A year ago, I made what I called Bananas Foster Puddings — individual puddings in which the bananas had been lightly caramelized in butter, brown sugar and rum before being layered with vanilla custard and kind of mediocre homemade vanilla wafers before being topped with a tuft of broiled meringue. The evening I made them, I managed to spill a pint glass of water (full, I mean, of course) right next to my laptop, which led to all sorts of drama including the loss of the photos and recipe, in case you’re wondering why nobody’s going to be mistaking me for a lifestyle guru anytime soon.
Here’s a thing I’ve been doing since the year began that’s made me very happy in the kitchen and it’s so simple, I completely expect you to roll your eyes at how un-revolutionary it is, but it goes like this: Find a recipe that sounds good to you and make it immediately. Don’t put it in the queue; don’t save it on that to-cook-one-day list, just dive in and dig in. So far, it’s been nothing but great; there was a giant egg bake, ugly cookies, green dinner pancakes, a giant cabbage casserole (recipe added!) we heaped on coarse mustard-slathered bread and a towering spaghetti frittata. And while all of these things have been delicious, what’s been the most fun about them is getting back to a kind of impulsivity that’s gotten pushed to the wayside in this hyper-scheduled so-called adult life. It’s also led to conversations I want more of in 2016, such as “well, if you’re around anyway, why don’t you stay for dinner and I’ll guinea pig a new recipe on you?”
Thanksgiving may be my favorite holiday, I may look forward to stuffing, green bean casserole and all the pie the way normal people might anticipate Ben & Jerry’s Free Cone Day, but there is definitely a point — let’s call it right now — when I’m about at capacity with fresh fun ideas for soft orange vegetables and clever new ways to swim foods in puddles of rich sauces. Also, I still need to eat.
Sara Jenkins is famous for making the Italian roasted pork street food known as porchetta trendy in New York. She’s also known for her way with pasta (and has a new book out with her famed food writer mom celebrating it). She’s had turns at a handful of great Italian restaurants in New York, earning them stars and accolades and has written at length for The Atlantic about Italian food. And almost all I ever want to talk about here? Her salads.
For about five minutes — before we remembered that we have an infant, a 6 year-old, two full-time jobs, a not very big apartment, an international business trip this month (sadly, not mine) are now doubting we are actually made of whatever is required to pull this off — we thought we might have a Friendsgiving dinner party this year. I love Thanksgiving and I want more of it in my life, ditto to friends and also dinner parties. Everything about this was going to awesome. I didn’t have to plan the menu to my perfect Thanksgiving dinner because I wrote it in my head probably five years ago and from what I hear, Alton Brown’s turkey recipe is the only one you’ll ever need. (Or should I dry brine? Or maybe this lacquered thing? Or maybe a mash-up of all of them? Or maybe just import a smoked one from Texas and be the most chilled out host in the history of Thanksgiving, ever, amiright?) Right, well, I had everything else planned out:
I cannot resist a recipe that promises an odd outcome. To wit, prior to stumbling upon this curiosity in the wonderful A Boat, A Whale and a Walrus, an assembly of recipes and stories from restaurants on the other side of the country that I am now extra-sad I haven’t been to (yet! Like maybe in 5 or 18 years or so?), I understood cobblers to be more or less baked fruit topped with a soft cake batter or plush biscuit, while crisps had clusters of oaty and sometimes nutty cookie-like crumbs giving them their namesake texture. [Let us save comparisons with crumbles, grunts, fools, pandowdys, sonkers, bettys, buckles and slabs for another delicious day.] Crisps were not soft; cobblers were not crisp.
The internet might be loaded with a ga-jillion recipes, but finding the great ones can still be a little bit of a needle in a haystack. My favorite way to find new recipes is to ask a random person what their cult favorites are. Bonus points if they claim to hate cooking, because these are the people who are only going to be excited for dishes that work with airtight reliability that are unquestionably worth your time. I have found so many gems this way; Marion Burros’s Purple Plum Torte (which, if you have not made yet, shut this browser tab and get to it, please), Cook Country’s Chicken and Dumplings, Jeremiah Tower’s Raspberry Brown Sugar Gratin, this crazy simple beef braise and Ina Garten’s Lemon Cake. (If you ask me about mine, I might also up this curious tuna salad from the New York Times Magazine, this zucchini and almond saute). In more recent memory, it’s from asking around that I learned a lot people have a very deep fondness for a raw tomato sauce for a 2006 issue of the late Gourmet Magazine.