A few weeks ago our friends Kate and Joel and their three girls came over for dinner. We were all vacationing on the same island together so the menu was as simple and fresh and kid-friendly as we could manage: asparagus salad (without eggs for the kids), campfire potatoes, and grilled chicken sandwiches with homemade slaw. Kate took one bite of her sandwich and, because she is a good guest, immediately started oohing and ahhing and inquiring about how we put the whole thing together. “This is perfect,” she said. “Just what I am in the mood for. Man!! And the slaw! Mmmm! How did you make it?”
I told her slaw is one of those things I don’t really have a recipe for. I just start whisking things together and keep adding more shredded cabbage and carrots until it looks about right.
“OK, fine, but what exactly are you whisking together?”
“It’s like I’m making any salad dressing. I’ll add a dollop of mayo to the bottom of a large bowl, then add some celery seed, some cider vinegar—-“
She crossed her arms in front of her face and looked away as though I had shined a bright light in her eyes. “OK, stop right there,” she said. “Page turner!”
“What…?” I was confused. (Were we talking about the can’t-put-it-down book Blood, Bones, and Butter again??)
“Cider vinegar?!?” She said. “I don’t know from cider vinegar. As soon as I see it in a recipe I’m turning the page.” Kate is a psychologist, but she has also has a side career as a Second City comedian, so sometimes it can be hard to tell when she’s kidding.
“That’s ridiculous,” I told her. “It’s cider vinegar. It’s right next to the balsamic vinegar in any supermarket.”
“I don’t care. The whole idea of it scares me. The whole idea of someone who knows how to use cider vinegar scares me. It’s like cream of tartar. I mean, what is that? What do you use it for? What kind of people buy cream of tartar?”
I started laughing until I realized that in our house, we totally have our own list of page turners — puff pastry, marjoram, anything deep-fried — and they’re all equally ridiculous. Marjoram is probably right next to mustard powder on the spice shelf, but whenever I see it in a recipe I assume the dish was meant for someone with exotic taste who knows exactly how to use it. Puff pastry, with all its layering and covering with wet towels, is just downright terrifying to someone for whom patience has never been a strong suit (or any suit at all, actually). And deep frying? Doesn’t that involve a special thermometer or something?
I think the ingredient with the world’s longest reign as premiere page-turner in my life is “yeast.” (Is there anything more alienating for a new parent than the phrase “Allow dough to rise 8 hours?”) But then Jim Lahey and his no-knead bread revolution came along (luckily right about the time the girls were old enough to allow for me to build “rise time” into my day) and one day in the supermarket I just did it. I picked up the Fleischmann’s Active Dry stuff and tried the famous bread recipe. Amazingly, it worked! Just like it had for the other 1 billion people in the world who had grabbed the yeast packets in their supermarkets and tried it before me.
So, Kate, the cider vinegar revolution starts today! Right here, right now with this not-even-a-little-bit-fancy dinner sandwich. And I’m declaring it Get Over Your Page Turner Ingredient Day for the rest of us, too, so if anyone has any good recipes that call for puff pastry, I’m all ears.
Grilled Chicken Sandwiches with Classic Cole Slaw
Make our grilled chicken for people who hate grilled chicken and assemble sandwiches with whole wheat hamburger buns or potato rolls, then top with….
Old Fashioned Cole Slaw
In a large bowl, whisk together 1/3 cup cider vinegar, 1 teaspoon prepared horseradish, 4 heaping tablespoons mayonnaise, ½ teaspoon celery seed, 1 tablespoon sugar, salt and pepper to taste. Set aside. Shred half a head of green cabbage (5 cups) as thinly as possible. (With a mandoline or the shredding disk of a food processor.) Add to the dressing and toss to combine. Serve right away.