I’ve always struggled with risotto, the classic Northern Italian rice dish that gets creamy from slow cooking in broth. Even when I’ve accepted the work involved — most recipes tell you to separately have a pot of warm broth and to ladle it in, stirring, for the better part of an hour — the flavor, which often tastes odd to me when I used non-homemade broth, or the texture, which seems perfect for about 5 minutes and then often too gloppy, throws me. And yet it’s one of the coziest things to make in the winter, and can even be used to distract children who believe that pasta is the only acceptable carb. The last year, as I’ve spent much time looking around my kitchen for simpler approaches to our favorite foods as we’ve been home for almost all of our meals [see: these tacos, this bolognese, this roast chicken, these cookies, this galette], I’ve realized that almost everything I believed was mandatory about risotto is not, and you can make this golden, cozy, rich bowl ignoring every “rule.” Lucky us.
Without further ado, here are four moderately controversial opinions about risotto: Read more »
Last week was a Lot. I ventured into it buzzing with adorably ambitious New Year’s intentions to, like, get things done, and spent most of it glued to a screen, furious and frustrated. As I mentioned in this morning’s newsletter, I’ve often felt that January is a blur and this one is particularly so. Armed insurrections are not a subject I know how to discuss in any meaningful way in a recipe headnote. But if you’re feeling like you’re in a fog, do know that you’re not alone.
Despite my deep affection for cheese, to the point that one of my favorite things to do on a New York City weekend is to dip into Murray’s and treat us to something crumbly or aged or rich and runny, I don’t love cheese plates. It feels really good to get this off my chest. At first, it was just a budget issue; I still feel the sticker shock from the first time I tried to put together one of those cute boards with five or six different wedges on them, plus the crackers, breads, pickles, dried fruit, toasted almonds, olives, cured meats, and all of the other minimum requirements of our latter-day horns of plenty. But I was also put off by the waste. Even though so much went unfinished, the leftovers were unsalvageable, as fingers, forks, knives, and crumbs got into everything (a particularly shuddering thought in the age of Covid). Instead, when people come over, or what I remember of it, I prefer to focus on one or two decadent, attention-grabbing things and nothing grabs attention on a cold winter day like warm, runny cheese.
Despite it not coming naturally to me, a person with a framed ketubah on her bedroom wall, I love Christmas with abandon — the lights, the windows, the big tree, baking all formats of gingerbread, making snowflakes, singing Santa Baby off-key while my kids cover their ears and beg me to stop. My family is used to going along with my December whims and often even enjoying them too, but my husband draws the line at eggnog; he doesn’t like it, even though he is wrong. For many years I went without — not caring for the carton stuff, too nervous to order it at a bar, and not feeling committed enough to make a whole carafe, just for me.
And then I started making small-batch ‘nog and all was right with the holidays again. A few years ago I whittled a standard eggnog recipe down to a single egg — as bakers know, about as far as any of us wish to divide anything — and then adjusted everything to taste. You whisk it up in two jars, right in the moment, because it requires no planning ahead, and it makes the perfect amount for two tumblers. Or, the perfect amount to put in a small jar and stick in a gift bag, because people who love eggnog who know people who love eggnog understand that we should not be deprived.
Because I’m a restless cook, never interested in making things I already know how to, a couple years ago I challenged myself to turn my favorite gingerbread cake into a roulade. Or, yes, a Yule log.* Five bottles of molasses, two jars of ground ginger, a gallon of heavy cream, several frantic pleas to friends that I had too much Yule log in my apartment and would they please come take some home, and two Christmases later, stop what you’re doing, you are going to love this.
As a Content Creator (appended with a saracastic ™), I can tell you that December is a weird time. All we want are buttery cookies, heavily spiced cakes, and luxe cocktails and if sparkly string lights were edible, probably that too. Who can blame us? This year — as we try, against what sometimes feels like stacked odds, to find cheer and festivity wherever we can concoct it — the singular devotion to December decadence seems even stronger. I can put the whole internet to sleep merely by saying, “So, how about some salad?”
I made these vanilla custard slices from Edd Kimber in August and we loved them — they’re like a rustic Napoleon or mille-feuille, at a fraction of the fuss — but declared them “not August food” and better saved for December because they feel elegant and a little festive. But now it’s December and, at times, I know it can feel like we will need a jeweler’s loupe to find some of this promised festivity. There are essays about what a bummer this holiday season promises to be. There are articles about what a dark winter is ahead. There are dire warnings about overwhelmed health systems. Listen, I am in charge of absolutely nothing — not even my own children listen to me — but I hereby give us permission to read none of these articles. Real life can be enough of a drag; we have absolutely no moral imperative to absorb additional gloom.
It would not be the Smitten Kitchen if I wasn’t popping in here, chaotic as ever, 24 hours before the cooking- and eating-est day of most of our years, to suggest a new recipe for your menus, that, judging by my DMs, you settled weeks ago. Good news, however, there’s no timestamp on dinner rolls, especially ones as wonderful as these. If anything, I don’t think we eat them often enough — you know, just because it’s Wednesday.
In other years, the ones when it was safe to have guests, my favorite thing to ask when planning a Thanksgiving menu was for everyone to tell me what their essential dish is, the one if they come to dinner and it’s not on the table, they throw a (hopefully) muted, inner tantrum. This is where all menus should begin, right? It was from this question that I learned that after stuffing, naturally, and long before turkey (sorry, turkey), a dish I had not grown up with — corn pudding — is one of the most popular on American Thanksgiving tables. Because I usually respond, “Great! Now you know exactly what to bring!” and friends have delivered, I’ve since learned what I’d been missing and I’m now fully converted.
Because I do not often crave potatoes slow-baked in a cream bath with a burnish of cheese and fine crunch top, when I do, I know exactly how I want it to taste and how much work I’m willing to do to make it happen. Since it’s been eleven years (!) since I last shared a potato gratin here, I think it’s worth revisiting as we head into gratin season, which is not a thing, I absolutely just made that up, but really should be for colder weather and shorter days.