Casatiello: A Marvel of Meat & Melted Cheese


CIMG8008

In my family’s Singapore kitchen this week, my mother carefully brought out a prized discovery from her fridge, nudging me to try it.

Inside the box was a lovingly swaddled loaf of bread, filled with slivers of ham and dappled with bits of melted and crusty cheese. A friend had given it to her and my mother had decided it was the best bread she’d ever tasted.

“Hey, I think I recently made something like this,” I said. 

“You DID?” came her incredulous response. 

Her disbelief was completely understandable — I rarely set foot in the kitchen as a child. And when I finally did start cooking in my 20s, I was initially more known for inedible cheesecakes than Julia Child creations.

As for baking bread, it’s something that seemed so difficult that I never considered trying it until I joined the Bread Baker’s Apprentice Challenge in May. But baking a bread every week along with more than 200 bakers around the world has been a surprisingly empowering and therapeutic thing.

In a piece that I wrote for the Washington Post Food section about the proliferation of online cooking and baking groups, Jeff of Culinary Disasters talks about learning to be patient from baking bread for the challenge. Wendy of Pink Stripes says she’s become such a brave cook that she’s applied that confidence outside of the kitchen, too. (Wendy, who had always wanted to learn to scuba dive, took the plunge in December.)

As for me, I’ve learned gobs — about time management, the need for enough sleep, the importance of simply trying. Above all, through the exhilarating successes and occasional clouds of smoke, I’ve grown increasingly sure of one thing: If you set your mind to doing something — even if it seems impossible — you’re going to be able to do it. (And, if you’re lucky like I’ve been, you’ll have the fist-bumps of fellow bakers, pushing you along the way.)

And that’s intoxicating knowledge to have.

So, yes, Mum, I really did make casatiello, an Italian bread filled with cured meat and melted cheese that tastes just divine. And it was actually pretty simple …

[Read more…]

Shhh … People Are Eating


CIMG5380

Not that I was looking, but I may have found a restaurant that’s even quieter than Chanterelle, a place in New York that was so hushed when I dined there a few years ago that you could probably have heard a toothpick drop.

We’re not quiet folk, my sister and I. So we knew we were in for it when we stepped into L’Ambroisie in Quimper, France, and the place was so silent that you could almost hear the soft shufflings of proprietor Armelle Guyon as she glided from table to table taking orders.

There’s been quite a bit written recently about how noisy U.S. restaurants have gotten — like crowded train stations filled with shouts and clangs, really. However, when it comes to dinner, my quibble tends to be with places that are on the other end of the sound spectrum.

After all, who wants to feel like they’re eating in a stalled elevator sans muzak?

[Read more…]

When Brittany Was Our Oyster


CIMG5238

The rain was coming down, not hard, not gently — just with enough of a tap-tap-tap firmness to make us think more than twice of not stopping at all when we spotted the little oyster shacks by the Cancale bay. 

This being June, we knew we were technically in the wrong month for oysters — if you still believe the “you should only eat oysters in months with ‘R’ in their names” theory. But we were in Brittany, which reportedly produces a quarter of France’s oysters every year.

These oysters, they had to be tried.

[Read more…]

Le Perigord, Je T'Adore


CIMG4971

It turns out, my mother was right — church is good for you.

On day 1.5 in Paris, we feel drawn to Sacre Coeur in Montmartre. It’s Sunday and the childhood Catholics in us just won’t be silenced. I’m not saying we went to mass — but we did have a holy experience of another sort.

While leaving the church, there it was — tent after tent filled with duck rillettes, honeys, chestnut jams and sweet, sweet strawberries from the Perigord region.

We gawped at the decadent spread and then one another. This street fair — clearly, it had to be a sign. And so we stopped to smell the strawberries.

[Read more…]