#99: Sifted Newsletter

Gaby Scelzo and Courtney Kassel drop in to tell us about Nuts.com, Marian Burros’ Plum Torte, John Derian Candles, Black Sesame Paste, and more.

Cool people like cool things, which is why we asked Gaby Scelzo and Courtney Kassel to come on Perfectly Imperfect & redistribute their good taste.

Gaby and Courtney are the brains behind one of our favorite newsletters, Sifted, where a few times a week they filter through the endless ocean of recipes on the internet and recommend their favorites to cook (and sometimes tweak). You can think of them as restaurant critics, but for recipes. Perfectly Imperfect and Sifted have even had a handful of overlapping guests, Alex Delaney and Catherine Cohen to name a few, and we even dropped some Perfectly Imperfect recipe recs ourselves, so if you’re a fan of cool guests, recipes, and recommendations, you’re bound to love their ‘sletter. Gaby and Courtney have great taste and lucky for us, they’re here to tell us what they’ve been into.

Without further ado

Gaby Scelzo (instagram)

☕ 🍩 Trader Joe’s French Vanilla Coffee 

I tend to quickly (often negatively and almost always incorrectly) judge everyone and everything, and this blindingly shiny, incredibly difficult-to-open package of ground coffee was not spared from this ugly quality of mine. I was shocked to discover these grounds actually brew piping hot pots of coffee that make my apartment smell like a Dunkin’ Donuts but taste as if Dunkin’ Donuts’ coffee didn’t taste like water. I start every morning with a cup of this, frothed with pistachio milk and a little maple syrup (bonus recs!!!), fueled up and searching for something new to (mis)judge.

🥜 🌰 Nuts.com

The selection of nuts on nuts.com is nuts, but so is the abundance of items that are not nuts. My orders always include a jar of their creamy-but-still-a-little-crunchy almond butter, but I also like to stock up on baking supplies like flaky sea salt, dark chocolate disks and 5-pound bags of sugar. As an apostle of nuts.com, I’ve also helped numerous friends and strangers see the light. My boyfriend’s pantry is perpetually packed with their roasted edamame, dried mango and cheddar popcorn, and I always spot colorful bags of malted milk balls and chocolate covered espresso beans when I visit my parents’ apartment. And while Courtney might be the only person who orders their crunchy marshmallow bits regularly, you’ve gotta respect nuts.com for even having them in stock. 

🌊 🚘 Los Angeles

Have you guys heard about this place? I spent last month in the breezy, golden town and can’t stop thinking about the cool mornings and hot, never humid afternoons. Or the big, beautiful houses with yards — backyards and front yards. Or those houses’ proximity to foamy beaches and bright, bountiful farmers markets. Or the currents of clean, salty air that spilled into the car window while I drove* around the sprawling city. Seriously, look this spot up, you won’t regret it. 

*was driven. No, I do not know how to drive, which is the only reason I didn’t stay in L.A. and leave sweaty, congested Brooklyn behind forever. 

🍑 🍰 Marian Burros’ Plum Torte

I’ve baked many a cake in the 24 long years I’ve been on this planet. Cakes covered in cinnamon streusel, pudding-filled, frosting-covered cakes, cakes that look hideous but taste beautiful (never the reverse). This cake, though, is my favorite cake to bake and eat. The recipe (here without a paywall) is perfect when followed as written, though I still tweak it sometimes by browning and re-solidifying the butter for a deeper, funkier flavor or using peaches, blueberries, and most recently, pluots from the aforementioned L.A. farmers market in place of the traditional plums. Any way you bake it, you’ll get to experience the pure bliss of slicing through its warm, crispy exterior, into a pillow-like cake full of fruit even sweeter and juicier than before you scattered it over the buttery batter. 

😈 🎶 SOUR by Olivia Rodrigo

I live and breathe ex drama (sending hate to all the exes out there 😘) and that’s exactly what the lifeblood of this album is. It’s a sometimes blue, other times irate collection of absolute bangers directed at Rodrigo’s ex that will hit you especially hard if your ex just started dating someone new, though good 4 u still hypes me up in a way no other song could dream of doing and I tear up to traitor even with my sweet, loving boyfriend sitting right next to me — that’s just the type of power Olivia possesses. 

Courtney Kassel (instagram)

🍿 Perfect Popcorn

If you, like me, take popcorn very seriously, you simply must try Anson Mills’ popcorn. It is the first popcorn I’ve tasted that truly tastes like-- get this-- corn! It’s subtly sweet and toasty and nuanced in ways that I’ve never tasted from the popped stuff. Rancho Gordo popcorn is also tasty and a very dramatic color, but Anson Mills is on another level. As for popping, you can’t go wrong with the absolute game changer that is a Whirley Pop. Despite its goofy name and the annoying amount of cupboard space it occupies, it makes perfect popcorn. Every. Single. Time. No burnt pieces, no kernel left unpopped. And when they’re the best kernels you won’t want to waste any. From there, I adorn mine with a copious amount of salt, olive oil, and nutritional yeast or fresh parm. If it’s the fake butter you’re craving, may I suggest Butter Buds™? They’re little butter-flavored granules I first had in grade school popcorn parties, and have loved for their unabashed artificiality ever since.

🥖 🍞 Apt. 2 Bread

Thank god for Carla. She’s back with a new oven, a new menu, a new bread delivery system, and best of all, focaccia subscriptions. If you haven’t tried Carla’s focaccia, prepare to be ruined for all others-- yes even Superiority Burger’s. It’s thiccc (yes, with three c’s), plush, perfectly salted and just a little tangy from her glorious sourdough starter. We’ve shared her recipe before on Sifted but if you, like me, can’t keep a starter alive long enough to name it, leave it to the pro. The Castlevetrano olive loaf holds a special place in my brine-obsessed heart, but I am extremely excited to try her newest flavor, grape & za’atar from Home Spice. And I would be remiss if I didn’t just give a moment of awe for Carla’s rye crumb cake. She's an icon, she's a legend, and she is the moment, now come on now! 

🕯️ John Derian Candles 

I aspire to fill my home with food, and also with things that look like food but are decidedly not food. From corn cob stools to garlic pillows to bread lamps, I want it all. Until I have a home, or museum to house all these objects, I’ll continue on a small scale, building my collection of John Derian’s uncanny trompe l’oeil candles. Next up on my wish list are the Fruit Crostata and the Capocollo, naturally. 

🖤 Black Sesame Paste

Calling it now-- black sesame paste a.k.a. black tahini is about to have a moment. I love the Japanese and Taiwanese versions, which tend to be lightly sweetened with honey or sugar and the seeds toasted before being ground, adding even more depth of flavor. Black sesame paste tastes like peanut butter but way more intense and will make all your food look goth in the best possible way. I’ve found it at Sunrise Mart, H Mart or Mitsuwa but you can obviously find it online as well. How to use it? The sky’s the limit, but my formula has generally been: good dessert + black sesame paste = even better dessert. Swirled into homemade ice cream, added to the filling of plush cinnamon buns, but best of all, mixed into nostalgic, chewy, perfect brown butter Rice Krispie treats

➗ 📝 Kinja Labs Ingredient Cutter

I’ve been loving Natasha Pickowicz’s DEMI chat, Never Ending Salon, for a myriad of reasons (and recipes), but by far the best takeaway so far has been this recipe divider. As you may know, Gaby and I are not always the best recipe followers; we substitute, halve, brown, and salt with reckless abandon. I’m a firm believer in experimentation, but this tool helps guarantee the things in the recipe that make it work (like leavinings, salt and seasoning levels, ratios of fat sources) stay the same, guaranteeing success no matter how sparse your cookware collection. Not only can you halve or third or quarter recipes (very pandemic-friendly if you’re cooking for a small pod), you can even adjust them to different pan sizes. No more wondering if it’s really a big deal if you only have a pie dish and a 9” springform but the recipe calls for two 6” cake pans, and no more raw centers (here’s lookin’ at you, Gab!)

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