I realize this might not look like much. It probably looks suspiciously like a salad, which means it’s probably going to be the last kid picked for your holiday cooking olympics. It doesn’t taste like ginger, linzer or crushed candy canes. It smacks of January Food, the stuff of resolutions and repentance, and there’s no time for that now. But I need to tell you about it anyway, urgently, because the preoccupation with this salad has hit me so intensely, so wholly, it’s basically the only thing I want to eat, and since I’m ostensibly the grownup here, this is exactly what I’m going to do.
I have been promising you a recipe for homemade jelly doughnuts for as many Hanukahs as this site has been in existence, which is to say 9, including the one that begins next week. This might lead you to conclude that I like neither fried food, doughnuts or even jelly, or all over the above showered in unholy amounts of powdered sugar, but this couldn’t be further from the truth, which is that I like them so much that if they want a chance to live out their short shelf-life destiny, they should stay far from my home.
It’s scientific fact that the most decadent hot chocolate needs the perfect dunking cookie. Last week, the hunt for this led me to assault family and friends with bold, high-stakes queries such as “would you rather dunk graham cracker flavored, snickerdoodle or gingerbread biscotti in your hot chocolate?” Don’t let it ever be said that the Smitten Kitchen shies away from the hard questions! Gingerbread was the clear winner, and while I aim to please, I couldn’t quite shake the feeling that a little snickerdoodle-style roll in cinnamon-sugar is never unwelcome in winter, and so it was.
Here is how I’ve made hot chocolate for most of my life: heat some milk in a saucepan, add a bit of unsweetened cocoa and sugar and whisk. Form lumps. Be unable to break up lumps. Get frustrated, try again, this time slowly slowly slowly whisking milk into cocoa and sugar, hoping to form something of a cocoa roux. Heat mixture until steamy and drink merrily, trying to ignore faint background of chalkiness. Hooray for cocoa?
As I do every year, I woke up the morning after Thanksgiving with dueling urges to consume pie for breakfast as well as to repent with an endless sequence of brothy vegetable soups until I no longer dreamed of pumpkin cheesecake, cranberry caramel almond tarts and chocolate silk. I vowed make the wholesome side triumph this year, however, yet somewhere along my righteous path to eating kale salad for breakfast, lunch and dinner, I remembered that kale salad tastes absolutely nothing like pie and that was basically the end of that. By dinner that night, we were digging into terrifying heaps of spaghetti and meatballs at Carmine’s, followed by overstuffed chocolate cannolis. There wasn’t a ribbon of kale in sight.
Cranberries are, for me, one of the best things about late fall and they show up right in time, just as all of the other colors disappear. The ginkgo trees, always one of the last November holdouts, simultaneously ejected their green/yellow leaves last week and ever since, pretty much everything outside is looking rather… greige, but not like the charming shade of the boots I want. And then, out of nowhere, perfect red berries appear and things look up.
I have a complicated relationship with sweet potatoes. I think they’re one of these wonder vegetables — impossible to mess up cooking, pretty consistently delicious whether you buy them freshly-dug from the farmers market or from a grocery chain, aglow with vitamins A and C and chock full of fiber. [Which I mostly think about because I’m the mother of a sweet potato junkie.] I like them in cake, sweet biscuits and pie. I like them with goat cheese and a light vinaigrette, gratin-ed with a tangle of chard, with a strange-but-addictive mix of spices and roasted in wedges, and one-bowl-meal-ed with roasted broccoli, black rice and miso sauce. But I also have all sorts of quibbles with them. They’re never crispy enough. They’re rarely savory enough — basically, if you get within 10 feet of my savory sweet potato dish with cinnamon, I go into hiding. For me, the louder the contrast between their sweet, soft nature, the happier I am eating them.