A Day for Caramel Potatoes Crisped in Duck Fat, With Prunes

I had an accidental five-star day last Monday.  The kind of day that can only happen when you don’t plan a thing.  The kind that deepens laugh lines.  The kind that often occurs on a weekday afternoon for no good reason.

It started out with pho soup in Chinatown.  Then Dave and I bowled a few rounds and drank enough Sam Adams drafts to get a little giggly.  (To be clear: I got a little giggly.  Dave would not want me to suggest he is the giggling kind.) 

I also bought new gray and yellow wedges that were alleged [by a certain non-giggler] to only be appropriate to wear to a '70s key party.  I still advocate the shoes are dyn-o-mite.

We went home, opened a bottle of cinsault, and ate Mt. Tam triple cream on a baguette. And I got to work on dinner.  

Whole chicken was stuffed with wedges of orange citrus.  Chunks of potatoes were tossed in duck fat. A tamarind glaze thickened on the stovetop.  And we listened to Bill Cosby: Himself, while the food did its thing in the oven.   I laughed.  He laughed.  Particularly during Bill’s bit on chocolate cake-for-breakfast.

Bill Cosby: [when his wife sees he has given the kids cake for breakfast]

“I’ve always heard about people ‘having a conniption’ but I’d never seen one.  You don’t want to see ‘em.  My wife’s face … split.  The skin and hair split and came off of her face so there was nothing except the skull.  And orange light came out of her hair and there was glitter all around.  And fire shot from her eye sockets and began to burn my stomach and she said, ‘WHERE DID THEY GET CHOCOLATE CAKE FROM?’  And I said, ‘They asked for it!’  And the children who had been singing praises to me … lied on me … and said, ‘Uh-uh!’  ‘We asked for eggs and milk … and DAD MADE US EAT THIS!’  And my wife sent me to my room … which is where I wanted to go in the first place.”

Which brings me to these potatoes.  You see, they have caramel on them.  Yes.  Sugar.  Burnt and drizzled.  With prunes (prunes!)  The potatoes are crisped—pretty much slow fried for an hour—in duck fat. 

And you’d think this would make them a wholly inappropriate mealtime component.  All that fat and sugar.  But they’re not.  They’re salty-sweet.  Addictive.  Wonderful with sticky tamarind chicken.  And with Billy Cosby, for dinner, on a five-star day.

Caramel Potatoes Crisped in Duck Fat with Prunes
Adapted from Jerusalem: A Cookbook


2¼ pounds russet potatoes
½ cup duck fat
5 ounces pitted prunes
scant ½ cup sugar
3½ tbsp ice water
½ tsp sea salt or kosher salt, plus more to taste


Set the oven at 475 degrees. Peel the potatoes and cut them into pieces about 1½ inch squared.  Rinse them under cold water and then place them in a large pot filled with cold water.  Bring the potatoes to a boil and then simmer them for 8 to 10 minutes.  Drain the potatoes and then shake them in a colander to rough up their edges a bit and drain off the excess water.

In a rimmed baking sheet or sheet pan, scoop in the duck fat and heat it up in the oven until it just starts to smoke (5 to 8 minutes). Carefully take the pan out of the oven and gently toss in the potatoes.  Place the pan back in the oven (on the highest rack) and cook the potatoes for 50 to 65 minutes, or until they are golden and have turned crunchy; during the cooking, turn the potatoes occasionally with a spatula to ensure even coloring.

When the potatoes look just about ready (this was at about the 50 minute mark for me), take out the sheet pan and—if the potatoes still contain a good deal of fat—carefully tip the pan to remove the excess (I did not have to do this: there was barely any fat left sitting in the pan).  Add ½ tsp of salt and the prunes, toss gently, and return the potatoes to the oven for about 5 more minutes.

During this time, make the caramel by placing the sugar in a medium saucepan over low heat.  Without stirring, cook the sugar until it turns into a liquid and becomes a rich caramel color (you can swirl the pan occasionally, if needed, if the sugar isn’t caramelizing evenly).  Remove the pan from the heat at once and quickly pour in the ice water. (Be careful it doesn’t spatter on you: don’t hold the pan too close).  (You’ll want to have the ice water ready, so place some ice cubes in water while you heat the sugar and keep a measuring spoon nearby.) Immediately return the pan to the heat and whisk to dissolve any sugar clumps.

Remove the potatoes from the oven, toss them with the caramel, and taste to add more salt, as needed. Serve at once.

Makes 4-5 cups

-These potatoes will be crispy and not overly sweet despite the caramel.  They are lovely. Perfect for a roasted beast of any sort.

-I had a few stubborn lumps of sugar that just wouldn’t dissolve, so I strained them out.  Take care not to let the caramel thicken too much or it will become hard to toss the potatoes in it.  The whole caramel process happens rather quickly.

-Leftovers can be reheated in a microwave (or I assume an oven) and though they won’t be quite as crispy, they’ll still be good.

-If you don’t have russet potatoes be sure to use another floury potato type to get the proper texture and crisping (russets have a higher starch content).


Buckwheat English Muffins and Punky's Dilemma

Wish I was an English muffin
‘Bout to make the most out of a toaster.
I’d ease myself down,
Comin' up brown.
I prefer boysenberry more than any ordinary jam.
I’m a “citizens for boysenberry jam” fan.

-“Punky’s Dilemma,” Simon and Garfunkel

Last winter, I covered one of the walls of my kitchen with chalkboard paint.  The first thing I wrote was "I'm a 'citizens for boysenberry jam' fan."  And though most of the wall serves as a rotating menu board of savories and sweets to make (and eat), the line stays.  As a constant.

But I recently crossed English Muffins off.  English Muffins.  There.  That’s better. 

I like English muffins lightly toasted, the crannies hotly bothered with butter.  No jam necessary.  Treated simply.  Smelling of yeast and toast. 

Which brings me to buckwheat.  Its slight nutty grittiness butters splendidly.  Though you could easily convert the buckwheat into a white or whole wheat translation and achieve grand results, I’m sure.

The recipe itself is not too terribly difficult, though it does require some attention.  If you have a griddle, you’ll be done in under an hour.  If you have a skillet, you’ll be batch-baking muffins in a cast iron from 11:00 AM until 2:00 PM.  No matter.   It’s really no different than spending a Saturday with a pot of soup bubbling away on the stovetop.

I should be very, very clear here: the muffins are worth it.  You’ll need to cook them low and slow.  But they’ll rise, get billowy, and then shrug and slump a bit when you flip them.  They’re soft and easily split with a fork, with all the nooks and crannies you’d expect a proper English muffin to have.

And so the recipe stays.  As a new constant.  Ready to make the most out of a toaster.  Citizens, take note.

Buckwheat English Muffins


3½ cups bread flour, sifted
1 cup buckwheat flour, sifted
2 tsp active dry yeast
3 tbsp butter, softened
1½ tsp salt
2 tbsp sugar
1¾ cups lukewarm whole milk (about 110 degrees)
1 egg, lightly beaten
cornmeal, for sprinkling


In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the flour, yeast, butter, salt, and sugar and begin to mix on low speed with a paddle attachment (not dough hook).  Slowly pour in the milk and then the egg; mix on medium speed for about 5 minutes.  If the dough sticks to the bowl as it is mixing, scrape down the sides occasionally.  (Throwing in a pinch of bread flour while it is mixing may help too.) The dough is done when it pulls away from the sides of the bowl and is smooth and elastic.

Form the dough into a ball, place it in a bowl, cover it with plastic wrap, and let it rise in a warm place for 2 hours. 

Gently deflate the dough and turn it out onto a surface dusted with flour.  Cut the dough into 12 equal-sized pieces by dividing it in half and then splitting each half in half and then dividing each of your four pieces of dough into thirds.

Form each piece of dough into a ball, stretching the ends of the dough and gathering them together underneath, so that the tops of each piece are smooth.  Flatten each ball into a 3½ inch diameter round; dust the tops and bottoms with cornmeal.  Cover with plastic wrap or a kitchen towel and let rest for 20 minutes.  (They will puff up a bit.)

Heat a cast iron pan on low heat (or set a griddle to 300 degrees).  Very lightly grease the pan with canola oil for the first round of baking (after this initial greasing I did not re-grease).  Working in batches of 3 or 4, place the muffin rounds on the pan. (This will be done all at once if using a griddle.)  Cook each muffin 15 to 20 minutes and then flip and cook the other side for 15 to 20 minutes more.  If you notice the muffins are browning too quickly, turn down the heat.  The muffins can be checked for doneness by inserting a thermometer into one of their centers; it should read 180 to 200 degrees.  Between batches, sweep off any leftover cornmeal bits so they do not burn.

Let cool and then split by working your way around the muffin with a fork.

Makes 12 English muffins

-I questioned the recipe the entire way through.  No dough hook?  No blooming of the yeast?  No use of an oven?  But it yielded great results.

-If your kitchen is incredible dry, you may want to cover the English muffins with plastic wrap, instead of a towel, which can help prevent a skin from forming on the muffins (which may inhibit their rising).  I didn’t have any issues with the towel, but just a word of caution.

-As so often the case with me, they freeze well. (No need to split them prior to freezing.)


Chocolate Krantz Cakes Plus Other Peculiar and Beautiful Things

There are a lot of beautiful things out there.  And I am going to list some of my favorites now.

This Selby.

This pink wine

These scribbles.  
This magazine

This manifesto.

This wine cave.

This garagiste.

This coffee shop

This bar in Paris

These cookie cutters

And now this cake.

Since Valentine’s Day is just around the corner, I thought I’d post something va-va-voom-y. With chocolate.  (Just in case the baked molasses apples and references to Edgar Allan Poe didn’t quite do it for you last year.)

I had a very hard time figuring out which picture to select to début this thing called a chocolate kranz. You see, each step of making the yeasted cake is beautiful.  Each inch.  And so I documented it all. On Twitter.  (The images are embedded in the instructions below.) Not an entirely dreamy approach, but neither is naming something “kranz cake” and expecting people to swoon.

I guess, in the end, it all boils down to this:

There are things you do because they feel right and they may make no sense and they may make no money and it may be the real reason we are here: to love each other and to eat each other's cooking and say it was good.”          
-Brian Andreas 

I hope you enjoy chocolate cakes; pink wines; and peculiar, beautiful things with your loved one(s) this week. 

Chocolate Krantz Cakes
Adapted from Jerusalem: A Cookbook


for the dough
4¼ cups (530g) all-purpose flour, sifted (plus extra for dusting)
½ cup (100g) sugar
2 tsp active dry yeast
grated rind of a lemon
3 eggs
½ cup water
rounded ¼ tsp kosher salt
2/3 cup (150g) unsalted room temperature butter, cut into ¾ inch cubes
canola oil, for greasing

for the filling
scant ½ cup (50g) confectioners’ sugar
1/3 cup (30g) unsweetened cocoa powder (I used Ghirardelli)
4½ oz (130g) dark chocolate (I used Taza chocolate), melted
½ cup (120g) unsalted butter, melted
1 cup (100g) pecans, toasted and coarsely chopped
2 tbsp demerara sugar

for the syrup
2/3 cup water
1¼ cup (260g) sugar
sea salt, for sprinkling (optional)


In a stand mixer with a dough hook attachment, combine flour, sugar, yeast, and lemon zest; mix on low speed for 1 minute.  With the mixer still on low speed, add eggs, one at a time, and then slowly add the water and mix for a few seconds; increase the speed to medium and mix for 3 minutes or until the dough comes together.  Add the salt and then begin to add the butter, a cube at a time, with the mixer still running.  Continue mixing for 10 minutes on medium speed, until the dough becomes shiny, smooth, elastic, and slaps the sides of the bowl.  (During the mixing you may need to scrape down the sides of the mixer or add a dusting of flour if the dough is sticking.)

Place the dough into a bowl lightly oiled with canola oil; cover with plastic wrap and leave overnight in the fridge to rise.

The next day, make the filling by mixing together the confectioners’ sugar, cocoa powder, melted chocolate, and melted butter.  You’ll get a spreadable mixture a little more watery than a paste; set aside.

Grease two loaf pans 9 x 4 inches with some canola oil and then line them with parchment paper.  Divide the dough in half and leave half covered in the bowl in the fridge.  On a lightly floured surface, roll out half the dough into a rectangle 15 x 11 inches.  Be sure to trim the edges to make them straight and even (the corners should be at 90 degree angles), this will greatly help when you roll up the dough.

Using an offset spatula (or knife) spread half the chocolate filling mixture over the dough, leaving ¾ inch around all the edges uncovered.  See here.  Sprinkle half the pecans on top of the chocolate and then half of the demerara sugar on top of that. See here.

Brush a little water along the short side of the dough at the end farthest away from you.  Using both hands, roll up the dough, starting with the short end closest to you, like you are rolling up a yoga mat, carpet, roulade, etc. (take your pick).  Turn the dough 90 degrees, so that it is parallel (and no longer perpendicular) to you.  Rest the rolled up dough on its seam.

Using a sharp knife, trim a ½ inch off both the ends of the roll and then cut the roll in half, lengthwise.  (The long inner chocolate ribbons will become exposed with this step; it will feel wrong, but it won’t be.)  Position each half so that the ribbons of chocolate are facing up towards you (again, the inner layers will be exposed here).  Gently braid the two halves together by tucking one half under the other and then repeating this with the top half, by crossing it over and then tucking it under the other half. Continue until the halves are fully entwined.  Pinch each end together.  See here for what the finished product will look like.

Carefully lift the braided dough up and place it into one of your prepared pans.  Repeat this process with the other half of the dough reserved in the fridge. See here

Cover the pans with a damp kitchen towel and let rise in a warm spot 1-1½ hours (it will only rise slightly).  While the loaves are rising, set the oven to 375 degrees.

When ready, bake the cakes for about 30 minutes, or until a cake tester or toothpick comes out clean when inserted into the middle of each cake.  While the cakes are baking, make the syrup by combining the water and sugar in a saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the sugar just dissolves; set aside.  (The syrup can be warm but it should not be piping hot.)

When the cakes come out of the oven, immediately brush all of the syrup over the cakes.  It will feel like there is too much syrup, but be sure to use it all.  Sprinkle with sea salt, if desired.  Leave the cakes to cool until they are warm (not hot) to the touch and then remove them from their pans and let cool completely.

Makes 2 loaf cakes

-My plan for the next round of cakes: more salt and some orange zest in the dough plus some citrus juice and orange blossom water in place of some of the water for the syrup.  The cakes were lovely, but were pleading for more citrus, in my opinion.  Perhaps some cardamom too.  This is an intense cake, but extremely pleasurable to make.  And indisputably beautiful.

-For the chocolate I used a mixture of 60% and 80% Taza chocolate.

-If you can’t find demerara sugar, you can use granulated or brown sugar.

-Leftovers can be easily stored in the freezer.

-This recipe is not easy, nor is it quick.  But the dough is lovely to work with.  And the end result is perfect with a cup of coffee for breakfast.


Save Swine, Eat a TLT

The last thing you are probably pining for this very moment is a warm plate of ... tofu.  But seeing these narrow bodies neatly lined up in rows made sharing this recipe hard to resist.  

Save a pig.  Eat a soybean.  The slogan still needs work.  Luckily, the tofu does not.

This idea is inspired by the ever-enchanting site, 101 Cookbooks.  The original recipe was for a “TLT,” a take on the beloved classic BLT.  It featured tempeh though, which—try as I might—I just cannot endorse. Tempeh and I are not friendly.  So I’ve been making the sandwich with tofu ever since.

The thin strips soak in a marinade that is meant to recall an essence of bacon.  If you really want a BLT, you had better use swine.  But the liquid, which is smoky and a little spicy from the chipotle, sweet from the maple, and salty from the tamari, can easily hold its own.

Thus, if you welcome the TLT as a singular entity, it makes a wonderful vegetarian-friendly counterpoint, employing the usual sidekicks: lettuce, tomato, and mayo.  The sandwich itself is not far off from the soy BLT MIT-based Clover Food Lab sells.  Their mantra being, local fast food done a la vegetarian.

I’ve used the Clover menu for inspiration on more than one occasion by tucking TLT components into a pita, roasting up some shoestring rosemary fries, and downing a pint of Pretty Things Beer and Ale Project’s Jack D’or.  The tofu, native.  The beer, home-based in Somerville.  And the meal, made in my kitchen.  A local fast food feast all its own.

So, perhaps, save a BLT.  Eat a TLT.  It is not meant as a substitute for the adored piggy classic.  But it makes a t.asty l.ittle t.ofu sandwich all its own.

TLT Tofu
Inspired by 101 Cookbooks


1½ tbsp olive oil (plus more for the pan)
¼ cup tamari (soy sauce)
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
2 tbsp brown sugar or maple syrup
4-5 tbsp adobo sauce (from a can of chipotle peppers)
about 14 ounces firm or extra firm tofu (1 block)


In a rectangular baking dish, mix together the oil, tamari, vinegar, brown sugar (or maple) and adobo sauce.  (Use less adobo if you don't like spice.) Slice the tofu into 4-5 rectangular slabs and then slice each slab into 3 pieces lengthwise, so you get long strips.  Lay the strips into the baking dish with the marinade, cover with plastic wrap, and let marinate in the fridge overnight.

Heat a medium sauté pan on medium to medium-high heat and add a glug of oil to the pan.  Add half the tofu (or all of it, depending on the size of your pan) and half the marinade to the hot pan.  Cook the tofu for about 5-7 minutes, or until the tofu starts to gather color on its underside; flip the tofu and cook until fairly firm to the touch (about 10 minutes in total).  If the tofu starts to burn, turn the heat down.  Wipe down the pan and repeat the process, if cooking in two batches.

Makes 12-15 strips

- For the sandwich: I don’t need to tell you, you know how to make a BLT.  Use your favorite bread with tomatoes, lettuce, and mayo.  Sometimes I put a little lemon zest in the mayo. I like the TLT either on a brioche bun (if you’re feeling it, see here for a recipe) or in a pita (see here for a recipe).

-21st Century Tofu and Chang Shing Tofu are two local brands.

-The original recipe uses oven-dried tomatoes, which is brilliant in winter.  However, I found the sandwich too cloying for me, too one-notey.  It needed some brightness and the fresh tomatoes provided that.

-The sauce has a tendency to burn on you, so be sure to watch it and turn down the heat (or add a little more sauce to the pan) if needed.

-I like tamari (made solely from soybeans), so that’s the sauce I stock.

-Clover Food Lab now has food trucks and standalone units in Cambridge and Boston.  I like their restaurant in Harvard Square.  They have colored drawings done in crayon or marker tacked up on the walls and a vine growing up the back of their indoor space.  They also have beer.

-Please note: the BLT is one of my favorite sandwiches on earth.  I love pig.  But I also eat soy.   There.  I said it.  I feel better now.