Have you ever had Derby Pie? We haven’t, but the chocolate-and-walnut-laden dessert sure sounds delicious.
For blogger Rivka Friedman, the pie is a family classic—a specialty of her mother’s—so it was only natural that her cooking blog, Not Derby Pie, would borrow the name. But why the “not”? Apparently Derby Pie is trademarked by Kentucky-based pie company Kern’s Kitchen, which lays claim to inventing the dessert. The Washington Post ran an article about Kern’s in 1982 and included several spin-off recipes. Friedman’s mom made one, and the family loved it; the trademark-honoring name Not Derby Pie has stuck around the Friedman household ever since.
Friedman launched the blog in 2007 after spending hours every day reading other cooking blogs. She doesn’t have formal cooking training, and she doesn’t follow recipes—but that’s half the fun. The 26-year-old has developed many of her of food preferences from traveling—Friedman lived in Israel for two years—and she spends a lot of time trying to replicate dishes and flavors she tastes in restaurants. “The blog has been a place to document that process,” she says. “The need for fresh material constantly pushes me to try new things.”
We strapped on an apron and caught up with Friedman to get her favorite recipes, cookbooks, kitchen gadgets, and more. Oh, and her biggest kitchen disaster? We asked her that, too.
Rate your cooking skills from 1 to 10—where 1 is a bachelor with ramen noodles and 10 is Julia Child:
“I get a 5 for technical skills but compensate with a 9 for guts. I’m a huge improviser in the kitchen, less fond of following recipes than of tasting and adjusting. Do I end up with the occasional dud? Sure. Is it worth the thrill of never following what’s on the paper? Definitely.”
Number of cookbooks you own—and your favorite:
“About 25. I love The Zuni Café Cookbook. Judy Rogers’s food is intensely flavorful, and her tutorials are sincere and impeccably thorough. The recipe for roast chicken with bread salad is worth the price of the book alone. For dessert, I turn most often to Alice Medrich’s Pure Dessert. I’ve never made an Alice Medrich recipe that wasn’t absolutely perfect, and I love that Pure Dessert strays from the traditional chocolate-chip cookies and red-velvet cupcakes. Instead, it focuses on desserts that highlight the flavors of grains, seeds, fruits, and—of course—chocolate. I make her olive-oil pound cake at least once a month.”
Best and worst recipes you’ve ever tried:
“One of the best things I’ve ever made is Dorie Greenspan’s blondies. I’ve made fancier things, for sure, but these blondies have the perfect chocolate-to-other-stuff ratio, and toffee bits take them over the edge. They’re absolutely perfect; I wouldn’t change a thing about them. As for the worst recipe, that’s easy: bûche de noël. The online baking group Daring Bakers made this chocolate-frosted jellyroll cake back in 2007. The recipe printout was about six pages; making it took about five hours (and I had an assistant!), and the result was only sort-of edible—an obvious letdown.
Best recipe you’ve ever invented:
“The brisket I made for Rosh Hashanah this year, with red wine and pomegranate syrup. My future-father-in-law said it was the best he’d ever had, and—better yet—a vegetarian friend of mine was doing the dishes after dinner, and she couldn’t resist sticking a finger into the serving bowl and trying some of the sauce. The other best recipe I invented is a simple puff-pastry tart with caramelized onions, dates, and fresh goat cheese. It takes 30 minutes start to finish, it’s dead-easy, and it gets rave reviews and recipe requests every time I make it.”
Biggest kitchen disaster:
“Last week, I accidentally omitted the yeast from my no-knead bread. Eighteen hours later, it felt oddly . . . dense. Once I realized I’d left out the yeast, I used the dough I’d made as a pre-ferment, which is made a day or two earlier than the bread dough and added in pieces during kneading to give the bread more flavor. The final result wasn’t half bad. How’s that for improvisation?”
Advice for newbies in the kitchen:
“Don’t wed yourself to the recipe on paper; always smell and taste your food as you go. This will help you develop a sense of what something needs. Also, always keep fresh lemons and a big hunk of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese on hand; more often than not, I find they lend that oomph a dish is missing. Finally, never assume you can’t make something. Someone out there made it, and you probably can, too.”
Embarrassingly simple recipe that always impresses guests:
“Homemade ice cream. It’s a staple in summertime, and the flavor combinations are endless. Making ice cream was how I learned that vanilla is actually my favorite flavor; chocolate ice cream is still delicious, but vanilla made with cream from the farmers market and high-quality beans is pure perfection. But I do stray from the usual suspects from time to time: I’m currently working on a bourbon-flavored ice cream inspired by something I had at Vidalia a while back.”
Most nostalgic food or recipe:
“That’s easy: Not Derby Pie. I like it the way my mom used to make it, with a store-bought pie crust and everything.”
Pantry item you can’t cook without:
“Before anything else, a glug of olive oil or a healthy tab of butter goes into the pan. Without those two, I’d be nowhere.”
Pantry item you most frequently run out of:
“Tazo chai tea. I drink a mug of chai every morning of winter and often find myself running out after work in search of tomorrow’s cup.”
Favorite no-power kitchen tool:
“I’m a total cliché: I love my KitchenAid stand mixer. Close second place goes to my immersion blender, which obviates the need to pour boiling-hot soup into a blender and has saved me many a burn.”
Pain-in-the-ass dessert that’s worth the hassle:
“Baklava. Never fails to impress.”
Food-related New Year’s resolution—and whether or not you’ve kept it so far:
“I made one just this week over the best meal I’ve cobbled together in a long time: Go to Bar Pilar more often. If Tuesday night counts, I’m keeping it already.”
Favorite country you’ve traveled to, food-wise:
“Probably Italy. I just can’t resist the pull of fresh pasta, mozzarella di bufala, and those ubiquitous perfect red tomatoes. That said, I’m itching to get to Southeast Asia one of these days, and I live for a steaming hot bowl of pho.”
What you’d eat for your last meal:
“Kasta Kachori from the long-closed Swagat; hummus masabacha (a dish of the freshest hummus and whole warmed chickpeas) from Hummus Said in Akko, Israel; pho from Present; suppli from a street vendor in Rome; duck from Proof; dates with salt from Komi; fleur de sel caramel macarons from Pierre Hermé. (I shouldn’t need to eat for a while after that.)”
Where you go when you want a night off from the kitchen:
“I’m often at Zaytinya. Having lived in Israel for two years, I’ve got high standards for Middle Eastern staples like hummus, labneh, baba ghanoush, and falafel. Zaytinya’s are all quite good.”
Favorite local food blog besides your own:
“It’s a tie. First, the Bitten Word. I like their point of view, and I love their Brussels sprouts; the fact that Zach and Clay are such great guys is icing on the cake. Second, Alinea at Home, Carol Blymire’s blog. She’s a thrill to read, and she’s living proof that a ‘yes we can’ attitude is often the only ingredient missing from home-cooking success.”
Next week, Brunch and the City blogger Claudia Holwill tells us about her favorite brunch spots in Washington. Have a hankering for good bacon and eggs? Be sure to come back next week for her brunch-time picks.