On New Year’s Eve, we attempted to do the reprehensible and take a 6 year-old who usually goes to bed at 7:30 and a pajama-clad infant who went to bed whenever the thought struck her to a party at a friend’s place in Brooklyn. Like, for grown-ups. (Just let me know where to collect our parenting medals.) By 9:30 p.m., all members of the Perelman clan were predictably rubbing their eyes and we headed home before the meltdowns began, got the wee ones tucked in and then made some White Russians. We haven’t been able to stop making them since.
Most of my understanding of the category of diner sandwiches we know as “melts” comes from the hyper-local archive of culinary amusements I know as Foods My Husband Will Order For Himself When Left To His Own Devices. I can’t give away all of his secrets — well, I can, but for a fee — but I have been given permission to tell you that the list is topped with Regrettable Chinese Takeout With a Life-Threatening Amount of Sichuan Peppercorns (to be repeated next time, no lessons learned), and somewhat further down the list, only if the day has been long and terrible enough, is a tuna melt — as in jarred mayo meets canned fish meets something square and flat that only passes for cheese in America. Did it not always come with a side of steak fries, which I want to steal because you should know by now that fries don’t count when I say I’m not hungry for dinner, I’d probably be breaking our house “don’t yuck my yum” rule even more often than my offspring.
Almost 10 years ago, when I was a child-free, single-chinned (bah) newlywed and this site was 6 weeks old, I passingly mentioned making the Belgian brownies they serve at Le Pain Quotidien. They were as delicious as should be expected from something that’s nothing but chocolate, butter, sugar, eggs and a smidge of flour. However, I never made them after that because, ever the pedant, to me they weren’t real brownies. Brownies are dense, fudgy and even a little chewy and these were featherlight and rich. I don’t know what’s wrong with me either.
For someone who was all “Harrumph! Cacio e Pepe Does Not Contain Cheddar Cheese.” a few weeks ago, I have some nerve telling you what I’m going to next, which is that I’m pretty smitten with an unapologetically “100% Inauthentic!”-boasting cookbook, the celebration of American-Asian cuisine that is 101 Easy Asian Recipes from the editors of Lucky Peach magazine. There are recipes for “Mall Chicken,” for Rotisserie Ramen, Dollar Dumplings, Miso Claypot Chicken (No Claypot), and then, the recipe in the dessert section that’s going to make you shut the book and never look back again, that for sliced oranges. You know, like the kind they put out at Chinatown restaurants at the end of a meal.
This began pretty harmlessly; my husband told me recently that whatever magic they roll buffalo wings in (basically: a lot of butter and Frank’s hot sauce) was unquestionably one of his favorite flavors on earth. (I put the jar of Nutella in the cabinet on notice.) A few days later, I spotted an ode to buffalo wings in the format of caramel popcorn and sent him the link, joking that I’d probably regret it. I shouldn’t have joked. It quickly became clear that to know that this popcorn existed and to not make was an act of cruelty; why so mean, Deb? Is writing a cookbook, running a website, occasionally cooking dinner and mashing up sweet potatoes for the little sweet potato really a higher kitchen calling than buffalo wing popcorn? And so I made it, but it looked rather sad and lonely in the bowl by itself so then I made some blue cheese dressing on the side with celery to dip into it and, lo, it was wonderful and the story should end here.
I have forever seen recipes on TV and around the web for something called Mexican Lasagna, a giant layered casserole that contains pretty much everything we love and cannot get enough of — tortillas, beans, salsa, cheese and then some — but couldn’t bring myself to make one because I make bad decisions based on trivial things, such as the name, which made me cringe (must we blame the people of Naples or Mexico for the unholy ways we Frankenstein their cuisine?) and the fact that I hadn’t exactly run out of excuses to eat tortillas, beans, salsa and cheese yet and thus didn’t need to enlist another one. Don’t worry, Deb is going to see the error of her ways in the next paragraph.
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.