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.
Given that finishing off the month November without a single slice of pumpkin pie is, for me, practically a crime against the season, it’s rather sad that this 8-plus year old site has only a single iteration of it, that it’s from 6 years ago, and not even the one I make on an annual basis. The 2008 recipe hailed from Cook’s Illustrated, those clever chefs that always push the envelope, this time in the name of the silkiest pumpkin pie they could come up with. It involved canned yams. It required a fine-mesh strainer. Three whole eggs and two yolks. It was lovely, but if you’re someone who actually adores the classic taste of pumpkin pie above all else, it probably didn’t fill the pumpkin pie void in your life.
There are kitchen discoveries that lead to nothing but trouble. The first time I caramelized sugar, I knew I was ruined. Why would anyone want to eat drab white sugar if they could eat it cooked to a 100x as delicious toasty amber syrup? The first time I tried browned butter, I went on a butter-browning bender (cookies! breadcrumbs! crispy treats!) which, frankly, shows little sign of abating today. So, it should be no surprise that when I finally cracked the authentic pretzel-making code six months ago, I didn’t know where to stop. Everything comes up pretzel now! I’ve made pretzel scones and pretzel challahs. I’m dreaming of pretzel shortbread and popovers, pretzel bagels and grissini. I might need an intervention.
Prior to last month, I had spent exactly zero minutes of my life thinking about date cake, craving date cake or noting the absence of date cake in my life and/or site archives. Clearly, this was a misstep on my part, but I’d always assumed they were exceedingly sticky sweet, and also, well warm. I should just stop right here rather than confessing the latest entry in How Weird Are Deb’s Food Tastes?, I know I should, but that’s never stopped me before so here goes: I’m not very into warm, quivery desserts. Like soufflés. And oozy chocolate cakes. I basically don’t understand how I survived the 90s either. I understand if this means you cannot speak to me anymore.
Lest you operate under the idea that when I go in the kitchen to work on a new recipe, adorable forest creatures gather around, bringing me my whisks and measuring cups, tiny birds whisper in my ear all the right seasoning notes and then, when I snap my last photo, my team of minions file silently in to wash the dishes while I go out on the deck to ponder my next free-form food essay, the single, completely unexciting reason I am late to share a new recipe this week is because I was chasing an exasperating salted peanut butter caramel-flavored ghost. Five rounds in, I have concluded that while there are no bad salted peanut butter caramels, the one I want isn’t yet within my grasp and it was time to take a break. One cannot live on peanut butter, cream, butter and brown sugar alone, after all, fun as it was for a few days there.
What, you’ve never had cauliflower cheese before? Why, it’s right up there on the American Heart Association’s recommended diet, above the kale and below the oat bran. Okay, well, maybe just the cauliflower is. I realize this dish may sound strange if you’ve never heard of it. The first time I saw it on a menu in the UK last fall, I thought a word was missing, perhaps “with” or “and.” I mean, you cannot make cheese out of cauliflower or vice-versa, or at least I hope not.* And then I tried it, bubbling and brown in a small ramekin aside my roast** at a tiny Inn in the middle of nowhere that looks like something you’d see in a Bridget Jones Diary (basically where I learned everything I knew about the UK before I got there, well, that and Morrissey songs) and I stopped talking. I stopped thinking. My heart may or may not have stopped beating for a moment, though I’m sure it was love, not fibrillations. How could it be anything but, when cauliflower florets are draped with a sharp cheddar cheese sauce spiked with mustard and a bit of cayenne and then baked in the oven until bronzed and, wait, what were we talking about again?