Approaching Jessica Koslow’s restaurant, Sqirl, is an odd experience. It’s a concrete building on a very concrete street, with little parking. Are we still in L.A.? There was no line (I was promised a long one). The menu has carbs. But once you get inside, the inaccessible opens up, it’s friendly and cheerful, and there’s even real sugar. I imagined hidden avocado and citrus trees growing in little corners of the kitchen. I instagramm’ed a picture of a succulent. My lunch bowl tasted okay.
Koslow’s first book, Everything I Want To Eat, works much the same way. On first glance, it’s delightfully kooky, full of ideas but not necessarily food I could see myself making. The photography is inspiring and a little wacky, and I loved the portraits of customers and purveyors – they make the book seem more like a collage of her life than a formal recipe collection. On second look, the food grew on me and I highlighted half the recipes. The theme is healthy California with just enough flare to make you glad you went to the trouble of cooking and didn’t just order Sweetgreen. She’s a master of adding the one perfect herb or swirl of sauce that turns a basic soup or salad into a Lunch. Being LA, there are lots of veg, vegan, and GF options, but also plenty of meat and dairy. If you’ve been staring at those $16 “bowls,” not understanding what goes in them that could possibly make them worth eating or paying for, this is your chance to figure it out and explore and be surprised – some of them are actually really satisfying! And complicated enough that you wish you had paid someone else to make it for you!
On the other hand, the recipes don’t always work. I couldn’t get her oil/yolk proportions to turn into aioli for any lack of trying (Julia Child says you need more yolk to less oil). This isn’t Koslow’s fault, but the raw cauliflower in the Kabbouleh I made gave me norovirus and I can never look at it again (you should, though, I loved it until 12 hours later). There are a lot of cheffy details that make more sense in a restaurant kitchen with paid staff than in a house where you have to wash your own dishes by hand. I couldn’t make any of the jams because the only one in season was Gravenstein apple butter, and we don’t have Gravenstein apples on the East Coast (normally I would try it with others but the headnote is very particular that it must be that variety). It turns out I don’t like buckwheat. I started to feel like the book had cursed me.
But then, I got to the desserts, and this is where the book really shines. The little baked-good-sculptures that the photographer made are genius and it was so hard not to subconsciously copy them in my own pictures. All of the recipes I tried worked as promised, and offered a nice range of difficulty levels. My favorite was the cardamom tea cakes, which lasted days and were perfect toasted with butter for breakfast, but the chocolate cookies were also a hit. My GF friend liked the buckwheat financiers. I also had good luck with the drink section, which provides a lot of good bases that you can drink as-is or add some booze/seltzer to for a party. The vanilla-bean limeade was my favorite, and it’s perfect for winter citrus season. You will not get scurvy with this book around.
Overall, I’m erring on the side of recommending this book, if only to liven up your collection and inspire you to think differently about what’s in your kitchen and what a cookbook can be. It’s engaging, educational-but-fun, and a lot of the ideas are worth exploring further. Stick to Julia’s aioli, though.
make this one thing:
Cardamom Doughnut-ish Tea Cakes
for the tea cakes:
10 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, plus more for the muffin tin
2 cups AP flour
2/3 cup sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
3/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 large egg
1 cup whole milk
for the cinnamon-sugar topping:
1/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
Pinch of fine sea salt
Unsalted butter, melted (I used about 2 tablespoons)
Make the tea cakes:
Preheat the oven to 375F. Butter just the bottom surface (not the sides) of a 12-well muffin tin.
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, cardamom and salt.
In another bowl, crack in the egg and whisk to break it up. Gradually whisk in the melted better and milk.
Pour into the flour mixture, stirring until just combined. (If the batter looks lumpy and slightly under-mixed, it's perfect.)
Scoop the batter into each well of the muffin tin, filling them only three-quarters full. Bake until the tops are very light golden brown and spring back when you press on them, about 25 minutes. Let cool for a few minutes in the tins.
Meanwhile, make the cinnamon-sugar topping:
Stir together the sugar, cinnamon, cardamom and salt. Once the tea cakes have cooled off a little, turn them out of the tins. Dip the tops into melted butter, then into the cinnamon sugar. Any bald patches can be brushed with melted butter and dipped into the sugar again.