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We’re completely overhauling the Fig Test Kitchen to bring you cooking lessons, healthy eating advice, restaurant reviews and a much prettier experience for you, if we do say so ourselves. Check back soon for updates, and posts from our recent food tour!
If I do nothing else in this post, I have to issue an apology to Nach Waxman, the infinitely wonderful owner of Kitchen Arts and Letters, for taking (count them) eighteen months almost to the day to publish an article about his awesome Upper East Side store. I could have had two babies in that time. And it’s especially especially since I promised (I kid you not) that I would get it up the weekend after our interview. I haven’t been back in since, because I told myself I wouldn’t until I finished the article. You have no idea how hard it is to stay away from a place like that. Shame drives me to do crazy things. So I’m sorry Nach. Your store is amazing, and you’ll be seeing me again soon.
There are a million things to say about Kitchen Arts and Letters, but I’ve taken so long to write this post because I just couldn’t figure out what I had to add to the mix. When I found this store on my way to babysitting all those months ago, I naively thought I had discovered something, and I was totally ready to scoop the world. I very quickly found out that Eric Ripert (head chef at Le Bernadin) had named Kitchen Arts and Letters one of his top three things about New York he couldn’t live without. And that because of that NBC did a special on them that had run in every taxi in New York. Nach said that after this, people began pouring in from everywhere. “We get a lot of overseas customers, and about a year ago this woman came in,” he told me. “Marvelous looking, distinguished looking woman with some inscrutable accent I couldn’t make out and she started asking me a lot of questions, and I said, ‘Sure, I’m happy to talk with you, what is this about?’ She was the editor of the leading food magazine in Finland. So an article ran in Finnish.” So much for scooping the world.
So I thought about writing a simple article where I just talked about the amazing and eclectic selection of New and Used books he carries, on every topic, by every author, in every language I don’t speak. Or about the staff who will help you find anything from The Joy of Cooking to topics so specific you can’t even imagine them. Take this quite for illustration: “We used to carry, and unfortunately it’s not in print anymore, but we used to carry a book on kayak cooking. It was just food that served people on Kayak trips.” So I thought about telling you about all that (so hard that it would appear I just did) (clever, no?). But as I thought back on our conversation, I realized I was missing something much bigger.
You see, the thing about Kitchen Arts and Letters is it tells us something awesome and important about food: there’s something in it for absolutely everybody. Nach, who doesn’t much care for cooking from recipes, is very adamant that his store is not a cookbook store, despite how many they carry. “Actually less than half of the store is cookbooks,” he told me. “The other half is books about food: food culture, food science, food economics, agriculture, fiction with food themes, we carry a book called Food and the Theater of Moliere. We carry books on restaurant accounting; we carry books on almost anything.”
As I perused the store I really did find books on every subject imaginable – ethics, art, farming, eating and so much laughing. There’s no reasonable person who couldn’t find something of interest in a store like that, even though it seems like such a specific theme. And since this brilliant store specializes in only the one thing, everyone who works there is a wealth of knowledge and can easily talk to you for just about forever on whatever it is that floats your culinary boat. “Very very few books ever sell here without conversation,” Nach told me. This, he says, is one of the most important parts of his business. He has a website, but it is distinctly not for mail-ordering. “We decided quite specifically to not have online ordering because it forces you to do things that we don’t want to do, like canned descriptions of books,” he said. And so even if you don’t know what part of the food world you fit into, Kitchen Arts and Letters can help you figure that out, in a way that the internet, for all its good points, never could.
Kitchen Arts and Letters, as a store, pretty much sums up our entire life philosophy. When we tell people we want to help them Find their Inner Gourmet, we mean we want to help people find the part of food that sings to them. Food is the only art we have to encounter every single day, several times a day, and since we don’t get a choice about it, it’s a good thing there’s something for everyone to love, whether it be good writing, photography, community service or, yes, cooking. If you’re in New York, you really have to check this place out. The store is located at 1435 Lexington Avenue (between 93rd and 94th), and you can find out more at their website www.kitchenartsandletters.com.
Isabella and I wasted like 3 hours water-coloring eggs yesterday … something in all of us misses the sickly off colors of food-coloring eggs but we were super proud of these ones, so we decided to put them to good use and share them with the world. Also, for future reference, you can water-color eggs. Happy Easter everybody!
Silly skibur skiburs, we would never abandon you like that. Besides all that Swëedish took way too long to translate. (Ï think it måy häve përmånently damagëd my keybørd…) Hope everyone had a wonderfully prank filled day!
Also, on a totally unrelated note, we’re relatively newly on twitter! Find us by clicking the twitter button in the top left column, or by looking up @figtestkitchen. And don’t forget to follow us so you never have to miss our ever-witty quips!
Maybe the universe is trying to send me a message or maybe I’m just insane, but I’m pretty positive that grilled cheese is stalking me. Today at work, I did a photo shoot at a store across the way from a grilled cheese restaurant. Then, a misspelled e-mail address led me to flavor-trends.com, who told me that grilled cheese was one of the top 10 trends of 2011. Then their super cool, atypical recipes reminded me that our friend Cheryl Barbara, resident coolest person in my life, recently won an episode of Chopped with a dessert grilled cheese. Then that reminded me that I realized that I grilled cheese was going to be a trend last year and even drafted a post… that I forgot to publish.
It’s all for the best that I forgot to publish that post because it wasn’t very good, but I was kind of bummed, because there was a really yummy, atypical grilled cheese I had developed for it. So when I remembered that I had grilled cheese for lunch today, I decided that I may as well just share it with you now. So here you go!
The holidays are a busy time for everyone. So, since I was off in the city taking finals and everyone else was so caught up with, well, Christmas preparations, it’s easy to see how an eight-day holiday might be celebrated on the 31st rather than the 1st. To be honest, we did light the candles. And we said a prayer over them. And Francesca explained the importance of the Shammash (it’s a big helper, just like her) as Isabella blasted Candlelight. But I had an English final to write, and so we were forced to neglect the most important part of the Hanukkah celebrations. The potatoes sat lonely and unpeeled, the oil remained in its container, and there was no mess on the stove or the microplane. Yes, our grand Potato Pancake Plans had been foiled by the cruel march of time. It was a real snub to half my heritage.
That night as I nestled all snug in my bed, visions of latkes danced in my head. And over the following weeks I couldn’t shake the sad feeling that something was missing from my December. The potatoes were calling to me. Honestly.
I need therapy.
But when New Years Eve finally rolled around and mommy was planning a menu for our quiet New Years evening of Munchies and Mad Men, I seized my opportunity. “Yes, of course I’ll grate the potatoes, Mommy!” I promised. “I’ll do the whole thing myself!” And so she agreed. Because I said I’d do it.
In my head I was a bit terrified. Grating is so labor intensive, and I have a slight fear of deep frying. But with the strength of the Maccabees behind me (they certainly didn’t have microplanes…) I charged on. And to my surprise and delight, it wasn’t that hard!
You do have to grate the potatoes on this setting.
And you’re *supposed* to grate the onions on this setting…
But you could also just put them in one of these…
And go until they look like this…
And so once you’re done with that, all you have to do is mix them with the potatoes, flour, egg and salt to get this beautiful batter.
And you get these heavenly Hanukkah (or rather New Years) miracles!
Obviously, you don’t have to be any part Jewish to fall in love with these. Pancakes this style are ubiquitous throughout Europe, and I like to think there’s nobody in this world who doesn’t love fried potatoes. They’re the finest form of simplicity, and they’re great all year round, particularly for celebrations. And yes they make a bit of a mess… but they’re entirely worth it.
I hope you all had a Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah and Joyous New Year! We are so happy to have you all as readers, and we can’t wait to share even more with you in 2011.
New Year Latkes (Potato Pancakes)
Adapted from Leah H. Leonard’s Jewish Cookery (1949)
6 Medium Potatoes
1 Medium Onion
1/2 Cup Flour
1 Teaspoon Salt
1. Peel potatoes and grate into a large bowl.
2. Squeeze out the liquid. This is very important. I speak from experience. Recent experience.
3. Peel and finely grate the onion. Or just puree in an immersion blender.
4. Add onion to potatoes, and mix in eggs, flour and salt, and stir to blend.
5. Add enough oil to a wide, heavy frying pan to fully cover pancakes, and heat on high. Drop in a tiny bit of batter as the oil is heating. When the batter begins to sizzle, you know it’s hot enough.
6. When oil is hot, lower stove temperature to medium-high, and drop in batter with a spoon to make pancakes approximately 1/2 inch thick, and 4 inches wide (give or take, it’s all a matter of personal preference)
7. Fry, flipping every few minutes, until both sides are golden brown
8. Lift out with spatula onto plate with paper towels on it. Pat dry and serve immediately.
Fall break finally arrived this past weekend and, while I could have stayed in the city exploring six star restaurants and interviewing famous chefs, like a good, loving little daughter I hopped on the 6:39 to New Haven on Friday evening, and spent four glorious days [eating candy] with my family.
You see, Francesca really wanted to trick or treat with me. And you know how I hate to disappoint her…
This weekend was a like dream. The moment I got home I opened the fridge, out of instinct, but instead of reaching for something I just stood and stared. I couldn’t believe the freshness, the variety, and the general edibility of everything I saw. When I returned to school, I talked with my friend Mia about her trip home and she said she’d experienced the same Fridge-Shock I had. (Unsurprisingly, the very base of our friendship was founded on Dark Chocolate-Sea Salted Almonds and Magnolia banana pudding.) Four soups – pumpkin, broccoli, carrot-ginger and a vibrant pea – met me at the refrigerator door, and as the weekend progressed we added homemade chili, a boeuf en daube, and a plum-vanilla crisp, to the mix. I was able to choose between two apple ciders, spiced and regular, and I could even heat them up if I wanted. In all honesty, and I say this without a hint of irony, I was so overwhelmed by my refrigerator that by Halloween night I’d almost forgotten about candy.
I certainly miss the pumpkins the most (after the sisters I carved them with, of course). There was not a moment when I wasn’t painting, carving, eating, or watching a movie about one. Francesca, Isabella and I spent several hours on the front lawn, freezing our hands off, while mommy scoured the house for melon ballers, 10-inch kitchen knives, awls, cookie cutters, and mini saws.
Francesca instructed me as I carved my first dictated pumpkin (eyes and nose like closed bananas, mouth like an open banana) and she stirred the seeds for the “pumpkin seed stew” while Isabella and I poked, sawed and pared “The Old House in Paris,” a tree, and various unidentifiable swirly things.
When Francesca had finished preparing the seeds (as everyone knows, stirring them is the most important part), we took them inside and began searching high and low for pumpkin seed recipes. But to my shock and dismay, all I could find, no matter how hard I looked, were recipes that called for nothing more than olive oil and sea salt. Yummy, I suppose, but I wasn’t looking to make gourmet potato chips. After a taxing day of carving and playing I needed something sweet as well as salty, and something unmistakably autumn-y.
And so the cinnamon-caramel pumpkin seeds were born. In this recipe, salt and toasty sugar melt with butter and cinnamon to form a new fall classic. They’re cooked first on the stove, to soften the seeds and melt the sugar, and then spread on parchment paper to bake to a crisp. They tend to stick together into a kind of pumpkin brittle, which I like, although you are free to spend the time making sure they are spread out. Of course, they’re very simple (as all good things should be), and very addictive. So as you’re carving your Thanksgiving pumpkins, as I’m sure you plan to do, make sure you save some time to make this modern fall candy. I know you’ll love it and you’ll make me, and the Great Pumpkin, very proud.
Cinnamon-Caramel Pumpkin Seeds
2 Cups of Fresh, Rinsed Pumpkin Seeds, well stirred by any 5-year-olds you have lying around
3 Tablespoons Granulated Sugar
3/4 Teaspoon Cinnamon
1/2 Teaspoon Kosher Salt
1/2 Tablespoon Butter
- Preheat oven to 325° F
- Mix cinnamon, sugar and salt together in a small bowl
- Melt butter in medium-small non-stick skillet over medium-high heat
- Add pumpkin seeds, and 1/3 of sugar mixture, and sautee for 8 minutes, gradually adding the remaining sugar mixture over the course of the first 4 minutes. Make sure to stir constantly or the seeds may burn
- Pour seeds onto a baking sheet coated with parchment paper and spread evenly
- Roast for 15 minutes, cool, and enjoy!