When she has the kitchen all to herself, Phyllis Grant of Dash and Bella cooks beautiful iterations of what solo meals were always meant to be: exactly what you want, when, and where you want them.
Today: We interrupt our regularly scheduled Cooking What I Want content to bring you the next in our "Meet Our Contributors" series—Food52's version of show and tell. We're asking some of the voices behind your favorite columns to share a recipe that represents them (and explain why). Here, Phyllis talks about braised meat, and why, if stranded on an island, all she needs is a flask and a jar of Nutella.
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Tell us about this recipe—what about it makes it you? Honestly, any braised meat warms the cockles of my heart. (Goal: I must quote a Woody Allen movie in every interview.) Seasoned, seared, covered with liquid. I love to watch the magic happen. The slow transformation. You can pretty much throw anything in with the meat: wine or beer or over-the-hill Lillet Blanc. A few anchovies or boquerones. Garlic, onions, carrots. And then you get to have your oven on all day long, warming your home, filling all of the corners with those intoxicating smells.
I never make it just for myself. It is for Christmas. A birthday crowd. An apology. It is a gift wrapped in a tortilla to be splashed with crème fraîche and Sriracha and eaten with your hands. It is a vessel for all of my favorite toppings. And it is the culmination of so many years of playing in the kitchen by myself, with my kids, for my husband.
What is your desert island food (practicalities aside)? Is gin a food? Just give me a flask, a tub of Nutella, and an oyster knife. I’m pretty easy to please. Well, maybe I would need some of my mom’s Caesar salad. And some chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream. A few anchovy-draped 5-minute eggs dotted with crème fraîche and Sriracha. A carnitas burrito with extra sour cream and guacamole. Bowls of polenta finished off with splats of mascarpone. Should I continue?
Those of us who know Phyllis on Instagram know her by her black fingernails, by anchovies and tarts and braised meat, and by her famous handstands. Follow her @dashandbella.
What is your vegetable spirit animal? What is the culinary equivalent of a hummingbird? (I’ve been told that’s what I am because I never stop moving.) For some reason I want to say mini red radishes: mandolined, pickled, jarred. Let them fly all over everything from arugula salad to avocado toast to roast chicken.
What’s one food you pretend to like but secretly hate? Oatmeal. No matter the coarseness of the grain (long cooking, instant, heirloom) or the length of time cooked (overnight in a crock pot, for an hour in whole milk, with fennel pollen) or the toppings (brown sugar, walnuts, caramel), it still reminds me of a pot of glue. Let me be more specific: the kind of homemade glop we used for papier–mâché in the '70s to attach strips of newspaper to balloons.
What is your greatest, most exciting culinary failure? I decided to ask my husband and kids. My husband turned towards the sink and said, "The mountain of dishes. The overflowing buckets of compost. That’s where you fail." So true! I can’t stay on top of it all. But here’s the deal: I haven’t stopped cooking since I met my husband 25 years ago. Almost three meals a day. We’ve had plenty of boring meals. Thousands of simple salads, pastas, tarts, hamburgers. Lots of take-out pizza eaten while watching TV on Netflix. But no big disasters.
The truth is, I’m not a brave cook. I rarely take on complicated recipes, so there’s very little room for drama and excitement. The most stressful thing I’ve ever made is cassoulet. That experience has brought me to tears three years in a row. Wait. I thought of a failure. When my son was three years old, I locked him in his room so I could finish making a leg of lamb and a crème renversée without interruption. But I guess that’s a parenting failure in the service of a culinary success. And boy do I have a lot of those.
A New Way to Dinner, co-authored by Food52's founders Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs, is an indispensable playbook for stress-free meal-planning (hint: cook foundational dishes on the weekend and mix and match ‘em through the week).