Dimanche (That Means Sunday)

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Welcome to this edition of Dimanche (That Means Sunday), a roundup of things that caught my eye this past week.

Spring is officially here in St. Louis. I took a couple sanity walks last week after finally securing a bandana and face mask. I stopped a few times to look at the beautiful spring flowers. I would encourage you to do the same. Step outside with a face mask and bandana and take a stroll around the block, making sure to stay far away from anyone else in the vicinity. Social distancing is real, and we all need to take precautions to make our community safer for one another.

That being said, there’s still plenty to enjoy. I know not everyone is enjoying consistent spring weather (hi, Boston), but eventually, it will be spring. Being in nature has always helped me recenter and concentrate on what’s important. In trying times like the ones we’re in now, it’s extra important to take a minute to clear our heads and focus on something that isn’t news or COVID-19-related.

Last night I drove to pick up a pizza curbside at Union Loafers, one of my favorite restaurants in town. It was an early pickup and so the sun was just starting to set as I drove home. Driving west on I-64, you eventually come up on Forest Park on the right. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the park, it’s the biggest one in St. Louis and usually a popular spot for locals and tourists.

It’s a little quieter now, obviously, but you still see people getting exercise on the walking and bike paths. To be honest, I wish more people were wearing masks, but that’s a separate issue. Yesterday when I drove by, I noticed that the trees in the park had fresh green-yellow buds that glimmered in the late afternoon sunlight. It seemed like almost overnight, the trees had burst into bloom. I saw bright pastel-colored flowers and branches swaying in the breeze.

In a way, it felt bittersweet because I can’t enjoy it as much as I usually would. But then, I realized this experience makes me appreciate it even more. Not being able to have something you usually take for granted gives you new eyes.

We don’t know what next year will bring in terms of next steps, but we do know that it will bring another spring. That’s reassuring to me. I hope that I can be out in nature more next year and go on more road trips and hikes, but for now, I’m content with my walks around the neighborhood and nearby parks. It still offers me the opportunity to appreciate nature and this sudden spring.

Without further ado, here is Dimanche:

I *love* this story about making a French omelette. The writer goes to cooking school in France and watches as a head chef chastises a student for his faulty attempts at making an omelette. There’s an art to it, for sure. Read more in this New Yorker story.

Can we talk about how adorable this story about puppies during the pandemic is? This is the content I live for. Read more about the recent uptick in puppy adoptions in this Boston Globe piece.

I think that even more than politically, we’re in an important moment culturally. I love this story about musicians playing on rooftops in Iran during the pandemic. It’s very inspirational. Read more in AFAR.

French people love their movies, so it’s no surprise that the film industry there is soldiering on during the pandemic. The government, the Centre national du cinéma et de l’image animée (CNC), and Unifrance, an organization devoted to French films, are all doing their part to keep people in the industry informed and to share films with a wider audience. Read more in this IndieWire piece.

As usual, The Atlantic came through this week with a wake-up call. The magazine ran a sad but true story about how our lives won’t get back to normal too quickly after the U.S. reopens. The story is broken up into sections that cover different phases of the pandemic. “There is no going back. The only way out is through—past a turbulent spring, across an unusual summer, and into an unsettled year beyond,” writes Ed Yong in the story. I think it’s important to stay positive while realizing the hard truths of the situation.

Native Americans are responding to a food crisis during the pandemic. Getting food is often a challenge for individuals living on reservations, but now the problem is compounded. Read more about how people are creatively and resourcefully responding to the crisis in this New York Times story.

Kudos to Katie Lee Collier, a local restaurant entrepreneur, for making a shrewd business move during the pandemic, which has taken its toll on local businesses. Collier, who owns the wildly popular Katie’s Pizza & Pasta Osteria with her husband, Ted, recently decided to pivot to selling frozen pizzas and pastas. So far, it’s been a huge success. Read more in this St. Louis Magazine article.

Last but certainly not least, food writer Jeff Gordinier wrote an article in Esquire about how the restaurant revolution as we know it is ending. I disagree. Read my response in my latest blog post.

Enjoy your week! Here’s a song to get you started.

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Response to Jeff Gordinier’s Esquire Piece

Last night, I was scrolling through Twitter when I saw this tweet from Kim Severson, food correspondent for The New York Times:

I was skeptical because as Severson correctly identifies in her tweet, Gordinier in his Esquire story argues that the restaurant revolution is over due to the recent turn of events, and I do not agree with this assessment. Still, I read on because I wanted to see what he had to say. I generally give someone the benefit of the doubt.

I thought about staying quiet about the article, but honestly, it has unsettled me so much since I read it last night that I have to say something. There’s no doubt in my mind that the Trump administration has jeopardized the fate of small businesses including many local restaurants due to its outrageous allocation of funding. It’s also true that a pandemic puts restaurants and local eateries in a difficult position. However, there is no doubt in my mind as a food lover and patron of these businesses that they will survive, as long as we commit to supporting them. Although people are framing the article as a purveyor of harsh realities, the truth is that it’s trying to predict the future and in a completely negative way. Now is the time for relentless optimism, even while we’re cautious and cognizant of what’s happening in our society.

Second, this article is an insult to anyone living in the Midwest. At one point, Gordinier writes that our region is “shorn of funk,” which is to say bereft of anything that is not generic or mass produced. This is a huge slap in the face to people who have worked hard for years to build a business in this region. It also reflects an East Coast elitism that I find distasteful and frankly, disappointing. Gordinier should not be surprised or excited that these things exist; he should try a little harder to do his job as a food writer covering the national food scene, and realize that there are wonderful places producing quality food in small towns, suburbs, and cities such as St. Louis, which, by the way, has always been a liberal stronghold in an otherwise red state. Yes, food writing is inherently political, but if you’re going to bring politics into it, do not make generalizations.

People will continue to support great restaurants like Balkan Treat Box and Indo and so many others in the Midwest because we recognize that they’re an integral part of our community. Plus, I’m a strong believer that passion, drive, and talent will always be rewarded. Gordinier purports that restaurants will be “killed off by the culture wars,” but I feel like the food revolution in the Midwest and nationally is only beginning.

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Tomato and Scallion Grilled Cheese

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Everyone should have a good grilled cheese recipe in their back pocket. This is mine.

I decided to add scallions and tomatoes to my traditional cheddar grilled cheese to use up some of my farmers’ market produce. I first had the idea to put tomatoes in the grilled cheese, and then I thought of the flavor combo with scallions. I cut up a few and sprinkled them on the tomatoes and cheddar cheese before I fried the sandwich.

It turned out to be a great move. Scallions take the sandwich up a notch. There’s nothing wrong with plain grilled cheese, but every once in a while, you need to spice things up. I’m beginning to think it’s the little things that elevate a dish from average to awesome.

There’s really not a “recipe” for this grilled cheese. Take two slices of bread (I used homemade sourdough), layer on thin slices of cheddar cheese, thinly-sliced tomatoes, and chopped scallions. Melt about a tablespoon of butter in a frying pan and swirl to coat the pan. Cook the grilled cheese, pressing it down with a spatula, until one size gets golden brown. Carefully flip the sandwich and repeat the process. The grilled cheese is done when both sides are golden brown, the cheese is melted and gooey, and you can’t wait any longer to eat it.

A word about butter: I used salted butter for this grilled cheese and I found that it made a big difference. I’m going to write a blog post soon about why salted butter gets a bad rap. I get that baked goods rely on unsalted butter to prevent them from becoming too salty, but for everyday cooking and even most baking projects, salted butter should get more respect.

Anyway, I digress. Stay tuned for my blog post about salted butter. Meanwhile, I’ll leave you with this song.

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Sourdough Bread

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Five years ago when I was living in DC, I was browsing a local bookstore and one book caught my eye, “In Search of the Perfect Loaf: A Home Baker’s Odyssey.” In the book, local author and home baker Samuel Fromartz shares his experiences working in a French boulangerie and subsequently traveling around Europe and the United States to learn more about bread making. The book is small yet mighty, in that it looks like an unassuming paperback but it’s actually full of great tips for making bread at home.

After reading the book, I did what any self-respecting journalist would do; I tracked down Fromartz. I emailed him and asked if I could have some of his sourdough starter. At the time, my dream was to make a baguette, and I wanted to start with the best dough possible. To my surprise, Fromartz replied to my email and told me he’d give me some starter.

Then I decided to move back to St. Louis. While moving cross country and resettling in my hometown, I completely forgot about my bread aspirations. Or maybe I didn’t forget, but I was satisfied to sample bread from local bakeries such as Union Loafers and KNEAD, which are doing great things with sourdough.

I actually got a tiny bit of experience making bread when I did a short stint at a bakery in St. Louis after I moved back home. My main takeaway was how to shape a loaf. There’s a specific process that involves taking the dough, folding it up, and rolling it toward you. The pressure from the surface and your hands creates tension, which forms a crust.

Anyway, my point is that I learned a little about bread four or five years ago, but then I stopped thinking about it for a while. Then, a month or two ago when the pandemic started getting really bad, I started thinking about it again. I *swear* I was not going off what I saw on social media. I guess many of us home bakers had the same idea, and it’s a good one. Making sourdough bread is a process that’s perfect for when you have a little extra time on your hands.

If I were you, I would start by making sure you have all the tools you need. Making sourdough takes a fair amount of equipment. You probably have some of it on hand already (e.g. bowls, tea towels, silicone spatula), but you’ll also want things like a kitchen scale, plastic scraper, and most importantly, a wide-mouthed glass jar for storing your sourdough starter in the fridge. A lot of people use one from the company Weck, but I have one from Le Parfait and I love it.

You also probably want a lame (pronounced “lahm”…it’s a French word), a tool that helps you score the top of the bread before it goes into the oven. I didn’t have this when I baked my loaf so I just used a really sharp knife, but a lame is easier to use and it will deliver more professional looking results. This Food & Wine article gives you some good tips about the tools you’ll need. You can also find recommendations on The Perfect Loaf blog.

Then, you can find a sourdough starter. You can buy them online from places like King Arthur Flour, you can try making your own (I would not recommend this…I tried and failed a couple times), or you can reach out to a local bakery or restaurant and see if they’ll sell you some. I know we can’t go to bakeries right now, but many of them are offering curbside pickup. I got my starter from KNEAD and I wiped down the cup it was in thoroughly before putting it in the fridge.

Finally, feed your starter. That’s a process in and of itself. Make sure you have a clean and dry glass jar, and then take 100 g of your starter, put it in, and “feed it” 50 g whole wheat flour or bread flour, 50 g rye flour, and 100 g filtered room temperature water. Mix it together in the jar so there are no clumps of flour. Seal the top. Use a rubber band to mark the top of the starter around the sides. You do this so you can keep track of how much it grows later.

At this point, you want to place your jar with the starter in a warm location. A countertop might do in the spring or summer, but I like to put mine in a turned off oven with the light on. I place the jar at the back pretty close to the light, I close the door, and I leave it in there for about four hours. After four hours, you should see a significant difference in the level of your starter. It should be bubbly.

If you want to make bread, you can take half out to use in a recipe. If you don’t, you still want to take half out and store the rest in the fridge for one to two weeks. After one to two weeks, you can repeat the feeding process and either bake bread/other baked goods, or store it again. If you want to use the discard in a sweet recipe, I’d recommend this one for sourdough brownies.

Before you store your starter in the fridge, always feed it and let it sit out on the counter for a couple hours. It might seem weird to do this given the fact that you just fed it, but after you take some out, you always want to feed it again.

Once you have your starter ready, proceed with a recipe. I really liked the one I used from The Perfect Loaf blog. It has step-by-step instructions with photos, so you know exactly how to store and manipulate your dough. I didn’t have any giant plastic bags though, so I just stored my dough in a glass bowl overnight with a plastic lid before baking. It still turned out great, but I bet it would have been even better if I had stored it according to his instructions.

Finally, you’ll want to score the bread before putting it in the oven. I followed this tutorial to learn how to do it correctly. You want to be confident and decisive in your movements. Also, I really think having a lame helps, so I’m going to get one before the next time I bake bread. Using a sharp knife was fine, but having a razor-sharp blade makes it easier to cut through the dough.

You might be wondering what type of pan or pot you need to make a loaf of bread. I used a Dutch Oven and I really liked it. I have this one from Lodge, but something similar would work well. The Perfect Loaf recommends a combo cooker, which is a cast-iron shallow base with a domed top on it to give the bread room to rise. I’m sure that works really well, but if you’re looking for a multipurpose pot that you can use for stuff other than bread, I’d recommend a Dutch Oven. It also works well for cooking things like chicken and stew.

So yeah. Those are my beginner’s tips for making sourdough from me, a beginner. Even though I’m only starting out on my bread journey, I have a feeling that I have a fun and fruitful road ahead. I might try a sourdough loaf with apricot and lavender next time. There are so many possibilities.

Here’s a song to get you started on your sourdough bread journey.

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Dimanche (That Means Sunday)

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Welcome to this edition of Dimanche (That Means Sunday), a roundup of things that caught my eye this past week.

Last week I spent more time indoors than the previous one. I think it’s partly because I’m starting to freak out about going outside, and partly because I was knee deep in a bunch of baking projects. I made baked doughnuts for the first time, and then Friday and Saturday, I took a big leap and made my first loaf of sourdough bread.

I’ve wanted to make sourdough for more than five years. It all started when I lived in DC and I read a book by a local author describing his process of making bread. I even reached out to him and asked for some of his sourdough starter. He agreed, but then I moved to St. Louis and I shelved the project for a while.

Then, when the pandemic started in March, I decided to revive it. It happened before the trend (I swear) when I saw that a local bakery, KNEAD, was selling some of its sourdough starter for curbside pickup. I picked up a little and started the project a couple weeks ago.

I’ll dedicate a whole post to sourdough bread baking later, but for the purposes of this post, let me just say that making sourdough bread is a process. If you’re not ready to devote some time, effort, and money for all the tools you’ll need, you’d better stick to cookies and brownies.

Overall, the process isn’t too bad, especially if you’ve worked with any kind of bread dough before. However, it does take a lot of time and attention. I’ve recommended a couple resources below that I used and I think are helpful. I was very nervous throughout it all, but in the end I made a pretty decent loaf that was crispy on the outside and soft and chewy on the inside. In the end, that’s all I could ask for.

I hope this time spent indoors inspires you to start a project you’ve been putting off, whether it’s food-related or not.

Without further ado, here is Dimanche:

I wish we had New Zealand’s approach to the pandemic. I give a lot of credit to New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern for her approach to flattening-nay, demolishing-the curve. I really think a similar strategy in the U.S. would help, but unfortunately, the CDC doesn’t listen to my opinion. Read more in this Forbes piece.

The COVID-19 pandemic has inspired at least one moment of grace in the dining world. Apparently Canlis, one of Seattle’s top fine dining restaurants, is offering delivery, and they sent an email to everyone who ordered a meal explaining that they needed to heat it up at home. The person who sent the email forgot to blind copy everyone, so responses went to everyone who ordered. One disgruntled and very entitled customer replied all complaining that he’d have to heat the meal up at home. In the end, other customers put him in his place and the group (including that guy) decided to donate to Feeding America. Read more about the happy ending in this Plate story.

I trust Samin on most things, but especially now when home cooking is vital. I will still hoard flour, contrary to her advice, but I liked what she had to say about how to stock your pantry and economize during the pandemic. Read more advice from Chef Samin Nosrat in this Vogue Q&A.

I think it’s important to keep dreaming during this time, especially about trips that we want to take when it’s all over. I love this AFAR piece about how to spend a day in Paris. It brings back a lot of memories and makes me think about what I want to do next time I visit. Check out the full story here.

An article about pasta shapes for our emotional state is something we all need right now. I feel like I’ve been orecchiette a lot lately, but generally I’m farfalle. Meet your match in this Bon Appétit piece.

Folk legend John Prine passed away this past week from complications related to coronavirus. I was very sad to hear it, as I’m a big fan of Prine’s music. Read more about his songs and his legacy in this NPR article.

Freezing food is a must right now, and this article offers some great tips. I’ve frozen a lot of soup, baked goods, and butter, but this story gives you tips on how to do it thoughtfully. I need to start making an inventory because the other night, I mistook one set of cookies for another. Get the tips in this 5280 Magazine story.

As I mentioned before, I made some sourdough bread and I’m on top of the world. If you want some tips, I’d highly recommend checking out The Perfect Loaf blog and this video on scoring bread. Both helped me feel more confident while I was baking.

Enjoy your week! Here’s a song to get you started.

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Baked Doughnuts with Askinosie Chocolate

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I was craving doughnuts the other day, so I decided to make a big batch of them for breakfast Friday morning.

I love doughnuts of all shapes and sizes: Baked, fried, glazed, frosted…As long as it’s sweet and fluffy with a hole in the middle, I’ll probably enjoy it. However, I’m inclined to prefer baked doughnuts when I make them at home.

Why? you may ask. It’s because frying doughnuts at home is a tricky business and it rarely results in the same texture and mouthfeel as doughnuts you buy at a bakery. Maybe there’s an expert fryer out there with all the right equipment, but when I try to make doughnuts in a vat of hot oil in my own kitchen, they always end up tasting weird. I really think it comes down to equipment and technique.

However, if you make baked doughnuts, you don’t have to worry about all that. You can mix up a batter similar to one you’d make for a cake, you fill in some doughnut molds, and then you bake the doughnuts for a bit in the oven until they’re fluffy and golden brown on the bottom.

The only tricky part about making baked doughnuts is filling in the molds. You can do this with a spoon, but it’s a little more time consuming and messy than if you use a pastry bag with a piping tip. I’d highly recommend the latter. You don’t even need a piping tip; you can grab a large plastic bag, put all your batter inside, and then cut a small triangle off a corner to pipe batter into the molds.

I melted some Askinosie chocolate for the top of each doughnut and put some rainbow sprinkles on top. One of my favorite parts about doughnuts is there’s usually a decent amount of surface area, so you can get creative with toppings. I might do some strawberry cardamom doughnuts this week. Stay tuned.

In the meantime, I’ll leave you with this song.

Baked Doughnuts with Askinosie Chocolate

Ingredients

for doughnuts:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
3/4 cup (180 ml) unsweetened almond milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 Tbsp unsweetened applesauce
5 Tbsp butter, melted

for chocolate topping:
1 cup (175g) chopped chocolate (I used Askinosie)
sprinkles

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Liberally spray two doughnut molds with cooking spray and set aside.

Mix the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg in a big bowl. Whisk together the almond milk, vanilla extract, applesauce, and butter, and then mix it into the bowl with the dry ingredients. Mix until there’s no big clumps or lumps or traces of flour.

Pipe or spoon the batter into doughnut molds, filling 2/3 of the way to the top. Bake the doughnuts for 15 minutes until they’re light golden brown on top and spring back to the touch. Remove them from the oven and allow them to cool completely on a wire rack before topping with the chocolate.

To make the chocolate, bring a small pot of water to a simmer and set a heatproof bowl with the chopped chocolate on top. Stir the chocolate with a spatula until it is completely melted. Remove the bowl with the chocolate from heat.

Take a cooled doughnut and quickly invert it in the chocolate so the top is coated. Place it on a wire rack. Repeat the process for each doughnut, and then top all of them with sprinkles. Enjoy!

*You can put the doughnuts with chocolate and sprinkles in the fridge to let the chocolate harden up. Then, store the doughnuts in an airtight container for a couple days at room temperature or a week in the fridge. I put mine in the fridge and warm them up for 20 seconds in the microwave.

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The Best Blueberry Muffins Ever

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We could all use some blueberry muffins in our lives right now.

I made these Saturday morning for breakfast and they were just what the doctor ordered. You mix some flour, milk, and brown sugar together, add a healthy helping of blueberries, and then spoon batter into each muffin cup.

I lined my muffin cups with parchment paper. If you’re low on muffin liners or you just want to try something new, I’d highly recommend giving them a try. All you have to do is cut parchment paper into 5-inch squares, and then you push it into a muffin cup. If you spray the muffin tin with some cooking spray ahead of time, it will help the paper adhere to the sides. Another trick is taking a small object like a cherry or grape tomato or a pie weight, and putting it on top of the paper to hold it down before you pour in the batter.

These muffins get a boost from cornstarch, an ingredient you don’t see too often in muffins. Usually, you see it in pies as a thickening agent for fillings. In these muffins, cornstarch makes the finished product more light and fluffy. I also think it helps the blueberries from becoming mushy, but that could just be my imagination. It definitely helps create muffins that are more tender.

I ate these after they slightly cooled with some salted butter from my farmers’ market delivery basket. My favorite way to eat fresh muffins is to split them open slightly, put in some butter, and then push it gently back together so the butter melts and makes the muffin even more soft and tender.

In other news, I heard John Prine passed away last night from complications related to the coronavirus and it was a rough blow. I love Prine’s music. Check out my Prine playlist to listen to some of my favorite songs. You should also listen to this cover of “You Got Gold” by my supremely talented friend, LeAnn Fisher.

The Best Blueberry Muffins Ever

Ingredients

nonstick baking spray (or vegetable oil)
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
2 slightly heaping cups (12 ounces) fresh or frozen blueberries (I used fresh)
1/2 cup milk (I used 2%)
2 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted
1 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 large egg
1 Tbsp granulated sugar plus 1 Tbsp brown sugar for topping
salted butter for serving

Directions

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Spray a 12-muffin tin with baking spray and line it with muffin cups or parchment paper.

Whisk together the flour, sugars, cornstarch, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon. Add the blueberries and toss to coat. In a separate bowl, mix together the milk, melted butter, vanilla extract, and egg. Pour the liquid ingredients over the dry ingredients and use a spatula to fold the ingredients together. Mix until just combined. There can be a few lumps.

Spoon the batter into the prepared muffin cups, leaving a little room at the top of each cup. Sprinkle the top of each muffin with the granulated sugar/brown sugar mixture.

Bake the muffins for about 20 minutes, rotating the tin halfway through baking. It could take a little longer depending on your oven, so keep an eye on things. The tops should be golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center should come out clean (except for berry juice).

Let the muffins cool on a wire rack for a few minutes before serving. I like mine with salted butter. Enjoy!

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