This week many of us are coming up on the anniversary of all sorts of things we had little idea would define the year ahead. I remember saying things like “these masks are really expensive but they’re all that’s available, should I buy them?” (yes, Deb, and also some flour) and “they can’t cancel school, can they?” and “we can still plan a summer vacation because things should normalize by then, right?” and I’m sure I’m not alone in these one year-ago reminders throwing me for a big emo loop. It’s also been delightfully almost spring-like in NYC after a consistently wintery winter and I haven’t been able to stay inside, inventing as many reasons as I can come up with for taking walks, which is bad for productivity but doing wonders to counteract all of those heavy moods. At the end of one yesterday, I swung by the grocery store to get ingredients for crisp black bean tacos and because I cannot make this up, you must believe me: a bird pooped on me in the store. Is it still luck if it happens while you’re inspecting cabbages, hoping to find an apartment-sized one?
It’s almost too on-the-nose that I tried to make hamantaschen cookies that look like carrara marble and actually made cookies that evoke cow hides. Is the universe trying to tell me something about my kitchen hopes and dreams? Don’t worry, I’ve chosen to not read into this at all.
If you ever need evidence that I do not shy away from embarrassing myself here, look no further than one of the earliest posts on this site, where I tell the story of inviting a guy I’d recently begun dating over for dinner. I’d watched Rachael Ray’s 30-Minute Meals that morning, equally hungered by her making one of my favorite pastas, penne alla vodka, and horrified by the fact that she renamed it the “You Won’t Be Single For Long Vodka Cream Pasta.” I decided to make it, you know, tongue-in-cheek, sarcastically, sure Deb, except it “worked” — we are 15 years married (although everyone agrees the last year counts as two) which works out to about 17 years of repeating this awkwardness as part of our “how it started in the kitchen” story.
Listen, this will surprise nobody at all, but I am not trendy. I am deeply uncool and I prefer it this way. It puts expectations right where they belong — low; no, lower, please. But I am not immune to TikTok. I, um, love TikTok, it’s my favorite time suck. Through it, I’ve learned so much about even more ways I can be uncool. Side parts! Laugh-cry emojis! It’s a whole thing. So is this baked feta, which is a spin on a baked pasta that’s been going viral the last few weeks. It began with a recipe developed by Finnish food blogger Jenni Häyrinen called “Uunifetapasta,” which translates to oven-baked feta pasta. It’s an older recipe (2019 is “old” in TikTok) but it caught on again because tomatoes and fetaare timeless. I like that it uses cherry tomatoes, which are obviously not as great in the winter as they are in the summer, but are surprisingly good year-round when roasted. You’ll see.
Nobody needs my dedication to butter, milk, buttermilk, cream, crème fraîche, sour cream, or eggs clarified here; we all know I get a little twitchy when the fridge is low on any. These vegan cupcakes are not an abnegation of anything, but a celebration, as they should be. What has surprised me the most since I happened on the first vegan cake recipe here, the Chocolate Olive Oil Cake, a couple years ago is not what it is “missing” — you’d never know — but what it does astoundingly better than cakes with any of my usual crutches: it’s even more moist and plush. Who knew that eggs in cakes were sometimes a …hindrance? Definitely not me.
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.
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.
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.