Invariably, one of the first things that a civilian exclaims when they find out that your spouse, best friend, roommate, or otherwise significantly significant other is a chef or a food writer is "You're so LUCKY! You must eat so well at home." If only they knew.
First of all chefs are rarely home at mealtime. And after 14 hour shifts, six, sometimes seven days a week in an epically hot kitchen, not too many professional cooks are looking towards the stove in their all too rare downtime. If your significant other is a food writer or editor, you are a little more likely to get fed, but be prepared to eat roast chicken or risotto every single day for a month until that recipe is perfected or to eat all your meals from the exact same cookbook until that review is finished.
But pastry chef extraordinaire turned pizzaiola Elizabeth Falkner apparently puts the rest of us food pros to shame during her downtime. In her latest cookbook Cooking Off the Clock: Recipes from My Downtime
, she shows us what she prepares for herself and her loved ones during her time away from her restaurants. Which apparently includes lush egg, mushroom and truffled pizzas, crab laced pad thai, pork tenderloin schnitzel with plum gastrique, and cheddar streusel topped apple pie. No biggie.
"I cook professionally, for the rush and for fun" she writes "and I cook at home to relax and take care of myself. When I cook at home, it's usually about relaxing and preparing something without the pressures in the restaurants." Falkner does what she can to relieve the pressure on the reader who may not have her skills — but without dumbing things down for those of us who know our way around a chinois. The first chapter sets out to help the reader stock the pantry with the equipment — mandoline, cast-iron skillet, immersion blender, mortar & pestle — and ingredients — oils, spices, chiles & herbs that Falkner finds essential, along with recipes for her DIY must have condiments — a walnut basil pesto which she adds to linguini, broccolini and lemon, later in the book, spicy and deep harissa habanero bbq sauce and the lush and nutty brown butter bearnaise that she served at Orson
in San Francisco.
Her salads are a skillful balance of acid, salty & sweet. She updates the classic poached egg & lardon frisée with spinach, potatoes and straight up regular bacon, some how making it both more nuanced and simpler to prepare at home. In another dish soft and fragrant roasted carrots contrast with crunchy raw ones and get tossed with buttery avocado and toasted cumin vinaigrette, and she offers up her own spin on Chinese chicken salad, with crispy wonton, peanut and cilantro.
Likewise, her soups are updates on traditional crowd pleasers, taking familiar flavors and making them lighter and more elegant. She makes a pea soup that is buoyant, vibrant and fresh, a roux-free fennel laced clam chowder and lightens her matzo balls with club soda. The ham & biscuit sliders with chile pepper jam would go with any of the soups, or for breakfast, alongside some of her cocktails or just about any time at all. Just know you should make them.
The book provides reasonable homey facsimiles of the pizzas at Krescendo
, which earned her a 2 star review from the New York Times recently. But she clearly holds a special place in her heart for pastas, rice and grains, and the book has a number of recipes for handmade pastas, tips for great gnocchi — let the potatoes cool first before you add the flour — and she recreates a "religious experience with pasta carbonara" that she had on a trip to Rome with her mother.
Falkner is perhaps best known for her innovative and elaborate competition winning desserts. The recipes in the dessert section do not disappoint — still innovative and adventurous in flavor, but using home kitchen friendly techniques including a blackberry cobbler with cream, olive ice cream with chocolate orange sauce and a creamy, bourbon-y Eggnog-a-Rita.
The dishes in Cooking Off the Clock: Recipes from My Downtime
, are not quick, but they are universally straightforward, accessible, exciting and appetizing.