summer paella

Paella isn't that hard to make; it's just a bit of a time commitment.

The key to tasty paella is tasty stock.  Bomba rice, the traditional rice used in paella, is somewhat miraculous because it absorbs three times its weight in liquid.  Hence, the more flavorful your liquid, the more flavorful your paella.

Some other time, I'll talk you through making a simple, delicious fish stock.  But since most of us have chicken stock on hand, or know how to make it, let's start with a chicken and chorizo paella.

This paella served 12 people with abundant leftovers, and took 15 cups (just shy of a gallon) of chicken stock.  I made a stock the night before with chicken wings, bones, vegetables and herbs.  I added some canned tomatoes, two cups of white wine, a couple of dried chilies, and a pinch of saffron because I knew I'd be adding those flavors into the paella anyway.

I cannot overstate the importance of using homemade chicken stock here.  If homemade is simply not an option for you, buy some of the good stuff from your local butcher shop.  Frozen is fine.  Just do your best to avoid the stuff from a can or box.  It just doesn't taste as good, and here, the flavor of the stock is paramount.

I also made a chile paste by rehydrating about 8 dried chilies (any kind that is not too spicy is fine--espelette, ancho, New Mexico).  First, I seeded and stemmed them, then covered them with boiling water and let them sit for about 20 minutes.  Then I strained the chiles and pureed them with a few spoonfuls of the chile water and some olive oil.

I cooked mine over a live fire.  If you have a grill or firepit, build a fire using charcoal or wood at least an hour before you plan to start.  The paella should go onto a fire at its peak, and then cook over a dying flame.  You could also cook it over a gas grill, or even inside over a gas burner on the stove.

Summer Chicken & Chorizo Paella
serves 6

For the chicken & chorizo:
6 chicken thighs, skin on
3 bay leaves
1 teaspoon fresh coriander seed
1 teaspoon cumin seed, toasted lightly
2 teaspoons ancho chile powder (or any dried chile powder)
1 tablespoon smoky paprika
1 pound fresh chorizo, sliced into 1-inch pieces

For the stock:
5 cups homemade chicken stock
2 cups dry white wine
1 head garlic, halved
4 ounces canned tomatoes
2 dried chiles
3 bay leaves
pinch saffron

For the sofrito:
1 large or 2 medium yellow onions, peeled and diced
3 garlic cloves, sliced
8 ounces canned tomatoes
pinch saffron
Olive oil

Pepper paste, as described above (or just use some store-bought harissa from the tube)
2 cups arroz bomba, or in a pinch, arborio rice
1 pound romano or green beans, cut into 1-inch pieces

To garnish,
abundant chopped parsley
homemade aïoli

The night before (or as early as possible), marinate the chicken:
Combine chicken, bay leaves, coriander, cumin, ancho chile, and paprika.  Season with salt.  Make sure everything is evenly coated and refrigerate overnight.

To make the paella: 
If you're going to cook the rice over a live fire, go build it now.

First, gussy up the chicken stock.  Combine in a large pot with the wine, garlic, tomatoes, chiles, bay leaves and saffron, and bring to a boil.  Simmer for about 30 minutes to let the flavors come together.  Strain, season with salt, and set aside.  You should have six cups of stock.

While the stock is cooking, make the sofrito.  Saute the onions and garlic with the bay leaves until tender.  Squish in the tomatoes and cook down until jammy, about 20 minutes.  Season with salt and set aside.

About an hour before you start cooking the rice, roast the thighs: lay them skin-side up on a cookie sheet in an oven set to 500°F for about 30 minutes, to brown the skin and give them a head start.

To cook the paella:
If cooking over a live fire, you'll want to set the grill at least 8 inches from the coal bed.  Use some bricks or cinder blocks to achieve this if you don't have a way to raise and lower the grill.

You can also just as easily cook it over a gas grill or indoors on the stove.  And you don't need a special paella pan, though it makes for a good show and they aren't very costly.  I made a back up at the same time as the one in the photo, in a ten-inch cast iron pan, on my stove, using the proportions in this recipe, and it turned out beautifully.  

First, preheat the pan.  Get it really hot, and then drizzle in enough olive oil to coat the bottom.  Add the sofrito and a heaping spoonful of the pepper paste.  Add in 6 cups of the stock, and let it come to a boil in the pan.  Taste the liquid.  It should be very highly seasoned--this is your only chance to get the rice salted properly from within, so season it a little more highly than you might be comfortable with.  Add more chile paste to taste.  

Add the rice, give it a stir, and let everything return to a boil.  Carefully lay in the chicken pieces, chorizo, and romano or green beans.  Let the pan boil for about five minutes, and then turn it down to medium high heat.  After ten more minutes, turn it down to medium.  Cook it over medium heat for 15 minutes, and then reduce the heat to low for 15 more minutes.  The idea with paella is that it's cooked over a dying fire, so you're trying to simulate that on the stove here.  

After about 40 minutes, check the rice for doneness.  When you're satisfied that it's cooked, pull it from the stove and let it rest for about 5 minutes, then sprinkle with abundant chopped parsley and serve with aïoli.  

Don't forget to scrape the bottom.  The soccarat, or burnt crust, is the best part.


All I Want to Eat

is cold things.

Mostly cold noodles.  And cold chicken.  And coleslaw.  And cold coffee.  And smoothies.  Watermelon.  Cucumbers.  Ice.

Here are a couple of sauces for cold things that have been making my life a little nicer lately.

Miso-Mustard Dressing
2 tablespoons yellow or white miso paste
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon dijon mustard
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil

Put it all in a jar.  Shake it up.  Taste.  Adjust.  Pour over anything, or everything.  Notice I wrote it all out in tablespoons, so use the same ratio for teaspoons or cups to adjust amounts as desired.

Yesterday I put this on a slaw with cabbage, onions, carrots, peanuts, toasted black sesame seeds, ginger and garlic.  Today I will put it on lettuce.  Tomorrow, maybe cucumbers.  Or chicken.  Or soba noodles.  Put it on whatever you want.  Save the rest in the fridge.  It'll be good for a few days.  It'll be gone before that, though.

Peanut-Cilantro Sauce
2 tablespoons fish sauce
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
Juice of 2 limes
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1/2 inch chunk of ginger, peeled and sliced
4 tablespoons peanut butter
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1/2 jalapeño pepper
1 clove garlic
1/2 bunch cilantro, roughly chopped

Put it all in the blender.  Blend the bejeesus out of it.  Taste.  Adjust as needed with salt, lime, and jalapeño.  Serve with grilled chicken.  Smear on a hot ear of corn.  Or raw vegetables, like carrots, cucumbers, broccoli.  It can be a dip!  It can be a sauce!  It can be whatever you want it to be.

Happy summer, friends.  I am finally on my way out of the pit of despair.



image source

I'm still working on the book.  Various friends who've walked this path before me have referred to this point in the process as "the black hole of despair," "why crystal meth was invented," and "the point at which you lay in bed at night wondering if you should just give back the money."  All of those characterizations seem about right.

Writing a book is hard.  Really, really hard.  Don't let anyone tell you differently.

On the upside, I've been writing and thinking a lot these days about how I came to be a cook, and what I learned in my first years in the kitchen, and I thought of this courtyard.

I was on my junior year abroad, living in London, the first time I went to Italy.  Everyone told me I had to go to Florence, so I managed to get there and stay in a hostel for a couple of nights. I was totally stunned by the beauty of the town.  Just up the road from my hostel was this stunning courtyard, behind a cast iron gate, and each time I passed by I imagined the kinds of people who must live in a place like that, in a town like Florence, in a country like Italy.  I was about twenty years old, and had never imagined that life could be lived in a place where beauty like that was so quotidian.

I remember hoping that perhaps one day I could live in a place as beautiful as the building locked behind that gate.

A few years later, I returned to Florence, to apprentice myself to Benedetta Vitali at Trattoria Zibibbo.  For the first couple of months, she put me up in a convent in the hills above Florence, from which I could walk to work.  I ate my meals with nuns, stumbling through conversations with them in my pidgin Italian, washed my clothes on a washboard in the courtyard, and slept beneath a giant crucifix in my sterile dorm room.  It was amazing, but secluded and lonely.

Eventually, Benedetta moved me into town, onto Via dei Serragli, which is still one of my favorite streets in the world.  I packed up my bags, was dropped off in front of the apartment and handed a key.  I was so excited to be moving into the center of town, near museums and bookstores and cafes and non-nun-people that I hardly noticed where I was being moved into.  It took a couple of days of exploration before I realized that my new apartment was in the exact same building I'd spent all of that time day-dreaming about when I'd first come to Italy.  "Perhaps one day" had come a lot sooner than I'd ever imagined.

There's been a lot of this kind of serendipity in my life, and it helps to remember that.  Especially when I'm deep in the black hole of despair.


For Posterity

Just want to remember that this is the view from my commute every single day. 

And that, as much as I like to complain about it, I sort of love the ritual of heating up my studio in the Headlands, and the wool booties and socks, the hot water bottle, the down vest and comforter, the endless cups of tea, and the space heaters I need to keep warm and stay alive out here.  

And, as stressed out and paralyzed with doubt, and in my head, and anti-social as I feel right now, there is this sort of luxurious level of self-indulgence involved in making a creative work on this scale and that soon, when I am done, I will actually miss this.  A friend said I'm in a love affair with this book.  It's sort of like that, I think, a torturous, highest-highs, lowest-lows kind of love affair.  

I just want to say, for the record, that every single day, I still can't believe I get to write a book.  That my job is coming out to this National Recreation Area, sitting down at my desk with a view of Bolinas, and writing down every story I have ever wanted to tell about cooking, and life, and beauty and pain. That I get to walk down to the beach in the afternoon, fiery light bleeding through the iceplant down the hillside, to collect tiny, perfect sand dollars and watch dolphins pups play with their mamas on their way to warmer waters.  And that I get to collaborate with some of the most excellent people I have ever met in the making of this thing.  

I haven't lost sight of that.  

Van Morrison, Into the Mystic
James Vincent McMorrow, Higher Love
Bonnie Raitt, Bluebird
Joni Mitchell, Blue


C U R R E N T (L Y): Holiday Gift Guide


Penguin Clothbound Classics, about $20 each
Penguin Drop Caps, about $18 each
Tartine Book No. 3, $26
Saving the Season, $25
Wild Ones, $20
Gulp, $19
Cooked, $18
The Art of Simple Food II, $22
The A.O.C. Cookbook, $22
One Good Dish, $16
The Essential Scratch and Sniff Guide to Becoming a Wine Expert, $13
Lost Cat, $14
Antiquarian Cookbooks from Omnivore Books, prices vary
Short Stack Editions, $12 each
The Telling Room, $17


Sheepskin Slippers from Johnstons of Elgin, $79
Cashmere Bed Socks from Johnstons of Elgin, $90
Herringbone Wool Blanket from Faribault Woolen Mills, from $190
HARRY Blanket from Area Linen, from $200
Baby Alpaca Blankets from Pilar + Keiko, $229
Bellocq Tea Signature Blends Collection, $32
Imperial Pu-erh from In Pursuit of Tea, $18
Drinking Chocolate from Theo, $13
Anything from The Anou.  Particularly the gorgeous handwoven rugs, starting at around $100 including shipping from Morocco


Sarpaneva Cast Iron Pot by Iitala, $236
As always, a Cast Iron Pan, $24, or find one at a flea market or garage sale and reseason it lovingly
Teak Measuring Spoons, $20
Box of Maldon Salt, or for the true Maldon fiend, an entire bucket $6/28
Spices from Oaktown Spice Shop, $13 and up
Sandwich Spreading Knife, $6
Dansk Kobenstyle Casserole, $70
Soma Water Filter, beautiful, 100% compostable, and user-friendly, $49
Incomparably delicious Raw Hawaiian Honey, $35
A jar of Calabrian Chile Paste, $10
Set of Basque Wine Glasses, $28
Stollen from Big Sur Bakery, $28
Barrel of 16-Year Aged Balsamic, $400
Warren Pear Gift Box from Frog Hollow Farm, $58
Christmas Cake from June Taylor Jams, $55
Sampler Gift Pack from Double Dutch Sweets, $22
Parmigiano-Reggiano, Cabot Clothbound Cheddar, or Ossau Iraty Veille from Murray's Cheese, $25/25/34
And, as always, a Gift Certificate to Good Eggs, available on the site starting 12/9, Special Link Coming Soon!


Saipua Limited Edition Soap Sampler, $125
Frost River Bazaar Tote, $90
Small Braid Ring from Katrina LaPenne, $33 and up
Record Player, $90
Borsalino Hat, $200 and up
Red Wings Heritage Boots, $250 and up
Clark's Wallabees, $90 and up
Santa Maria Novella Pot Pourri Cologne, $125
Home Gardener's Collection of Seeds from Baker Creek, $40
Warby Parker Glasses, $95 and up
Kashmiri Saffron Perfume from In Fiore, $75
Senna Round Ring from Bario-Neal, $285
Boulevard Wallet from Il Bisonte, $355
Cotton Fisherman Sweater from L.L. Bean, $99
Rio Lapis from Marisa Haskell, $88
Peppe from Studio Deseo, $168 (she also has wish bracelets for around $30 that are gorgeous!)


Gorgeous Handmade Knives by Moriah Cowles, $250 and up
Opinel Kitchen Set in Color and Natural, $34/31
Handmade Knives by Michael Hemmer, prices vary
Black Ceramic Steel by MAC, $55
All-Purpose Knife from Hida Tool.  I give this knife as a gift all of the time. $101
Best Peelers Ever, $10 for 3


Handmade Fermentation Crock from Counter Culture Pottery $200
Colombian Bean Pot from Bram, $88
Ombré Bud Vase Set from Heath, $130


Color Study Class at Little Flower School, $500
Flower Class with Studio Choo, $275
Gift Certificate to The Pantry at Delancey, $50 and up
Cooking Class with Viola Buitoni, $65 and up
One Day Studio Retreat at Alabama Chanin, $475
Membership to Headlands Center for the Arts, $50 and up
Membership to 18 Reasons, $40 and up
Introduction to Letterpress Printing at San Francisco Center for the Book, $65
A Subscription to Quarterly (I'd pick Tina Roth Eisenberg, Amanda & Merrill, or Pharell Williams), $50


Lake Michigan, Chicago  by Daniel Seung Lee

20x200 is back!  Some of my favorites are here, here, here and here.  So much amazing art, starting at $24.
Creative Growth Art Sale, $5 and up
Archival Prints by Emily Nathan, Aya Brackett, Jen Siska and more for Tiny Atlas Quarterly, $75 pledge to their Kickstarter Campaign


Citrus Salt
Apple Cider Caramels
Mary's Caramel Corn
Spoon Butter
Gaz: Persian Nougat
Olive Oil and Sea Salt Granola
Chocolate-Caramel Truffles
Homemade Vanilla Extract


Thanksgiving Round Up

Last year I went on a Thanksgiving binge, with all sorts of classes and blog posts.  This year, I am in relative hibernation.

But, the information is all still useful!  So, let me compile it all here for ease of use.

Working Ahead for Thanksgiving

On Ordering a Bird, and Other Basics

Spatchcocked Turkey with Herbs and Butter
Charlie's Prune and Sausage Stuffing
Roasted Vegetables in Agrodolce
Cranberry Sauce Two Ways
Fried Sage Salsa Verde
Aaron's Pie Crust
Skillet Cornbread

And, a handful of Thanksgiving goodies from some of my favorite sources:
Thanksgiving Condiments at Food52
Sam Sifton's Thanksgiving Book
A Canal House Thanksgiving from The Splendid Table
Essential Thanksgiving at NYT Dining
David Tanis's Thanksgiving on the Ranch from Food & Wine
Suzanne Goin's Thanksgiving Menu at Bon Appétit
Sweet and Salty Roasted Pumpkin Seeds by Dash and Bella at Food52
Chunky Cranberry Jam from Saving the Season

Also, I just want to say that I had the best pumpkin pie I've ever tasted from Black Jet Baking Co. last week.  If you're not up for baking, then order one from Gillian.  You won't be disappointed.


Recipe: Saffron-Cardamom Carrot Cake

My friend Kathleen's birthday fell on Diwali this year, so we cooked a big Indian feast for her and I wanted to make a cake that fit in with the flavors.

Carrots and saffron are a natural pair, so I made a carrot cake spiced with cardamom and saffron, and then I grated a bunch of fresh ginger into the cream cheese frosting and used up all the gold leaf I had on top.  

Saffron-Cardamom Carrot Cake

4 ounces (1 stick) butter, plus more for the cake pan
1 big pinch saffron threads
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/4 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
3/4 teaspoons ground cardamom
1 1/2 teaspoons Diamond Crystal kosher salt
4 eggs at room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup dark brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup oil (I used grapeseed)
1 cup crushed pineapple
3 cups grated carrots, loosely packed (about 1 pound carrots before peeling)
Optional: 1/2 cup raisins
Optional: 1/2 cup toasted, chopped walnuts

Preheat the oven to 350°F.  Adjust a baking rack to the center of the oven.  

Melt the butter in a small pan over low heat.  Add the saffron and let it steep for at least ten minutes.  

Butter and flour two straight-sided 9-inch cake pans, then line with parchment and butter again.  You can also make this cake in a single 9 x 13-inch pan and skip the butter/flour/parchment and just frost and eat it in the pan. 

Sift together the flour, powder, soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, and salt into a bowl and set aside.  

In a larger bowl, combine the eggs, white and brown sugars, oil, pineapple, carrots, and if using, raisins and/or walnuts.  Add the butter-saffron mixture.

Using a rubber spatula, gently fold the flour mixture into the carrot mixture in two or three batches.  Make sure that all of the flour is incorporated.

Divide into the cake pans and bake until the cakes are golden brown and just set, springing back to the touch and pulling away from the side of the pan, about 24-28 minutes (But don't blindly trust me! Check often!  Ovens are all different!)

Cool on a baking rack for at least 15 minutes before removing from the pan.  Allow to cool completely before removing parchment and frosting.

Cream Cheese Frosting with Fresh Ginger

3 8-ounce packages cream cheese, room temperature
2 ounces (1/2 stick) butter, room temperature
1-inch knob of fresh ginger, peeled
1 1/2 cups sugar

Using the paddle attachment on an electric mixer, whip together the cream cheese and butter, then grate in the ginger using a microplane grater.  Add the sugar and whip to combine.  Frost the cake and lick your fingers!

I don't like really sweet cakes or frostings, so both the cake and frosting recipes use less sugar than their traditional counterparts.  Taste the cake batter and frosting after you've added the sugar, and if you feel they need to be sweeter, then add more!