the new york diet

Amanda Hesser Cobbles a Meal From Fish Pasta, Peach Cake, and Mint-Chip Ice Cream

Amanda Hesser makes lunch in her home kitchen.

Amanda Hesser makes lunch in her home kitchen.Photo: Konstantin Sergeyev

In 2003, former Times food editor Amanda Hesser wrote an article about an expletive-happy food blogger cooking her way through Julia Child’s French cookbook. That blogger, Julie Powell, scored herself a book deal — and that book is now the omnipresent Julie & Julia, currently holding in at second at the box office. But to play herself in the movie adaptation of the blog she first chronicled, Hesser had to first audition for director Nora Ephron. Hesser's natural ease in front of the camera secured her the role, and that comfort will serve her well in her next project. She returns to the web (financing for her last online venture, Seawinkle, fell through) to cook for an Internet audience with fellow recipe-tester Merrill Stubbs on their new home-cooking site, Food52.com (launching September 15). Hesser's also working on a century-spanning Times cookbook that will be published next fall — and though her projects may spread her a little thin, she still finds time to eat for this week’s New York Diet, whether testing for Food52, popping cinnamon doughnuts, or diving into a messy pile of crabs with reckless abandon.

Saturday, August 8
First thing, I went to the Greenmarket at Borough Hall. I live in Brooklyn Heights, so the market is within walking distance. There I sampled a few nectarines, white and yellow. They were better than I expected, so I bought them. It seems to me that stone fruits tend to be better when it’s sunny and dry. I’ve noticed the peaches I’ve bought this year have rotted quickly and I don’t know if that’s because of the water content.

I also had some goat-cheese samples at Ardith Mae and bought some cheese, which will come into play later. Then I came home.

I have two kids — they’re 3-year-old twins — and Addie, my daughter, didn’t want her orange juice, so I drank what was left of it. I get fresh-squeezed Lambeth Groves and I like it because it’s intensely flavored but it’s refreshing. I find that the big grocery-store brands like Tropicana are viscous in a slightly unpleasant way.

Then I ate two cinnamon doughnuts that I bought at the market, like cider doughnuts with a cinnamon-sugar coating, and I had Tregothnan Earl Grey tea, which I get online from Rare Tea Company. They’re in England. I read about them a couple of years ago and I ordered some, and it was so much better than any tea that I’ve had before. I buy a bunch twice a year, so shipping is worthwhile. I don’t really believe in skim milk. I drink it with Ronnybrook Creamline whole milk, which FreshDirect has now. Sometimes when I put it in my tea, you get this blob of cream, but it’s so delicious I drink glasses of it.

For lunch, I was staying at home because I’m finishing up this book that’s coming out next year, and it’s crunch time. I made a salad for lunch with purslane, thinly shaved radishes, plum tomato, and some semi-aged goat cheese I had bought at Ardith Mae, called Doolan, crumbled apart on top. I added a bunch of olive oil, so it had a pool on the bottom, fleur de sel, and pepper. I later regretted not putting lemon on it. Purslane is very tart and there was tomato, so I was thinking, "Oh, I don’t want too much acidity," but while purslane has a tartness, it also has a slight succulence. I had bought a piece of Sullivan Street stirato bread from Garden of Eden, so I tore a chunk off and used it to soak up all the olive oil and stuff at the bottom of the bowl.

Later in the afternoon, I had some blackberries and cookies from Duane Park Patisserie: a ginger cookie, a hazelnut biscotti, and two of their chocolate-leaf cookies, which is the real reason I go there. It’s like a paper-thin leaf-shaped cookie with chocolate on top, and I think the cookie itself has some almond extract in it. We went to dinner with some friends who live on Duane Street, they served them for dessert, and I have gone ever since. And then I had more Tregothnan Earl Grey with milk.

While I was making dinner, I had a plum and some Marcona almonds. I dug some Les Moulines Mahjoub couscous out of the cabinet because I was testing a striped bass and grappa recipe for the Times cookbook and was looking for something to go with that. Then I made a modified ratatouille with eggplant, onion, zucchini, and basil with a technique that I learned when I was in France. We roasted the vegetables first to dry them out a little bit, because when you put it all in the pan at once, everything gives off water and it’s really hard to cook it off without making everything mush. So I slice everything thickly, and stick it in the oven at 375 until it starts browning, but it’s not fully roasted, maybe 20 or 25 minutes. Then I take one clove of garlic, smash it, add the mashed clove to a lot of olive oil, chop up and add all the vegetables, cook it to the consistency I like, season it, and add a little basil at the very end.

Around 10:40 p.m., I had some white and yellow nectarines that I sliced and tossed with blueberries, sour cream, raw sugar, and a drop of almond extract. My mother makes this peach pie with sour cream and sugar that you thicken with a little flour, so it was kind of playing off of that idea without having to make it all. I made that for my husband, Tad, and me. Then I had some coconut water and worked until 1:30 a.m.

Sunday, August 9
Sunday, I had orange juice again and I sliced a long piece of the stirato, toasted it, and had it with Organic Valley salted butter, and a chestnut spread, like jam, that has vanilla and sugar in it. With that I had Muscatel Darjeeling from the Rare Tea Company with milk. It actually has a vintage — which is a little bit odd for tea — called Second Flush 2008. I like to try different things from the tea company, but I really like their silver tip and they have a great jasmine tip, which makes fantastic ice cream.

In the afternoon, I met my kids at the Dumbo Flea. They were with our babysitter because I was working again. We had lobster rolls at the Lobster Pound. They toast their top-loading hot-dog buns very nicely, and I like them because they’re very much about the lobster and not about the other stuff. We just sat on the ground and ate those with lemon-and-ginger Mash drinks. Then we went to People’s Popsicle. I’ve known one of the founders, Natalie Jordi, since she was in college. She wrote to me because she wanted to become a food writer, which she has done. But she has done other cool things and started this company. They had apricot-lavender popsicles and watermelon-mint. We got two of each. It was the first time my kids had eaten popsicles before, and it was pretty funny. I realized it’s something you have to learn how to do. It was a very warm day and they sat there and just kept licking the top of the popsicle, not realizing that the bottom was going to start melting. It would just drip all the way down their arms, and down on their belly, and into their shoes. They went off to the playground and I went back to our apartment to do some more work.

Later in the afternoon, I had another cinnamon doughnut, some dark chocolate I had bought at the Garden of Eden, Michel Cluizel 72 percent, and more Muscatel Darjeeling with milk.

I was testing recipes, so we had a later dinner. This one was a halibut wrapped with prosciutto and herb paste. It’s Mark Bittman’s recipe. My husband, Tad, made one of his specialties, roasted potatoes. I made Florence Fabricant’s cucumbers in cream. It’s basically sliced cucumbers with sour cream and lemon zest. I make that a lot in the summer. Later we both had Ronnybrook vanilla ice cream with some of the ginger cookies, and I had coconut water around 1 a.m.

Monday, August 10
Monday, I had some OJ and a doughnut. They were getting rather old. Later in the morning, I had a latte from Tazza and a doughnut peach.

On Monday, we tested recipes for Food 52: two fish dishes, two peach dishes, and chocolate-mint ice cream. When we test, we also have someone take photos, and Helen Johnston, who works with us, she’s there, so we all have lunch together. Around 2 p.m., we had a fish pasta. You cook some garlic in olive oil with chunks of seafood, add tomatoes, cook it all down, and at the end you fold in olives, capers, and parsley. We used striped bass. We were skeptical about the recipe and overcooking the fish, but the person who added it to the site said it came from a friend in Italy, where they tend to cook things longer than we ever would here. Everything else sounded good, so we put our faith in that. The fish does fully cook through, but it doesn’t taste overcooked, and when you add it that early the fish flavor really infuses the sauce. We also made a peach cake, almost like a breakfast cake, so we had that. After lunch, we grilled some peaches with a brown-sugar-bourbon glaze and that was served with ice cream.

Around 4:30 p.m., we tried the other fish dish: baked cod with potatoes and a tomato sauce that was much like the first one.

Then we ate some more ice cream because we wanted to make sure it was frozen, which it was not.

Later, for dinner, Tad and I had leftovers: baked cod over couscous and ratatouille. I had half of a beer after dinner, but decided I didn’t like it. It was Dos Equis. And I was like, this is all wrong, I can’t drink this. So later, I had more peach cake around 10 p.m.

Tuesday, August 11
I had orange juice at home and then went to Building on Bond. It’s a great café for writers; they put out power strips in the afternoon and Tad and I joke that it’s our office. They have good coffee and serve Balthazar pastries, so I had a cinnamon bun, one of my favorite pastries because it’s not super sweet. You know how a lot of cinnamon buns have that cinnamon-butter mash that just becomes kind of gooey? In this one, the cinnamon is fully incorporated into the pastry. And I like how the butter sinks and it’s kind of moist on the bottom. I had an iced latte, which I’m generally opposed to, but it was such a warm morning and I was really tired and felt like I needed something cold and bracing. I spent a couple of hours there.

That afternoon we were going to do a video of the fish dishes with Merrill, Helen Johnston, and Rebecca Palkovics, and on our way we picked up sandwiches from Nicky’s Vietnamese on Atlantic Avenue. I had a classic Vietnamese sandwich, spicy. And then we had mint-chip ice cream and I had a plum. We were making the fish pasta and cod again, which we tasted.

We had leftovers for dinner: baked cod and cucumber salad. My kids had the fish pasta for dinner. When they started eating solid food they just started eating everything we ate.

Around 10:30 p.m. I had coconut water and chocolate-leaf cookies.

Wednesday, August 12
Wednesday morning was kind of a bust. I didn’t get anything.

I had lunch at Aquavit with Merrill and our agent, Heather Schroder. We ate in the front, casual part. I had a Boston lettuce salad with blue cheese, Matjes herring — only available in the summer, apparently — with potatoes, egg, chives, and shallots, their Swedish crackers with dill butter, and an iced latte there, too.

It was a very strange meal because the front dining room was quite full, but one of the waiters hadn’t showed up. So one waiter was literally doing laps and pouring sweat. I felt bad. He was lovely, and I think the kitchen was having a tough time keeping up also, so our lunch took forever. Heather complained and the maître’d was so incredibly gracious, he actually didn’t charge us for lunch. And I know what you’re thinking, they knew we were food writers, but it was very clear that we were just any other customer. I’m not the kind of person who complains, so I was very nervous, but they clearly studied the Danny Meyer approach to hospitality. It’s a nice place to have lunch; I think they were just having a bad day.

Later in the day, Merrill and I needed a place to sit, so we ended up having Illy coffee at the atrium in the Sony building.

Later, I went to the crab bowl at Back Forty. I highly recommend it; it was super fun. There was a group of twelve of us and my friend Sarah Bernard had organized it. It’s a giant table they cover with plastic, then newspaper, and they literally dump warm crabs onto the table. They also do this nice demonstration about how to dismember the crab. We started with a tomato, cucumber, watermelon, and dill salad; salt-cod fritters with saffron aioli; and some kind of really good Belgian beer. Then they dumped the crabs on, cooked with Old Bay, and passed around grilled corn, potatoes, and pitchers of water and beer. At a certain point, the crab stuff is sort of drying on your hands. You can’t put your hands in your lap because it’s too dirty, and you can’t rest them on the table because the table is soaking wet with crab juices, and everyone’s just sitting there with their hands up — as somebody described it, we looked like a bunch of doctors who had just scrubbed. Anyway, they come around with hot towels to wash up with. The whole thing was great. At the end, before they serve dessert, they ask everyone to pick up their glasses and they roll everything up. For dessert, they were calling it blueberry crumble, but I thought it was a blueberry buckle.

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