Over 14 years at America’s Test Kitchen in Boston, Dan Souza has held many roles. Currently he serves as the editor-in-chief of Cook’s Illustrated, appears on ATK’s namesake PBS show, and hosts the YouTube series “What’s Eating Dan?,” which embraces Souza’s obsessive charms. The triple duties mean he’s often juggling responsibilities, which he did this week while also making sure to visit his parents, check in on friends, and share a few meals with his cat.
Thursday, October 6
Breakfast was a bagel my mother procured from Rover Bagel in Biddeford, Maine, on a recent visit. Rover’s rings are baked in a wood-fired oven until the shiny, blistered exteriors start to char (sometimes heavily) in spots. That depth of browning adds a flavor I never knew was missing from a bagel. My cat, Fancy Mouse, strolled into the kitchen as I opened a new package of Duck Trap smoked mackerel. It’s one of my favorite things to eat, and I fear the day when they stop making it because Americans only buy salmon. So, [insert your name here], I’m emailing you for the last time to ask a favor — will you chip in and buy three packages of smoked mackerel by midnight?
Half the bagel got cream cheese; shreds of fatty, smoky fish; and strips of incredible cabbage kimchee that my co-worker’s mom made. The other got a smear of some good local butter and a sprinkle of fleur de sel. Fancy joined me at the breakfast bar. I looked into her emerald green eyes, and I could tell she was hoping today would be the day I pass out and fall to the ground before I can take my first bite, leaving her an entire bagel to consume undisturbed. She’s a former street cat, so I don’t blame her.
I decided to roll the dice and not bring lunch since I was heading into the office. You can do that sort of thing when your office is a 17,000-square-foot kitchen and your co-workers are 50 test cooks. Will Dan find a delicious and satisfying meal among the recipes being tested today? Or will he go hungry, pass out, and fall to the ground? Stay tuned for the stunning conclusion.
When I got to work, I found a mannequin sitting at my desk dressed a little like me, but with a top hat and those costume glasses that come with a nose and mustache. I only really have myself to blame for this prank. I ordered the mannequin (which my team now calls a Dannequin) for the next episode of my YouTube series. I’ll be covering the science of vanilla and addressing the differences between real and imitation vanilla flavor. The imitation Dan and I will be trading lines. I’m fully aware that this bit may not work.
I headed to the kitchen around noon and found two dishes on the stainless-steel tasting table. One was a skillet of spiced ground beef and chickpeas. The other was a platter of roasted delicata squash, beets, and gigante beans dressed in a yogurt sauce, crowned with chopped pistachios and pomegranate arils. It needed acid and salt, so I swung by the pantry and opted for a splash of sherry vinegar and a shower of kosher.
Back at my desk, I ate a banana that 95 percent of Americans would only use for banana bread. I love bananas like this. Long gone is the sourness and chalk of a younger banana. Each bite is sweet, aromatic, plush.
I didn’t have dinner plans until I ended up at my friend Kaitlin’s house. Kaitlin shares a treehouselike condo with Grizelda, a part Bengal who, in her younger years, would use her razor-sharp claws to climb people like trees. Now she’s middle-aged, incredibly soft, and a little out of shape. I relate to Griz. Kaitlin whipped up pasta using one of my favorite shapes, casarecce, which literally translates to homemade. Kaitlin’s mash-up of pesto Genovese and a burst cherry-tomato sauce just worked. We capped the evening with Norm Macdonald’s final special and a scoop of Jeni’s Salted Peanut Butter and Chocolate Flakes.
Friday, October 7
I had pancakes for breakfast because Bridget died a year ago today. She loved pancakes. Bridget and I met in the first grade, and she is (was?) one of my closest friends. I was thrilled when she moved from her apartment in Bed-Stuy to my place in Boston in March 2020 to ride out the pandemic. She brought enough clothes for three weeks; she stayed for 14 months. We were the definition of a COVID bubble. But unlike other bubbles, the surface of ours wasn’t even semi-permeable. It was airtight. I set two goals for myself: to prevent Bridget from getting COVID while she went through rounds of chemotherapy aimed at slowing the growth of a complicated brain tumor and to keep her well fed.
While the bubble was strong and we had fun (SO. MUCH. FUCKING. FUN), the real threat was already inside, and it was winning. I drove her back to a very different and more open New York City at the end of May 2021. Shortly after that, she started a round of radiation at Duke. On August 22, she texted me the hauntingly beautiful song ”Harlem River” by Kevin Morby, the last one she’d ever share. And a year ago, she ended her side of the fight. I had little appetite, and I really don’t like pancakes all that much, but I ate a short stack with butter and Vermont-made syrup while thinking beautiful things about her.
Today was busy, so lunch was slapdash and insufficient. I grabbed a freshly baked roll I found in the kitchen, split it in half, and smeared it with peanut butter from the community Skippy jar. When I got home in the afternoon, I pulled a thing of leftover pork-and-chive dumplings out of the fridge. While they warmed, I mixed a dipping sauce of black vinegar and soy sauce in a 4-to-1 ratio and dropped in some julienned fresh ginger. Good dumplings are an immersive experience, even when reheated.
I joined a Zoom call with Bridget’s family and her and my closest friends. I was in no mood to cook and was still not that hungry, so I sought out a dish that I find impossible not to eat. I stopped by MDM Noodles in Brighton to grab an order of liang pi, or cold skin noodles.
Saturday, October 8
Breakfast was a standby: steamed Japanese short-grain rice stirred with furikake, topped with wok-cooked eggs that live somewhere between a scramble and an omelet, a squidge of mayo, and a side of whatever cooking greens I have on hand. (Today it was yu choy.) I enjoy eating eggs, but I might like cooking them just a bit more. I prefer to crack them open by tapping two together to see which one gives. I listen for the plop of each egg hitting porcelain. Then I stab each yolk once with a fork to puncture its membrane and whip rhythmically until I see an even yellow. A few swirls and nudges in a hot, oil-slicked wok infuses them with energy and verve. The eggs form structure and wake up. Most mornings, I join them on that journey and come away feeling a touch more prepared for the day.
It was an impossibly beautiful October day, and, despite dire warnings of poor foliage this year due to our scorching summer, I saw maples and oaks flashing oranges and yellows. I realize these leaves won’t peep themselves, so I went out for a nice long bike ride. I packed a favorite sandwich: two slices of Iggy’s sourdough with some really good ham, a slice of sharp cheddar, a dab of Dijon mustard, and a heavy spread of anchovy mayonnaise I made at the start of the week. I wrapped it tightly and popped it in my bag, knowing it would taste far better an hour later. Everyone knows stew tastes better after sitting, but I’d argue many sandwiches improve as well.
I was looking forward to tonight’s dinner: Blue Ribbon Sushi with close friends. I remembered my last visit to one of the NYC locations many years ago for the exquisite fish but also the sight of Billy Crudup, fresh from the gym, sitting in a booth eating salad with chopsticks. All the dishes we tried were great, but the real standout was a whole small Japanese horse mackerel whose filets had been sliced into sashimi. After we had eaten every bite of flesh, our waiter took the fish frame back to the kitchen, where it was deep-fried until crisp. We finished it all, knowing that nothing was wasted.
Sunday, October 9
It’s prime apple season here in Massachusetts, and earlier in the week I’d stocked up on some specialty varieties that I won’t see again for another 12 months. I sliced up two that I’d never had before — “lamb” and “Orleans.” I alternated bites of each with slices of cheddar.
My mom invited me out to the house for seafood chowder. She and my father still live in the home where I grew up, about an hour northwest of Boston.
My mother grew up in rural western Maine, and she makes a style of chowder you’re not too likely to find on the coast. It’s brothy and enriched only with milk. For this lunch, she filled it with gently cooked cod, shrimp, and bay scallops. That’s scallops pronounced with the “a” you find in “scalding” — this is serious New England shit, okay? Before we dug in, my dad and I passed the pepper mill back and forth and showered our bowls with heat. I tossed a small handful of oyster crackers in and started eating. My goal is to eat the crackers once they’ve soaked up a little bit of the soup but before they sog out. If I want more, I can add them later.
After lunch, my mom surprised us with her first apple pie of the season. This was a big deal. My mom comes from a long line of talented pie bakers, so it’s always a treat. The first pie means she’s able to use Cortlands, our favorite apple for pie.
I headed back into the city and met some friends. We hit up a restaurant called Seoul Jangteo in Allston, the stomping grounds of students at BU and other surrounding colleges. Allston is one of the more exciting areas of Boston to dine as the selection of Korean restaurants and bakeries, shabu spots, and new Chinese concepts is rich and ever-changing.
We got some classics: crisped pork belly on a bed of wilted onions with a side of ssamjang and sliced garlic, a chewy-crisp round of pajeon, and kimchee soondubu jjigae served in a hot stone pot that keeps the broth rolling for at least five minutes. It’s all delicious.
Monday, October 10
This morning I got to eat my favorite breakfast: a slice of cold apple pie straight from the fridge. If all goes according to plan, I will eat another slice after dinner. Wish me luck.
Today was a big writing day for me — I’ve got an editorial for Cook’s Illustrated and a couple of video scripts on my list — so I started by procrasti-cooking something that would make the whole house smell incredible and constantly distract me from my work.
I pulled Angela Dimayuga and Ligaya Mishan’s fabulous book Filipinx from the shelf and thumbed to the dog-eared page featuring their coconut-milk chicken adobo. I tend to get obsessed with certain dishes, pop albums, and even movies and play them on repeat. This recipe has me hooked: It’s a stew of chicken thighs, coconut milk, soy sauce, coconut vinegar, copious amounts of garlic, black peppercorns, and bay leaves. When it was done, I stole a few bites for lunch to tide me over until dinner.
I also started a batch of jasmine rice. While it cooked, I roasted some winter squash that I picked up at Allandale and wilted a pile of chard greens. The squash got tossed with some of the leftover coconut milk from making the adobo and a little chile paste. I made crispy garlic slices for the rice and used the infused oil left in the wok to quickly saute the greens.
I scooped a fluffy pile of rice into a shallow bowl and topped it with a wobbly, near-fall-apart chicken thigh and a big ladle of the creamy braising liquid. I took off my glasses, leaned over the bowl, and inhaled deeply. This is not a dish I grew up eating, but a single bite softens my shoulders, snaps me into the present, and makes me feel right at home.
After I finished eating and cleaning up, I opened the fridge and indeed pulled out the pie plate. Fancy stared at me when a small piece of crust fortuitously slipped from my fork and landed on the ground.
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