Here is my almost-summer wish for us: I think we should bring a pan of freshly-baked, thick, buttery, crisp on top, and plush with a flavor that absolutely reverberates with corn underneath, to your next park/picnic/potluck. It goes so well with summer salads and snacky things. And when cornbread is good, really good, it feels criminal not to share. This is.
If you go way back on this site, you might know I’ve been on the hunt for my forever cornbread recipe for almost as long as I’ve been blogging here. I’ve shared a few over the years that I like very much, they’re good cornbreads, I tell them while scritching them amicably behind their ears. But it wasn’t until more recently that I found the cornbread that will end my cornbread studies. Whatever will I do with my newfound free time? [Yes, write that next cookbook, I know.]
When I was in high school and we were finally allowed to go off-grounds for lunch, we often went to a local deli where my friends would get various sandwiches with turkey, salami, ham, or all of the above, plus, lettuce, tomato, onions, vinegar and oil and I, a vegetarian in a place baffled by this, would get a the same but with cheese instead. I have thought about this sandwich and what it did well — salt, pepper, vinegar, oil, crunch — and what it did poorly — a stack of tasteless sliced deli cheese as filler — for way too long in the years (and decades, sigh) since because I still love a sandwich full of vegetables, but find most vegetable sandwiches very disappointing, either heavy with cheese (and I love cheese, but not, like, an inch of it) or overcooked, under-seasoned vegetables. Why not avocado and crispy kale? Why not hummus, marinated cucumbers and carrots? Why not… make it for yourself, Deb? Which brings us, as ever, back here today.
It’s a gorgeous spring week in New York City, the windows are wide open, and before I find it impossible to resist the siren call of a full shift to picnic–summer-beach-fresh-everything mode (with some ice cream/pie/cookie breaks, naturally) I wanted to tell you about one last easy weeknight pandemic-era favorite: a soy sauce-basted chicken that my family would be happy if I made once a week forever.
Cinnamon buns are perfect — they don’t need disruption, nobody needs a fresh new take on them, and they don’t need refining. I suspect that for most of us, our only grievance is that nobody makes them often enough. Have you ever woken up to the smell of fresh cinnamon buns baking in the oven? Yeah, me neither, but boy does my family have good things to say about it.
I had a very good reason for making this, in fact, the very best reason, the only reason I ever really want to cook anything on busy weeks with no other gravitas-adding forces at play: I wanted it. Last week I had an intense craving for the kind of salsa you get in a jar, that we went through buckets of when I was in college, the kind of salsa that you’d get on a table at a Mexican restaurant that may or may not sell margaritas in cactus-stem glasses and I wondered why I didn’t have a go-to recipe for making it at home. Isn’t that, like, my purpose here? Isn’t that what I do here, week after week for nearly 15 years, share recipes I hope will become your go-tos as much as they’ve become mine? Where was my seasonless* salsa recipe?
At some point in the swamp of time that has been this past winter, my husband convinced me that we should watch Ted Lasso and, despite my skepticism about a dad-joking American football coach who gets a job coaching professional soccer in England’s ability to hold my interest, I begrudgingly agreed. It turned out to be… kind of delightful? Objectively enjoyable, really. Don’t worry, I will not be discussing sports today and there won’t be any spoilers, but do know that homemade shortbread cookies have a recurring role and that is where our story begins.
I know it’s too early for asparagus, at least in New York, but I’m tired of waiting, a feeling that both encapsulates my cooking right now and my mood about [waves hands] everything. I am sure I’m not alone in being ready for summer, for outside, for all of my friends to get vaccinated, for my kids lives to normalize so they can be off screens all day, and I know you do not get things by stamping your feet and demanding them (I may have tried) but if there’s one thing on this list we can safely take an advance on, it’s spring vegetables. Grocery store asparagus is lovely and here for us until the freshly-plucked Greenmarket stuff emerges and I say we embrace it with abandon.
Here’s a really fun dinner I made recently, the sheet pan chow mein from Hetty McKinnon’s, newcookbook, which is a love letter to all the vibrant Chinese food she grew up eating plus many of her other Asian favorites. You — we, if I may be so presumptuous — love McKinnon’s vegetarian cooking because she’s so creative, as we saw in this chickpea and kale shakshuka, and yet it’s all so practically-minded, clearly having been vetted in the chaos of real life family dinners.
Is this a good place to admit that I almost never ate potatoes growing up? I tell my Russian husband this and he’s baffled. Mashed? No. Roasted? No. Fries, only at restaurants. Tater tots, from the freezer on a too-rare occasion. Baked potatoes were definitely a dinner menu item and I don’t think anyone had anything against potatoes, just not a strong pull towards them. Needless to say, if the archives here are any indication, my kids will not be saying the same. And yet despite the gratins, the crispy crumbled, the melting, the brown butter mash, the kugel, twice-baked and the Anna, I still crave potatoes in ways I have yet finetuned a recipe for, and this brought me to a surge of lemon potato studies over the winter.
I know, I know: We’re still in a global pandemic. It’s no time for party-sized cakes. Passover is in three days and those who celebrate it don’t want to be tempted by forbidden baked goods. But it had been so long since I’d made a towering and abundantly festive layer cake and ever since spotting this hummingbird cake in Zoë François’s fantastic — like, just go buy it right now, you are in for a treat — new cookbook, Zoë Bakes Cakes, I couldn’t think about anything else. It feels forward-looking and spring-celebrational. It is deliciously warm and happy, almost defiant, planning for a brighter year ahead, no matter what the one before it looked like. And so I went all in and made a three-layer celebration cake and flung slices off with friends and neighbors and have absolutely no regrets, except for the fact that it’s gone now.