cozy cabbage and farro soup

Last April, Food52’s Cookbook Club chose Smitten Kitchen Every Day as their book to cook through that month, but I promise, this isn’t the point at all. The club has monthly picks and a yearly Bonus Book, a cookbook participants cook through at their leisure. So while April was my book’s month, for 2018, that book was Six Seasons by Joshua McFadden.

cabbage deserves love and adorationthinly sliced

I already loved this book. We talked about it that month in regard to a crunchy asparagus salad that I mixed with chopped jammy eggs on toast, with a photo that still makes me smile. I told you that you needed to buy that book right then, especially if you also delighted in inventive but not overly complicated vegetable preparations (225 of them, even) and things you hadn’t thought of but would immediately tuck into your repertoire.

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cosmopolitan

Did you learn how to cook anything new this year? Anna Hezel, senior editor at Taste (one of my favorite breakout food publications of the last couple years) asked this on Twitter last week and like a Muppet to the ABCs, I couldn’t resist jumping in. I’m glad I did. I always wish I had more time to cook all the things I want to cook (my To Cook list is still thousands deep), wish I could share more recipes more often here, but this caused me to look back at the new recipes here in 2018 and feel a murmur of pride. Look at all we did! I learned to make falafel, and that it’s shockingly easy! I got to make Pad Thai I crave the most at home. We got cacio e pepe just about foolproof at home, just when I was convinced I never would. I learned about melting potatoes. We made the sheet pan sandwiches of my dreams and they’re vegan too. We had a real talk about the InstantPot and got some delicious short ribs out of it. I learned to make the best apple pie I’ve ever had. I made a completely bonkers layered mocha cheesecake late in the day on my husband’s birthday, and last week we mashed up baklava and babka, just because we could. I look at all of this and I am so excited about the year we’ve had, many of these things I had barely dreamed up yet this time last year, and I hope next year is even better.

And now, a brief moment of sap: Getting to hang out here, indulging my culinary whims, and having a cheering and encouragement squad had been one of great surprises and delights of my so-called adult life. Who knew what I’d do when I grew up? Certainly not me. I bumbled along, I tried things I hated, I tried things I didn’t hate but felt no passion for, and one day I landed here and, to my surprise, am rarely asked to leave. I am so thankful you are here and since I am not tired of cooking, I hope you never get tired of reading.

So tell me: Did you learn how to cook anything new this year?

Meanwhile, here are your Smitten Kitchen favorites from this year:
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baklava babka

I have something really pretty and really festive for us today. I hope it doesn’t send you running for the hills. When recipe hybrids are good — think pretzel croissants, cronuts, donut-looking cakes, donut-tasting muffins, brownie cookies, and pretty much everything on one of my favorite wildly creative cooking blogs — it’s usually because the two desserts that are mashed up have more in common than just cleverness, elements in each that make each other better.

risen, ready to rollthen cinnamon sugarchopping the nutsrollingsplittwisted

It was the honey syrup that convinced me that babka-meets-baklava could clear this hurdle. Syrupy finishes are common in desserts from across the Middle East and Levant. It’s the finishing soak in baklava’s crispy baked phyllo and chopped nuts layers, pulling them together. It’s the finishing, shiny soak in the kranz-style babkas popularized by Ottolenghi. And it’s what makes this buttery, nutty, braided sweet bread wreath sweet glossy perfection, and deeply baklava-like.

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falafel

Until recently, if you’d asked me if I ever wanted to make falafel at home, I’d have said “sure, one day” but what I meant was “nah, why bother?” I was certain that falafel was fussy to make and had a long ingredient list. It probably related in some way to a fritter, meaning that it was bound with eggs and flour, and probably had breading on it too, all pesky steps and this is even before you get to the peskiest of all: deep-frying them. I figured that it’s one of these things that there as many recipes for as there are people who make it, thus whatever I came up with would be wrong by default – too firm or too soft, with chickpeas instead of favas or vice-versa — no matter what. But this isn’t the whole truth. The fact is that below 14th Street, there are two locations each of Taim and Mamoun’s every time I even distantly considered whether I needed a homemade falafel recipe in my life, I knew I could get a perfectly executed sandwich in my hands before I even wrote out a grocery list.

soaked chickpeas and everything else
onion, garlic, herbs, spices, salt
the right texture

Hey, I’m not proud of this. I pride myself on being a curious person in the realm of cooking so it’s pretty pathetic that I had falafel all worked up in my head as this highly complex thing and never once, you know, read a few recipes. Had I, I’d have learned many extremely cool things about falafel such as the fact that while you do need to start with dried chickpeas (come back!), you don’t even have to cook them, or not in the classic long-simmered way, to make it. You soak them overnight in cold water, grind them up with seasonings and herbs, pack them into spoonfuls, fry them in less than an inch of oil in merely a few minutes, and that is it. There’s no egg. There’s no breading. It’s vegan, it’s gluten-free, it’s dirt cheap, and it’s easy, I mean criminally easy, to make. And I had to do it immediately.

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chocolate caramel tart

Shortly after my husband and I began dating — the dark ages; no seriously, his phone at the time looked like this and I was like whoa, look how fancy you are, dude — we went on a road trip somewhere, stopped at a gas station, and I told him to grab something candy-ish, surprise me. This boy came back to the car with a pack of Rolos, and honestly, it’s amazing we didn’t break up right then and there because Rolos are terrible candy and it’s about time someone said it. [Oh I can hear the reverberations of a thousand unfollows but I will absolutely die on this hill, and remain undeterred.] They’re gooey so they give off the appearance, the suggestion, of being good candy but the goo tastes like nothing. I feel this way about all caramel that appears inside candy bars, which tastes me more like thickened corn syrup than anything toasty and nuanced. Plus, they’re inside a milk chocolate shell, so it’s sweet against sweet, no contrast whatsoever, and so help you if you don’t eat them in a single bite, I hope you enjoy having sticky hands for the rest of the drive. I know, I know what you’re thinking: it’s an absolute mystery how I ended up with such a picky child.

In my unsolicited opinion, three things could improve Rolos: a real toasty, buttery caramel, the contrast of dark chocolate, and a bit of salt. As good caramel is gooey, we’re not going to fight it, but that’s what plates and forks are for.

dry ingredients for shellblend up the crustchocolate tart crustpressed in and trimmedfoil tightly, no weightsmelt the sugar and cook until amberadd butter, then creamblurry poured caramelcooled caramel layerchopped chocolate or chipschocolate and creamspread the ganache

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cabbage and mushroom “lasagna”

In July, because I make no sense at all, I decided to knock an item off my To Cook list that’s been there since 2010, a golden, bubbling, layered dish of mushrooms, cabbage, thinly sliced potatoes bound with a bechamel sauce and topped with cheese. Talk about beach eats!

But a craving is a craving and I made it with the thought that we could try it, then freeze the rest until that whole December – January zone when the sun sets at approximately 3:32pm and the only way to endure it is to channel some Scandinavian coziness and make it, like, fashion. Candles! Thick sweaters! Tea, a good book, and soft music. Long-cooked winter vegetables snug in a rich casserole.

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drop cornbread biscuits

This past Saturday, we hosted our second Friendsgiving, stuffing 17 people in an apartment that has no business holding 17 people, but it’s okay, there’s wine for that. Our first one was in 2016; you can read about it here. I took 2017 off because I was a teensy bit busy book touring for Smitten Kitchen Every Day** It was fun to be back.

UntitledUntitled

When having friends over, I like to get everything done that I can in advance and I do this for completely selfish reasons: I want to enjoy my party, too, and I can’t if I’m scrambling around all day and am bone tired by the time food comes out. But last week was abnormally busy and I only got to grocery shopping on Thursday, only to discover that one week before Thanksgiving, it’s like tumbleweeds, the lull before the weekend stampede, all past-prime rosemary and other sadness. I almost cancelled but my husband miraculously found almost everything that evening, and instead I did a very beautiful, highly recommended thing: I nixed a few things on the planned menu and swapped more complicated ones for simpler recipes with shorter ingredient lists but high reward. Here’s the menu, a few details, and completely random tips:

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roberta’s roasted garlic caesar salad

I realize that the internet needs another recipe for caesar salad as much as it probably needs another new spin on chocolate chip cookies (guilty as charged, of course). Thus, it was nowhere on my agenda to suggest one. Plus, I’ve told you before that the only caesar dressing I need in my life is my hopelessly, unapologetically inauthentic one — no raw yolks, no tinned fish, and keeps in the fridge for a month, easily — which I’ve shared in some form over here and in Smitten Kitchen Every Day (in a salad with broken eggs and crushed croutons that you need in your life, trust me).

pre-toast the walnutsplus sugar and spicemix it up, then bake themspicy candied walnuts

But earlier this year I was invited to be on Cherry Bombe Radio, which records at the Heritage Radio Studios, which broadcasts from two recycled shipping containers behind the Roberta’s Pizza in Bushwick, at the edge of the garden where many of Roberta’s ingredients are grown. My son was home from school that day and I do not know what the 9 year-olds in your life are like, but if I told the one I’ve been assigned that I was going to be hanging out somewhere eating legendarily delicious pizza and not invite him along, he’d (rightly) declare it excessive cruelty. So he came along and along with pizza, ordered the very caesar-y romaine salad with candied walnuts and he declared it the best salad he’d ever eaten and begged me to make it at home. Again, I don’t know what the grade-schoolers in your life are like but I consider it a general rule that if a kid requests salad, they get it.

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sunken black forest cake

My kids will be at least 25% candy for the rest of the week, as the season demands. If it doesn’t come individually wrapped, if the first, second, or third ingredient isn’t chocolate, a food dye, or high fructose corn syrup, if it doesn’t have a marketing tie-in with Spongebob or Legos, they’re not eating it. Which means, since they’ve now definitely left the room, we get this cake all for us. You’re welcome, because we’re not going to share it anyway.

some things you'll needchopped chocolatebutter, chocolate, yolkswhipped whites

This whole fall — save a brief but devoted two weeks of apple pie studies — I have craved chocolate almost nonstop, and I don’t mean at perfunctory square of 72% and calling it a day. I mean, chocolate éclairs and chocolate brownies and molten chocolate cakes and chocolate pot de cremes and so when I spied this riff on a black forest cake in Julia Turshen’s new cookbook, Now & Again, I really couldn’t think about anything else until I made it.

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candy pork

What’s in a cooking repertoire? Is it basics, like how to make rice and a go-to method for roasting chicken? Is it your family’s classics, like a plum cake or the roast a cousin makes on Christmas Eve? Is it a collection of durable, flexible recipes that might be the last you ever need? I’ve been thinking about this since getting Jessica Battiliana’s first cookbook, Repertoire, this spring. I loved the concept immediately: the recipes she relies on most — not demanding but rewarding; not fancy, but special. There are recipes for parmesan chicken cutlets, meatballs, and a simplified eggplant parmesan; chicken tortilla soup, pretzel rolls, and corn fritters. There’s a recipe for the thing that most quickly went into my repertoire — a negroni (although I made it boulevardier-style) and potato chips (spoiler: they’re from a bag) — and birthday cakes too. But it was this candy pork that I couldn’t forget about, and I’m so glad I chose it, well, second.

shallotsshallots, ginger, garlic, hot pepperbrown sugar to meltthe caramel

[I wondered what my cooking repertoire would look like but realized with 1200 recipes in the archives and 105 in each of my cookbooks, it’s probably a little late for that, as I could never choose, although I did my best here.]

Battilana is a food columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle but also works on cookbooks, such as the incredible Vietnamese Home Cooking book (we made the pho here) from Charles Phan. From Phan, she learned about Vietnamese-style caramel sauces laced with Thai chilies, ginger, garlic, and shallots. At his restaurant, The Slanted Door, it’s applied to clay-pot chicken but in Repertoire it’s used to braise chunks of pork shoulder and it’s one of the best things I’ve made this year. [Her kids call it candy pork because kids know: nobody can resist candy.]

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