STYLE

After cereal milk and compost cookies, Milk Bar chef Christina Tosi takes aim at fun dinners

04/22/2015 02:38 EDT | Updated 07/16/2015 05:59 EDT
MIAMI - Christina Tosi is just trying to show how mundane her day-to-day pantry staples really are. Thing is, she can work a sort of magic with mundane that most of us can't even dream off.

Tosi — who came to fame for her exotic sweets like crack pie and compost cookies at New York's Momofuku Milk Bar — tends to live the way she cooks and eats. Life and food are fun, and there is inspiration lurking everywhere, even in the half mouldy cheese in your refrigerators or the Ritz Crackers in the cupboard.

Which is why her new cookbook, "Milk Bar Life," is aimed at helping people make an adventure of weeknight dinner, even after a long day of work. Think recipes for "desperation nachos" and "pickle juice-poached fish."

"I'm going to have to get a little ghetto out of this," Tosi — who is chef and co-owner of Milk Bar with David Chang — says of her weeknight refrigerator-raiding brainstorming sessions.

And "Milk Bar Life" is as much a cookbook as it is Tosi's coming out about her savory side. The dessert chef whose cereal milk ice cream and cornflake marshmallow cookies have earned her a cult following wants people to know she's more than "just a chick that bakes." And so the book is jammed with the potluck-y, homey recipes she grew up eating. Plus, she's going to teach you something about savoring the little moments along the way.

"It's also really important to celebrate the everyday, the ordinary when all you have is some Tang, some margarine and a slice of bread." (Yes, Tang toast really is part of her world).

This isn't a cookbook that requires trips to three different specialty markets to complete your shopping list. This Midwestern gal, who was the James Beard rising star chef of the year in 2012, loves big box supermarkets and includes recipes that call for SpaghettiOs, boxed cake mix and Velveeta. Did you know you can make a cake with grape jelly, defrosted whipped topping and Ritz Crackers?

But don't let Tosi fool you. She still busts out a fur vest and skull cap and blasts R Kelly for her weekend cooking when she freestyles with miso butterscotch sundaes, kimcheez-its with blue cheese dip and slow cooker cake, which she calls "my ode to what my dinner came out of as a child."

"I have a little bit more time to be clever and technical and creative, so I'm going to go down the rabbit hole a little bit more."

True to her roots, every chapter of her new book starts with a dessert recipe, and an entire section is devoted to cookies, which include everything from basic chocolate chip to her favourite salt and pepper cookies and Fruity Pebble meringues with passion fruit curd.

For savory weekends, there's a dozen chicken recipes (she's usually got one roasting in the oven), with tips on how to repurpose it all week, plus several marinades and sauces, potpies, burgers, a Chinese takeout twist on brisket and broccoli, and gooey mac and cheese pancakes. Oh, and Tosi really wants you to make jam because smoked cantaloupe jam and blueberry-miso jelly will give your fridge a cool neon glow.

Tosi, who is an upcoming judge on the Fox TV series "Masterchef," also shares unfussy recipes from her family holidays and quickie meals like her beloved cornbake (a marriage of cornbread and corn pudding), Aunt Mary's white bread and apple dumplings.

But the cookbook is more about the lifestyle than the food. After all, this is the woman who pitched a tent inside her New York apartment and hosted a campout. Again, see life recipe. Fun plus campfires, sleepovers and spontaneity equals crack pie.

"If you're not careful, you end up taking yourself way too seriously and not laughing and not smiling and not appreciating all the little things that make you smile ... and that is the antithesis of what we do at Milk Bar."

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MISO BUTTERSCOTCH SUNDAE

"When I was first navigating my way through creating desserts for the Momofuku restaurants, I made this concoction of intentionally burnt shiro miso (shiro means white; it's the most common type of miso) and other basic savory pantry ingredients," Christina Tosi writes in her new cookbook, "Milk Bar Life." ''I was trying to create desserts that incorporated the restaurant's standard flavours, so there wouldn't be a huge disconnect between dinner and what came after it. Knowing that toasting and browning give added depth and character to otherwise one-note flavours led me to this amazing sweet, salty, umami butterscotch-like spread that works equally well for a plated dessert as it does for awesome ice cream sundaes at home!"

Start to finish: 20 minutes

Servings: 4

1/4 cup shiro (white or yellow) miso

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature

1/4 cup packed light brown sugar

1/4 cup mirin

1 teaspoon sherry vinegar

Vanilla ice cream

Toasted pecans and cinnamon sugar, to serve

Heat the oven to 400 F. Line a baking sheet with kitchen parchment.

Spread the miso in a thin, even layer over the parchment. Bake for 8 to 12 minutes. The miso should be on the blackened side of browned (don't be a wuss) and have an appetizingly burnt aroma.

Let the miso cool briefly so it's easier to handle, then scrape it into a blender. Add the butter, brown sugar, mirin and vinegar, then blend until the mixture is homogenous and smooth. You've got miso butterscotch! Scrape it into a bowl, or store in the refrigerator, in an airtight container, for weeks.

Really need instructions to make a sundae? Fine! Grab bowls or fancy fluted glasses. Put a dollop of miso butterscotch in the bottom of each, then add a scoop of ice cream, a fun garnish, and repeat: miso butterscotch, ice cream, garnish. Build it high to the sky!

Nutrition information per serving (based on using 1/2 cup of ice cream per serving): 410 calories; 220 calories from fat (54 per cent of total calories); 25 g fat (12 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 60 mg cholesterol; 44 g carbohydrate; 2 g fiber; 34 g sugar; 5 g protein; 710 mg sodium.

(Recipe adapted from Christina Tosi's "Milk Bar Lilfe," Clarkson Potter, 2015)

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