Saturday, January 24, 2009

Spider Cake

Gorgeous plates by Lisa Neimeth. Post to follow.

I HAD NO CHOICE BUT TO MAKE the Spider Cake touted in Jonathan Reynolds' boisterous homage to breakfast in the NYT a few years ago. Lord he went on! Now we've made the thing so often it's surely properly considered an old-family-recipe. And to say it's a favorite is to understate the feeling mightily.

The dish won't let you go. It's a cornbread eclair for God's sake, a rough, layered soufflé. Even the old-line southern manners of the recipe are provocative: you purposely sour milk with vinegar; pour cream into the middle of raw batter for the addictive moist center lift. It wobbles when it comes out of the oven. And it's breakfast food in the most old-fashioned sense: fortifying tender grain made opulent with dairy, hovering on the savory end of sweet. This is definitely not your modern, trifling sugar bomb.

So, I ask myself, why not spread the love and blog it (now that I do that sort of thing)? But you are warned, once you let this crazy-ass, cream-cracked, under-sweet confection into your world it takes over. Even when I have no earthly intention of losing a wide-open Sunday morning to baking, I'll stumble into the kitchen to find our coffee pot barricaded with bags of cornmeal, the fridge stocked with heavy cream we don't normally dabble in, and slow chants of "Spider Cake!" rising to the rafters. Your life won't be your own.


2 cups milk

4 teaspoons white vinegar

1 cup all-purpose flour

3/4 cup yellow cornmeal

3/4 cup sugar

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 eggs

2 tablespoons butter

1 cup heavy cream

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine milk and vinegar in a bowl and set aside to sour.

In another bowl, combine flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking soda and salt. Whisk eggs into the soured milk. Stir into dry ingredients and set batter aside.

Melt butter in a 12-inch cast-iron skillet. Pour in the batter. Pour cream into the center, slide skillet into the oven and bake until golden brown on top, about 45 minutes. Slice into wedges and serve warm.

Possible variations? Add a cup of fresh sautéed Summer corn, the scrapings of a vanilla bean...

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Katie's Elk Sausage

SO WE CROSSED THE GOLDEN GATE to visit our sweet friend Katie at her new home on stilts at the water. Soooo good. We tooled around the bay in her little blow-up raft, worked up an appetite, then had lunch on her deck: charred hand-made elk sausage (that she helped hunt, clean, butcher!), lamb sausage and pork-garlic sausage, all Katie-made and served with thick herbed polenta and salad with last-of-season persimmons and pomegranate jewels. Did I say that Katie is one of the most amazing cooks I know? Talk about the simplest of meals. Exquisite. Recipes coming soon...

Monday, January 19, 2009


MY OTHER GREAT LOVE is reading/books/words.  A friend, Celia Sack, recently opened my fantasy food bookstore in an old butcher shop space on Cesar Chavez Street, Omnivore: Books on Food. She's an experienced antiquarian book dealer who also happens to adore food, and combines those loves in this sweet project. She sources old books and stocks new. She puts together readings at the shop. All of it is beautiful, constantly evolving and expanding. And, although I often link books to Amazon for their easily accessible photos and info., try to buy at independent places like Celia's if possible. Do support intelligence and check it out.

Omnivore Books on Food · 3885a Cesar Chavez Street · San Francisco, CA 94131 · 415.282.4712 · Hours: Tues-Sat 11am-6pm, Sun 12-5

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Book Hunger

A Memoir with Recipes
by Nani Power

Is miraculous: “The growl of the stomach becomes the ache of the heart, becomes the screech of the banshee, the warrior’s yell, the beat of the Mongol’s drum, a song of vengeance.” Equally brave, raucous, odd, the memoir haunts not for Power’s bear-eating tips or raccoon recipes, but for her gothic characters, her depth-of-vision, her kindness. She's a traveller who, luckily for us, digs in deep wherever she finds herself - Virginia, Maine, Iran, Peru, New York City, Rio, Mexico, Japan. Her Iranian Bademjoon Khorest was a red bleeding wonder of sour/tender eggplant & lamb (where was my camera for this?).

I must also try Power's "tiny surreal jewels. . . bright and glittery and crackled against each other like fall leaves" Candied Mint Leaves, her musky curried-leaved Aloo Paratha, hot Brazilian Feijoada or Xuxu de Galinha (perhaps put together in a "fio dental" bikini for authenticity's sake?).

To end at her beginning: "This is a book about hunger. You could call it longing, in a more poetic sense, but hunger implies a physical need, an instinctual force that is relentless. . . the invisible chain that threads our memories to our heart, insistent and throbbing. . ." Amen.

R'ghayef (Moroccan flatbread)

OUR FRIEND DAN brought these flatbreads to our Middle Eastern brunch and everyone went mad for them. They’re from Anissa Helou’s wonderful Mediterranean Street Food. Now I admit to a weakness for filled pastry-ish things, but this. The filling is savory-spiced,
stuffed into a thin, layered dough that becomes tender-crisp as it griddles. It's enough to make you cry.

They are a little bit of a project, but not for what you ultimately get, and really very manageable after a try or two. I added about a cup of cooled sautéed ground lamb to the onion-herb-spice mixture and it sang.

Moroccan Flatbread (R'ghayef)
Serves 4

The Dough

1/4 teaspoon active dry yeast
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour and more for kneading
1/2 teaspoon salt

The Filling

1/2 onion, very finely chopped
1/4 cup finely chopped Italian parsley
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
Salt to taste
Vegetable oil

Stir the yeast into 6 tablespoons tepid water until creamy.

Stir flour and salt together in a bowl. Add yeast water, gradually working it in with your hand until dough is slightly wetter than that for bread. Knead briefly on a lightly floured work surface, dusting with flour as needed, then cover with an inverted bowl and let rest 15 minutes.

Put the onion, parsley, butter and spices in a bowl and mix well.

Smear your work surface and hands with vegetable oil and divide the dough into 4 equal portions. Shape each into a ball. Working with 1 ball at a time, flatten into a very thin circle. If the dough is elastic and wants to spring back, let it rest for a few moments, then try again. The circle should be as thin as you can make it without tearing. Spread a quarter of the filling over the dough. Fold it in thirds like a letter. With a short side nearest you, fold the bottom third toward the center, then fold the top third under the center accordion-style to make a small square. Repeat with remaining dough. With oiled hands, pat and stretch each small square into a large square. The square should be as thin as you can make it without tearing the dough.

Preheat a griddle to medium. Grease it lightly with vegetable oil, or grease a large nonstick skillet with vegetable oil and place over moderate heat. Cook flattened squares on both sides until golden brown, about 2 to 3 minutes per side. Serve hot or warm.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Kiki Smith

-Kiki Smith's Illustrated poem Concordance written with Mei-mei Berssenbrugge

Working backward in sleep, the 
last thing you numbed to is what
wakes you.

What if that image were Eros as

I write to you and you feel me.

What would it be like if you
contemplated my words and I felt

Animals, an owl, frog, open their
eyes, and a mirror forms on the

When insight comes in a dream,
and events the next day
illuminate it, this begins your
streaming consciousness,
synchronicity, asymptotic lines
of the flights of concordances.

An owl opens its eyes in deep

For the first time, I write and you
don't know me.

Milkweed I touch floats.

WHAT CAN one say about Kiki Smith, about her work's breathtaking depth? I know the way she moves me is the same way food stirs and undoes me. It is its darkness, its mythology, its mystery, its sustaining life.

Food is painting/sculpture, it is hand-made form.  In large part it involves seeing (along with every other sense), and I'm not swayed by featherweight minimalism - I love the shadowy human story and all that interconnected depth and darkness.