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Having ‘Down-Home Lowbrow’ Fun with ‘Life’

Milk Bar Life: Recipes & Stories — Christina Tosi

About this time of year, when Halloween candy is in full effect, I start craving food that has zero health value. For me, even candy corn is a vegetable this time of year. Cooking from Milk Bar Life by chef Christina Tosi fits well with this mentality as I retire French lentils and opt for French fries.

Tosi3 Tosi2

“You want to make a cake?” I asked my 5 year old daughter.

“Yes!”

“Out of Ritz crackers, Cool Whip and grape jelly?”

“Yes! Yes!!”

You can’t healthify this one. I tried. I went for organic jelly and a more natural whipped topping alternative. It doesn’t work, you have to go all the way — all or nothing.

Here I stop to warn you, dear health-conscious reader, this cookbook only goes further on down the rabbit hole. If you flinched at “Cool Whip,” you may just need to hold off until my next review. But if you’re open to a few fun and funky staples from an overly processed childhood, by all means, read on.

After opening with friendly banter about herself, her cooking and her restaurant, Momofuku Milk Bar, Tosi introduces the first section of Milk Bar Life — Hand-Me-Downs. Sharing tales of family competition and recipes from potlucks, church life, neighbors, relatives and friends, Tosi writes, “This is where you get the best stuff.”

I have a little bit of my own good stuff from similar sources. Recipes that came complete with strange back stories — one of almost mythical proportion regarding an expensively purchased cookie recipe supposedly originating in the famous Mrs. Field’s kitchen. We were instructed to share this recipe with one and all as vindication for its outrageous price.

Unlike Mrs. Field’s cookies, I recall another recipe from a fellow church-goer who swore my mother to secrecy saying, “I will give you this recipe, but only if you promise me that you will never bring it to a church potluck.”

Clearly Tosi’s family isn’t the only one in competition.

(Still, it was a pretty amazing broccoli salad.)

My daughter and I headed back to the kitchen and made a large batch of My Grandma’s Oatmeal Cookies, chewy cookies with a hint of cinnamon and dusted in powdered sugar. Tosi warns that her grandmother “could never figure out why these cookies inspired the crazy in people,” and we were no exception. Only two survived the night.

Christina Tosi knows her stuff, even to the point of being made a judge on this year’s MasterChef. I say this to clarify that these recipes, while fun and funky, are balanced and often more delicious than you’d think. Despite their occasional hodgepodge appearance these work.

Tosi1Feeling exhaustion from the week, I honed in on the Weak-Nights recipe category made up of recipes for nights when you’d eat pretty much anything — like Pickle-Juice-Poached Fish. These recipes are intended to be made with what you could easily find at a 24-hour corner store or gas station. (No joke.)

“I’m really letting you into my very-late-night, most desperate food moments.” writes Tosi.

The Pickle-Juice-Poached Fish was exactly what I needed, namely grub food for my famished self. I could make this any night, but will be careful not to tell table guests what’s in the dish until they’ve scarfed it down. (And they will.)

Next I tried one of the marinades Tosi suggests for use on her Chicken Wings + Any Marinade: David Chang’s Chili-Lime-Soy marinade. Chang is the chef and owner of the Momofuku restaurants and the one who pushed Tosi to open Momofuku Milk Bar. This recipe was simple, quick and gave a fresh take on teriyaki.

In her section, Craft Night/Sleep Over, I was lured in by meals meant to share in the wee hours and early recovery mornings with a group of your favorite people. Perhaps even at a late-night jam making party. Here I encountered Olive Jam.

“Most people will probably skip this recipe because they think it will be too strange.” writes Tosi, “Don’t be one of those people.” So, I wasn’t.

Milk Bar Life is a cookbook I enjoyed more than I thought I would. Bright pictures and sassy recipes sucked me in. If you’re still a little apprehensive about this one, I’d suggest starting with Tosi’s Momofuku Milk Bar cookbook, or if you’re wanting even more of a foodie experience, go for David Chang’s Momofuku cookbook.

But if you’re ready to go for the gusto, I say track down a copy and dig in to its “down-home, lowbrow” grub. Who knows, your family may just make a SpaghettiOs Sammy Friday night tradition.

Who should buy this:
Parents who don’t mind relaxing the rules a bit and having fun with their kids in the kitchen. Any restaurant worker who has a 1 am clock-out. Sounds cliche, but I wish I’d had this one in college, I’d have wowed friends with my 7-Eleven shopping genius. Anyone who finds themselves at a Denny’s after midnight on a weekend.

Recipe Links:
Ritz Cracker Ice Box Cake
My Grandma’s Oatmeal Cookies
SpaghettiOs Sammy

Milk Bar Life: Recipes & Stories is available now from Clarkson Potter and sold on Amazon.com.

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