Cooking Chapbook

Notes from my kitchen in the D.C. area & beyond

Salsa kiwi crepes

Salsa omelet

My dream breakfast these days: avocado, egg, spinach and loads of salsa

And now we bring you our Occasional Series on Random Food Combinations. Because sometimes we need the inspiration of a neophyte’s wild cooking more than an expert’s precise step-by-step recipe.

For example:

I’m on a crazy salsa kick.

I want it every day. Preferably inside a two-egg omelet for breakfast. Or, if not then, draped over something else, sometime else. Tortilla chips will suffice, but contrary to what the advertising gods would lead you to believe, they are not the ideal vehicle, too bland and curt.

At some point, when tomatoes emerge in season – and they are gorgeous humdingers here in Europe when they are ripe, deep red and fragrant and worthy of a Guy Friddell column – I’ll probably concoct salsa from scratch. But for now, I’ll take the jarred variety, medium-hot please, organic Newman’s Own if you can swing it.

During a recent weekend morning batch of crepes, my salsa hankering started edging out the Nutella.

Well, why not?

Crepes resemble a soft tortilla. I added cheese. Delicious.

Thinking a tropical vibe sounded nice, a la pineapple salsa, I sliced up a kiwi.

(No one knows what you do in your kitchen except you. Well, until you blog about it.)

sliced kiwis

Kiwis are happy to hang with salsa. Who knew?

And it was rather divine.

I’m not saying you need to try it.

I’m just saying, sometimes the best part of cooking is cooking for your own super-special tastebuds.

Close the cookbook and listen.

Your tastebuds might have a very bizarre, very unorthodox, very tasty idea.

The first crepe is always a disaster

The first crepe is always a disaster

Crepe, flipped

You need a sturdy, no-nonsense crepe recipe. I recommend the one in Mark Bittman’s “How to Cooking Everything.” I halve it.

Cheese on crepe

Pepperjack cheese. Did I mention that yet?

Crepe with salsa, kiwi

Okay. So this is the creative part. Kiwi. Salsa. Pepperjack cheese on a crepe. French-Caribbean-Mexican fusion?

Finished crepe

Seriously. It was pretty darn good.

Bite

One fork full of happiness.

Oatmeal butterscotch cookies

Brianne's oatmeal butterscotch cookies

1 bowl, 1 spoon, no mixer. My kind of recipe.

Okay. Here’s the deal about cookies in our house. My sweetheart is a cookie fiend. A certifiable cookie connoisseur. He could double as a very tidy Cookie Monster.

And chocolate chip cookies are the ruling monarchy in his kingdom. No nuts. No peanut butter. God forbid you want to toss in white chocolate. And don’t even think about adding coconut flakes.

So, I get this. And every so often, I’ll make a patch of chocolate chip cookies just for him. Because I love him, and because nothing else food-related (except for maybe brownies or champorado) makes his face light up so brightly.

But then I make a batch for me.

These are my cookies.

Brianne's oatmeal butterscotch cookies

The best bite of cookie I know.

They are a variation of Mark Bittman’s lacy oatmeal cookies, which have no flour. Mere butter, sugar, oatmeal, those bake meltingly into crisp discs of sugar. That’s a bit too saccharine for me. So I add back in a 1/2 cup to a cup of flour. And butterscotch chips.

Brianne's oatmeal butterscotch cookies

Add an egg to melted butter and oatmeal and stir …

Brianne's oatmeal butterscotch cookies

… don’t forget the butterscotch chips. They make all the difference.

Brianne’s oatmeal butterscotch cookies

Adapted from Mark Bittman’s “How to Cook Everything”

  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
  • 1/2 white sugar
  • 1/2 light brown sugar
  • 2 cups oats (not instant)
  • 2 eggs
  • 2/3 cup flour
  • 1 11-ounce bag of butterscotch chips (roughly 2 cups)

Preheat the oven to 350F degrees. Grease a cookie sheet.

Mix all ingredients. A spoon (plus maybe a fork to whisk up the eggs) is fine. No electric beater necessary, though if you need to justify a vehicle for extra licking, I understand. (If you do use a beater, I would still stir in the chips.)

Drop tablespoon-sized balls of cookie dough on the greased cookie sheet.

Bake for 8 to 10 minutes.

You will be as tempted as I to scoop them off the cookie sheet immediately, but let them rest for a minute. They need to crisp up, or they’ll fold up and collapse when you slide them onto a platter. (If one goes straight into your mouth, of course, collapsing is a bonus perk!)

Bear’s Garlic Soup

Bärlauch soup

Bärlauch soup

This weekend was glorious, the first truly adequate batch of weekend weather we’ve had in 2013. Germany’s cold slate ceiling opened to reveal the blue of ocean skies, a hundred miles inland. My eyes swam in the sky, a deep, nearly periwinkle blue, and soaked in the sunrays. The spring breeze whispered over everything, and the city of Stuttgart felt content, alive, healthy again.

On Saturday, after a run through the farmer’s market, teeming with tulips and tomatoes and strawberries, we ended up at a bustling cafe called Cafe Grand Planie. I’m not sure how we hadn’t gone there before. The cafe borders the square that hosts Saturday’s flea market, where we poke around for gems among the rugs, toy cars, antique kitchen items, knickknacks. (We did find a shiny 1870s sideboard there on Saturday, chipped a bit but charming.)

Cafe Grand Planie opens with a glass display case of dazzling cakes and tarts, surprises you on the wall with a  reproduction of Otto Dix’s neon “Großstadt” triptych (the real one is nearby at the Kunstmuseum), and stretches way past a bar, a huge sprawling room of cafe tables, booths, chandeliers, and towering vases of flowers. It feels cosmopolitan European, full of lively conversation and clinking mugs and saucers.

Menu at Cafe Grande Planie

Menu at Cafe Grande Planie

Even in warm weather, I can’t resist house-made soup. And today’s special turned out to be Bärlauchsüppchen. My first guess was barley soup, but I was wrong – the real soup was even better: “Bear’s Garlic Soup”!

Bear’s Garlic is apparently wild garlic, a European relative of the North American ramps. I had seen these long, beautiful leaves at the market that morning, like basil crossed with baby palm fronds, but I hadn’t know what they were. I realize now they were Bärlauch, perhaps (as the menu description says) the first of the season!

The soup was delicious, warm and savory and thickly garlic and buttery, with a tender shrimp dangling overhead. With a big hunk of crusty bread to mop it up, my first  Bärlauchsüppchen was a sweet welcome to an overdue German spring.

The Classics, in cooking, in literature

I was thinking perhaps I’d follow the blog trend of snappily listing links on Fridays. I’m reading this. I’m watching this.

But my first link, beginning with the week’s reads, was off and sliding on a tangent.

So I’m going to go with that today, like cooking up a combination based on what’s in the fridge. Please me know if this post was delightful or jarring. Thanks!

I’m on a classics kick. In reading, not in cooking, though perhaps I should take direction from one to the other.

Classics are classics for a reason. (My mother, when I would sniff as a little girl at a holiday tradition, would try to illuminate to me the power of the classic – which I’m only understanding years later. It’s sobering and thrilling at the same time, seeing a familiar face in a new light.)

I missed a great deal of the literary classics somehow, so I’m slowly making up for it. It’s never too late for the good stuff.

Lit classics

Classics, some devoured, some awaiting me yet. What else should be in this stack?

First came “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Then “Brideshead Revisited.” Then “Pnin.” Then a couple of marvelous Wallace Stegner novels, “Angle of Repose” and “Crossing to Safety.”

Each one seemed to draw out human nature and shine a light on it. Each one seemed alive in my head for weeks afterwards. Each one felt both weighty and ethereally light.

And any bit of thought produced a mosaic of truths.

The writing felt more solid than what I was used to, a technique had been honed not for the purpose of flashiness but for the purpose of precision.

Like cooking by the masters.

This week, I read “Of Mice and Men,” my first Steinbeck, I’m embarrassed to say. It was shorter, easier to read than I imagined. I somehow put the mighty American novelists on a shelf of difficulty, but it’s not that way at all.

Maybe I’ll make my first Julia Child recipe soon.

Maybe I’ve underestimated the approachability of the masters.

Maybe it’s just time.

“Of Mice and Men” transports the reader to California in the 1920s, to a world of male companionship and hard knocks and blatantly unfair lives. And yet there’s compassion and sweetness, and your heart leaps for what you see coming.

I also picked up three Richard Yates novels in an Everyman’s Library collection;  Everyman’s are such wonderful editions, with a perspicacious introduction, a timeline, and that lovely Dijon-colored ribbon bookmark. I’m starting with Yates’ “Revolutionary Road,” which so far is filled with startlingly sharp and tight dialogue, the tension between a married couple.

The novel opens with a community play starring April Wheeler, a tall ash blonde of 29, a suburban mother of two who “moved with the shyly sensual grace of maidenhood.” The Connecticut audience is rustling with anticipation, as are you. And then you read, in alarm, the calm recount of how the leading man is suddenly ill, how the director steps in, and how the play unravels into awkwardness.

“It seemed to go on for hours, a cruel and protected endurance test in which April Wheeler’s performance was as bad as the others, if not worse. … When the curtain fell at last it was an act of mercy.”

But then, what makes Yates great is his detailing of what’s going on in the heads of these people. How Frank Wheeler, April’s husband, was originally imagining the triumph of the play, his role backstage “to claim her first tearful kiss” and the drink  in glory with friends afterwards. Instead:

“Nowhere in these plans had he foreseen the weight and shock of reality; nothing had warned him that he might be overwhelmed by the swaying, shining vision of a girl he hadn’t seen in years, a girl whose every glance and gesture could make his throat fill up with longing (“Wouldn’t you like to be loved by me?”), and that then before his very eyes she would dissolve and change into the graceless, suffering creature whose existence he tried every day of his life to deny but whom he knew as well and as painfully as he knew himself, a gaunt constricted woman whose red eyes flashed reproach, whose false smile in the curtain call was as homely as his own sore feet, his own damp climbing underwear and his own sour smell.”

And that’s just the first 15 pages.

So many layers, so many things to simmer in my brain while I chop and stir and wash.