I am staunchly of the belief that if you really really crave something — I mean, if you’ve tried very hard to move on or distract that part of your brain/belly that rather rudely interrupts into your thoughts most days at 4 p.m. and screams “CHOCOLATE!” or “CAAAAAKE!” and it’s just not working — you should indulge it. I have no patience for baked doughnuts or sugar substitutes, and you can probably already guess that I cannot abide anything but cream in my hot coffee. Have a salad for lunch the day before and the day after, eat the steel-cut oats for breakfast, make hearty soups a regular part of your dinner rotation, but FTLOG, if you really want that chocolate cake, please, have that chocolate cake and then enjoy every last buttercreamed crumb of it.
As one does, I first spied a Twinkie Bundt on Pinterest a few weeks ago and immediately became consumed with making my own primarily because it’s spectacularly fun to say, and also call someone, maybe or maybe not as a compliment. [As you can infer, we really like to flex our maturity at the Smitten Kitchen.] The recipe turned out to hail from the talented food blogger and cookbook author Shauna Sever‘s book, Pure Vanilla, but as I am stubborn, I wanted to go in my own direction with it as I have a buttermilk bundt I’m rather fond of and a simple marshmallow frosting that we could use instead of the jarred marshmallow filling suggested.
Prior to last week, I only liked baked potatoes two ways and the first was so weird, I usually had the decency to keep it to myself. Many years ago, I had an internship a couple blocks from a lunch place with a baked potato sub-menu, full of odd and awesome topping combinations. My favorite involved a marinated tomato-pepper salad, avocado, cheese and — yesss — ranch dressing and it was amazing and wonderful and stop looking at me like that because I have missed and longed for it since. The second way I like baked potatoes is equally troublesome, the classic with “the works” involving heaps of cheese, butter, sour cream, bacon, chives and blood pressure medication. I no longer eat them the first way because the sandwich shop is 250 miles from here and also it has since closed; I usually resist eating them the second way because if I’m going to have all of the fat and calories of a golden, glistening and salted pile of French fries, I’d rather have them in said French fry format.
I have never been particularly interested in recipes — or, if we’re being completely tactlessly honest, people — defined by what they are not, which is probably why you don’t see a lot of recipes with flour/dairy/gluten/meat/sugar-free, no-bake, one-bowl, hand-whisked or the like in recipe titles here, although we have plenty of all of the above. My favorite foods in this category are accidentally what they are; it’s a perk, but not the purpose. I’d rather talk about what a recipe does have, like flavor, or texture or an appeal that makes it almost painful not to make it in the minutes after you read about it.
One of my probably most annoying insistences in the 15 years that I didn’t eat meat was that I suspected people didn’t really like it as much as they thought they did. Take bacon, no doubt the first thing that comes to mind when some leaf-horfing former vegetarian has the audacity to suggest that you could live without flesh. You love the way it’s smoky and salty and crispy and fatty, right? But how much of that has to do with the actual taste of pork belly, versus the way we’ve treated it to make it even more amazing? How much of Korean short ribs are about the unseemly delicious marinade, how much of Southern fried chicken is about that shattering crust, comprise mostly buttermilk, flour and grandma love? How much of barbecued ribs is about the gloriousness of the meat on the bone versus the long tenderizing, smoking and the sweet-salty-spicy stuff we mop or crust on top? [Sorry, I have to stop this paragraph right here so I can eat it.]
Why did I make this cake? Was it a birthday, a dinner party, or a pot-luck brunch? Was I testing recipes for a new cookbook or auditioning one that I fell for at a bookstore? Did I see this recipe online and found it irresistible? Was it a Friday treat to relieve the pressure of a long week? For someone who might never run out of “excuses” to make cake in this lifetime, you’d think I’d come up with something more exciting than the truth, which is that I could only find a big tub of ricotta at the store when I made ziti last time, and forced myself to find a clever way to use it up. Alas, I rather enjoy a challenge and so it’s cake o’clock again; rejoice!
The night before I went to the hospital to have this little nugget, in one last burst of frenetic nesting — a tornado of focused, effective energy I sorely miss in these early months — I decided to do something so practical, I’m still patting myself on the back for it: I made a big volume of lazy baked ziti and divide it into three dishes, two that went into the freezer. I have not been this productive or effective since.