January 2010


Another snowy day, another rummaging through my refrigerator in search of something with which to feed myself. This time, I ended up with one of most warm, comforting, and flavorful dishes I can imagine coming from just three basic ingredients, maybe three minutes of prep time, and what may be the three cardinal rules of vegetables.

As has been well-documented, a wise rule for vegetables is: roast first and ask questions later. Another wise rule is: add bacon. Another rule, beloved by carbophiles like me: serve them over pasta, especially when there’s delicious bacon juice to mix the noodles with. [Is “bacon juice” is a better phrase than “bacon grease”? Or does it just make you think of squeezing raw bacon?]

Before.

After.

I was actually pretty sure that I didn’t much like regular green cabbage, but this dish proved me very wrong.

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I love a good ginger cookie. Sometimes I want them big and soft, but most times there’s nothing better than a crisp, meltingly buttery gingersnap. If you are also in the gingersnap camp, these are the cookies for you. They are perfect.

Now taking applications for Summer 2010 at Camp Gingersnap.

The only hard part is cutting them thinly and evenly. It’s possible that I simply lack the patience for this task, so my gingersnaps inevitably end up deformed. Delicious, but deformed.

Also, while technically these cookies are known as “gingersnaps,” I frequently think of them as “cryogenic cookies,” or “sleeping beauty cookies,” or even “emergency cookies.”¬† The recipe makes an insane amount of cookie dough, but that dough keeps forever in the freezer, and you can bake up a batch of cookies whenever the need for cookies strikes. I first made these for a party in October, and they then made appearances at a Hanukkah party, a caroling party, a cross-country cookie package, and a book club meeting. Yes, it took FIVE occasions to actually use up all this dough. You have been warned.

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Yogurt cheese!

I’ve had a mild obsession with labneh for some time now. I first learned about this Middle Eastern yogurt cheese in one of Martha Rose Shulman’s Recipe for Health columns, where she first refers to it, uninspiringly, as “drained yogurt.” I’m glad I decided to keep reading, despite the unappetizing subhead, because this is what followed:

“Drained of much of its water content, yogurt becomes a thick, creamy product known in the Middle East as labna or labne. Drained yogurt is like a moist, fresh, tangy cheese, and it makes a great spread or dip. In Turkey and in the Middle East, a number of dips and salad dressings are based on drained yogurt combined with pureed garlic and chopped fresh herbs.”

And at that point, I was sold. I love yogurt, I love cheese, I love spreads. I love that when you drain yogurt, it turns! into! cheese! And I had thought that making paneer was suspiciously easy!

I make labneh with greek yogurt (nonfat works fine), which already has much of the whey drained out; if you start with regular yogurt, it’ll probably just take longer to get to a more solid consistency. If you drain it long enough, you can get it to the point of making little cheese balls, but I’ve never been patient enough for that.

You can flavor the labneh any way you like, but I love it with lemon juice, olive oil, and za’atar. Which, perhaps not coincidentally, is how they serve it at Zaytinya—and eating it there only served to enhance my fascination with yogurt cheese.

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I may have fibbed, slightly, when I mentioned previously that I had grievously squandered the contents of my four-pound box of Meyer lemons. In truth, I only squandered most of the box. I didn’t want to mention that, out of fear that I might jinx my chances of making something that didn’t suck out of the remaining handful of lemons.

I needn’t have been so worried. This cake is lovely, and a breeze, and beautifully shows off the floral not-too-tartness of the Meyers. It also worked so perfectly with frozen wild blueberries (thawed and rinsed) that I probably wouldn’t bother with fresh ones, unless it’s the very height of blueberry season and you have fresh berries coming out of your ears. It’s true that this cake isn’t exactly seasonal right now, or local, but it was such a treat to have something so fresh and summery in the depths of January fruit blahs.

Berry delicious.

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After much soul-searching, I’ve come to a crucial realization about myself, one that maybe can unlock the key to my psyche and help me lead the life I was born to lead.

I like boldly seasoned shrimp.

I want them on fire, doused in tequila, tikka masala‘ed. I want them to end their little shrimpy lives in a blaze of glory, full of zest and flavor. It makes me sad to see a pallid boiled shrimp cocktail, with a sad little dipping sauce. Shrimps, you deserve better. You deserve to be gussied up with mustard and dill and garlic and shallots and served at a fantastic restaurant with a chef who, even if he was edited to be a misogynistic jerk, was nevertheless pretty good on Top Chef.

The life they were born to lead.

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Dear readers,

I am sorry it has been so long since I have written to tell you about my adventures in the kitchen. I’ve been cooking away, I promise. The thing is, everything I’ve made has recently has pretty much sucked. There was only one outright disaster, but everything else was just mediocre—not even bad enough to merit a disaster post.

Short disgression, though, about the disaster: Nigella Lawson has this glorious clementine cake, which everyone should make immediately, and which I was so looking forward to adapting¬†with Meyer lemons. It includes the odd step of boiling the citrus for two hours. Dear readers, when you do this, make sure not to let the water boil off entirely. If that happens, you will have a citrusy, smoky mess, especially if you’d disabled the smoke alarm and were dozing on the couch and therefore failed to notice the early signs of burning. Like, uh, smoke.

Anyway. Nothing else was that bad. Just meh. Until I made this pasta, which made me feel that maybe I was getting my cooking mojo back. Or maybe that was the mascarpone sweet-talking me with its cool, creamy ways.

Hey, baby. It's the mascarpone talking

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I have nothing against fruit-based desserts, as a general concept. But sometimes I just want fruit to be fruit and dessert to be dessert. For example, I’ve always been confused by the notion of a banana split: you have perfectly good ice cream, and you’re eating it with a regular banana?!? Why not just have ice cream, and then have the banana? Or ice cream made out of a banana?

So when I came across a recipe for gingerbread pear cake, I thought it sounded lovely, but the big chunks of pear it called for were just strange to me. Just too much fruit in the dessert. But I kept coming back to the recipe—I really love gingerbread. Well, ginger, in general, especially in desserts and cocktails as well as the more standard savory applications. (My love for ginger in cocktails was recently whetted at Brooklyn Social by the Ginger Old-Fashioned, which I highly recommend.) And this recipe, unlike most so-called gingerbreads and their puny allocation of dried spices, calls for a hefty quantity of actual fresh grated ginger.

Oh, but the pears! What to do about those pesky chunks of pear? As is so often the case, Smitten Kitchen came to the rescue: grated pears, infusing the cake with a gentle, even pear flavor, like in banana or zucchini bread. Plus, since this version of the cake has both grated pears and grated ginger, I think it’s fair to say that this cake is, uh, grate.

I was packing up the cake in foil to take to work, but I had to test it first to make sure the pears were evenly distributed.

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