks!
Until next time….