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.
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?
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.
There are over 900 recipes in this site’s archives, [which is completely nuts, but also conveniently gives me an answer to the ever-present “what do you do all day?” question besides my usual, “mess around on Instagram?”] and while I’m overwhelmingly quite fond of all of them, there are ones that nag at me not necessarily because they don’t work but because they’re not, in hindsight, the “best in category” I once found them to be. Among these are the chicken pot pies I made from Ina Garten’s beloved recipe six years ago, and somewhere, my friend Ang is gasping because these are, to date, her favorite thing I’ve ever made for dinner. But I always thought they could have been better for several persnickety reasons.
I don’t mean to shock you, I mean, I do hope you’re sitting down for this, but it turns out that when I asked my husband to choose between a caramelized cabbage dish, mushroom tacos, or a beef stew whose ante had been upped with butter, bacon, Dijon, cognac and a splash of red wine as his ideal homemade Valentine’s meal, he chose the beef stew. I could hardly believe it either. I mean, between my delivered flowers, his cufflinks and the kid’s heart-shaped candies, I might have to mix things up next year just to rage against predictability.
This salad improves winter morale. It’s for times when all of the usual charms of winter — snow that’s fallen like a cashmere blanket over the city overnight, reducing all of the usual ruckuses (trucks, sirens, deliveries and your own child’s tantrums, which you may or may not have discovered last week you could hear from a full city block away) to the decibel of thick socks padding over hardwood floors — have waned on you; when the “snow” is, in fact, two inches of gray muck, when you are convinced that it will never be warm again and when you fear the next hunt around the apartment for where the snow mittens/hats/scarves/boots were last scattered will be the end of you. Whereas most cold winter comfort foods are soft, rich, carby and white, this is everything but: brightly hued, crunchy and piercingly fresh. It cuts across everything that’s lost its charm; it will be even brighter in your social media feed than the photos of those so-called friends who have abandoned you for sandy shores and island blue skies. This salad has your back.