Skillet Cake, Sardine Spaghetti, and Toast Building With Charlotte Druckman
Plus: Order from a $1 Restaurant!
Photo: Melanie Dunea
Charlotte Druckman wrote the book about quarantine cooking by accident. When she first conceived of “Kitchen Remix: 75 Recipes For Making The Most Of Your Ingredients,” corona was known as lime’s better half and if you were talking about something going viral, it was more likely a tweet than a microbe. But if there’s a more useful guide to what to cook when you’re stuck at home for weeks on end—including! this! very! newsletter!—I haven’t found it.
Each chapter of “Kitchen Remix” is named after three ingredients you might have at home (say, “Arborio Rice + Onions + Parmesan” or “Bread + Chocolate + Olive Oil” or “Carrots + Cashews + Coconut”) and details how you can transform those building blocks into a series of delicious dishes. Unlike many of the quarantine cooking guides you might come across, which claim to be full of easy, simple recipes—you know, as long as you have duck in your freezer, 24 giant shallots in your pantry, and a sous vide in your bath—this book is valuable no matter what ingredients you have on hand.
So you should really buy “Kitchen Remix,” but if you’re not yet convinced, I think you will be by the end of this newsletter. Because when we spoke, Charlotte dropped 🔥 recipe after 🔥 recipe—for everything from skillet cake to sardine spaghetti.
Check it out:
Pantry Staples, Or: Why to Leave the Beans to the Bean-Lovers
Charlotte: We’ve seen all these articles from the food media about, like, “Beans! Everyone’s buying beans, get your beans!” And I'm sitting here thinking, what if you don't like beans? I think you have to start from a place of, what do I like to eat? Because if you go and get all these pantry ingredients that you were told to get, and you're sitting there staring at it in the middle of a time that's already trying—and you paid for this stuff—mealtimes are just going to become a burden to you more than they already are.
You have to think more big picture: You want to have grains, and you want to have legumes, and you want to have things that really last, like frozen vegetables, or even things in jars and cans.
Like, maybe you want a salty product that can add fat and flavor. Yes, I love bacon, but I really love Chinese sausage. It's so easy to get; it lasts forever. So to me, before I go and get bacon, I always have Chinese sausage in my refrigerator.
Editor’s Note: Confirmed, there has been a run on yeast, but Chinese sausage is *abundant* and you can buy it here. (Trying to show some love to the word “abundant” because its conjugation “abundance,” as in “abundance of caution,” has been receiving a lot of attention this month.)
I also really love Indian cooking, and I'm finding it particularly quarantine-friendly because it's so spice-driven. They don't take up any room, really. They last forever. And spices are the thing that you have that contain the flavor profile of a dish, so you could think you're eating the same thing three times in a row, but it could really taste completely different each time if you change up the spices.
Editor’s Note: For more on spices, check out the last newsletter featuring the co-founders of Burlap and Barrel, my favorite alliterative spice company.
I love doing things like getting a whole bunch of different kinds of lentils and split peas and stuff, and doing different variations on dal. I could eat dal all the time. So I would be more inclined, maybe, not to stock up on as many beans, and let the bean lovers get all the beans. And I might be going for things like lentils.
Charlotte’s Go-To Dal
Charlotte: Madhur Jaffrey’s. She’s done a bunch, but she has one that I think she calls her “everyday dal.” I think that’s a good place to start. And also Meera Sodha, who is based in the U.K. She’s done three cookbooks, all of which I think are amazing. Those are very quarantine friendly. She also has a few really great dal recipes.
So I like to start with that. And I will mess around a lot of times with the spices and the flavoring added. But it's so easy. It's basically a water-based dish, and the flavors are coming from toasted spices, mostly. So again, I think that's such a quarantine friendly thing to cook. AndI love it.
What She’s Been Cooking
Charlotte: Well, I am a toast builder. I like to build things on toast. And this is not something that started with a pandemic. I live by myself with my dog. And what you make if you're one person living alone, versus what you cook for a family in a quarantine, I think, are going to be very different. And I love toast because I can do individual portions.
Like, listen, if I made a whole batch of beans, that would mean that I was probably going to eat beans for four nights in a row—possibly more—or I would be taking up room in my freezer. That's OK, but you also have to think about your real estate in your freezer. So, again, I don't want to be dumping on beans, I actually love them, and I have a whole bunch in my freezer that I already cooked... but I put them on toast, too.
One way I like to build toast is, I roast vegetables, and then take some ricotta—which lasts longer than people realize in the fridge, as long as you wait to open it, and use it up once you've opened it—I like to smear ricotta on toast, and then I put anchovies on there, and then I like to dump warm roasted vegetables on top of it with a whole bunch of condiments.
What Condiments She Likes to Throw on Her Ricotta Toast
Charlotte: I do love chile crisp. I love to roast peppers. And if I'm just doing this for me, I'll take a clove of garlic, I'll slice it in half, and I'll take one half and pound it in a mortar-pestle—you can do this with a fork and some salt, just kind of get it into paste form.
Editor’s Note: Sam Sifton wrote a good ode to chile crisp in the New York Times earlier this week.
And then I will add some vinegar. Everyone has their own vinegar that they like; I've been using a Japanese vinegar made with sake lees—again, because I am a food writer and someone gifted it to me. But I would happily do it with rice wine vinegar, which is the mildest, or balsamic, which gets a bad rap but is particularly good with roasted peppers. You could use red wine vinegar. You could use sherry vinegar. I'll mix that together with some salt. Maybe some dijon mustard, maybe not. And then I'll toss my very hot peppers with that.
I’ll use the other half of my garlic clove to rub my toast with. I put some olive oil on before I put down my ricotta, then I'll put down my anchovies, my peppers. I'll put some more olive oil on. Sometimes I’ll use smoked chili flakes, because they give you that bacon-y flavor that I love.
That’s something that I'll do a lot, and I do variations on that with other roast vegetables that I love.
🚨🚨🚨SARDINE SPAGHETTI 🚨🚨🚨
Charlotte: I could do anything with sardines. I love sardines, and I can eat them straight, and I can eat them on toast. But what other fun things can I do with them?
There's a crab recipe in the book: Meyer Lemon, Crab and Nori. You can use canned crabmeat, which makes this surprisingly pantry slash quarantine friendly, and will make things feel a little special or fancy during rough times. Obviously, refrigerated, fresh crabmeat is best, but we're on lockdown here! Time to be realistic. But I’ve been thinking I would like to do that exact same pasta, except with sardines.
For an everyday version, which you should have the ingredients on-hand for already (especially if you're a sardine-lover, like me), I'd swap 2 tins of olive oil-packed sardines for the crabmeat, regular lemons for the Meyer lemons, and up to 2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper (depending on how much scratchy, tickly heat you like) instead of the pink peppercorns. I would also used finely sliced scallions instead of chives, but it'll still be good with chives.
Basically, what's happening here is that you have a meatier fish (the sardine), in place of the more delicate, sweet crabmeat, so you need some stronger flavors to balance that out. Another thing: that olive oil the sardines are packed in? Use that as part of your 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil; top it off with whatever EVOO you've got on hand.
Another thing to note about that is the many ways in which you can use nori, that I think people don't appreciate. You can take your nori and you can put it into a Cuisinart or a spice blender, depending on how big your nori is and how much you want, and it can become a seasoning, and it can become almost like a coating. I use it on crab cakes. I also really love nori in pasta. I like to cut it so that it's almost noodle-shaped, so it wilts into the pasta. I like it in salads, too.
What to Do With Your Eggs (If You’re #BLESSED Enough To Have Them)
Charlotte: If you're in a place where there’s not an egg shortage, baked eggs are a really good thing you can make for yourself if you're alone as a meal, because you can just crack your eggs into a small little thing. You can do it per person, per portion. There’s a recipe for baked eggs in the book, but you can use almost anything. You can use tomato sauce. You can use cream. You can add guanciale. You can add Chinese sausage. You can add roasted vegetables. I like to do it with olives in it. And it's also really hard to mess up. You know how when you poach an egg, you get nervous that you’re going to overcook it? It's really hard to mess up baked eggs.
Editor’s Note: BUY CHARLOTTE’S BOOK, but if you don’t, here’s another basic baked eggs recipe.
Another thing you can make if you're alone—it's also really good for a family, because you can have leftovers—is a frittata, because it lasts. You can eat it hot, and then you can eat it at room temperature. And a Spanish tortilla, where you're using eggs and potatoes. Which is, like, one of life's best things. And you can put sardines on top of it. It’s really good. I’ve done it.
Editor’s Note: Here’s a tortilla recipe from José Andrés, which requires only salt, potatoes, olive oil, and eggs to make. I’ve had this at [shudder] Hudson Yards, and it’s unreal.
RECIPE: Quarantine Chocolate-Hazelnut Skillet Cake
Charlotte: I'm one of the people who loves to bake. So instead of making pasta Bolognese, you will probably find me making cake or cookies. And my freezer—this is embarrassing—when I went to see what was happening in there, when the quarantine was first starting, it's mostly baked goods. This goes back to the question, “What do you like to eat?” which is also the reason you find me eating things on toast a lot: because it then allows me to have room and time to bake cake.
I just made a recipe up this weekend. I like to experiment, and I had done a recipe on Food52. I decided to make an olive oil cake that had actual olives in it. I really love this cake. It sounds weird, but I love it. And then I started riffing on it, because I really like the batter, and I did one this weekend.
It's olive oil-based, and it uses brown sugar and regular sugar and a little bit of almond flour mixed in with the flour, which helps you save your flour if you're rationing flour, which a lot of people are right now. And I actually was low on brown sugar, so I used coconut sugar this weekend. I added buttermilk this time; I had buttermilk that was gonna go bad, and it gives you an even more tender crumb. And I did it with cacao nibs, chocolate chunk, and hazelnut.
It's a lovely cake, it's delicious, and it doesn't take a lot of time.
Here’s the recipe:
Makes one 10-inch cake
3/4 cup AP flour
¼ cup almond meal
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup light brown sugar (or coconut sugar)
½ cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup fruity extra virgin olive oil (best quality you can muster), plus extra for the pan (about 1 teaspoon)
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon vanilla
1/3 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup cacao nibs
4 ounces dark chocolate chopped or broken into generous chunks
1/2 cup roasted hazelnuts
Heat oven to 350°F with a well-seasoned 10-inch cast-iron skillet in it.
Sift or whisk together flour, almond meal, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl. In the bowl of a stand mixer (or using a large mixing bowl and handheld electric mixer), beat the olive oil and sugars together on medium-high speed until thoroughly combined. Add the eggs, mixing to incorporate, then add the vanilla, followed by the buttermilk, continuing to beat until combined.
Decrease the speed to low and add the dry ingredients, mixing until just combined. (You don’t want to overmix). Fold in the nibs and chocolate chunks.
Brush the hot cast-iron skillet with olive oil (this is to prevent sticking). Spoon batter into the hot cast-iron skillet and use an offset spatula to level it off and smooth it. Slightly sink the hazelnuts into the surface of the cake.
Bake until cake is golden and a toothpick inserted into a center part of the cake comes out free of batter, 35 to 40 minutes.
Wait about 10 minutes before flipping it out of the skillet—use a butter or dinner knife (not too sharp) to make sure the cake is loosened from the sides of the pan, and, if necessary, to coax the edges off the bottom of the pan for easy flipping. Have two plates ready, because you’ll need to flip it twice so it’s right side up. Let it cool completely before serving.
How to PLAY WITH IT:
• Let’s say you don’t have nibs. That’s okay! You can increase the amount of dark chocolate to 6 ounces. OR, you could include ½ cup chopped toasted almonds instead.
• Let’s say you don’t have hazelnuts. That’s okay! Use roasted almonds, pistachios cashews instead. You can even go with salted nuts for a salty-sweet effect. Fried, salted marcona almonds or smoked almonds would also work here—a little more grown-up, maybe.
• Let’s say your nuts aren’t roasted (i.e. they’re raw). That’s okay! Just toast them first.
• Let’s say you don’t have dark chocolate. That’s okay! Chocolate chips are fine. I bet Reese’s Pieces would fly, too—same for chopped-up Reese’s PB cups. (Confession: I’m dying to do this with chopped up SKOR bars for a toffee effect.)
• Let’s say you don’t have buttermilk. That’s okay! You can sub 1/3 cup regular milk with 1 teaspoon lemon juice stirred into it. Other workable swaps: crème fraiche, sour cream, plain yogurt (whatever style you like).
• Here’s a fun throwback riff I’m dying to try: THE WHITE CHOCOLATE MACADAMIA VERSION. For this, I’d use 6 ounces white chocolate, no nibs, and ½ cup roasted macadamias, and I’d sprinkle some sea salt over the top of the cake before putting it in the oven (to offset the sweetness of the white chocolate).
The Podcast to Listen to If You Want to Figure Out How to Support Restaurant Workers
Charlotte: I'm having a hard time with figuring out the right organizations to support, because there's so many in the restaurant industry. It's almost confusing to me. But what I would like to say is my friend Howie Kahn is doing a podcast called Take Away Only.
The reason I like it so much is that he talks to different chefs and people who work in the food industry every day, so you get to hear about what they're doing—what organizations they’re, if not starting, then supporting. It's a really good way to help figure out which ones to support.
And he’s talked to some really good people. Marcus Samuelsson was today. He talked to Ellen Bennett of Hedley & Bennett. She does aprons—like, fancy chef aprons—and she was, I think, the first person in the food industry to start doing masks. She started a donation program, like, immediately. He’s had a few people who have been working the floor.
It's a good way to figure out where you want to give, or just even know what's happening.
My friend Jack Minton, who you might remember for his rendition of Morgenstern’s Apocalypse Sundae, tipped me off to this really cool thing Anton’s in New York City is doing to support their workers: Every single item on their menu is $1, from Whitefish Salad to Hand-Cut Angel Hair Francese, and all of the gratuity you give on top of that goes directly to the restaurant’s employees.
Order here to do good and eat well.
Dare you to make the Smitten Kitchen/Helen Rosner roast chicken and sleep on cabbage again.
Until next time...