'Cooking for Mr. Latte' and Dump-It Cake
Essays, Recipes Chart Author's Romance with Husband
Listen to All Things Considered audio
June 5, 2003 -- Amanda Hesser, a food writer for The New York Times, spends a lot of time eating fussy meals in fancy restaurants. But simple, no-stress food is the backbone of her own kitchen repertoire.
NPR's Melissa Block visits Hesser at her home in New York City's Brooklyn Heights neighborhood to watch her cook and to talk about her collection of essays and recipes, Cooking for Mr. Latte: A Food Lover's Courtship, with Recipes. The book charts her romance with New Yorker writer Tad Friend -- who's now her husband.
Here, Hesser provides npr.org recipes for an entire meal, along with a brief history of some of the dishes:
» Deviled Eggs with Smoked Paprika
» Judy Hesser's Oven Fried Chicken
» Baked Zucchini with Herbs and Tomatoes
» Arborio Salad With Pine Nuts and Lemon Zest
» Chocolate Dump-It Cake
Deviled Eggs with Smoked Paprika
1 dozen eggs
2 tablespoons Hellmann's mayonnaise
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
Dash of hot sauce
Smoked paprika (mild), from Spain
1. Bring a large pot of water to a simmer. Lower the eggs into the water and simmer gently for 9 minutes. Drain the pot and run cold water over the eggs for half a minute. As soon as the eggs are cool enough to touch, peel them and halve them. You want to mix the yolks with the other ingredients while they're still warm. Place the yolks in a mixer fitted with a whisk. Add the mayonnaise and mustard and blend until smooth. Add a dash of hot sauce and mix again. Taste the yolks, and add more mayonnaise, mustard or hot sauce to your liking.
2. Arrange the halved egg whites on a colorful platter. Pipe or spoon the yolk mixture into them. Sprinkle a pinch of smoked paprika over each. Do a test one to see how much you like before seasoning all of them.
Makes 24 deviled eggs.
Judy Hesser's Oven Fried Chicken
When my mother worked, this was one of her standard dinners. She would get home and before she even set down her purse, she would put her worn aluminum pan in the oven and turn it on.
My mother would sometimes put canned peach halves (homemade, not the supermarket kind, she would insist I tell you) on the chicken. She would start them skin side down and once they were browned, turn them and put the peach half on the browned side. It is a variation that I have only recently come to appreciate.
I sometimes add grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and grated lemon zest to the flour mixture. The cheese underlines the nutty flavor you get from frying and the zest brightens the dish. It is delicious without these, too. My family likes it at any temperature and at any time of day, even cold out of the fridge for breakfast.
For years I had been frying the chicken and wondering why mine was never the same as my mother's. Then when I was home visiting recently, she told me she was making it for dinner.
"Great!" I said.
"Only this time," she said, "I didn't have time to soak the meat."
"Soak the meat?"
"Yeah," she said casually, "it firms it up and makes it better."
"Somehow, you forgot to tell me that part."
"I did?" she said, her hands digging into a bag full of flour and chicken. "Whoops, well, now you know."
I had been skipping the one real trick to this recipe, which is to soak the chicken in salted ice water for a few hours before cooking. It seasons the meat and tightens the flesh, so the skin crisps better and the seasoning permeates the meat. My mother would put the chicken in the water and chill it while she was at work.
Her other trick is to use good farmers' market chickens, which taste better and have less fat, so the chicken fries in a film of oil rather than a bath of fat.
3 tablespoons sea salt
8 chicken thighs (organic or natural, not Perdue or some such)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/ 2 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
1. In the morning, combine 2 tablespoons salt and about a cup of warm water in a large bowl or container. Stir to dissolve the salt. Trim the chicken of excess skin and fat. Add the chicken to the bowl. Cover with very cold water and add a tray of ice cubes. Swish around with your hand to disperse them. Chill in the refrigerator until dinner time.
2. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Remove the chicken from the fridge and pat dry completely with paper towels. Put the butter in a roasting pan large enough to fit the chicken in one layer. Place the pan in the oven. In a 1-gallon freezer bag, pour in the flour, remaining 1 tablespoon salt and the pepper. Give it a good shake. Add the chicken pieces two at a time and shake them until thoroughly coated. As you lift them out of the bag, shake them off vigorously. This is vital. You do not want a gummy coating. Line them up on a plate, and repeat with the rest.
3. Lay the chicken pieces in the roasting pan, skin side down, and oven-fry until chestnut brown and crisp on the bottom, about 40 minutes (sometimes it takes as long as an hour). Don't flip them until this happens. Use a thin spatula to scrape them up off the pan and turn them; cook the other side the same way. Remove the pieces from the oven as they finish cooking, and place on a plate lined with paper towels. Just before serving, grind fresh pepper over top and sprinkle lightly with sea salt.
Makes fried chicken for four, or three big eaters.
Baked Zucchini with Herbs and Tomatoes
Adapted from Paula di Mauro
10 firm baby zucchini, or 5 small zucchini, ends trimmed
1 small onion, chopped
2 scallions, white part only, thinly sliced
Leaves from 3 inner stalks celery
6 basil leaves
About 1/4 cup flour
2 whole ripe plum tomatoes, cored and coarsely chopped, or 1 cup tiny cherry tomatoes
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil (the best you can find)
Freshly ground black pepper
1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees (if you have convection, use it and reduce temperature to 400 degrees). Slice the zucchini lengthwise into 1/4-inch-thick, 2- to 3-inch-long sticks. Scrape the sticks into a colander. Add the onion and scallions. Tear celery and basil leaves into small pieces and scatter on top. Season lightly with salt, and sprinkle flour over all. Using one hand, press and toss ingredients together until well mixed and lightly coated with flour (it will get a little moist, but should not get gooey). Add the tomatoes, season again with salt and toss once more.
2. Coat the bottom of a medium baking dish or ceramic pie plate with half the olive oil. Fill the dish with the zucchini, then grind pepper over it. Sprinkle the remaining oil on top, and put the dish in the oven. Bake for about 20 minutes, or until ingredients are just cooked, but firm, and the edges are browned.
A side dish for four, or six if there are several other dishes. Double the amounts of ingredients if there are eight diners.
Arborio Salad With Pine Nuts and Lemon Zest
This recipe began in very different form. I first had Arborio rice salad when I was working for a restaurant in northern Italy. Francesca, the daughter of the owner, who was my age, would often make a salad of Arborio rice mixed with sliced cornichons, capers, red peppers and olives. Over it, she would pour olive oil the color of a sunflower. Her father, who was a traditionalist about risotto, tolerated the dish, but just barely. She and I lapped it up.
I was thinking of her rice salad when I made this dish. The lemon zest and vinegar act in the same manner as the cornichons and capers. The pine nuts were an experiment. I think you will like them.
I served this one night with slow roasted striped bass and the vegetables (above). The leftovers made an excellent salad for the lunches that followed.
2 cups Arborio rice
3 tablespoons best quality olive oil
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
Zest of 1 lemon
Freshly ground grains of paradise, or mixed peppercorns
1/4 cup pine nuts
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Fill a large pot with warm water and season it with enough salt so that you can taste the salt but it's not salty. Bring to a boil. Stir in the rice and cook until the rice is just tender but is still firm. You should have to chew it -- it shouldn't mush under your teeth. Drain the rice and tip it into a serving bowl. Sprinkle over the olive oil, vinegar and lemon zest. Grind pepper over top. Use a spatula to fold the rice over itself again and again. Let sit for an hour (or up to 8 hours in the fridge) so the flavors meld. Stir every now and then.
2. While the rice sits, pour the pine nuts into a small baking dish and toast in the oven, 4 to 5 minutes. You want the nuts to turn golden brown, but not get too dark. Remove from the oven and let cool.
3. Before serving, bring the rice to room temperature and stir in the pine nuts. Taste once more, adding more oil, vinegar, and salt and pepper as you see fit.
Makes enough rice for eight.
Chocolate Dump-It Cake
Adapted from Judith Hesser
My mother did all of her baking late at night, after we were in bed. Around one in the morning, the aroma of this cake would begin wafting up to our bedrooms. Then we'd watch her frost it while we ate breakfast.
2 cups sugar
4 ounces unsweetened chocolate
1/4 pound unsalted butter (1 stick), plus more for greasing the pan
2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting the pan
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon semi-coarse sea salt or kosher salt
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon cider vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups Nestle semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 1/2 cups sour cream, at room temperature
1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees, and place a baking sheet on the lowest rack, to catch any drips when the cake bakes. Put the sugar, unsweetened chocolate, butter and 1 cup of water in a saucepan. Place over medium heat and stir occasionally until all of the ingredients are melted and blended. Remove from the heat and let cool slightly, 15 to 20 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, sift together the flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. In a small bowl, stir together the milk and vinegar. Grease and flour a 9-inch tube pan. (If you prefer, you can grease it, line it with parchment and then grease and flour it. This is not necessary, but parchment does make getting the cake out easier.)
3. When the chocolate in the pan has cooled a bit, whisk in the milk mixture and eggs. In several additions and without overmixing, whisk in the dry ingredients. When the mixture is smooth, add the vanilla and whisk once or twice, to blend. "Dump" the batter into the tube pan and bake on the middle rack until a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean, about 30 minutes. Let the cake cool for 10 minutes, then remove from the pan and cool on a rack. (This can be tricky, so if someone is around, enlist them to help. Place a ring of wax paper on top of the cake so you have something to grab onto when turning it out.) Let cool completely.
4. Meanwhile, melt the chocolate chips in a double boiler, then let cool to room temperature. It is very important that the chocolate and sour cream be the same temperature, otherwise the icing will be lumpy or grainy. (Test it by stirring a little of the sour cream and chocolate together in a bowl; if it mixes smoothly, it's ready.) Stir in the sour cream, 1/ 4 cup at a time, until the mixture is smooth. Taste some! It's good.
5. When the cake is cool, you may frost it as is or cut it in half so that you have two layers (when I do this, I use 2 cups chocolate chips and 2 cups sour cream). My mother uses any leftover icing to make flowers on top. She dabs small rosettes, or buttons, on top, then uses toasted almond slices as the petals, pushing them in around the base of the rosette.
Makes 10 servings. (My mother kept it in the fridge, and it is sublime even when cold.)
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Hesser's book is among the books recommended by guest authors for the Talk of the Nation Summer Reading List 2003