Category Archives: Daily Bread

On food and cooking.

Balsamic Swiss Chard Tart with Rye Cracker Crust.

We met on the subway. He fell. I laughed. Four stops later, we were texting from opposite ends of the block. It was the kind of obnoxious meet cute people move to New York to experience. The kind that doesn’t happen. Except it did.

Our first date was stupidly perfect. It was a dark and stormy night, and we got drinks at a speakeasy downtown. The bar was too loud, our bodies too close, the repartee too easy. We carelessly tossed around secrets that should have been coaxed out over weeks or months. In between those sweet, sloppy overshares, there was dancing and kissing and running through alleys and groping in taxis and broken umbrellas abandoned in rainy streets.

And kale. A shared love of dark leafy greens became our first inside joke. I awoke the next day to a very un-chill request for a second date and fired back a very un-chill YES, suggesting a restaurant known for its cult-status kale salad. At work, I pounded kale chips, high on hope and Vitamin C, too green myself to check my runaway daydreams.

Our second date went like a third, if you know what I mean. And sometime between the night of and the morning after, something kale-d the vibe. His alarm went off and he tore into the shower without so much as a good morning, and I have this sad recollection of thinking, Oh.

I didn’t leave, because I didn’t want to be the girl who left. I quickly wished I had. He was leaving the country for a two-week vacation, and it felt too soon to say what I wanted to, which was: Wait. No. Stop. I like you. Tell me what this is. Instead, I threw down some impressively blasé girl games to compensate for all the rules I’d already broken. We parted on weird terms, and I spent two weeks feeling alternately self-satisfied and panicked, obsessively checking my phone for a text I knew wasn’t coming.

Meanwhile, he got back together with his ex.

Since then, I’ve had a physical reaction to kale that rivals what I experience when someone unscrews the cap on a Diet Coke spiked with Smirnoff. (College!) It tastes like lust and loss and puts my stomach in angry, gurgling knots. I’m pretty sure the trauma incurred by eating it negates the benefits. So I don’t.

It’s cool. There are other fish in the sea. Butter lettuce has some smooth moves, and I’ve been known to fool around with shaved raw fennel. But when only a dark leafy green will do, chard’s the one — preferably baked in a buttery rye crust and served by the slice. I’ll have you know we are very happy together.

Take that, kale.

Balsamic Swiss Chard and Gouda Tart with Rye Cracker Crust

This is loosely based on a spinach tart I make on the reg. The crust can be made with olive oil, but I dig a buttery base with the sweeter balsamic and gouda filling. I used crushed rye Wasa crispbread for something like a savory graham cracker crust — for a whole-wheat version, try the original recipe.

1 1/2 cups rye cracker crumbs (about 12 crackers)
6 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon coarse salt
1 large bunch Swiss chard, stems diced and leaves cut into ribbons
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 shallot, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 eggs, lightly beaten
2 ounces aged Gouda, shredded

Coarse salt & cracked pepper

1. Prepare the crust. Whisk together the cracker crumbs and salt. Add the butter, plus about 1/2 cup of water. It should have the look of wet sand and hold its shape when pinched. Press it into a 9″ springform pan, using a measuring cup to pack it down evenly and making sure it comes up about an inch around the sides. Note: You can par-bake this, but I’m all for saving time and found that it crisped up nicely when baked with the filling. Up to you.

2. In a large pot over medium-low heat, stir chard leaves until wilted. Wrap in a paper towel or cheesecloth and wring out excess water. Don’t not do this or you will have a sad, soggy tart. Set aside in a large bowl.

3. In the same pot, sautee the shallot and chard stems in olive oil until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, and cook for another minute.

4. Add the shallot mixture to the chard leaves, along with the vinegar, eggs and gouda. Season with a pinch of salt and a generous shower of cracked black pepper.

5. Bake at 350 for 25-30 minutes, or until crust is golden-brown and fragrant and greens are set. Laugh in the face of kale salad.

Condiments Anonymous.

The time has come to admit that I have a problem. I am powerless over my addiction and I do not want to get better.

Open my fridge and OH GOD DON’T LOOK AT ME:

three kinds of hot sauce
four kinds of mustard
an economy-sized tub of miso
a row of half-empty jam jars
a bottle of soy sauce AND an emergency stash of takeout packets
fancy anchovies
enough pickles to carry my veg intake for several weeks
salted fig caramel sauce
small-batch artisanal horseradish
Hidden Valley Ranch because LET ME LIVE
and several unmarked jars filled with mysterious DIYs.

Simply put, I want my kitchen to feel like a fast-casual restaurant. I’m a fan of batch cooking and leftovers, so the condiment fetish is my way of re-accessorizing the same old LBD (Lazy Bowl Dinner).

Besides, any condiment addict knows they’re good for more than a swipe on a sandwich. They’re not just embellishments. They’re ingredients. I put blackberry jam in my pulled pork and anchovies in my tomato sauce. A well-deployed condiment can transform a basic recipe with virtually no extra effort.

Which brings me to herb oil. Few things I make on a regular basis DON’T call for a glug of olive or coconut oil, and rarely do they suffer from a subtle herbal infusion. I’ve made chive, thyme, and basil oils, and I show no sign of stopping. You heard me. I do not want to get better.

If you’re looking to fall down this rabbit hole, I am looking to enable you. If not, avert your gaze now.

CHIVE OIL ALL DAY EVERY DAY.

You’ll four parts herb to one part oil. The amounts don’t matter as long as the ratio’s right — it just depends how much you want to make. I wouldn’t use less than 1/4 cup of oil, as you’ll lose too much in the process to make it worth your while.

For leafy herbs (basil, mint): Bring a small pot of water to a boil. Add the herbs and blanch them for 10 seconds. It’s a quick dip, but it keeps them from discoloring and brightens the flavor just a smidge. Plunge them into cold water, wring them out, and blend them with the oil. Push that ish through a coffee filter. Welcome to the jungle.

For sprig herbs (thyme, rosemary): Place a handful of herbs directly into the oil and bring that to a boil. Turn off the heat and let it steep for an hour or two. Strain out the stems and leaves.

Responsible media outlets would say it keeps for a week, but I’ve had chive oil in my fridge for a several months with no issues so…take your chances and please don’t sue me. Instead, do this stuff:

make it rain on yo saladz
~*spice up ur stir-frii*~
give roasted veggies a swift kick in the ass
knead it into pizza dough and top with garlic and Parmesan
rub down a piece of chicken or fish
drizzle it on soup
toss it with pasta
whip it into hummus
massage it into your cuticles
use it to grease the floor of your enemy’s summer camp cabin

Let’s see your Hidden Valley Ranch do that.

Mexican Chocolate Granola.

I am no baker. Dessert got me into the kitchen — which speaks more to my love of sugar than anything else — but I have little patience for recipes and rules, both central to the delicate reactions that turn butter and flour into cookies and cakes. When I bake, I bake like a cook: impulsive and sloppy, eyeballing measurements and swapping ingredients at will. Baking is science, and I’m the bad kid who shows up on exam day and passes on sheer probability.

Mainly, I stick to utility baking: bread and granola. Both are fairly forgiving canvases that let me operate on taste and touch. There’s less sugar involved, but no less love of the process. And nothing like knowing I gave birth to the base of my basic-ass avocado toast.

What I miss is the generosity involved in conventional baking. Precious few can survive on cookies alone (though I seem to be following a disproportionate number on Instagram), so when we bake, we bake to feed. I think of the batches I used to churn out for classmates and coworkers: YOU GET A CARB! AND YOU GET A CARB! How natural and rewarding it felt to share. I miss that feeling. Granola, however fortifying, doesn’t carry the same allure. Cooking for one, however gratifying, can be a lonely gig.

I don’t always DIY. I get lazy and shell out for bougie artisanal granola. But even if some anonymous oat master nails the grain-to-nut-to-sweetener ratio, all those maple-glazed pecans eventually start to taste the same. And it starts to feel demeaning that all I contributed was $12 for the bag (oof).

So I bake. Granola! One of the easiest things to make at home, and one where we stand to gain the most from doing so. If I’m going to call it dinner — as I have on more than one occasion — I can at least know that I gave birth to my bougie-ass bowl. And then I’ll tell you about it, in hopes you’ll agree that eating faintly spiced chocolate for breakfast (or dinner) is a commendable life choice. And I’ll know that, if only from a distance, I did my part.

Mexican Chocolate Granola

Warning: Your home will smell like a churro factory for a torturous length of time, and I will not apologize. Cooking it low and slow keeps the little bits from burning in the time it takes for the oats to crisp up. This makes a dainty batch for those who (ahem) cannot commit to a whole box of cereal and also cannot be trusted with granola. Feel free to double, triple, and send whatever you don’t finish to me.

1 1/2 cups oats (or buckwheat, pictured here because I Can’t Be Tamed)
1/2 cup flaked coconut
1/4 cup pepitas
1/4 cup cacao nibs
3 tablespoons coconut oil
3 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
Generous pinch of cayenne

1. Preheat oven to 225. Whisk together coconut oil, honey, cocoa, vanilla and spices in a medium saucepan over low heat. Stir in dry ingredients.

2. Spread in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake for about an hour, stirring and/or taste-testing every 20 minutes. Let cool completely. If it’s still chewy, pop it back in the oven and dry that sucker out.

Pistachio-Walnut Baklava Butter (or, the cookie butter of baklava).

These is lean times in Chez Embry, my very fancy 400-square-foot home. I’ve never been great at saving in a world where J.Crew and cold-pressed juices exist, and this year, the holidays rolled around and I just. Went. Nuts. I mean, nuts. If you invite me to do anything before March, just know I’ll be eating beforehand. And probably walking from central Brooklyn.

January is blessedly lame and therefore an ideal time to ease up on the nuts. Meaning literal nuts, meaning no $15 jars of MaraNatha Raw Organic Almond Butter (I know but you guys, their texture game is on point). Necessity breeds invention and yadda yadda, and Chez Embry is never without le nut butter. I was out of le almonds, though. So I gave their sassy green brothers a conspiratorial wink, and Baklava Butter was born.

First, a shoutout to Nuts.com, the reason I have the whole world in my pantry. They offered my company a 10% discount and, being a lunatic, I promptly ordered $350 worth of ~superfoods~ (see: spending problem). Dare I say it was worth it, because I’ve been coasting on that stash for months, and I now know that kale granola exists and spirulina is aces mixed into brown rice. I’ve used Nuts.com a few times since; my order always arrives the next day, with an extra sample or two tucked inside. Everything’s top-notch and fresher than Beyoncé. Even the eco-friendly packaging is delightful. No front here, I just honestly love Nuts.com and I want you to put spirulina in your rice, too. And when you finish, there’s baklava for dessert.

Pistachio-Walnut Baklava Butter

I straight-up high-fived myself upon tasting this. It is spreadable baklava, plus all the goodness of B vitamins and alpha-linolenic acid, which I’ll let you google if you’re someone who cares about that. You could probably get away with two tablespoons of honey, but I have a sugar problem as well as a spending problem, so this is the version I’m putting my name on. It’s barely a recipe, but order and timing do matter, and toasting the nuts makes all the difference in flavor.

2 cups raw pistachios
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon cardamom
1/2 teaspoon coarse sea salt
3 tablespoons honey
1/2 cup raw walnuts

1. Heat oven to 375. Toast pistachios until fragrant, about eight minutes. While they cool, do the same to the walnuts.

2. Dump pistachios into a reasonably capable food processer. Forge past flour and into butter consistency, when the oils release and you have to scrape down the sides of the bowl.

3. Add honey and spices. The mixture will seize up briefly, but don’t freak out! Let it get that out of its system so you can get it into yours (ha ha ha am I a food writer yet?).

4. Once the mixture is smooth and sticky, add the walnuts. Pulse for a chunky finish, or whip it good for a smooth one. Do not share.

Gluten-Free Tortilla Soup for a Southern soul.

My grandmother, Leah, died in August. Let’s get that out there right now. It was sad in the way that losing grandparents is sad and watching parents lose parents is sadder. It was also okay, in that she was old and possessed the kind of fire better suited to a snuff than a slow fade.

We weren’t close. In fact, we were nemeses at the holiday table, my family’s nervous eyes on me through her railings against social leftism and women who work outside the home. I could barely be bothered to snort. There was no point, I thought. We had nothing in common, I thought. I wrote her off and swore I’d never become so bitter and out of touch.

Leah was a product of her time. It’s not an excuse, but it’s an explanation. And the truth is, if she’d have been born 60 years later, I think she’d have been a lot like me. She was sharp-tongued and stubborn. Charming when it suited her. Loved to entertain; then loved to be alone. Type A to a fault. A regular card shark. And as no one, least of all me, would argue: a damn good cook.

A southerner via the southwest, Leah had a way with Mexican food. Her tortilla soup tastes more definitively of childhood than things I ate on a daily basis. It’s what always appeared the first night of a visit, a restorative tonic for jetlag and tension. What we slurped before trick-or-treating on Halloween, the calm before the sugar rush. A stab at comfort on Sunday nights at my Dad’s house, drowning the strangeness of packing to leave a “home” that never quite felt like ours.

I flew to Arkansas for the service and came back with a recipe box. The hits are all there: her biscuits and gravy, her scalloped potatoes, her carrot cake. Lots of alarming Jell-O salads and tuna casseroles. I had my mind on one thing.

I made her version first: all-purpose flour, stick of butter and all. Then I made our version: that same sultry Southwestern flavor with a whole-grain base and a hit of veggies, as is my way. The result is something that would have been laughed out of a potluck 60 years ago. But times are different now. We get our comfort how we can.

Sorghum Tortilla Soup with Collard Greens

You can sub all-purpose or corn flour, but don’t sleep on the sorghum. It’s a super-nutritious, gluten-free grain whose mild flavor plays well with the smoky ancho chile. Making a paste with hot broth helps the flour melt into the soup, eliminating the need for a roux; if you skip this step, you’ll wind up with clumpy sorghum “dumplings” instead of the voluptuous broth that makes this bowl so soul-soothing. Serves 4.

2 tablespoons neutral oil or lard (I used duck fat)
1 onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup ancho chile powder
4 cups chicken broth
1 can white hominy, drained and rinsed
1 can pinto beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon salt
A handful of cilantro, roughly chopped
1/4 cup sorghum flour
1 bunch collard greens, thinly sliced
Avocado and/or corn chips, for serving

1. Heat fat over medium-low. Add onion and cook until soft, about five minutes. Add garlic, and cook for another minute or so. Add chile powder. Stir to coat, and add one cup of water.

2. Add broth, hominy, beans, and spices. Bring to a boil. Skim a few tablespoons of hot broth off the top and set aside. Add cilantro to pot and reduce to simmer.

3. Whisk flour into reserved broth to form a paste. Make sure there’s more flour than broth, or you’ll have a hard time getting it smooth. Return flour paste to pot and stir to incorporate. Simmer, uncovered, for about 15 minutes.

4. Meanwhile, slice your greens. Extra-thin, because collards are as tenacious as Ms. Leah. Add to pot and simmer for another 10 minutes. Adjust salt and pepper to taste.

5. Spoon into bowls. Top with avocado and corn chips. Slurp and be soothed.

Butternut Squash, Sage and Ricotta Calzones with Hazelnut Crust (or, Hot Pockets for dignified adults).

This is a tale of two underdogs: butternut squash and calzones. The first sidelined by its latte-plundering brethren; the second chronically, confusingly overlooked. In a world where Hot Pockets can turn a profit, I can think of no reason calzones aren’t killing it. Made in miniature, they’re a handheld dream for packed lunches or frozen dinners. A dignified way to dough on the go.

My epiphany came at Emily, a Clinton Hill pizzeria. The pies hit the spot, but the real star was the s’mores calzone that’s become the restaurant’s calling card (or at least its face on Instagram). It’s exactly what it sounds like: a full-size pizza topped with dark chocolate, marshmallows and graham cracker crumbs, folded and baked until charred on the outside and molten within. I mean. It’s just rude to serve something like that after a meal. Next time, I’m getting one for dinner.

In the meantime, I’d like to keep things a little (a little!) more sensible. So I stuffed my homemade calzones with the flavors of fall: butternut squash, sage and lush roasted garlic ricotta, all wrapped in a hazelnut crust.

These are a hard sell. I get it. There’s homemade pizza dough (yeast! Toasted nuts ground into powder!), pre-cooked veggies, and serious wrist calisthenics. The good news is that I made them four times, and start to finish, they’re ready in two hours. If you can’t commit to that, the dough and the squash can both be made ahead, trimming assembly to 30 minutes. The best news is that they’ll keep for months in your freezer — meaning if you put in the time now, you’ve got seven deliciously dignified Hot Pocket nights ahead.

Butternut Squash, Sage, and Ricotta Calzones

I am not a precise cook. This is not a precise recipe. The only thing you should be measuring is the dough, which I’ve broken out separately below. What’s key is slicing the squash into thin, layerable strips and letting the garlic soften to where you can mash it with the ricotta. These cook quickly in a hot oven, which keeps the dough from drying out — and don’t skip that last oil rubdown, okay? Does a body good. Flavors by Martha; form by Emily; engineering by me.

1 butternut squash, peeled, halved lengthwise and sliced into 1/4” half-moons
1 head garlic
1 recipe Hazelnut Pizza Dough (below)
1 cup ricotta cheese
¼ cup fresh sage leaves, torn into small pieces
A handful of finely ground yellow cornmeal
Olive oil
Salt and pepper

1. Heat oven to 400. Peel and slice squash, toss with a few glugs of olive oil, arrange in a single layer, and sprinkle with salt. Lop off the end of the garlic so the cloves are exposed (no need to peel them), drizzle with oil, and wrap in foil. Bake for 40 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, make your dough. Let it rise on top of your warm oven while the veggies roast. When it’s doubled in size (about an hour), divide into eight balls.

3. Mash the roasted garlic (squeeze from the bottom and it’ll ooze right out) into the ricotta. Add the sage, a healthy pinch of salt, and cracked black pepper to taste. I added five cracks per calzone. Say crack again. Crack.

4. Grease two baking sheets lightly with olive oil, and sprinkle with cornmeal. Pat dough balls into 4×8″ ovals (four should fit on each sheet). On one half of each oval, layer a tablespoon of the ricotta mixture, a few slices of squash, another blob of ricotta, and more squash. Fold the unloaded halves over and press edges firmly to close.

5. Rub sealed dough balls with olive oil. Bake at 450 for 20 minutes, or until golden brown. Eat and feel dignified.

Hazelnut Pizza Dough

1 cup warm water (110 degrees. Think bathwater, not tea water. Would you give it to a baby?)
2 1/4 teaspoons (1 packet) active dry yeast
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for kneading
Heaping 1/2 cup hazelnuts, toasted and cooled
1 ½ teaspoons salt

1. In a small bowl, combine water and yeast. Stir and set aside. If it doesn’t look foamy and rebellious in 10 minutes, start over.

2. Pulse hazelnuts in a blender or food processor until finely ground. A few nubs are fine, but it should be mostly sandy in texture. If you get to the nut butter stage, start over. (And put that ish on some toast tomorrow morning.)

3. In a large bowl, whisk flour, ground hazelnuts and salt. Pour yeast mixture and olive oil over top, and stir until a dough forms. At this point, knead on a floured surface, or do what I do and push it around in the bowl, adding flour until it Feels Like Pizza Dough. Very technical term. You should mess with it for a good 5-8 minutes, and you’ll probably add another 1/4 cup of flour.

And you know what? If you wanted to halve the filling, I bet leftover hazelnut dough would make a killer s’mores calzone. Just do yourself a favor and don’t eat dinner first. It’s the adult thing to do.

Roll with the parsnips.

You may recall my sordid affair with a guy named Joe. At the height of my lust, I’d have walked 20 blocks out of my way just to see him for five minutes. Only now, nearly six months past our expiration date, can I see how strange and lopsided our relationship was.

I’d have been glad to get in and get out, but Joe wouldn’t let me off that easy. Every tryst was an ordeal that would monopolize my day. He’d force me to come at weird hours — early Saturday morning, say, or late Tuesday night. I showed up one Friday evening after work, and he made me wait outside. He was “at capacity.” Whatever that means.

I’d draw lines before I went in, but always found myself pushed over them. He’d murmur sweet nothings like “cookie butter” or “two-buck chuck” — and I’d obey, even though I was fairly sure I wasn’t that kind of girl. When I wanted to leave, there was always a fuss. I’d spend as long getting out the door as I did with Joe in the first place.

And you know what? His zucchini was not that impressive.

Joe and I have parted ways. I don’t miss him. These days, I don’t buy much at any grocery store </metaphor!!!>. I’ve become the kind of yuppie who loyally sources her artisan foodstuffs and, on Saturdays, rises and shines for the Greenmarket — where you’ll find me squeezing tomatoes, stroking chard and rooting around for the eggs with the best color scheme. Because priorities.

Priorities.

Or I try, anyway. Because farmer’s marketing does not come naturally to me. I’m a meal planner, a recipe reader, a multi-tracked-grocery-list-maker. What’s more, I’m old-fashioned at heart. I feel guilty squeezing your tomatoes and taking someone else’s home. I grow anxious letting a handsome pile of produce beguile me into a plan — I’d sooner arrive with one in mind.

But I’d like to be the kind of person who shops at farmer’s markets. And slowly but surely, I’m learning to roll with the parsnips. Even the man-made impulse buys rarely fall short — I cave to wine-soaked cheese or duck prosciutto, and with minimal effort, I eat like a queen. The only loser is my ever-expanding list of Ambitious Kitchen Projects. But that’s a list that only I can see. And honestly, the market’s plan is usually better than mine.

Joe, you can go shave your back now.

My cooking habits have also evolved. I no longer live on quinoa and cake, though I still appreciate both. I’ve come to relish crafting and plating bona fide grown-up meals, as well as cooking “off the book” as it moves me. I still bookmark, but I mainly use recipes as a starting point. The more practice I get, the more “me” my cooking becomes, and the more I favor simple dishes that let fresh ingredients shine.

The downside is that unless I’m entertaining, I rarely get to share. It’s natural to pawn off a cookie; not so much a scoop of pumpkin chili or or honey balsamic pulled pork. I scale down or freeze things so I don’t have to eat on repeat, but sometimes the results are so good I just want to high five people. Or at least have a tester confirm that we do, in fact, have a hit.

Cast-iron masterpizza. High fives all around.

One day, we’ll all have a dinner party. Until then, let’s cook together from afar. Look out for the “Market Meals” tag in upcoming posts, which will feature creative, accessible takes on whatever’s made its way from the ground to me. I’m excited to share what’s on my plate, and maybe even a few long-distance high fives. Cookin’ (almost) freehand to the seasons: It’s what’s for dinner. Now explain why it took me so long to wise up on Joe.